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Monthly Archives: November 2009

Laruelle, the Non-Euclidean and Spinoza


Tracing Out Laruelle’s Kantian Reduction of Spinoza

I’ve been having a (very loose) discussion of the relationship between Laruelle and Spinoza over at An und für sich, where Anthony P. Smith is helping me understand where Spinoza and Laruelle diverge. In the last day I’ve been reading up on this nexus, combing through Laruelle’s Response to Deleuze where most of the resistance to Spinoza is spelled out, as well as attempting to get a grasp of Laruelle’s rather vocabulary-entrenched argumentative conception of “decision” within all of philosophy, much of which I draw from Brassier’s treatment. Not an easy task. So this post operates only as a touching point of intuitive difficulties I have with Laruelle’s treatment of Spinoza, and not a rigorously explication of them. I sense that part of the problem is the global approach that Laruelle attempts to bring out of what is really much more an analysis of Kant and Kant-related philosophies. That is to say, the “Dyad” of Laruelle, which is supposed to find its source in an orginary “decision” between Idealism and Materialism fits quite well in the Scheme/Content form of Kantian and perhaps most post-Kantian philosophy, but this “science” of philosophy may not really be as well suited to pre-Kantian, or at least Spinozist positioning.

I think part of the problem may be genetic, which is to say, Laruelle isolates the first act of his non-philosophy to be an explicit Plotinean/Kantian duplicity. He frames the orientation of his problematic in terms of Plotinian One and Kantian transcendence:

… Non-philosophy does not effectively or successfully begin until Une biographie de lhomme ordinaire [A Biography of the Ordinary Man (1985)], because it is there that the problem of how to bind the four sides together is thematized and basically formulated –albeit not without difficulties– through the notion of unilaterality. The conditions for this solution are that the One acquire a radical autonomy with regard to philosophy, that it stop being a philosophical object, and that the latter is revealed to be a transcendental appearance. It is as though an over-neoplatonization of the One was accompanied by a corresponding over-kantianization of philosophy as appearance…

“A New Presentation of Non-Philosophy”

Though in this very interesting essay Laruelle traces out the various stages of non-philosophy as its stemmed from this original “dyad” (we want to say), one has to wonder at the full-wealth of a proposed science of philosophy that necessarily drags with it an inherently Kantian partner. As a Spinozist there is a very real, non-representational sense in which Spinoza precludes or forecloses the path that Kant and Kantianism took, and took hold of the Plotinean One in more or less Plotnean terms (a degree-of-being resolution), so much so that a science derived from Kant as a constitutive part simply misses the analytical mark. One cannot read Kant back into Spinoza (unless of course a Spinozist, such as Deleuze, has been busy putting Kant into Spinoza as an expansive permutation of his thought). This leaves us with the sense that Laruelle’s science of philosophies is perhaps best conceived as aimed towards post-Kantian appropriations of Spinoza, which one intuits perhaps really is the historical case.

In a certain way, admittedly from the beginning, Kant helped form the very conception of the originary “decision” which is said to characerize ALL philosophy, giving one to wonder if once we carefully pair away Laruelle’s Kantianism (assumed in the characterization of decision) a space opens up, historically, for a communication between Spinoza and Laruelle (one which Laruelle himself may not have been able to grasp due to the global nature of the claims of his science).

Part of my problem in reading Laruelle on Spinoza is attempting to locate the all important “decisional” dyad. Brassier in his dissertation on non-philosophy does a very good job of characterizing it in particular Kantian terms, terms otherwise recognized as scheme vs. content (Davidson). Philosophy is said to make a core, axiomatic choice which divides the Real into some “transcendent” a priori “faktum” (scheme) and some “immanent” empirical “datum”:

“Alien Theory” [click for larger image]

We can certainly see the strong Kantian nature of the decision in this telling by Brassier, but with the equations of immanence = empirical datum and transcendence = a priori faktum *at the simplest level), there really is no correspondence that I can see between the nature of this “distinction” (or Dyad) and the various distinctions we read in Spinoza. We feel like we are swimming in really the Kantian half of the originary Plotinus/Kant dyad.

Brassier opens up the distinction into its simplest form, that of the knower and the known, the perceiver and the perceived, but I still cannot find the traction point in Spinozist philosophy, largely because these elemental dyads are refused in a great number of ways which generally foreclose an essential materialist/idealist reading.

“Thus for any philosophical distinction between two terms (or Dyad), as such, in the…”

Curiously Laruelle has found a kind of incipient “ego” in Spinoza’s philosophy (in his Response to Deleuze, cited further down), which he links to concepts of Oneness, and perhaps his reading of Spinoza is leveraged in accepting this, but many actually find the opposite of this as Spinoza’s explanation of perceptions, thoughts, knowing are radically against any isolated ego or self, continually de-centering any supposed knower/known dyad. It could be that Laruelle’s need for an “ego” to be found in Spinoza is based upon the desire to graft Kantian distinctions/decisions back onto him, but thus far I cannot quite grasp where he locates this and rather suspect a deficiency in his reading (driven by both a desire for global description and his contest with Deleuze). For thoughts on Spinoza’s subversion of the “subject”: Subjectless Subjectivity, A Geography of Subject: Beyond Objectology, where Williams’s “Reconfiguring Body and Mind: Thinking Beyond the Subject with/through Spinoza” is discussed.

Where Lies the Decisional Dyad In Spinoza?

Anthony Paul Smith has been helping me uncover just where the decisional dyad occurs in Spinoza, and in the comments linked above you can find the context of the causal discussion. There he locates the decision not within a faktum/datum, but within a One/All division, and then further in the natura naturans/natura naturata specification:

The problem in Spinoza is the convertibility of the One with the All, for Laruelle. This leads to all sorts of amphibologies and melanges, rather than any kind of identity. The split is then between the natura naturans and the natura natuarta, in Spinoza. I do think this leads to a kind of slippage in Spinozist thought, but one that can be recast non-philosophically and still Spinozistic.

Connecting all the dots between the naturans/naturata distinction in Spinoza, and the Kantianish transcendent faktum/immanent datum seems very difficult to do. In fact, I can’t do it. IF there is a transcendent part of the dyad, it is the naturans which certainly doesn’t fall into any easy empirical/immanent category. In fact if this is an orginary decision in Spinoza it certainly doesn’t seem to operate in the transcendent/immanent manner Laruelle’s Kant-derived essentialization of philosophy finds important. Instead, in the cognitive plane, acts of perception are naturans actions (affirmations) which concretize themselves into naturata states of relative being, degrees-of-power, in which “knowing” refuses the distinction between knower and known. They are not parsed in order to be reglued, and certainly not via the naturans/naturata distinction. To put it another way, the naturata do not make up a datum that is the conditioned. Nothing is “given”, so to speak.

Anthony Paul Smith also mentions the reversibility of the One and the All in Spinoza, and there is good evidence that Laruelle does hold this as central to his analysis. He makes this point clear in his Response to Deleuze where he objects to Deleuze’s drawing comparisons between Laruelle’s One and Spinoza’s One:

(1) To the first objection: The One in question, the radical immanence through which it is defined, is not above all the One-All, whether ‘close’ or not to Spinoza, but instead a One-without-All, and even a Onewithout- Being, which we call the One-in-the-last-instance in order to oppose it to the convertibility which it refuses of the One and of Being, similar to the Spinozist reversibility of the One and the All. Certain contemporary philosophers abhor the One—and with good reason. We do as well: however, on the condition of specifying that it is then a question of the One correlative to the Multiple under any title or relation, and convertible through an inversion—whether close or not—with Being. Because the One prevails over Being or the Multiple, or the Multiple over the One, or because they alternately prevail over one another, these are clearly possible solutions which must be explored, but this is precisely not our problem. A real critique of immanence according to Deleuze is now possible; and among other possibilities, it can be constructed on behalf of a form of immanence still more radical, excluding all transcendence outside of it: not only theological objects and entities, but also the ultimate form of transcendence, auto-position or survey, the fold or doublet, etc. The One-in-the-last-instance is the true suspension of this One-All and, in a general way, of all reciprocity, in other words, of all relation without possible exception, essentially ‘without relation’ to Being.

Because Laruelle is responding to a “Spinozist reversibility of the One and the All” we are not sure if he is taking Spinoza on directly or not. And this is a problem we’ve already mentioned, as Laruelle has Deleuze specifically in mind here. The situation is further problemized because characterizing Spinoza’s philosophy as a One and All explication actually stems from the German Idealist reinvigoration of him in the 18th century, leading to the Pantheism Controversy. It was Lessing’s recasting of Spinoza Substance into questions of the One and All (Hen kai pan) that eventually lead to Schellings’s Idealist insertion of “negation”  into the Spinoza program, all in the name of rectifying it with, yes, Kantianism, ultimately culminating in Hegel’s ontological negation. The entire matrix of the One and All re-characterization of Spinoza, in attempts to avoid a percieved threat of radical Nihilism and Atheism, not to mention the dissolution of the “subject” and anthropocentrism, has to be considered as historically driven (ideologically so), well within the aims of domesticating Spinoza. So, in a certain sense, Laruelle’s acceptance of a One and All Spinoza (under the auspices of a Kantian diagnosis of “decision”) is quite in line with the philosophical attempts to domesticate him in synthesis with Kant (via the subject). Indeed, the question of the “I” (in Schelling with Kant and Fichte), which Laruelle discovers as implicit in Spinoza, haunts this fundamental mis-reading of his position. Kant should not be brought to Spinoza.

Substance As Ego?

I’ve mentioned it a couple of times, I suppose I should include it, here is the passage where Laruelle imagines that the very unity of Substance becomes an originary projection of a “ego”.:

In reality, Spinoza has always been invoked for two contradictory reasons: for the immanence characteristic of causality, no doubt, but also for the transcendence all too characteristic of the unity of substance in relation to the so-called ‘human subject’ as the supposed or site of immanence. The formula of the ‘human subject’ is kept here, but it is obviously ambiguous (which subject? which man?). This double enlistment is significant: Spinoza, this is justifiably immanence in effect, but immanence as it is lived or received as transcendent by the human subject, external to it and too great for it—let us retain this formula—and thus Deleuze recognizes and lays claim to it, rejecting man as the third and final moment of the triad, as a piece adjacent to machines, as a persona adjacent to concepts. Here there is no essence or absolutely autonomous form of man: the latter is a system of effects and is composed beginning from its content, affections and perceptions. The argument given is this: immanence is not to something else which is always transcendent; it is thus not to the cogito or to the ego; it is to self but not ‘to itself’ (emphasized p. 208, understood consequently: the ego is a preliminary form, transcendent to the immanence of the One- All). What does this argument mean? It begs the question: if immanence is that of the Spinozist substance, then in fact it is the ego which is now a transcendent form; but this is to be given what is necessary to demonstrate. The recent interpretations of the Cogito (Michel Henry and Jean-Luc Marion) are more subtle and show that radical immanence, without representation, is the essence of the Cogito.

“Response to Deleuze”

One can certainly see the lasting residue of the Idealist reappropriations of Spinoza in this reading, that any unity must be a cogito unity. While I am not familiar with the proofs of Henry and Marion, on any number of fronts one can argue that in fact Spinoza’s philosophy subverts not only the human cogito (and “ego”) to such a radical degree, but also does so at the level of Substance itself. The human subject is torn asunder from within, in a necessary Conjoined Semiosis (as I argue in these three posts: Aggregates, Groups and Trans-semiotics; Conjoined Semiosis: A “Nerve Language” of Bodies ; The Necessary Intersections of the Human Body: Spinoza ), but as well, that Substance is unity in no way correspondent to human cognition. In fact only a strong Idealist commitment (and one might say implicit Kantian commitment) would drive the preoccupation with a One and All reading of Spinoza. Spinoza himself really does not make this sort of distinction in his philosophy (far from it being the essential dyad), chosing other determinations upon which to organize his thinking. As such, perhaps Laruelle’s critique falls more heavily upon “Spinozists” and much less so than on Spinoza himself. This leaves us right back where we started, attempting to locate the initial decision of Spinoza’s philosophy.

The non-Euclidean: A Change of Axioms

Because this is not a thorough investigation but only a report on my followings of an intuition, it is perhaps better to change tact and find a certain strange correspondence between Spinoza and Laruelle, a correspondence of analogy. The attempt to locate the Kantianish “decision” in Spinoza seems to ground itself upon the reef of German Idealism’s appropriation of (and inoculation of itself against) Spinoza. It could be that an approach of the problem rhetorically would yield unexpected results.

Key to understanding Laruelle’s non-philosophy, perhaps more key than any other factor, is appreciating the “non” in non-philosophy. It is not a negation in the least, but rather a kind of expansion, or alteration. Laruelle tells us that it must be seen in the light of the “non” in non-Euclidean geometry. Brassier in Alien Theory puts it this way:

[click for larger image]

And Laruelle expands on the nearly literal connection between Non-Euclidean geometry and his change of axioms. It achieves a science status by breaking the internal logic of the (Kantian) decision (comparable to the changing of the 5th axiom of Euclid).   

Non-philosophy is obviously not a theory of knowledge or a system in general. It is a real-transcendental science of the world. The only way of discovering it is by relativizing the exclusive primacy of the logic that hides it and prevents one noticing it in philosophy, even of the non-analytical kind. We could say, in our customary style, that it is a transcendental logic that is real-and-nothing-but rather than logical; one that is without-logic or non formal, so to speak. Contrary to the logicist reduction of philosophy, which leaves the hidden prerogatives of philosophical sufficiency intact, specifically in the form of positivity and hence of a kind of dogmatism, this non-philosophical reduction of philosophy is at once real-transcendental and capable of a wide variety of realizations, not only in terms of logic but in terms of the sciences in general. There is an instance that is more radical than logic, and this is the real. Not that it is possible to replace logic by just any science while maintaining the same privileges for the latter. It is the universal posture of science that must take the place which in philosophy is held by the restricted universality of logic. Non-philosophy shatters the strictures of logic and analytical reduction, just as it dissolves the residues of a compulsory, exclusive and primary logic in the transcendental logic of philosophers, granting the transcendental the sole support of the radical real, and hence the possibility of entering into combination with each of the sciences. Non-philosophy is unified theory: a radical extension of philosophy beyond transcendental logic, but one that deprives it of its traditional pretensions. As a result, it is philosophy and its logical organon that lose their prerogatives by being turned into a simply real-transcendental organon. Thus, it is necessary to take the expression ‘non-philosophy quite literally, so to speak. It is not just a metaphorical reference to ‘non-Euclidean…

“A New Presentation of Non-Philosophy”

Now Brassier’s footnote references over 30 pages of text, so perhaps Laruelle works out a rigorous comparison between his non-philosophy and philosophy itself (all of them making the same sort of “decision”), different than that expressed in Laruelle passage cited which explicates the non-Euclidean analogy. This I cannot say. At first blush though we can read a very rough equivalence. Euclidean geometry possesses one group of axioms, and non-Euclidean geometry constitutes a change in these axioms. Pointedly, the fundamental decision of philosophy is avoided in favor of a radical Immanence. Okay, we can see that. But more is at stake in the literalized analogy, the movement from a “geometry” to a “science” and Laruelle’s expansion brings most of this out. In no-way does the non-Euclidean refusal of the parallel-postulate (related to Euclid’s fifth) give non-Euclidean geometry a position of taking the products of Euclidean geometry as its empirical objects, so the comparison holds within itself a slight of hand. This meta-like positioning of non-philosophy via non-Euclidean reference actually reads a kind of perverse disassociation.

This is what I find buried in the provocative metaphor. Primary among the interest in non-Euclidean geometry is the curious features of elliptic geometry. What we have in the globalization of space in such a geometry (which denies the parallel postulate of Euclid), is the kind of hermetic space that Laruelle finds problematic in Kantian philosophy (and by extension, philosophy in general), that is to say, the a priori conditioning creates the empirical conditioned, folding the “decision” back into the whole coherence, obscuring in a way its transcendence. The sphere of non-Euclidean geometry, invoked, a world where parallel lines SEEM like they would go on forever, in the seclusions of philosophical axioms, are shown to be recursively closed, intersecting at antipodes. In a way, Laruelle’s non-philosophy actually claims to expose the non-Euclidean (elliptic) nature of Kantian inspired analysis of “decision”. From the point of view of earth, when we draw two parallel lines on the ground, they appear actually Euclidean, transcendent, whereas in almost a Lacanian Symbolic fashion, our space is curved. They will intersect.

So when Laruelle invokes the non-Euclidean nature of his non-philosophy, I believe he is rather exposing both the illusion of an infinite Euclidean space (within a philosophy), and it’s actually curved, hermetic isolation of the Real (when seen from without). Kant’s logical necessity of Euclidean space further orients this reference to fifth postulate differences in geometry, and the kind of critical and axiomatic break that Laruelle is attempting to make.

The invocation of Euclid’s geometry, apart from Kant’s love for it, also has something of a reverbative affect back through the history of philosophy to the Ur-philosopher of Euclidean clarity, Spinoza himself. How can one rigorously (or literally) compare your radical approach to non-Euclidean geometry and not call to mind Spinoza’s famous more geometrico, and his desire to treat human emotions as if they were lines and points? In fact, at the face value of rhetorical forms, Laruelle’s non-Euclidean non-philosophy stands in strict opposition (I know, Laruelle refuses “non” as opposition, but I am speaking of the rhetorical form here) to Spinoza’s Euclidean Philosophy. As I’ve tried to point out in the above, it is hard though, given Laruelle’s Kantian framework of dyad, to locate exactly where the decisional diagnosis will fall. Instead they stand apart, perhaps as pictures. Or, as different sorts of Space, just as the original analogy might most strongly suspect.

Now this is the interesting thing. Non-Euclidean geometry largely developed over the contest of Euclid’s 5th axiom, what came to be described as the parallel postulate. And elliptic geometry (among others) arises with the change of this postulate, that parallel lines will not meet ad infintum. The appeal to the Non-Euclidean is an appeal to the challenge of the parallel postulate. Perhaps this is only a contingent jewel of historic happenstance, or perhaps Spinoza’s Euclideanism somehow floats behind Laruelle’s invocation, but Spinoza’s philosophy possesses its own much debated “parallel postulate”. In fact his gnomic parallel postulate can be said to be fulcrum upon which he balances the entire materialism vs. idealism quaesta.

With some homology to Euclid’s unmeeting parallel lines Spinoza asserts that “E2P7: The order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of things.” In fact upon this parallelism of infinitely extending parallel lines of causes seems to create the entire woof and weft of Spinoza’s seeming Euclidean space. It is the fiber of an abstract rejection any form of Idealism, a placing of the material on equal footing with the ideal (positioned within, one supposes, an infinity of other order and connection expressions of other unknown Attributes). Spinoza accomplishes a flattening of space required for his analysis, but in doing so in just this way refuses any scheme/content, conditioning/conditioned binary. What can we make of this?

Let us take up our provisional reading of the implicit Euclidean and non-Euclidean reversals in Laruelle’s rejection of the Kantian decision. The internal (spherical) realm of Kantianish decision creates an appearance of phenomena which are quite Euclidean in appearance (flat). The decision producing a philosophical coherence of the world in terms of material and idea, in a sense, bends the Real creating the very Kantian restricted access to Real, through an illusion of Euclidean infinity. The decision performs the very structure of Kantian philosophy itself (no matter which axiomatic dyad one makes). It appears straight because it is curved. Okay, let’s accept this doubling.

But because we are hard pressed to locate the original dyad in Spinoza – Is it between Substance and Attribute, as Laruelle suggests late in his Response to Deleuze, is it between Attribute and mode, between Substance and mode as in naturans/naturata, or Between Attributes themselves for instance in the parallel postulate itself? – we might want to take up the very case of Euclidean Space itself, the Space of the Ethics. This assessment of space is further complicated by Spinoza’s famous dismissal of geometry itself in Letter 12, wherein figures and shapes (as well as numbers and maths) are given to being mere imaginary products. Clearly, Euclidean geometry is taken up as a form of argument not because it presents a fundamental truth about Substance. Nature does not speak mathematics. All the same, Spinoza flattening of the ground through his own parallel postulate does well to be compared to Kant’s flattening through the bending of Space. Could it be that Spinoza’s Euclidean geometry presentation is actually the inverse of Kant’s, exoterically flat, esoterically elliptic? That is, despite the parallelism of thing and idea, is it not that parallel lines do in fact intersect, and that these intersections are regularly performed in the foreclosure of any knower known dyad as well as the remarked absence of any “subject”?

Spinoza tells us rather radically that any idea we have of something in the world is actually an idea we have of the state our body is in, so that when I phenomenologically look at my dog and perceive it, this is nothing more than imaginary relationship I have to the world (and myself), and that my idea of my dog is actually the idea (I prefer the concept “information”) of my body being a certain state. The reference is entirely cybernetic and recursively defined, and this is due to his parallel postulate. Friends of a neurological, brain-science view of the body and consciousness like this internal reference. All our thoughts about the world are our bodies coming into certain states of combination. What Spinoza tells us is that certain states of combination are more powerful, more active, more free, that others. Another way of stating this that our informational distribution and organization can become more or less self-determining.  We can see here a non-Euclidean bending of space buried within the flatness of the parallel postulate itself. Each human being makes a kind of self-referential sphere. But this is really not so either, for even though our ideas are merely ideas of our body being in certain states, we can have better ideas than others, and because we and the external things of the world are both expressions of the One Substance, occasions of us actually coming to know things external to us are necessarily participatory occasions, occasions which not only defy any restrictive notion of “subject” and “object”, but also cross out any ultimate boundary between one’s own body and that of another thing.

As I have argued in my treatment of the Prophetic Imagination, Spinoza’s Scheme of the Prophetic Imagination ; Omens of the Future: Intellection and Imagination, Spinoza ensures the possibility of a sharing of essences even at the level of the imagination. In addition to this, Spinoza’s definitions of body and individual as communications of parts and the causes of unitary effects all promote a variable negotiation of boundary which undermines any self/other essentialization, and in fact runs this mutuality right down to a panpsychic core which is neither materialist nor idealist. What one might propose with non-Euclidean, elliptic Geometry floating in the air, is that the knower and the known (in the Idealist sense) form the antipodes of a spherical mutuality of real communication of parts, such that the identity between each is blurred if not collapsed. And this antipodal notion actually expresses itself in an ignorance which takes the podes to be opposed because the spherical space is forgotten in an ignorance. This is to say that there are a spherical space of causes which have colluded to bring about the relations almost all of which is invisible. But not only this, the spherical space is filled with its own infinity of antipodes, and the space itself can be, and is perpetually redrawn in other spheres, all of which end upon the Immanence of Substance itself. This is to say, the Sciences are in the business of identifying antipodes (objects and knowings) and reconstructing the spheres of their collaboration, ultimately in the face of a necessary distortion (not of flatness or parallelism, but of infinities). And the monism of Substance, along with parallel postulate flattenings of our own thoughts, serve as tools for correcting the dislocations of our self-oriented and imaginary Euclideanism.

It seems to me that because the Ethics has to be read as a material thing with which our bodies are meant to interact and combine with, something upon which to grind our body lenses, so to speak, and not merely a mental, Ideational world to drift into, and because the philosopher is to conceive of his/her thoughts of the world (even the most transcendental thoughts) as thoughts of his/her body being in a certain state, forming a kind of combinative, material power, precisely the non-Euclidean dislocation of philosophical truth of Laruelle occurs buried within the implicit fractal and non-linear relations bound within the Euclidean exoteric form of Spinoza’s Euclidean presentation. In all, Spinoza’s coherence of argument is meant to provoke the intuition of connection, and thus to alert the mind to its own distortions of space, in particular how it reads its causal relationship to the world. Spinoza’s is a non-philosophy in the sense that it is meant as a philosophy meant to be left behind, once used.

Back When Speculative Realism was, err, Both Speculative and Real

An und für sich has a nice post up on Laruelle, that begins with a mournful nostalgia for a pre-capitalized Speculative Realism. Unfortunately I never witnessed this brief but golden moment for I was introduced to the movement through the exploitive fourth, but I have seen the afterglow:

In addition to making me nostalgic for a time when the very phrase “speculative realism” didn’t also signify “self-aggrandizing marketing tool-being”, but actually introduced me to three thinkers who work I found extremely interesting, challenging, and productive of thought (two as enemies and one as an ally, and a fourth whose work failed to capture my attention), it also served to remind me of the occasional series here about philosophers not understanding Laruelle.

The point of the post is to drive Laruelle’s solution of the Real and non-philosophy between the two Scylla and Charybdis of the ancestral arche-fossil and posterior Nihilism:

The real difference between the two philosophers has to do with the order of the Real as such (and I’m refusing here the difference Meillassoux tries to set up between the Real and realism) in relation to thought. For Meillassoux it is necessary to point to some ancestral moment prior to thought to break from subjective metaphysics, or what Laruelle calls the melange of thought and the Real, and what that ultimately means is that one must think a time preceding any possible thought or manifestation. Brassier flips this and instead of thinking from a time prior to thought attempts to breaks the circle through a radicalized nihilism that thinks a time posterior to all thought in the extinction of the universe. Laruelle’s theory of time can be said to refuse these two empirical theories and instead posits a determination-in-the-last-instance of thought by the Real. This determination does not posit a time prior or after to thought, but instead marks a unilateral determination of thought by the Real in each moment, thought is Real but the Real is not, as such, related to thought. This, in my view, is preferable to either the arche-fossil of Meillassoux or the nihilism of Brassier, because it passes the extensity test in thinking both the human and the Real without the need to rid itself of one to think the other.

I like the point, and find some sympathies with it and my Spinozism, but I wonder as well, what if we treat Speculative Realism itself as neither ancestral nor posterior closure. What if we think it as “a unilateral determination of thought by the Real”. By this I mean something Spinozist. The thoughts of Speculative Realism, the entire assemblage of it, before it became “self-aggrandizing marketing tool-being” (that is appropriated into a model of signifying commerce under the focus of one practice) held a brute determination that gave it its mark upon the world, a mark that can be decoded only through analysis of the power relations of its parts, the degree of reality of its members, partly through the kind An und für sich opens. Which is to say there is no determinative point from which to say when Speculative Realism ceased being Speculative Realism, and in fact ever was. There was only the brute Real of Speculative Realism and the attempt to express and/or harvest it. At one point it seems its name entered into an economy of names which removed a great deal of its potentiality.

The “heart” of Neo-Liberalism, blah, blah, blah

While I try to shrug off all this Neo-liberalism this, and Neo-liberalism that, as other blogsters are using fancy acronyms for Neo-liberalism as if they are busy making entries in the Merck manual, this one passage of qualifications and analogies from the Neo-liberal hating Levi Bryant I find interesting (yes, he has equated Neo-liberalism with Nazism recently):

While I do not disagree with Rowan William’s thesis that the picture of the human as an intrinsically self-seeking creature constitutes a false anthropology, I have noticed that there is a tendency to treat the core of neo-liberal capitalist ideology as consisting almost entirely of this false anthropology. What is missing in this conception of neo-liberal ideology is the legal and normative framework that underlies this way of relating to the world and others. On the one hand, in order for neo-liberal capitalist ideology to get off the ground it requires what what might be called a “pure subject” or a “subject-without-qualities”, not unlike Descartes’ cogito or Kant’s transcendental unity of apperception. At the heart of neo-liberal capitalist ideology (NLCI) is not so much a subject pursuing self-interest, as a legal subject functioning as the substrate of property, commercial obligations and debts, and divorced from social context and conditions of production.

One can see right away from the bolded material that analogies abound. Levi objects to an anthropological view being read as the core of Neo-liberalism, because there is a framework (legal normative) in which (?) a substrate operates (legal subject) onto which various formal economic relations adhere.  What Levi denies, in something beyond a point of emphasis, is that the “heart” or the “core” of Neo-liberalism is the self-interested subject. Instead it is a mere formalism of “subject” and its laws. To put it briefly, it’s not the self-seeking, self-interested desiring-subject, it’s the structured-subject (legally and philosophically) that is the troublesome kernel of Neo-liberalism. Let’s leave aside the kind of rhetorical slippage between philosophical “subject” and legal “subject” here, is it really correct to say that THIS is the core/heart of Neoliberalism (whatever that is)?

From my perspective the attempt to minimize the anthropological myth, the idea that human beings are essentially and naturally selfish beings, and instead draw a different heart/core made of some kind of structuralization, misses something. The entire legal and normative framework, we would say, came into existence and into justification in the very strong context of the belief that human beings are self-interested beings, essentially. The entire formalized drive towards privatization is made in response to this picture of humanity, it is naturalized within it. While I’m not sure who is saying that Neo-liberalism is nothing but this myth – David Graeber does make a vivid anthropological argument that “even” exchange is something that is done between enemies, suggesting that economic models of abstract equivalencies are necessarily mythologically self-interested ones - I am also unsure how much of the “framework” and its formalized subject could operate without it. In fact, as Spinoza knew just at the cusp of the Cartesian subject, one cannot cut off the conception of the cogito from the idea of its separate faculties of Willing and Judgment. In order undo the abstract subject, willing and freedom have to be radicalized. The desiring subject, how it desires, and what it desires for is integral to the very isolation of the said “substrate” of the subject in the first place. In fact, all of this stems to a great degree from Representational conceptions of knowledge and related questions of autonomy, freedom and desire.

I don’t really know what good finding the heart or the core of Neoliberalism does, other than create a kind of rhetorical force to steady the aim of our critique. But I do doubt that our narratives about how humans naturally (or if one is in Lacanian moods, structurally) desire are not every bit as important as the laws and norms that are created to regulate and shape those desires. I personally find the Neo-liberalism stigma mark to be something of a canard, designed by those that think “radical break”, getting “outside”, is the only way towards justice, but in any case, philosophies of “lack” (including much of what flows from Hegel, and those that hunger after essentialized “nothingness” or “absence” or “object”) have a great deal to do with foreclosing the possibilities of thinking about the “subject”, or better, the self beyond its normative product-buying, object-chasing behavior. One  also has to ask, as we pre-occupy ourselves with “objects” as essential and constitutive relations, are we not already caught up in economies (of desire, of real capital) which presuppose the “lack” which drives them, sinking deeper into our mental concrete the assumptions which secure the relations we would wish to change or improve upon.

Graham Harman’s Bad Poetry

Harman makes a note of the criticism no doubt someone has directed towards his writing:

Another example is when people accuse a philosophical text of degenerating into “bad poetry” (this is a popular one). The people who use this phrase would be no more supportive of good poetry than of bad; they simply want to exclude all poetry from philosophical work. Yet they can’t say: “But that’s poetry!”

I have to say this certainly isn’t a criticism I have leveled at Harman’s writing, though I have been very cautious in aesthetically judging the quality of his sometimes profuse use of adjectives and sensuous illustrations. Honestly at times the verge on the edge of “bad poetry”, and Harman himself has laughed at some of the phrasing he uses in the Vicarious Causation essay. As a poet and a fiction writer I would never exclude the poetic from the expression of a philosophical discourse, but one does have to separate the argumentative claim from its rhetorical force expression, and if the rhetoric is bad poetry, overripe, indulgent, sophomoric, well…its just bad writing. But as well I believe that the metaphors one uses to convince most certainly should be both examined and critiqued, just as they would be in poetry, especially if the theory is of the opinion that metaphors mean something and are the primary ways that all objects interact (as Harman has suggested). I find Deleuze and Guattari quite poetic, and to very good effect. One is swept up in the materiality of the expression and the transformation. Foucault can be like this, and many others. What Graham likely hides in this minimization of the “bad poetry” critique is that he believes he is a better writer than most philosophy writers (he has said that he refuses to apologize for writing so well, when the question of his metaphors has been brought up). I would say that Harman’s writing rises to the level of “entertaining” but seldom breaches the realm of Poetry, and when it does, well, perhaps it is bad. Perhaps it would better to characterize it as bad sports writing.

In the same post Harman goes on a nice rant about the nature of Vampires and Grey Trolls and the usual bestiary of essentializations directed at those who critique him. In this effusion he extends his thesis that the poster named “Eli” who made a rather liquid denunciation of Harman’s philosophical skills. The comment appeared in the comments section of one of my posts, and I reproduced it here. Harman’s claims in the usual incoherent manner that this fine writer was me, as I was reeling from his recent attack on my person. Of course “Eli” is not me. If one even bothered to think about it much one would realize why. I suppose it is interesting when the people you critique start to fantasize about you, either turning you into monsters or persona of every stripe.

Levi Apparently Has Never Read Harman’s Theory of Causation

Who Is Taking Harman’s Theory Seriously?

Levi writes in defense of Harman’s so-called Theory of Vicarious  Causation, after summoning the authority of the Principle of Charity a principle by whose force he tells me that I must assume that Harman actually knows what he is talking about when he proposes a brand new theory of causation. First my description, then his rejection of it:

Do you read as coherent that when a baseball hurls into a windshield it must FIRST send a representation of itself INTO the glass, and then it must brush this “vicar” into a state of phenomenenal breakdown, a breakdown which THEN results in the baseball cracking the glass? Does this make any sense to you? Aside from projecting a human caricature of experience and cognition, in what way does this actually seem to reveal how objects interact without human beings? (which I wrote at anotherheideggerblog)

 Levi’s dismissal:

The characterization of Harman’s position above is clearly absurd. Harman’s thesis is not that objects must first encounter other objects under the form of a “sensuous vicar” and then relate to them. Nor is it an anthropomorphization of relations between objects. Rather, Harman’s thesis is that objects only relate to one another selectively with respect to particular qualities, never exhaustively in terms of all the qualities that an object might possess or be capable of.

This is how Levi characterizes the Principle of Charity, something he feels that I have violated:

Rather, the principle of charity is a necessary condition for philosophical discourse, requiring that we present the positions of other thinkers in the most reasonable and plausible light before proceeding to criticism of that position. Working on the premise that our interlocutor is a reasonable and intelligent person that genuinely wants to get at the truth, explain features of the world, and understand things– a premise that should be granted at the beginning of dialogue and revoked only when proven otherwise –we should ask ourselves, with respect to our interpretations of the positions of others, “is this a position that a reasonable person would endorse or advocate? If our impression of another’s position is that it is batshit crazy insane, then it is likely we have misinterpreted the other person’s position, not that the author is making the absurd claim.”

Kettle Black

Obviously Levi did not follow my string of posts on Harman’s Theory of Causation when I originally posted them many months ago (and linked at the bottom), posts which were more than generous in terms of Charity. I sincerely wished to extract and find agreement with every possible coherence I could find, as one would see if you actually read my exegetic struggles with the said theory. Indeed when I found I could not make full sense of it I blamed myself, as Levi suggests, and this lead me to create diagrams of all the objects and their supposed interactions, and when the theory didn’t make sense even then, I even checked with Harman (with whom I was on good terms with at the time), to make sure that I got all the working parts right. And affirmed that I did. No one that I know of has gone this far in trying to local the sense of his theory. The Charity was immense and willingly given. [It seems though that Levi in making his  assessment of my explication and my criticism has not even bothered to read my posts on the theory, but has simply Uncharitably attributed them to an intitial uncharitable disposition on my part. This is quite common for Levi as he regularly reads his critics in the worst possible light, his rhetoric often rising to literally atrocious levels.]

Harman sans Phenomenology?

But more than this, in his defense of Harman’s Theory of Causation and its supposed non-anthropomorphic nature, Levi does not select a quote from Harman’s theory (the essay which he seems not to have actually read or read closely), nor even from Harman himself, but from Michael over at Complete Lies who presents an ENTIRELY non-phenomenological reading of Harman’s theory.

As Michael writes over at PE, confessing the expermental nature of his take on Harman’s causation:

“This is the gamble I’m making. It may fail, but I’m considering it an experiment in understanding. I want to see if OOP could be presented and understood with no post-Kantian material. This would obviously change things, but I am hoping it will lead to new understandings and clarifications.”

Harman’s theory is whole-hog a phenomenological theory (hello?). In fact the problematic anthropomorphism RESIDES in the phenomenology and the core assumption that Husserl’s Cartesian sensuous objects are explanatory of what non-human causation is. Take out the phenomenology and you go a long way towards taking out the anthropomorphism…you also go a long way toward destroying Harman’s theory altogether. Michael of course admits that by taking out the phenomenology he has performed a great gamble as I cited, but it is absolutely silly to appeal to Michael attempted rescue of Harman’s theory from its phenomenology to explain what precisely Harman himself is claiming. It has removed a core component of the point that Harman is trying to get across, and it is this core component (and how it is said to interact with other elements) which I have described far above with baseballs and windshields. It should be obvious that I am under no obligation to explain how Harman’s own theory might be readable without reference to any post-Kantian material when in fact Harman’s ENTIRE theory is about how post-Kantian Husserl and Heidegger objects are necessary to understand causation in the first place. Michael makes no reference to Harman’s theory of causation essay in his experiment (cool as it is), and the reason for this is that it wants nothing to do with phenomenology or Husserl. Levi’s turn toward a no-post-Kantian explanation of what Harman is claiming in unreserved and exclusively post-Kantian terms is beyond ludicrous, and shows the least respect for Harman’s theory one can imagine, a refusal to take it seriously on its own terms.

It seems I have been unfair in criticizing Levi recently for remaining silent on the incoherence of Harman’s theory of causation because in fact it seems that Levi has NOT actually read it  but only about it (as is evident by his inability to reference the essay in any way shape or form in support of what he thinks it claims, nor recognize those claims when made explicit).  Here is the essay.

As to my uncharitable assessment of the essay’s depiction, my reading is fair and reflects what Harman has asserted in his essay. Levi seems to have greatest trouble with the successive nature of the interactions between real objects as mediated by their sensuous vicars. It is that he thinks Harman is just concerned with selectivity and not the actual relations of which selectivity is made. But this is EXACTLY as Harman describes it, emphasizing this temporal quality of the imagined relations, in fact he speaks in terms of lag and interaction:

“We must discover how real objects poke through into the phenomenal realm, the only place where one relates to another. The various eruptions of real objects into sensuality lie buffered from immediate interaction. Something must happen on the sensuous plane to allow them to make contact, just as corrosive chemicals lie side by side in a bomb – separated by a thin film eaten away over time, or ruptured by distant signals.”

*cited from the essay none of the supporters of the essay seem to want to cite.

And again,

“There is a constant meeting of assymetrical partners on the interior of some unified object: a real one meeting the senuous vicar or deputy of another. Causation occurs when these obstacles are some how broken or suspended. In seventeenth century terms, the side-by-side proximity of real and sensual objects is merely the occasion for a connection between a real object inside the intension and another real object lying outside it. In this way shaves or freight tunnels are constructed between objects that otherwise remained quarantined in private vacuums.”

So, when Levi makes his Charitable appeal to Michael’s non-Phenomenological interpretation of Harman’s Phenomenological acount of causation…

Nor is it an anthropomorphization of relations between objects. Rather, Harman’s thesis is that objects only relate to one another selectively with respect to particular qualities, never exhaustively in terms of all the qualities that an object might possess or be capable of.

This denuded attempt to save Harman’s theory misses the entire failing of the theory itself, its proposed explanation of just what that SELECTIVITY consists of, ie how causation occurs. Where is Levi’s grasp of the nature of the “distant signal” Harman says is sent out from the vacuum-packed “real” object? Where is Levi’s awareness of processes of corrosion that are said necessarily to occur at the level of the “sensuous plane”? Where is the conceptual nature of what a “vicar” is (a vicar is a Representation, hello? Harman also uses the term “deputy”) appreciated or even acknowledged? Can it be the case that the only way to be charitable to Harman’s causation one has to strip it of ALL phenomenological and Husserlian object basis? This is not charity, this is plain old mis-reading, or as I suspect, non-reading. It seems that as Levi appeal to Michael’s version of the essay and not the essay itself, it is quite likely that he has not read the essay he defends, just as he had not read the evolution of my treatment of it. Instead we have in the usual Levi Bryant sense, a wild invocation of a “principle” (he just loves these principles) without understanding either the contexts he is applying them to, or really the principle itself.

Charity and Credit Deferred

To take up the Principle of Charity I go to Donald Davidson’s most famous positioning of it, which argues that the only reason why we can make ANY sense of anyone is through the initial and primary assumption that they are saying, doing, intending, is rational. This is foundational to cognitive, intersubjective relatability. And this we gladly presume, as I am Davidsonian. And one can see of course this is also something to be extended to theories proposed. We have to assume an initial optimality of coherence to as to see what is being attempted, how it all SHOULD work together. But this is not an infinite credit. The reason why one is charitable in this way is so that when testing the coherence of a theory it is against the backdrop of this intial coherence that we come to understand its failings. You try to make it work, and you try to make it work so that when it eventually fails you can say to yourself, “hey, this stuff is non-sense or in need of a radical overhaul”, or hopefully “With a little tweak here it functions smoothly”). 

Now it seems that Levi wasn’t even charitable enough to actually read Harman’s theory, or if he read it he read it so shallowly he didn’t even pay attention to what it was claiming. Instead he distanced himself from it, and did not challenge its merit as an honest friend might do. He doesn’t seem to be familiar with it at al, in factl. Instead he has appealed to an non-Phenomenological secondary treatment of it to attempt a summary which actually dismisses almost the whole of Harman’s claim about the nature of causation, intensional objects, Husserl, the whole ball of wax.  I would certainly agree with Levi that what Harman is trying to do is something of the bedimmed “selectivity” of objects, so to speak, but Harman is trying to stake out the actual mechanism, the means of connectives in selection and interaction upon a very specific armature of relations; primary among these is the Phenomenological intension of objects, and in the case of “vicars” a representationalist conception of interaction. The processes of real objects sending signals to their vicars in other objects, and these vicars being “poked” or “poked through” or “corroding” makes up the actual mechanism of causation that he provides however vaguely. To miss this is simply to abuse his theory altogether, to pretend that it is not what it is. Try not to explain away or simply IGNORE what Harman is trying hard to assert and describe.

Harman is rather explicit in his essay about this, and only a very lazy reading of his essay would miss it. It is the connection between elements that is vital:

“What remains to be seen is how these elements interact, how one type of relation transforms into another, how new real objects paradoxically arise from the interaction between real objects and sensual ones, and even how sensual objects manage to couple and uncouple like spectral rail cars. These sort of problems are the subject matter of object-oriented philsophy: the inevitable mutant offspring of Husserl’s intentional objects and Heidegger’s real ones.”

Levi has it all wrong when he thinks he has encapsulated Harman’s theory of causation: “The point is that there is always more possibilities open to any object than those actualized in any particular relation the object enters into.” This is not the point of his theory at all, only the presumption that drives the necessity of a theory of causation in the first place. The burden is in stating how and why THIS particular relation has been actualized, and not THAT or another relation has been actualized. His entire essay is an argument (and hopefully not just a fantasy) of “how these elements interact” and it is for that reason that the exact nature of their interaction so claimed comes under criticism. Only by vacating Harman’s theory of causation of all content, as Levi does, removing from it any claim for how the elements interact, any reference to the central role of representational phenomenology, do you end up with Levi’s very compassionate but empty reading. It would be really nice if those that claim to be charitable readers of Harman’s theory actually concern themselves with the stated aims of the piece rather than coming up inventive ways of avoiding its explicit content.

I would add that I praise Harman for attempting his theory of causation, precisely in the terms that he attempted it. It was a bold try. The reason one cannot simply ignore what Harman tries, the exact depiction of how causation occurs in particular to the assumption of a Phenomenological core (which Michael at Complete Lies does away with), is that Harman knows that if his four fold is actually to be shown as coherent, it is precisely this kind of theory, THIS theory (or one very similar) that has to take hold. It was just for this reason why Harman attempted it, and is continuing to work on it (as it is merely absurd or tremendously failing as it is). The reason why Levi’s failure to read the essay with any precision constitutes an abuse (as does Michael’s non-Phenomenological reading) is that Harman’s theory of causation is the joint-work of his entire metaphysics. And it is just for this reason that this theory in all of its anthropomorphic splendor, projecting Husserl’s objects and actions into every object in the world, displays the incoherence (or one might say fantasy nature) of his metaphysics. Harman needs his theory of causation to save his Speculation.

A short word about Charity and the extent of it. Levi in the past has accused me of not extending the Principle of Charity to his own wildly swinging theories as if the work of the explanation actually falls upon me, the reader. This is nonsense. Initially one assumes that someone knows what they are talking about, but as one encounters incoherences or rhetorical tendencies at deception (as one does with Levi), critical questions increase, rather than go down. When the car seems to be running fine, you get in and ride in it. When it starts to make a knocking sound, and then wobble a bit when steering, you get out. You presume the car can be fixed, and you try to fix it, but one is under no obligation to presume either that it MUST be fixable, or worse, that it isn’t even in need for repair.

This is the problem with some of the Speculation versions of philosophy operating at the upper end of the internet (because I don’t want to speak of the weightier writers of the now defunct Speculative Realism). Some seem to imagine that the Principle of Charity somehow works as a fill-in for the connective parts of a theory, that the theory itself MUST make sense, all the while remaining in the shadows of mere “speculation” (hey, don’t criticize it, I’m still working on it!). This goes right to the point I made about Speculative Realism and financial Speculative Bubbles which has caused something of a stir. Indeed in financial trading there are principles of Charity which ground and even drive the investment in different products. But one does not wisely invest in ANY financial product, or even accept any form of promisory note, just because one has to be generous. The economy of exchange is founded on the possibility of testing the merit of representational claims, and philosophy is no different. The problem I have had with some versions of Speculative Realism has to do with the difference between “This is a cool idea for a car!” and “This is a car.” The one you speculate, test, think about, maybe model and one day build, the second one you don’t get into unless it shows itself to do what it claims to do. I’m not against the first kind at all, in fact my entire blog (and many of the lower tier Speculativists’ as well) are exactly of this nature: This is a cool idea for a car! But it seems that some want to do the philosophical thing and make the further claim, and in Levi’s case, basically bluff your way into This is a car! with all kinds of references to Priniciples and fallacies, name-droppings, borrowings and science references. Fair enough, if you want to play philosopher, go ahead, but when checking under the hood before revealed a bunch of disconnected wires and old car parts and lots of very gruff “Hey, what do you think you doing in there!” most would pass on checking any further. But in either case,  criticism as to what is being claimed (fantasy car, or real car) is just what is needed to make what we have created better, so it works.

I would say that my criticism of Harman’s causation was the most charitable thing I could have done. And recent pressure I have put on the allies of Harman to actually engage it has done more good for the essay and what it was attempting to do than a thousand tepid avoidances or radical reinterpretations. At least Harman has a chance to renew the incoherence and see if he can rescue it, to speak of “distant signals” and “corrosive sensuous film” with more argumentative force. Levi might actually read the essay this time, maybe Michael’s non-Phenomenological causation gets Harman to change something fundamental. In any case, I don’t believe in black boxes, and presume that the more attention the essay gets the better the chance that Harman’s metaphysics will find the causal explanation that would justify its claims. I’m all for that. In the meantime, when Harman tells us that when a bug hits the windshield of a truck and has absolutely zero causal effect on the truck, an example of one way causation, we justifiably should laugh, and to do so charitably.

For those who would like to read the uncharitable approach I took towards the essay, these were my posts in evolution. Unlike some, I actually refer to the essay – in great detail – and attempt to grasp the specificity of its claims. 

My three overall points to Harman’s Theory of Causation are:

1. Insofar as it does work it is a problematic Orientalization of causal relations through a mediating exotic other (a cultural values insertion).

2. Insofar as it projects Husserlian Cartesian representationalism into every object relation it is one vast anthropomorphization and quite far from being “object oriented”.

3. Insofar as it fails to provide an account of the relations between posited elements it ceases even to be a theory of causation for it lacks the explanation itself.

How Do the Molten Centers of Objects Touch?

The “sensuous vicar” of Causation

More on Harmanian Causation: The Proposed Marriage of Malebranche and Hume

Taking the “God” out of the 17th Century

Spinoza says, “Individual things are nothing more than…”

Graham Harman’s “essence” contra DeLanda, à la Campanella

Vicarious Causation Diagrammed

The White and the Colored In Heidegger (and Harman)

The Allure of Graham Harman’s Orientalism and Flaubert

Binaries, Orientalism and Harman on the Exotic

Pornographic Ecology: Hearthism and the Logic of Political Action


The subject of Eco Porn came up over at Tim’s Violent Signs, as he highlights and discusses the site Fuck for forest (FFF), which touts itself as a ‘all natural” “sexy” way  save the planet. The site and project are one thing (at a few glances, too lallapolooza-burning man/member porn-site for me), but Tim’s general juxtaposition gave me to think about the possible powerful connections between Ecology and Pornography. There is something to this alliance, aside from a certain 60s liberation confluence of “free” and “love” that provokes. Unlike, perhaps Porn for Animal Rights (which brings the “animal” in human sexuality into the fore, and seems to translate violences unto each other), Porn for Nature creates other ideological ambiguities and leveragings. Instead of Herzog’s depiction of Nature as one vast chain of murders (is that how he put it in My Best Fiend?), Nature (the ideological image) tends towards one vast orgy. But porn is not an orgy. Porn consists of localized, quite staged (staging is part of its aesthetic) intensified and captured action, a kind of sitism meant to communicate itself to other sites. If anything Porn aligned with Nature gives one to see the localized eruption, the acute collision between what is supposed to be human and supposed to be natural, almost in a political sense. Nature itself becomes localizations of stagings, species collisions, environment intersexualizations within confines to be analyzed, broadcasts of itself in a heightened viability.

This leads to the immediate thoughts I had in response to Tim Matts piece, that in the very logic of Ecology and in Pornography, as both instrumentally instruct our experience and analysis of the world, the is a kind of exportation of border, a reconfiguring of Home. And, we can see, that pornography and ecology support themselves in the variety of their expansions, at least as political projects:

There is one, radically conceptual way that I can imagine that pornography (of any sort) connects itself to ecology, and that is at the etymological level. The “eco” in ecology is the study of the hearth, the home, with all its attendant social normatives, its structured persistence in every culture. Ecology is one might say, Home-ism. [And I don't think that Idealism's alienating and essential binaries of self/other, home/fremde are helpful here]. Pornography, the writing of prostitutes, are etched displays of that which at several levels appears to violate the home. Sex, moral sex, is supposed to occur right there at the core of the home, making a kind of double hearth. That Odysseus  is recognized as being home through the identification of his wedding bed - a great immovable tree hewn - into speaks to the anchoring of home in sexual act. Problems of ecology, we want to say in a qualified way, are problems of Home-ism, defining the Home in an incomplete and bordered way. Economics, the laws of hearths, attempts to trace out the nature of a hearth’s extension, but pornography immediate leaps and puts-out-aleady at the investigations’s limit, the sexual act, (seemingly) far beyond the terminus of the hearth. Yet the act itself is generative, is hearth-making, but in a potentially dislocating fashion. It encourages the imagination of Home-ism beyond where home might be, outside in the wilderness; and as hearth-making sexual acts (under economic auspices) are pyrophilic embers, threatening forest fires of another kind. Pornography propels the inside of the hearth to be re-started beyond the walls of home, and ecology forces the mind to expand those walls deep into systematic wholes never before imagined to be circulated. Pornography instantiates a de-centering that throws the ecological logic out into its sphere, but, as a fire-starter, also prevents (and threatens) and cohesive final vision of what a new-home might be. A fantasy flattening of hearth-making and of Home which the pornographic conflagration can tend to induce, itself is not an eco-end as it can merely dissipates the energy it generates, as well as laying its sexualized structures to appropriation.

Thoughts on Porn and the Political

There seems to me that there is found in pornography the essentially political act in the sense that it is both “framed” but also that the framing is meant to expose/reveal the absolute nexus of the human and the natural (as they are presupposed as divorced). One recalls the brute apogee of Sade’s work from the Bastille, and the presence of rampant porn publishing surrounding the French Revolution, to take the text book case. And as I discussed in the questions of freedom at stake in US versus Stevens: The Affects of Law and Protection, it is that porn takes as its mode of communications and replication the affective conduits of image, an intentful proliferation and economic bonding through the eidentic, that allows it to unnerve, literally, un-nerve the very weave of law and sense itself, on sites of the body, what each political act (conservative or liberal) threatens if for only a moment to do.

The Soul Crushed and Twisted by the Mechanical Arts – Plato

Plato’s Prisons of Techne

I repost here the quote from the Republic that in usual Platonic, imagistic language is full of potential truths. Here we find Socrates discrediting primarily the sophists, but really by virtue of a whole class of technically skilled [techne] workers, those whose power and knowledge consists in their experiences, and standing, as workers. In condensed fashion he runs the gambit from prisoners to technicians to mere machine workers. All of these he tells us, wish to gravitate, actually more, leap or fly to the prestige of philosophy:

Just as men out of prisons into holy sanctuaries are fleeing, so these joyous men out from technical arts are leaping into Philosophy, as if those being most intricate would hit upon the little art of themselves. For in comparison with the other arts the honor of philosophy even though abandoned is more magnificent. This is the flight of the many unaccomplished by nature, who from the technical arts and even workmanship, their bodies have been mutilated and their souls envined and even crushed through the mechanical arts.

Plato, Republic [495d]

Leaving the question of the sophists aside and picking up the word-image, we really have something here. There is the interminable sense that our experiences as workers confined to the techniques of our knowing and doing, caught within the demands of an economic and thereby psychic necessity, contort us, alter us. And Plato’s image is quite strong as he evokes the worker or technician (and some editors have thought that he had the military arts in mind, but the image carries through) whose body is maimed by the arts he practices. We see vividly the industry worker, or other friends of the “machine” who has lost fingers or received other bodily harm, even desk workers whose time in the chair have changed their posture. All of these graftings of a machinic upon the human body are rolled up into the image of the prisoner at the beginning of the passage, the one who is confined, shackled by circumstances of every degree. And all of these make for Socrates those who are unqualified to the seat of Philosopher. This is because, as the body is the image of the soul, it is not only bodies that have been exacted upon, it is souls, and here in the end forming a bookend to the prisoner the image is striking. The mechanical arts (by which we are to see mean arts, perhaps those of low craftsmen, even with the association of the weaver who is feminine), actually “envine”, they envelope and slowly twist and choke the soul, even eventually crush or pulverize it. What comes to mind for me is of a gear-working, a rack that out of its unnatural nature incrementally destroys the cognitive powers of the soul. Here “work” in every mechanical gradient becomes the equivalent of torture.

At a certain level we have condensed here all of the reasons why the economic freedoms of others become a high priority for us. For it is not just in political restriction that the voice and soul becomes contorted, but also that the very lived mechanical – and we read mechanical even in the most abstract sense of purposed and productive repetitions - states of workers are binding and cognitively contorting devices. At least that is the rhetorical picture. Aside from Plato’s political aim, the freeing of cognitions from devices remains a kind of halo of a hope, an attractor.

Scholastic Silence: How to Comtemplate

But in this ethical picture stands its opposite, the idea that the Philosopher is he who is not contorted, maimed or crushed. The one whose body and soul stands relatively whole, unpressured, the one who can see clearly, from a distance. It is there that Bourdieu’s critique of the “scholastic point of view” which I brought up in my last post, occurs. The production of the quietude of the Philosopher, the near monastic, let us say scholastic isolation from the contortions of mechanical art pressures, is, Bourdieu wants us to know, artificial. The cocoon and buffer that creates the gap between a world of devices and techniques exacted, and the imagined realm of reasons, has to be built. It has been constructed through labors which themselves are structured. And then it too is structured by internal devices and arts. What Bourdieu wants us to know is that when the philosopher adopts the scholastic point of view, he/she is likely carrying with him/her the vast train of social constructions (literal constructions) which enable that monastic cell of contemplation, and there is both a social and epistemic responsibility towards the excavation of those inherited and largely unconscious relations (an excavation that in some sense is retarded by flat ontologies who know only their surface).

The One Machinist of the 17th Century

In a way it is the Philosopher who knows least the mutilations of his/her body, the envinings of his/her soul, the pulverizations, due to the very quietude of contemplation. And to this great dis-orientation of thinking towards the mere mechanical, my mind turns towards the rise of the philosophy of the mechanical, the Dutch flowering of Cartesian mechanism. It seems here that most, if there was to be a philosophy that embraced the mechanical nature of thinking it would be found here. I wrote some time ago about the “hand of de Beaune” a brilliant mathematician who was working hard in the service of Descartes on the production of a fantastic automated lens-grinding machine :Descartes and Spinoza: Craft and Reason and The Hand of De Beaune. With somewhat of a coincidence de Beaune’s hand was severely cut just as Plato’s technician’s body was maimed. Descartes’ dream though was of producing machines which no hand would touch, pure, abstract machines, concretized maths, in a sense, those which would free the otherwise fettered human mind. Plato’s dichotomy duplicates itself, the machine as enemy to the mind because of the body, as well as its instrumental aid. As I have pointed out in my investigation of Spinoza’s lens-grinding, Spinoza was the only “worker” of the period, and in fact the only craftsman per se. While lens-grinding and machine fascination was an elite hobby among the new scientist riche, Spinoza was actually a worker, and engaged his lens lathe daily as a matter of his economic sustainance. Deep in this machinic age, only Spinoza new the machine in a fashion Plato’s Socrates could not. He knew it with his hands.

In an interesting fashion, Spinoza’s “scholastic point of view” embodies a unique self-reflective awareness that is encapsulated in his worker, machine status, as well as one might admit, his standing as an ostricized Jew. He occupied a position at the border, a stand-point, that made of his quietude a different sort of awareness. Born of the age of the machine, Spinoza understood the human being too as a device, a complex series of ordinations, to which other complex serieses of ordinations are connected, a “spiritual automaton” he called the human being. In this awareness the “worker” takes on a different place: Not that of “prisoner” to stand in dialectical opposition to the unmutilated man, but of machinic degree. Our work becomes an expression of machines, machines of which we never extricate ourselves. It is only that we need to choose our machines (those of which we are made) more carefully, with an eye to liberation. The gaze of leisure is to be questioned.

Blogged Quietism

In this view blogging of course becomes a significant phenomena. Some philosophical bloggers write out of a self-created cocoon to escape the twisting techne of university or college, forming however brief a contemplation of respite, engaging the machinic of the internet. Some blog in order to be able to speculate, to freely exhibit what they might be able to think, if they were allowed to. Yet, as we produce our ideas and disseminate them, to the degree that we do not embrace the machinic, we are fraught with generating the modes that have produced our monk-cell, unconsciously, not recognizing the shapes of our bodies and souls.

Atop this image of the mechanical arts that contort there is the artist, we might say, is also the self-artist. The one that grasps the inherent machinic character of the human, and purposely undergoes specific machinic contortions upon both body and soul, not to perfect, but to express (and to some degree soterologically free themself and others from) the specific techne of the world, as it stands. To take on the machine, in the way that a poet takes on a complex meter.

Bourdieu on Blogging: Where to Find Symbolic Capital?

Living Beyond Your Means, On Credit

I don’t have time to summarize in depth, but some may be interested in this discussion over at the Latourian blog We Have Never Been Blogging: Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop. In our back and forth I quote from Bourdieu, from his Homo Academicus, a passage meant to describe the avenues of academic respect hoped to be achieved through “journalism”. The passage has of course interest for the kinds of Symbolic Capital some are, or have been trying to accumulate through blogging and other heterodox philosophical publishing. Worthy of note, Bourdieu uses an analogy of credit quite similar to one that I employed recently, although I did not have this passage or even Bourdieu in mind:

The heretical traditions of an institution based on a break with academic routine, and structurally inclined towards pedagogical and academic innovation, lead its members to become the most vigorous defenders of all the values of research, of openness to abroad and of academic modernity; but it is also true that they can encourage to the same extent work based on bogus, fictitious and verbal homage to these values, and that they can encourage members to give prestigious values for a minimum of real cost…The structural ambiguity of the position of the institution reinforces the dispositions of those who are attracted to this very ambiguity, by offering them the possibility and the freedom to live beyond their intellectual means, on credit, so to speak. To all the impatient claimants who, against the long production cycle and longterm investment…have chosen the short production cycle, whose ultimate example is the article in the daily or weekly press, and have given priority to marketing rather than production, journalism offers both a way out and a short cut. It enables them to overcome rapidly and cheaply the gap between aspirations and opportunities by ensuring them a minor form of the renown granted to great scholars and intellectuals; and it can even, at a certain stage in the evolution of the institution towards heteronomy, become a path to promotion within the institution itself.

There is even more coincidence for those interested in the local goings on in the blogged philosophical community, as Levi Bryant actually holds related parts of Bourdieu’s book as authentication for why he turned down a future at four year colleges and universities:

“Why did I choose a position at a two year school? “There”, I told Fink, “I will have academic freedom. I will be able to explore my interest in all styles of philosophy, psychoanalysis, biology, physics, history, literature, and so on without being required to be anything. No one will care what or where I publish, so I will be free to do what I want.” In his characteristic manner he said “hmmmm!!!”, making a honking sound like one of the squash horns my grandfather used to make for me as a young boy. At the time I thought that was a rationalization. Often I still do. I took myself out of the prestige game, though I still yearn for it sometimes. But what I was doing ultimately, I think, was giving myself the freedom to speculate. What a relief it was to read Bourdieu’s Homo Academicus years later! Perhaps, above all, what that seventh chapter gave me was the authorization to speculate without bowing before the obsessional alter of “Continental rigor” [editorial note: defense]. However, the fact that I would undermine my own work in this way must indicate that here there’s still something unresolved. Nonetheless, I can’t help but feel embarrassment whenever anyone wants to discuss the work or wants insight into it.” here

No longer did Levi have to bow down and kiss the rings of the “prestige game”. We might assume that much of the thinking that leads one to the freedoms of speculation, that draw one away from university pursuits, would also be integral to the pursuits of blogging where even more freedom and speculation can occur.

Monk-Mind and Speculative Thinking: Playing Seriously

But in another sense, if we are going to appreciate Bourdieu on this front, we should keep our eye upon all the Symbolic Capital accumulations (not just where and how they have been cashed in within the Institution), and see that Speculation is an interesting game, one that aims at kind of heretical prestige runaround, but also one that participates in the general game of the scholè, the reasoned preoccupations that only can occur within a hermeticism against practical, worldly pressures. The generation of the “scholastic point of view”:

I believe indeed that we should take Plato’s (1973) reflections on skhole very seriously and even his famous expression, so often commented upon, spoudaios paizein, “to play seriously.” The scholastic point of view of which Austin speaks cannot be separated from the scholastic situation, a socially instituted situation in which one can play seriously and take ludic things seriously. Homo scholasticus or homo academicus is someone who is paid to play seriously; placed outside the urgency of a practical situation and oblivious to the ends which are immanent in it, he or she earnestly busies herself with problems that serious people ignore-actively or passively. To produce practices or utterances that are context-free, one must dispose of time, of skhole and also have this disposition to play gratuitous games which is acquired and reinforced by situations of skhole such as the inclination and the ability to raise speculative problems for the sole pleasure of resolving them, and not because they are posed, often quite urgently, by the necessities of life, to treat language not as an instrument but as an object of contemplation or speculation.

Thus what philosophers, sociologists, historians, and all those whose profession it is to think and/or speak about the world have the most chance of overlooking are the social presuppositions that are inscribed in the scholastic point of view, what, to awaken philosophers from their slumber, I shall call by the name of scholastic doxa or, better, by the oxymoron of epistemic doxa: thinkers leave in a state of unthought (impense’, doxa) the presuppositions of their thought, that is, the social conditions of possibility of the scholastic point of view and the unconscious dispositions, productive of unconscious theses, which are acquired through an academic or scholastic experience, often inscribed in prolongation of an originary (bourgeois) experience of distance from the world and from the urgency of necessity.

“The Scholastic Point of View”

For those that follow Harman’s preoccupations, the forgotten Scholastics are principle among them. These now ill-respected thinkers for Harman form a whole portfolio of philosophical stock that can be purchased at bargain basement prices. Mix one of these thinkers into your paper and one suddenly produces a sense of weight and historical richness, we know. If you embrace one fully enough you’ve resurrected a lost soul locked in the catacombs of philosophical history, and have engendered a sense of personal originality, going against the tide of the Institution. But as well we might see that the connection between Scholasticism and Speculativism comes out of a certain kind of inherent idealization of what academic thinking is. Cocooned from practical concerns and pressures, the monk-mind is free to speculate and achieve a kind of non-worldly perspective. The isolation into institutions, and then, when run from, into blogged privacies is a participation in privilege to which the thought produce may very well be blind. There is real, Bourdieuian advisement that “the scholastic point of view” must be epistemologically leavened with an awareness of the structures which have produced it, and thus made aware of the unconscious investments that govern its own quietude.  If we may be monks, the conditions that allow our speculation are brought along with it, and if we really are pursuing, not just speculation for its pleasures of freedom and imagination, not just some kind of run-around of Institutional restraint, searching for cheaper prestige, but true ideas and ideas that inherently should matter to the world, the consequence of our ideas (politically, ethically, socially) must be embraced. In this way there is an epistemological mandate for our ontological speculation which immediately connects ethics to metaphysics. By way of example: Speculating that the world is essentially an Oriental condition of mediated cause as Harman does, should be related to the real world Orientalization which produces the cocoon of one’s own speculation, possibly to detrimental effect. To put it another way, the more our Symbolic Capital increases, especially in the field of philosophy, the more our ethical responsibility of our ideas to the world does as well.

Just as men out of prisons into holy sancturaries are fleeing, so these joyous men out from technical arts are leaping into Philosophy, as if those being most intricate would hit upon the little art of themselves. For in comparison with the other arts the honor of philosophy even though foresaken is more magnificent. This is the flight of the many unaccomplished by nature, who from the technical arts and even workmanship, their bodies have been mutilated and their souls envined and even crushed through the mechanical arts.

Plato, Republic [495d]

The Play of Fascist Objects: Object-Orientation and Latour: Updated

Adriano has a really articulate comment he put up under my posting on Latour’s implicit Fascism, Fascist Bindings In Latour: The Blinding Glory of Non-Human Agency. I have to comment on this later, but his essential Bourdieu vs. Latour political point is certainly a compelling one. Its has a double-edged blade when put to Harman and Levi because Harman declaratively wants to ignore any political complicity or consequence of his thinking (he embraces its Orientalism to no ill effect), while Levi who tries to preserve his social justice credentials and his hatred (yes hatred) for Neoliberalism wants to read Marx as essentially Latourian. For those interested in Levi’s self-proclaimed in-name political radicalism (and I am not, other than its implicit hypocrisy) Adriano’s pressing of a political, sociological critique is quite germane. For those interested in Harman’s implicit Capitalized logic (which I am), the question of Latour’s Neoliberalism which grounds Harman’s attempt to glue Husserlian objects to Heideggerian ones, Adriano’s point again presses home. The question arises, What is so sexy about objects?, if one could put it that way.

As Fuller writes in the article I cited, the very object-orientation of the concept of “translation” as a strong counterpart in our conception of desire:

” “Translation” was meant broadly to cover the process whereby one thing represents another so well that the voice of the represented is effectively silenced. Central to this process is the capacity of something to satisfy—and thereby erase—a desire. Callon and Latour exploited the Latin root of “interest” as interesse (“to be between”) to capture this capacity, which reverses the ordinary meaning of interest by implying that it is the presence of an object that creates (or perhaps reorients) a desire which the object then uniquely satisfies. That object is the mediator.”

When Latour’s very theory of objects as actors itself is seen in this light, as the “object that uniquely satisfies or fully orients our desire”, when our consciousness is defined by its objects, we of course lose the capacity to critique that desire itself, and the matrix of powers/desires it finds itself in. Is it not that the very verticality of ontology (aside from Harman’s fantasy of four-fold sensuality), the leverage point upon which ethics is built? And is not the very absence of an ethics from Latour, Harman and Levi, the mark of the failings of their ontological construction? In short, perhaps….where is Bourdieu?

Here is Adriano’s comment:

Well yeah, as we have coincide before: the foundational imposture that Latour retains is the source of the problem. But its also worth to mention that neither Harman nor Levi bothered themselves to take Latour`s work critically. Like i have said elsewhere, Latour´s work departures from a very and detailed systematic anti-bourdieusian imposture, say like ‘phantomizing’ Bourdieu´s constructive/conceptual preoccupations. So from this reactive foundation he is doing a cinical counterargumentation of all the work done by Bourdieu, and he keeps on feeding his stands by doing that.

Its seems that the position that Latour is occupying between the philosophical and the sociological fields is one of an ideologue who denies the relation that social research is meant to have in respect with other fields of knowledge, and this, in order to presume and to exalt the illusion of an absolute autonomy of the scientific field. But as he does this cynically, those who follow his work without any critical margins are meant to fall into a blinded spot in the exercise of their own practice, while they reproduce it as a naturalized scholastic point of view which gives a ‘fair’ sense of justification to their objectual laboratory. This is what i was trying to say to Nick the other day.

So the problem is also the lack of interest in adapting their work into the social research procedures: neither Harman or Levi are much worried to do this in the right way so to contemplate and conceive other critical angles regarding to what is known about the latourian assertions.They don`t do this because it would imply to realize how urgent is it for their sake to drop out a big part of what sustains their work. For instance, as a bourdieusian, its seems to me that they had never triangulate Latour`s work with Bourdieu`s, not even when there is a clear critical struggle underlined between these two sociologues. So they took an unquestioned part on Latour`s favor without knowing the specific and confronted vis a vis details of this very particular struggle, and obviously without getting to know closer the bourdieusian frame of work.

The results are evident: blinded spots within their practice that are reproduced through their pragmatic academic and granted commodities. This also means that they may not be aware how they are reproducing specific ideological interests that also might point out to their own social class and habitus) and this, in despite their good intellectual and ontological will. An object-oriented-naivety that ends to be self-oriented while they insist to defend it in they mean to fiercely embrace it.

UPDATED: For those interested in the Levi opera, I include here a link to a thorough-going response Adriano had to Levi’s separation of ontology from politics, which Levi in his usual fashion of refusing to publish critical objections to his position, deleted, in an effort to shape the impression that his position is both achieved through some kind of dialogic with all objections, and the production of a kind of consensus: here. He of course also has deleted any number of similiar critical questionings of his concepts by me, as well.  A discussion of these issues follows in the comments section below.

Fascist Bindings In Latour: The Blinding Glory of Non-Human Agency

I’m still reading and digesting the essay, but Steve Fuller’s critical treatment of Latour, with its deep investigation into the economic and political matrix out of which it came is extremely interesting reading, in particular for those that imagine that there is something inherently liberating by either Flat Ontologies, or the raising of objects to the level of actor.  I want to reproduce here two pages of thought provoking text wherein Latour and ANT is taken to task for its Capitalist and Fascist potentiality, as well as an implicit Neoliberal stake (which Fuller examines elsewhere). For an panpsychist like me, an advocate for Animal Agency-Right recognitions, and a thorough-going Cybernetic conception of mankind and human beings, this presents a serious challenge on the ethical/political axis. If it is to be resolved, for a Spinozist, it is within the one thing that separates out Spinoza, strongly, from Latour, the power of rational explanation of cause, and the directional degree of liberation entailed in forming networks in the first place. The one thing that unbinds any imposed corporeal union of technology and humanity, is the dutiful liberation of all elements beyond their single axis of connection or network. Otherwise Fascism haunts.

It is worth considering that Fuller brings up some of the recent commentary fears that have attended criticism of various blogged appropriations of Latour which stake their soul upon not being Neoliberal, and certainly not Fascist. Some have feared that displacing the importance of the human is a demotion of human, in particular of political concerns. Fuller raises this problem of increase agency under the auspices of liberation with some worthy argument. I have an answer for this from a Spinozist, non-Flat perspective, but I’m unsure if the new metaphysicians of Latour do.

I hope to formulate a more comprehensive post of Fuller’s point, and the Spinozist answer, in particualr of the terms where Latour and Spinoza agree. I duplicate the prose here because the pages are relatively succinct and convincing in their argument, and form a kind of brief, elegant picture of what is wrong with Flat Ontology, in particular from a political and ethical perspective.

This last point is worth stressing because actor-network theory is full of emancipatory-sounding talk that claims to reveal the “missing masses” needed for any large-scale sociotechnical achievement. However, the masses are presented as if they were literally physical masses whose movement is necessary to give an elite forward momentum. The agency of these masses is thus limited to the extension or withdrawal of collaboration, not the initiation of action. The current fashion for distributing agency across both people and things merely underscores the value of the masses as means to the ends of other parties, since in many cases nonhumans turn out to be at least as helpful as humans in achieving those ends. (The locus classicus is Callon 1986; for subsequent applications, see Ashmore and Harding 1994.) Although actor-network enthusiasts often make much of the innovative political vision implied in this extension of agency from persons to things, some disturbingly obvious precedents for this practice seem to have been suppressed from STS’s collective memory, the first from capitalism and the second from totalitarianism. The first precedent concerns actor-network theory’s affinity with the metaphysics of capitalism, which, through the process of commodification, enables the exchange of human and machine labor on the basis of such systemic values as productivity and efficiency. This is the sense in which technology is normally regarded as a “factor of production,” that is, a potentially efficient replacement of people. Indeed, the metaphysically distinctive tenet of socialism in modern political economy has been its revival of the medieval doctrine that human beings are the ultimate source of value in the world. But like capitalist cost accounting, actor-network theory knows no ontological difference between humans and machines. Consequently, the subtext of the title of Latour (1993), We Have Never Been Modern, might have read “We Have Never Been Socialist” to capture the increasingly neoliberal climate of French science policy that makes ontological leveling seem so attractive. This point is lightly veiled in Latour’s refashioning of the word “delegation” to capture the process whereby humans and nonhumans exchange properties, which legitimates the treatment of humans as cogs in the wheels of a machine, and machines as natural producers of value.

Here we might compare the Parisian treatment with the most developed set of arguments for extending agency to nonhumans. These fall under the rubric of “Animal Liberation,” as popularized by the Australian moral philosopher Peter Singer (1975). In this guise, the politics of agency veers toward restraint and caution rather than mobilization and facilitation. An important difference between Singer and Latour is that the Animal Liberation movement has gravitated toward a conception of “animal rights” modeled on the civil rights accorded to humans. Significantly, a sentient creature, usually a mammal, is the paradigm case of a “nonhuman.” In contrast, the various Parisian exemplars of a “nonhuman” have typically resided much lower on the evolutionary scale: scallops, microbes, and even mechanical door closers all serving as examples at various points (Callon 1986; Latour 1988, 1995). The overall effect is that in its proliferation of agency, actor-network theory dehumanizes humans, while Animal Liberation humanizes animals.

When Hegel, following Spinoza, said that freedom fully realized is the recognition of necessity, he had in mind an idea that can easily be lost in the liberatory rhetoric associated with the extension of agency to nonhumans, namely, that to increase the number of agents is not to increase the amount of agency in the world. On the contrary, it is to limit or redefine the agency of the already existing agents.A’s full recognition of B’s agency requires that A either make room for B as a separate agent or merge with B into a new corporate agent. In both cases, A is forced to alter its own identity. In the former case, the change may be rationalized as A’s coming to lead a simpler life, whereas in the latter, it may be rationalized as A’s now having access to more power than before. The former corresponds to Animal Liberation, the latter to actor-network theory: the former retains the human as unique agent (at least at the species level) but at the cost of diminished wants and power, whereas the latter magnifies the wants and power of the human but at the cost of rendering each individual a (potentially replaceable) part of the larger corporate machinery. (For an earlier treatment that mistakenly assimilated actor-network theory to the Animal Liberationist perspective, see Fuller 1996.) Animal Liberation’s excesses are regularly documented in the forced entries into university laboratories to “free” animals that have been caged for experimental purposes. Yet, there is an even less savory precedent for the extremes to which an actor-network perspective can be taken, namely, the twentieth century’s unique contribution to political theory and practice: totalitarianism. Contrary to Latour’s oft-repeated claim that politics has never taken technology seriously, totalitarian regimes stand out from traditional forms of authoritarianism precisely by the role assigned to technology as the medium through which citizens are turned into docile subjects, specifically, parts of a corporate whole.

While attention has usually focused on totalitarian investments in military technology, of more lasting import have been totalitarian initiatives in the more day-to-day technologies associated with communication, transportation, and building construction. The early stages of these developments already informed science policy debate in continental Europe at the dawn of the twentieth century (Fuller 2000, chap. 2, sec. 3). Ultimately, these technologies enabled unprecedented levels of mass surveillance and mobilization, all in the name of configuring the national superagent. In the course of this configuration, any sharp division between humans and nonhumans was removed. An important consequence was that a subset of the human population— say, the Jewish race or Communist ideologues—could be excluded from the corporate whole as such great security risks that the rest of the human population would agree to submit themselves to sophisticated invasive technologies in order to become part of, say, the “Nazi cyborg.”

This last point was first made by Carl Schmitt, the Weimar jurist who provided the original legal justification for the one-party state that became Nazi Germany. Schmitt ([1932] 1996) held that technology was the latest and most durable corporate glue because its apparently neutral character seemed to impact everyone equally, thereby enabling conflict to metamorphose from the elite cross-border confrontations of the past to “total war” involving a nation’s entire population. Schmitt envisaged that the threat of an external foe more powerful than any internal foe would lead citizens to submit to the application of mass technologies for purposes of defeating that foe, however much their own personal freedoms may be constrained. Actor-network theory can be understood as the account of society that results once there is no longer a hegemonic state apparatus in charge of this technostructure: a devolved totalitarian regime; in a phrase, flexible fascism. Instead of a unitary state that renders everyone a means to its specific ends, now everyone tries to render everyone else a means to their own ends. The former members of the corporatist state may have lost their sense of common purpose, but they retain the personal ethic which attended that purpose. The difference in actual outcomes is much less predictable than under a totalitarian regime, but ultimately explainable in terms of the agents’ differential access to the resources needed to attain their ends. Thus, the necessitarian myths that originally propped up Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin have now yielded to contingent narratives centered on Pasteur (by Latour), Edison (by Hughes), and Seymour Cray (the inventor of the mainframe computer, by MacKenzie).

Indeed, one of the eerier similarities between the predilections of totalitarian and actor-network theorists is the glorification of the heroic practitioner—be it the power politician or the heterogeneous engineer—whose force of will overcomes the self-imposed limitations of superstitious citizens and academics in the grip of a theory. Thus, comparable to Pareto’s disdain for the planning pretensions of social democrats is Callon’s (1987, esp. 98ff.) contempt for the sociologists Pierre Bourdieu and Alain Touraine, who define in mere words the contemporary state of French society, something engineers supposedly do much more effectively in their daily practice.

One of the most remarked upon features of fascist ideology is its easy combination of an animistic view of nature, a hyperbolic vision of the power of technology, and diminished sense of individual human agency. The same could be said of the “delegations” and “translations” that characterize the accounts of sociotechnical systems provided by actor-network theory. Interestingly, in his brief discussion of totalitarianism, Latour (1993, 125-27) comes closest to endorsing the Pirandellist “it is so, if you think so” form of relativism of which his critics have often accused him. Specifically, he explains the formidability of totalitarian regimes in terms of a widespread belief in their underlying philosophies, rather than, say, the collective impact of the actions taken under their name. Latour officially wants to ensure that people are not inhibited by philosophies that stray too far from the scene of action, but his argument also implies that one ought not be inhibited from forming alliances with people to whom such philosophical labels as “totalitarian,” “capitalist,” and “imperialist” are conventionally attached. In this way, Latour allows nominalism all too easily to slide into opportunism (22-24)

“Why Science Studies Has Never Been Critical of Science Some Recent Lessons on How to Be a Helpful Nuisance and a Harmless Radical”, Steve Fuller

Thank you for the essay Adriano.


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