Cox Jaskey Malik (Eds.) - Realism Materialism Art

May 4, 2019 | Author: Ricardo Arias | Category: Noumenon, Gilles Deleuze, Immanuel Kant, Materialism, Philosophical Realism
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Realism, Materialism, Art...

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Realism Materialism Art introduces a wide range of new realist and materialist philosophies and examines their influence within the arts. This dynamic collection of texts and images breaks realism and materialism out of their philosophical frames and opens them to broader cultural and social concerns. Eds. C. Cox J. Jaskey S. Malik ISBN 978-3-95679-126-0

Realism Materialism Art

Realism Materialism Art Eds. C. Cox J. Jaskey S. Malik

Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College Sternberg Press

Coole: From Within the Midst of Things Ladyman: Things Aren't What They Used to Be

Diederichsen: Is Marxism a Correlationism?

Grosz: Feminism, Materialism, and Freedom

Groys: Entering the Flow

DeLanda/Cox: Possibility Spaces

Laruelle/Ó Maoilearca: Artistic Experiments with Philosophy

Poole: The Idiot Paradigm Malik: Reason to Destroy Contemporary Art Speculation

Shaviro: Non-Correlational Thought

Matter Lee: Unnatural Participations

Thacker: Pessimism and Realism

Brassier/Malik: Reason Is Inconsolable & Non-Conciliatory

Cox: Sonic Thought

Harman/Cox/Jaskey: Art & OOObjecthood

Grant: Suprematist Ontology & the Ultra Deep Field Problem Object

Scale

Schuppli: Law and Disorder Horgan/Potrcˇ : Blobjectivism & Art

Wark: Absolute Spectacle Paglen: Geographies of Time

Canini: Real Noise Acts Concept

Representation

Srnicek: Computational Infrastructures and Aesthetics Weir: Thick Dia-chronic Crash

Garcia: In Defense of Representation Kolozova: Concepts that Surrender to Materiality

Negarestani: Synechistic Critique of Aesthetic Judgement

Ritchie: The Temptation of the Diagram

Szepanski: -non-music-non-stopRibas: What Is it that Makes Today’s Realism so Different, so Appealing? Avanessian: Speculative Poetics

Parisi: Automated Architecture

Ayache: Technology of the Future

Meillassoux: Metaphysics & Extro-Science Fiction

Beech: Concept Without Difference

Contents 11 15

35

41

47 61 71 87

97 123 131 137 145 151

Preface Tom Eccles Introduction Christoph Cox, Jenny Jaskey, and Suhail Malik Matter Things Aren’t What They Used to Be: On the Immateriality of Matter and the Reality of Relations James Ladyman From Within the Midst of Things: New Sensibility, New Alchemy, and the Renewal of Critical Theory Diana Coole Feminism, Materialism, and Freedom Elizabeth Grosz Is Marxism a Correlationism? Diedrich Diederichsen Entering the Flow Boris Groys Possibility Spaces Manuel DeLanda in Conversation with Christoph Cox Object Art and OOObjecthood Graham Harman in Conversation with Christoph Cox and Jenny Jaskey Sonic Thought Christoph Cox Unnatural Participations Nathan Lee Law and Disorder Susan Schuppli Blobjectivism and Art Terry Horgan and Matjaž Potrcˇ Absolute Spectacle McKenzie Wark

163 173 177 185 193 205 213 231

245 253 263 283 289

301 307 319 325 333

Concept Pessimism and Realism Eugene Thacker Making Non-Standard Thoughts: An Introduction to François Laruelle John Ó Maoilearca Artistic Experiments with Philosophy François Laruelle in Conversation with John Ó Maoilearca Reason to Destroy Contemporary Art Suhail Malik Non-Correlational Thought Steven Shaviro The Idiot Paradigm Matthew Poole Reason Is Inconsolable and Non-Conciliatory Ray Brassier in conversation with Suhail Malik Suprematist Ontology and the Ultra Deep Field Problem: Operations of the Concept Iain Hamilton Grant Representation In Defense of Representation Tristan Garcia Concepts That Surrender to Materiality and to the Real Katerina Kolozova The Temptation of the Diagram Matthew Ritchie -non-music-non-stopAchim Szepanski Concept without Difference: The Promise of the Generic Amanda Beech Scale Geographies of Time (The Last Pictures) Trevor Paglen Computational Infrastructures and Aesthetics Nick Srnicek Real Noise Acts Mikko Canini Thick Dia-Chronic Crash. Incision into Delay Andy Weir Synechistic Critique of Aesthetic Judgment Reza Negarestani

345 351 363 371 387

395

Speculation What Is It That Makes Today’s Realism So Different, So Appealing? João Ribas Speculative Poetics—Preliminary Reflections Armen Avanessian Automated Architecture: Speculative Reason in the Age of the Algorithm Luciana Parisi Metaphysics and Extro-Science Fiction Quentin Meillassoux Technology of the Future Elie Ayache List of Figures Jenny Jaskey and Alicia Ritson

400 Image Credits 401 Contributor Biographies 405 Colophon

Preface Tom Eccles

Edited by Christoph Cox, Jenny Jaskey, and Suhail Malik, Realism Materialism Art (RMA) grew out of discussions within the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College. With a broad focus on exhibition and artistic practices since the 1960s to the present day, CCS Bard has, since its inception in 1990, sought to locate the “visual arts” in the broader context of contemporary culture and, as such, the masters course offered at Bard has always engendered a distinct interest in theoretical concerns that many may feel unusual, if not downright inappropriate. As the editors note in their introduction, “realism and materialism challenge many of these now prevalent assumptions of cultural practice and theoretical inquiry” and it was out of the need to question the dominance of post-structuralist, psychoanalytic, and Marxist theories that constitute these assumptions, and which continue to form the basis of much of the theoretical and critical elements of advanced art education, from which this current project was born. This current publication demonstrates the pertinence and vitality of this inquiry and its applications, and we hope that RMA will serve a broad set of academic and non-academic interests. The volume provides a key source in, and guide to, the most innovative and exciting realist and materialist projects taking place today. To that end, RMA features new material from leading figures in Speculative Realism and materialism, and puts these in dialogue with the inventive work of emerging, unfamiliar, and unexpected practitioners and researchers from many areas of intellectual, artistic, and scientific enquiry and practice. Particularly important to the ambitions of this volume are the prospective intersections of these research areas: as the editors of this volume note in their introduction, “For all the gathering interest in the possibilities opened up by the relationships between realism, materialism, and art, there is to date a dearth of reflection and argument on their reciprocal salience.” RMA looks to rectify this situation, acting as a sourcebook of recent critical developments across disciplines, taking up the renewed interest in realism and materialism from art, philosophy, culture, and theory, while also providing both an introduction to this demanding and fastmoving set of debates and practices, as well as a unique convergence between its diverse approaches and disciplines. The collection of new essays, interviews, and discussions extends the current debate on materialism and realism beyond the prevalent strands of “Speculative Realism” and “object-oriented philosophy” by linking these innovative philosophical approaches to recent work in feminist-materialist theorizations of gender and affect, political theory, network art, science, finance, and literature. This uniquely diverse combination looks

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PREFACE

TOM ECCLES

to break realism and materialism out of its narrow theoretical frame, opening it out into broader cultural and social terms, drawing contributions from across diverse fields of inquiry that demonstrate the breadth and challenge of new materialist and realist approaches to received disciplinary categories and forms of practice. The editors have organized the contributions to the book in a quasiencyclopedic format, allotting the contributions to five primary categories with historical and practical significance in art, art history, philosophy, and theory. These categories are: matter, object, concept, representation, scale, speculation. These categories were selected because they are primary to current materialist and realist thinking. They also serve to relay the philosophical arguments that have for the most part inspired the renewed interest in these traditions, with canonical terms familiar to audiences and readers in art and art theory. As well as acting as common identification markers for the reader, categorizing the otherwise diverse contributions with the familiar and well-worn markers chosen by the editors has a two-fold purpose: on the one hand, the diverse contributions in any one category push current philosophical, scientific, artistic, and theoretical research into dialogue with one another in unexpected and inventive ways; on the other hand, these familiar if not canonical categories are themselves challenged and reworked by the diverse entries thus reshaping the conventional sense of the categories themselves. In this way the book has the ambitious aim to make a contribution to the development of art, theory, art history, and philosophy itself. I would like to thank the editors first and foremost for their inspired list of invited contributors and their dedicated efforts to bring this challenging project to fruition. Both Christoph Cox and Suhail Malik have reshaped the theoretical and philosophical courses at the Center for Curatorial Studies, some of the material from this book having already contributing to a CCS course dedicated to Speculative Realism in 2013, while Jenny Jaskey, who graduated from CCS Bard in 2012, has developed her research outside academia through exhibitions and public programs in New York City. RMA provides a clear example of how an institute, its faculty, students, and alumni with a shared research focus can extend their research and discussions far beyond the particularities of any given course. I am also grateful to my former colleague Johanna Burton who initiated a series of “readers” at the CCS Bard in 2011 and to the current director of the graduate program, Paul O’Neill, who has reinvigorated the conditions for curatorial research at Bard. Our publications for the past several years have been made possible by the extraordinary efforts of Jaime Baird, who singlehandedly oversaw these complex projects with dedicated enthusiasm. For RMA, Molly Whalen has provided a truly impressive service in carefully editing and proofing a series of challenging texts. Orit Gat steered the early evolution of this publication and

has proved an invaluable resource to CCS Bard over the years. And finally, my thanks to designer Zak Kyes and the Zak Group in London who never fail to provide an inspired response to the raw material presented.

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Introduction Christoph Cox, Jenny Jaskey, and Suhail Malik

Realism and materialism have become important watchwords in intellectual and cultural discourse today. Despite their differences, these philosophical stances propose that thought can think outside itself, that reality can be known without its being shaped by and for human comprehension. This position sharply contrasts with the philosophical and cultural view dominant over the last half century, a view that affirms the indispensability of interpretation, discourse, textuality, signification, ideology, and power. Diverse as they are, the theoretical programs that constitute this latter orthodoxy (notably phenomenology, hermeneutics, post-structuralism, deconstruction, and psychoanalysis) maintain that our apprehension of the natural and social worlds is either constituted or mediated by a discursive field or a cognitive subject, and that nothing—or nothing meaningful—exists outside of discourse or its socially-organized construction. In short, this orthodoxy has been staunchly anti-realist. Today’s realism and materialism explicitly challenge many of these now prevalent assumptions of cultural practice and theoretical inquiry. Realism Materialism Art (RMA) presents a snapshot of the emerging and rapidly changing set of ideas, practices, and challenges proposed by contemporary realisms and materialisms, reflecting their nascent reworking of art, philosophy, culture, theory, and science, among other fields. Further, RMA strives to expand the horizons and terms of engagement with realism and materialism beyond the primarily philosophical context in which their recent developments have taken place, often under the title “Speculative Realism” (SR). While it is SR that has most stridently challenged critical orthodoxies (even if, as discussed later in this introduction, the positions convened under the SR banner are often discordant and form no unified movement), RMA purposefully looks to extend the purview of realist and materialist thought by presenting recent developments in a number of distinct and heterogeneous practices and disciplines. Cutting across diverse thematic interests and modes of investigation, the contributions to RMA demonstrate the breadth and challenge of realist and materialist approaches to received disciplinary categories and forms of practice. This pluridisciplinarity is typical of the third term in our title: art. RMA affirms, as art now does, that there is no privileged area, thematic, or discipline in the investigation or reach of realism and materialism: not philosophy, not science, not even art itself. Art is then not just a field transfigured by realism and materialism; it is also a method for convening and extending what they are taken to be and do when extended beyond philosophical argument.

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INTRODUCTION

A short history of some of art’s intersections with recent realisms and materialists is presented below. However, for all the gathering interest in the possibilities opened up by the relationships between realism, materialism, and art, there is to date a dearth of reflection and argument on their reciprocal salience. RMA looks to provide a corrective to this situation. Featuring new contributions from a number of established figures in contemporary variants of realist and materialist theory, these ideas are situated in relation to the inventive work of established and emerging practitioners and researchers in art as well as from other areas of active inquiry on the consequences and effects of realism and materialism. Because many of these contributions assume familiarity with the key claims of the resurgent realisms and materialisms, rehearsing their core arguments and motivations here may help provide orientation through them. I In various ways, the currently dominant modes of contemporary critical theory— perhaps most strikingly post-structuralism, deconstruction, and psychoanalysis— insist on the absence, infinite deferral, or fiction of what Jacques Derrida called the “transcendental signified,” that is, a fundamental reality that could arrest or ground the proliferation of discourse, signification, and interpretation. Jacques Lacan, for example, maintained that “there is no such thing as a prediscursive reality” because “every reality is founded by a discourse”—or, even more strongly, that “it is the world of words that creates the world of things.” In a similar vein, Michel Foucault argued that “there is nothing absolutely primary to interpret, for after all everything is already interpretation. […] There is never, if you like, an interpretandum which is not already interpretans.” Derrida’s notorious claim “there is nothing outside of the text” offers another expression of this idea, as does Roland Barthes’s remark that, apropos the domain of discourse, “there is nothing beneath.” As Slavoj Žižek, the most prominent current heir to this tradition, concludes: “The pre-synthetic Real is, stricto sensu, impossible: a level that must be retroactively presupposed, but can never actually be encountered.”1 These positions are all variants of what, in his influential book After Finitude, Quentin Meillassoux calls “correlationism.” “By ‘correlation’,” Meillassoux writes, 1

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See Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book I: Freud’s Papers on Technique, 1953–1954, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. John Forrester (New York: W. W. Norton, 1988), 66; Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: On Feminine Sexuality: The Limits of Love and Knowledge (Book XX), ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: W. W. Norton, 1998), 32; Lacan, “The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis,” in Écrits, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: W. W. Norton, 2006), 229; Michel Foucault, “Nietzsche, Freud, Marx,” in Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology: Essential Works of Foucault, 1954–1984, vol. 2, ed. James Faubion (New York: New Press, 1998), 275; Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), 158; Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” in Image, Music, Text, ed. and trans. Stephen Heath (London: Fontana, 1977), 147; and Slavoj Žižek, The Ticklish Subject (London: Verso, 1999), 33.

CHRISTOPH COX, JENNY JASKEY, AND SUHAIL MALIK

we mean the idea according to which we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other. […] Correlationism consists in disqualifying the claim that it is possible to consider the realms of subjectivity and objectivity independently of one another. Not only does it become necessary to insist that we never grasp an object “in itself,” in isolation from its relation to the subject, but it also becomes necessary to maintain that we can never grasp a subject that would not always already be related to an object.2 For the correlationist the world is only ever the world for thought or the experience of a subject. The existence of things in themselves, independent of their relationship to the thinking or experiencing subject, is either bracketed as inaccessible or dismissed as a fiction. With the term “correlationism” Meillassoux not only reveals an important commonality among the otherwise disparate theoretical and philosophical programs of the twentieth century already mentioned (as well as hermeneutics, Wittgensteinian philosophy, pragmatism, analytic anti-realism, existentialism, etc.); he also reveals this idea’s deep roots in the history of philosophy. According to Meillassoux, correlationism is “the central notion of modern philosophy since Kant.”3 Indeed, Immanuel Kant’s “Copernican Revolution” consisted in arguing that, contrary to the ordinary view that thought conforms to the objects it apprehends, objects conform to our thought.4 For Kant, the apprehension of reality is always mediated by a set of cognitive structures shared by all human beings. Hence, what we call “the world” is always the world for-us. The “object of thought” is only ever the object for-thought and not the object as it exists in-itself. Kant insists that things-in-themselves must exist in order to provide the content for thought. Yet he also insists that such thingsin-themselves can only be posits of thought or faith, not items of knowledge.5 Kant’s successors insisted that the notion of an unknowable thing-in-itself is contradictory and superfluous. On the one hand, Kant claimed that the thingin-itself is unknowable, beyond the limit of human knowledge; yet, on the other hand, he nonetheless seemed to know enough about it to posit its existence and thus to transcend the limit he had declared impassable. Responding to this contradiction, G. W. F. Hegel, Kant’s most prominent successor, sought to show that there is no genuine division between the world-as-it-appears-to-us and the 2 3

4 5

Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier (London: Continuum, 2009), 5. Ibid. In A Thing of This World: A History of Continental Anti-Realism (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2007), Lee Braver gives a detailed account of this prevalence of “correlationism” (which Braver calls by the more standard philosophical term “anti-realism”) from Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche through Heidegger, Foucault, and Derrida. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, ed. and trans. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), Bxvi–Bxviii, 110–11. Ibid., Bxxvi and Bxxx, 115, 117.

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INTRODUCTION

CHRISTOPH COX, JENNY JASKEY, AND SUHAIL MALIK

world-as-it-is-in-itself, no division between subject and object, mind and world. Instead, the world or reality is mind-like, imbued with mind or spirit.6 Thus Hegel “absolutized the correlation,” as Meillassoux puts it, asserting that the absolute (what truly and fundamentally is) does not reside in some thing-in-itself existing beyond the bounds of our thought but is the very correlation between thinking and being.7 These two philosophical moves—the skeptical Kantian move according to which the real is fundamentally inaccessible, and the idealist Hegelian move according to which the real is fundamentally mental or spiritual—are maintained in more recent European philosophy and critical theory that otherwise seeks to move beyond the Kantian configuration. Where Kant took the categories of thought to be universal and necessary, a fundamental feature of all human cognition, postwar European thought often relativized and historicized this position, maintaining that there exist multiple and irreducible ways of apprehending the world that are relative to historical periods, cultures, or subject positions. And where Kant cast his theory in terms of structures of cognition, postwar thought externalized this view, casting it in terms of discourse, discursive regimes, or ideology, taken to be linguistic and extra-linguistic structures and practices that determine the limits of understanding and behavior. Despite these significant and telling departures from Kant, postwar thought nonetheless reproduced the structure of his position, maintaining that the real is accessible only as mediated by discourse or—the more Hegelian position—constituted by it.

that exists; there is only one plane of existence, a plane that nothing transcends. It is what we are and that in which we are always already immersed. The attempts by philosophy and conceptual thought to get to the real, to capture and represent it, always necessarily fail because they are always already a part of the Real and thus cannot project themselves outside of the Real in order to capture its totality. As Laruelle puts it in an exchange with Derrida that clearly confounds and exasperates the latter: “We start from the One, we don’t arrive at it. […] You have to start from the real, otherwise you’ll never get to it. Who wants the real? Philosophy. And because it wants the real, it never gets it.”9 Philosophy merely produces a “transcendental hallucination” of the Real construed in its own image.10 By contrast, Laruelle’s own practice of “non-philosophy” or “non-standard philosophy” does not attempt to represent the real but to think alongside or according to the Real, the latter being the cause of thought and that to which thought belongs as a material part. One of the very few prominent philosophers to endorse Laruelle’s project was Gilles Deleuze, an important predecessor for several strands of recent realism and materialism. From the 1960s into the 1990s, Deleuze was strongly associated with post-structuralism; yet, unlike many of his contemporaries, Deleuze always considered himself a “pure metaphysician,” drawing from contemporary science and mathematics to inform his philosophy and disparaging the “linguistic turn” characteristic of post-structuralism. For Deleuze, language is but one example of a broader notion of “expression,” itself a feature of all natural entities.11 Deleuze’s collaborative writings with Félix Guattari were a primary source for Nick Land’s realist characterization of capitalism as constitutively lying beyond human interests.12 Land’s writings from the 1990s propose that humans—as organisms, minds, bodies, and societies (especially the state form)—constrain the expansive and proliferating energies of matter, machine systems, and codes. Land affirms that these limits on material “expression,” as well as those of historical forms of natural and social organization—including capitalism itself—are to be abolished by technological and capitalist advances into non-human conditions, a machinic “deterritorialization”

* Within this intellectual context, realism—the view that the world is fundamentally independent of the human mind and discourse and that it can be known in its independence—was dismissed as naive or futile.8 However, the past decade has witnessed the resurgence of realism and materialism among philosophers trained in European and Anglo-American correlationist or anti-realist thought. The recent affirmation of realism was enabled by a new interest in two veteran French philosophers who at the turn of the millennium were scarcely known in the Anglophone world: Alain Badiou and François Laruelle, both born in 1937. Though Badiou maintains a Lacanian conception of the Real as the unthought or impossible of any given situation, what sets him apart from other philosophers of his generation is that he dismisses the politics of difference, asserts the primacy of mathematics, and offers a theory of universal truth. This opened the door for other internal challenges to post-structuralist orthodoxy. Laruelle’s philosophy of radical immanence is more directly a realism. For him, the Real (or “the One”) is all 6 7 8

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G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977). Meillassoux, After Finitude, 37, 51ff. A caution: Kant is, in some sense, a realist insofar as he holds that things-in-themselves or noumena exist independently of the human mind. However, he brackets the thing-in-itself as unknowable, maintaining that knowledge and experience deal exclusively with phenomena, that is, things as they appear to us. In the sense presented in the main text here, realism is the view that mind-independence of the world is not just a mental posit but also something describable by philosophy, science, and other disciplines.

9

Jacques Derrida and François Laruelle, “Controversy over the Possibility of a Science of Philosophy,” trans. Ray Brassier and Robin Mackay, in The Non-Philosophy Project: Essays by François Laruelle, ed. Gabriel Alkon and Boris Gujevic (New York: Telos Press, 2012), 90–91. See also François Laruelle, Philosophies of Difference: A Critical Introduction to Non-Philosophy, trans. Rocco Gangle (London: Continuum, 2010), 152ff. 10 François Laruelle, “A Summary of Non-Philosophy,” trans. Ray Brassier, in The Non-Philosophy Project, 26. 11 For Deleuze’s remarks on Laruelle, see Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy?, trans. Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 220n5. Deleuze’s selfdescription as a metaphysician can be found in Gilles Deleuze, “Responses to a Series of Questions,” Collapse 3 (2007): 42; and in Negotiations: 1972–1990, trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 88–89. 12 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983); A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia 2, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987). Land’s writings are gathered in Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987–2007, ed. Ray Brassier and Robin Mackay (Falmouth, UK: Urbanomic, 2011).

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INTRODUCTION

CHRISTOPH COX, JENNY JASKEY, AND SUHAIL MALIK

accelerated by the increasing ubiquity of cybernetic systems, and in particular the thennascent emergence of the web as cyberspace. With Sadie Plant, Land set up in 1995 the short-lived but influential Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU), associated with the Department of Philosophy at the University of Warwick, where Land was based. CCRU quickly became a hub for cultural practitioners and cyber-theorists in the UK speculating on the transformations (about to be) wrought by the web, as well as a generation of philosophers interested in anti- or post-humanist materialism and capitalism, several of whom have contributed to the resurgence of realism and materialism in other terms in the latter half of the 2000s.13

Extending the phenomenological insights of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, Harman argues that the world is fundamentally composed of “objects”: substantial, unified, and autonomous entities that are not simply collections of features, attributes, traits, pieces, or relations. Objects need not be physical (Harry Potter is as much an object as Hugo Chavez), natural (a plastic cup is as much an object as a maple tree), simple (armies and corporations are as much objects as individual human bodies), or indestructible. But every object has two faces: a “sensual” face that can be encountered by other objects and a “real” face that withdraws from all relations. Meillassoux and Brassier oppose Harman’s skeptical realism, arguing that the real is indeed accessible but through reason, science, and mathematics. Empirical science produces statements about the nature of the world as it was prior to the existence of human thought, human being, and even life itself—for example, that the Earth formed 4.56 billion years ago. Such “ancestral” statements, Meillassoux argues, pose a dilemma for the correlationist, who must either accept that they describe the world prior to and independent of the human-world correlation, and must then give up correlationism, or make the scientifically dubious and, Meillassoux shows, philosophically inconsistent claim that such statements are merely retroactive fictions generated by present consciousness about a past that is itself a construct of the correlation.16 Meillassoux argues that while the correlationist “solution” is wrong, correlationism cannot be simply dismissed since it is nonetheless rationally consistent. Through a subtle and complex immanent critique, he shows that the most consistent form of correlationism (the version held, for example, by structuralist and poststructuralist philosophers) is necessarily committed to the idea that any correlation is contingent and thus that this contingency is not internal to the correlation but external to it, absolute, a feature of the world itself.17 Pushing this idea to its logical conclusion, Meillassoux argues that the world in itself is radically contingent, marked by arbitrary and unpredictable change, a “hyper-Chaos” wherein “there is no reason for anything to be or to remain the way it is; everything must, without reason, be able not to be and/or be able to be other than it is.”18 Brassier in turn draws on philosophical and scientific thought in a more naturalistic vein to exacerbate the disenchantment of the world characteristic of Enlightenment rationality. Brassier sees contemporary neuroscience, for example, as continuing the trajectory of Copernicus, Darwin, and Hutton, whose scientific discoveries undermined human narcissism, revealing the Earth to be one planet among many orbiting around an insignificant star, showing Homo sapiens to be kin to all

* For all of these precedents, the realist turn was however most fully catalyzed by the publication in 2006 (and translation in 2009) of Meillassoux’s After Finitude. In April 2007, Meillassoux, Graham Harman, Ray Brassier, and Iain Hamilton Grant convened at Goldsmiths, London, for a conference titled “Speculative Realism,” a term that has stuck as the name of a new philosophical movement.14 The four philosophers were united by their critique of correlationism and its attendant anthropocentrism, their disinterest in the “linguistic turn” characteristic of so much twentieth-century philosophy and cultural theory, and their commitment to a robust realism. Yet these commonalities obscure significant differences that have only become more pronounced since the Goldsmiths conference. Harman accepts Kant’s claim that we have no access to things-in-themselves but extends this beyond the human-world relationship to all entities and all relationships. For Harman, all things distort, caricature, or inadequately translate the other things they encounter, leaving the things-in-themselves (what Harman calls the “real objects”) to “withdraw” from any access. “When fire burns cotton,” for example, it makes contact only with the flammability of this material. Presumably fire does not interact at all with the cotton’s odor or color, which are relevant only to creatures equipped with organs of sense. […] The being of fire withdraws from the flames, even if it is consumed and destroyed. Cotton-being is concealed not only from phenomenologists and textile workers but from all entities that come into contact with it. In other words, the withdrawal of objects is not some cognitive trauma that afflicts only humans and a few smart animals, but expresses the permanent inadequacy of any relation at all.15 13 Simon Reynolds gives a detailed account of CCRU at energyflashbysimonreynolds.blogspot. com/2009/11/renegade-academia-cybernetic-culture.html. CCRU’s own idiomatic account can be found at www.ccru.net/identity.htm. 14 The proceedings of the event were later published as “Speculative Realism” in Collapse 3 (November 2007): 307–449. A detailed account of the genesis of the Goldsmiths workshop and Speculative Realism more generally can be found in Graham Harman, Quentin Meillassoux: Philosophy in the Making (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011), 77–80. 15 Graham Harman, The Quadruple Object (Alresford: Zero Books, 2011), 44.

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16 Meillassoux, “Ancestrality,” in After Finitude, 1–27. As the arch-correlationist philosopher Nelson Goodman put it in an earlier debate, we make something older than we are, the stars, for example, “by making a space and time that contains those stars.” (“On Starmaking,” originally published in Synthese 45 no. 2 (October 1980): 213; reprinted in Starmaking: Realism, Anti-Realism, and Irrealism, ed. Peter J. McCormick [Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996], 145). 17 Meillassoux, After Finitude, 50–60. 18 Ibid., 60.

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INTRODUCTION

CHRISTOPH COX, JENNY JASKEY, AND SUHAIL MALIK

other living beings in a biological world devoid of hierarchy, and demonstrating that human beings occupy a mere millisecond of deep time.19 Yet, perhaps paradoxically, these blows to human narcissism are, for Brassier, testaments to the power of reason:

idealism has been opposed to realism and materialism, both Grant and Brassier aim to show that these positions can be drawn together to forge a “materialist idealism” or “idealist materialism.” Grant points out that idealism is not anti-realist but, precisely, a realism with regard to the existence of ideas.24 Exploring philosophies of nature from Schelling through Deleuze, Grant aims to show not only that idealism is compatible with naturalism but also that the former has to be pursued through the latter. Schelling, for example, offers a natural history of mind that in Grant’s reading reveals how “mind is a product of nature.”25

The disenchantment of the world understood as a consequence of the process whereby the Enlightenment shattered the “great chain of being” and defaced the “book of the world” is a necessary consequence of the coruscating potency of reason and hence an invigorating vector of intellectual discovery, rather than a calamitous diminishment. […] [It] deserves to be celebrated as an achievement of intellectual maturity, not bewailed as a diminishing impoverishment.20

*

Echoing Meillassoux but distinct from him in the appeal to naturalism, Brassier contends that science, thought, and reason have the power to transport us beyond the correlation, to a world devoid of human being and life itself. As he elegantly puts it: “Thinking has interests that do not coincide with those of living; indeed, they can and have been pitted against the latter.”22 In an effort to elaborate how thought can think outside itself, how reason can think nature as a whole, Brassier has more recently turned toward idealist philosophers such as Plato, Kant, and Hegel, whose thought he sees as affirming “the autonomy of the conceptual,” the irreducibility of reason to the natural and material processes that incarnate it.23 A kindred position is articulated by Iain Hamilton Grant, whose work develops themes in F. W. J. Schelling’s philosophy of nature. Whereas, traditionally,

Despite the attention given to the philosophers and ideas identified with SR, other variants of realist and materialist inquiry have also developed in recent years. Feminism, notably, has traditionally allied itself with materialism insofar as it has attended to the concrete material circumstances of women’s bodies, lives, and—sometimes in conjunction with Marxism—conditions of labor. Yet, feminists have also tended to be suspicious of claims to scientific and metaphysical truth, out of concern that such supposedly neutral claims are in actuality informed by an unexamined masculinist bias. The feminist theorists that have played the most prominent role in art discourse—Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, Judith Butler, and Donna Haraway, for example—insist on the social and symbolic construction not only of gender but of knowledge and truth, maintaining that epistemological and ontological claims are always embodied and gendered, never neutral. Moreover, the lack of concern with gender and feminism on the part of many new materialist and realist philosophers has made feminists wary of their claims and positions. A number of feminists have however taken up materialist and realist arguments and strategies. Elizabeth Grosz and Rosi Braidotti draw on Deleuze to link feminism with a materialist philosophy of nature that provokes a rethinking of political agency and liberation.26 Likewise, many feminist theorists have turned from questions of language and representation toward the capacity of material bodies to affect and be affected by one another.27 This concern unsettles the divide between human beings and nonhuman animals, interest in which has become prevalent in feminist theory and artistic practice alike. Materialist and realist feminists have also taken up Haraway’s

19 Brassier approvingly draws on the materialist accounts of consciousness given by Thomas Metzinger as well as Paul and Patricia Churchland. See Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). Darwin’s rejection of hierarchy and progress in the history of life is documented by Stephen Jay Gould in Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin (New York: Harmony Books, 1996), which also discusses various scientific blows to human narcissism. 20 Brassier, Nihil Unbound, xi. 21 Ibid. 22 Ibid. 23 Ray Brassier, “The View From Nowhere,” in Identities: Journal for Politics, Gender, and Culture, 8, no. 2 (Summer 2011). See also Brassier, “Prometheanism and Its Critics,” in #Accelerate#: The Accelerationist Reader, ed. Armen Avanessian and Robin Mackay (Falmouth, UK: Urbanomic, 2014), 467–487.

24 See Jeremy Dunham, Iain Hamilton Grant, and Sean Watson, Idealism: The History of a Philosophy (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2011), 1–9. 25 Dunham et al., Idealism, 132. See also Iain Hamilton Grant, Philosophies of Nature After Schelling (London: Continuum, 2006). 26 See Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), and Becoming Undone: Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics, and Art (Durham , NC: Duke University Press, 2011). See also Rosi Braidotti, Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming (Oxford: Polity Press, 2002) and The Posthuman (Oxford: Polity Press, 2013). 27 Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth, eds., The Affect Theory Reader (Durham , NC: Duke University Press, 2010); Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004). Diana Coole and Samantha Frost, eds., New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics (Durham , NC: Duke University Press, 2010) focuses on feminist-inflected materialist accounts of political theory.

Modern scientific thought sweeps away our folk-psychological and correlationist philosophical notions, revealing to us the world as it exists in itself beyond the human. “Nihilism,” Brassier writes, is the unavoidable corollary of the realist conviction that there is a mindindependent reality, which, despite the presumptions of human narcissism, is indifferent to our existence and oblivious to the “values” and “meanings” which we would drape over it in order to make it more hospitable.21

22

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CHRISTOPH COX, JENNY JASKEY, AND SUHAIL MALIK

initiative to establish a countermodel to both norms of scientific investigation and feminist suspicions about technology and science, drawing on the realism of science to extend post-structuralist feminism beyond the constraints imposed by its emphasis on discursive and social construction and, as with Grosz and Braidotti, to rethink embodiment on a realist and/or materialist footing.28 One striking strand in this research is the revisioning of psychoanalysis—which played a key role in the feminism of the 1970s through the 1990s—by developments in neuroscience. Elizabeth A. Wilson recasts feminist concerns about the psychobiological reductionism of gender and sexuality—captured by the slogan “Biology Is Not Destiny”—in light of discoveries in connectionist neurobiology concerning the transformative effects of lived experiences on the material organization of the human cortical-nerve system.29 Catherine Malabou also allies the experiential transformation of neural structures and their chemistry with a commitment to feminism through the concept of “plasticity” drawn from Hegel’s dialectical philosophy of mind (via Derrida). Like Grant, Malabou attempts to ground thought in a natural history of the mind that would explain the “transition from a purely biological entity to a mental entity.”30 On this basis Malabou presents a critique of the symbolic and narrative concerns of psychoanalysis, which, she notes, cannot adequately respond to neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. “Today,” she concludes, “we must acknowledge that the power of the linguistic-graphic scheme is diminishing and that it has entered a twilight for some time already. It now seems that plasticity is slowly but surely establishing itself as the paradigmatic figure of organization in general.”31 Though he does not endorse the term “plasticity” in particular, Manuel DeLanda no less advocates for science and artificial cognitive systems as advancing a contemporary philosophy of nature of the sort developed by Deleuze, whom he reads as a staunch realist. Informed by dynamical systems theory, differential geometry,

group theory, and evolutionary biology, DeLanda vindicates Deleuze’s rejection of the “hylomorphic model,” in which entities arise through the imposition of form on inert matter, in favor of a conception of nature as intrinsically self-organizing. Eschewing any notion of fixed essences (natural kinds, species, archetypes), entities emerge at all scales and levels of complexity as historical contingencies manifesting various capacities and tendencies (which Deleuze calls “affects” and “singularities”) inherent in matter itself.32

28 See Stacy Alaimo, Michael Hames-Garcia, and Susan Hekman, eds., Material Feminisms (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008); Stacy Alaimo, Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Material Self (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010); Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007) and “Posthuman Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter,” in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 28, no. 3 (Spring 2003); and Myra Hird, The Origins of Sociable Life: Evolution After Science Studies (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). In The Material of Knowledge: Feminist Disclosures (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010), Susan Hekman presents a feminist realism which, while not directly focusing on science as the point of convergence, also proposes that the mutually constituting effects of matter and discourse breach the constraints of orthodox post-structuralism. 29 Elizabeth A. Wilson, Psychosomatic: Feminism and the Neurological Body (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004) and Neural Geographies: Feminism and the Microstructure of Cognition (London: Routledge, 1998). 30 Catherine Malabou, What Should We Do with Our Brain?, trans. Sebastian Rand (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008), 81–82. 31 Catherine Malabou, Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing: Dialectic, Destruction, Deconstruction, trans. Carolyn Shread (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 59. For Malabou’s neuroscientific critique of psychoanalysis, see The New Wounded: From Neurosis to Brain Damage, trans. Steven Miller (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012) and, with Adrian Johnston, Self and Emotional Intelligence: Philosophy, Psychoanalysis, and Neuroscience (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013).

24

* The clarification of important and serious divergences in the respective terminologies and ambitions of the core arguments of current realisms and materialisms throws light on the broader issues at stake in them. In general terms, and by way of summarizing the above positions, materialists (who hold that all that exists is matter, material forces, and physical processes) tend to be realists (who hold that reality is fully mind-independent), but the reverse need not hold (since what is real need not be materially manifest, symbolic meaning being a leading example). Harman rejects materialism, seeing it as “the chief enemy” of his object-oriented realism insofar as materialism views objects as either reducible to smaller components and forces or mere bundles of qualities.33 Laruelle’s realism rejects materialism “in the name of matter,” arguing that materialism remains a philosophical theory of matter that conceives matter in its own philosophical self-image rather than encountering it in its own right.34 On the other, more “materialist,” hand, Meillassoux eschews the term “Speculative Realism” in favor of “speculative materialism” in order to distance himself from “naive realism” and ordinary conceptions of “reality.”35 Brassier is also committed to the materialist naturalism of the sciences rather than a broadly conceived realism, just as materialist feminism is committed to reviewing embodiment on the basis of its scientific accounts. Furthermore, while the term “idealism” (the view that reality is fundamentally mental or mind-like) generally remains a slur within realist and materialist contexts, describing a position kindred to the correlationism they oppose, Grant and Brassier each affirm a kind of idealism as integral to their respective realist undertakings; DeLanda, in contrast, is a materialist who rejects all idealism, instead endorsing a scientific realism that affirms the ability of science to describe a mind-independent world. 32 Manuel DeLanda, Intensive Science & Virtual Philosophy (London: Continuum, 2005) and Deleuze: History and Science (New York: Atropos Press, 2010). 33 Graham Harman, “Realism without Materialism,” SubStance 40, no. 2 (2011): 60; “I Am Also of the Opinion that Materialism Must Be Destroyed,” Society and Space 28, no. 5 (2010): 772–90; and The Quadruple Object, 13–16. 34 François Laruelle, “The Decline of Materialism in the Name of Matter,” trans. Ray Brassier, The Non-Philosophy Project, 159–69; and Ray Brassier, “Alien Theory: The Decline of Materialism in the Name of Matter” (Ph.D. diss., University of Warwick, 2001), available at www.cinestatic.com/ trans-mat/brassier/alientheory.pdf. 35 Quentin Meillassoux, “Time without Becoming,” trans. Robin Mackay, Spike 35 (Spring 2013).

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CHRISTOPH COX, JENNY JASKEY, AND SUHAIL MALIK

II For the last generation and a half, critical art practices and theories have taken up post-structuralist, psychoanalytic, and Marxist challenges to conventions of originality, authorship, and identity. In this paradigm, art is construed as always caught up in webs of discourse and interpretation without origin, end, or ground. Epistemologically, in both its theoretical and practical dimensions, contemporary art has tended to reject naive conceptions of representation and signification that construe images and signs as picturing or designating a pre-given world. Ontologically, it rejects essentialism, that is, the construal of the world as manifesting fixed conceptual or material essences to which images and signs would refer. In contrast to the fixity and inflexibility of essentialism, contemporary art aims to account for and foster the contingency of meaning, the multiplicity of interpretation, and the possibility of change: signs are tracked, interpretation encouraged, representations mobilized through associative networks that give them meaning—networks that are always in flux, thus ensuring that meaning is never fixed or stable. In sum, contemporary art practice, criticism, and theory maintain that experience is always necessarily mediated by the symbolic field. These approaches have been culturally effective; but the freedom they offer comes at the cost of an epistemological and ontological insularity. Nature and/or matter are taken to be merely a social construction; science is but a historical and cultural discourse having no priority over other discourses; and truth is always only a problematic concept, at best the measure of a claim’s coherence relative to other accepted claims or simply a term applied to claims that are currently uncontested. It is precisely these assumptions and conventions that are directly and explicitly challenged by the resurgent interest in realism and materialism. What is not at all apparent at this point is what traction that challenge will have on contemporary art, nor what of its current artistic, institutional, and critical orthodoxies will be effectively transformed. While Meillassoux and Brassier have collaborated with sound and noise artists, and Harman has asserted the centrality of aesthetics to philosophy, these philosophies have in general had very little to say about art and cultural practices.36

Their ideas have, however, attracted a great deal of attention from artists and curators. One of the first presentations by a public institution of SR in relation to contemporary art was “The Real Thing” at Tate Britain in 2010, an exhibition and panel discussion curated by philosopher and publisher Robin Mackay. Its premise was to explore a human-indifferent universe, including works that dealt with themes of death, depopulation, and linguistic disorientation.37 The project was part of Mackay’s independent venture Urbanomic, a publishing house and arts organization that has played a decisive role in advancing realist and materialist contentions within and outside of philosophy, particularly through the journal Collapse: Philosophical Research and Development, which published the proceedings of the Goldsmiths conference.38 In collaboration with Sequence Press, a publisher housed in Miguel Abreu Gallery in New York, Mackay has also played a leading role in presenting these ideas and practices to the Anglophone world through his translation and publication of key texts by Laruelle and Meillassoux, as well as Reza Negarastani’s writing on art. Though Mackay and others have championed the more staunchly rationalist versions of speculative thought associated with Brassier and Meillassoux, the emphasis in contemporary art has in general been on object-oriented philosophy as initiated by Harman and developed by writers such as Levi Bryant and Timothy Morton, whose frequent talks in art institutions have popularized their ideas among nonspecialist audiences.39 A chief attraction of object-oriented philosophy for the art field is that it reconsiders the art-friendly term “object.” Moreover, many of the curatorial and artistic responses to Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) have focused on its ontological “flattening” of the traditional hierarchy of humans over nonhumans and decentering of the human subject, proposing that all entities distort relata in equal measure. Such claims accord well with modern and contemporary art’s long-standing interest in the limitations of human perceptual and linguistic

36 Meillassoux’s conception of hyper-chaos inspired Florian Hecker’s CD Speculative Solution (Editions Mego, 2011), to which Meillassoux contributed an essay (reprinted in this volume). This collaboration was further developed in “Urbanomic Document #1,” a discussion between Meillassoux, Hecker, and Robin Mackay, available at www.urbanomic.com/Documents/Documents-1.pdf. Ray Brassier has recorded with noise musicians and improvisers such as Mattin, Jean-Luc Guionnet, and Seijiro Murayama. He also wrote the essay “Genre Is Obsolete,” in Noise and Capitalism, ed. Mattin and Anthony Iles (Donostia-S. Sebastiá, Spain: Arteleku Audiolab, 2009), 61–71. Available at blogs. arteleku.net/audiolab/noise_capitalism.pdf; and contributed to two other essays on noise: “Metal Machine Theory” (with Mattin), Revue & Corrigée 86 (December 2010), available at www.mattin.org/ METAL_MACHINE_THEORY.html; and “Idioms and Idiots” (with Mattin, Guionnet, and Seijiro), Revue & Corrigée 93 (September 2012), available at www.mattin.org/recordings/IDIOMS_ AND_IDIOTS.html). Harman’s remarks on aesthetics appear in “Vicarious Causation,” Collapse 2 (March 2007): 205; and “Aesthetics as First Philosophy: Levinas and the Non-Human,” Naked Punch 09 (Summer–Fall 2007): 21–30, available at www.nakedpunch.com/articles/147. Harman and Brassier each elaborate on their respective earlier remarks in the interviews included in this volume.

26

37 “The Real Thing” was part of Tate Britain’s monthly Late at Tate series, so the exhibition was a temporary intervention into the museum’s collection. No catalogue was published, but an overview of the program is available at www.urbanomic.com/event-uf12-details.php. Brian Dillon’s review of the evening appears in “The Real Thing,” The Wire 321 (November 2010): 74. Other projects that have taken the extinction of humanity or the “deep time” of cosmic archeology as their organizing claims are “Cosmophobia” (2012), curated by Tom Trevatt, Berlin, and “Suicide Narcissus” (2013), curated by Hamza Walker, Chicago. 38 For an early review of the journal, see Jon Roffe, “Review Article: Robin Mackay (Ed.), Collapse: Philosophical Research and Development,” in Parrhesia 4 (2008), 79–80. Available at www.parrhesiajournal.org/parrhesia04/parrhesia04_roffe.pdf. 39 Early conferences dedicated to the topic of Speculative Realism within the art field, which have almost exclusively focused on object-oriented philosophy, include: “Object-Oriented Thinking” at the Royal Academy in London, July 2011; “OOO III: The Third Object-Oriented Ontology Symposium,” Vera List Center for Art and Politics, New York, September 2011; “Ungrounding the Object” at Treignac Projet, Le Centre international d’art et du paysage de l’île de Vassivière, in Limousin, September 2012. “War Against the Sun,” the second conference organized by the Treignac Projet, which took place in London in March 2013, hewed closer to a materialist set of concerns. Robert Jackson’s article “The Anxiousness of Objects and Artworks: Michael Fried, Object Oriented Ontology and Aesthetic Absorption,” in Speculations 2 (May 2011) investigates the congruence of OOO with a modernist program in visual art. Available at www.speculations.squarespace.com/speculations-2.

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CHRISTOPH COX, JENNY JASKEY, AND SUHAIL MALIK

conditions of understanding, as they have also (sometimes contradictorily) advocated for a relative independence and internal logic for the artwork in its material and formal dimensions. To date the most prominent project inspired by object-oriented thinking is the latest iteration of the leading exhibition platform in transnational contemporary art, Documenta 13 in Kassel in 2012. Curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev likened the show to an organism whose program offered a “holistic and non-logocentric vision,” whose associative structure insisted upon “a more balanced relationship with all the non-human makers with whom we share the planet and our bodies.”40 Many projects drew on ecological themes and the political agency of objects, with texts by Harman, Haraway, Braidotti, and Karen Barad included in the exhibition catalogue. Although many of its installations addressed scientific knowledge claims, the education arm of Documenta 13, called “Maybe,” hoped to “[indicate] the impossibility of reducing art—and any other complex form of knowledge—to a single explanation, question, subject matter, or paradigm,” showing how “art and artistic research often avoid any form of stable meaning.”41 These familiar post-structuralist truisms about the indeterminacy and contingency of meaning have little to do with the way empirical science is taken up by naturalists such as Brassier or materialists like DeLanda. For them, scientific knowledge eliminates unknowns and offers a corrective to philosophical relativisms. In this latter vein, “In the Holocene,” an exhibition organized by curator João Ribas at MIT List Visual Art Center in 2012, presented art as a form of experimental inquiry working in parallel to natural science.42 The show included artworks dealing with questions of entropy, consciousness, perception, and deep time, proposing that, while different from the work of scientists, these artistic outcomes engaged similar questions and could thus expand upon science’s speculative potential rather than merely respond to its insights. Whether the normative and natural constraints that accompany scientific hypothesis and reasoning have a corollary in the art field—and if so, what these constraints might be—is a question that the exhibition left unaddressed. Another palpable influence on contemporary art at large and the Documenta 13 project in particular is the sociologist Bruno Latour, and especially his cross-disciplinary curatorial projects, among them “Iconoclash” (2002) and “Making Things Public” (2005), both organized with Peter Weibel at ZKM, Karlsruhe. In keeping with Latour’s deconstruction of the modern boundaries between culture and nature, these exhibitions subverted the primacy of art objects, generating an assemblage of scientific and cultural artifacts that create a mutually

translating and networked exhibition environment. Before the introduction of SR, Latour’s actor-network theory, along with related “thing” theorists such as anthropologist Arjun Appadurai and visual studies proponent Bill Brown, found an early audience in art circles, insofar as each spoke of objects in quasi-anthropological terms, giving them social lives, desires, and agency.43 In this vein, and even though they draw on the precepts of postmodernist cultural theory, a number of recent projects paralleling the emergence of SR have focused on the agency of objects. Drawing heavily on Latour’s book We Have Never Been Modern, Anselm Franke’s “Animism” (2010–2012) drew parallels between an animistic worldview comprised of enchanted objects and Latour’s notion of objects as “actants,” difference-making agents with significant effects on human sociality.44 In a similar vein, “Ghosts in the Machine” (2012), curated by Massimiliano Gioni and Gary Carrion-Murayari at the New Museum in New York, explored technology’s anthropomorphic dimension; and Mark Leckey’s UK touring exhibition “The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things” (2013) examined how digital interfaces are changing the way that humans perceive objects, enlivening them and making them seem progressively more human.45 These projects have been associated with OOO, each attributing a kind of agency to objects, even reinscribing quasi-human characteristics onto nonhuman things, and also in some cases delimiting the expanded notion of “object” proposed by OOO to material things.46 As such, however, they have unwittingly and ironically reversed OOO, extending correlationism to specifically material and otherwise inert objects. More generally, realist and materialist ideas have generated new emphases, thematics, and claims for both artworks and exhibitions. Some terms associated with these new subjects include (but are not limited to): ancestrality, techno-animism, dark ecology, cosmology, de-anthropocentrism, animality, hyperstition, and affect. And while curators and artists seem to be asking new and important questions about the relationship between subjects and objects (in their limited or expanded sense), or focusing their attention on the aesthetics of non-humans, there has been

40 Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, “The Dance Was Very Frenetic, Lively, Rattling, Clanging, Rolling, Contorted, and Lasted for a Long Time,” dOCUMENTA (13) The Book of Books, Catalog 1/3 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2012), 34. 41 “The Maybe Education and Public Programs of dOCUMENTA (13),” available at www.d13.documenta.de/#/programs/. 42 “In the Holocene,” MIT List Visual Arts Center, 2014. Published in conjunction with the 2012 exhibition of the same name; see also listart.mit.edu/node/937#.UuFXE_Yo62x.

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43 Both Brown and Appadurai edited acclaimed publications on “things” as objects of critical inquiry. See Bill Brown, “Thing Theory,” Critical Inquiry 28, no. 1 (Autumn 2001): 1–22; Arjun Appadurai, “Introduction: Commodities and the Politics of Value,” in The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986). 44 “Animism” had several distinct iterations: at Extra City and MuHKA, Antwerp (2010); Kunsthalle Bern and Generali Foundation, Vienna (2011); Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (2012); and e-flux, New York (2012). 45 Materials related to Mark Leckey’s exhibition appear in The Universal Addressabilty of Dumb Things (London: Hayward Publishing, 2013) and on the website www.southbankcentre.co.uk/find /hayward-gallery-and-visual-arts/hayward-touring/future/the-universal-addressability-of-dumbthings. The New Museum exhibition “Ghost in the Machine” was accompanied by the catalogue Ghost in the Machine, ed. Massimiliano Gioni and Gary Carrion-Murayari (New York: Skira Rizzoli, 2012) and the website www.newmuseum.org/exhibitions/view/ghosts-in-the-machine. 46 See also “Speculations on Anonymous Materials” (2013), curated by Susanne Pfeffer in Kassel, which considered a number of post-Internet practices in light of the processual nature of image creation and visual reflexivity across networks.

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CHRISTOPH COX, JENNY JASKEY, AND SUHAIL MALIK

far less attention given to the dilemma implicit in the term art itself, whose postDuchampian legacy has focused on the way that signification shifts within linguistic and cultural framing. That is, if realism and materialism are to follow through on their claims to radically reorganize modern epistemological and ontological categories (including epistemology and ontology themselves), whether it be toward the emphatic rationalism of naturalist idealists or toward a materialist position seeking an origin for aesthetics in inhuman forces, we should anticipate not only new themes for art practices, exhibitions, and cultural production, but also starkly different ways of making, perceiving, thinking, and distributing them. What is left relatively unexamined—and presents a much greater problem for current orthodoxies of cultural and artistic production—is the systemic and methodological challenge that a thoroughgoing realism and/or materialism presents to the way that exhibitions or artworks claim to produce meaning in their prevailing paradigms. At this point in time it remains to be seen how artists, curators, and other cultural producers will take up realist or materialist demands in distinction to the concerns and claims mentioned above. Questions here include: Will developments in science lead to new norms or standards for artistic judgment? Can art be anything more than a mere metaphor or analogue for science? Can art redress issues of spectatorship in a world indifferent to the human? And how are authorship and representation to change when one acknowledges the material origins of human thought and the material forces at work within an artist’s process?

This ambition is not only a thematic concern for RMA but also one of structural organization: the essays and images in the book are proximate to one another as in a snapshot or collage, in order to generate new intersections, convergences, divergences, and switching points among them. With this “snapshot method,” RMA does not look to provide a coherent panoramic vision that would underwrite a new philosophy of art, nor to propose an art that confirms an established philosophical stance, nor even to suggest that art escapes philosophical determination. Instead, its contribution is a common and mutual one for both art and the salient philosophies of realism and materialism, emphasizing the incongruent if not conflicting status of their currently emerging practices and ideas. To that end—and in addition to the various connections that may be drawn between any subset of the essays, images, or themes in RMA—the essays and images have been distributed into six significant categories relating to the history and practice of art, art history, and art theory: matter, object, concept, representation, scale, and speculation. These familiar categories act as identification markers for the reader across the otherwise diverse contributions, and they have a further twofold aim: on the one hand, in their stipulated proximity to one another in any one category, the contributions put pressure on current philosophical, scientific, artistic, and theoretical research mobilizing these major terms;47 on the other hand, these familiar if not canonical categories are themselves challenged and reworked by the diverse contributions gathered under them, thus reshaping the conventional sense of the categories themselves. The major categories also serve a useful didactic purpose: each is sequenced so as to initiate the reader into key issues in current debates by offering entry points. These are followed by contributions that require greater background knowledge of the issues at stake or terms of debate. While the order of the categories charts a broadly idealist or pseudo-evolutionary trajectory, proceeding from a material base to the expansion of thought beyond itself, this is only a dramatic conceit, set up precisely in order to formulate and stage their contestation by the individual contributions as by the global ambitions of realism and materialism in their current iterations.

III There is then no uniform or particularly consistent account for the current conditions, ambitions, and frameworks of realism, materialism, and art: the fracture lines between Object-Oriented Ontology, rationalistic naturalism, and materialism lead to distinct questions with disjunctive implications. RMA reflects this incongruity as well as the still unresolved set of relations these methods have to one another, looking not to settle these arguments but, on the contrary, to advance the contesting and unsettling of these proto-doctrines in both their theoretical and cultural-practical development. RMA aims, first, to catch key moments in the current discussion of realism and materialism, predominantly in relation to art but also in relation to other fields; second, to expand the terms of engagement of realism, materialism, and art; and, third, to affirm the contention that no thematic or discipline has a privilege in realist or materialist investigations. On this basis RMA seeks to contribute to the reconstruction of the disciplines in which it would be conventionally located: philosophy and art. Rather than the frequent direct (mis)identification of art with theoretically led realist-materialist contentions on the basis of their mutual incomprehension, RMA elaborates and extends both sides by substantializing their intersection.

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47 Matthew Ritchie’s diagrams on the inside covers of this volume present counter-orderings for the essays in RMA, both within the primary categories we propose and within an entirely different set of categories. Each organization puts a different pressure on the thematic terms.

31

Matter

Things Aren’t What They Used to Be: On the Immateriality of Matter and the Reality of Relations James Ladyman

There are many varieties of realism in philosophy, but they have in common the idea that the world is fundamentally independent of our beliefs and desires about it. Realists oppose idealist philosophies that give the mind a role in making reality. Of course, there are mental and/or social constructs, for example, the meanings of these words, but realists maintain that in large part the way things are is not determined by what we think or say about them. For example, even if everyone believed to the contrary, it would still be true that the earth is roughly spherical, that it rotates causing the passage of day and night, and that the changing seasons are due to its being tilted on its axis at 23.5 degrees as it orbits the sun. Materialism is the positive account of what the world is like that usually substantiates the abstract idea of objectivity with which realism is defined above. According to materialism, material objects like the earth and the sun exist and have their motions in space and properties like their masses and shapes; the same chemical elements are found everywhere; and these features of the world are the basis for the existence of everything else. However, materialism has evolved to the extent that many sympathetic to it now call themselves physicalists, and many also accept the existence of much that is immaterial, though they take it that it is somehow emergent from and dependent on the physical. Physics is the ultimate science of matter, and its development has transformed our concept of matter, and has also given us accounts of it that are both incomplete and far removed from our concept of everyday material objects. Space and even time have acquired a quasiphysical status. There are many open questions about the extent and nature of the cosmos. The materialism of the ancients and early modern philosophers is no longer plausible. Materialism began as an imaginative vision about the nature of reality and the true natures and properties of the things we see around us. Where others speculated that the world was ultimately composed of water or fire or some combination of elements, the ancient Greek atomists proposed that everything we observe, including life itself, is nothing more than matter in motion, composed of indivisible material atoms. According to the atomists, the latter do not have many of the qualities that everyday objects seem to have in our experience; the sweetness of honey, for example, does not really inhere in its atoms, but rather is the sensation they

Matter

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THINGS AREN’T WHAT THEY USED TO BE

JAMES LADYMAN

produce in us. This particular way of distinguishing appearance from reality was taken up by the “corpuscularian” philosophers of the seventeenth century (Boyle, Locke, Gassendi, and so on), who also thought that familiar features of the world we experience, notably colors, do not belong to things themselves but only to our perception of them. They were not only materialists, but also mechanists who suggested that the universe is like a clockwork machine; while the appearances may be of a hand moving around a face and perhaps bells ringing and figures moving as a consequence, in fact all the moving parts are responding only to the movement of their neighbors, and the only real causation is action by contact. They developed a picture of things according to which their real properties were limited to those of the extension in space, configuration, shape, and movement of the particles that composed them. That these are properties amenable to geometrical description facilitated the application of mathematics to science as never before. The theories of physics and the mathematical techniques that were developed along with them have given us extensive predictive and explanatory success. The same basic theories of mechanics described terrestrial and extraterrestrial motions, and the same theories of chemical structure described rocks, cells, and comets. However, science seems to disenchant nature to a degree that moves many to reject the scientific image of the world. How could thinking, feeling, and acting beings consist in nothing more than the movement of small material parts due to action by contact? What room is there in the clockwork universe for the things that matter to us? However, what some regard as disenchantment is to others a morally and politically important repudiation of belief systems that allegedly bind, enthrall, and intoxicate people, distracting them from addressing the true causes of their woes. Materialists have often been concerned with exorcising the supernatural and defending a positive picture. Since its origins in pre-Socratic philosophy, materialism has had a negative and critical component involving the repudiation of supernatural and immaterial entities, a consequent disdain for superstition, and a mission to liberate people from its control over their lives: Lucretius in his poetic elaboration of the philosophy of Epicurus (the Greek atomist who held that the mechanics obeyed by atoms involves a fundamental element of chance) says “so powerful is religion at persuading to evil.” The purpose of his account of the Nature of Things was therefore practical. Likewise, Thomas Hobbes was condemned as an atheist on account of his view that matter is the only substance. The claim that the only substance that exists is material substance is the usual definition of materialism. “Substance” is that which is not dependent on anything else for its existence. “Material” was explicitly defined by Descartes to mean “extended in space.” Although we clearly have experience of apparently nonmaterial things, most obviously the phenomena of consciousness, the materialist claims that a full description of all the material things that exist, and their properties, relations, and dynamics will be sufficient to account for everything else.

Ironically, it was the success of the science it did so much to inspire that undermined materialism. Materialism was made obsolete by developments in the area that materialists most admired (and for which they believed they were providing philosophical foundations), physics. First of all we must note that materialism and mechanism were never universally accepted by natural philosophers. Indeed, notoriously, Newton’s founding theory of modern mathematical physics from 1687 posited the universal gravitational force acting between all bodies instantaneously at a distance though diminishing in its power with distance. In the eighteenth century CharlesAugustin de Coulomb added the electrostatic forces between charged particles to the gravitational force. By the nineteenth century it was known that there must be exotic forms of substance such as the ether to account for the phenomena of light, electricity, and magnetism. Nonetheless, the hope remained that all of physics, and ultimately all of science, could be reduced to the properties of material particles moving around, perhaps with the addition of some kind of material field-like entity, being continuous and everywhere. The success of the kinetic theory of gases, according to which pressure, heat, and temperature were the manifestations of atomic motions and collisions, gave hope to materialists; but the discovery of radioactivity and the rise of quantum theory soon led to the radical transformation of our understanding of the nature of the atoms themselves. Far from being the indivisible building blocks of antiquity, they turned out to be compound entities whose behavior and properties were beyond visualization. Matter, in the sense of extended stuff that takes up space like the familiar solid objects we see around us, is according to physics not ultimately solid at all but mostly empty space. Matter is composed of atoms that are in turn composed of a nucleus and orbiting electrons. If an atom were the size of a football pitch, the nucleus would be the size of the center spot and the orbiting electrons on the touchline much smaller than that. Those electrons and other subatomic particles are regarded as point particles, further undermining the relevance and legitimacy of the notion of material things extended in space. Meanwhile, relativity physics takes as its objects space and time, which can hardly be considered as material things in the sense of classical materialism. From the perspective of the early twenty-first century, it seems quite possible that, as entities existing independent of the existence of anything else, space and time will not hold a place in fundamental physics. Since material substances are supposed to be those substances that exist in space, the usual definitions of “materialism” and “material thing” have become irrelevant for the task of describing fundamental reality. The right theory of quantum gravity remains out of our grasp but the most popular research program is the theory of eleven dimensional superstrings, the vibrations of which give rise to particle-like behavior. We have come a very long way from the physics of res extensae (extended things). It seems that the kind of materialism defended by the ancient Greek atomists and their successors in early modern natural philosophy is not viable. However, much of the spirit of materialism lives on in “physicalism.” Materialism offers a

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positive metaphysical picture, but it has negative content too, namely, the denial of the existence of mental or spiritual substance. Furthermore, something of its positive content, namely, the idea that the chemical and biological ultimately depend on the properties of matter, is also retained in physicalism. There are two obvious approaches to the articulation and defense of the latter. The first responds to the obsolescence of the previous definition of material things by defining a physical thing as a thing that is posited by physics. Thus physicalism is taken to assert that what exists is precisely what physics says exists (plus those things that are regarded as aggregates of things posited by physics such as everyday objects and other compound entities posited by the different sciences). Unfortunately, this approach faces the apparent problem of being either trivial or false. It is (almost certainly) false if it refers to existing physics for its ontology, since it can safely be assumed that present-day physics will be superseded by a more advanced physics. On the other hand, it is trivial if it defines the physical as that which will be posited by a future, completed fundamental physics, since by definition physics is the science that must be capable in principle of accounting for all natural phenomena. If it were necessary to posit souls or ectoplasm to account for some phenomenon, then their behavior would be in the scope of physics, making it empty to say that all that exists is the physical. The second approach seeks to define the physical with reference to actual physics—but that means using the resources of common sense or some other form of intuition, neither of which seems likely to give us the last word on the nature of physical reality. Since physics is currently unfinished, and since, in the past, quite radical innovations in ontology have been necessary for the progress of physics, the prospects are not good for this second approach either. Instead, physicalism is best characterized as a hypothesis about what it will take for physics to progress, according to which it will never be necessary to introduce new entities, laws, or processes into physics solely to account for biological or mental phenomena. At one time, it was thought it might be necessary to posit special chemical forces to account for chemical bonds, and vital forces to account for life. However, it was shown that chemical bonds could be understood in terms of electrostatic forces between charged particles, and that the processes that underlie life, such as cellular metabolism, can be related to chemical and physical processes. Physicalists need not commit to strong forms of reductionism about these matters. It may be the case that chemical bonds cannot be derived from fundamental physics without further assumptions, but there are many cases where quantum mechanics makes well-confirmed predictions about atoms and their chemical behavior. The same is true of genetics in relation to molecular biology and many other examples. We have no reason to believe that emergent phenomena, from biochemical reactions to social behavior, require special kinds of physical processes. Complexity science shows us how self-organizing and hierarchical order can arise spontaneously in large networks of components even though the nature of the components and their interactions gives no hint of it.

Science has developed to the extent that it now gives us ontology at many levels. Within the physical sciences we have a rough hierarchy from the solids and fluids of geology, through the molecular structure of chemical kinds, the atoms and their orbiting electrons, the subatomic realm of particles and fundamental forces, to quantum fields, superstrings, and beyond. The biological and behavioral sciences are much more complex but similarly offer layers of entities from proteins to social groups. What makes all these entities count as physical? We certainly cannot straightforwardly identify them with the collections of entities described by physics. Their place in the unified scientific account of reality is based on the shared system of units, the conservation of energy, the gravitational, electromagnetic, and nuclear forces, and the basic classification of the elements expressed in the periodic table. In science we have integration and not always reduction. However, there remains an asymmetric relationship between physics and the special sciences: all special science objects are such that their behavior is consistent with physics and can be understood without violations of basic physical laws. The objects of the special sciences and all the objects in current physics exist only at particular restricted scales of space and time. For example, there are no tables at the atomic scale of distance or at the geological scale of time; and there are no atoms at the scale of quarks or at the cosmological scale of time. The atomists of old could respond to this situation by regarding emergent entities as possessed of a less than full-blooded reality. They might be necessary for the purposes of our cognition and representation of the world, but the true reality is the atoms and their motions and collisions in the void. However, we now know that atoms are not fundamental. The kinds of entities that are posited at the subatomic scale are exotic in the extreme; but more importantly we have no reason to believe that there is a fundamental level consisting of the one true set of ultimate individual objects. If we remain agnostic about whether the latter exists, we have no reason to regard scale-relative emergent domains as less real because everything we know is like that. What then does it mean to say that all these things exist? In Every Thing Must Go, Don Ross and I developed Daniel Dennett’s idea that to be is to be a real pattern.1 When we are doing microphysics we do not have to keep track of everyday physical objects because doing so would be of no predictive or explanatory value. The scales of distance, time, and energy make tables irrelevant. However, anybody faced with the task of keeping track of material objects in everyday circumstances would be very foolish to insist on thinking in terms of table parts other than drawers, legs, and tabletops. To describe a room only speaking of atoms, without mentioning the furniture, would be to miss out on the fact that there are correlations in the positions of some of the atoms that result from their being part of, say, a table. In that sense the table is a pattern in the information

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1

See James Ladyman and Don Ross, Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); and Daniel Dennett, “Real Patterns,” Journal of Philosophy 88 (January 1991): 27–51.

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about its parts more than it is a particular set of material particles (for any particular particle can be left out and the table is left unchanged), and it is certainly not a single extended piece of matter. What all genuine entities have in common is that they are real patterns in the phenomena that emerge at their characteristic length and time scales, in the sense that any attempt to describe the world at that scale that did not refer to them would contain redundant information and miss out on simple causal relationships, statements, and laws that predict and explain phenomena. The distinctive ontologies of the sciences arise because we live in a universe that is rich enough to have various emergent regimes of (partial) order. What was once a revolutionary thought may, centuries later, become a commonplace fact barely deserving of mention to an educated person. We can now see the rotation of the Earth from space; we have similarly confirmed that the world is millions of years old, that people have common ancestors with apes, and that much of what we see around us has a true nature that is very different from the way we might perceive it on the basis of culture, intuition, and our conscious experience. Children grow up taking the existence of the virtual world for granted. However, it is important to remember that, for that virtual world to exist, somewhere there is a physical machine subject to the laws of thermodynamics. Our brains can only function at a very specific range of temperatures, and computers have to be powered somehow. Yet it may be less misleading to say that the world is made of mathematics or information than that it is made of matter, because fundamental physics describes particles and fields that are nothing like the way matter appears and is conceived by us. The scientific image of the world is one from which mathematical representation is ineliminable. This applies no less to the special sciences than to physics. The different sciences are highly integrated and unified. Materialism and realism apt for the twenty-first century should be expressed in terms of the objectivity of real patterns.

From Within the Midst of Things: New Sensibility, New Alchemy, and the Renewal of Critical Theory Diana Coole A key feature of the new materialism is its insistence on the recalcitrance and vitality of matter and thus on its role in constraining and engendering the ways it is understood and handled. Matter is recognized as having its own forces of resilience, resistance, and productivity.1 New materialists are accordingly critical of tendencies to abstraction or formalism in mainstream scholarship. In political theory or sociology, for example, this is played out respectively in shifts away from analytical and normative approaches or from reifications promulgated by structural analysis, formal modeling, and classificatory schemes. If greater attention is being paid to the empirical details of emergent processes, this is not in the name of positivism but rather a way of discerning myriad unpredictable ways in which matter forges provisional molar assemblages. The role played here by thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Bruno Latour, and Pierre Bourdieu shows how more realist approaches undertaken in genealogy, actor-network theory, or phenomenology are being seized upon to breathe life into the study of social phenomena. In the visual arts, this may correspond with moves against Conceptualism inasmuch as its language- and text-based approach is renounced. Many artists and designers are returning to matter to explore immanent, elusive, and reclusive, properties of materials, working with chemical or biophysical qualities in response to degrading or emergent forms and their provocative invitations. Deleuze and Guattari write that, for example, “what metal and metallurgy bring to light is a life proper to matter, a vital state of matter as such, a material vitalism that doubtless exists everywhere but is ordinarily hidden.” Thus, in their account the “relation between metallurgy and alchemy reposes […] on the immanent power of corporeality in all matter, and on the esprit de corps accompanying it.”2 For “new alchemists,” such as those at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, new materialism means giving matter This essay was written during a research fellowship funded by the Leverhulme Trust, to which I’d like to express sincere gratitude. 1

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See for example Bruce Braun and Sarah Whatmore, eds., Political Matter. Technoscience, Democracy, and Public Life (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010); Diana Coole and Samantha Frost, eds., New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010). Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 411.

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its due.3 It engenders fascination with strange, brute, magnificent materials whose properties guide work that relies on scant formal or intellectual preconceptions but remains open to the provocations of emergent materialities and their innate qualities in a journey of shared participation that is active/passive: a reciprocal, irreducible process of becoming, where bodies and other materials are conjoined in a shared artistry. While matter is constantly being reconstructed, it is also recognized as making its own suggestions in the way it frustrates or inspires. However, even this formulation may suggest too dialectical a schema. When it invites greater attention to the ways matter matters, new materialism is acknowledging that matter materializes itself through and with embodied humans because they are irremediably part of, not apart from, this material world. It accordingly summons us to plunge into the material realm, to appreciate that we live in the midst of things, in order to engage with immanent structures of materialization that are simultaneously familiar and alien, necessary for our survival yet threatened by the strength of our desire. Whether the field is ethical conduct, aesthetic practice, or critical theory, what is implied here is nothing less than a reorientation toward the material or natural domain in a way that is distinctive from modernity’s prevailing will to dominate nature through knowledge and action. Disavowing the domination of nature represents an additional polemical score. Here, new materialists oppose the following: A utilitarian tendency, lucidly expounded by Heidegger, to regard the material realm as meaningless stuff that lies ready-to-hand for manipulation and imposition according to human purposes; a Cartesian philosophy that presents subjects and objects, or consciousness and bodies, as ontologically heterogeneous, as well as its scientific development in mechanical physics for which matter is dead, inert material available for technological modification. Equally, it opposes philosophies that reduce material alterity to an unknowable thing-in-itself or strive to appropriate matter through conceptualizing, quantifying, and classifying it. So, too, theories that define matter as determinist or determined are rejected, especially inasmuch as matter is claimed to follow strict laws of causality or linear development. In this mixture of idealist and traditionally materialist philosophies, scientific theories, and cultural orientations, new materialist critics see a common thread in which the complexity, contingency, and generativity of matter is denied in order to regulate it, as well as an unwarranted separation and privileging of human reason as a controlling agency. This challenge accordingly summons a countervailing ontology. Important philosophical influences here include ancient atomism, the ontological monism of Spinoza, the vitalist philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, and phenomenological approaches to corporeality by thinkers such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Their work

is associated with marginalized positions within the canon that are now being excavated and combined in novel ways. Equally significant are new scientific conceptions of matter, ranging from complexity and chaos theory, on the one hand, to unprecedented ways of understanding and manipulating matter in theoretical physics or molecular biology on the other. The ontology espoused by new materialism, which might be regarded as its signature contribution, attracts labels such as materialist vitalism or generative immanence. Such terms are indicative of an insistence that matter enjoys its own capacities for self-transformation, rather than awaiting the imposition of form or meaning by an external, transcendent agent (such as God or Man). In this sense it is secular and post-humanist. Yet by stressing the embodied, affective nature of humans, their affinities with animals, their imbrication with ecological systems, their enduring reliance on technological prostheses, their creative abilities to appreciate and improvise on natural forms, it does not eliminate human agency entirely. Rather, new materialism relocates humans by emphasizing their own materiality and through exploring their dependence on fragile or robust material systems and entities on which they leave more or less indelible traces. New materialist ways of thinking accordingly challenge traditional distinctions between the human and nonhuman, as well as classical hierarchies that describe a descending scale from God, through human, animal, and vegetable, to minerals and the inorganic. Instead, a singular yet variegated upsurge of materialization is countenanced. In summary, this is a philosophy of becoming rather than being: one that emphasizes materialization as a dynamic process (wherein matter matters itself ) rather than a state. It is worth saying a little more about this choreography because it ascribes some distinctive rhythms and qualities to materialization. Matter is regarded here as lively and constitutive. In emerging, it produces more or less enduring constellations; but since its course is neither linear nor predictable, it is inimical to conceptions of progress. Instability and volatility, flows and mobility, contingency and chance, are more typically invoked. Swerves and swarms, cracks and folds, virtuality and events, displace an older materialist discourse of cause and effect, determinism, or teleology. The internal, or immanent, generativity associated with materialization thus arises from matter’s being understood not as solid, self-identical objectivity but as inherently relational in the sense that it is the shifting relations between or within entities that endow matter with innate capacities for self-transformation. This allows materiality—whether in macro-level assemblages such as the biosphere or micro-level entities in which genes and cells co-exist—to be ascribed agential capacity in the sense that materialization generates structure or patterns; it partitions the sensible and engenders provisional forms in ways that precede and exceed linguistic or cognitive capacities. Such ideas are captured by references to a flat ontology and distributed agency. There is nonetheless some disagreement here as to just how widely distributed agentic capacities are. Do they, as thinkers such as Bruno Latour and Jane Bennett

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I am grateful to the directors and students at the new cx center for interdisciplinary studies at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts for discussions about their work as “new alchemists” with an affinity with the new materialism. See www.adbk.de/en/cx-centrum-fuer-interdisziplinaere-studien /archiv-jahresthemen.html.

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argue, include even inorganic entities, as “actants” or “thing-power” whose efficacy affects human/nonhuman systems? Or, alternatively, should the extension of agency merely refer to corporeal or organic capacities that extend beyond human bodies but which remain limited to beings capable of reacting reflexively and creatively to their material milieu? In either case, the definition and privileging of the human, especially regarding the uniqueness of humans’ rational and linguistic skills, are being questioned in some fundamental ways. It is important to stress that new materialist thinking is not merely a philosophical adventure. Many of its exponents recognize its ontological claims as a prelude to radical change in ethical-political life. In discussing this aspect, it is helpful to see new materialism tracking a distinction that marks contemporary political philosophy in its continental guises. This takes one direction when themes such as generativity and vitality are regarded as invitations to practice an affirmative ethos in which creativity, innovation, and the event inspire a more open and respectful attitude toward nature/things alongside queer, self-transformative practices that defy rigid classification or inertia. The other direction is more negative, critical, in taking up the wager to plunge into the midst of things in order to analyze sub-optimal, perhaps catastrophic, ways of treating matter and thus to identify leverage points for political action that are deemed essential for flourishing, if not for survival itself. From the former, ethical perspective, new materialist ontology suggests a celebration of matter’s generative capacities, thus offering new sources of inspiration through engaging with nonhuman forms. A combination of joyful restraint coupled with Nietzschean exuberance suggests a new sensibility or ethos: a transformed mode of being-in-the-world, one that escapes the limitations of conventional politics, power struggles, and runaway material consumption in pursuit of novel ways of being, subjectivity, affect, performance, embodiment, and artistry that are also more ecologically sensitive. In particular, such an ethos suggests perceiving and performing nature, bodies, and things differently. It is reminiscent of counter-cultural ideals that surfaced during the late 1960s, in which, for example, Herbert Marcuse invoked a new sensibility aligned with the pacification of nature and a more sensuous, erotic, aesthetic mode of being that was complemented by limits-to-growth environmentalism. Among current new materialists, it is exemplified by the re-enchanted attitude toward vibrant matter that Bennett exhorts when she summons the cultivation of “patient, sensory attentiveness to nonhuman forces operating outside and inside the human body,” which she associates with a “countercultural kind of perceiving” that engenders “a more ecological sensibility.”4 This new sensibility might be understood as bringing affective ballast to social change. Yet its practitioners inevitably find themselves confronting relatively intractable structures of power and everyday practices that reproduce prevailing values

and behavior to congeal and ossify material systems. Such is the weary insight of the second dimension of renewed materialism, whose exponents maintain that a robust understanding and critique of existing systems is required as a complementary task to ethical reinvention. In this guise, the new materialism assumes an altogether more mundane form inasmuch as it focuses on unprecedented ways in which matter is actually being transformed to alter everyday experiences and life chances in fundamental ways. This, then, is the sense in which new materialists are renewing the project of a critical theory, through an approach that might be defined as a critical or capacious materialism.5 Its proponents are attentive, inter alia, to pervasive forms of biopower that modify behavior at the level of everyday bodily habits and routines; to developments within political economy (such as intensified commodification of the commons or the invention of new consumer durables and production technologies); to the effects of population growth and other unprecedented demographic changes; to innovations in biomedicine that break bodies down into treatable, tradable parts; to digital technologies in which the distinction between human and artificial intelligence becomes difficult to ascertain; to changes to the geological fabric of the planet associated with the Anthropocene. While some of these developments are regarded positively as new opportunities for preserving and enhancing life, more typically it is the threats they pose to material (co-)existence that are being explored. In this critical aspect a renewed materialism is thus returning to an analysis of material systems—such as political economy, demography, biopower, and the environment—in order to explore the material milieu bodies inhabit and to appreciate its contribution to limiting or inspiring discursive constructs. Linguistic tropes, like scripts or texts, accordingly yield to a language of complexity and ecologies, systems, structures, and assemblages. While critical investigations of political economy and the protean effects of global capitalism inevitably provoke memories of Marxism, a capacious historical materialism is a considerably more complex, wide-ranging undertaking congruent with twenty-first-century conditions. In particular, political economy is situated relative to larger and smaller systems with which it interacts. On the one hand, this means taking heed of manifold concrete details in everyday (co-)existence as a way to understand how power structures establish and maintain themselves at the micro, especially embodied, level where needs, capacities, and desires are negotiated and instantiated. On the other, the broader eco- and biosystems with which intimate and social life connect through dense networks are accorded greater attention as planetary systems manifest increasing symptoms of degradation.

4

Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), xiv, 10.

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Diana Coole and Samantha Frost, “Introducing the New Materialisms,” in New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics, eds. Coole and Frost (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), 1–43, esp. 26–34; Diana Coole, “Agentic Capacities and Capacious Historical Materialism: Thinking with New Materialisms in the Political Sciences,” Millennium: Journal of International Studies, vol. 41, no. 3 (March 2013): 451–69.

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This analysis proceeds in a holistic manner that is faithful to the dense relationality and complex becomings described by new materialist ontology. It recognizes that because materialization occurs simultaneously on multiple levels and between numerous interconnected systems, critical analysis must also be multi-modal in its approach. In recognizing the complexity, contingency, and mobility of materialization, it is, therefore, obliged similarly to trace the complicated flows and intricate reversals of matter as it passes through and transfigures different biophysical levels. From this perspective global capitalism may be the most significant conduit or switching point. Still, the challenge is to identify the ways matter shuttles back and forth between distant ecosystems and the embodied routines of the quotidian where biopower operates through increasingly pervasive and sophisticated forms of governmentality. In other words, while none of these levels is privileged as ultimately determining, tracking the relays, delays, and circuits through which matter passes as it is transformed, degraded, or constructed is crucial for understanding the material situation at any point in time. Here the social and natural sciences are enmeshed in ways redolent of the entwining of social and ecological systems, or of the human and nonhuman. In conclusion, new materialism is a response to a resumed, pluralistic interest in matter that is receptive to criticisms of older materialisms developed by poststructuralists in particular, but also alert both to the efficacy of matter in shaping or constraining systems of meaning and discourse and to novel ways in which materiality is being negotiated and changed by the unparalleled scale of human intervention and innovation. It embraces more realist methodologies than those of the linguistic or conceptual turn; it adumbrates an ontology of contingent, even aleatory, becoming; it invites ethical and artistic reorientation toward nature and materials, and it renews the project of a critical theory, albeit in ways that take into account the unprecedented ways that matter is being transformed, its dynamic flows, and its imbrication with structures of power that normalize certain material practices. By locating embodied humans in the midst of things, new materialists are provoking novel ways to understand and engage with the dense material world of which our species is an irreducible part.

Feminism, Materialism, and Freedom Elizabeth Grosz

Concepts of autonomy, agency, and freedom—the central terms by which subjectivity has been understood in the twentieth century and beyond—have been central to feminist politics since its theoretical re-eruption in the writings of Simone de Beauvoir. While these concepts are continually evoked in feminist theory, however, they have been rarely defined, explained, or analyzed. Instead they have functioned as a kind of mantra of liberation, a given ideal, not only for a politics directed purely to feminist questions but to any politics directed to class, race, or national and ethnic struggles. I propose in this essay to provide an opening up of these terms that are so commonly used to define subjectivity or identity, a problematization of their common usage in feminist and other political discourses, and their recasting in the terms of a philosophical tradition, which is rarely used by feminists but which may dynamize and make such concepts ontological conditions rather than moral ideals. Instead of turning to those philosophical traditions in which the questions of freedom and autonomy are irremediably tied to the functioning and deprivatory power of the (oppressive or dominant) other—that is, the tradition of dialectical phenomenology that dates from Hegel, through Marxism, and influences and inflects existentialism, structuralism, and post-structuralism, which in turn have so heavily influenced most contemporary forms of feminist thought regarding the subject—I want to turn to a more archaic tradition but also a more modernist one that feminists have tended to avoid: the philosophy of life, the philosophy of biology, the philosophy of nature, initiated to some extent by the pre-Socratics, but fully elaborated primarily in the nineteenth century through the texts of Darwin, Nietzsche, and Bergson, and flourishing well into the earliest decades of the twentieth century. In elaborating the centrality of matter to any understanding of subjectivity or consciousness as free or autonomous, we need to look outside the traditions of thought that have considered subjectivity as the realm of agency and freedom only through the attainment of reason, rights, and recognition: that is, only through the operation of forces—social, cultural, or identificatory—outside the subject. Thus, instead of linking the question of freedom to the concept of emancipation or to some understanding of liberation from, or removal of, an oppressive or unfair form of constraint or limitation, as is most common in feminist and other anti-oppressive struggles and discourses, I develop a concept of life, bare life, where freedom is conceived not only or primarily as the elimination of constraint or coercion but more positively This essay appears in longer form in my book, Becoming Undone: Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics, and Art (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), 59–73.

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as the condition of, or capacity for, action in life. In doing so, I hope to elaborate and explain my understanding of freedom, agency, and autonomy not in terms of a concept of “freedom from,” where freedom is conceived negatively, as the elimination of constraint, but in terms of a “freedom to,” a positive understanding of freedom as the capacity for action. I do not believe that this is a depoliticization of the concept but rather its reframing in a different context that may provide it with other, different political affiliations and associations and a different understanding of subjectivity. Is feminist theory best served through its traditional focus on women’s attainment of a freedom from patriarchal, racist, colonialist, and heteronormative constraint? Or by exploring what the female—or feminist—subject is and is capable of making and doing? It is this broad and overarching question—one of the imponderable dilemmas facing contemporary politics well beyond feminism—that is at stake here in exploring the subject’s freedom through its immersion in materiality. I have no intention of presenting a critique of the notion of “freedom from,” for it clearly has a certain political relevance;1 but its relevance should not be overstated, and if freedom remains tied to only this negative concept of liberty, it remains tied to the options or alternatives provided by the present and its prevailing (and admittedly limiting) forces, instead of accessing and opening up the present to the invention of the new. In other words, a “freedom from,” while arguably necessary for understanding concepts like subjectivity, agency, and autonomy, is not sufficient: at best it addresses and attempts to redress wrongs of the past without providing any positive direction for action in the future. It entails that once the subject has had restraints and inhibitions, the negative limitations, to freedom removed, a natural or given autonomy is somehow preserved. If external interference can be minimized, the subject can be (or rather become) itself, can be left to itself and as itself, can enact its given freedom. Freedom is attained through rights, laws, and rules that minimize negative interference rather than affirm positive actions. I want to focus on the tradition of “freedom to,” which has tended to be neglected in feminist and other radical political struggles, though it may make more explicit and clear what is at stake in feminist notions of subjectivity, agency, and autonomy. But rather than turning to Nietzsche and Foucault to articulate this network of connections (as I have done elsewhere)2—for they are the most obvious

and explicit proponents of a positive conception of freedom, freedom as the ability to act and in acting to make oneself even as one is made by external forces— I will look at the work of someone more or less entirely neglected in feminist and much of postmodern literature, Henri Bergson, whose understanding of freedom is remarkably subtle and complex and may provide new ways of understanding both the openness of subjectivity and politics as well as their integration and cohesion with their respective pasts or history.3 I believe that Bergson may help us to articulate an understanding of subjectivity, agency, and freedom that is more consonant with a feminism of difference than with an egalitarian feminism, which more clearly finds its support in various projects centered around the struggles for rights and recognition. Bergson might help to rethink how subjectivity and freedom are always and only enacted within and through the materiality that life and the nonliving share, a materiality not adequately addressed in alternative traditions that have until now remained so influential in feminist thought.

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It is perfectly obvious that a freedom to create, to make, or to produce is a luxury that can be attained only with a certain level of the absence of constraint. However, even in the most extreme cases of slavery and in situations of political or natural catastrophe of the kinds globally experienced in recent years, there is always a small space for innovation and not simply reaction. What remains remarkable about genocidal struggles, the horrors of long-term incarceration, concentration camps, prisoner of war camps, and the prospects of long-term social coexistence in situations of natural and social catastrophe is the inventiveness of the activities of the constrained—the flourishing of minor and hidden arts and literature, technologies and instruments, networks of communication, and the transmission of information. What is most striking about the extreme situations of constraint, those which require a “freedom from,” is that they do not eliminate a “freedom to” but only complicate it. In The Nick of Time: Politics, Evolution, and the Untimely (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004) and Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994).

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Bergson and Freedom Bergson’s understanding of freedom and its links to subjectivity is initially articulated in his first major publication, Time and Free Will (1889), which not only outlines his conceptions of duration and space (which will become the centerpiece of his analyses in Matter and Memory (1896) and Creative Evolution (1907)) but also embeds his work in the traditional metaphysical opposition between free will and determinism, an ancient debate still articulating itself with great insistence, ironically, even within contemporary feminism. His understanding of freedom, as with his notions of perception, life, and intuition, lies outside and beyond the traditional binary distinctions that characterize so much of Western thought. Bergson argues that in traditional debates regarding free will and determinism, both sides share a number of problematic commitments: both presume the separation or discontinuity of the subject from the range of available options or alternatives and from the subject’s own ongoing self-identity; a fundamental continuity between present causes and future effects (whether causes are regarded as internal to the subject or as external tends to define the positions of the determinist and the libertarian respectively); and an atomistic separation or logical division between cause and effect. In other words, as in all oppositional or dichotomized divisions, both sides of the free will/determinism debate are problematic and share founding assumptions that enable them to regard themselves 3

There have been some, a few, feminist texts on Bergson. See, in particular, Dorothea Olkowski, “The End of Phenomenology: Bergson’s Interval in Irigaray,” Hypatia 15, no. 3 (Summer 2000): 73–91; and Rebecca Hill, “Interval, Sexual Difference?” Hypatia 23, no. 1 (Winter 2008): 119–31.

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as opposites.4 As with all oppositional structures, we need to find something that articulates what both views, in spite of their contradictions, share in common and what exceeds their terms and functions outside their constraints. For the hard-core determinist, if one had an adequately detailed knowledge of antecedent events, that is, causes, one could predict with absolute certainty what their effects would be, whether these causes are material and external, or psychical and internal. In its most recent incarnations, determinism has affirmed that causes may lodge themselves within the living organism, as effects of an en masse conditioning of the body and its behavior, or as a consequence of the more microscopic molecular movements and structure of the brain or the even more miniscule chromosomal structure of each cell. (Recent discourses on “the gay brain”5 the “gay gene” or the construction of queer through too close a “contamination” by queer lifestyles are merely contemporary versions of this ancient debate.) What lies behind each variation of this position is the belief that, if one could know the brain structure or genetic or behavioral patterns intimately enough, one could predict future behavior, whether criminal, sexual, or cultural. On the other side is the libertarian or free will position which asserts that even if determinism regulates the material order, in the realm of the human subject, there is an inherent unpredictability of effects from given causes. Given a variety of options or alternatives, it is unpredictable which one will be chosen: it is an open or free act. Freedom is understood, on the anti-determinist position, as the performance of an act that could have been done otherwise, even under the same exact conditions. Both libertarians and determinists share the belief that the subject is the same subject, the same entity, before and after the alternatives have been posed and one chosen; the subject, even after choosing a particular course, could review that course and either would make the same choice again in precisely the same way (the determinist position) or could make a different choice, even in the same circumstances (the libertarian position). For both, the choice of one of the options does not annihilate the existence of the others but leaves them intact, capable of being chosen (or not) again. Bergson’s position on the question of freedom is more complex than either the determinist or the libertarian view. For him, it is not so much that subjects are free or not free; rather, it is acts that, in expressing a consonance (or not) with their agent, are free (or automatized), have (or lack) the qualitative character of free acts. An act

is free to the extent that “the self alone will have been the author of it, and […] it will express the whole of the self.”6 Bergson’s position is both alluringly and nostalgically metaphysical and strikingly simple: free acts are those that spring from the subject alone (and not from any psychical state of the subject or any manipulated behavior around the subject); they not only originate in or through a subject, they express all of that subject. In other words, they are integral to who or what the subject is. In this understanding, the question whether the subject would or would not make the same choice again is ill posed: such a situation is unrealistic and impossible. The precise circumstances cannot be repeated, at the very least, because the subject is not the same: the subject has inevitably changed, grown older, been affected by earlier decisions, is aware of the previous choice, and so on. If the subject were absolutely identical in the replaying of a particular choice, neither the determinist’s nor the libertarian’s position would be affirmed. All one could say is that the subject is the self-same subject. Yet even in the case of an example favored by the determinist—the subject under hypnosis—there is a measure of freedom insofar as the act performed through suggestion must still be rationalized, integrated in the agent’s life history, given a history, qualitatively inserted into all the agent’s other acts in order to be performed or undertaken.7 With even the most constrained and manipulated of circumstances, when one person’s will is imposed on another’s without his or her conscious awareness, Bergson argues that there must nevertheless be a retrospective cohesion between the subject’s current act and the previous chain of connections that prepared for and made it possible. Even in this case, it is only retroactively, after the act is completed, that we can discern or mark the distinction between a cause and an effect, for in psychical life there cannot be the logical separation of cause from effect that characterizes material objects in their external relations to each other. What characterizes psychical life, Bergson insists, is not the capacity to lay parts (in this case, psychical states) side by side, for this accomplishes a certain spatial ordering that is not possible for, or lived by, the living being, but the inherent immersion and coherence of a being in time. Psychical states are not like objects, for they have no parts, cannot be directly compared, and admit of no magnitude or degree. Psychical states have three relevant characteristics: (a) they are always qualitative, and thus incapable of measurement without the imposition of an external grid (this already makes psychical determinism an incoherent position—if causes cannot be measured and precisely calculated, then even if determinism is in principle

4

5

At bottom, Bergson argues, both the libertarian and the determinist are committed to a tautology, in fact to complementary tautologies: “The argument of the determinists assumes this puerile form: ‘The act, once performed, is performed,’ and […] their opponents reply: ‘The act, before being performed, was not yet performed.’ In other words, the question of freedom remains after this discussion exactly where it was to begin with; nor must we be surprised at it, since freedom must be sought in a certain shade or quality of the action itself and not in the relation of this act to what it is not or to what it might have been.” Bergson, Time and Free Will, trans. F. L. Pogson (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1959), 182. See Simon LeVay, Queer Science: The Use and Abuse of Research into Homosexuality (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996).

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6 7

Bergson, Time and Free Will, 165–66. “For it is by no means the case that all conscious states blend with one another as raindrops with the water of a lake. The self, in so far as it has to do with a homogeneous space, develops on a kind of surface, and on this surface independent growths may form and float. Thus a suggestion received in the hypnotic state is not incorporated in the mass of conscious states, but, endowed with a life of its own, it will usurp the whole personality when its time comes. A violent anger roused by some accidental circumstance, a hereditary vice suddenly emerged from the obscure depths of the organism to the surface of consciousness, will act almost like a hypnotic suggestion.” Ibid, 66.

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correct, ironically it remains unable to attain its most explicit goal: prediction);8 (b) they function not through distinction, opposition, categories, or identities but through “fusion or interpenetration,”9 through an immersion or permeation that generates a continuity between states or processes and makes their juxtaposition impossible (this is the basis of Bergson’s critique of associationism);10 and (c) they emerge or can be understood only in duration rather than through the conventional modes of spatialization that generally regulate thought, especially scientific or instrumental thought, that is to say, any mode of analysis or division into parts. Parts, elements, and states are discernible only as spatial categories or terms. While these attributes or divisions may be imposed on the continuity of life and consciousness, they do not arise from them, for life is as much becoming as it is being; it is durational as much as it is spatial, though we are less able to see or comprehend the durational flux than the mappable geometries of spatial organization. For Bergson, then, at least in his earlier works, free acts erupt from the subject insofar as they express the whole of that subject even when they are unexpected and unprepared for: “We are free when our acts spring from our whole personality, when they express it, when they have that indefinable resemblance to it which one sometimes finds between the artist and his work.”11 Acts are free insofar as they express and resemble the subject, not insofar as the subject is always the same, an essence, an identity, but insofar as the subject is transformed by and engaged through its acts, becomes through its acts:

and imperceptibly becoming other than what it once was and is now, then free acts, having been undertaken, are those which transform us, which we can incorporate into our becomings in the very process of their changing us. Free acts are those which both express us and which transform us, which express our transforming. What both the determinists and the libertarians misunderstand is the very notion of possibility: the determinist assumes that there is only one possible act that can occur from given conditions or antecedents for any given subject, whereas the libertarian assumes that there could be several different acts that could ensue from given conditions or antecedents. Given two possible outcomes, X and Y (and fixing the antecedent conditions), the determinist assumes that only one was ever in fact possible; in contrast the libertarian assumes that both were equally possible. Neither understands that the two options were never of equal value because neither exists in itself as an abstract possibility. If we follow Bergson’s famous distinction between the possible and the virtual the possible is at best the retrospective projection of a real that wishes to conceive itself as eternally, always, possible but which becomes actual only through an unpredictable labor and effort of differentiation, an epigenesis that exceeds its preconditions.13 It is only after a work of art, a concept, formula, or act exists, is real, and has had some actuality that we can say that it must have been possible, that it was one of the available options. Its possibility can be gleaned only from its actuality, for the possible never prefigures the real, it simply accompanies it as its post facto shadow. So although we can posit that X and Y are equally possible (or not equally possible), it is only after one of them has been actualized or chosen that we can see the path of reasons, causes, or explanations that made it desirable.14 Only after one of the options has been chosen can we see that the unchosen option is not preserved there in its possibility but entirely dissolves, becoming simply a reminiscence or projection. Bergson has provided an understanding of freedom that is not fundamentally linked to the question of choice, to the operations of alternatives, to the selection of options outside the subject and independently available to him or her. It is not a freedom of selection, of consumption, a freedom linked to the acquisition of objects, but a freedom of action that is above all connected to an active self, an embodied being, a being who acts in a world of other beings and objects. Acts, having been undertaken, transform their agent so that the paths that the agent took to the act are no longer available to him or her except abstractly or in reconstruction. Indeed, there are no paths to any possible action (that is why an action remains possible but not real) until the action is acted, and then the path exists only in reconstruction, not in actuality. The path can

Those who ask whether we are free to alter our character lay themselves open to [this] objection. Certainly our character is altering imperceptibly every day, and our freedom would suffer if these new acquisitions were grafted on to our self and not blended with it. But, as soon as this blending takes place, it must be admitted that the change which has supervened in our character belongs to us, that we have appropriated it.12 Bergson’s point is that free acts come from or even through us (it is not clear if it matters where the impetus of the act originates—what matters is how it is retroactively integrated into the subject’s history and continuity). More significantly, if this subject from which acts spring is never the same, never self-identical, always 8

“The causes here, unique in their kind, are part of the effect, have come into existence with it and are determined by it as much as they determine it.” Bergson, Creative Evolution, trans. Arthur Mitchell (New York: Dover, 1998), 164. 9 Bergson, Time and Free Will, 163. 10 “In proportion as we dig below the surface and get to the real self, do its states of consciousness cease to stand in juxtaposition and begin to permeate and melt into one another, and each to be tinged with the colouring of the others. Thus each of us has his own way of loving and hating; and this love or hatred reflects his whole personality.” Ibid., 164. 11 Ibid., 172. 12 Ibid.

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13 See Bergson, “The Possible and the Real,” in The Creative Mind, trans. Mabelle L. Addison (New York: Philosophical Library, 1946). 14 “As reality is created as something unforeseeable and new, its image is reflected behind into the indefinite past; thus it finds that it has from all time been possible, but it is at this precise moment that it begins to have been always possible, and that is why I said that its possibility, which does not precede its reality, will have preceded it once the reality has appeared. The possible is therefore the mirage of the present in the past.” Bergson, The Creative Mind, 119.

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be drawn only after the movement is completed. Once the act is performed, we can divide, analyze, assess, and treat as necessary what in the process of its performance remains undivided, unanalyzable, surprising, and utterly contingent. The act, once performed, once actualized, is different from the indeterminacy of its performance. Moreover, Bergson’s understanding of freedom dissolves the intimate connection between freedom and the subject’s internal constitution or pregiven right. Freedom is not a quality or property of the human subject, as implied within the phenomenological tradition, but can only characterize a process, an action, a movement that has no particular qualities. Freedom has no given content; it cannot be defined. “Any positive definition of freedom will ensure the victory of determinism.”15 This is in part because it is not an attribute, quality, or capacity that exists independent of its exercise. It is not that subjects are or are not free; rather, actions, those undertaken by living beings, may sometimes express such freedom. Freedom is a matter of degree and characterizes only those acts in which one acts with all of one’s being, and in the process those acts become capable of transforming that being. It is rare that our actions express with such intimate intensity the uniqueness of our situation and our own position within it.16 But it is at these moments that freedom at its most intense is expressed. Freedom is thus the exception rather than the rule in the sense that it can function only through the “autonomy” of the living being against a background of routinized or habituated activity. It is only insofar as most of everyday life is accommodated through automatism, by a kind of reflex or habit, that free acts have their energetic and aesthetico-moral force and their effects on their author or agent. Associationism and determinism have their relevance in conscious life: they provide an explanation of the automatized substrate of daily behavior that provides a probabilistic guarantee of accomplished action. It is only against this assumed or taken-for-granted background economy of details that free acts may erupt.17 In place of either a rigid determinism or the pointless and undirected openness of libertarianism, Bergson poses indeterminacy as the defining characteristic of life and the condition for freedom: “It is at the great and solemn crisis, decisive in our reputation with others, and yet more with ourself, that we choose in defiance of what is conventionally called a motive, and this absence of any tangible reason is the more striking the deeper our freedom goes.”18

Freedom and Materiality

15 Bergson, Time and Free Will, 220. 16 “It is the whole soul, in fact, which gives rise to the free decision: and the act will be so much the freer the more the dynamic series with which it is connected tends to be the fundamental self. Thus understood, free acts are exceptional, even on the part of those who are most given to controlling and reasoning out what they do.” Ibid., 167. 17 “It is to this these acts, which are very numerous but for the most part insignificant, that the associationist theory is applicable. They are, taken all together, the substratum of our free activity, and with respect to this activity they play the same part as our organic functions in relation to the whole of our conscious life. Moreover we will grant to determinism that we often resign our freedom in more serious circumstances, and that, by sluggishness or indolence, we allow this same local process to run its course when our whole personality ought, so to speak, to vibrate.” Ibid., 169. 18 Ibid., 170.

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In his later works, Bergson focuses less on freedom as the exclusive attribute of a self, concentrated on only the one, conscious side of the distinction between the organic and the inorganic, as he did in his earlier Time and Free Will, and more on the relations between the organic and the inorganic, the internal constitution of freedom through its encounters with the resistance of matter.19 If freedom is located in acts rather than in subjects, then the capacity to act and the effectivity of action is to a large extent structured by the ability to harness and utilize matter for one’s own purposes and interests. Freedom is not a transcendent quality inherent in subjects but is inherent in the relations that the living has with the material world, including other forms of life. As the correlate of life itself, whose accompaniment is consciousness in a more or less dormant or active state, freedom is not a transcendental property of the human but an immanent and sometimes latent capacity in life in all its complexity. Life is consciousness, though not always an active consciousness. Consciousness is the projection onto materiality of the possibility of a choice, a decision whose outcome is not given in advance, which is to say, a mode of simplifying or skeletalizing matter so that it affords us materials on and with which to act.20 It is linked to the capacity for choice, for freedom. It is not tied to the emergence of reason, to the capacity for reflection, or to some inherent quality of the human. Life in its evolutionary forms expresses various degrees of freedom, correlated with the extent and range of consciousness, which is itself correlated with the various possibilities of action. The torpor or unconsciousness that characterizes most plant life makes the concept of freedom largely irrelevant or operational only at its most minimal level insofar as “choice” or action is not generally available to vegetal existence.21 Yet the most elementary forms of mobile life, animal existence from the protozoa upward, exhibit a kind of incipient freedom in some of their most significant actions. The capacity for “choice”—even if reduced to the choice of when and where to contract or expand, when and what to eat, and so forth—expresses both

19 Most notably in Matter and Memory; The Creative Mind; Mind-Energy, and Creative Evolution. 20 “Theoretically, then, everything living must be conscious. In principle, consciousness is co-extensive with life.” Bergson, Mind-Energy, trans. H. Wildon Carr (London: Macmillan, 1921), 8. 21 “Even in the vegetable world, where the organism is generally fixed to the soil, the faculty of movement is dormant rather than absent: it awakens when it can be of use. […] It appears to me therefore extremely likely that consciousness, originally immanent in all that lives, is dormant where there is no longer spontaneous movement.” Ibid., 10–11.

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the particularity of each species and the specificity of individuals within them.22 Each species, Bergson suggests, has the consciousness precisely appropriate to the range of actions available to it: each species, and here Bergson anticipates the work of some of the theoretical biologists to follow,23 has a world opened up to it within which its organs have, through natural selection, the capacity to extract for it what it needs for its ongoing existence. Each animal species, whether regulated by instinct as are the social insects or by intelligence as occurs in gradations through the vertebrates, has a world in which it can act, in which it requires a certain consciousness and in which there is for it a “fringe” of freedom, a zone of indetermination that elevates it above mere automated responses to given stimuli. It is this “zone of indetermination” that for Bergson characterizes both the freedom representative of life and the capacity for being otherwise that life can bestow on (elements or factors of ) material organization. Indetermination is the “true principle” of life, the condition for the open-ended action of living beings, the ways in which living bodies are mobilized for action that cannot be specified in advance.24 The degrees of indetermination are the degrees of freedom. Living bodies act not simply or mainly through deliberation or conscious decision but through indetermination, through the capacity they bring to the material world and objects to make them useful for life in ways that cannot be specified in advance.25 Indetermination spreads from the living to the nonliving through the virtuality that the living brings to the inorganic, the potential for the inorganic to be otherwise, to lend itself to incorporation, transformation, and energetic protraction in the life and activities of species and individuals: “At the root of life there is an effort to engraft on to the necessity of physical forces the largest possible amount of indetermination.”26 Life opens the universe to becoming more than it is.

But equally, Bergson argues, matter as a whole, the material universe, must contain within itself the very conditions for the indeterminacy of the life which it generated. Those mixtures or compounds may yield memory, history, and the past and make them linger, press on, and remain relevant to the present and future. Matter must contain as its most latent principle, its most virtual recess, the same indeterminacy that life returns to it. This is the common point of binary terms (matter and memory, extension and consciousness, space and duration) and that which exceeds them—the fundamental interimplications of mind and matter, of life and the inorganic, as well as their origins in the indeterminacy of the universe itself, the point of their endosmosis, where matter expands into life and life contracts into matter in pure duration. Life, and its growing complications through the evolutionary elaboration, generates a “reservoir of indetermination”27 that it returns to the inorganic universe to expand it and make it amenable to, and the resource for, life in its multiple becomings; and matter in turn, while providing the resources and objects of living activity, is also the internal condition of freedom as well as its external limit or constraint. “[The evolution of life] is at the mercy of the materiality which it has had to assume. It is what each of us may experience in himself. Our freedom, in the very movements by which it is affirmed, creates the growing habits that will stifle it if it fails to renew itself by a constant effort: it is dogged by automatism.”28 Materiality tends to determination; it gives itself up to calculation, precision, and spatialization. But at the same time, it is also the field in and through which free acts are generated through the encounter of life with matter and the capacity of each to yield to the other its forms and forces, both its inertia and its dynamism. Matter, inorganic matter, is both the contracting condition of determination and the dilating expression of indetermination, and these two possibilities characterize both matter in its inorganic forms and those organized material bodies that are living. Immersed in matter and an eruption from it, life is the continuous negotiation with matter that creates the conditions for its own expansion and the opening up of matter to its own virtualities: “[Life] was to create with matter, which is necessity itself, an instrument of freedom, to make a machine which should triumph over mechanism, and to use the determinism of nature to pass through the meshes of the net which this very determinism had spread.”29 As isolatable systems, fixed entities, objects with extrinsic relations to each other, the material universe is the very source of regularity, predictability, and determination that enables a perceiving being to perform habitual actions with a measure of some guarantee of efficacy. Yet as an interconnected whole, the universe itself exhibits hesitation, uncertainty, and the openness to evolutionary emergence, that is, the very indetermination that characterizes life. At its most contracted, the material universe is regular, reborn at each moment, fully actual, and in the present. But at its

22 “The amoeba … when in the presence of a substance which can be made food, pushes out towards it filaments able to seize and enfold foreign bodies. These pseudopodia are real organs and therefore mechanisms; but they are only temporary organs created for the particular purpose, and it seems they still show the rudiments of a choice. From top to bottom, therefore, of the scale of animal life we see being exercised, though the form is ever vaguer as we descend, the faculty of choice, that is, the responding to a definite stimulus of movements more or less unforeseen.” Ibid., 9–10. 23 See in particular Jakob von Uexküll, Theoretical Biology, trans. D. L. Mackinnon (London: Kegan Paul, 1926); Uexküll, A Foray Into the Worlds of Animals and Humans, trans. Joseph D. O’Dell (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010); Raymond Ruyer, Néo-finalisme (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1952); and Gilbert Simondon, “The Genesis of the Individual,” trans. Mark Cohen and Sanford Kwinter, in Incorporations, ed. Jonathan Crary and Sanford Kwinter (New York: Zone, 1993). 24 Bergson, Matter and Memory, trans. Nancy M. Paul and W. Scott Palmer (New York: Zone, 1988), 31. 25 “Matter is inertia, geometry, necessity. But with life there appears free, predictable, movement. The living being chooses or tends to choose. Its role is to create. In a world where everything else is determined, a zone of indetermination surrounds it. To create the future requires preparatory action in the present, to prepare what will be is to utilize what has been; life therefore is employed from its start in conserving the past and anticipating the future in a duration in which past, present and future tread one on another, forming an indivisible continuity. Such memory, such anticipation, are consciousness itself. This is why, in right if not in fact, consciousness is coextensive with life.” Bergson, Mind-Energy, 13. 26 Bergson, Creative Evolution, 114.

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27 Ibid., 126. 28 Ibid., 127. 29 Ibid., 130.

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most expansive, it is part of the flow of pure duration, carrying along the past with the present, the virtual with the actual, and enabling them to give way to a future they do not contain. The universe has this expansive possibility, the possibility of being otherwise not because life recognizes it as such but because life can exist only because of the simultaneity of the past with the present that matter affords it.30

Freedom is the consequence of indetermination, the very indetermination that characterizes both consciousness and perception. It is this indetermination—the discriminations of the real based on perception, the discriminations of interest that consciousness performs on material objects, including other bodies—that liberates life from the immediacy and givenness of objects but also from the immediacy and givenness of the past. Life is not the coincidence of the present with its past, its history; it is also the forward thrust of a direction whose path is clear only in retrospect. Indetermination liberates life from the constraints of the present. Life is the protraction of the past into the present, the suffusing of matter with memory, which is the capacity to contract matter into what is useful for future action and to make matter function differently in the future than in the past. The spark of indetermination that made life possible spreads through matter by means of the activities that life performs on matter. As a result, the world itself comes to vibrate with its possibilities for being otherwise. So what does Bergsonism, or the philosophy of life, offer to feminist theory over and above the liberal and Marxist, empiricist, or phenomenological conceptions of freedom? If we rely on a conception of freedom that is linked to the controlling power of the other, the socially dominant others, whether a class, a sex, a race, or groups and individuals—a view which all these conceptions in some way share—we abandon in advance the concept of autonomy. If freedom is that which is bestowed on us by others, it cannot be lodged in autonomy, in the individual’s inner cohesion and historical continuity: it comes from outside, from rights granted to us rather than capacities inherent in us. Freedom becomes transcendental rather than immanent, other-oriented rather than autonomous, linked to being rather than to doing. Such an understanding of freedom, at least from the point of view of a philosophy of life, is reactive, secondary, peripheral, outside of life instead of being seen as the very (inalienable) condition of life. Freedom is a question of degree rather than an absolute right. It is attained rather than bestowed, and it functions through activity rather than waiting passively for its moment. Being gay or straight, for example, is not a question of choice (of options already given in their independent neutrality—men or women as sexual objects, or masculine or feminine as modes of identification) but an expression of who one is and what one enjoys doing, of one’s being. It is an expression of freedom without necessarily constraining itself to options already laid out. Gayness (or straightness) is neither produced from causes—whether physiological, genetic, neurological, or sociological—nor is it the consequence of a free choice among equally appealing given alternatives. It is the enactment of a freedom that can refuse to constrain sexuality and sexual partners to any given function, purpose, or activity, and that makes sexuality an open invention even as it carries the burden of biological, cultural, and individual construction. The problem of feminism is not the problem of women’s lack of freedom, or simply the constraints that patriarchal power relations impose on women and their identities. If women are not, in some sense, free, feminism could not be possible. The

Feminism and Freedom Feminists have long assumed that, as a coercive form of constraint, it is patriarchy and patriarchal power relations that have limited women’s freedom by not making available to women the full range of options for action that it affords men. And it is certainly true that the range of “choices” available to women as a group is smaller and more restricted than that available to men as a group. But the question of freedom for women, or for any oppressed social group, is never simply a question of expanding the range of available options so much as it is about transforming the quality and activity of the subjects who choose and who make themselves through how and what they do. Freedom is not so much linked to choice (a selection from pregiven options or commodities) as it is to autonomy, and autonomy is linked to the ability to make (or refuse to make) activities (including language and systems of representation and value) one’s own, that is, to integrate the activities one undertakes into one’s history, one’s becoming. Bergson has elucidated a concept of freedom that links it not to choice but to innovation and invention. Freedom pertains to the realm of actions, processes, and events that are not contained within, or predictable from, the present; it is that which emerges, surprises, and cannot be entirely anticipated in advance. It is not a state one is in or a quality that one has, but it resides in the activities one undertakes that transform oneself and (a part of ) the world. It is not a property or right bestowed on, or removed from, individuals by others, but a capacity or potentiality to act both in accordance with one’s past as well as “out of character,” in a manner that surprises. Freedom is thus not primarily a capacity of mind but of body: it is linked to the body’s capacity for movement, and thus its multiple possibilities of action. Freedom is not an accomplishment granted by the grace or goodwill of the other but is attained only through the struggle with matter, the struggle of bodies to become more than they are, a struggle that occurs not only on the level of the individual but also of the species. 30 “This is precisely what life is—freedom inserting itself into necessity, turning it to its profit. Life would be an impossibility were the determinism of matter so absolute as to admit no relaxation. Suppose, however, that at particular points matter shows a certain elasticity, then and there will be opportunity for consciousness to install itself. It will have to humble itself at first; yet, once installed, it will dilate, it will spread from its point of entry and not rest till it has conquered the whole, for time is at its disposal and the slightest quantity of indetermination, by continually adding to itself, will make up as much freedom as you like.” Bergson, Mind-Energy, 13–14.

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problem, rather, is how to expand the variety of activities, including the activities of knowledge-production, so that women and men may be able to act differently and open up activities to new interests, perspectives, and frameworks hitherto not adequately explored or invented. The problem is not how to give women more adequate recognition (who is it that women require recognition from?), more rights, or more of a voice, but how to enable more action, more making and doing, more difference. That is, the challenge facing feminism today is no longer only how to give women a more equal place within existing social networks and relations but how to enable women to partake in the creation of a future unlike the present.

Is Marxism a Correlationism? Diedrich Diederichsen

In this essay I deal with three complexes that I often discuss in other contexts as well: questions of the visual arts, of fashion and diagnosis of the present, and of philosophy, especially aesthetics and legitimating discourses that play an important role in the visual arts. In the debates surrounding art and politics on the one hand, and art and economy on the other, I feel it is important to adopt a vantage point combining the two sets of problems; and to identify in the economic situation of artists in general (and visual artists in particular) a hard and material web of reasons and resistances that might explain what is political about contemporary artistic practice in the sense of the politics of its economy, and how that relates to what makes up that artistic practice economically. Specific living and working conditions are one example, a highly specific type of self-exploitation, but also a highly specific new production apparatus that harnesses leisure activity, audience mobilization, and self-realization reflexes as economic resources. Recently, two motifs have appeared that are already familiar from (or at least preformed in) other discursive fields. Common to both discourses is what the Austrian art journal Springerin has termed antihumanism, while others call it posthumanism. What do they have to do with contemporary art, and why in the world would I want to link them to Marxism? Bruno Latour’s sociology, which is fairly well-known by now, can be described as a continuation and escalation of constructivist positions. If constructivist theories take aspects of the world that are regarded as nature and disenchant them by showing that they are man-made and hence criticizable and changeable, Latour disenchants the humanist certainty of this distinction itself. He shows that manmade phenomena are partially made or coproduced by things or other nonhuman actors—or actants, as he also calls them—arguing for the abandonment of a subjectoriented, anthropocentric perspective on the construction of the social, which, however, he continues to view as constructed.1 Unfortunately, in doing so he sometimes sacrifices the option of critique, which in earlier forms of constructivism was still a plausible option, since those writers saw the world as partially constructed This essay is loosely based on a paper given as part of the lecture series “Power of Materials/ Politics of Materiality” at the cx center for interdisciplinary studies, Academy of Fine Arts, Munich. An expanded version appears in a volume based on that lecture series, Macht des Materials – Politik der Materialität, ed. Susanne Witzgall and Kerstin Stakemeier (Zurich: Diaphanes, 2014). 1

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See, for example, Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004).

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by discourses like critique. At the same time, he gains a retraction of the somewhat flippant sense, which constructivisms so frequently involve, that the world is at humanity’s disposal. Unlike Latour, who as a historian of science originally based his reflections on concrete laboratory situations, Quentin Meillassoux argues in strictly philosophical terms and sets great store by doing so. His aim is to eradicate a fundamental flaw of all philosophy since Kant: the distinction between a knowable world for consciousness and a world of things in themselves that the philosophical consciousness holds at a distance and whose discussion it denounces as a metaphysical holdover deserving no further attention.2 Meillassoux calls this position and all philosophies that share it “correlationism,” because they are only interested in the world in terms of the co-reality of human consciousness, not for its own sake. In this context, my point of departure, particularly with regard to a diagnosis of the present, could not be further removed from the anti-correlationist position. The diagnostician of the present is an even more “extreme” correlationist, because he or she not only posits the relevance of the world for a/the consciousness of every question or problem but its relevance for a decidedly transitory, especially fleeting consciousness of fashion. It is paradoxical, then, that precisely my conviction that a thing that is in fashion can never lack dignity altogether, that it must always have a certain minimal relevance, should move me to engage with a discourse that wishes to banish from the question of truth not only fashion but every other specific, historical, and otherwise relativizing perspective of an interested consciousness as well. Meillassoux takes modern measuring methods for dating fossils and the technique of radiotelescopy as his starting points. With these, he argues, a sphere becomes accessible in which the consciousness of those for whom the world otherwise exclusively exists was not even present yet. Nevertheless, for this world, which could not yet be differentiated into a world for consciousness and one in itself, accurate data can be gathered regarding the earth, the solar system, and distant quasar clusters. Meillassoux refers to objects from this time—former things in themselves, as it were—as “arche-fossils.” It was recently reported that around the year 1200 CE—as we know from the annual rings of very old cedar trees—massive gamma-ray bursts probably caused by the collision of two black holes struck our solar system, including Earth. At the time, however, people were busy with the death of Richard the Lionheart and the formation of guilds or, in the so-called Orient, with the firing of tiles and decorative art forms. They did not have the necessary measuring instruments, modern methods of scientific inquiry, or other forms of curiosity that would have tipped them off to the relevance of gamma-ray bursts, so they simply missed the gamma-ray burst entirely. It was one of the things in themselves that completely escaped their consciousness. Today, however, former things in themselves like these

have become measurable and datable; consequently, things in themselves do not absolutely elude measurability and hence cognition in general. Of course, it might be objected that the very design and specificity of measuring instruments are themselves correlational, but the Meillassoux school treats the arche-fossils and their proven existence less as an epistemological argument against epistemology and for ontology than as an indication of the correlational inconsistency of epistemology and thus as an argument for an ontological reality that, for Meillassoux as for his teacher, Alain Badiou, is accessible through mathematics. The end point of Meillassoux’s argument is the claim that the laws of nature themselves are not necessary but rather—as was previously only the case for scientific hypotheses about nature and the human formulation of its laws—necessarily contingent and that they only apply as long as they apply. Indeed, for Meillassoux the only necessity is the contingency of the laws of nature. He rejects the three Kantian options that Badiou sums up in his preface to Meillassoux’s book After Finitude as dogmatism, skepticism, and critique, instead holding out the prospect of a kind of fundamental critique—although he doesn’t call it that—that embarks on the adventure of cognizing a world in which everything could be otherwise, in which people, for example, could rise from the dead. Meillassoux has been working for years on a project entitled L’inexistence divine, mythologized by his followers, in which he seeks to show that the unprovoked arising of things such as cognition, suffering, or pleasure is a rational concept and that more such outrageous things are therefore likely to arise in the future. “These are the voyages of the Starship Philosophy. Its mission: to boldly go where no man has gone before …” This, roughly speaking, was my first reaction upon reading a manuscript by Meillassoux and finding out in what circles he is read and admired. I was also reminded of something I said in philosophy class in my junior year of high school, when during a group discussion of Kant, I objected that on LSD the thing in itself could be cognitively accessed. Now, this comparison with my teenage self is unfair, of course. Meillassoux takes great pains to back up his philosophical sensationalism with undeniably brilliant arguments that are naturally speculative—that’s the idea, after all. In the interest of fairness, even a diagnostician of the present should avoid the temptation to categorize Meillassoux’s philosophy purely on the basis of its success and of the intellectual and spiritual needs of the young men who are so excited about it—and not just in keeping with the maxim that one should always make one’s opponent’s case as strong as possible. Assuming he actually turns out to be an opponent: I am not interested in arguing with him on his own terrain—that of metaphysical speculation—nor in joining his all too facile opponents in denouncing him as an escapist and an author of philosophical adventure fiction. I do wonder, however, why people who come predominantly from the Left should respond with such enthusiasm to a philosophy that seems to reject the central tenet of left-wing thought, the historicity of human societies, as doubly

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See Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude : An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier (London: Continuum, 2008).

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anthropocentrically limited—as a purely human and therefore subjective knowledge of a purely human activity—but which meticulously avoids the elephant in the room: How does it feel about politics? From time to time, there are isolated answers, for example, that metaphysics, which is after all what this school claims to be practicing, can have nothing to do with politics and that political engagement and metaphysical speculation are independent pursuits that must not be conflated. The attempts to translate into political practice the dialogues with political philosophers such as Slavoj Žižek and Badiou that Meillassoux does conduct and has conducted in the past never progress beyond the identification of highly philosophical differences. Badiou and Žižek, for example, argue (with or against Hegel) for the “contingency of necessity,” whereas Meillassoux believes in the “necessity of contingency.” The art world, which pays close attention to all this, is used to taking its political cues from authors such as Badiou and Žižek, and their numerous comments on current affairs. Presenting themselves as public intellectuals, the two philosophers revel in the opportunity to connect their views on global politics and current events, women’s rights, movies, and the Middle East (views that, in Žižek’s case, are constantly changing, while in Badiou’s case they have been stubbornly the same for millions of years) with their ideas on Hegel and thus to relieve their philosophy of a bit of its abstractness. In Meillassoux’s case, such bridges are impossible: after all, his term for the world in thing-in-itself mode or the beyond of the correlational world is le Grand Dehors (the Great Outdoors). Constructions like this are attractive and popular not just with a philosophy that is in search of a mission beyond administering the conceptual status quo or offering support to aesthetic and cultural-studies projects. It is also appealing to artists who come not from the hegemonic visual arts but from its fringes, where irony is less mandatory and where elegant detachment and jaded theoretical sophistication are on the decline, where grand gestures, pathos, and above all an often nebulous romanticism rise up from dark drones and jagged Black Metal sounds. Object-oriented philosophies, however, present another side, one based more on Latour. In Graham Harman, object-oriented philosophy has found a mediator between itself and more hard-core Speculative Realism; in Levi Bryant, a canny diplomatic disseminator of the movement who Americanizes it and makes it less dogmatic. Both Harman and Bryant draw their supporters less (or at least not exclusively) from philosophical and artistic circles but also, emphatically, from a new, deromanticized but politically radicalized ecological milieu. Evidently, speaking of nonhuman things gives philosophical grounds for rejecting the priority of the human or subjective standpoint because it is contradictory, illogical, or disproportionate (that is, inconsistent with reality), but also finds conflict-based, not to say political grounds, rooted in clashing interests, for straightening out and dusting off ontologies and metaphysics. There are grounds, as it were, in the secondary attributes of things that make it necessary to change the way we think about the primary ones. Marxism—even beyond The German Ideology—might well have something to say

about the relationship between politics and ontology that cannot simply be reduced to its correlationism. Oversimplifying slightly, one might say that such political grounds are better received and more often cited in the United States, especially among ecological leftists, whereas the adventurous philosophical grounds seem to make an impression on communities in France, Great Britain, and the global art world, which have long been influenced by and excited about Deleuze, in large part because, at least in the imaginations of most readers, it is not so outrageous to go from geological times, which were already a point of departure for Deleuze and Guattari, to the arche-fossils. At this point, I would like to make another suggestion that may help unite various strands I have broached here, namely, Speculative Realism and ObjectOriented Ontology, the political past of most of the authors, the political agenda of most of the readers, and finally, the role of the visual arts. My jumping-off point is a consideration I have presented elsewhere on the role of labor in the creation of value in the visual arts. Normally, reflections like these are dismissed on the grounds that in the visual arts one is dealing with special objects whose value derives from their singularity. Singularity here is understood in various ways: as pieces that are absolutely rare, meaning, unique; as pieces that are incomparable within a system of value and evaluation; or with reference to the inexplicable judgments of incomparable (collecting, curating, museum-going) subjects. I have sought to show that all kinds of artworks, including the value assigned to them, its discursive presence, and its function in regimes of attention, can be derived from the highly developed collaboration of highly (formally and informally) qualified and dramatically underpaid individuals—and that their value drops wherever these forms of collaboration are less well developed and engage with each other more sluggishly, less precisely, where there is no nexus of hipsterdom, collectors’ money, intellectuals’ expertise, and “attractiveness technology” at work. Moreover, I have tried to demonstrate that the classical labor theory of value (as corrected by Marx from a value-critical perspective) can be applied to this collaboration. When the time required for education, including the often necessary hours of informal education in clubs and bars, is incorporated into the calculation of an average socially necessary labor time, a very plausible relationship turns up between production level and quality, labor time, and value, generating ways to speak about exploitation and surplus value in the art market with greater precision. In the present context, however, what is important about these ideas is a byproduct of them. It turns out that one can abstract even further from the Marxian theory of surplus value and its application to the art market and the production of artistic objects and services, that the theory of exploitation it delineates can be framed even more generally for production and being produced per se, for the interaction with matter and material. This can be done by formulating a theory of surplus value like the one I have just described, which reflects the interplay of formal and informal, material and immaterial labor, as a theory of input/objectification and output for

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purposes of exchange.3 Many minds, connections, beautiful physical attributes, furnishings and elements of interior design, address list managers, artists’ bodies, arthistorical memes, quanta of knowledge, and trays of white wine invisibly contribute in myriad ways to the production not of artworks but of valuable artworks, of objects from which value can be output or extracted. Exchange value. The point of all such abstraction from the theory of surplus value, however, must be that such output is not fair and proportionate: it isn’t the case that all the brain power, the incense and inspiration, the perfumed scent of gallery openings are retrievable when I purchase an artwork. Rather, what is retrievable is an exchange value—whose quantity, however, has something to do with the magnitude of the invested quantum of incense and perfumes, because that quantum defines an average range within which the price varies. There are other objectification/output constructions that distort what is invested in ways other than capitalist value creation. Indexical recording media like audiotapes and film actually make it possible to output something that can be recognized as what was invested. To the extent that the input is mediatized, the output resembles it (in ways specific to the medium employed). Mediatization is a different form of disproportionality from value creation. There are others as well, or others are conceivable. What they all have in common is the fact that they take periods of time that a material in the broadest sense has spent together with a processing activity in the broadest sense and transform them into an object that is socially defined by the fact that it can be grasped without any inherent temporality, that it is crystalline and yields a meaning, that it can be exchanged, played, or eaten. The common feature of all these transformations is the fact that they produce disproportionalities, incongruities; their transformations are curses, metamorphoses, not phased developments that grow out of one another, like the evolutions that characterize production before it is commercialized, but leaps, as Marx says at one point as well. The appearance of diseases, wear and tear, and symptoms of use are further rewarding examples that could be studied within the framework of this model. In so doing, it would be important to conceptualize the transformation as value-neutral, to grasp the disproportionality technically and to evaluate it in specific local instances, in order to avoid either naturalizing exploitation or absolutizing proportionality. With this in mind, however, it is possible to imagine another stage, beyond commercialization and mediatization (which usually takes place for the sake of commercialization, albeit according to the business model of reproduction, which is largely destined for extinction in a digital culture industry). In this stage, there is neither media nor a goal of transformation such as value, recording, or symptom and hence no distinction between material and its “processors,” but simply two substances that rub against each other because gravity and other co-actants cause them to do so, with oil, gas, or marble produced in the end. All that we usually

know about this process as lay people is that it took an outrageously long time before the friction or the gravity-induced pressure that some land mass applied to some organic stratum yielded something BP could commercialize. The subsequent output or extraction of energy from the oil or other raw material produced in this way stands in grotesque disproportion to the telluric eons it took for the resources thus exploited to come into being. This disproportion is a central topic of all ecological economies. If the term “exploitation” is used here in all innocence and without any ethical overtones, and it was used this way before “the exploitation of man by man” became an object of condemnation, then perhaps one can argue along the following lines: the temporal asymmetry between input and output, between process and crystalline value or exchange value, might be seen as the basis for a more fundamental materialist theory of exploitation that would encompass ecology without reducing economy to a mere episode of natural history. One of the Marxian-inspired positions that speak about ontology and politics is Alfred Sohn-Rethel’s discovery that Kantian epistemology is an effect of capitalist real abstraction, that there is a relationship between the division of the world into knowable and unknowable parts and the distinction between manual and intellectual labor.4 Is the object-oriented, ecological reconstruction of reality, of what lies beyond the reach of consciousness as something that is only provisionally beyond its reach but with which we are still very much connected and may even one day reach, is this reconstruction, understood in this way, an attempt to reverse that division? And how is it supported by a notion of disproportionality and asymmetry between production and retrieval time, between the processuality of production and the form of retrieval? In referring to this phenomenon as exploitation and presenting it as comparable, by dint of its asymmetry, to “man’s exploitation of man,” we are only doing what every garden-variety ecologist already does. Except that to make condemnation possible—indeed to allow for an ethical dimension of any kind—the ecologist must introduce humanity as the victim, despite the fact that it is the latter’s egotism (or capitalism as a version of it), which is actually the problem; it is humanity’s fault. Here, object-oriented philosophies and ontologies seem to offer a solution, in that they seek to grant the object a right to speak (however that right might be exercised). Ecuador’s new constitution, in which local nature has constitutional status, is often cited as an example. Otherwise, there are the many examples in the work of Latour and his students, who almost insist that the activity of objects in their various concatenations and assemblages be interpreted as speech, as the casting of a vote (Stimme). By contrast, the criterion of asymmetry in the extraction of time makes it easier to imagine a non-correlational theory of exploitation, at least on the horizon, that would not be confined within the classical Western, humanistic framework of

3

See, for example, Diedrich Diederichsen, On (Surplus) Value in Art, trans. James Gussen (Rotterdam and Berlin: Witte de With / Sternberg Press, 2008); and Diederichsen, “People of Intensity, People of Power: The Nietzsche Economy,” trans. Gerrit Jackson, e-flux, no. 19 (October 2010).

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4

See primarily his Intellectual and Manual Labour: A Critique of Epistemology (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities, 1978).

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the conceivability or imaginability of suffering, pleasure, good lives, and so on, but would use noetic detours and crutches like the notion of ancestrality to conceptualize disproportionalities even before any (necessarily perspectival) evaluation has taken place. But is this merely a kind of cosmically inflated Marxism? Or does it enable us to take up a strand of critical theory that, on the one hand, develops something prefigured in Sohn-Rethel’s critique of Kant and, on the other, harks back to Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno’s concept of instrumental reason, which can also be read as a critique of correlationism? Sohn-Rethel might be said to take the critique of correlationism off its ancestralist head and stand it on its historical feet by inscribing the absolutizing of a certain a priori within the historical process of the development of the money economy. From Meillassoux’s side, one might object that it is not a critique of correlationism when one simply replaces one datum of the history of consciousness with another. It can only be a matter of historicization, one might counter, since ultimately the critique of correlationism is a datum of history too, which relies on man-made aids to thinking like the radio telescope and the identification of arche-fossils. It isn’t the man-made character of these techniques that is important, the Meillassouxians might respond, but the fact that they are reliably able to communicate with the reality unobserved by human beings. At this point, I will leave Sohn-Rethel and Meillassoux alone and attempt to explore the second question: Doesn’t the critique of instrumental reason lead to the critique of correlationism? Aren’t there many passages in the Dialectic of Enlightenment that identify instrumental reason with the inability of human thought to avoid becoming lodged within a perspectival and egotistical subjectivity? Isn’t it, at the very least, a small step from a critique that accuses reason of being subservient to the problem-solving wishes of its owners to one that accuses it of only functioning so long as it automatically regards the existence of what doesn’t appear within its horizon as worth ignoring? The internal debate within the not-at-all homogeneous milieu of the objectoriented and speculative thinkers is currently hashing out these questions, and this too is above all due to Harman’s negotiating and moderating efforts, which tend to focus on the fine points of the classical philosophical problem of objects’ primary and secondary attributes, their constants and variables, the essential and the imputed. One can certainly complain that, in this as well as my other attempts to translate the vocabulary and problems of one philosophical language into the medium of another, I have unfairly left out the social or else that unfortunately the social has not yet completely vanished (depending on one’s position). There remains, however, the desideratum of a political, non-esoteric, and non-technocratic philosophy of ecology, which might justify these translation attempts. For Harman, the primary attributes are a crucial point, because the possibility of linking Speculative Realism and Latourian object-orientation effectively depends on them. Latour says he doesn’t care about primary attributes and has no

idea why anyone would bother with them, whereas Meillassoux’s anti-correlationism practically culminates in the assertion that such attributes not only exist but are also philosophically accessible. Harman proposes a certain “withdrawn-ness” of the primary attributes, but he continues to regard them as existing and ultimately seeks philosophically to integrate them into an ontology of objects with his updated version of Heidegger’s “fourfold” (Geviert): the “quadruple object.”5 All schools agree on the violence instrumental reason does to objects by adapting, twisting, and murdering them for the purposes of instrumental reason’s users. The questions for us—and I will end with them here—are these: To what extent is instrumental reason a violence directed against the primary attributes because it only sees the secondary ones? To what extent is that violence a creation of correlationism or at least made possible and justified by it? And to what extent is correlationism therefore a product of that aspect of the Enlightenment (avoiding the word “dialectic” for diplomatic reasons), which has also, in the final analysis, given us the capitalist mode of production? Or is precisely this discovery of the contiguity of the Enlightenment and capitalism, which was already hinted at by Alfred Sohn-Rethel, a historical datum, an epiphenomenon of another economic and technological line of development and therefore precisely not a datum of metaphysics?

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Translated from the German by James Gussen

5

See Graham Harman, The Quadruple Object (Alresford: Zero Books, 2011).

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Entering the Flow Boris Groys

Traditionally, the main occupation of human culture has been the search for totality. This search was dictated by the desire of human subjects to overcome their own particularity, to get rid of their specific “points of view” defined by their “life forms,” and to find access to a general, universal worldview that would be valid everywhere and at every time. This desire to transcend one’s own particularity does not necessarily originate in the ontological constitution of the subject itself. We know that the particular is always subsumed, subjected to the whole. So the desire for totality is simply the desire for freedom. And this desire again does not need to be interpreted as being somehow inherent to human nature. We know historical examples of selfliberation in the name of totality. So we are able to imitate these examples—as we may imitate any other form of life. Thus, we hear and read the myths that describe the emergence of the world, its functioning, and its unavoidable end. In these myths we meet gods and demigods, prophets and heroes. But we also read the philosophical and scientific treatises that describe the world according to the principles of reason. In these texts we encounter the transcendental subject, the unconscious, the absolute spirit, and many other similar things. Now, all these narratives and discourses presuppose the ability of the human mind to rise above the level of its material existence and gain access to God or universal reason—to overcome its own finitude, its mortality. The access to the totality is here the same as access to immortality. However, during the period of modernity we got accustomed to the view according to which human beings are incurably mortal, finite, and therefore inescapably determined by the specific material conditions of their existence. Humans cannot escape these conditions even by flight of imagination because every such flight always takes the reality of their existence as a starting point. In other words, the materialist understanding of the world seems to deny human beings access to the totality of the world that was secured to them by religious and philosophical tradition. According to this view we are merely able to improve the material conditions of our existence, not overcome them. We can find a better position inside the whole of the world, but not the central position that would allow us an overview of the totality of the world. This understanding of materialism has certain cultural, economic, and political implications that I won’t pursue here. Rather, I would like to ask the following question: Is this understanding correct, that is to say, truly materialist? I would suggest that it is not. The materialist discourse, as it was initially developed by Marx and Nietzsche, describes the world in permanent movement, in flux—be it the dynamics of productive forces or the Dionysian impulse. According

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to this materialist tradition, all things are finite but all of them are involved in the infinite material flow. The materialist totality is then the totality of the flow. However, the question is: Is it possible for a human being to enter the flow, to gain access to its totality? On a certain very banal level the answer is, of course, yes: human beings are things among other things in the world and thus subjected to the same universal flow. They become ill, age, and die. So human bodies are always already in the flow. The old-fashioned, metaphysical universality could be achieved only through very special and complicated efforts. The materialist universality seems to be always already there, achievable without any effort and without any price. Indeed, we need not make any effort to be born and die and, generally, to go with the flow. Here the materialist totality, the totality of the flow, is understood as a purely negative totality: to reach this totality means simply to reject all attempts to escape into the fictive, metaphysical, spiritual space beyond the material world and to abandon all dreams of immortality, eternal truth, moral perfection, ideal beauty, and so forth. However, even if human bodies are subjected to aging, death, and dissolution in the flow of material processes, this does not mean that human persons are also in flux. One can be born, live, and die under the same name, having the same citizenship, the same CV, and the same website, in effect remaining the same person. Our bodies are not the only material supports of our persons. From the moment of our birth we are inscribed into certain social orders—without our consent or even knowledge of that fact. The material supports of our personality are the state archives, medical records, passwords to certain Internet sites, etc. Of course, these archives will also be destroyed by the material flow at some point in time. But this destruction takes time that is non-commensurable with our lifetime. Our personality survives our body, preventing our immediate access to the totality of the flow. To destroy, or at least transform the archives that materially support our persons during our lifetime, we need to initiate a revolution. The revolution is an artificial acceleration of the world flow. It is an effect of impatience, an unwillingness to wait until the existing order collapses by itself and liberates the personality. That is why revolutionary practice is the only means by which the post-metaphysical, materialist man can gain access to the totality of the flow. However, such a revolutionary practice presupposes serious efforts on the side of the subject, requiring intelligence and discipline comparable to those needed to achieve spiritual totality.

history of art often demonstrates such substitutions of the old supports by new supports, including restoration and reconstruction efforts. Thus, as far as it is inscribed in the archives of art history, an individual form of an artwork remains intact, not—or only marginally—affected by the material flux. That means that to get access to the flow, the form itself must be made fluid; it cannot become fluid by itself. And that is the reason for the modern artistic revolutions. The fluidization of artistic form is the means by which modern and contemporary art tries to achieve access to the totality of the world. However, such fluidization does not come by itself; it requires additional effort. I would like to discuss some examples of artistic practices of fluidization and self-fluidization, and indicate some conditions and limitations of these practices. Let us begin by a short consideration of Wagner’s notion of the Gesamtkunstwerk. Wagner introduced this notion in his programmatic treatise “The Art-Work of the Future,” which he wrote in exile in Zurich after the end of the revolutionary uprisings in Germany in 1848. In it, Wagner develops a project of an artwork (of the future) that is heavily influenced by the materialist philosophy of Ludwig Feuerbach. At the beginning of the treatise Wagner states that the typical artist of his time is an egoist completely isolated from the life of the people who practices his art for the luxury of the rich, and that, in so doing, the typical artist exclusively follows the dictates of fashion. The artist of the future must become radically different: “He now can only will the universal, true, and unconditional; he yields himself not to a love for this or that particular object, but to wide Love itself. Thus does the egoist become a communist, the unit all, the man God, the art-variety Art.”1 Thus, becoming Communist is possible only through self-renunciation, by self-dissolution in the collective. Wagner writes: “The last, completest renunciation (Entäusserung) of his personal egoism, the demonstration of his full ascent into universalism, a man can only show us by his Death; and that not by his accidental, but by his necessary death, the logical sequel to his actions, the last fulfillment of his being. The celebration of such a death is the noblest thing that men can enter on.”2 The individual must die in order to establish the communist society. Admittedly, there remains a difference between the hero who sacrifices himself and the performer who makes this sacrifice onstage—the Gesamtkunstwerk understood by Wagner as a music drama. Nonetheless, Wagner insists that this difference is suspended, for the performer “not merely represents in the art-work the action of the fêted hero, but repeats its moral lesson; insomuch as he proves by this surrender of his personality that he also, in his artistic action, is obeying a dictate of Necessity which consumes the whole individuality of his being.”3 This repetition of the hero’s gesture by the performer is effectuated by the dissolution of his or her particular artistic contribution to the whole of the Gesamtkunstwerk. Wagner characterizes the Gesamtkunstwerk in the

* These revolutionary efforts of self-fluidization, understood as the dissolution of one’s own person, of one’s own public image, are documented by modern and contemporary art, just as the efforts of self-eternalization were documented by traditional art. As specific material objects, artworks are perishable. But that cannot be said about them as publicly accessible, visible forms. When its material support decays and dissolves, the form of a particular artwork can be copied and placed on a different material support—for example, a digitized image accessible on the Internet. The

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1 2 3

Richard Wagner, “The Art-Work of the Future,” in Richard Wagner’s Prose Works Vol. 1, trans. William Ashton Ellis (London: Kegan, Paul, Trübner, and Co., 1895), 94. Ibid., 199. Ibid., 201.

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following way: “The Great United Art-work, which must gather up each branch of art to use it as a mean, and in some sense to undo it for the common aim of all.” Here not only does the individual dissolve itself in the social whole, but the individual artistic positions and particular mediums lose their identities and dissolve themselves into the materiality of the whole. Nevertheless, according to Wagner, the performer of the role of the main hero controls the whole staging of his self-demise, his descent into the material world—a descent represented by the symbolic death of the hero on the stage. All other performers and coworkers achieve their own artistic significance solely through participation in this ritual of self-sacrifice performed by the hero. Wagner speaks of the hero-performer as a dictator who mobilizes the collective of collaborators exclusively with the goal of staging his own sacrifice in the name of this collective. After the end of the sacrificial scene, the hero-performer is substituted by the next dictator. In other words, the hero (and, accordingly, his performer) controls his self-sacrifice from the beginning to the end. Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk shows us the descent of the hero into the material flow—but not the flow itself. Communism remains a remote ideal. Here the event of descent into the formless materiality of the world becomes a form—a form that can be repeated, restaged, reenacted. In Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk the individual voice of a singer remains identifiable, even if it is integrated into the whole of a music drama. Later Hugo Ball dissolves the individual voice into the sound flow. Ball conceived the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich (where Wagner had written the “Art-Work of the Future”) as a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk, inspired by Wassily Kandinsky and his “abstract” drama Der gelbe Klang (The Yellow Sound). Ball wrote about Kandinsky: “He was concerned with the regeneration of society through the union of all artistic mediums and forces. […] It was inevitable that we should meet each other.”4 In his diary Flight out of Time, Ball writes (in the spring of 1916):

traditional poem, as an exposure of the downfall and disappearance of the individual voice, the descent of the human form into the totality of material flow. Ball describes the effect of the public reading of his first sound poem at the Cabaret Voltaire in a following way: “Then the lights went out, as I had ordered, and, bathed in sweat, I was carried down off the stage like a magical bishop.”7 The reading of his sound poetry was experienced and described by Ball as an exhausting exposure of the human voice to the demonic forces of noise. Ball wins this battle (becoming the magical bishop), but only by radical exposure to these demonic forces, by allowing them to reduce his own voice to pure noise, to senseless, purely material process. The descent into material chaos is not presented here as a preliminary stage that announces an impending return to the order—analogous to the periods of revolutionary chaos, social tumult, or carnival, as they were described for example by Roger Caillois or Mikhail Bakhtin. To use the terminology from Walter Benjamin’s “Critique of Violence,” the violence of the material flow is divine and not mythical violence insofar as the destruction of the old order does not lead to the emergence of a new order.8 But this divine violence is practiced here by an artist and not by God. The Lautgedicht remains therefore merely a poem—with a beginning and an end, capable of being copied and repeated. Here we have a documentation of a descent into the flow—but not an access to the flow itself. The same can be said of the later attempts of radical descent into the material chaos—fluidization of the artistic form and corresponding self-fluidization. I mean here Guy Debord’s dérive, the artistic practice of Fluxus, or texts and films—such as Christoph Schlingensief ’s film work—in which the personality of the hero (or heroine) becomes decentered, deconstructed, fluidized. All these texts and images show the limit that the artist necessarily reaches as he stages the descent of an artistic form into the flow. At the end, only the documentation of the descent into the chaos and flow is produced; the image of the flow itself remains elusive. This limitation of a possible artistic access to the material flow was reflected on by many artists, but I would like to use here as an example the art practice and writings of Kazimir Malevich. The Suprematist period of Malevich’s art has its origin in the opera Victory over the Sun (1913). It was staged through collaboration with the most radical Russian avant-garde figures of the time—the poets Velimir Khlebnikov and Aleksei Kruchenykh and the composer and artist Mikhail Matyushin. Malevich authored the stage design. The opera was a Gesamtkunstwerk in the Wagnerian sense of the word. It presented and celebrated the demise of the sun—and with it of the whole old cosmic order. Malevich’s famous black square emerges for the first time in the context of this opera—as a part of its scenography—and symbolizes the coming cosmic night, the hidden origin of all the material forces. In his writings,

The human organ represents the soul, the individuality in its wanderings with its demonic companions. The noises represent the background—the inarticulate, the disastrous, the decisive. […] In a typically compressed way the poem shows the conflict of the vox humana (human voice) with a world that threatens, ensnares, and destroys it, a world whose rhythm and noise are ineluctable.5 About three months later (June 23, 1916), Ball writes that he has “invented a new genre of poems, Verse ohne Worte (poems without words) or Lautgedichte (sound poems).”6 Sound poetry, as described by Ball, can be interpreted as the self-destruction of the 4 5 6

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Hugo Ball, Flight Out of Time: A Dada Diary, ed. John Elderfield, trans. Ann Raimes (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 8. Ibid., 57. Ibid., 70.

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Ibid., 71 See Walter Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” trans. Edmund Jephcott, in Selected Writings, Volume 1: 1913–1926, ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 236–52.

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Malevich often speaks about materialism as the ultimate horizon of his thinking and art. Time and again he contends that art has to manifest the general fate of all things, their common reality being disfiguration, dissolution, and disappearance into the flow of material forces and uncontrollable material processes. According to this view, Malevich continually tells the history of the new art—from Cézanne, Cubism, and Futurism up to his own Suprematism—as a history of the progressive disfiguration and destruction of the traditional image as it was born in ancient Greece and developed through Christian medieval art and the Renaissance. Thus, the question arises: What can survive this work of permanent destruction? Malevich’s answer to this question is immediately plausible: the image of the destruction of the image. The destruction cannot destroy its own image. Of course, God can destroy the world without leaving a trace because God created the world out of nothingness. But if God is dead, then an act of destruction without a visible trace, without an image of destruction, becomes impossible. The death of God means that no image can be infinitely stabilized; but it also means that no image can be totally destroyed. For the first wave of the avant-garde and especially for Malevich, the operation of destruction of the old artistic forms served precisely the demonstration of the indestructibility of the material world. Every act of destruction leaves material traces. There is no fire without ashes, or, in other words, there is no divine fire of total annihilation. Malevich offers a good example of this attitude in his short but important 1919 text “On the Museum.” At that time the new Soviet government feared that the old Russian museums and art collections would be destroyed by civil war and the general collapse of state institutions and the economy. The Communist Party responded by trying to secure and save these collections. In his text, Malevich protested against this pro-museum policy of Soviet power by calling on the state not to intervene on behalf of the old art collections, because their destruction could open the path to true, living art. In particular, he wrote:

Thus, Malevich proposes not to keep, not to save things that have to go but to let them go without sentimentality and remorse. This radical acceptance of the destructive work of time seems at first glance to be nihilistic. But, in fact, at the core of this unsentimental attitude toward the art of the past lies a faith in the indestructible character of art as such. The avant-garde of the first wave let things—including the things of art—go away because it believed that something always remains, beyond any human attempt of conservation. In this case the ashes remain, and can be also treated as the artworks and put into the pharmacy that becomes here a new museum. Black Square can be interpreted as the image of ashes, as the most perfect image of destruction. But now the following question arises: Is Black Square the most perfect image of the dark material chaos? If it is really so, then the Black Square is the final point of any possible descent into the totality of the world flow—the perfect image of this totality. However, then Black Square becomes a kind of “true icon” and the radical avant-garde becomes a new church. The perfect chaos begins to look like a perfect cosmos. Early enough, Malevich became aware of the dangers of such a claim of supreme, even Suprematist perfection—and of striving toward perfection in general. He was especially alarmed by the use of his Suprematist images—and particularly Black Square—by the artists of the post-revolutionary Russian Constructivism as a foundation for the construction of a new order, of the new Communist world of technical perfection and material production. And so Malevich began to compare the Constructivist school, which transformed his Black Square from the image of material chaos into an origin of the new world, with the Christian Church. This comparison was famously drawn by Malevich in his treatise “God is Not Cast Down” (1919).10 Here Malevich states that belief in the continuous perfecting of the human condition through industrial progress is of the same order as the Christian belief in the continuous perfecting of the human soul. Both Christianity and Communism believe in the possibility of reaching the ultimate perfection, be it the Kingdom of God or Communist utopia. Now, in this and later texts, Malevich begins to develop an argument that can be characterized as a dialectics of imperfection. As I have already said, Malevich defines both religion and modern technique (the factory, in his terms) as striving for perfection: perfection of the individual soul in the case of religion, and perfection of the material world in the case of the factory. According to Malevich both projects cannot be realized because their realization would require an investment of infinite time, energy, and effort from both the individual human being and mankind as a whole. But humans are mortal. Their time and energy are finite. And this finitude of human existence prevents humanity from achieving any kind of perfection, be it spiritual or technical. As a mortal being, man is doomed to remain forever imperfect. But why is this imperfection also a dialectical one? Because it is precisely this lack of time—the lack of time to achieve perfection—that opens to humanity the perspective of infinite time. “Less than perfect” here means “more than perfect” because, if we were to have

Life knows what it is doing, and if it is striving to destroy one must not interfere, since by hindering we are blocking the path to a new conception of life that is born within us. In burning a corpse we obtain one gram of powder: accordingly thousands of graveyards could be accommodated on a single chemist’s shelf. We can make a concession to conservatives by offering that they burn all past epochs, since they are dead, and set up one pharmacy. Later, Malevich gives a concrete example of what he means: “The aim (of this pharmacy) will be the same, even if people will examine the powder from Rubens and all his art—a mass of ideas will arise in people, and will be often more alive than actual representation (and take up less room).”9 9

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Kazimir Malevich, “On the Museum,” in Essays on Art 1915–1933, ed. Troels Anderson, trans. Xenia Glowacki-Prus and Arnold McMillin (New York: George Wittenborn, 1971), 68–72.

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10 Malevich, Essays on Art, 188–222.

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enough time to become perfect, then the moment of achievement of this perfection would be the last moment of our existence. We would have no further goal and no further reason to exist. Thus, it is our failure to achieve perfection that opens an infinite horizon of human and trans-human material existence. According to Malevich, priests and engineers are incapable of opening this horizon because they cannot abandon their pursuit of perfection—cannot relax, cannot accept imperfection and failure as their true fate. However, artists can do that. They know that their bodies, their vision, and their art are not and cannot be truly perfect and healthy. Rather, they know themselves as being infected by the bacilli of change, illness, and death (as Malevich describes it in his later text on the additional element in painting); and it is precisely these bacilli that at the same time are the bacilli of art. The artists, according to Malevich, should not immunize themselves against these bacilli but, to the contrary, should accept them, letting them destroy the old, traditional art patterns. For Malevich art is a virus: it lives by continually changing its hosts and transforming itself thorough time while still keeping its identity. That is why Malevich actually believes in the trans-historical character of art. Art is material and materialist. And that means that art can always survive the end of purely idealist, metaphysical, immaterial projects, be it the Kingdom of God or Communism. The movement of material forces is non-teleological. As such it cannot reach its telos and come to an end. In his later notes “On the Concept of History” (1940) in which he tried to develop his own version of historical materialism, Benjamin famously evokes the angel in Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus, carried by the wind of history but with his back to the future, looking only toward the past.11 Benjamin describes the angel as seized by terror as he sees all the promises of the future destroyed by the forces of history and turned to ruins. But why is the angel surprised and terrorized by this view to such an extent? Probably because, before turning his back to the future, he believed in the possibility of a future realization of all the social, technical, and artistic projects. Malevich, however, is not an Angelus Novus. He is not shocked by what he sees in the rearview window of his car. He expects from the future only destruction; and so he is not surprised to see only ruins as this future comes. For Malevich there is no difference between future and past. He sees ruins in every direction. Thus, he remains relaxed and self-assured—never shocked, seized by terror or even surprised. Malevich’s theory of art—as it was formulated in his polemics against the Constructivists—can be read as an answer to the theory of divine violence described by Benjamin. The artist accepts this infinite violence and appropriates it, allowing himself be infected by it. And he lets this violence infect and destroy his own art, making it ill. Malevich presents the history of art as a history of illness, of being infected by the bacilli of divine violence that infiltrates and permanently destroys all human orders. In our time Malevich is often accused of allowing his art to be infected

by the bacilli of figuration and even socialist realism during the Soviet period of his artistic practice. The writings of the same time explain Malevich’s ambiguous attitude toward the social, political, and artistic developments of his time: he does not invest them with any hope, any expectation of progress (this is also characteristic of his reaction to film), but at the same time he accepts them as the necessary illnesses of time and was ready to become infected, imperfect, transitory. In fact, his Suprematist images are already imperfect, flowing, non-constructive, especially, if we compare them to Mondrian’s paintings, for example. Now it becomes clear that the descent into the material flow shares the fate of the ascent into the contemplation of God or eternal ideas. Religious and philosophical tradition demonstrates the repeated attempts to reach this contemplation, but it never presents their results in a convincing form. All religious illuminations and scientific evidence can be interpreted as products of our own imagination determined by the material conditions of our existence. But to the same degree and for the same reason, we cannot assert any evidence of reaching the flow. In this sense the material flow is as unreachable as eternal ideas. But at the same time we have a collection of attempts to enter the flow. The documents of these attempts build in their totality a kind of anti-archive similar to the pharmacy of ashes imagined by Malevich. However, the anti-archive is also an archive. It demonstrates that the material flow was never really entered, that the form never became really fluid. Now, today, we are the heirs of these attempts to enter the flow, of these artistic revolutions—and administrators of the archive of their traces that document their partial successes and ultimate failure. What happened here is a certain return to order. That does not mean the return to the “normal,” traditional image—as some postmodern theoreticians and artists wanted it—but rather, the inscription of the avant-garde revolutionary images into the archive as finite, solid, material documentations. Today, the main place of archives of any kind is, of course, the Internet. The Internet is often described in terms of a flow—of information, data, etc. In fact, the opposite is the case: the Internet is a reversal of the flow, the anti-flow, a means to freeze, to stop the flow. In the times of modernity, the notion of the flow—at least in the context of image and text production—was applied mainly to the flow of mass reproduction and distribution of these texts and images. There is a famous description of this flow by Benjamin: the mechanical copies of certain historically inherited originals or the copies that originally emerged as copies (photos, films, and so forth) are siteless, deterritorialized, have no particular inscription in the historical time, and therefore uncontrollably multiply themselves in the topologically indefinite media space. Now, contemporary, digital reproduction is by no means siteless. Its circulation is not topologically undetermined and it does not present itself in the form of multiplicity. On the Internet, every data has an address—and, accordingly, a place. This place is determined by the invisible genius loci—the Internet address. The same data with a different address is different data. Here the famous aura of originality does not get lost in the process of circulation but, rather, becomes permanently

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Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” trans. Harry Zohn, in Selected Writings, Vol. 4: 1938–1940, ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 389–400.

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substituted by other auras—by means of new Internet inscriptions. Thus, the circulation of digital data on the Internet produces not copies but new originals. And this circulation is perfectly traceable. Every movement from one address to another address can be—and is—recorded. The individual data never gets deterritorialized. Moreover, every Internet image or text has not only its specific unique place but also a unique time of appearance, and this moment of an individual appearance is again traceable. It is not so much the digital image or text itself as the image or text file, the digital data that remains identical through the process of its reproduction and distribution. But the image file is not an image. The image file is invisible. The digital image is an effect of the visualization of the invisible image file, of the invisible digital data. Accordingly, a digital image cannot be merely copied (as an analogue, mechanically reproducible image can), but always only newly staged or performed. Here, the image begins to function like a piece of music, whose score, as it is generally known, is not identical to the piece—the score being not audible, but silent. One can argue that digitalization turns the visual arts into performing arts. And every new performance of the digital data can be and is—as in the case of the musical performance—recorded and archived on the Internet. * So the Internet presents us with a new material support for the artistic form—and also for a human personality. Here it is really important to remember the fact that the Internet is a material thing and not an immaterial something. The Internet is a sum of computers and other equipment, cables, and Wi-Fi. Its material support is electricity—and it does not work without a supply of electricity and power stations that produce this supply. So the Internet is again a material archive that functions between the material (in this case, electric) flow and the Platonic realm of pure forms. Accordingly, the Internet provokes the attempts to bring it to flow. We know the strategies of anonymity and pseudonymity that try to make the Internet fluid—to hide or dissimulate the personality of the user or so-called content provider behind the produced data. But we also know the attempts (like the Singularity project, for example) to use digitization as a way to a new concept of immortality (consisting in rewriting the subject as a form [a soul] on a new medium). Now, the problem with the material flow is again this: it is infinite and cannot be grasped by finite means. And the Internet is perhaps big, but still finite. However, the collection of attempts to reach the flow, even if these attempts were unsuccessful, has the privilege of being truly material and finite because it consists of material documents. Also: this collection offers examples of overcoming one’s own material identity that can be followed by everyone. The search for material infinity can always be continued and joined by others. We have here a connection with what can be called the universalist tradition. And it is always possible to join this universalist tradition by bringing it into the flow, by attempting to dissolve it. It is not necessary to really enter the flow. It is enough to descend toward it and document this descent.

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Possibility Spaces Manuel DeLanda in Conversation with Christoph Cox

Christoph Cox: When “realism” was still a dirty word in continental philosophy and cultural theory, you openly declared your commitment to the position. What do you take “realism” to mean? Manuel DeLanda: Realism refers to the belief that there is a world that exists independently of our minds. It is about ontological commitments and implies nothing about epistemology, ethics, or other areas of philosophy. It stands in contrast not only with idealism, the belief that we create the world with our minds (at least the knowable part of that world), but also with empiricism (or positivism), which postulates that mind-independence is a property exclusively of what is directly observable by humans. To illustrate this with a simple image: if a powerful virus killed all of humanity tomorrow, a realist believes that ecosystems and weather patterns, mountains and rivers, would still be there the day after tomorrow, behaving pretty much in the way they behave today. But realists can differ when it comes to specifying the contents of this mind-independent world. The most influential realist philosopher of all time, Aristotle, believed that the world contained not only individual entities, which are subject to corruption and decay, but also species and genera, which are not. The latter he viewed as nonmaterial essences that defined what individual entities were but that existed outside of history, being eternal and invariant. My realism, like that of other materialists, does not include essences as part of the mind-independent world, but only historically-determined entities, whether this history is cosmic, geological, biological, or social. In addition, most materialists are not ontologically committed to any transcendent entity, like gods or demons, heaven and hell. Only immanent entities, those whose existence implies a material substratum, are legitimate inhabitants of the world. You argue that the philosophical and cultural left has largely abdicated its long-standing commitment to materialism in favor of intellectual approaches (for example, semiotics, post-structuralism, deconstruction, and psychoanalysis) that are implicitly idealist.1 What is materialism for you and what challenges does it pose to cultural and social theory today? Conversation conducted by e-mail in September 2013. 1

See, for example, Manuel DeLanda, “Materialism and Politics,” in Deleuze: History and Science (New York: Atropos Press, 2010), 29–49.

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Karl Marx himself was a realist philosopher, and certainly believed in the existence of a material world and in impersonal forces shaping human history. He was, of course, highly influential in the development of most social sciences in the twentieth century, which means that many intellectuals in the humanities remain committed to some of his ideas, using words like “capitalism” or “commodification” as if they were unproblematic. Because of this lingering commitment to Marxism, these intellectuals think that they can be ontologically committed only to subjective phenomena (as shaped by language) and still be materialists. Marx would be highly embarrassed by them. Marxists in the first half of the century were acutely aware of their differences with phenomenology (and were among the most vocal critics of Heidegger’s ties to Nazism); but this incompatibility is entirely lost to contemporary idealist intellectuals, who think they can mix and match ideas without any regard to ontological commitments.

prisons); but physics, chemistry, and biology are certainly not. We will probably never know what Foucault thought about the latter three fields and, hence, how he viewed Deleuze’s handling of them.

Gilles Deleuze has generally been considered a fellow traveler with other post-structuralists such as Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard, and Luce Irigaray, several of whom were his good friends. You read Deleuze very differently: as a scientifically and mathematically minded realist philosopher. Why do you take him to be such an exemplary realist and materialist? Deleuze was close to Foucault and Lyotard, but not to Derrida, and certainly not to Irigaray and her goofy notion of a “masculinist epistemology.” He wrote his very first book on Hume, on the empiricist model of subjectivity, and with this announced to everyone that he was not a Kantian, that he did not believe that subjective experience is structured linguistically. This is crucial because acceptance of the thesis of the linguisticality of experience leaves only one possible realist position: essentialism. If the meaning of words determines what we perceive, then, for the objects of perception to be mind-independent, meanings must capture their essence. Thus, having rejected Kant, he was able to introduce scientific elements into his thought (without the Kantian maneuver of the “synthetic a priori”). But he does not accept science uncritically. He rejects the notion of an eternal and immutable law of nature, which is a theological fossil, and suggests how to replace it with a less transcendent, more immanent, concept: that of the structure of a possibility space (or a virtual multiplicity). Now, Foucault seems to have accepted this, since his own model of discourses is based on that notion, proposing a variety of possibility spaces, like the space of possible objects of discourse, the space of possible subjective stances, and so on. On the other hand, it is hard to tell just exactly what Foucault thought about science because he only wrote about fields like psychiatry, clinical medicine, grammar, economics, criminology, the study of human sexuality, and so on. These fields may very well be mere discourses, and are directly tied to the power of certain organizations (asylums, hospitals,

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You often draw from mathematical fields such as differential geometry and group theory. But what is the status of mathematics itself within a materialist philosophy? How does one construct a materialist theory of mathematics? Aren’t mathematical entities fundamentally ideal? A materialist theory of mathematics begins by noting that most mathematical operations (from addition and multiplication to differentiation and integration) are algorithmic: they are well-defined mechanical procedures. In other words, they are just as material as software is. But there is more to math than that, in particular, to the math applied in science. Here the mystery is why mathematical models work at all, why the behavior of an equation can mimic the behavior of a laboratory phenomenon. The transcendent answer is: the equation captures an immutable law. The immanent answer is: the space of possible solutions to the equation overlaps with the space of possible states for the phenomenon. This answer, of course, implies that one has developed a realist account of the idea of the structure of a possibility space, an account that philosophers since Bergson have tried to offer via the concept of “the virtual.” I have given an extensive treatment of this notion, and proved its immanence (and hence compatibility with materialism) in my book Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy.2 My strategy there was to show that the concept of a virtual multiplicity (in all its different variants) supplies the perfect tool to explain the genesis of form, in both the natural and the social worlds. Every materialism needs a theory of the synthesis of form to explain how the historical entities it postulates as mind-independent were generated in the first place: the existence of solar systems, planets, ecosystems, animals and plants, molecules and atoms, has to be explained by some historical process of synthesis. Marx, of course, knew this, and adopted the Hegelian schema of the negation of the negation as his model of synthesis. But a single a priori model cannot suffice. A large variety of virtual multiplicities, on the other hand, coupled to material and energetic processes of morphogenesis, can do a better job. What about language? How does one construct a materialist theory of language? Isn’t language, too, ideal? Doesn’t Deleuze suggest this with his theory of “sense”? Let’s first clarify one point. A materialist can be ontologically committed to mental entities (and their irreducibility to neurons) as much as anyone else. As long as one believes in embodied minds whose existence is immanent to their 2

Manuel DeLanda, Intensive Science & Virtual Philosophy (London: Continuum, 2002).

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biological substratum, there is no problem. Moreover, when it comes to social ontology, a materialist cannot use the phrase “mind-independent” to characterize the ontological status of communities, institutional organizations, cities, and other social entities. These are clearly not independent of our minds because without minds there would be no community life, no organizational practices, no urban processes, and so on. Thus, these social entities must be characterized as existing independently of the content of our minds, that is, of our conceptions of them: the dynamics of a community, organization, or city must be discovered through rigorous empirical study; and our conceptions of them may turn out to have been entirely wrong once all the evidence has been gathered. Thus, a materialist needs to believe in the existence of the contents of our minds, including meanings. In Deleuze’s theory of sense (developed in The Logic of Sense), he clearly distinguishes “sense” from “signification” (the semantic content of words or sentences), “sense” being more connected with “significance” (the capacity of words or actions to make a difference).3 But Deleuze’s position on language is more clearly spelled out in the “Postulates on Linguistics” chapter of A Thousand Plateaus, written with Félix Guattari.4 Now, if you view language as it began historically, that is, as oral language, then its materiality is connected to the palate and the tongue, the lips and the teeth—the entire vocal apparatus needed to produce the patterned pulses of air that make up its sounds. With the introduction of writing, this materiality becomes more obvious: carvings on stone, ink on papyrus, or coded electric pulses traveling the Internet. Then, given that populations of sounds or physical inscriptions are passed from one generation to another, and given that this transmission is never perfect and includes variation, the entire population can be assigned the capacity to evolve, just as genetic information can evolve. In A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, I provided a detailed account of this evolution for few European languages, showing that when variation decreases (as when the Roman Empire enforced the homogeneity of Latin) linguistic evolution slows down, while when variation increases (when the Empire fell, and a multiplicity of Hispano-Romances, Italo-Romances, and Franco-Romances began to diverge) it speeds up.5 This brings language within the purview of Information Theory, which is not about ideal entities but about the physical coding of patterns in a variety of media. Another key ingredient in a materialist theory of language is to separate meaning and reference. In the idealist tradition, you know what the referent of a word is by consulting its meaning. But if you want to know if a piece of yellow

metal in your hand is gold (if it is the referent of the word “gold”) you do not consult your dictionary, you pour a certain acid on the chunk of stuff and if it melts it is gold, if not it’s fool’s gold. What this implies is that reference is linked to nonlinguistic practices involving causal interventions in the world, and not just mental semantic entities.

3 4 5

Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, ed. Constantin V. Boundas, trans. Mark Lester with Charles Stivale (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990). Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 75–110. Manuel DeLanda, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History (New York: Zone Books, 2000).

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How does one construct a materialist account of thought? If such a theory is an evolutionary one, isn’t there an incompatibility between an evolutionary epistemology and scientific realism, for the former would guarantee only evolutionary survival and adaptation, not an accurate account of reality in general.6 All that evolution could have done for the brain, in terms of increasing its cognitive powers, is directly related to our hunter-gatherer lifestyles, since we spent hundreds of thousands of years in that state. Agriculture and settled life, by contrast, is at most ten thousand years old. So, clearly, evolution could not have equipped us to think about mathematics, physics, or philosophy. The “deep structure of reality” has been slowly discovered through a social epistemology involving entire communities of practitioners, working over many generations. It is a kind of collective search of possibility spaces, in which some of the abilities that we acquired evolutionarily (many ways of intervening causally in the world) are present at the individual level, but there is also an emergent collective effect that cannot be traced to biological evolution. Besides, once one accepts that genes are not the only entity that can evolve, that anything that is replicated with variation (from words to scientific instruments) has this ability, there is no need to look to biology as the exclusive source of cognitive capacities. I am currently working on a book on the history of chemistry, to provide evidence that chemical knowledge was produced mostly through a social or collective epistemology. So you think that the “structure of possibility spaces” (and, in particular, a collective exploration of such possibility spaces) can answer the question of how human thought—the cognition of a particular organism, the evolution of which is contingently determined—could transcend its contingent particularity in order to capture the way the world really is (and not just the way it is for this particular organism)? Let me preface my answer with a few general remarks. First, in order for the properties that characterize mind-independent entities not to be transcendent (as in Aristotle) they must be viewed as emergent. An emergent property is a 6

For an elaboration of this point, see Ray Brassier’s comments in “Speculative Realism,” Collapse 3 (November 2007): 311–12.

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property of a whole that arises from the interaction between its component parts. If the parts cease to interact, the whole’s properties cease to exist, hence they are contingent on (and immanent to) those interactions. In addition, emergence blocks reductionism: if the properties of a molecule cannot be reduced to those of its component atoms, then chemistry cannot be reduced to physics. And for similar reasons, biology cannot be reduced to chemistry, psychology to biology, sociology to psychology, and so on. This already ensures that the world is open ended, because we can’t tell in advance what will emerge from future interactions. Furthermore, in addition to properties, mind-independent entities are characterized by their capacities to affect and be affected (what Deleuze calls “affects”). A knife may be sharp (a property) but it also has the capacity to cut. The latter, though, is relational, so it must be exercised with something that has the capacity to be cut (cheese or bread, but not a solid block of titanium). This means that capacities are even more open ended, since the pairs that interact cannot be listed in advance: a knife has the capacity to kill when it interacts with a large organism, that is, with an entity with the capacity to be killed. Hence, there is no such thing as “reality as it really is” because reality changes, there are innovations, multiple levels of emergence, and unpredictable capacities to affect and be affected. This is why science has bifurcated into many autonomous fields, and why each field (say, chemistry) has continued to bifurcate into inorganic, organic, physical, and quantum chemistries. Now, to return to your question. The reason why we need the concept of a possibility space is precisely because of the difference between properties and capacities. Both properties and capacities are real; but while properties are always actual (the knife is either sharp or dull), capacities are only actual when they are being exercised. Most of the time they are only potential (or virtual). So in order to specify the kind of being they possess when not actually exercised, we need the notion of virtuality. Something is virtual if it is real but not actual. With respect to individual human beings and contingent evolution, the perceptual and cognitive powers that evolution has equipped us with give us direct access to a tiny portion of this open-ended world. We can’t perceive beings that are too small or too large, or becomings that are too slow or too fast. But we can develop instrumentation (microscopes, telescopes, slow motion and stop-motion films) that make those beings and becomings perceivable. We must also perform causal interventions into these beings and becomings in order to discover what their capacities are. In other words, we must intervene to actualize their virtual capacities. And in the process of doing so, we generate new beings and becomings that need separate study: the stuff that chemists research is substances and reactions, but they produce thousands of new substances (and new potential reactions) every year. They will never finish the job of finding out how chemical reality really is. Objectivity is perfectly compatible with a knowledge that is partial, fallible, and contingent.

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Philosophers such as Quentin Meillassoux and Ray Brassier have attacked Deleuze for espousing vitalism.7 For these critics, vitalism is inherently “correlationist,” “humanist,” or “idealist,” insofar as it construes nature in the image of human beings, projecting “life” and perhaps even “thought” (or, as Deleuze puts it, “contemplation”) onto inanimate nature. Is Deleuze (and are you) a vitalist? And, if so, why isn’t this vitalism problematic? I do not believe that Deleuze espoused any kind of vitalism, at least not if we use the word in the sense in which it was used in the nineteenth century, that is, as the belief that there is special life force that sharply distinguishes the living from the nonliving. Deleuze does use the word, but in relation to things like metals, which is clearly not the same thing. As with many other things that he expresses in his difficult style, the exact point of speaking of a “metallic vitalism” is not immediately clear; but it surely does not imply any kind of life force. Now, being a Humean about subjectivity (that is, rejecting the linguisticality of experience) does allow him (as it allowed Hume) to believe in a continuity between animal and human intelligence, and therefore, to apply terms like “contemplation” to nonhuman entities without any anthropomorphism. On the other hand, replacing the concept of an “eternal law” with that of the structure of a possibility space, allows him to see that organic and inorganic phenomena may share, in some cases, the same structure, the same virtual multiplicity; and it is to these shared multiplicities that he refers to when he uses vitalist terms. The hard philosophical work comes when, as a materialist, one tries to tackle the question of the ontological status of these virtual multiplicities that are shared by both living and non living entities: one has to make sure that the dimension these multiplicities form (the plane of immanence) does not become something transcendent. This is tough, but must be done, or else we are stuck with the laws of nature, at least those of us who reject the silly slogan “science is socially constructed.” In Intensive Science I tried to lay the foundation for such an immanent account but, no doubt, a lot of work remains to be done. Graham Harman and other new realist philosophers argue that the world is fundamentally composed of objects. Why is an ontology of objects problematic, and why are “assemblages” better ontological candidates than objects? I am not sure why Harman wants to stick to objects. I do not deny that objects exist (assemblages are objects), it is just that a full realist ontology must possess objects and events, with a process being a series of events. We need both beings and becomings, 7

See Quentin Meillassoux, “Iteration, Reiteration, Repetition: A Speculative Analysis of the Meaningless Sign,” trans. Robin Mackay, in Genealogies of Speculation: Materialism and Subjectivity Since Structuralism, ed. Armen Avenessian and Suhail Malik (London: Bloomsbury, forthcoming); and Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 196ff and 227ff.

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even though one can argue that a being is just a slow becoming and, vice versa, a becoming is just a fast being. Think of the Himalayas, the perfect example of a being that’s been there since humans came around. The object status of the Himalayas consists in being a folded piece of lithosphere, folded under the pressure created by the clash of the tectonic plates on top of which India and Central Asia ride. But, as it happens, this clash is still going on (very slowly); some parts of the Tibetan Plateau are still rising a few millimeters a year, so they are still being folded. Hence, the Himalayas are really a very slow becoming. Furthermore, if objects are characterized both by emergent properties and capacities, then we need events to account for the interactions between parts that give rise to properties, and for the exercise of their capacities. Interacting, cutting, killing, and so on, are all events. All this comes into play when defining the most important notion in a realist ontology: causality. For the idealist, causality is a concept that is as fundamental to organize subjective experience as are the notions of space and time; for the empiricist, causality is the humanly observed constant conjunction between a cause and its effect; for the realist, finally, causality is entirely independent of the observer, being a relation between objective events, a relation in which one event produces another event. Hence, if you impoverish your ontology by including only objects, you deprive yourself of the means to define causality as a productive relation.

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Art and OOObjecthood Graham Harman in Conversation with Christoph Cox and Jenny Jaskey

Christoph Cox/Jenny Jaskey: Your work has focused on ontology and epistemology—on the nature of objects and their access to one another. And yet scattered throughout your books and essays are suggestions that art and aesthetics have central roles to play in ontology and metaphysics—indeed that “aesthetics becomes first philosophy.”1 Could you elaborate on this intriguing claim? Graham Harman: To answer the question, I’ll first need to back up and explain my general philosophical position. When all is said and done, the most important current of twentieth-century philosophy was phenomenology—Edmund Husserl’s breakthrough and Martin Heidegger’s ingenious reversal of it. Some readers will be surprised if I say that the last truly great period in philosophy ran from approximately 1890 through 1930. You can certainly speak of the golden years of Paris in the 1960s, and there are even more recent figures worth admiring. Nonetheless, I don’t think the star philosophers of today have sufficiently assimilated or transformed the breakthroughs of the period I’m holding up as a model. In many cases today’s thinkers go back even further, to German Idealism, and in my opinion they do so in a manner that shows their failure to assimilate what Husserl, Heidegger, Whitehead, and Bergson did to move philosophy to a new level. I’m perfectly responsive to the insights found in authors such as Lacan, Badiou, Deleuze, and even Derrida (whose style I detest, but who also has something to say). But I’ve never been inspired with awe by any of them, simply because I think the 1890–1930 period provides us with a more important springboard to the philosophy of the future. But neither do I worship this period either: Kant was an even more important shift in philosophy than Heidegger. In many ways Heidegger still operates within the Kantian horizon. To summarize, I think it’s very important to remain open to the latest thing, but always remembering that the third- or fourth-latest thing might offer something more. Having said all this, I’ll work back toward your question by explaining what is so fascinating about phenomenology, despite my frustration with Husserl’s idealism. Empiricism mocked the notion of individual objects by treating apples, chairs, and spoons not as individual things, but as “bundles of qualities” that habitually seem Conversation conducted by e-mail in March and April 2012. 1

Graham Harman, “Vicarious Causation,” Collapse 2 (March 2007): 205. Cf. “Aesthetics as First Philosophy: Levinas and the Non-Human,” Naked Punch 09 (Summer–Fall 2007): 21–30. Also available at www.nakedpunch.com/articles/147.

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to go together. To speak of one object underlying a multitude of qualities is to speak of a traditional substance, which John Locke sarcastically described as “I know not what.” Even in the twenty-first century, the basic strategy of the cutting-edge intellectual is to regard objects as gullible fetishes of the commonplace mind, and to replace them with something supposedly more genuine. Often this takes the form of undermining objects, a strategy that points to a deeper stratum of tiny physical particles or mathematical structures lying at the basis of everything. This is the basic maneuver of scientistic philosophy, which wants to treat minds and everything else as by-products of deeper neurophysiological processes. But sometimes objects are “overmined” as well, or reduced in an upward direction. If someone tells us that all realism is naive realism, that there is no deeply hidden reality lying behind language or power, that there are no things but only events, that there is nothing hiding behind the curtain, that the supposed identity of the transcendental signified is merely an ontotheological form of self-presence—in all these cases, individual objects have been undermined rather than overmined. Usually the two strategies feed off one another in a manner that I call “duomining,” but let’s leave that point for another time. In order to prevent the undermining of philosophy by the natural sciences, Husserl called for a turn to the phenomena in consciousness. Scientific theories about the outer world are all mediated rather than direct forms of access. What is directly accessible to us are the phenomena before the mind. Instead of naively accepting the chemical theory of fire, we can explore in stunning detail the various shadowy layers of our perception of a fire. When Husserl says, “to the things themselves,” he is not talking about Kant’s hidden things-in-themselves, but about phenomena present in the mind. Now, I don’t support Husserl’s bracketing of reality, but I do very much support his insistence that more is going on in the phenomenal realm than the empiricist bundles of qualities. The paradox of Husserl is as follows. On the one hand he’s a clear “overminer,” since he does not actually overcome the realism/idealism divide through the fact that that consciousness is always already outside itself in a world, as his admirers too often claim. Instead, he’s a sheer idealist: intentionality refers to immanent objectivity, as Franz Brentano already knew. But if Husserl is an idealist, he’s an object-oriented idealist. Contrary to the empiricist tradition, Husserl by no means reduces objects to bundles of qualities, since objects are what can have many different qualities at different times while remaining the same object. I see a mailbox first from ten meters away and then from seventy meters; I paint the mailbox blue today and yellow tomorrow without destroying it; I hang streamers from the mailbox or damage it with hammer-blows. In all these cases I still consider it to be the same mailbox, and since we’re only dealing with the phenomenal realm here, it’s good enough that I consider it to be the same. Thus there is an unexpected tension in the phenomenal zone between, on the one hand, a relatively durable object that I acknowledge across time and, on the other, its wildly shifting patina of qualities: “adumbrations,” Husserl calls them.

And yet Husserl does leave us stranded on the phenomenal level. For him there is nothing that cannot, in principle, be encountered by some observing consciousness. And this is the point where the young Heidegger strikes against his teacher. For Husserl, everything must be presentable to consciousness. But for Heidegger, things are not primarily appearances in consciousness, which make up only a small portion of our existence. While consciously reflecting on some photograph or geometrical theorem, we take so many other things for granted—the couch and floor on which I sit, the grammatical structure of the language I use, the political stability of the city which prevents me from fearing gangs and looters, the oxygen I breathe, the bodily organs on which I rely. Heidegger notes that most of these things become visible only when they malfunction. Insofar as tools function smoothly, they tend to remain invisible. In this way, Heidegger’s theory gives us a permanent strife between concealed equipment lying in the background of experience, and revealed, visible equipment that is consciously accessible usually because it has failed us in some way. This is his famous “tool-analysis,” one of the most popular passages in his 1927 masterwork Being and Time, but already presented to his Freiburg students as early as 1919. In some ways, my entire intellectual career is based on an attempt to radicalize Heidegger’s tool-analysis and draw far-reaching consequences from it. The lazy way to read Heidegger’s analysis is this: “all conscious theory and perception emerges from an unconscious layer of practical activity.” But this doesn’t work, for the simple reason that theory and praxis both fail in precisely the same way. It is true that my theories and perceptions fail to exhaust the full reality of, say, a chair. The chair always has a deeper reality not exhausted by my knowledge of it. But it’s also true that my sitting in the chair does not exhaust the reality of the chair, which has other qualities that may be detectable by dogs or mosquitoes but never by humans. To repeat, theory and praxis both fail to exhaust their objects. There is a reality of the object lying deeper than all human theoretical, perceptual, or practical activity. For this reason, we cannot say that Heidegger is a “pragmatist.” Instead, he is a realist who believes in objects deeper than any type of contact they might have with us. We cannot make direct contact with any object; we always translate or distort them. But we can radicalize the tool-analysis even further once we see that objects translate and distort each other as well. Translation and distortion are not the tragic local by-products of full-blown sentient consciousness, but form the structure of all relations, including inanimate ones. And this is the key to my object-oriented philosophy: the world is filled with countless objects that withdraw from their relations with one another. Objects do interact and affect each other, but this can only happen indirectly. This has major implications for human cognition. There are those who say that the truth must always be stated in “good plain English.” What they mean is that truth consists of accurate propositional statements about how the world is. But perhaps you can already see why, from my philosophical standpoint, it is impossible to make accurate propositional statements about the world. Not because there

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is no reality and everything is just truth-effects produced by diverse cultural contexts, or some such rubbish from the universities of the 1980s. No, there is a reality, but we simply aren’t able to access it directly, in the form of unequivocal accurate propositions. The world is made of objects, not propositions, and Whitehead saw quite clearly that propositions only give highly abstract versions of what they describe. (In fact, I hold that Socrates already saw this.) We can already see this in everyday language, where innuendos, hints, metaphors, and strategic silences are often more powerful means of communication than clear propositional statements. Instead of asking for “clear” language, philosophy ought to demand vivid language—analytic philosophy has thousands of clear writers but very few good ones, precisely because they’ve convinced themselves that lack of clarity is the principal cause of bad writing. On the contrary: one of the greatest causes of banality in intellectual life is surely premature clarity. In fact, I wish that “premature clarity” would become a common phrase in intellectual critique. At last I can turn to face your question even more directly: In what sense is aesthetics first philosophy? Precisely in the sense that artworks are irreducible to clear propositional claims. If you create a work of art that can be paraphrased, then you’ve done a poor job at art and should have done something else instead, like write a political treatise. The other point of resemblance between aesthetics and philosophy is that unlike natural science, philosophy and the arts don’t really make incremental progress. It is reasonable to say that today’s standard model of particle physics is better than the physics of 1280 AD, but you can’t really say that today’s poets are better than Milton, that the art of the 2011 Venice Biennale was better than Giotto, or that Professor X at University Y is a better philosopher than Thomas Aquinas. Some aspects of the older classic works may be dated, of course, but they are still much better than most of what is being done in our time or any other. Like the arts, philosophy does not advance by way of a collective labor of micro-insights, but requires a total fullness and ripeness of the creating personality. Analytic philosophy really gets this point wrong, and in the end it spells doom for the entire school. I expect it to vanish without much of a trace, for the simple reason that analytic philosophers are read primarily by each other, as terrible a sign in the humanities as it is a good one in the natural sciences.

accomplished simply by expanding the sphere of the noumenal. For Kant, the only role of the noumenal is to haunt humans with an awareness of their finitude. We cannot even speak of object-object relations for Kant, since the thing-in-itself need not be plural: after all, unity and plurality are categories of the understanding for Kant, and hence in Kant’s world we cannot say whether the thing-in-itself is one or many. There are two basic metaphysical claims made by Kant. The first is the finitude of human being, and that is the feature reversed initially by the German Idealists, and in our own time again by Slavoj Žižek and Quentin Meillassoux (whose book is called After Finitude for a reason). For my part, I think Kantian finitude is not only irreversible, but ought also to be expanded well beyond the human sphere. And that is the second basic metaphysical claim of Kant, though it is never made quite as explicit as the first: since the thing-in-itself can only be thought and never known, philosophy must confine itself to discussing the human-world relation rather than the relation between raindrops and wood in themselves. Let’s consider a counterfactual possibility in the history of philosophy. Following Kant, the process beginning with Salomon Maimon and Karl Reinhold tried to radicalize Kant by eliminating the things-in-themselves as a hypocritical contradiction. But what if we had kept the things-in-themselves and eliminated instead the privilege of the human-world relation over all others? This wouldn’t have been entirely lacking in historical motivation—thanks to Christian Wolff, German academic philosophy was already awash in the Leibnizian way of looking at things. Since the name Fichte means “spruce,” I once jokingly used another tree name, “Tannenbaum,” for the nonexistent German philosopher who might have replaced Johann Gottlieb Fichte and sent post-Kantian philosophy on a very different course. In response, Michael Austin in Newfoundland claimed that F. W. J. Schelling already did everything that I could have hoped for from “Tannenbaum,” but I don’t think Austin is right about this. Schelling doesn’t deal enough with object-object relations to count as the true Tannenbaum. For Schelling it’s still about nature and spirit, which is yet another version of the two familiar poles of humanworld correlationism. Why should spirit, mind, the subject, or the human make up a full half of metaphysics? Science forever reminds us how tiny we are, how we are just one isolated species in a vast cosmos. Certainly we are interested in humans for the obvious reasons that we are humans ourselves, but why give this self-obsession a full half of philosophy? Imagine a three-year-old boy narcissistically splitting the world into two kinds of people: himself and all others. That’s essentially what Descartes does when he makes cognition one of just two finite substances (physical substance being the other). To summarize in a way that answers your question more directly, there are perhaps two differences between my real objects and the Kantian noumena: my real objects are known to be plural (since plurality in the sensual world cannot be generated by a unified lump in the real world), and the relations between my real objects

If never direct, what sort of access do we have to “real objects”? What distinguishes these objects from a sort of generalized noumenon, a thingin-itself that is no longer, as in Kant, the necessary correlate of a humanworld relationship but is now generalized beyond the human to include the relationship of every object (animal, vegetable, mineral, and so forth) to every other? Let’s start by supposing that there was no difference at all between Kant’s noumena and my real objects. Even in that case, a great deal would already have been

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are on the same footing as human-world relations, whereas for Kant the latter is all we can know about. For Kant, we cannot really deduce anything at all about the collision of two inanimate rocks in distant space, nor can we even know whether they are there as real plural things. For me, you can deduce as much about them as you can about the ontology of the human distortion of such inanimate collisions through observation.

prefer their own Friedrich Kittler to McLuhan. I also praised Heidegger, and even though this meant praising a notorious Nazi in a city haunted by the ghosts of 1933, no one reacted negatively. But I then praised Clement Greenberg (who was even quite a Leftist, don’t forget!) and the reaction was rather different—a long, loud hiss sounded from somewhere in the third row, and then the most aggressive question after the lecture was from someone else who demanded to know what was so good about Greenberg. Well, I think it’s quite obvious what’s good about Greenberg—he’s an incisive critic, and also one of the great literary stylists of the twentieth century. And yet, so deep is the hatred of him that there was also an angry reaction from an artist when I spoke highly of Greenberg on Facebook! Why this visceral unanimity of distaste across an entire profession? It’s an indication that the arts at present are still too much a reaction to the sort of high modernism Greenberg represents—with its supposed formalism, supposed elitism, and actual refusal to let artworks bleed into their surroundings. Greenberg is the repressed bad conscience of contemporary art. He was wrong about plenty of things, of course. I believe he was time-bound in his commitment to the flat picture surface (as Michael Fried eventually conceded), but he was quite right to demand a certain autonomy for art from its socio-political context, and also right to insist that questions of quality will always be paramount. Not all art is equally significant, just as not all philosophy is equally significant. And there’s a fairly obvious reason for this, which is that eventually everyone dies, and fashion moves on, and some works in every field dig deeply enough that they can survive the death of the environment that created them while others do not. Major work is an escape pod jettisoned free of a crashing spaceship. None of us will be here a century from now, but a small number of our works will be. Which ones? That’s the question that critics are supposed to fight about, and Greenberg always took frank positions on that question, which we ought to appreciate. So what if he was wrong sometimes? Everybody is. You don’t become an important thinker by making the fewest possible number of mistakes (that’s how teacher’s pets are made, not thinkers) but by discovering the most incisive possible truths. Quality is the right sense of elitism, and we can and do argue about what constitutes quality, but I see no good reason to claim that it doesn’t exist. Of course there is also the wrong sense of elitism: the snobbery of the happen-to-besocially-elite who listened to mediocre classical music in the 1950s while missing Charlie Parker, or who judge philosophers by what university department employs them rather than by what they think and write. Great work is often somewhere different from where the social elite is looking for it, but that doesn’t mean that all bebop was at Parker’s level, or that every kazoo player is Charlie Parker. Elitism is built into the structure of reality itself: not all food is equally clean and tasty, we don’t fall in love with everyone we meet, and not all cultural products are equally good. It might often be difficult to reach consensus about these matters, but that’s a separate issue.

How might artistic authorship be complicated by an object-oriented approach? My reaction here is mixed. On the one hand, I’m all in favor of the death of the author. Once you’ve created something, it exceeds you and is irreducible to whatever hopes and intentions you may have had for it. Consider children as perhaps the most obvious case. Parents have much to do with both the heredity and environment of their child, yet the child exceeds the various causal influences of the parents, and surprises those parents on a regular basis. The same is true of all the works and deeds of human life. It would be stupid to explain an artwork entirely in terms of its creator. All good works guide and astonish their creator, resist their creator’s intentions, pull their creator in new directions, or are even flat-out misunderstood by their creator. A work has a certain autonomy from the one who made it, even before that person is dead. This needs to be qualified by saying that the author is never entirely absent from the work. I’m a passionate reader of biographies, and you can learn a great deal about works from knowing something about the lives of their authors. But the work is not an appendage to the life, and only some biographical factors will leave traces in the work, not all. On the other hand, I want to defend individual authorship from those who simply want to replace it with a cultural authorship—as if Shakespeare’s plays were produced by the Elizabethan Era as a whole rather than by William Shakespeare the person. Here once more, the autonomy of the work is lost—this time in favor of an overpowering social context. In my opinion this is even worse than individual authorship, since at least if we focus on Shakespeare as an individual we remain a bit closer to the individual character of the work. The death of the author must be supplemented by the death of the culture. I’m well aware that it sounds old-fashioned to speak of artworks as having any sort of autonomy. The current fashion, in philosophy as in the arts, is to dissolve everything into a sociopolitical stew from which nothing is allowed to escape. Leftist politics has replaced Christianity as a moralistic voice in the cultural world. But philosophy and the arts are not here to save the world; they have a function both larger and smaller than that. Let me address a loosely related point. In February 2012 I gave a keynote lecture at the transmediale festival in Berlin. During this lecture I praised Marshall McLuhan, and there was no negative reaction from those Berliners who might

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But back to the main point of your question: how an object-oriented approach might complicate our consideration of artworks. It certainly requires that we shift our focus to the works and away from both the individuals and the societies that produced them—unless we can show that certain features of the authors and the social contexts were somehow inscribed in the work itself. Ultimately, an object-oriented strategy also requires that we treat works as deeper than all their specific details. Phenomenology taught us that a chair is something different from the sum total of chair-qualities that we currently perceive. And a work of art or literature can remain the same work even if certain superficial changes are made to it. These works are not “bundles of qualities” any more than a chair is. One task of an object-oriented art and literary criticism, I think, would be to imagine counterfactual cases in which certain features of any given work were altered: How would the work be affected by each change, if at all? What if we add or subtract this or that feature to a work by Raphael or de Kooning, or Wuthering Heights? What would be the effect on the work? This question puts the artwork not only beyond its author, but even beyond its own present configuration. On a practical level, computers will enable us to explore these counterfactual situations with ease.

appearance of things. The isolated object was trumped by a context lying outside that object. Context was king, and it will still be king for a few years longer, I think. But as I see it, the opposite is true. The supposedly isolated physical object that we encounter is not isolated at all, since, after all, we are encountering it. It already belongs in a relational context with me, the perceiver. In short, this supposedly isolated object is always already over-contextualized through its relation to me, and hence it is overkill to seek even more context by going outside that object to find an ever broader framing mechanism that ultimately includes the gallery system, or capitalism, or some other even more massive context. The real movement should occur in the opposite direction—toward a decontextualization of the thing. And that does not mean a naked physical thing sitting before our eyes, but a thing that is deeper than what any eyes can grasp of it. In this sense, the “frame” of the thing is not what lies just over the horizon, as Derrida believed in philosophy. The real frame is what lies in the thing, deeper than any possible direct access to it, so that the thing can only be approached obliquely. And this is why McLuhan is ultimately a more important figure than Derrida. Why so?

A basic yet very crucial aspect of art is its frame—in the general sense of the term. Art of the past several decades (Conceptual art, institutional critique, and so forth) has increasingly pointed to this perimeter function, showing us how contextual factors, including art’s modes of production and distribution, contribute to its meaning (such that often the frame of the work becomes incorporated into the art itself ). I’m wondering where, among the constellation of “things” inhabiting an object-oriented world, art begins and ends for you. Does art have a frame (ontological boundaries)? Are those boundaries necessarily rooted in human perception? There are maybe two ways to look at the “frame” of a thing. The usual way is the one to which you refer, in which the frame is the excluded but important context of an object, with the frequent implication that an object is always entangled in that which supposedly lies outside it, so that all supposed autonomy is just a traditionalistic sham. In philosophy, Jacques Derrida became the man of the hour because for him the object vanishes into différance, always drawn beyond itself in dissemination rather than burrowing deeper into itself in the supposedly naive classical manner. In the arts, as you indicate, attention was shifted away from unified and durable physical products to street performances, to the theatrical staging of transient works left to rot if not actively shredded or incinerated, or to provocative gestures establishing that just about anything could be an artwork if framed properly. And then the ultimate trump card, in both philosophy and the arts, became politics. The political came to be treated as the most all-encompassing frame for everything, and to believe otherwise was to be nothing more than a simpleton or dupe hypnotized by the naive first

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The first point is that McLuhan has a concept of reality, which is completely lacking in Derrida. Suddenly it’s become fashionable to call Derrida a “realist” (Michael Marder’s book is simply the most annoyingly written and argued of this genre).2 But as far as I can tell, all such works are merely attempts to defang the word “realism” so that it no longer lies outside Derrida’s writings as a potentially dangerous, unassimilated enemy. In other words, none of these Derrida-as-realist books seem to be saying what we would legitimately expect them to say: “Derrideans up until now have completely missed the point of his philosophy. In this book I shall attempt a daring inversion of the traditional reading of Derrida and show that Derrida must, contrary to all appearances, be read as a firm believer in a world independent of human access.” Instead, this new genre of books seems to be pretty much ratifying the mainstream interpretation of Derrida, while simply denying that the word “realism” poses a threat. Instead of reversing the usual interpretation of Derrida, they do nothing more (from what I’ve seen so far) than reverse the usual meaning of realism. It would be like arguing that Marx was a conservative, then giving a rather orthodox interpretation of Marx and simply trying to redefine the word “conservative” so that it now fits what Marx was already doing. This is an intellectually dishonest maneuver, because Derrida is by no means a realist in the traditional sense or any other feasible sense of the world. The whole point of Of Grammatology, for instance, is to show that any idea of a “transcendental 2

Michael Marder, The Event of the Thing : Derrida’s Post-Deconstructive Realism (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011)

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signified” outside the play of signifiers would be a bad ontotheology of presence. For Heidegger, something real that is withdrawn from access is absent rather than present. For Derrida it is quite different—if there were a real autonomous entity withdrawn from human access, Derrida would still call this “presence,” since it would be a kind of “self-presence” of identity even if it were entirely absent from the human gaze. This is a major point of difference between Derrida and Heidegger, and it happens to occur at precisely the point where Heidegger veers toward a bit of realism. Derrida never follows Heidegger there. His différance is not a “withdrawal” in Heidegger’s sense. Look again at the essay “White Mythology.”3 What bothers Derrida in that piece is not only that Aristotle thinks that words have an original literal meaning, but the fact that Aristotle thinks that things have an original univocal being. I would agree with Levi Bryant that Derrida does not “reduce things to their context.” Everything always escapes its context for Derrida. But unlike for Heidegger, that escape does not occur through some sort of dark subterranean withdrawal of objects behind their presence (as for me, Heidegger, and Xavier Zubíri). Instead, Derrida’s différance is a horizontal gliding that always leads us outside the present context toward other possible contexts, not toward the identity of an autonomous being outside all contexts. This antirealism is the first bad thing about Derrida. The second is that he writes only about books, never about things. This is another frequent complaint about Derrida that Derrideans pretend to ridicule, though they have no grounds for doing so. The fact is, Derrida is simply unable to write about any bona fide objects. He’s always writing about various mentions of objects by Joyce, Mallarmé, Anatole France, or whomever. Derrideans often become brash and combative when this point is raised, but I have yet to see good examples of Derrida talking about actual, full-blown objects. On this point simply compare Derrideans with Latourians. Derrideans often focus their energy on discovering clever puns for their titles, putting as many words as possible in parentheses, and interpreting literary works. By contrast, Latourians go out and study volcanoes, steamships, apricots, and other such entities. That tells you everything you need to know about the difference, and thus I was fairly stunned to see one prominent blogger’s off-the-cuff complaint that Derrida already knew everything that Bruno Latour knows. For that is not the case. I think what happened is that people over-invested in Derrida just as his sun was beginning to set, and they resent the fact that they now look a bit old-fashioned. So we’re now seeing some revisionism in an attempt to recoup some Derrida investment costs. I don’t think he’s a “charlatan” or any such thing; that would be an absurd exaggeration. What I do think about Derrida is that he’s an overly mannered post-phenomenological figure who is no longer well-placed for leadership given the direction that continental philosophy is beginning to take—a more frankly realist direction.

The third unfortunate feature of Derrida is his writing style, which I find atrocious. He is wordy, distracting, and far too interested in enveloping the reader in the folds of his own cleverness. Normally a good writer should disappear behind the writing, yet Derrida disappears behind his writing less than any other successful philosopher I can think of. You asked why I find McLuhan to be a more important figure. First, unlike Derrida, McLuhan has a genuine sense of the real: the background conditions of any medium have a deeper effect on us than any play of content on the surface. This links McLuhan more closely with the Heideggerian legacy than Derrida links with it (more and more, I see Derrida as a Husserlian rather than a Heideggerian). Second, unlike Derrida, McLuhan is able to talk about a wide range of entities. His media laws work for “any human artifact,” as he and his son Eric tend to put it. But this already begins to point to the limitations of McLuhan, since any theory focused on the human realm in this manner will not be enough to do the job in our emerging post-Kantian landscape. As for the question of annoying writing styles, I don’t find McLuhan’s style annoying, though I can see why some people do. Admittedly, it can be overly flippant and is often deliberately filled with riddles that don’t always have a significant payoff. In the late work, Marshall and Eric McLuhan develop their “tetrad,” or fourfold law of media. I think this is one of the most important results of the humanities in the twentieth century, even though McLuhan’s fans haven’t often joined me in this verdict. By contrast, what is Derrida’s most durable insight? The pharmakon interests me more than anything else, but Derrida completely fails to link this idea to its obvious kinship with Aristotelian substance, which can sustain opposite qualities at different times. Why does Derrida fail to make this link? It’s because of his obvious bias against realism, a fact obscured by the recent word games of Marder and others.

3

In Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982).

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According to your conception of allure, art functions by severing a thing from its qualities in such a way that the sensual qualities presented in the work of art point or allude to a real object that nevertheless fundamentally withdraws from our (and any) experience or relation. This aesthetic position may seem firmly representationalist (in an almost Platonist or Kantian sense). While you certainly don’t claim that works of art can or do straightforwardly represent or imitate real objects, your aesthetic position nonetheless maintains the key feature of any theory of representation: a two-tiered structure in which one term or tier is subordinate to the other, which serves as its content and to which it refers. On your view, the work of art has no independent standing but is ontologically subordinate to an underlying (real) object to which it (always inadequately) refers, points, or alludes. In constructing this aesthetic theory, you draw on a number of twentieth-century philosophers, notably Husserl, Heidegger, Bergson, Zubiri, José Ortega y Gasset, Max Black,

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and Emmanuel Levinas. Yet it’s hard to see how the aesthetics of allure could account for major developments in twentieth-century art—abstract painting, sound poetry, and structuralist film, for example—that challenge the very structure of representation and assert the ontological independence of the work of art; or artistic programs in which aesthetic interest has nothing to do with representation, reference, or allusion, like Minimalism, Conceptualism, institutional critique, and relational aesthetics. Finally, how could the aesthetics of allure provide any account of music, which lacks the two-tier structure necessary for representation, reference, or allusion? There seem to be three main issues at play in this question: representationalism, the two-tiered structure, and my reaction to recent forms of art that seem to escape these categories. So, I’ll answer in three stages. First, despite what you say, I’m a non-representational realist who is not at all in favor of representation. There are two reasons for this, and you already conceded one of them in your question when you admitted that I “certainly don’t claim that works of art can or do straightforwardly represent or imitate real objects.” Please note that this is no small step on my part, since most realisms in philosophy have not only maintained the existence of a real world outside the human mind, but have also asserted that the human mind should attempt to copy that world. I view this as utterly impossible, since no form of knowledge or perception can ever model the world. An infinite number of true statements about a tree would never turn into a tree, and hence we are left with obliquity and allusion as a way of referring to the thing. This is what Socrates already meant with the word philosophia, which seems to be of Pythagorean origin. Only the gods have wisdom. Humans are capable of nothing better than the love of wisdom: we do not have direct access to reality in itself. The second piece of evidence that I’m not in favor of representationalism is that I definitely do not say that artworks allude to a real object that they are attempting to mimic. What I say instead is that artworks produce their own real objects, rather than imitating preexistent ones. In Guerrilla Metaphysics I spend some time with Black’s rather dull metaphor “man is a wolf.” In my account of Black, what you end up with is a rather inscrutable human being surrounded by wolf-qualities that it both attracts and repels. But we’re talking about a wolfish human that is produced by the metaphor, not a preexistent objective human in the real world that is accurately modeled by wolf-qualities. In the latter case you wouldn’t have a metaphor; you’d just have a boring if accurate description of something. I say this because in some parts of your question it seems like you think I’m championing art as a mirror of nature, and that’s not the case. Second, we are led to the question of a two-tiered model of the world. Let’s start by observing that I don’t have a two-tiered model, but an infinitely-tiered model. It’s not just that human perception of a horse is a translation of the real horse, but also that the real horse is a translation of its body parts (which are not fully exhausted by

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being elements in a horse), and these body parts are translations of tissues, which are translations of cells, and so forth. So from the outset your question overlooks what is most innovative about my position. Namely, two-tiered models always revolve around the difference between an objective realm and a counterposed realm of human experience or knowledge that possesses the uniquely godlike power to project its fantasies onto hard reality. By contrast, my model makes every relation a form of translation that does not fully exhaust that which it translates. In that sense, human experience is shown to belong to the same class of phenomena as causal relation and part-whole relations; there’s nothing special about human representation at all (for this reason it is wrong to compare my position to Kant’s). You also worry that the reference to a reality beyond direct access amounts to a form of “subordination” of the immediate sensual sphere to an objective reality outside it. But in what sense is there subordination? Is a gold molecule “subordinate” to the atoms of which it is composed? Well, it needs those atoms in order to exist, but it would be equally accurate to say that the atoms are “subordinate” to the larger molecule in turn, the larger thing that contains them. When Cézanne paints Mont Sainte-Victoire, are his paintings really “subordinate” to an objective physical mountain? I think it would be closer to the truth to say that Cézanne subordinates the mountain to his magnificent series of paintings, since the mountain is world famous only because of Cézanne. We aren’t speaking here of an original and its deficient copy (and thus it is wrong to compare my position to Plato’s), but of object and translation. Martin Luther’s New Testament in German is no more subordinate to the Greek original than the reverse. I reject the idea that it’s somehow liberating to explode the notion of reality and turn everything into appearance, process, flux, relation, interactivity. What may be more useful is to say that liberation from reality is an idea once but no longer liberating. We no longer live in the time of Nietzsche, when it was a bold maneuver to launch assaults on reality-in-itself; now there are ten million people repeating the same purported revolution, the same triumphalistic fait accompli.The valid anti-representationalist critique must not turn into an anti-realist critique. There is a reality outside the mind for the same reason that there are facts about me that are not relevant to the United States, and features of atoms not relevant to a molecule. Let’s now move to the question of whether certain contemporary arts escape the model I defend. It seems to me that much of this question rests on the false assumption that I view art as imitative. In other words, you seem to be saying that since music doesn’t really copy any original, and since abstract art doesn’t depict recognizable entities, that my theory is therefore incorrect in these cases. However, I’ve never defended the idea of art as an imitation of normal everyday entities. Artworks produce real objects rather than limping along behind them and trying to produce a copy. Music is actually not a good counter-example against object-oriented philosophy, since music is absolutely full of objects. Melodies and phrases occur with

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regularity and are recognizable as the same things even when transposed into different keys or modes. Rhythms recur as familiar objects through all sorts of shifting melodies. To say nothing of Wagnerian leitmotifs. As for abstract art, the case against object-oriented philosophy here is equally poor. Is a painting by Pollock just a series of sensual pixels not grouped into any larger patterns? This seems obviously false. There may be no houses, mountains, biblical heroes, or mallard ducks in a Pollock, but there are various bulbous nodules and spinning filaments, and these are objects because each of them could have been modified by Pollock within certain limits without changing their basic effect on the painting. Minimalism? It’s packed full with objects. Nor do I agree that allusion is missing here. Minimalism may claim to be a what-you-see-is-what-you-get operation, but it’s really not. Take a plain white block. You can’t see all sides of the block at once, but they are certainly there; the block is more than any given experience of the block. This is a basic point of Husserl’s phenomenology, but the white block isn’t just an object of phenomenology. Those bare, minimal features allude to some inner nucleus that animates all the ascetic features that surround it. And that nucleus doesn’t preexist the work, which proves that nothing is being represented or imitated.

objects are about: rules of appearance lying behind the entire series of appearances. But this is nonsense. The intentional/sensual object for Husserl is not just an algorithm. It’s a bona fide object, even if not a real one. Let’s now take this same sensual object and tamper with the bond it has with its real qualities. Remember that for Husserl (and here he is right), once we strip away all the adumbrations of the thing we are left with the eidos of the thing. To realize what the real features are of an intentional apple or horse is what we call theory. In any theoretical enterprise, we are trying to grasp the truly pivotal features of whatever object our theory studies. The bond between real objects and real qualities has traditionally been called essence, and I call it that as well. To tamper with this bond, in my view, is what we call causality. In causation, one thing has to borrow the qualities of another. And finally we arrive at your question, though I will modify your phrase “artistic object” to speak more generally about allure. Allure concerns all events that entail a broken relationship between a real object and its sensual qualities, and this includes Heidegger’s broken hammer and other experiences of surprise, along with a number of other things. In allure, the sensual qualities are stripped from a sensual object and assigned to a real object. I used to think this was an absent real object, but increasingly I think the qualities are assigned to me the observer, who is a real object on the scene rather than a hidden one off in the distance. In other words, perhaps the metaphor only thinks it is getting at the hidden object in the depths, while instead it is using sensual qualities, in combination with me as a real object, to produce a new but perhaps analogous object. This is not as weird as it sounds, since it really just amounts to a different interpretation of the old classical term mimesis, or imitation. Though mimesis usually is taken to mean producing a copy of a real world outside the mind, my philosophy suggests that this will never be possible. But what if instead of producing a copy, mimesis meant that we ourselves tried to become an object other than ourselves, as if intellectual life were simply a giant school of method acting? This idea would probably find favor with anthropologists, and possibly even with Aristotelians, since Aristotle asserts that poets should be mad and should rant aloud and behave “in character” while writing their plays—much as Marlon Brando is said to have shown up already in character when auditioning for The Godfather. It is not just flippant if I say that, instead of the cold, clinical, antiseptic, transcendent subject, the knower in any field is more like Brando doing Vito Corleone.

What, then, is the relationship between the artistic object and (a) the real object that withdraws from all relation, and (b) the sensuous object of our experience? Our normal experience is of sensual objects bound to their sensual qualities, to such an extent that the former are often confused with the latter. Until Husserl, I know of no other philosopher who fully grasped that there is such a thing as sensual objects (which he calls “intentional objects”) that can endure through countless permutations of shifting accidental detail on their surface (the Abschattungen or “adumbrations,” the same apple seen from numerous angles and distances in many different lighting conditions and moods). There are four kinds of bonds between objects and qualities: sensual objects are bonded with sensual qualities and real ones, while real objects are bonded with sensual qualities and real ones. Each of these bonds can be tampered with, and that’s how change occurs in the world.4 Let’s start with the bond between sensual objects and sensual qualities. We interfere with this bond by treating the sensual object as simply a separate unit that can generate all kinds of new sensual appearances endlessly. In The Quadruple Object, I called this kind of interference confrontation. But that was always the least satisfying of the four names, and I now call it simulation instead. We simulate a thing when we reduce it to a set of rules for producing a potentially endless series of new appearances. And this is also what some people think Husserl’s intentional 4

See Graham Harman, The Quadruple Object (Alresford: Zero Books, 2011).

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Do melodies, phrases, and Pollock’s bulbous nodules become objects simply by our calling them such? If so, aren’t we led back to a sort of correlationism by which the world is cut up into objects by subjects? And, if melodies, phrases, and bulbous nodules are objects, surely sentences are objects, too. If so, it seems odd to criticize some (literal) sentences and praise other (metaphorical) sentences for their translations/distortions of the real, when, by your account, every object necessarily translates/distorts every other.

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If simply calling things objects turned them into real objects, we’d be dealing with something much more radical than correlationism—it would be full-blown idealism. So of course I don’t think that. As for sensual objects, yes, it is our experience that generates them, but this is ontologically harmless. If a child starts dreaming up fantastic cities and monsters, it is not inflationary to call these “sensual objects,” it is simply doing justice to the situation. But objects are real or not real in their own right, quite independently of who “calls” them real. I would say that sentences are objects, yes. But even if all sentences are objects, it does not follow that all sentences make other objects present to the same degree. All ice cream is equally ice cream, but there is a huge difference in quality between them, and the same holds for sentences. Good sentences and bad sentences are both translations of the world. Literal statements and metaphors are both translations of the world. It doesn’t follow that they do the same thing in all other respects. Metaphors disturb the relation between objects and their qualities, while literal statements do not. Literal statements treat objects as though they were bundles of qualities. But metaphorical statements know that the object is something distinct from its sum total of qualities. And they succeed in communicating this to us, though some do it better than others. Not all metaphors are equal.

What makes metaphor more vivid than literal language, I would say, is that it seems to create the thing before our eyes rather than simply describing it accurately from the outside. If metaphor disturbs the relation between an object and its qualities, it also transfers those qualities to a new object, and thus we actually are seeing an object created before our eyes. It is different if I say: “A pen is like a pencil.” Here the exact similarity in qualities is too great, and so I tend to focus on those qualities alone. We can move toward an intermediate case, such as that of apt comparisons. For instance: “Krakow is like Prague, but quite a bit smaller.” Here too we are attentive to the shared similarities of both cities (which are fairly numerous), but there’s also a more striking metaphorical feel to the comparison, since we are tacitly asked to think of a Czech Krakow or a Polish Prague, and hence there is something mildly vivid about the similarity. As another example, consider this sentence: “Nashville is the capital of Tennessee, and Jackson is the capital of Mississippi.” Here we have a literal statement of the sort that is taught to American schoolchildren. But now replace the word “Jackson” and you have the following striking adage: “Nashville is the capital of Tennessee, and Memphis is the capital of Mississippi.” Memphis, of course, is literally located in Tennessee rather than Mississippi, but “Memphis is the capital of Mississippi” rings all the truer for its literal falsity. It captures both the geographical proximity of Memphis to its neighboring state and the cultural resonance between the two places. But if we say instead: “Nashville is the capital of Tennessee, and Rio de Janeiro is the capital of Mississippi,” this might hit home in various Dadaist or smart-alecky circles, but the transfer of Mississippi qualities to Rio de Janeiro fails to brings us along with it, whereas it doesn’t fail for Memphis—at least not if you know Mississippi and Memphis a bit. Such examples may work differently for some people than for others, but these are the sorts of things that people justifiably bicker about, not the sorts of things that can be objectively percentiled according to impersonal criteria. The criterion is always how vividly the qualities fit with their new object. Too much fit (“Jackson is the capital of Mississippi”) and you simply have a literal statement. Too little fit (“Rio de Janeiro is the capital of Mississippi”) and you fail to carry most readers along with you. Vivid language lies somewhere between the perfectly plausible and the perfectly implausible. By creating a fit but an imperfect fit between object and qualities, metaphorical language both makes objects present and gives us some information about them. Vivid language ought to exaggerate and lie a bit, but not too much. Here’s another way to put it. The world is made of objects, but sensual objects are too close to us and real objects are too far from us. Metaphorical language can’t perform the impossible magic of giving us direct contact with the real (even a god can’t do that). What it can do is generate new real objects before our eyes. Why aren’t successful metaphors merely sensual objects? Because we ourselves are implicated as a component in them, and we ourselves are real objects. Metaphor breaks qualities free from objects, just as moons are occasionally torn away from

Could you clarify your conception of the relationship between so-called literal language (claimed by its proponents to consist of “clear and accurate propositional statements about how the world is”), metaphorical language, and the “reality” that you say “we simply aren’t able to access … directly, in the form of unequivocal accurate propositions”? You criticize literal language for claiming to offer a genuine correspondence with reality. What, then, is (ontologically, epistemologically) preferable about metaphorical language? Does the latter give us better, if indirect, access to the real? Does it better capture the withdrawn nature of the real? Or is it better because it makes no attempt at correspondence or representation at all? You say that it’s more “vivid,” more “powerful.” But what makes it so? Is this due to its novelty? This latter view would seem akin to that of the early Nietzsche, for whom language (always abstract and always expressing a human relationship to the world) is not interested in correspondence with the real, and for whom the metaphorical differs from the literal solely due to its novelty and sensuous power.5 By what criteria do we determine whether one object offers a “better” or “worse” translation of another? 5

See Friedrich Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense,” in Philosophy and Truth: Selections from Nietzsche’s Notebooks of the Early 1870s, ed. and trans. Daniel Breazeale (Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press International, 1979).

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Saturn or Jupiter. And metaphor reassigns qualities to real objects, but to accessible rather than inaccessible ones. And what is the only accessible real object in any given situation? We ourselves. Not because we are capable of direct, untranslated introspection (we aren’t; I’m no less mysterious to myself than rain and billiard balls are). But because we perform or execute ourselves at each moment, and in metaphorical language we invite these qualities into our lives. We execute the qualities of an orange just as a sensual orange was doing prior to its disintegration via metaphor.

not scientific. I love the sciences. What I loathe are the self-appointed philosophical enforcers of the sciences, who lack the humility and the sense of wonder found in the great scientists.)

In the essay “On Vicarious Causation,” you write that “the separation of a thing from its quality [the notion of allure that’s key to your aesthetics] is no longer a local phenomenon of human experience, but instead is the root of all relations between real objects, including causal relations. In other words, allure belongs to ontology as a whole, not to the special metaphysics of animal perception. Relations between all real objects, including mindless chunks of dirt, occur only by means of some form of allusion.” The impli-cation is that the notions of art and aesthetics must be extended beyond the domain of the human, the animal, and even the organic. What would such a generalized aesthetics look like? It would look a lot like the world described in The Quadruple Object, though that book had to be heavily compressed due to a word count limit. The usual view is that causality and aesthetics are two completely separate things. Causation occurs mechanically in an objective world of cold material slabs, and aesthetics is a matter of freewheeling, arbitrary human projections. But most observers have overlooked the remarkable similarities between causation and aesthetics as concerns their transformative power. There is also the fact that they either happen or fail to happen, without much gradation between the two extremes. Either the earthquake knocks the air conditioner out of your window onto the sidewalk or it doesn’t; either this sculpture affects me or it doesn’t. You can say the same about jokes—either you find them funny or you don’t. According to my model, art generates real objects and thereby shifts attention below the surface of experience. By the same token, causation has to make contact with objects below the surface on which things relate to one another. To come into causal relation with a thing is not to come into contact with its surface, but with something that has not yet exploded onto the surface. I can never be a fire or a tree any more than I can be you, a plant, or a dog, so obviously I’m not proposing that we give first-person accounts of what the aesthetic experience of an inanimate object is like. But we can start to work out the structure of what the relation between objects is like. And I’m saying that the aesthetic experience is much closer to that structure than is, say, the scientistic obsession with clearly articulated explicit propositions about the world. (And I said scientistic,

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Within your Speculative Realism, how would one distinguish between artistic representation and material reality itself ? Certainly there is a difference, but what is it? Are artworks just as “real” as everything else around us? The second question is harder than it sounds. You might expect me to offer an immediate “yes,” given that I supposedly think everything can be an object. But for me the word “real” has a very specific meaning. My theory is often falsely summarized as the belief that “everything is real.” Wikipedia said that for many months, and wrongly so. My entire theory is based on the difference between real and sensual objects. The tree, dog, candle, and mountain that I experience are not real objects at all, just better or worse translations of other things that may be real. For me these are nothing other than what Husserl calls intentional objects, though I call them sensual objects instead. A real object is not dependent on the one who experiences it, while a sensual object is dependent. If I fall asleep or die, the city of Cairo continues to exist, but my perception of Cairo disappears. The question is whether an artwork continues to be an artwork when no one is looking at it. My instinct is to say “absolutely not,” that its reality is generated not only by the presence of an observer, but even an observer who is capable of understanding it. You can’t just have noisy, distracted five-year-olds running through the gallery, but need someone with a bit of taste to be present. But then Tristan Garcia, the emerging French philosopher, recently made the case in his book Forme et objet that the artwork continues to signify even when no one is looking at it.6 And maybe he’s right, but I can’t decide yet. As for the first part of your question, I’m not sure that this is a bigger issue for aesthetics than it is for any other sort of human experience. In fact no kind of human experience is the same thing as material reality itself, because experience is always a translation. There is no such thing as direct access to anything, and it’s quite easy to grasp this point if you think about it for a minute. An infinite amount of knowledge about a tree would not itself be a tree. I challenge any of today’s leading advocates of absolute knowledge (such as my colleague Quentin Meillassoux, a marvelous philosopher) to explain that difference. They’d have to come up with some sort of theory about how my knowledge of the tree shares the same form or structure as the tree itself, but that the tree itself inheres in physical matter. And you’ll see that it’s already a fairly lame outcome when theories of absolute knowledge have to rely on such a traditional and undetermined concept of “matter” to explain the difference between a thing and knowledge of that thing. 6

Tristan Garcia, Form and Object: A Treatise on Things, trans. Mark Allan Ohm and Jon Cogburn (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014).

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So I would say that art generates realities, yes, but I’m inclined to say that someone has to be there as an ingredient in the reality. Does this threaten my idea that causation itself has to have an aesthetic structure? Not at all, because causal agents also have to be present for causation to happen. To say that artworks exist while no one is observing them seems to be the equivalent of saying that gunpowder is exploding even when no fire or spark is present. Why, in order to be art objects, do such objects require attentive human observers? Why “human”? And why “attentive”? With “human” I was simply trying to make a concession. Quite often these days I’m treated (by Žižek and even by Meillassoux) as a wild panpsychist who wantonly retrojects purely human attributes into rocks and bottle caps.7 So, by saying “human” I simply wanted to avoid the impression of having too inflationary a vision of the art world. Aesthetics is everywhere, even in inanimate causation; this follows directly from my ontology. But not all aesthetics is necessarily art. Here we are dealing with what is surely a much narrower realm, though one whose boundaries I find difficult to draw. Yet it seems clear that even if a horsefly landing on the Winged Victory of Samothrace is having an “aesthetic” experience (in my expanded ontological sense of the term), by no means will it be experiencing that famously mutilated statue as an artwork. The word “attentive” is an even more harmless concession on my part. Unlike Garcia in Forme et objet, I don’t think that artworks are artworks even when no one is experiencing them. A spectator is a real component of the artwork, just as an engine is a real component of a car or Paris is a real component of France. It is possible to stumble into a gallery in a drunken stupor and utterly miss some unknown (or even known) masterpiece, because you aren’t doing the needed work, or aren’t paying attention. Stated differently, “attentive” is simply a placeholder term for a fuller theory of how the spectator serves as part of the artwork, while “human” is a placeholder pending a fuller theory of cognitive gradations in the animal kingdom. No philosophy is ever finished, and it is often necessary simply to mark out avenues where we hope to work in the coming years or—God willing—weeks.

7

Slavoj Žižek, Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (London: Verso, 2012), 640.

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Sonic Thought Christoph Cox

Philosophical aesthetics suffers from a peculiar arrogance toward its object of inquiry, an arrogance that the “non-philosopher” François Laruelle calls “the principle of sufficient philosophy.”1 With this clumsy phrase, Laruelle names the pretension of philosophy to elevate itself above any object or discourse so as to offer a philosophy of it: a philosophy of science, of art, of music, and so forth. For millennia, philosophy has conceived itself as the “queen of the sciences,” claiming the ability to reveal what its object cannot reveal about itself: the essence, nature, or fundamental reality of that object. Philosophy thus dominates its object, subjecting it to philosophical rule. Convinced that its object is fundamentally ignorant about itself, philosophy is little concerned with what that object has to say on its own behalf. How might one challenge this domination, allow the object to speak, put it on equal footing with philosophical thinking, permit it to generate concepts rather than solely to be subject to them? In the case of music and sound, what would it mean to think sonically rather than merely to think about sound? How can sound alter or inflect philosophy? What concepts and forms of thought can sound itself generate? My aim here is to track some of the ways that philosophy has or could be inflected by sound to produce not a philosophy of sound or music but a sonic philosophy.

Sonic Ontology Sonic philosophy begins not from music as a set of cultural objects but from the deeper experience of sound as flux, event, and effect. Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche are exemplary figures here, for both present not a metaphysics of music but a musical metaphysics. For Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, music directly figures the world as it is in itself, the primary forces and movements that drive all natural change, tension, creation, and destruction. In a passage celebrated by Nietzsche, Schopenhauer writes: “Music […] expresses the metaphysical to everything physical in the world, the thing-in-itself to every phenomena. […] It gives the innermost kernel preceding all form, or the heart of things.”2 Nietzsche famously An earlier version of this essay appears in Artpulse, 2013 (www.artpulsemagazine.com/sonicphilosophy). 1

2

See, for example, François Laruelle, “A Summary of Non-Philosophy,” in The Non-Philosophy Project, ed. Gabriel Alkon and Boris Gunjevic (New York: Telos Press, 2012), 25ff. In the context of aesthetics, see Photo-Fiction, a Non-Standard Aesthetics, trans. Drew S. Burk (Minneapolis: Univocal, 2012), 3ff. Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, vol. I, trans. E. F. J. Payne (New York: Dover, 1969), 262–63, quoted by Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy, §16.

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argued that the relationship of music to images and objects is that of becoming to being, a virtual flux to the relatively stable actual entities it discharges.3 That is, music and sound present us with an ontology that unsettles our ordinary conception of things. In philosophy, ontology is the subdiscipline that investigates being, determining what there is or what sorts of things exist. We ordinarily operate with an ontology that begins and ends with what J. L. Austin wryly called “moderate-sized specimens of dry goods,” the objects of our everyday experience: apples, chairs, trees, cars, and so forth.4 This ordinary ontology extends to include larger objects such as mountains or stars, and can accept scientific objects such as subatomic particles, provided that they are taken to be tiny versions of ordinary things—stable, solid, and durable, though very small. Indeed, when we speak of “matter,” we tend to think solely of solid matter. Few would take liquids, gases, or plasmas—water, air, or fire, for example—as paradigms of matter. This ordinary ontology privileges the senses of sight and touch; or rather, the senses of sight and touch determine this everyday ontology. The invisible, intangible, and ephemeral objects (so to speak) of smell, taste, and hearing seem to have only a shadowy existence relative to the standard of the ordinary solid object, whose presence is guaranteed by eyes and fingers, and enshrined in “common sense,” which names an entrenched hierarchy of the senses rather than some common agreement among them. But surely sounds, odors, and tastes exist, and surely they are as material as sticks and stones. Sounds, to take the example that concerns me here, set eardrums aquiver, rattle walls, and shatter wine glasses. Indeed, sound is omnipresent and inescapable. Lacking earlids, we are forever and inescapably bathed in sound, immersed in it in a way that we are not immersed in a world of visible objects. An attention to sound, then, will provoke us to modify our everyday ontology and our common sense conception of matter. Sound lends credence to a very different sort of ontology and materialism, a conception of being and matter that can account for objecthood better than an ontology of objects can account for sounds.

visual arts fostered by Robert Morris, Robert Smithson, Robert Barry, Michael Asher, and others whose emphasis on process, multisensory experience, and immersion defied the autonomy, medium-specificity, and purely visual or optical conception of art characteristic of high modernism, most famously articulated by Clement Greenberg.5 PostMinimalism’s challenge to these features of modernism opened two different paths for artistic practice. Art could pursue the “dematerialization of the art object”6 by way of the concept, the idea, language, and discourse; or it could pursue an expanded conception of matter extending beyond the limited domain of ordinary, middle-sized, visual and tactile objects (paintings and sculptures, for example), a notion of matter understood as a profusion of energetic fluxes. While a few artists saw these two paths as parallel rather than divergent, Conceptual art tended to follow the first path, sound art the second. In so doing, Conceptualism was bolstered by a set of latently idealist theoretical programs insistent that our access to the real is fundamentally discursive, thus dismissing any notion of nondiscursive perception, materiality, or reality. During the 1970s and ’80s, these critical programs came to dominate the visual and literary arts, offering powerful, sophisticated, and effective analyses of images and texts. By contrast, the provocation posed by sound art was not extensively pursued philosophically or theoretically. As a result, sound art was left without a robust theoretical basis or mode of apprehension and was thus relegated to a minor status, at best an adjunct to music, at worst a naive or retrograde incursion into the visual arts. Thus, while Conceptual art became a dominant concern for art historians and critics and a pervasive influence on the art of the past half-century, sound art remained (until recently) a neglected and underground mode of art-making that attracted very little critical or art historical analysis. It is no coincidence that the emergence of powerful realist and materialist philosophies since the late 1990s has been paralleled by a renewed interest in sound. Sound art’s greatest forefather, John Cage, invited us to think of sound and music not as bounded by musical works but in deeply realist and materialist terms as an anonymous flux that precedes and exceeds human contributions to it. This conception of sound courses through the history of sound art, from Max Neuhaus’s Times Square, La Monte Young’s Dream House, and Alvin Lucier’s Music on a Long Thin Wire to Christina Kubisch’s Electrical Walks, Francisco López’s trilogy of the Americas, and the work of contemporary soundscape artists such as Chris Watson, Jana Winderen, and Toshiya Tsunoda. If we accept this Cagean conception, sound constitutes one flux among many, joining the profusion of flows catalogued by Manuel DeLanda in his magnificent book A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, which conceives all of nature and culture as a collection of flows—flows of lava, genes,

Sonic Flux Music has always posed an ontological problem, for (unlike the score or the recording that attempt to capture it) it is intangible and evanescent but nonetheless powerfully physical. This ontological problem is compounded by sound art, which, from its very inception in the late 1960s, challenged the ontology of objects and, in particular, the modernist work of art. Though clearly an outgrowth of the Cagean tradition in experimental music, sound art emerged within the milieu of Post-Minimalist practices in the

5 3

4

See Friedrich Nietzsche,The Birth of Tragedy, §§5, 6, 8. For more about Schopenhauer and Nietzsche on music and sound, see Christoph Cox, “Beyond Representation and Signification: Toward a Sonic Materialism,” Journal of Visual Culture , vol. 10, no. 2 (August 2011): 145–61. J. L. Austin, Sense and Sensibilia (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962), 8.

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Notably in “Modernist Painting,” in Collected Essays and Criticism, Volume 4: Modernism with a Vengeance, 1957–1969, ed. John O’Brian (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), but also in “Sculpture in Our Time,” in the same volume. See Lucy Lippard, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973).

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bodies, language, money, information, and so on—that are solidified and liquefied, captured, and released by way of various processes that are isomorphic across these various domains.7 Yet, as Schopenhauer and Nietzsche pointed out, the sonic flux is not just one flow among many; it deserves special status insofar as it so elegantly and forcefully models and manifests the myriad fluxes that constitute the natural world.

philosopher Nietzsche, who argues that “there is no ‘being’ behind doing, effecting, becoming; the ‘doer’ is only a fiction added to the deed—the deed is everything.”11 Or as Henri Bergson put it: “There are changes, but there are underneath the change no things which change: change has no need of a support.”12 And if sonic philosophy liberates the deed from the doer, becoming from being, the verb from the noun, it also liberates the effect from the cause. This ontology of the causeless effect is richly developed by Gilles Deleuze, who, inspired by the Stoics, distinguishes between two kinds of entities.13 In the first place, there exist bodies that have various qualities, that act and are acted upon, and that inhabit states of affairs in the world. Yet, in addition to bodies, there exist incorporeal events or effects that are caused by bodies but differ in nature from them. Like Nietzsche, Deleuze asks us to think the ontology of the verb as distinct from that of the noun (bodies) and adjective (qualities): the verb as a pure becoming independent of a subject. Such becomings are best captured by verbs in the infinitive (“to cut,” “to eat,” “to redden”), which have no subject and are bound to no particular context.14 They simply describe various powers of alteration in the world, powers of becoming that are variously instantiated. As continuously varying fluxes that are separable from their causes and maintain their own independent existence, sounds exemplify this ontology of events and becomings, and do so in two senses. In the first place, sounds are not punctual or static objects but temporal, durational flows. In this they accord with an empirical account of events and becomings as processes and alterations. Yet, beyond this empirical sense, sounds are also events and becomings in another sense: a “pure,” “incorporeal,” or “ideal” sense. We saw that sounds are not only “events” but “effects,” results of bodily causes that are nonetheless distinct from those causes and that have an independent existence of their own. But sounds are effects in another sense as well, in the sense in which scientists speak of the “Kelvin effect,” the “butterfly effect,” or the “Zeeman effect.”15 Such descriptions refer to recurrent patterns of possibility, diffuse multiplicities that nevertheless have a coherence or consistency. The isolation or individuation of such effects is very different than that of a thing, substance, subject, or person. Deleuze calls them “haecceities,” which names a mode of individuation characteristic of events: a wind (the mistral or sirocco, for example), a river, a climate, an hour of the day, a mood.16 “Effects” of this sort arise historically

Sonic Events Sound, then, affirms an ontology of flux in which objects are merely temporary concretions of fluid processes. This flux ontology replaces objects with events, an idea nicely demonstrated in Casey O’Callaghan’s book Sounds, which provides another exemplary instance of sonic philosophy.8 Sounds are intangible, ephemeral, and invisible; but, O’Callaghan shows, they are nonetheless real and mind-independent. Sounds persist in time and survive changes to their properties and qualities. Thus, they can’t be treated as secondary qualities (such as colors or tastes) that are relative to their observers; nor are they the properties of their sources, which cause or generate them but nonetheless remain distinct and separate. In short, sounds are not tied to objects or minds but are independently existing entities. This is exactly what Pierre Schaeffer (the father of musique concrète and one of the progenitors of sound art) aimed to show in his analysis of the objet sonore: the sonorous object considered independently of its source, an entity to which audio recording draws attention but that ordinary experience also routinely encounters.9 For Schaeffer, the sonorous object has a peculiar existence distinct from the instrument that produces it, the medium in or on which it exists, and the mind of the listener. Sounds are not qualities of objects or subjects; rather, they are ontological particulars and individuals. Yet Schaeffer’s language of the “sonorous object” misses the mark. For sounds are peculiarly temporal and durational, tied to the qualities they exhibit over time. If sounds are particulars or individuals, then they are so not as static objects but as temporal events.10

Sound Effects This ontology of events is unsettling for it proposes that happenings, becomings, and changes exist independently of the subjects and objects that produce or undergo them. To put it another way, it gives priority to the verb, which is no longer conceived as subordinate to the noun. This is exactly the view proposed by that sonic 7 8 9

Manuel DeLanda, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History (New York: Zone Books, 1997). Casey O’Callaghan, Sounds: A Philosophical Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). Pierre Schaeffer, “Acousmatics,” in Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music, ed. Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner (New York: Continuum, 2004), 76–81. 10 See O’Callaghan, Sounds, 11, 26–27, 57–71.

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11 12 13

14 15 16

Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, First Essay, §13, in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, ed. and trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Modern Library, 1992), 481. Henri Bergson, “The Perception of Change,” in The Creative Mind (Mineola, NY: Dover, 2007), 122 (emphasis in the original). See, for example, Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), 4ff; Dialogues, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), 63–66; A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 86ff; and What is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 21, 126–7, 156ff. See Logic of Sense, 182–85. See Logic of Sense, 7, 70, 181–82. Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 261; cf. Dialogues, 92ff, 151–52.

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(hence their frequent attribution to the scientist who isolated them) but are recurrent, forming relative invariants that are irreducible to their empirical instances. This notion of “effect,” independent of cause, has a broad and important set of usages in the world of audio. Musicians use the term to refer to the distinctive timbral and textural modulations (reverb, fuzz, echo, flange, distortion, and so forth) produced by electronic signal processing devices known as “effects units.” Sound researchers Jean-François Augoyard and Henry Torgue have adopted this list of “effects” and expanded it beyond the domain of music to generate a catalogue of eighty-two “sonic effects” [effets sonores] that characterize everyday urban soundscapes: attraction, blurring, chain, dilation, fade, etc. Though inspired by Schaeffer, Augoyard and Torgue abandon Schaeffer’s “object” in favor of Deleuze’s “effect” in an effort to describe the soundscape not as field of discrete entities but as a flux of haecceities, recurrent but transitory auditory modalities and intensities.17 An even more extravagant expansion of the notion and number of auditory effects can be found in the archives of “sound effects” employed by the radio and film industries since the 1920s. Ontologically and aesthetically, the “sound effect” is a peculiar entity. Generally anonymous, unattributed to an author or composer, these sounds are produced for incorporation into radio plays, films, TV shows, and video games. Yet they float free of these concrete instances, constituting a general reserve used in very different productions and contexts. Though they are attached to particular objects and situations in the image tracks of films to provide a convincing auditory complement, they are very often generated from sources and events that have little to do with the objects or situations that receive them. (Sheets of metal produce the sound of thunder; frozen romaine lettuce generates the sound of broken bones; and so on.) Moreover, sound effects are often combined with one another to generate new sound effects that diverge further from their components. These ontological and aesthetic peculiarities of sound effects have been explored by a number of artists. Working with commercial sound effects libraries, the duo Chris Kubick and Anne Walsh present these effects in their virtual state, as detached sound files indexed by titles that are at once singular and generic (“Amphibian Morph 4 From Rock to Flesh,” “Metal Squeal Huge 2.R,” “Power Buzz, invisible .R”). The sounds themselves likewise manifest this combination of the singular and the generic. Though generated by particular sources and causes, they are capable of signifying and functioning more broadly. Full Metal Jackets (2005), for example, is a sound sculpture composed of thirty-two small speakers scattered down a thirty-foot wall. A computer draws randomly from an archive of 500 sound files documenting falling bullet shell casings, and sends them to the speakers via eight different channels. At the base of the wall and facing it, a monitor lists in real time the file names, which carefully detail

the type of casings and the material surfaces on which they fall. Yet, sonically, the installation is remarkably tranquil and nonviolent, like a spare, aleatory percussion composition or a cascade of rain. One’s attention is drawn to the timbral and textural differences between the sounds rather than to their real-world or cinematic causal referents.18 Kubick and Walsh’s sculpture To Make the Sound of Fire (2007) similarly highlights the disjunction between source, sound, and function.19 Consisting of a plexiglass box containing a few sheets of crumpled wax paper (used by foley artists to generate the sound of fire), the silent piece invites viewers to imagine the sound such a material might make, and to compare it with their silent mental conjurings of “the sound of fire.” The infinitive title highlights the role of this and all sound effects as haecceities or singularities, elements or processes to be drawn into proximity with others in the incarnation of actual cinematic entities and events. Kubick’s recent project Hum Minus Human (2012) elegantly brings together several features of the sonic ontology I’ve been describing.20 A single-channel video, the project presents a nearly randomized sub-catalogue of drones collected by searching through a commercial sound effects archive using the keyword “hum” and subtracting those results that turn up “human” sounds. The piece freely combines the sounds of nature, culture, and industry—light transformers and cicadas, arc welders and bumble bees (etymological source of the word “drone” in English)—that form the sonic backdrop of our lives. In one sense, the “minus human” in the title simply describes a search function. But it has a broader significance as well, attuning us to that Cagean, Nietzschean, Schopenhauerian sonic flux that precedes and exceeds human being. This nonhuman conception of the sonic flux—and the ontology of events and effects it affirms—is strange. It unsettles our ordinary ways of speaking, sensing, and conceiving. A philosophical aesthetics that approaches sound and music with a conceptual apparatus already in place will reject it or be deaf to it. Yet, sonic philosophers such as Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Schaeffer, Cage, O’Callaghan, and Kubick and Walsh do philosophy otherwise: beginning from a fascination with sound, they follow it where it leads, encountering a strange world in which bodies are dissolved into flows, objects are the residues of events, and effects are unmoored from their causes to float independently as virtual powers and capacities. To think in this way is to refuse the idealist enterprise that consists in imposing philosophical concepts onto the real, subordinating the real to a set of formal syntheses taken to be ontologically distinct from it. Instead, sonic thought follows the flows of matter and energy that constitute the real, producing concepts that are themselves instances of the syntheses by which the real articulates itself, as independent from the pretensions of philosophy as it is from those of “non-philosophy.”

17 Jean-François Augoyard and Henry Torgue, eds., Sonic Experience: A Guide to Everyday Sounds, trans. Andra McCartney and David Paquette (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2005). On Deleuze’s notions of event and effect, see pp. 10, 154n16. Deleuze briefly discusses “sound effects” as instances of incorporeal events in Logic of Sense, 7, 70, 181–82.

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18 The project is documented at www.doublearchive.com/projects/full_metal_jackets.php. 19 See www.doublearchive.com/projects/make_sound_of_fire.php. 20 An excerpt can be found at www.socalledsound.com/projects.

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Unnatural Participations Nathan Lee

The Problem of Pleasure In his famous critique of the institutionalization of sexuality, Michel Foucault argues that the forces at work in the construction and regulation of the body should be understood not as a matter of boundaries enforced or superseded, but rather as “perpetual spirals of power and pleasure.”1 If there are, all too obviously, those who command by saying no to “wayward or unreproductive” sexualities, Foucault redirects our attention to the secret animating yes that affirms the pleasure felt in using such power. Yet pleasure, as it turned out, has proven a less than seductive object of critique. The vast theoretical literature on biopolitics inaugurated by Foucault has applied itself to an endless variety of problematics, and yet this discourse of power has largely remained just that: an analytic of power, of control, of the regulatory no, with far less attention paid to the nature, function, and co-determining role of pleasure. This curious blind spot in post-Foucauldian critique is the subject of a recent essay by Tim Dean titled “The Biopolitics of Pleasure.”2 Dean attempts to unknot the elusive concept of pleasure and account for its marginalization in contemporary thought. Power stripped of pleasure tends to isolate its position and externalize its effects, whereas the immanent model proposed by Foucault allows no easy demarcation between, say, sovereign power and homo sacer.3 Missing from the dominant biopolitical critiques of power, Dean claims, is an account of the “microphysics of its functioning at the corporeal level.”4 He returns to the figure of the spiral, suggesting that Foucault may have had the double helix of DNA in mind as his model. Thus aligned to the discourse of molecular biology, Foucault’s spiral may, according to Dean, shift the terms of critique toward a “radical immanentism” accounting for what Foucault elsewhere called the “subindividual microphysics of power and pleasure.” A biological perspective on biopolitics would reframe the scale of analysis and recast the problems of control and relationality within a domain of subindividual multiplicity. 1 2 3

4

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Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage Books, 1978), 45. Tim Dean, “The Biopolitics of Pleasure,” South Atlantic Quarterly, vol. 111, no. 3 (Summer 2012): 477–96. “One might venture that Agamben’s sovereign–bare life relation caricatures that of Hegel’s master-slave, were it not for the fact that the former hardly qualifies as a power relation in Foucault’s terms, owing to the extreme centrifugation that deprives one half of the couple of any leeway whatsoever.” Ibid., 491. Ibid., 492.

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There’s nothing novel about this vantage point. Biologists have long understood the human body as a vast, ever-mutating colony of microbial agents whose agendas may or may not coincide with—or even determine—our own. “A good case can be made for our nonexistence as entities,” Lewis Thomas observed as long ago as 1974. “We are not made up, as we had always supposed, of successively enriched packets of our own parts. We are shared, rented, occupied.”5 How pleasure might be brought to bear on this indwelling swarm is a far less settled matter and one that reemerges as a critical question given the advent of a sexual practice whose intense devotion to pleasure is organized around the transmission and affirmation of a microbe: the HIV virus.

social networks and structures of assembly, fantasies and identifications. And while barebacking in general has been met with an outpouring of discussion in the popular press, as well as a growing corpus of attention from the social sciences, it is this more limited, subcultural usage that has produced a vigorous body of theoretical critique. More than some dubious, marginal kink, barebacking poses crucial problems of bodies and intimacy, relationality and ethics, genealogy and futurity, fantasy and identity. This new twist on the spirals of power and pleasure has received its most insightful analysis by Dean in Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking, a book that questions what happens when we self-consciously open our bodies to nonhuman life. For Dean, sexual adventure opens a space for other forms of cultural or political adventure; and it is the distinction of bareback subculture to organize “an arena of invention that involves experiments in how to do things with viruses.”8 One of Dean’s most striking examples is the concept of “viral kinship”: an embrace of viral transmission as the mechanism for transindividual connectivity. Bareback “breeding” reconceives infection not as contamination by a destructive foreign agent, he argues, but as an inscription—an unlimited intimacy—of genealogical power. The peopling warned of in safer sex discourse—be careful when you sleep with someone, for you are sleeping with everyone they have ever slept with—is reconceived as a positive value. Affirming HIV transmission as a technique for sustaining relations to the past inverts the perspective on barebacking as a disavowal of history. Barebacking, for those who lived through the AIDS crisis, may be practiced neither in ignorance nor as a dismissal of the battles won by their fallen brothers, but precisely as a way to maintain affective ties with them. (Dean goes so far as to herald barebacking as “the next logical step in the enterprise of gay promiscuity.”9) Likewise, for those who inherited the AIDS crisis as an historical event, barebacking cannot be dismissed as (nor excused from) ignorant self-interest. Just as Bordowitz dreamed of being inhabited, and enriched, by Ludlam’s semen, viral kinship can be deployed as a vehicle for transgenerational solidarity. What would it mean, Dean wonders, for a young gay man to trace his virus back to Michel Foucault?

Infection as Filiation In his 1993 essay “The AIDS Crisis Is Ridiculous,” Gregg Bordowitz fantasizes about barebacking with Charles Ludlam, the founder of the legendary Ridiculous Theatrical Company: In my fantasy, I want Ludlum to fuck me without a condom. I’d receive his cure as gift. Searching for a model, I wish for a legacy—the love and approval of a father. I want to achieve his stature. In my fantasy, Ludlam’s greatness can be passed on to me through his semen. A condom would thwart this transference. This is a fantasy about immortality; that something exists greater than ourselves, shared between us.6 Bordowitz doesn’t use the word “barebacking” because he couldn’t: the term entered the lexicon a few years after the writing of his essay.7 Barebacking is a notoriously multivalent term that falls into two general applications. In the widest sense, it describes any instance of anal sex without the use of condoms, whether calculated and deliberate (between monogamous partners with the same HIV status, for example) or spontaneous and circumstantial (the situational “slip”). Another, more specialized use is devoted to a subculture for whom the abandonment of condoms is linked to a self-conscious exploration—and celebration—of what it means to exchange HIV through sex. Barebacking, in this more specific and radical sense, has developed its own rituals and language, 5

6 7

Lewis Thomas, The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher (New York: Viking Press, 1974), 3–4. For a recent popular account of current microbial research and the challenges it poses to concepts of agency and subjecthood, see Michael Pollan, “Some of My Best Friends Are Germs,” New York Times, May 15, 2013. Gregg Bordowitz, The AIDS Crisis Is Ridiculous and Other Writings 1986–2003, ed. James Meyer (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004), 47. Barebacking emerged more or less simultaneously with the advent of antiretroviral drug therapies in the mid-late 1990s and thus designates a historically specific practice; people fucked without condoms before HIV/AIDS, but no one barebacked. For a concise overview on the origins of barebacking, see Eric Rofes, Dry Bones Breathe: Gay Men Creating Post-AIDS Identities and Cultures (New York: Haworth Press, 1998), 12–17.

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Micro(meta)physics Provocative as such ideas are in their revaluation of sex and HIV, Dean’s theorization of barebacking remains bound to a model of thought predicated on the desiring subject. If, as he writes, “the peculiarity of bareback sex resides in its deliberate involvement of a pathogenic parasite,” his critique nevertheless largely conceptualizes this involvement as a one-way relation.10 The corporeal critique—a 8

Tim Dean, Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 47. 9 Ibid., 5. 10 Ibid., 94.

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microphysics of bareback power and pleasure—would proceed from the proposition that the things we can do with a virus are tied up with the things a virus can do to us. What are these weird little bundles of molecules capable of doing? What are their involvements, affects, and modes of relationality? Such questions are founded on a primary indeterminacy. Viruses trouble our criteria, unsettle our classificatory systems: biology has reached no consensus as to whether they constitute a life form at all.11 Like all living beings, viruses contain genetic material in the form of RNA. They reproduce, they evolve. Yet they lack fundamental categories of the organic such as cell structure, and their reproductive power is parasitic rather than sexual, dependent entirely on union with a host. Entering into relations with so liminal a being as HIV calls for, if not a definitive classification, at least some clarity about how it operates. A single HIV virion contains two strands of RNA bound by a shell of viral protein. This viral RNA is in turn enclosed by a layer of fatty molecules called lipids. Seventy-two copies of a protein called Env protrude from this viral envelope, with each Env consisting of three glycoproteins (gp120) attached to a “stem” of three other glycoproteins (gp41). On entering the body, HIV virions come into proximity with T-cells either in the bloodstream or lymphatic tissues. The trio of glycoprotein 120 molecules protruding from the viral envelope engage a structure of glycoproteins called CD4s, with which they form a perfect match. This “docking” of HIV to T-cell is compelled by the polar or nonpolar charges carried by all molecules: the molecular “key” of the HIV virus is drawn to, and perfectly fits, the molecular “lock” of the T-cell.12

Such charges operate throughout molecular biology, and are determined by the electrostatic forces of chemical bonding. Chemical charge, in turn, is linked to the play of strong and weak forces at the atomic and subatomic level. Scaling these forces down to their epistemological vanishing point brings us to the positionless indeterminacies of quantum mechanics—which is to say, the domain of ontological speculation.

Figure 1. “HIV Virion” (Image by US National Institute of Health, redrawn by Carl Henderson CC BY 4.0) 11

For an overview of this matter, see Luis P. Villareal, “Are Viruses Alive?,” Scientific American 291, no. 6 (December 2004): 100–105. 12 This primitive biochemical mechanism is commonly described as the capacity of HIV to “look for” and “attack” its desired object, the T-cells. The anthropomorphic character of such language has been the object of longstanding critique in HIV/AIDS discourse. For a classic analysis of the linguistic construction of AIDS, see Paula A. Treichler, “Aids, Homophobia, and Biomedical Discourse: An Epidemic of Signification,” in Aids: Cultural Analysis / Cultural Activism, ed. Douglas Crimp (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1988). On the militarized tenor of HIV/AIDS discourse, see Susan Sontag, AIDS and its Metaphors (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1989).

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Unnatural Participations Immunologist John Dwyer has remarked that the evolutionary changes distinguishing the ancestor of the AIDS virus found in monkeys from the human virus we call HIV “would seem to have been planned by some viral architect who knew his immunology, so clever are the design changes incorporated.”13 If Dwyer’s analogy indulges in the familiar anthropomorphic metaphors—with intimations of “intelligent design” no less!—he is quick to follow with another that points us back in the direction of impersonal processes: “And yet in biological terms these apparently deserved triumphs are more like those of a man who, having no idea of a safe’s combination, sits patiently twiddling the dials at random until suddenly he gets it right and the safe door swings open.”14 The moment an HIV virion first encountered a human T-cell was not an event predetermined by either of their histories, but rather a co-becoming that cut horizontally across their fields of being. This is what Deleuze and Guattari have named “unnatural participations”: the open-ended potential of bodies at any scale—from a single HIV virion to a bareback orgy—to connect, commingle, and inaugurate the New. How can we conceive of a peopling, a propagation, a becoming that is without filiation or hereditary production? A multiplicity without the unity of an ancestor? It is quite simple; everybody knows it, but it is discussed only in secret. We oppose epidemic to filiation, contagion to heredity, peopling by contagion to sexual reproduction, sexual production. Bands, human or animal, proliferate by contagion, epidemic, battlefields, and catastrophes. Like hybrids, which are in themselves sterile, born of a sexual union that will not reproduce itself, but which begins over again very time, gaining that much more ground. Unnatural participations or nuptials are the true nature spanning the kingdoms of nature.15 13 John M. Dwyer, The Body at War: The Miracle of the Immune System (New York: New American Library, 1989), 130. 14 Ibid, 130. 15 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 241.

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Unnatural participation, thus conceptualized, reframes the question of viral kinship on the plane of immanence and depersonalizes Bordowitz’s desire for “something greater than ourselves, shared between us.” Within the microphysics/metaphysics of barebacking, pleasure in the Foucauldian sense is what officiates these nuptials. It could be said to operate something like the will in Nietzsche’s doctrine of the will to power: an impersonal, universal striving as the motor of becoming. Pleasure would then link up with radical affirmation, the absolute Yes to existence advocated by Nietzsche so that existence can be transformed, revalued, overcome. It is certainly striking that Paul Morris, founder of the notorious porn studio Treasure Island Media and the most articulate polemicist from within bareback culture, describes the practice in a manner that sounds like pure Nietzsche. Confronting head-on the monstrous implications of affirming viral transmission, Morris heralds barebacking as radical irresponsibility, devoted only to the perpetuation of a subcultural ethos “with little regard for anything else, including life itself.” The everyday identity evanesces and the individual becomes an agent through which a darker, more fragile tradition is enabled to continue. Irresponsibility to the everyday persona and to the general culture is necessary for allegiance to the sexual subculture, and this allegiance takes the gay male directly to the hot and central point where what is at stake isn’t the survival of the individual, but the survival of the practices and patterns which are the discoveries and properties of the subculture.16 Have we reached becoming-imperceptible, the “cosmic formula,” per Deleuze and Guattari, of all becomings?17 Or has one persona (the self-perpetuating neoliberal subject) merely been replaced by another (the self-indulgent libertine)? If bareback subculture constitutes the next logical step in the enterprise of gay male promiscuity, that scarcely ensures the value—ethical or ontological—of its discoveries. That it does constitute a discovery calls for a new image of thought, one that asks what it means to form a rhizome with our viruses.

16 Paul Morris, “No Limits: Necessary Danger in Male Porn.” Paper presented at the World Pornography Conference, Los Angeles, California, August 8, 1998. Cited in Dean, Unlimited Intimacy, 57. 17 Deleuze and Guattari, Thousand Plateaus, 279.

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Law and Disorder Susan Schuppli

JUDGE: Do you think this tape has been doctored in any way or does it represent what you saw at the scene? Among the more than 90 million court records that comprise the archives of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) are two videotapes shot by Liri Loshi (and Sefedin Thaqi) in the aftermath of the massacres at Izbica and Padalishte, Kosovo, in March 1999. These tapes form part of its material evidence archive and were entered as exhibits during the trials of Slobodan Miloševi´c and Milan Milutinovi´c. The following excerpts from the open court session on October 26, 2006, capture a sense of the discussion as it unfolded with respect not only to the veracity of the images recorded on one of the tapes, but also regarding its material integrity and the custodial handling of the videotape prior to its admittance into the legal archive of the ICTY.1 Q. Mr. Loshi, are the images we just saw also part of the video you filmed that day? A. Yes. Q. And could you describe to us what was taking place there in that part of the video. A. What we saw here is a burial where we buried all the—these bodies that were found in those places that I was just describing before, and also all other victims in Izbica that were found in some other different spots were brought here. JUDGE. And you say in that statement under oath: “I recorded this videotape myself on March 31 1999, and this original exhibit has been in my constructive possession from the time of filming until now.” Now, we already know, thanks to the testimony that you gave in our subsequent statements as well as here today, that in fact this statement you made under oath is not true and accurate because Mr. Thaqi is the one who recorded the video. Now, is it also the case that the second part of this statement, that is to say that you had the original tape in your constructive possession at all times before delivery to the Prosecutor, that statement is not accurate and in fact is false. Isn’t that correct? 1

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is a United Nations court of law established in The Hague in May 1993 to prosecute war crimes committed during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. The first international war crimes tribunal since Nuremburg and Tokyo, it has charged over 160 people; thirty of these trials are still in various stages of completion.

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A. No. This is correct, but I believe this is a misunderstanding. Because what I was—what I said there or what I was trying to explain there, and I did—I believe I did so, was that just after the taping was done by Sefedin Thaqi in—after a few days, I believe this was April 3 or 4, I can’t remember it now, we transferred the whole filming from his tape to VHS tape, which I had it all the time in my possession. But that tape I couldn’t bring with myself to Albania because I found it very dangerous to take it with myself. Q. Now, with respect to Mr. Thaqi’s tape, am I correct that this tape was at one point in time stolen by some thieves? A. Yes. At the time where I was looking for this tape, his own camera was stolen, I believe not because of the tape but because—the tape was stolen because of camera. The thieves didn’t even know what was in. And then with the help of Shaban Dragaj I get a hold of this tape again. While the testimony of eyewitnesses has, since the late nineteenth century, been aided by photographs and other visual materials such as drawings and models, court proceedings are increasingly shaped by a forensic account of events in which materially encoded “truths” are narrated by experts. Forensic blood work, such as comparative DNA analysis, offers an exemplary marker of this shift in juridical culture.2 Yet in order for a material object or an entity derived from a computational database to bear witness legally, given that it can’t swear to tell the truth, it must move through a sequence of bureaucratic stages that address its relevant features or structurally recompose it. The extended legal debates around the videos shot by Loshi expose the degree to which the tension between what is captured on tape as visual information and what is captured on tape as incidental inscriptions starts to play an increasingly significant role in the narration and production of the law.3

Video frame-grabs from Liri Loshi and Sefedin Thaqi’s footage shot in the aftermath of the Izbica Massacre, Kosovo, March 28, 1999. [Source: ICTY Case No. IT-05-87: Milutinovi´c.] 2

3

These ideas draw on the collective work of forensic architecture, a European Research Council project led by Eyal Weizman at Goldsmiths, University of London. The project undertakes research that maps, images, and models sites of violence within the framework of international humanitarian law, producing spatial evidence in support of legal investigations that address violations of human rights. See www.forensic-architecture.org. ICTY, “Transcript 061026IT” (The Hague: ICTY, 2010). Full Transcript available at www.icty.org.

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Appearing initially as erratic magnetic interference, the damaged materiality of exhibit P232, otherwise known as the Izbica massacre tape, eventually migrates into the imagefield, as the mute horror of dead bodies slowly coalesces to reveal itself to the camera/ viewer. The material violations evidenced in the dense overlay of defects caused by the repeated copying and over-coding of the tape immediately alerts us to the material violations of the body-proper that will soon emerge out of the depths of the image. In cinema such frenzied distortion in the visual field has come to signal immanent danger and threat, as the stability of a world organized as a coherent picture falls apart and is consumed by violence. The massacre video cannot, of course, be compared to the narrative constructions of cinema, given its status as documentary evidence of a crime. But the impoverished condition of the tape, with its material degradations and destabilized image-field, are disturbingly resonant with chilling effect, reminding us of the political program that sought to eradicate difference through ethnic cleansing. Literary critic Shoshana Felman has argued that the difficulty of producing an intelligible narrative in the face of historical trauma characterizes the true act of bearing witness. Drawing upon the filmed documentation of the Eichmann Trial, in which a witness, Yehiel De-Nur, or K. Zetnik, fainted while attempting to testify, she asks under what circumstances and in what ways the withdrawal of the legal conventions of speech can constitute a form of legal testimony in its own right.4 When recounting his own experiences of Auschwitz, Primo Levi likens his memory traces to the machinic operations of a tape recorder, which can rewind and play back history: “I still have a visual and acoustic memory of the experience that I cannot explain. [...] Sentences in languages I do not know have remained etched in my memory, like on a magnetic tape.”5 K. Zetnik’s memory erased the trauma of the camp, whereas Levi’s recorded it. In both cases the capacity to bear witness occurs not through acts of spoken testimony but through technologies of inscription: the fainting body, the mnemonic operations that rewind and playback like a tape recorder. Likewise, rather than reducing their capacity to stand convincingly before the tribunals of history as witnesses to a crime, the degraded quality of both of Loshi’s videotapes enhances their capacity for testimony, insofar as the epistemic dimensions of an image-regime typically called upon to account for historical violence through explicative narration is refused. Instead, their material defects saturate the tapes with a different kind of information, producing a form of ontological reckoning that doesn’t require the supplementary intervention of a human witness endowed with the task of extracting meaning from errant electrons or executed bodies. Forcing wholeness and clarity from the massacre videotapes’ erratic image-data would, in my mind, violate the events anew, whereas allowing the tapes to disarticulate their material strata registers the radical incomprehensibility of what has 4

5

Shoshana Felman, “A Ghost in the House of Justice: Death and the Language of the Law,” in The Juridical Unconscious: Trials and Trauma in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 131–51. Primo Levi, cited in Giorgio Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (New York: Zone Books, 2002), 27.

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taken place. Their relevance is located not exclusively in what they can tell us about the historic events to which they gesture as technical witnesses, but also in their struggle to meet the court’s demand for coherent accounts of history. Writing about Francis Bacon’s paintings, Gilles Deleuze contends that “photographs cannot produce an intensity of sensation, or rather cannot produce differences within sensation” in that, unlike painting, they do not activate the body and provide different ways of seeing. Rather, they are merely a recording and a resemblance of what we see.6 Painting, says Deleuze, requires the cooperation of the artist’s hand, which is always in a relationship of imbalance with the eye. What the eye sees can never be registered absolutely by the hand: something different always emerges from within the depths of paint. I contend that many of the media artifacts presented during the legal proceedings of the ICTY emphatically register this imbalance at the level of the machinic. Sensation emerges equally out of the technical reorganization of the image-event as it does out its mimetic regime: the tape’s defective materiality forcing an intensification of affect that supplements and at times even supersedes the horror and despair captured on video. A different stratum of knowledge about these events of crisis—knowledge that arises out of processing—is impelled into presence, activating the sensorial domain of testimony at the moment that the plane of resemblance (the appearance of things) gives way to the furtive emissions of the ontological substratum. At these moments of intensified image-compression, a new “material witness” might be said to emerge from within the depths of magnetic particles or pixels.7

camera containing the crucial Izbica tape (IT-05-87) was stolen and later recovered in Albania along with the video. Loshi’s admission corroborates the damaged state of the tape, which in addition to drop-out shows signs of extensive image-loss, indicating that it was reprocessed by incorrect video codecs. Moreover, the presence of rolling scan lines and yellow streaks suggests that at one point the video was copied by filming directly from a television screen. These are all factors that point toward the tape’s ongoing transformation as it traveled between Kosovo, Albania, and The Hague. At every juncture in these administrative circuits, the media object is imprinted by and modified through these processes, such that a kind of violence is done to the object akin to the subjective processes of forgetting and lying that characterize the human witness. Because we have become so preoccupied with narrating the singularity of the object, we tend to render transparent the very means by which we are able produce such biographies, namely, the discursive uptake of the object within different epistemic frameworks. Matter, in effect, only becomes a material witness when the complex histories entangled within objects are unfolded, translated, and transformed into legible formats that can be offered up for public consideration and debate. Conventions that enable public forums to confer legitimacy upon the speech acts of objects, and agreed-upon standards that permit material evidence to stand up to the scrutiny of evaluative and adjudicative epistemological frameworks need to be continually queried and tested. Yet without this dimension of public discourse, media artifacts cannot fully attain the status of the witness; rather, they remain virtual, carrying their archives of encrypted data into the future as mere latent potential. When materials, including computational objects, are subject to external processes that bring about their structural reordering, they produce what philosopher Isabelle Stengers has called an “informed material,” in the sense that their internal composition becomes progressively enriched by information.8 The forensic analysis of media is concerned not directly with representational matters, but with matter as captured by different forms of technology and processed by different kinds of legal or quasi-legal apparatuses. Politics likewise enters into the field of media not simply at the level of representation—the content displayed in an image—but at the structural level of its acquisition, processing, and transmission of information. In the case of digital media, this “politicization” takes place at each processional juncture: when pure data is captured by sensors, transformed into binary code, assigned pixel values, algorithmically adjusted, composited to produce a digital image, saved in a standardized file format, and transmitted to recombine with other circuits of technical and social assembly. This is what I would call “the micro-politics of

Video frame-grabs from Liri Loshi’s footage shot in the aftermath of the Padalishte Massacre, Kosovo, March 26, 1999. [Source: ICTY Case No. IT-02-54: Miloševi´c.]

While the visceral defects of Loshi’s massacre videos do bear sensate and even symbolic witness to acts of palpable violence, their material degradation raised serious legal questions regarding “chain of custody” and the credibility of Loshi himself as a material witness. Under cross-examination, Loshi admitted that the

6 7

Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon and the Logic of Sensation, trans. Daniel W. Smith (London: Continuum, 2004), 49. The concept of the “material witness” is elaborated in my forthcoming book, Material Witness: Forensic Media and the Production of Evidence (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, forthcoming).

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8

See Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent and Isabelle Stengers, A History of Chemistry (London: Harvard University Press, 1996), 206. See also Andrew Barry, “Materialist Politics: Metallurgy,” in Political Matter: Technoscience, Democracy, and Public Life, ed. Bruce Braun and Sarah Whatmore (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 90.

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processing”: all the points of contact between the various networks of information transfer, translation, and transmission that are also points of potential transformation and that allow difference, and thus politics, to enter. If the object’s capacity to bear witness is achieved by explicating its passage through various stages of administrative processing, its political dimensions are rendered visible when we attend to the precise ways in which certain kinds of information combine and recombine at these nodal points to produce new aesthetic, technical, and legal configurations. Digital media, like all digital information, exists first as binary code and requires several stages of processing before it can recompose itself into a comprehensible image or sound. In order for digital materials to have any legal traction as evidence, they require approved procedures that guarantee the security of data and standardize their processing from code to pixels. Given this predicament, should the stability and integrity of information transfer be held accountable to an originary event, or does the very condition of post-processing render its role as a material witness suspect at best? This is especially pertinent to media materials coming out of conflict zones that are often produced and/or secured under challenging conditions. Several other cases in ICTY that relied upon corroborating video testimony were thrown into doubt when expert witnesses could prove that the evidence in question had been spliced and reedited, thus nullifying its apparent truth claims.9

especially at the level of metadata, where informational inconsistencies can immediately raise legal doubts. Consequently, the international forums that adjudicate these materials must archive media in its original acquired state, regardless of how damaged it may be, in order to maintain its relative integrity. When presented in court, however, such materials are often duplicated and altered in order to be played properly. This was indeed the case with several audio files that were unintelligible in their raw state. Corrected copies sit alongside their original versions in the archives of the ICTY. In another case of audio manipulation, the sound of shelling was replaced with a birdsong when the video was presented in court for a second time in a different trial, once again raising doubts as to the authenticity of the video.10 What emerges from an examination of these audiovisual materials is the extent to which the court itself becomes a processing machine that works over the materials that enter its legal infrastructure and, in so doing, not only transforms them but also inscribes its legal protocols, producing signifying traces that can be read and narrated alongside the “official” biography of the object. JUDGE: Well, thank you for assisting us. WITNESS: You’re welcome. [The witness withdrew] JUDGE: What’s to happen now? A. I have the unenviable task to announce, Your Honour, that we have run out of witnesses for this week.11

Expert witness testifying in 2010 to the authenticity of videos IC00820 and IC00821, depicting the destruction of the Mostar Bridge in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1993. [Source: ICTY Case No. IT-04-74-T.]

While the Internet has dramatically increased the reach of citizen journalism, much uploaded content is edited and captioned, thus highlighting its postproduction, which the court regards as an impoverishment of its evidentiary capacity. Nonetheless, these are often the only source materials that prosecutors have at their disposal to support a legal claim. With the advent of digital processing, the integrity of metadata becomes an even more urgent legal issue as the potential for subterfuge sinks below the threshold of human perception. Disputes around accusations of genocide and war crimes are thus archived by media materials whose status is in contention, not only at the level of representation (the information contained within the frame) but 9

See for example, ICTY, “Prosecutor’s Observations Regarding Expert Report on the Authenticity of Videotapes IC00820 and IC00821” (The Hague: ICTY, 2010); and ICTY, “Prosecutor’s Observations Regarding Expert Report on the Authenticity of Videotapes IC00820 and IC00821” (The Hague: ICTY, 2010).

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10 ICTY, “Gotovina et al. (IT-06-90) ‘Operation Storm,’ ” ICTY transcript 080408ED (The Hague: ICTY, 2008) 945–46. See also ICTY exhibit 014: ACE 80901R0000320056. 11 Excerpted from ICTY, “Transcript 061026IT” (The Hague: ICTY, 2010), 5322–408.

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Blobjectivism and Art Terry Horgan and Matjaž Potrcˇ

Austere realism is the view that the correct ontology does not include numerous putative entities posited in everyday thought and discourse, entities such as cats, trees, chairs, and mountains. Naive common sense initially supposes that the correct ontology does include such items. But after it gets into reflective mode, deep doubts about the existence of these entities tend to arise. The cat’s composition changes as it grows from that kitten to a grown-up animal. At what point does it become an adult cat? There seems to be no determinate answer to this question—which means that the attribute being an adult cat is vague in its spatiotemporal boundaries. At what point after it dies and is cremated does this dead cat cease to exist altogether? Again there seems to be no determinate answer—which means that the attributes being a dead cat and being a cat are also vague in their spatiotemporal boundaries. And as it eats and drinks, it is even harder to determine which are the exact ingredients that are literally parts of the cat (as opposed to merely being contained within its body). Is that molecule of water, or this other atom that was there in the food, literally a part of the cat? So the cat seems to be a vague entity with respect to its synchronic composition. Similar considerations reveal that virtually all the putative entities posited in everyday thought and discourse—and most that are posited in science too (cells, tectonic plates, galaxies, and so forth)—are vague with respect to boundaries and composition. Deep doubts arise about the real existence of putative vague entities and attributes when one ponders the infamous sorites paradox, which always looms when vagueness is present. Sorites reasoning leads, via a sequence of individually unobjectionable-seeming inferential steps, to an absurd conclusion. For instance, consider Mount Triglav in Slovenia. Imagine a pin inserted on its top, and a second pin inserted a centimeter away from the first one, and a third pin a centimeter away from the second, and so on in a single direction straight down to the bottom of the plain of Ljubljana. Now there arises the following reasoning: if the first pin is on the mountain, then the second one must be on it as well; and if the second one is on the mountain, then third one must be too; and so on, so that the pin at the bottom of the valley must be on the mountain too—which is absurd. When such sorites reasoning is carefully and unflinchingly pondered, the conclusion reached by reflective common sense is that ontological vagueness is impossible—and hence that the right ontology cannot include cats, mountains, or any of the other vague entities that are posited in everyday thought and discourse (and in much scientific thought/ discourse too). Likewise, mutatis mutandis, for vague properties that are posited

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in everyday and scientific thought/discourse—for example, properties such as being a cat or being a galaxy.1

Truth is normally a relation of indirect correspondence between language or thought and the blobject.

A species of austere realism, blobjectivism, recognizes just one material object: the cosmos. Although austere realism as a generic position excludes all putative vague objects and vague properties from the right ontology, some versions of austere realism can embrace an ontology that includes a multiplicity of non-vague material objects such as “cat candidates” that are perfectly precise in all respects such as spatiotemporal boundaries and synchronic composition. However, we advocate and defend blobjectivism—a species of austere realism affirming that the correct ontology includes one and only one material object: the entire cosmos (the “blobject”). The blobject is not homogeneous, but instead has enormous spatiotemporal structural complexity and variability. Nevertheless, this structural complexity and variability is not a matter of relations among material objects in the right ontology that are proper parts of the blobject, since the blobject has no proper parts. Rather, the complexity and variability arise by virtue of the fact that numerous (ontologically non-vague) properties are instantiated by the entire blobject in (non-vague) spatiotemporally local manners of instantiation. One can get an intuitive feel for blobjectivism by envisioning a mass of Jell-O that is nonhomogeneous in various ways: partially jiggling in one specific spatiotemporally local manner while otherwise remaining still, partially congealing in another spatiotemporally local manner while otherwise remaining uncongealed, being partially one color in a specific spatiotemporally local way while otherwise being some other color, and so forth. (Think of the Jell-O as literally partless; and think of the just-mentioned properties as instantiated not by parts of the Jell-O but rather by the whole Jell-O-mass, albeit in (non-vague) spatiotemporally local manners of instantiation.) The principal theoretical virtue of blobjectivism, in comparison to other potential versions of austere realism, is that blobjectivism is ontologically more parsimonious. 1

Sorites reasoning introduces vagueness of language and thought as the tension between individualistic (modus ponens transfer of the same truth value between neighbors) and collectivistic sequences (the truth value changes at the end as opposed to the start of the sequence). For elaboration of the contention that the sorites paradox reveals a form of logical incoherence inherent to vagueness, and the corollary that ontological vagueness is impossible, see Terry Horgan and Matjaž Potrˇ c, Austere Realism: Contextual Semantics Meets Minimal Ontology (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008), sections 2.3–2.4; and Terry Horgan and Matjaž Potrˇc, “Blobjectivism and Indirect Correspondence,” Facta Philosophica 2, no. 2: 249–70. We also argue there that the various proposals in the philosophical literature for blocking sorites reasoning—for example, by resorting to some version of nonclassical logic—do not eliminate the logical incoherence inherent to vagueness but instead only quarantine it and render it benign. The two texts mentioned in this note also contain additional arguments in support of austere realism generically, and in support of blobjectivism specifically.

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In everyday thought and discourse, and in most scientific discourse, too, it is common to posit a multiplicity of objects many of which are vague in various respects (for example, in composition and in spatiotemporal boundaries), and it is also common to apply vague predicates to these posited objects (meaning, predicates such as “is tall,” “is intelligent,” or “is red”). So when one is thinking or speaking as one ordinarily does, it seems just crazy to say that there are no such entities as cats or mountains, and it seems even crazier to say that the only material object that exists is the blobject. So isn’t austere realism a crazy view, and isn’t the blobjectivist version of austere realism even crazier? No, and the reason why not is that austere realism includes (in addition to its ontological claims) semantic claims that smoothly accommodate the positing practices of everyday thought/discourse and scientific thought/discourse.2 The key is austere realism’s account of truth. Although truth is a matter of correspondence between language/thought and the world, in most contexts of thought and discourse the operative form of correspondence is indirect. Consider, for example, the statement “Slovenia belongs to the European Union.” Although this statement is certainly true, its truth does not require that the right ontology include entities answering to the name “Slovenia” or to the referring-expression “the European Union.” Rather, naive common sense would say that the statement’s truth is a matter of behavior by a lot of human beings, behavior that is coordinated in various complex ways; thus, although the statement’s truth does depend on the world, this dependence is indirect because it does not consist in there being ultimately existing entities e1 and e2 in the correct ontology such that e1 is the referent of “Slovenia,” e2 is the referent of “the European Union,” and e1 bears the relation membership to e2. Refined common sense, aware of the considerations that motivate embracing both austere realism and blobjectivism, extends the notion of indirect correspondence to virtually all everyday and scientific thought/discourse. What makes true any statement that posits putative entities other than the blobject is the blobject’s instantiating, in various spatiotemporally local manners, various (non-vague) properties; this is indirect correspondence, because the right ontology does not include real entities that answer to the statement’s item-positing apparatus. Contexts of thought/discourse in which the operative form of truth is direct correspondence—contexts where one is inquiring about the denizens of the right ontology—are rare indeed, even in science. Nonetheless, within such a context the following statement is true: “There exists only one material object, viz, the blobject.”

2

We spell out the parsimony argument in chapter 7 of Austere Realism.

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Perception, judgment, and public language typically are governed by normatively tight semantic standards, whereas artistic judgment is not.

Art, we take it, builds upon semantic slack. The phenomenological character of one’s own aesthetic experience vis-à-vis a given artwork, however different that phenomenology might be in comparison to the aesthetic experiences of others vis-à-vis that same artwork, figures constitutively as a factor determining the truth or falsity of one’s own aesthetic judgment. For instance, concerning a given artwork—for example, an abstract painting—one person can correctly judge true the statement “The painting is interesting,” whereas another person can correctly judge this statement false. The contextually operative semantic standards governing “interesting,” together with how the world is, leave semantic slack—which gets taken up by the aesthetic response of the person making the aesthetic judgment and the associated truth/falsity judgment. (Typically, an artwork that confronts an experiencer demands that the experiencer make an aesthetic judgment about it—if only of the form “This does nothing for me”—thereby situating both artwork and experiencer within a novel perspective on each other and the world.) Ontologically, one’s aesthetic experience consists of the blobject itself—the only concrete entity in the correct ontology—instantiating a specific aesthetic-phenomenology-property in a specific, spatiotemporally local, “first-personish” manner. Semantically, this property-instantiation makes correct one’s own affirmation that one’s aesthetic judgment is true.

Thought and discourse are virtually always governed by contextually operative semantic standards; ontologically, these are normative properties, instantiated spatiotemporally locally by the blobject. Much thought and discourse is governed by contextually operative semantic normative standards that are tight, in this sense: these standards combine with how things are with the blobject to jointly determine the truth or falsity of a given thought or statement. (The truth or falsity of “The cat is on the mat” depends only on how things are locally with the blobject plus the semantic standards governing “the cat,” “the mat,” and “is on.”) Likewise, much perceptual experience has representational content governed by tight indirect-correspondence semantic standards—standards that then get transferred to perception-based judgments and to statements expressing those judgments. (Thus, the veridicality or non-veridicality of a visual experience as of the cat on the mat depends only on how things are locally with the blobject plus the indirect-correspondence semantic standards governing the pertinent aspects of the experience itself—the cat aspect, the mat aspect, and the on-relation aspect.) Some kinds of judgment, however, are governed by semantic standards that are not tight, but instead leave semantic “slack” that gets taken up by the first-person sensibility of the person making the judgment. Humor judgments are a case in point: when one person judges funny a joke that another person judges not funny, the contextually operative semantic standards do not themselves combine with how the world is to fix semantic correctness (that is, truth). Rather, each person’s judgment is partially expressive of that person’s own response to the joke. Likewise, when the one person judges that the statement “That joke is funny” is true, whereas the other person judges that it is false, each person’s truth/falsity judgment is expressive of that person’s own response to the joke—thereby taking up the semantic slack in the contextually operative semantic standards governing humor-discourse.3 3

For elaboration of the tight/non-tight distinction, within the general framework of contextual semantics, see for instance Terry Horgan, “Contextual Semantics and Metaphysical Realism: Truth as Indirect Correspondence,” in The Nature of Truth : Classic and Contemporary Perspectives, ed. Michael P. Lynch (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001), 67–95; Terry Horgan and Mark Timmons, “Cognitivist Expressivism,” in Metaethics After Moore, ed. Terry Horgan and Mark Timmons (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 255–298; Terry Horgan and Mark Timmons, “Expressivism, Yes! Relativism, No!,” in Oxford Studies in Metaethics 1, ed. Russ Shafer-Landau (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 73–98; and Horgan and Potrˇc, Austere Realism, 5.7.5. As explained in “Expressivism, Yes! Relativism, No!,” invoking the tight/non-tight distinction does not constitute embracing relativism, because judgments that take up semantic slack via one’s own responses—both first-order judgments and truth-falsity judgments—are construed as categorical in content rather than relativistic in content. See also Horgan and Potrˇc, “Epistemological Skepticism, Semantic Blindness, and Competence-Based Performance Errors,” Acta Analytica 28 (March 2013): 161–77.

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Absolute Spectacle McKenzie Wark no fear of decay. A null slumbering among objects, nothing —Brian Kim Stefans, “Speculative Realism”

The Fetish of the Nonhuman Thing It’s a zircon, the oldest rock in the world, about 4.4 billion years old. This particular planet is 4.5 or maybe 4.6 billion years old; so the oldest rock, a little bit of zircon, goes back a ways. Its from the Hadean Eon, named after Hades, because, from any human point of view, or from the point of view of any kind of life, it was rather hot and unpleasant. Or so it is generally thought. When geochemists Mark Harrison and Bruce Watson studied this little zircon, they found some strange things. It’s a crystal and grew as crystals do, and, as it did, embedded in itself other atoms of whatever happened to be around—in this case, titanium. More titanium ends up in zircons when it is hotter than when it is cooler. So, by counting titanium concentrations, it’s possible to know how hot it was when the rock was formed. What Watson and Harrison found is that this zircon crystallized at around 680 degrees Celsius, which means that it formed in the presence of water. As Watson explains: “Any rock heated in the presence of water—any rock, at any time, in any circumstance—will begin to melt at between 650 and 700 degrees. This is the only terrestrial process that occurs so predictably.”1 I am not a geochemist, so I will have to take Watson’s word for that. For me, two things stand out from this story. The first is that it is possible to have knowledge of something happening billions of years before there were people. That little zircon is a lovely example of what Quentin Meillassoux calls the “arche-fossil,” a piece of evidence of a world that has nothing to do with our species-being.2 But there’s one other thing of interest, to me if not to Meillassoux. It is the question of what makes it possible to have knowledge of the arche-fossil. I can think about the arche-fossil. I can write about the arche-fossil. But neither thought nor language is all that central to its existence. Let’s also bracket off from its existence 1 2

Quoted in Robert Krulwich, “The Oldest Rock in the World Tells Us a Story,” NPR, January 11, 2013, www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2013/01/10/169047159/the-oldest-rock-in-the-world-tells-us-a-story. Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier (London: Continuum, 2008).

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the fact that there is a science called geochemistry, existing in departments of universities, communicating through peer-reviewed scientific journals and conferences. In a sense that’s just the thinking and the language part of a knowledge of the archefossil understood sociologically. Rather, I want to draw attention to two things that make it exist, one of which is important to Meillassoux, and one that escapes his concern but is important to me. The one important to Meillassoux is mathematics: the zircon arche-fossil as a mathematizable description of the universe. From the Big Bang to the formation of its galaxies, its planets, and even its tiny rocks, the universe can be described mathematically, and as such, can exist outside of thought or language. It can exist outside of the knowing subject who thinks or writes no—so long as one takes mathematics itself to be real. The perspective on the arche-fossil that concerns me, though, is an apparatus that combines labor and technology, by which a mathematical description of a cosmic process, even a geochemical one, is tested. The zircon mentioned above has been subjected to two such tests. At least one scientific procedure dates the fossil, and another measures the amount of titanium that crystallizes in it. One can imagine a mathematical description of the world as something nonhuman, as existing without a human subject. The technical work of producing knowledge out of the arche-fossil also in a sense dispenses with the human, resting as it does on an apparatus, an assemblage of labor and machine. This dependency on an apparatus I will call the inhuman. It is, as we shall see, not quite the same thing as the nonhuman qualities of mathematical description. Once one starts looking into the technical part, one finds oneself in a world of company websites for hardcore geek machinery. Let me just mention the company Cameca, which among other products makes Electron Probe Analyzers for Materials and Geoscience:

that could project sound films at the dawn of the “talkies.” It then diversified into scientific instruments, but came back into the human-to-human media business briefly in the sixties with the famous Scopitone movie jukebox.4 The movies, as we know from Dziga Vertov, replace human vision with the kino-eye.5 The movies show to human vision something that is already inhuman. The scientific instrument extends the range of perception even further, creating forms of inhuman perception across all sorts of scales and temporalities. Among other things, such instruments can perceive and measure arche-fossils, things that are completely alien to human sensory bandwidth and memory. Machine perception alienates the human from the human, by being the inhuman register of the nonhuman. By ignoring machine vision, the media of the inhuman, we are left with a stark choice. On the one hand we have human thought and language, to which we might add human perception. It is a rather finite and bounded domain. On the other, we have the nonhuman domain of mathematics. Let’s assume just for the moment that mathematics really can touch the absolute and is not limited to the human. Then, as Meillassoux wants to do, one could take the arche-fossil as a kind of emblem of the existence of an absolute beyond even the nonhuman accessible to mathematics. Yet between the mathematics of the absolute and the finitude of the human, there is something else, something Meillassoux does not really even mention: the apparatus. It is neither human nor nonhuman, and it exists in a liminal, undecidable inhuman space. The apparatus requires human labor, but it is not reducible to the intersubjective realm of scientific discourse. It includes also the machine, which perceives and measures far beyond the realm of the human, registering the existence of a great outdoors without touching the absolute. With this question of the apparatus back in the picture, as it were, it is possible to ask whether, when we claim that mathematics touches the absolute, it touches the absolute of a world that is real. Meillassoux approaches this by reviving the distinction between primary and secondary properties. The secondary properties of any thing are its sensible ones. I see and feel the object; but is this really what matters about the object? And is this perhaps just the object as it appears to my senses? On the other hand, its primary qualities, its mathematical essence, exist independently of appearances. Or so Meillassoux, building on Locke and Descartes, would want to propose. At this juncture, one could argue, as J. M. Bernstein does, that there is something fundamental to modernity about this split, about this sequestering of secondary qualities.6 There is perhaps something inhuman about modernity, about its production of a whole apparatus for apprehending and transforming things, in which

The SXFive comes equipped with a versatile electron gun compatible with W and LaB6. The beam current is continuously regulated, achieving a stability of 0.3% per 12 hours, thus enabling reliable long-term quantitative analyses. The beam intensity is accurately measured thanks to an annular Faraday cup and electrostatic deflection. The high voltage system operates at up to 30 kV for elements with high atomic number.3 I really have no idea what any of that means. Of all the websites on these things I found, I chose this one, because Cameca got its start producing movie projectors

4 3

See www.cameca.com/instruments-for-research/sxfive.aspx. See also “Early Earth,” a special issue of Elements: An International Magazine of Mineralogy, Geochemistry, and Petrology, vol. 2, no. 4 (August 2006). Scientific writing also regularly brackets off the specifics of the apparatus, but one can discover its presence in a journal such as this via advertising, for machines by Rigaku, Australian Scientific Instruments, the wonderfully named Rockware, and Comeca, among others.

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5 6

Jean-Charles Scagnetti, L’aventure scopitone 1957–1983: Histoire des précurseurs du vidéoclip (Paris: Editions Autrement, 2010). Dziga Vertov, Kino-Eye: The Writings of Dziga Vertov, ed. Annette Michelson, trans. Kevin O’Brien (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984). J. M. Bernstein, Against Voluptuous Bodies: Adorno’s Late Modernism and the Meaning of Painting (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007).

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secondary qualities play little part. For Bernstein, after Adorno, the realm of the secondary quality is the realm of art. Art redeems what is sensed from calculation. One could argue that there’s something of a sleight of hand involved in the idea of primary qualities. In Meillassoux’s version, they exist intrinsically in the thing, and are comprehended in mathematical form. Primary qualities can thus be held to be real in a philosophical sense. But they are not real in a scientific sense unless they can also be measured. The measurement of primary qualities requires an apparatus, of machines and labor, via which the primary qualities can be accounted for in terms intelligible as secondary qualities, as a numerical readout or a graph that can be seen, for example. Indeed, one might say that for primary qualities to be real in a scientific sense requires the primary quality to be made legible as a secondary quality via a tertiary quality. The tertiary quality of a thing is how the apparatus perceives it. It is an inhuman perception that makes the nonhuman primary quality legible via human secondary qualities. What makes it possible for Meillassoux to loose a speculative philosophy from the constraints of a phenomenological one is the absence of a third kind of thought, which for the moment I will leave unnamed. Its preoccupation is not the absolute nor is it consciousness, it is the apparatus, that neither nonhuman nor human thing, the inhuman media between them. One thing I am trying to avoid here is a retreat from the great outdoors, the remarkable fact of the arche-fossil and all it represents, back into a phenomenology, for which “we cannot represent the ‘in itself ’ without it becoming the ‘for us.’”7 On the other hand, while I admire the elegance with which Meillassoux deploys the absolute to open up a speculative philosophy of the real, I want to argue that such a project can only be a contemplative realism, and thus an aesthetic one. As such, it falls short of a certain project that for philosophy might be its last good calling. Key to Meillassoux’s argument is the attack on what he calls correlationism, defined thus: “Correlationism consists in disqualifying the claim that it is possible to consider the realms of subjectivity and objectivity independently of one another.”8 While there may be stand-ins for subject and object—thought and being, for example—correlationist thought proceeds in a circle.

rather than a dogmatic vein. The ancestral rock is his avatar of an absolute world. But there’s a problem here. What constructs the knowledge of the rock as truly ancestral, as predating any human world, of pointing back, even to the origins of the universe itself ? Namely: “an isotope whose rate of radioactive decay we know.”10 Well, how do we know it? Through the apparatus. “Obviously, it is not part of our remit to appraise the reliability of the techniques employed in order to formulate such statements”11 Obviously? There is a slippage here. I doubtless know even less than Meillassoux about the science of geochemistry. It would not be my place to assess the reliability of a Cameca SXFive or any other apparatus. I am pretty sure that is not even the apparatus involved in this particular case. But I do take it as part of theory’s remit to think the apparatus in general. What we can say about the apparatus in general is that there are no statements to be made about the ancestral that do not pass through its inhuman capacities to perceive and measure tertiary qualities. There is no correlation, but not because the object can be thought independently of the subject. Rather because the object is produced via something else to which the subject, consciousness, language—call it what you like—is “secondary.” Or in short, in this other view, both primary and secondary qualities are products of tertiary ones. So yes, we can agree that “the ancestral witness is illegitimate from the viewpoint of strict correlationism.”12 And so much the worse for correlationism. But in freeing the arche-fossil from the correlationist circle while ignoring the apparatus, Meillassoux opens onto a great outdoors of a singularly philosophical kind. Appearances to the contrary, it is not the great outdoors of science. Science can think a time anterior to givenness and indifferent to it; but Meillassoux can only contemplate that time aesthetically or mathematically—in any case as a result of an apparatus that remains unthought. It may turn out not to be the only way that Meillassoux exempts philosophy from a certain kind of engagement. Correlationism has at least one virtue for Meillassoux. It wards thought away from dogmatism. Precritical philosophies offered all kinds of metaphysical absolutes. Critical thought holds itself accountable to a mapping of its own limits. But thought armed against dogmatism opened itself to another vice, what Meillassoux calls “fanaticism.” Correlationism put a stop to philosophical means of speaking of the absolute, but not mystical ones, which install themselves again as spokesmodels for what is on the other side of the thing as it appears to consciousness— the thing-in-itself.13 In so limiting what it says of the great outdoors, critical thought only enables certain kinds of mystical thinking.

Consciousness and its language certainly transcend themselves towards the world, but there is a world only insofar as a consciousness transcends itself towards it. Consequently, this space of exteriority is merely the space of what faces us, of what exists only as a correlate of our own existence.9 The result is a cloistered thought, in which the arche-fossil is no longer a nonhuman object of real wonder. Also gone is the absolute that so fascinated thinkers before Kant. Meillassoux’s project is to revive precritical philosophy, but in a speculative 7 8 9

Meillassoux, After Finitude, 4. Ibid., 5. Ibid., 7.

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10 11 12 13

Ibid., 10 (emphasis added). Ibid. (emphasis added). Ibid., 11. For a contemporary mode in which this line of thought might be reanimated, see for example Eugene Thacker, In the Dust of This Planet: Horror and Philosophy Vol. 1 (Alresford,: Zero Books, 2011).

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Meillassoux writes: “Against dogmatism, it is important that we uphold the refusal of every metaphysical absolute, but against the reasoned violence of various fanticisms, it is important that we rediscover in thought a modicum of absoluteness—enough of it, in any case, to counter the pretensions of those who would present themselves as its privileged trustees, solely by virtue of some revelation.”14 For those who want a monist, secular, or materialist thought, there’s merit in this argument. But in shutting the door to revelation, Meillassoux might actually open it to another kind of divinity, and another kind of “trustee”—one that plays dice. Sheering away from correlationism, and its insistence on the self-monitoring subject’s centrality in constructing the thought of the object, Meillassoux heads in the other direction, to the object thought outside of correlation. Here, he applies more than a modicum of the absolute. For him, if the arche-fossil stands for the ancestral, and is thinkable, then the absolute is thinkable. But again there’s a slippage here, from the arche-fossil as it appears to science to what Meillassoux wants to make of it. The arche-fossil is a thing from beyond human time, but the absolute need not enter into it. Knowledge of the arche-fossil is a product of an apparatus. It may come from 4.4 billion years ago, as in my example, or even from the beginnings of the universe, but it is a measurable thing. Meillassoux asks: “How then is thought to carve a path towards the outside for itself ?”15 Like most philosophers, he does not take the road of the apparatus.16 Instead, he wants a rationalism of the absolute that is not dogmatic. On the one hand, this rationalism must extract itself from the correlationist circle, and, on the other, it must not run aground on what he calls facticity, or thought’s inability to discover why what is, is. In other words, how can the absolute exist outside of thought or language? And yet, why this world and not some other? There is a path already marked out here that might escape at least from the first of these constraints, “the first metaphysical counter-offensive against Kantian transcendentalism.”17 It is the now little-known school of empirio-criticism attributed to Ernst Mach and others.18 From it descends the “tertiary” position from which I am approaching Meillassoux, a position that is even less well known today but was certainly known in French philosophical schools a generation ago. Its name is empiriomonism, and its central exponent is Alexander Bogdanov.19

As Meillassoux presents it, the original move of this school is to turn the correlation itself into an absolute. It begins with an acknowledgement of the Kantian constraint, that the thing-itself is not knowable except by some dogma or other. But there is something knowable in-itself—the correlation itself: “They converted radical ignorance into knowledge of a being finally unveiled in its true absoluteness.”20 I would quarrel here with this use of the term absolute, as I think it is not necessary at all to think of Mach, and still less Bogdanov, as making the correlation into an absolute. But it is the case that, in Mach, sensation and, in Bogdanov, what I am calling the apparatus replaces the dualist correlation with a monist concept that also restrains itself from making claims in advance about the real beyond the practice of the apparatus, and yet does not hold consciousness or language to be an external self-monitoring observer that might contemplate with disinterest what the apparatus produces in the labor of knowing the world. In any case, for Meillassoux, such an approach passes the first test, avoiding the correlation, but fails a second one: facticity. For him, thought does not experience its limits in facticity, but rather its truth. Meillassoux founds his speculative, nondogmatic philosophy the same way Mach and Bogdanov did: by making a virtue of “necessity.” In the former case, this necessity was thinking past the problem of correlation; in the latter, it is thinking past the problem of facticity. In an original move, Meillassoux makes the absence of reason the ultimate property of facticity. There is no reason for anything to be or persist. All that is, is contingent. Meillassoux writes: “Everything could actually collapse: from trees to stars, from stars to laws, from physical laws to logical laws, and this not by virtue of some superior law whereby everything is destined to perish, but by virtue of the absence of any superior law capable of preserving anything, no matter what, from perishing.”21 Contingency here means how things persist or perish. Meillassoux revives the absolute in the form of contingency itself, but not in a dogmatic way. It is not that contingency is the new dogmatic answer to the problem of facticity. Rather, facticity is neither necessity nor contingency, but rather our non-knowledge of when one or the other applies. Even contingency is contingent. Here comes the fun part: he goes on to argue, and rather convincingly, that correlationism presupposed the absoluteness of contingency. For thought to apprehend the thing without a dogmatic metaphysics behind it is to embrace the possibility, even if only for a moment, of its absolute contingency. Thus, the absoluteness of contingency must at least be thinkable for there to be a correlationism that dispels the illusion of a dogmatic absolute. According to Meillassoux, “This absence of reason is, and can only be the ultimate property of the entity.”22

14 Meillassoux, After Finitude, 49 (emphasis added). 15 Ibid., 51. 16 On the allergy philosophy has for the apparatus, or techné, see Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time, 1: The Fault of Epimetheus, trans. Richard Beardsworth and George Collins (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998). 17 Meillassoux, After Finitude, 51. 18 For a critical assessment, see John T. Blackmore, Ernst Mach: His Life, Work, and Influence, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972). 19 Alexander Bogdanov, La science, l’art et la classe ouvrière, trans. Blanche Grinbaum (Paris: François Maspero, 1977) (published in the Théorie series, directed by Louis Althusser).

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20 Meillassoux, After Finitude, 52. 21 Ibid., 53. 22 Ibid. (emphasis in original).

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The Nothingness that Speaks French

global infrastructure. Computing that data with an accurate model of the physics involved takes a vast amount of computational power. Both data communication and computation friction impeded the study of climate until the late twentieth century. At the base of our contemporary knowledge of climate and climate change is the evolution, from system to network to webs, of a global climate knowledge infrastructure, requiring coordinated global labors. Climate science is our Napoleon at Jena, not the world spirit on horseback, but the biospheric totality via COMSAT. If there is a shortlist of things calling us to a timely rather than a hesitant thought, then surely it is on that list. But philosophy has turned away from such things. It grew bored with the double binds of the subject; but rather than lift its gaze toward this world, it conjured up another—the world of the absolute object. This contemplative realism provides a window through which to observe the beauty of a world that actually is collapsing, and the solace of knowing that the world will go on, even if the human does not. Philosophy has found a spectacle outside of history once again, while the sirens go off all around us, calling us to put out fires both conceptual and real. This is why I choose to begin again, but elsewhere, with Mach and Bogdanov, and a quite other path out of the correlationist circle, toward the inhuman beyond phenomenology but falling short of the nonhuman and intimations of the absolute. This other theory—in its engagement with the apparatus—might not even be philosophy. Yet it may have a few modest merits. It begins and ends with that mingling of labor and technology that characterizes the times. It hews close to the problems that such an apparatus detects as the problems of the moment—such as climate change. It makes no claim to be the trustee of a portal between this world and another. It makes no claim that either it, or its subject, is a rare event. It seeks only to equip everyday life with the tools for its own sustenance and elaboration. It has no interest in rendering the contemplative spectacle absolute and eternal. It has an interest only in dispensing with the spectacle entirely. In this it does not hesitate.

Let’s take stock: First, there is certainly value in breaking out of correlationism. One of correlationism’s limits is that it is not able to think contemporary science without expelling from it precisely that about which thought really should wonder, such as the ancestral evidence of a nonhuman world. But there is a problem with the thing on which Meillassoux wants to posit a new absolute. The nonhuman, mathematizable qualities of a thing could be thought as being outside of the subject and thus outside of the correlatonist circle, but only at the price of excluding also the question of detection and measurement, which I am here calling the tertiary qualities of inhuman perception that properly belong to the apparatus. Second, Meillassoux acknowledges two paths out of correlation, one of which is (in my terms) via the apparatus, by thinking that inhuman machinery of perception and measurement, and the labor by which it comes to us, of Harrison and Watson and so many others. This we might call the empirical exit from correlation. But Meillassoux takes the rationalist exit instead. It rests on taking facticity to be as real a problem as correlation, and answering that problem in an original way: there is no reason why what is, is. And better: there’s no way of knowing why some of what appears is contingent and some not. This in turn is a tool for prizing open correlation, which in Meillassoux’s argument has to entertain the possibility of a contingent world in order not to think it dogmatically, even if it settles instead for the cloistered world of the correlationist circle. Let’s conclude, as we started, with a particular example of an arche-fossil, if of a rather different kind, one perhaps not as glorious as the zircon, or even as identifiable as a thing. Let’s consider not cosmology, but climate science, which gives us evidence of a very pertinent kind of collapse. Climate science tells us of past events, such as the climate of the Hadean eon, but also of a future one, the imminent climate of the Anthropocene epoch. Climate science abstracts from the fetishism of particular, contingent actions on a certain localized scale, that of the biosphere, to show us also a future event that has already occurred. The already transpired rise of—among other gases— atmospheric carbon has already raised global temperatures in the future. Climate science raises the alarm about an event that unfolds in slow motion all around us, but beyond the scale and memory of human thought or perception. It too is a thing that in its full wonder is outside the correlationist circle. Climate science knows nothing of the absolute. It depends on an apparatus. Indeed, one of the leading histories of it is called A Vast Machine.23 It has three elements: predicting the weather, modeling the climate, and the physics of how both weather and climate work. It took many decades to bring all three together. Gathering timely weather data from disparate locations and altitudes takes a huge, 23 See Paul N. Edwards, A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010).

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Pessimism and Realism Eugene Thacker

Here ... everything is by design. In the history of philosophy, there is no single, agreedupon definition of “realism.” Depending on what one thinks about philosophy, this is an occasion for concern or for laughter. And yet nearly every philosophy relies on some realist claim, a claim to be able finally and definitively to articulate “the way things are”—no matter how strange or counter-intuitive such claims may seem. In fact, it could be argued that the criterion of realism in philosophy today is precisely how counterintuitive and “weird” the claims are for the real. But inevitably disagreements arise, schools are formed, weighty academic tomes are published, and academic tribalism abounds. In many philosophies, what is at stake is a claim about the real, though no two claims are alike. Historians of philosophy usually resolve this by simply enumerating the realisms promoted by various philosophers, one following the next in a neat, sequential progression: Platonic realism (the world I see before me and the world of abstract forms); Aristotelian realism (the abstract forms as inseparable from the world I see before me); Hegelian realism (the world in itself as commensurate with the structure of thought); Whiteheadian realism (process, becoming, and change as primary; substances, objects, and things as secondary); and so on. Another approach is to brand the types of realism in a transhistorical manner, across historical epochs and individual thinkers: a naive realism (in which appearance and reality are the same); an epistemological realism (reality is distinct from appearance and resides in abstract universals; philosophy’s goal is to interrogate not appearances but the universals); and an ontological realism (that which exists is real, even if not actual). But in such lists and tables we are obliged to mention another kind of realism, for which we must thank Kant, and which he would undoubtedly call a critical realism, a realism that doesn’t presume that the real—whether tangible or not— can be adequately known. It is almost an agnostic realism, though in saying this we have already begun, according to Kant, to depart from the domain of philosophy proper. Kant brings us the most modern realism that is at the same time indelibly premodern (dare we say, mystical). * What You See Is What You Get. Simplifying to the extreme, we might offer the following: philosophical realism is predicated on two related but distinct approaches. The first is the “what you see is what you get” approach, the attempt to understand something without subjective bias, without idealism, without distortion. The second is the “just the facts” approach, or the attempt to understand something

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as it is without reliance on speculation, hypotheses, guesswork, or hoping for the best. In a way, the second approach follows from the first. In the first, what appears to be a value-neutral acceptance of “the way things are” relies to a great degree on the experience of a cognizing subject—and subjective experience is, as we know, not the most reliable of measures for realism. “What you see is what you get,” yes, but what I get is not necessarily what you get, and vice-versa. One then moves to the second approach, attempting, as it were, to bypass the perennially problematic area of experience without totally jettisoning the domain of empirical sense data. What is real is what can be verified, measured, analyzed, articulated as an object of study. One parses out experience into an elaborate architectonics of cognitive functions (sensibility, understanding, reason); or one “brackets” the world in its appearing to us as an object of study; or one prioritizes becoming over being, the continuous over the discrete, process over product; or one makes a turn away from reality in itself toward language, logic, and signs; or one enlists the descriptive rigor of mathematical set theory and its capacity for managing parts and the whole. The approaches vary, but the upshot is that what is real is indisputable, apart from our desires, hopes, and wish-fulfillments. But this too runs into problems, in that someone is always doing the measuring. A decision has been made about the sort of logical game we will play today; and the criteria for verification are at best moving targets. The apotheosis of this “scientific” realism is tautology—the real is … real. Besides, one person’s reality is another’s fantasy, regardless of—or indeed because of—how finely it is measured.

a Being and Event, without acknowledging the placation of a Critique of Pure Reason, or the delusions of a Phenomenology of Spirit? Surely every philosopher feels, deep down, that if we could have figured it out by now, we would have done so long ago. All that has changed is that we publish more books, not better books. Perhaps this is why Heidegger, Whitehead, and others left their books unfinished, why Schopenhauer kept on adding material to The World as Will and Representation, why Wittgenstein retired early, and why Nietzsche and Cioran never bothered in the first place—as if they each awoke from their own dogmatic hangovers, and realized, too late, the futility of the realist impulse. Or, perhaps they understood that one begins philosophy the moment one abandons it.

* There is a pessimism built into all attempts at a philosophy of realism. Philosophy’s desperate push to attain the real is matched only its inability to do so. Realizing this, one rescinds realism, but not reason. A new problem arises, a problem specific to pessimism—what then to do with thought? * There is no philosophy of pessimism, only the reverse. * A realist claim is not always a claim about the real. * All claims about the real are realist—but not necessarily realistic. * What baffles me is how unwise philosophers often are—especially those philosophers most attentive to the challenges of systematic philosophy. How can one honestly undertake a project like Being and Time, a Process and Reality, a Difference and Repetition,

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* A Very, Very, Very Short History of Philosophy. Philosophical realism in the West is built upon three pillars, pillars that are shaky, full of fractures, and mottled with peeling paint (like a décollage). The first pillar, a classical one, is that of Plato. With Plato we are introduced to a two-world view, a world of the here-and-now and a world beyond; a world that is immediately given and a world that is far off or at least inaccessible. While innumerable commentaries have been written about this or that aspect of Plato’s allegory of the cave, its basic message is quite clear: “there’s got to be more.” What is simply given is fine, but it’s not enough, cannot be enough. No, there’s got to be more. Perhaps another world lies above or beyond this one, perhaps it’s coextensive with it and we just don’t realize it; but there has to be more. No doubt Plato learned this from the so-called pre-Socratic philosophers. Airdropped into a world one has neither created nor asked for, the self gazes about, perhaps bewildered, horrified, or fascinated, and asks the primordial philosophical question: “Is this it?” Answering this question means parceling out the world that is questioned, a self that is questioning, and a problematic relation between them. For Plato, as we know, this was not it, and beyond every particular chair or book or jellyfish was an abstract, perfected form of chairness, bookness, jellyfishness. And, while Plato has been overturned many times in philosophy, the intuition of the two worlds remains, though it often goes under different names, each of which stands in for this basic relationship between the world as given and another world, perhaps more fundamental, that is not given: the One, Logos, God, noumena, the Absolute, Spirit, Will-to-Power, Being, duration, process, difference, the One. The second pillar, a modern one, is that of Descartes. If Plato gives us the intuition of the two worlds, then Descartes gives us the means of traveling between them. Descartes’s celebrated, by now cliché, phrase Cogito ergo sum is more than an affirmation of the self-conscious, reasoning, human subject. It is the assertion of a sufficient and necessary link between thought and the world. More specifically, it is the assertion of a consonance between human thought and the two worlds, one of which is immediately given, and the other of which is not apparent and which must be mediated in some way. Descartes even goes so far as to suggest that the way to get to the world beyond

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is through the world here-and-now. The Meditations makes this clear in its narrative arc. One has simply to sit down next to a fire with a warm sweater, maybe a cup of coffee, and think. In fact, the Meditations is a performative text in which Descartes-thecharacter shows us how to get from the world here-and-now to the world beyond. But there are many bumps along the road, and bit by bit the world here-and-now becomes more and more unreliable, more and more like a nebulous, spectral world beyond, full of animatronic puppets, ghosts in the machine, and trickster-demons. The secret that everyone knows about the Meditations is that, once Descartes starts down the path of skepticism, there is no good reason to stop, ever. God (the philosopher’s God, the God of Descartes, Leibniz, and yes, of Spinoza too) comes in to save the day, but we don’t really buy it. A deus ex machina if ever there was one. Of course, the irony of the Meditations is that one has come full circle: the philosopher has traveled into the beyond in order to discover the self, the world beyond looks a lot like the world here-and-now, and one has simply arrived where one had begun. The third pillar is that of Kant. Admittedly, Kant is a boring writer (though better than Hegel, who is simply a bad writer). But what Kant did for philosophy is something that has been a mixed blessing—he gave philosophy a job description. Certainly, philosophers had had jobs prior to Kant’s time; but they were either beholden to religious institutions (“you can teach Aristotle’s logic, but stay away from biology”) or they functioned in a transient zone prior to the disciplinary divisions of the humanities and the sciences (take Descartes—philosopher, mathematician, and amateur anatomist). Kant’s critical philosophy is widely known for its delimiting effects vis-à-vis philosophy. It says what philosophy is not. “Yes, debate the existence of God all you like, and for as long as you like, but you will never reach a philosophically adequate answer, and philosophers shouldn’t be bothering with this anyway—that is the job of the priests.” It is also a sobering up for philosophy as a privileged, human endeavor; it says what philosophy cannot do—notably, it cannot ever fully bridge the gap between the domain of phenomena (the world as it appears to us) and the noumena (the world in itself, apart from our experience of it). Kant’s critical philosophy is remarkable because it harbors within itself a contradiction: it is a grand, shimmering, systematic philosophy, a sort of cathedral of philosophy … that argues for philosophy’s humility, even poverty. But even Kant’s conciliatory gesture has a happy ending, for while we may not know the world in itself, we can know how we know, and we can study how the world appears to us, and maybe—just maybe—by doing this we can at least minimally infer that there is “something more” out there, making an impression on us, in whatever inevitably distorted way we may intuit it. From a certain vantage point, the history of Western philosophy looks like a somewhat panicky, feverish attempt to cover up the suspicion that there may not be more. Every excited, anxious assertion of “there’s got to be more” covers up a more disappointing, more morose “this is it.” All of this leaves out a possible fourth pillar—that of Nietzsche—who excitedly asserts “this is it!” And so realism returns to its pessimistic roots.

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* The pessimist is a logician with an aptitude for disappointment. * Depressive Realism. Pessimism and realism seem to be two very different ways of thinking. Realism implies a certain neutrality, seeing things the way they are, apart from self-interest or the interest of others, a neutralization of value that always seems to end in the vaguely streetwise tautology of “it is what it is.” Pessimism, by contrast, is often regarded as a bad attitude more than a philosophical position. It is always opposed to optimism, if not logically then affectively. If pessimists are enthusiastic about anything, it is about pessimus, “the worst,” resplendent in every possible outcome, glimmering around every corner, an ecstasy of the worst that is shrouded by a grimace or curmudgeonly grunt. Realism is often employed by necessity—one is never a realist “just for fun.” As a philosophical position, the necessity of realism is usually elicited by something non-philosophical—politics, science, or just getting things done. Pessimism is a luxury: one must have spare time to complain, to moan and groan and write lyrical poetry about suffering, all of which helps no one and in fact makes things worse. That said, there is a connection between pessimism and realism. One example comes not from philosophy but from psychology. “Depressive realism” is the officialsounding name that has been given to the proposition that a pessimistic outlook gives one a “healthier” and more realistic grasp of one’s life and the world in which one lives. Pessimists—so the argument goes—are freed from the “locus of control” fallacy; they do not believe that they are in total control of their actions and their destiny. Pessimists are also less likely to presume that bad things always happen to other people (the “optimism bias”). As a result, pessimists hold no illusions about their own superiority over other people. They hold no high hopes, great expectations, or illusions of grandeur. They live and act, for now, for the time being, and if things don’t work out, well, what did you expect? The jury still seems to be out on whether this is a viable psychological theory or simply an attempt to view depression optimistically. Contemporary philosophers seem to have caught the bug, putting out pop-philosophy books that, in their almost absurd earnestness, begin to sound like self-help.1 However, at the broadest level— one that exceeds psychology—might we add that the pessimist holds no illusions, not just about one’s own individual being, but about the superiority or relevance of all human beings? Indeed, of all beings—of Being itself ? If this is a realism, then it is a realism that extends into antihumanism—a sort of species-wide depression. 1

See Roger Scruton’s The Uses of Pessimism: And the Danger of False Hope (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), Alain de Botton’s The Consolations of Philosophy (New York: Vintage, 2001), and yes, even John Gray’s Straw Dogs : Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007).

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* Black Bile. Every stumbling thought of purgation a halo of bones. The laughter of ash and dust. Caverns. Cold celestial limbs. An echoless desert of winged diagrams. * Born in the Ruins of Philosophy. At any given moment in time, the pillars of philosophy are nearly indistinguishable from ruins. They may still stand, but they serve less as functional architecture and more like tourist attractions. As ruins, they are filled with cracks and fissures, but no one really is to blame, except of course the philosophers. And the demolition of philosophy is always carried out by philosophy itself (for who else cares enough to examine so thoroughly every niche of the ruins in order to spackle them over?). Historians of philosophy are the clean-up crew. In the meantime, those loiterers known as anti-philosophers keep hanging around, sometimes hidden in their nearby caves, sometimes just sitting about like lumps of syllogistic clay. They are skeptics, cynics, nihilists, pessimists. They refuse to live within the ruins, in the shadow of the pillars, but they also haven’t left the site for better weather or tolerable coffee. The way they think sounds philosophical—skepticism, nihilism, pessimism—terms that seem to denote methods, schools, traditions. But they also know that everything built up must collapse again, and this intuition is evident within their very words—the all-too-convincing self-doubt of Pascal, the funereal spite of Schopenhauer, the stark transmissions of Cioran … But there is still a philosophical question embedded in their aphorisms, fragments, and missives against humanity. With skepticism, one must always answer the question, “Where does doubt stop?” Every philosopher finds their own stopping point: doubt stops at God, doubt stops at self-consciousness, doubt stops at logical consistency, and so on. Of course, for some, doubt doesn’t stop, and so the skeptic overlaps with the nihilist. With pessimism, the question is different: How many “no’s” make a “yes”? Every philosopher negates something in the world or about the world—a presumption, an article of faith, what passes as common sense. But this negation always paves the way for a further affirmation, a claim about how things really are. As with skepticism, there is also the possibility of a “no” that never leads to a “yes,” a “no” that must, as a consequence, devolve upon and devour itself, leading to paradox and contradiction. The outcome is suicide (the modern version), self-abnegation (the mystical, premodern version), or tragedy (the classical version). We’ve forgotten the postmodern version—farce, slapstick, gallows humor. * Pessimism has an ambiguous status in the history of philosophy. Though pessimists often make truth claims, no one really seeks out the pessimist. In fact, they’re usually the person no one wants to hear—grumbling, grumpy, and complaining. Some philosophers, such as Schopenhauer, argue for a shift from a moral pessimism

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(a subjective attitude about a state of affairs) to a metaphysical pessimism (an objective claim about the world as such, with the caveat that “the world as such” is generally indifferent and not worth the trouble). After almost a century of the more level-headed philosophies of language, logic, and politics, are there signs that the angst-ridden and analytic impulses of pessimism are back? A variant of this are the so-called Speculative Realist philosophies, which argue for a philosophically realist understanding of the world apart from and indifferent to the perspective of the thinking human subject and the interest groups he or she represents. Now, while Speculative Realist thinkers never make any claims for their philosophies as pessimistic (in either the moral or metaphysical sense), a glance at the history of philosophy suggests that Speculative Realism may be viewed as an extension of pessimism, for only thinkers such as Schopenhauer, Pascal, and Cioran would suggest to us in the calm language of philosophy that the world is indifferent to us—and that this realization is “dark.” But Speculative Realism, for all its cautious evocations of speculative thought, of a poetics of stoic objects, or of a mathematically-sublime chaos, still retains one foot staunchly, anxiously rooted in analytic philosophy and “science.” Speculative Realism is analytic philosophy in continental clothing. And a principle of sufficient reason is the talisman for entering the self-fashioned, erudite halls of Speculative Realism. But the limit of such philosophical “movements” is the limit that pessimism has long ago identified—that of the world-without-us, and the impossibility of thinking this except as a limit. In a sense, Speculative Realism doesn’t go far enough in its stoic and heroic quest for the absolute. It cannot. To question the principle of sufficient mathematics or the principle of sufficient logic is to forego philosophy itself; and one has invested too much in philosophy to simply cash out and walk away. And so the game continues. And so we have the familiar signposts of a philosophical antitradition—skepticism, pessimism, nihilism—now under the banner of “science” and its almost juridical mania for proving what goes without saying. For Speculative Realism, analytic philosophy is a form of asceticism. It could never allow itself to be depressed, for instance—never allow itself to become a “depressive realism.” * Schopenhauer: “The definition of the absolute is: that point at which it has been convenient for us to stand still and stop.”2 I.e., art? * Toward a Philosophy of Futility. While it often has a quasi-philosophical status, pessimism is ultimately dismissed because it commits that most unforgiveable of philosophical errors—it mistakes the subjective for the objective. But the acknowledgement of this 2

Arthur Schopenhauer, Manuscript Remains 4, ed. Arthur Hübscher, trans. E. F. J. Payne (Oxford: Berg, 1990), 112.

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error is already embedded within pessimism. This is the reason why Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation only looks like a work of systematic philosophy. Really, by the book’s final sections, the “whole” has given way to crumbling ruins and furtive appeals to Buddhist “nothingness.” He should’ve known better. Nevertheless, every pessimistic thinker understands at some level the pessimism inherent in the philosophical enterprise. The challenge of any philosophy is to account for itself in the claims it makes (especially those claims deemed “realist”). And this challenge is abetted by another one, which is, in turn, to account for its own horizon, its own limits, what it cannot say, know, or think. This is why there is no “analytic pessimism” in philosophy, only a metaphysical poetics of finitude and angst. No one has ever claimed a scientific status for pessimism—that is, almost no one. An exception is the late nineteenth-century American author Edgar Saltus, who, near the end of his book The Philosophy of Disenchantment is curiously optimistic about what he calls a “scientific pessimism” of the future. But Saltus’s scientific pessimism is as much about a mystical revelation of limits as it is about logical rigor and verifiable claims. Eduard von Hartmann, disciple of Schopenhauer, takes a different route. In his massive, unwieldy The Philosophy of the Unconscious, Hartmann attempts to wed Schopenhauer’s pessimism with the biology and physics of his day. The entirety of the first part of his work contains detailed descriptions of scientific experiments involving the decapitation of animals—as if to suggest a stark allegory between science and philosophy. But all that science teaches Hartmann is that the human species is at best an accident that has had the misfortune of thinking itself a necessity. As accidentally as we have come into being, so must we accidentally move out of being. But whether this be all at once or slowly and gradually, Hartmann does not say. Then there is Nietzsche, the defiant convalescent, who rails as much against science as he does religion, telling us that we have not gone far enough in our pessimism, not yet attained a “pessimism of strength.” And yet, as he jibes, what we need now is “a chemistry of the moral, religious, aesthetic representations and sensations, likewise of all those stimuli that we experience within ourselves amid the wholesale and retail transactions of culture and society, indeed even in solitude.” But that is not all. Given this, Nietzsche asks, “What if this chemistry were to reach the conclusion that in this area too, the most magnificent colors have been extracted from base, even despised materials?”3 All of this would seem to require a distinct branch of philosophy dedicated to studying the inherent futility of all attempts to philosophize. Perhaps pessimism has a future after all. One imagines universities with undergraduate courses in “Voluntary Extinction” (with a lab section); erudite, curmudgeonly professors with titles like “Schopenhauer Chair in the Study of the Worst”; the publication of massive Germanic tomes of systematic philosophy entitled The Philosophy of Futility. But

if such a branch of philosophy existed, it would have to be distinct from the typical application of logic to philosophy, which would simply provide an elaborate description of philosophy’s failure in terms of contradiction, sublimating failure as success (thereby turning failure into farce). It would also have to be distinct from metaphilosophy, which is still committed to the capacity of philosophy to know everything (including philosophy, from which it conveniently excludes itself when necessary). Finally, it would have to be distinct from antiphilosophy, which typically evades the failure by moving sideways into adjacent fields such as fiction, poetry, or memoir. In this context, “pessimism” would have to be taken less as a subjective attitude about philosophy, and more about the structure of futility inherent to philosophy. But such a proposition is ultimately, for the pessimist, tedious and pedantic. As a philosophy, pessimism is always half-hearted, ready to give up or abandon a line of thought at the slightest inclination. Pessimism—speaking (as it feels obliged to do) in its deep, resounding, philosophical tones—says that all philosophies must fail, no matter what methods they deploy or from which tradition they may stem. All philosophies must fail because their truth claims must by necessity be partial, contingent, and grounded in some basis that cannot itself be directly questioned. Moreover, philosophy’s claims are contingent because its authority relies on propositions, those peculiar, hallucinatory uses of a language of effective rigor—propositions in language, with the aid of bounded concepts, through the structure of logical argumentation, all framed by the basic relation of intentionality and the self-world relation. The result is that pessimism is often relegated to the dungeons or the attics of philosophy. It is forced to witness or to wait for its own failure, in a series of infinite resignations: no philosophy can say anything about everything … no philosophy can say everything about anything …

3

Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human (I), trans. Gary Handwerk (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), 15–16.

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Making Non-Standard Thoughts: An Introduction to François Laruelle John Ó Maoilearca

François Laruelle’s concept of “non-philosophy” or “non-standard philosophy” is said to expand the definition of what counts as philosophical thought. However, this gesture goes beyond merely relativizing thought within a neoliberal pluralism that is actually indifferent to philosophy (“all opinions are valid”) or anarchizing science as part of a methodology where “anything goes.” Rather, the “flat” thought Laruelle strives for is democratic because it is materialized in different ways, some of them scientific (biology, fractal geometry, quantum physics), some of them aesthetic (cinema, photography, performance), with other models (erotic, mystical, animal) possible. What might look like relativism is always an expansion, an inclusivity of thought. The non-standard philosophy of photography, for instance, is not simply the generation of new thoughts (about subjectivity, light, the flash, and so forth) through an unorthodox source, but the materialization of thought through a photography of philosophy. Such an art of philosophy acts as a non-philosophical practice, especially in terms of the materiality of photographic performance as it involves posture, exposure, definition, and resolution. These are not mere metaphors, but models invoked to mutate what counts as philosophical practice. In “Artistic Experiments with Philosophy,” my interview with Laruelle in this volume, two words stand out: “failure” and “sample.” In one form or another “failure” occurs six times; “sample” occurs once. Though used in passing (they are not part of the current non-philosophical lexicon), they are highly pertinent, both to each other and to Laruelle’s project as it relates to art practices. It is notable that the interview begins with a reference to another recent interview with Laruelle, and the relationship discussed there between the general project of non-philosophy and his more “experimental” or “artistic” texts. There, he recounted his ambition to “treat philosophy as a material, and thus also as a materiality—without preoccupying oneself with the aims of philosophy, of its dignity, of its quasi-theological ends, of philosophical virtues, wisdom etc.” He then added: “What interests me is philosophy as the material for an art, at the limit, an art.”1 Furthermore, it is not difficult to show that it is not just Laruelle’s “experimental texts” that aim for this art, but that all his works partake in this experiment in as much as they each 1

Robin Mackay, “Introduction: Laruelle Undivided,” in François Laruelle, From Experiments in Non-Standard Thought, ed. Robin Mackay (Falmouth, UK: Urbanomic/Sequence Press, 2012), 29.

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attempt to demonstrate a new “posture” or “orientation” regarding what philosophy is—both as a material, and how it can be reviewed using other practices, such as photography (as outlined in The Concept of Non-Photography and Photo-Fiction, a NonStandard Aesthetics). His problem, as he puts it, is “that of the re-orientation of thought.”2 Hence, if Laruelle’s approach offers us something new, it is not because it is a new set of ideas about reality (or the Real) that must supersede others’ thoughts because theirs are now to be seen as failures (or wrong, less productive, creative, rigorous, coherent, ethical, emancipative), and his as a success (or right, more productive, creative, rigorous, and so forth). It is, rather, that he is trying to convey a new posture, orientation, or “vision” (“in-One,” that is, in absolute immanence) of all thoughts as equal (philosophical or non-philosophical), and equally belonging to the Real. If his approach is seen as a new set of ideas, as new representations of the Real, then it does indeed fail in a “pointless gesture, a zero-sum game.”3 If seen as postures or art-oriented stances, however, it goes beyond success and failure: it is itself a sample from the Real. Indeed, the concept of orientation also has something to do with the decisions made in philosophy (decisions being the structural invariants of philosophy—its essence—according to Laruelle), given that the meaning of “decision” is “withdrawal” or “cut-off ” (from decaedere—de for “off ” and caedere, “cut”). As Laruelle put it in a previous interview with me, Marjorie Gracieuse, and Anthony Paul Smith: “To philosophise on X is to withdraw from X; to take an essential distance from the term for which we will posit other terms.”4 Yet nothing is withdrawn from or outside the Real, not even the thought of being withdrawn from it. It is all a matter of a particular posture (distance) or orientation. Immanence, again. It is not the object that “withdraws” from an increasingly distant thought (as “Speculative Realism” would have it) but thought (philosophy) that distances itself in a withdrawal from the Real (object).5 In place of seeing philosophy go to the Real (with its categories, its concepts, its wisdom), from an outside, transcendent, position, we reorient ourselves to see philosophy coming from inside the Real—not as its whole, the exemplary instance or essence, but only as one part, a sample. We shift vectors, no longer “going from Philosophy to the Real” but instead “going from the Real to Philosophy.” And what follows from this shift? Absolute flatness: no “first philosophies”—be they the metaphysics of classical thought, or the ethics (Levinas) or aesthetics of the new

realists.6 That is why the non-philosophical orientation does not lead to philosophy becoming an art in some reductive merger, or art becoming philosophy, as its mere illustrator, but rather their standing as equals, both thinking equally, both samples of the Real. No firstness at all. Thinking is everywhere. For standard philosophy, both ontological and differential (from Parmenides through Heidegger to Derrida) this will be unacceptable. In truth, the real philosophical horror for them is not that we are not (yet) thinking, but that there has always been thinking. Given the view that philosophy must have an essence (even if it be in difference) and so an exclusivity, then what is (philosophically) unthinkable is that thinking might be found all about us. Yet this is the monster, or philosophical clone, that Laruelle offers us. And what of the connection between “sample” and “failure” in this respect? A notable aspect of Laruelle’s style of writing is the lack of examples and citations in his work. He explains this absence in the following interview in this way: “I don’t talk about the great metaphysical poets like Donne, Hölderlin, and Mallarmé who have been the consistent prey of philosophical commentaries; my project is different. I’m not that kind of commentator and perhaps that’s why I’ve failed.” The mention of failure is connected to his lack of citation, as he then continues to explain: Just as I cite very few other philosophers (except as floating markers in my dream) and never cite myself at all, I do not cite applied work, much preferring a certain type of paraphrase that is a destruction of commentary (as in Mystique non-philosophique à l’usage des contemporains). […] I try to do so in such a way that I use just a strictly circumscribed piece or moment in my work. What I write is a sample, not an example, of what I do when I think. To think is to make, no? 7 Thinking is making, neither exemplary success nor inadequate failure. Thinking is not “of ” the Real, its ideal representation, but a material part or sample of it: we think “according to” or “alongside” the Real. And making can also be thinking, only of its own kind (rather than an illustration of one philosophical kind). A reorientation of philosophy into art-material, then, can be likened to Laruelle’s call in Photo-Fiction (which has no examples of “philosophical photography” but merely postures toward a “photography of philosophy”) to perform what he describes as the 6

2 3

4

5

Ibid., 2. François Laruelle, “Controversy over the Possibility of a Science of Philosophy,” trans. Ray Brassier and Robin Mackay, in The Non-Philosophy Project: Essays by François Laruelle, ed. Gabriel Alkon and Boris Gunjevic, (New York: Telos Press, 2011), 83. François Laruelle, “Is Thinking Democratic? Or, How to Introduce Theory into Democracy,” in Laruelle and Non-Philosophy, ed. John Mullarkey and Anthony Paul Smith, trans. Anthony Paul Smith (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012), 229. See John Mullarkey, “How to Behave Like a Non-Philosopher: Or, Speculative versus Revisionary Metaphysics,” Speculations 4 (June 2013): 108–13.

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For instance, see Timothy Morton, Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality (Ann Arbor, MI: Open Humanities Press, 2013), 19–20: “I argue that causality is wholly an aesthetic phenomenon. Aesthetic events are not limited to interactions between humans or between humans and painted canvases or between humans and sentences in dramas. They happen when a saw bites into a fresh piece of plywood. They happen when a worm oozes out of some wet soil. They happen when a massive object emits gravity waves.The aesthetic dimension is the causal dimension.” See also Graham Harman, “Aesthetics as First Philosophy: Levinas and the Non-Human,” Naked Punch 09 (Summer–Fall 2007): 21–30; and the interview with Harman on page 97 in this volume. “Artistic Experiments with Philosophy: François Laruelle in Conversation with John Ó Maoilearca,” pp. 177 in this volume.

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“under-practice” of philosophical language. Yet this attempt, he adds, to “underunderstand it, is not to lower oneself as an individual, or at minimum, it is to think in a more generic manner without exceptions.”8 From the very start, then, Laruelle’s most recent experiment in a non-standard philosophy “of ” photography fights against positing any philosophical aesthetics that would over-determine this or any art from without—“the Principle of Sufficient Photography or photo-centrism,” as he calls it. Instead, he gestures us toward a philosophy that is photography’s own:9 I call this gesture of creation non-aesthetics or non-standard aesthetics, its standard form being philosophical and photo-fiction being one of its non-standard objects. […] This project seems absurd. It will no longer be absurd if we accept changing our level of reference for defining the real. Instead of treating the photo and the concept of the photo as two given and describable physical, intellectual objects or representations, we treat them as completely different than given objects closed in on themselves.10 The “absurdity” of his project is what will strike standard philosophical thinking: it cannot abide not being allowed a transcendence over the (art) object, hence, “it takes quite an effort to render the photographic act immanent, to interiorize it, and to render it real without external determinism or realism.”11 And this new “effort” is also a matter of reorientation and posture: “what we must really consider as an indivisible whole is the ‘photographic posture,’ a conjugation of optical, perceptive, and chemical properties that can only be fully understood as those entangled, nonlocal properties of a generic matrix.”12 A true flattening, equalizing or deauthorizing must include philosophy itself as a sample of the Real, an experiment in thinking no more or less than (but different from) photographic experiments: a failure to represent but an invention, or making, in the Real.

François Laruelle, Photo-Fiction, a Non-Standard Aesthetics, trans. Drew S. Burke and Anthony Paul Smith (Minneapolis: Univocal, 2012), 62. 9 Ibid., 19. 10 Ibid., 13–14, (emphasis mine). 11 Ibid., 52. 12 Ibid., 19.

Artistic Experiments with Philosophy François Laruelle in Conversation with John Ó Maoilearca

John Ó Maoilearca: In your recent interview with Robin Mackay, when asked about your “experimental writings,” you said that you had aimed to use philosophy “as the material for an art.”1 How far has this experiment also been pursued, if at all, in your own, more standard, nonstandard writings? François Laruelle: I would like to use philosophy as a material (as one would use space or color, as a materiality) for an art that would be of a piece with conceptual thought without making a new aesthetic or a new philosophy. The ambition of creating a new genre is the deepest consistent core of all my undertakings. I have always pursued two parallel and competing strands of work: first, the theoretical work of elaborating rules that rise like the tip of an iceberg from the non-philosophical matrix, and also, secondarily, their quasi-poetic execution. At first this idea was not absolutely clear and became confused with Nietzsche’s “artist’s metaphysics.”2 Then there was a first realization of this effort in the “experimental texts,” written in parallel with the rules issuing from my first formulations of non-philosophy (Philosophy II and III) in something close to the form of a poem. Currently, following the theoretical mutation of this matrix, I have started to reformulate the rules on new foundations for a new effort to create this genre, in particular in recent texts on art-fiction or photography. It’s as though my entire theoretical oeuvre had been conceived as an effort to establish the conditions for a new genre or had been dedicated to one unique poem. To what end? It is evident that the theoretical realization prevails over the practical realization. The ambition to create a new “genre” of writing and a poematics [poématique] of theory has probably failed; the project is currently on hold, though I don’t dare affirm that it is completely abandoned. There are echoes of it and sometimes a type of formulation of it in my recent theoretical writings—such are “the joys of writing.” I see this enterprise as a failure overall because, while I (usually) have fewer doubts about my theoretical writings, I feel myself incapable of subjectively evaluating

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Conversation conducted by e-mail, January–March 2013. 1 2

Robin Mackay, “Introduction: Laruelle Undivided,” in François Laruelle, From Decision to Heresy: Experiments in Non-Standard Thought (Falmouth, UK: Urbanomic/Sequence Press, 2012), 29. See Friedrich Nietzsche, “Attempt at a Self-Criticism,” in The Birth of Tragedy, §§2, 5, 7. – Translator’s Note.

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FRANÇOIS LARUELLE IN CONVERSATION WITH JOHN Ó MAOILEARCA

the “experimental” writings. These experimental texts would be rejected by poets and philosophers alike without something to tip the balance in their favor. This makes it difficult to ascribe recognizable value to them. Objectively, my relations with art have been a failure: the impossibility of being a musician-composer was an artistic castration that has left scars and traces, in the same way that the renunciation of politics has done for others (like Plato). I quite late and only partially accepted this renunciation (after several efforts to abandon philosophy and reengage with music) around the age of fifty when I had the feeling that I had used everything up and couldn’t hope to create again except in philosophy. Is it thus, by force, that one becomes a philosopher?

I see only a system of waves, not even of stages, barely of phases. To use filmic language, the sequencing [séquençage] of non-philosophy, its découpage,3 seems to me less urgent now that I see it from a distance and find in it the logic that comes with retrospect. Rivers contemplate their source all the way to the sea, carry it with them and stay one with it, but the sea, as the Greeks discovered, is another matter altogether.

How do you see the relationship between the two types of writing? For now, and most likely forever, I have not succeeded in achieving a good unification of philosophy and poetry in a new genre, even if certain effects of writing show their intertwinement or entanglement. I don’t talk about the great metaphysical poets like Donne, Hölderlin, and Mallarmé, who have been the consistent prey of philosophical commentaries; my project is different. I’m not that kind of commentator and perhaps that’s why I’ve failed. Poetry and philosophy are what’s left of music and of a grand project of fusion, the provisional paradigm of which is opera, maybe Wagnerian drama, that is now too metaphysical for our time. Who will write an opera-fiction or a musical utopia? More than ever I am looking for the matrix necessary for the fusion and the creation of what might be called a new particle of thought. Basically I should take an interest in al-chemy in the same way I once said that non-philosophy was an al-philosophy. In the interview with Mackay, you also cite Henri Bergson’s view that each philosopher has only one idea that he or she restates indefinitely. What is the one idea in your own work (if there is one)? How might it be recognized, in various guises, across your works? The one generative idea is without a doubt the one I just described. It has been progressively intensified, and enriched in places; it has broadened in the same way that a river gains breadth and maybe even begins to be a bit oceanic, but still it has stayed the “same.” In any case, this has been the thrust of my elaboration of it. Dare I say, without provoking too much misunderstanding, that non-philosophy is also a waking dream? Could this idea also be an image, or some other kind of object, perhaps even an aesthetic one? I am thinking, for instance, of Jean Renoir’s statement that each filmmaker only makes one film, and remakes it again and again. Might there be a filmic idea within non-standard philosophy?

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If non-philosophy does not offer us a new set of ideas to displace those of philosophy, then what does it offer? Is its offering connected to your statement that your problem is that of “reorientation”? Indeed, the reorientation of thought after its absolution and then its Hegelian (or other) disorientation seems to me to be demanded not by our finitude but by our transfinitude. Finite beings that we are, we are ceaselessly traversed and transported by affects and orientations rather than by objects. It is no longer a matter of being, like the classical and modern philosopher, either a fish surrounded by infinite water where we asphyxiate, or that fish washed up on the beach of the world, surrounded by unbreathable air and doomed to another suffocation. To be able to lift your head out of the water and breathe the air of the stars … Why are there no examples, or nearly none, in what appear to be your more “applied” works, especially in your photographic studies? Is this intentional? Just as I cite very few other philosophers (except as floating markers in my dream) and never cite myself at all, I do not cite applied work, much preferring a certain type of paraphrase that is a destruction of commentary.4 First of all, I have enough to say myself without getting anyone else involved (hence my usage of the “etcetera”). But most importantly, I have always fought fiercely against the famous “examples,” concrete or abstract, pretty much the same war I’ve led against the aesthetic. Rightly or wrongly, and I admit that that it may be wrongly, if it is necessary to cite an aesthetician, I try to do so in such a way that I use just a strictly circumscribed piece or moment in my work. What I write is a sample, not an example, of what I do when I think. To think is to make, no? Is there a hierarchy amongst the arts, either in terms of your own personal preference or their significance or kinship to non-standard philosophical practice? 3

4

In cinematic discourse, découpage refers to the shooting script, the breakdown of filmic narrative into shots and sequences. More broadly, the term designates the underlying structure of a film. See Noël Burch, Theory of Film Practice, trans. Helen R. Lane (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981), 3ff. – Translator’s Note. François Laruelle, Mystique non-philosophique à l’usage des contemporains (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2007). – Translator’s Note.

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FRANÇOIS LARUELLE IN CONVERSATION WITH JOHN Ó MAOILEARCA

I have shared my obsessions and my fantasies (and my practical failures as well) concerning my preference for music more than any other art and the poem above all other forms of enunciation. I cannot stand novels, with their overlong passages, their indulgence of details always rendered too explicitly. They’re not dazzling and enigmatic enough for my taste. Surrealism, along with Chinese poetry and a few other things, represents the ideal of concision and enigmatic brilliance. What I call the “vision-in-One” is also this need of the spirit, naturally empty, to fill itself up with eternal emotions.

artist experiments concretely with a defined model of activity, specifically distinct from others. Art as a positive practice is an instrumentalized intention that works within the limits of a type of material and techniques, and also within the limits of potential imitation of other works in the same genre. Non-philosophy proceeds completely otherwise, superposing three different models: 1) the empirical artistic model that it takes as given or as reference material without necessarily practicing it itself; 2) a philosophical model (the most general and invariant possible) that interprets it; and finally 3) the scientific model of quantum superposition that allows it to combine the two previous models in a “matrix” and to orient them generically. If one judges it from a theoretical angle, the complexity of non-philosophy may seem overall superior to that of an art, but the “positive” arts also have their secret calculations or mathematics. It is precisely this compressed character of diverse instances that comprises the secret or the unconscious (the transconscious?) of art in general and that distinguishes art from technology. In art-fiction or nonaesthetics, there are algebraic operations like idempotence and superposition that assure compression (“without concept,” “without end;” see Kant)6 of the instances at play and guarantee a certain mathematical rigor. For its part, the philosophical function of the variable assures the taking-into-account of the aesthetic in the nonaesthetic. As for the reference to a particular art, it roots non-aesthetics in artistic experience in general rather than in scientific or religious experience. This complexity gives non-philosophy the character of “installation” that enlarges that of “oeuvre.” The oeuvre has an individual subject and a humanist context; the installation demands, relative to the oeuvre, an expansion and an exteriorization of means. This generic extension paradoxically has the effect of under-determining the nature of the artist forced to abandon the lofty heights of philosophy and to confront instead a heterogeneous materiality.

Is there any Real difference between non-photography and non-standard philosophy? That is, in what way does non-photography escape from being merely an example? It’s just the difference of materials (and of syntax, which is included in philosophical and aesthetic materiality) that separates non-photography and non-standard philosophy, though at the same time we must not forget that this difference is reflected in the effect and the force of the “non” and of its expression. Non-philosophy is univocal by its invariability for all arts and all thought, hence its formalism, but it is constantly varied by its materials (including the syntaxes that belong to the material), hence its material formalism, but certainly not its materialism. Is there a difference between “applied” and “non-applied” non-standard philosophy? In a way, none, except as I just said, that of the material or the occasions (including objects and syntaxes, that each in turn fall into material formalism). Non-standard philosophy is an application of itself to the nearest “non” or to the nearest generic, but it is precisely not an auto-application in the way that “philosophy” is in relation to philosophies. All that comes from philosophy and from its power, the different aesthetics for example, are replacements in a sequence of auto-modeling, a procession of philosophical models, while non-philosophy produces only hetero- or “non”-modeling because it combines and superposes heterogeneous models. You say, in Photo-Fiction, that you are working like an artist, that you are creating a kind of “installation.”5 How would you compare and contrast art practice and non-philosophical practice? To work “as” an artist is not a matter of labeling oneself professionally, commercially, and technologically “as” an artist. The true distinction derives from a plurality of specific practical, technical, and theoretical differences that together create a veritable generic difference between the artistic and the non-philosophical. The 5

See François Laruelle, Photo-Fiction, a Non-Standard Aesthetics, trans. Drew S. Burk and Anthony Paul Smith (Minneapolis: Univocal Press, 2012), 4, 11ff. – Translator’s Note.

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What might artists do with non-standard philosophy? How would someone recognize a non-standard philosophical artwork (if they could)? One does not recognize a work of art that might be in the non-standard spirit or might have a stylistic affinity with non-standard philosophy: that would imply the wish to found an aesthetic legitimacy for non-standard philosophy. One already practices it as such, free to recognize in it a power and the effects of philosophical meaning. That is to say, non-philosophy is only a work of non-standard art if it openly takes for its base material an artistic activity as given and causes it to follow the constraints appropriate to that material. It is the end of aesthetic objectivity and the creation of a “genre” that must in all rigor be called “non-aesthetic” art—or even more strictly “non-art.” But all these formulae are obviously ambiguous and can be taken up in a spirit of aesthetic objectivity that clouds their proper sense. 6

Specifically, see Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment. – Translator’s Note.

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Can one say that some artists, those not working under the authority of standard philosophy, are therefore already practicing non-standard philosophy, avant la lettre? And if so, what is added to their work by reading Laruelle? I don’t believe that the notion of virtually non-standard art is pertinent or that non-philosophy would serve to actualize it. Each particular art has its own revolutionary tradition but that may not be be the case with non-philosophical art, which gathers together several traditions and several possible revolutions. But I would prefer to be prudent here and, in the face of the inventiveness and creativity of the arts, not prohibit liberty. In fact, the model of art and of its liberty of material is something that encouraged me in non-philosophy. But obviously I lean toward safeguarding the notion of a non-aesthetic genre of art. Is there a political dimension to art practiced under the aegis of non-standard philosophy, one related, perhaps, to the defense of the Human in your work? From the point of view of non-philosophy, there is not a specifically political domain, though perhaps a political dimension may be possible as a function of the occasional material that one decides to treat that might be concerned with specific problems of power. On the other hand, it can be called political in the last instance insofar as philosophy is a constant variable of all phenomena and is a “crowned power” of domination. Philosophy is the eminently political variable of non-philosophy. It’s a matter of diminishing its spontaneous self-importance and not just that of its specifically political domain. It is, if one can put it this way, a sub-political determination of philosophy and an unconditional defense of humans insofar as they are generically definable. Can you speculate on the future of non-standard philosophy? Is it inevitable that it enters into 6th, 7th, ... nth phases/waves? And if so, why? A wave succeeds a wave, the desire to create n phases or waves is in itself infinite but the brevity of the individual life is not the “infinite unfurling of the sea”!7 I have thrown myself into a final wave, between the quantum and the cosmological opening, always according to the same method of under-determination or subtraction, with an aim to renovate the Anthropic Principle under a form of-the-last-instance, something I hope to be able to see through to completion without being sure that I can do so. I have already let go of two once essential-seeming books, one on music and one on Eros, dreams lost along the way. 7

Laruelle’s phrase “le ‘moutonnement infini de la mer’” alludes to a line from Paul Verlaine’s poem “L’échelonnnement des haies” (1875). – Translator’s Note.

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FRANÇOIS LARUELLE IN CONVERSATION WITH JOHN Ó MAOILEARCA

What would happen, both to non-standard philosophy and to standard philosophy, were your work to enter into the philosophical canon? I don’t have many illusions about the explicit perseverance of this difference; the philosophical canon has seen plenty of other accidents. Like everyone, I will at best be assimilated by tradition, at worst marginalized by it (since it does have so many possible margins at its service). What will remain of non-philosophy? A “destining” [envoi/Geschick] as Heidegger would say? A mini-wave [vaguelette]? Or rather, as the physicists say, a “wavelet” [ondelette]? Would that be a sign of failure? Or would it only be an illusion that non-standard philosophy had been assimilated? An awareness of the possibility of theoretical failure has always been with me in every way, quite aside from the fact that it has been carefully nurtured from the start (and still is today) by critics and traditional academic philosophers. But not by philosophers like Levinas, Derrida, or Deleuze, who have never reduced me to despair. Or, more positively, might it mean that standard philosophy itself no longer exists? I don’t think so. It continues under multiple modalities and its life force has been embodied in a quasi-mythological institutional form far too long for it to really disappear. I’ve always suspected that, in the order of thought, it was the twin sister of capitalism, and capitalism is not about to die; too many metamorphoses are still possible for this couple. The famous “death of philosophy” alludes to a very narrow conception. And I am too gnostic not to see in it an expression of the world or of evil. Might the future of non-standard philosophy reside within art practice? There is a certain affinity claimed with artistic practice. But since philosophy or theology are implicated there, we must accept a higher level of theoretical complexity and turn to scientific modeling—which doesn’t make non-standard thought a type of activity or a “genre of life” superior (in the classical sense of the Greek philosophy) to that of art. A last word. They tell me I am an artist-without-art and a philosopher-withoutphilosophy, that I take the “pose” of an artist without the practice, or a philosopher without the doctrine—and I would add that of a believer without a religion. This criticism recognizes me by subtraction: I am exactly not one of the sincere liars that the artist, the philosopher, and the believer are. Translated from the French Molly Whalen

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Reason to Destroy Contemporary Art Suhail Malik

What does an artwork mean for you? What sense do you make of it? In the paradigm of contemporary art the answer is clear: it’s up to you. Constrained by the artwork’s subject matter (insofar as you can determine it), its material organization and presentation (including online transience), and the information you can glean from the press release, the artist’s “interests,” or what the art invokes, you respond to this configuration of mild injunctions. “Mild” because the parameters are open enough, loose enough, opaque enough for you to (have to) make your own way through the artwork. It asks you a question, making an open-ended assertion without definitive sense. You reply—usually not to the artwork but, in the best case, with a shift in your own system of ideas, values, even the very way you formulate your languages. You are the center of the artwork. Or, as Juliane Rebentisch accurately remarks, since the artwork is not just its material being but also the sense that it makes and the values it inscribes, what is primary in contemporary art—its condition and horizon—is the art experience that is the transformation of both the subjective viewer and the artwork: Aesthetic experience is nothing that can be “had” by the subject. The term “experience” refers to a process between subject and object that transforms both—the object insofar as it is only in and through the dynamic of its experience that it is brought to life as a work of art, and the subject insofar as it takes on a self-reflective form, its own performativity.1 What Rebentisch captures and affirms very well here is that under the name “aesthetic experience” contemporary art depends upon its receiving subject, the addressee of the work, who is taken to constitute it rather than arrive as latecomer after its production. Put colloquially, the art “leaves space” for the viewer, the viewer “completes” the work. Contemporary art is the art that forefronts aesthetic experience in this sense. Historically, it corresponds to the work made from the late 1950s by Allan Kaprow and others against the strictures of high modernism (crucial to which was the retrospective affirmation of Marcel Duchamp’s readymades), gaining traction through the 1960s in other modes, notably with the combined, if sometimes A version of this essay appears in Spike 37 (Fall 2013). 1

Juliane Rebentisch, “Answers to Questionnaire on the Contemporary," October 130 (Fall 2009): 101. See also, in English, “7 Negations: Against Aesthetics Affirmationism,” in Aesthetics and Contemporary Art, ed. Armen Avanessian and Luke Skrebowski (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2011), 51–64; and The Aesthetics of Installation Art, trans. Daniel Hendrickson and Gerrit Jackson (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2012).

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mutually acrimonious, developments of Conceptual art and Minimalism as well as early performance art, and attaining total spectrum dominance in the metropolitan centers of the West since the mid-1980s and globally since the mid-late 1990s. The centrality of aesthetic experience as the condition and horizon of art was abetted by theoretical insights in deprioritizing authorial claims over meaning and privileging instead interpretation and reception as the key moment of meaning making (Umberto Eco, Roland Barthes, and, retrospectively, Mikhail Bakhtin were the key early figures in this regard). That a reality such as art can only be apprehended by the thinking or consciousness of it such that it is necessarily accompanied by that thinking and consciousness is the dependency or injunction that Quentin Meillassoux has influentially called correlationism.2 The problem with correlationism is that all accounts of reality are necessarily accounts of how reality is thought or known. Put the other way, reality itself cannot be known “in itself ” since it is always thought or apprehended by a consciousness. Thought never takes leave from itself, if only because it thinks that departure and what is outside of it: what you know is always what you know. The many difficult self-reflexive philosophical problems that follow in establishing the possibility of a knowledge of the real for what it is independent of thought—that is, realism—will be left aside here, as will a detailed account of the various recent philosophies, gathered under the umbrella term Speculative Realism (SR), which strive to break out of correlationism. What is more immediately pressing here is that, in having a subject of aesthetic experience as its condition, contemporary art is a correlationism. To be clear: contemporary art as the aesthetic experience of sense- and value-making, as the co-constitution of the art object and subject, assumes correlationism and reproduces it, affirms it, in every moment of its open-ended experience. The artworks and the discursive formulation of contemporary art—objects, events, performances, images, press releases, reviews, magazine essays, auction catalogues—stylize and configure a correlationism in how art is to be taken by its audience. Contemporary art appeals to its addressees to determine the art in their own terms, including the disagreement between viewers that is the best ideal “democratic” result. Artists have an “interest” in this or that; the artwork or exhibition “explores,” “plays with,” “interrogates,” or “shows a sensitivity about” such and such topic. No more definitive or precise an account can be permitted at the cost of reducing viewers’ own capacities to make their call on the art. Abstractions serve this expectation and prioritization of experience well. And, for all their considerable differences, experience is the key category in theories central to contemporary art: it sits on both sides of Michael Fried’s split between absorption and theatricality; it is the condition of Jacques Rancière’s “aesthetic regime of art,” whose political

effects are the reorganization of experience; it is the term of the intractable that can only be felt or sensed through its materiality (Jean-François Lyotard), or of the singularities of affect that can be mobilized but not perceived or conceptualized (Gilles Deleuze), or events that escape the consistency and logic of identification in an inaesthetics (Alain Badiou). In their common flight from communicable thought and concept—sometimes formulated as an anti-aesthetics—each of these philosophies repeats the insistence that the artwork remain bound to a field of (perhaps unthinkable) subjective experience that it cannot reflect upon or rationalize without distorting itself irrecuperably. An emphasis on materiality in art carries the same desire of a primacy of sensory and spatiotemporal experience: matter is held to be extraneous, uncontrolled, excessive, or processual, but in any case against or to the side of form/concept/thought/intention; unctuous, residual matter or emergent material organization escapes the control or command of the artist’s imposed parameters on the artwork. How else to apprehend the chromatic bounciness of the print, the light-sucking bleakness of the sculpture, the gloopy resilience of the paint in relation to the figures presented in such material presentation? Supposing sensory and finite experience as a condition and term of art, the artwork has an inarticulable or excessive presence in front of which there can only be an articulation—a linguistic aftereffect—that necessarily misses or misapprehends it. That presence is of a material order other to language’s semantic and transferrable dimension. While Rosalind Krauss and Yve-Alain Bois proposed an art-historical mobilization of this insistent meaninglessness under the Bataillean name of the informe,3 the insistence on/of matter as art’s snaring of experience persists today even through digital production with the emphasis on glitches, noise, disruptions, and slickness, all of which draw attention to what is produced and made manifest by the means of production “itself ” as much as by its manipulation by artists as human agents. For all the anti-conceptuality and experiential primacy of these approaches, and the paradoxical anti-philosophy of contemporary art as a post-conceptual practice,4 they are in every case correlationist. As such, they are to be rejected by any rigorous realism. (Such a realism, which claims to apprehend the real outside of thought or the conditions of subjective experience, is not to be confused with realism as a style or genre of art committed to “accurate” representations of preexisting reality, since such a genre already assumes representation as an interval from a real elsewhere.) Aesthetically determined and organized, contemporary art has nothing to offer non-correlational realism. Put the other way, a rigorous realism

2

See Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier (London: Continuum, 2008); and also Meillassoux, “Time without Becoming,” trans. Robin Mackay, Spike 35 (Spring 2013).

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3 4

See Rosalind Krauss and Yve-Alain Bois, Formless: A User’s Guide (New York: Zone Books, 1997). For Peter Osborne contemporary art is “post-Conceptual” in that, consciously or not, art now presumes the critical legacy of Conceptual art as a condition, including an indifference to mediumspecificity as granting certain ontological privileges. See Peter Osborne, Anywhere or Not at All (London: Verso, 2013). Osborne claims that contemporary art is not “an aesthetic art in any philosophically significant sense of the term” but rather only in its difference from the literality of the everyday (p. 10). For Osborne, contemporary art is then an art without aesthetics. The present essay argues, to the contrary, that contemporary art is the exemplar of the aesthetic constitution of art.

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can readily dispense with art as it now stands without loss or limitation. From yet another angle, realism’s provocation to art is the undoing of aesthetic experience as a condition or term of art, even in the avowal of art’s ineluctable materiality. Which is to say that realism speculatively indicates the conditions for another art than contemporary art. But it is important in this regard to proceed with some caution in the dimension of realism. For, as Documenta 13 amply demonstrated, mobilizing object-oriented variants of SR within contemporary art is a trivial if not conservative undertaking: the relation of objects amongst themselves, in which the human supposedly has no particular privilege, fits very well with a formalist, perhaps proto-modernist notion of art that privileges its objects and their composition—internal and mutual—over the external eye and ear of an observing, knowing subject but that nonetheless calls upon a distributed notion of subjectivity in which the human participates on a supposedly equal footing. The artist or viewer can appear as a mediator in this relation but is not necessary to it. Other versions of this logic include immersive art, networked art, systems art, and so on. While the emphasis in object-oriented approaches on the (non)relations between all objects themselves “equally” challenges the primacy of the human subject as a prerequisite for their mutual (in)comprehension, an equality between the art object and the human maker or addressee fits very well with any number of clichés just exposed on the primacy, obduracy, or excess of matter and object to human control. While revoking the primacy of interpretation it is nonetheless a generalized variant of the co-constitution of object and (sometimes) human subject that is the aesthetic experience of contemporary art.5 Contrast this to the variant of SR whose apparently paradoxical claim is that the real or absolute is apprehended without anthropomorphic, anthropocentric, or noocentric distortion only by rational thought. The primary model here is science (for Meillassoux, in the restricted form of mathematically organized science; for Ray Brassier, in the general form of the explanatory power of the naturalistic technosciences; for François Laruelle, as the intertwining of thought and the real, without a decision in favor of the former); and the demand upon contemporary art is strictly nontrivial: it removes subjective interpretation or experience as a condition or telos of the artwork, and therewith collapses the entire edifice of the contemporary art paradigm. While this need not be a direct concern for contemporary art, since rationalist SR need have no bearing on art (and should in fact rightly disregard or dismiss contemporary art as a lost cause), such a rationalism puts firmly destructive pressure on the current operating, artistic, intellectual, and ideological paradigm of art, pressure that is much needed as contemporary art now all-too-happily continues to recycle standard tropes of anti-foundationalist critique, ethical piety, apolitical politicality, and cultural hegemonization. While contemporary art can

be dismissed by a rationalist SR without consequence for the latter, bringing it to bear on art nonetheless forces a series of demands and criteria for art in terms other than those of contemporary art. The speculation it invites is what an art other than contemporary art could be, not as a capricious flight of imagination or a frustrated wish but by being rationally known. We can begin that speculation at once: the critique of correlationism made by rationalist SR is not the generalization of aesthetic experience but, to the contrary, a demonstration that there can be a knowledge of what has never been experienced (for Meillassoux, such is the arche-fossil or the God arriving tomorrow; for Brassier, the death of the sun; for Iain Hamilton Grant, the natural, nonhuman concept). An art responsive to this theoretically-led imperative would be indifferent to the experience of it, an art that does not presume or return to aesthetics, however minimal or fecund such an aesthetics might be. The condition and horizon of such an art is not that it be felt, appreciated in vague ways, or made-sense-of as contemporary art is, affirming in each case the viewer in her or his sensitivities and capacity for judgment. Indifferent to aesthetic experience, it is an art of rational knowledge. “Knowledge” here means that if there is an experience to be had, it can not only be formulated with a coherent logic and reasoned (even if its results are historically irrational), but also that it is subject to the predictive and generative exercise of reason qua new organizations of matter, thought, and experience. There are precursors to such an art. Example: the reduction of aesthetics and the indifference to fabrication or reception was instantiated at the moment of moving from modern art to contemporary art with “instruction pieces,” in which artists gave (usually typewritten) instructions for the fabrication of their work by anonymous gallery workers. Such work has been described as an “aesthetics of administration,”6 the instructions taking the form of managerial or bureaucratic edicts, and have themselves been more recently subject to commodification and aestheticization as they come to be traded as archived art-objects in their own right. However, they also epitomize contemporary art’s conventions insofar as the art is taken to be “completed” not only with its construction as per the instructions, but—as advocated by several Fluxus artists—completed by its addressee. Yet this aestheticization of the instruction is not its operational logic, but the refusal of the same. What such instructions suppose in their open reproducibility as instruction, as much as in the art object whose construction or presentation it spells out, is (i) the indifference of such art to any subject or meaning imposed upon it other than the fact of its systemic fabrication, and (ii) that the artwork qua instruction is indifferent to its own material conditions (it does not matter to this art if the paper is lined or not, if the typeface is Courier or Times New Roman, even if the object is fabricated or not, if anyone reads them or not, and so forth). As Robert Morris’s Statement of Aesthetic Withdrawal from 1963 makes clear in declaring its

5

Graham Harman stresses aesthetics as “first philosophy” in “On Vicarious Causation,” Collapse 2 (March 2007): 187–221. Harman also formulates this point in The Quadruple Object (Alresford: Zero Books, 2011) as the resurrection of a “pan-psychism” of objects.

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Benjamin Buchloh, “Conceptual Art 1962–1969: From the Aesthetic of Administration to the Critique of Institutions,” October 55 (Winter 1990): 105–43.

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own material redundancy as well as that of the work that is its ostensible referent, in stating the condition for the art that it itself is qua instruction piece,7 such art is conceptually-systemically organized, immaterially determined, subjectively indifferent, aesthetically redundant, rationally cogent. It need not be experienced. Taking both of its dimensions together, instruction art acts as a paradigm for all post-Conceptual art in that it lends itself to (always temporary, partial) “completion” in subjective experience yet, against this, it also need not be experienced at all, but only known, in order to be art. This is conventionally a criticism of art, in fear of art abdicating its singularity for systematicity. The series of reductive banalities that Benjamin Buchloh attributes to Sol LeWitt as critic of high modernism typify such a reaction:

And it also aspires to what Buchloh might otherwise avow: the affirmation of singularity in turn valorizing the uniqueness of its subjective appreciation. It is just this latter condition and destination of art that SR can undo if it is effectively mobilized.9 This is but one, minimal, example of the demand rationalist SR places upon art. That this injunction for reason against the primacy of experience as condition or destination for art is itself a theoretically-philosophically derived demand does not present a problem since it is itself rationally constituted. There is no need to find artists, curators, and critics advancing “rationalist SR art” to justify, ground, or lead the investigation. What is demanded, and what corrodes the interpretive paradigm of contemporary art as well its concomitant soft heroism of artistic, curatorial, or interpretive anti-systematicity, is art as a rational exercise that eviscerates all lingering experiential conditions. Concept, not feeling; rational and formalized, not wanton and uncaptured; indifferent and impervious to you: such is the binding force of reason directed to the real, a destruction of contemporary art as an art of indeterminacy.

[LeWitt’s] work now revealed that the modernist compulsion for empiricist self-reflexiveness not only originated in the scientific positivism which is the founding logic of capitalism (undergirding its industrial forms of production just as much as its science and theory), but that, for an artistic practice that internalized this positivism by insisting on a purely empiricist approach to vision, there would be a final destiny. This destiny would be to aspire to the condition of tautology.8

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Morris: “The undersigned, ROBERT MORRIS, being the maker of the metal construction entitled LITANIES, described in the annexed Exhibit A, hereby withdraws from said construction all aesthetic quality and content and declares that from the date hereof said construction has no such quality and content. Dated: November 15, 1963 [signed] Robert Morris.” While the Statement is taken art-historically to be a negating rejoinder to Philip Johnson’s non-payment for Litanies (the piece that is the statement’s immediate referent), theories supportive of contemporary art take it to be either an instance of the broader negating of material-optical specificity and objectality in favor of engagement with institutional and linguistic structures that is now a standard operation for contemporary art (Buchloh, Ibid., 117–18), or, concomitant to such a determination and no less typical as a contemporary art procedure, as an “ironic” overdetermination of the artwork that is its direct referent, exposing the Duchampian readymade as the common condition for both the statement and the artwork itself (Martha Buskirk, The Contingent Object of Contemporary Art [Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005]). In contradistinction to these aesthetically expansive accounts, the Statement is here taken more emphatically to be a description of its own conditions as an artwork. That is, Morris’s Statement is at once performative and constative of itself, yet, in relation to Buchloh’s complaint against the scientistic “positivism” of conceptual art’s empiricism quoted later in the main text here, it is not tautological in that it is heterogeneously performative, constituting its own terms of operation as art by virtue of its rational and didactic exemption of the “art” of Litanies from its material external referent. This “de-aestheticization” was well-captured by Harold Rosenberg in 1970, though he identifies that “movement” or tendency with a return to “primitivism” in its rejection of artifice. See “De-Aestheticization,” in Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson, eds., Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999), 220–22. Rosenberg was not without cause in this characterization, given the limitations of the art of the time and its broad identification of Conceptualism with anti-formalism understood as anti-idealism and hence as pro-materialist. What is advocated here is, rather, the rationalism of the Statement, whereby its art takes place in its presentation, here or elsewhere, strictly equivalent to its presentation on the document signed by Morris in person; that is, it is art by virtue of its literal rather than material synthesis. Buchloh, “Conceptual Art,” 115.

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And, with that, also undone are the first four of LeWitt’s “Sentences on Conceptual Art” (1969), which still serve as a “systems program” for contemporary art and its putative critical operation: “1. Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. 2. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach. 3. Rational judgments repeat rational judgments. 4. Illogical judgments lead to new experience.” (Alberro and Stimson, Conceptual Art, 106). If LeWitt’s fifth sentence “irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely and logically”—nonetheless serves to characterize Meillassoux’s startling philosophy well enough, any consilience anticipated here must attend to a more basic divergence: that for LeWitt such an irrationalism arises despite and against reason, while for Meillassoux it is occasioned by and on behalf of reason.

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Non-Correlational Thought Steven Shaviro

Speculative Realism calls upon us to escape from what Quentin Meillassoux describes as the vicious circle of correlationism: “The idea according to which we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other.”1 This formulation seems at first to be symmetrical. Subject and object, or more generally thought and being, are regarded by the correlationist as mutually co-constituting and codependent. “Not only does it become necessary to insist that we never grasp an object ‘in itself,’ in isolation from its relation to the subject, but it also becomes necessary to maintain that we can never grasp a subject that would not always-already be related to an object.”2 Described in this manner, the correlation would seem to move indifferently in either direction, from thinking to being or from being to thinking. However, under closer examination, Meillassoux’s formulation turns out not to be symmetrical or reversible after all. Rather, the correlationist movement is dissymmetrical and unidirectional. When thought and being are correlated, thought is always the active and relational term, the one that actually performs the correlation. Thinking per se is correlational, insofar as it necessarily implies a “relation-to-theworld.”3 Thought begins with a radical “decision”: the assertion “of the essential inseparability of the act of thinking from its content.” Once this decision has been made, it is already too late: “all we ever engage with is what is given-to-thought, never an entity subsisting by itself.”4 Being, on the other hand, just is. This makes it the dumb and passive term in Meillassoux’s account. Meillassoux takes it for granted that things, in contrast to thoughts, are able to stand alone. Things do not correlate on their own; they merely suffer being apprehended by—and thereby correlated to—some sort of consciousness or subjectivity that seizes them from the outside. In itself, being does not speak. Thus, thought always refers to being; but being, in and of itself, remains indifferent to thought. Since thought is in its essence correlational, Meillassoux says, we can only escape correlationism by affirming “the pure and simple death, with neither consciousness nor life, without any subjectivity whatsoever, that is represented by the 1 2 3 4

Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier (London: Continuum, 2008), 5. Ibid. Ibid., 18. Ibid., 36.

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state of inorganic matter.”5 We must reach a position, Meillassoux says, “which takes seriously the possibility that there is nothing living or willing in the inorganic realm” and for which “absolute reality is an entity without thought.” Beyond the correlation, existence is “totally a-subjective.”6 In this way, Meillassoux presents us with the classical picture—inherited from the scientific revolution of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and, even before that, from the ancient atomists and Epicureans—of a universe that is lifeless, mindless, and inert, and that operates entirely mechanistically.7 Together with this, Meillassoux also empties the world of what Kant called “sensible intuition”: that is to say, of everything that is experienced phenomenally, and that is discovered through the body and the senses. Sensory qualities always involve “a relation, rather than a property inherent in the thing.”8 This means that they are inevitably correlational and epiphenomenal. Meillassoux therefore suggests that we must reject anything having to do with phenomenality, with embodiment, and with sensibility and affect. In contrast, he tells us that all—but only—“those aspects of the object that can be formulated in mathematical terms can be meaningfully conceived as properties of the object in itself.” Everything belonging to “perception and sensation”—or for that matter to the body—must be removed; we are left only with those elements that are reducible “to a formula or to digitization.”9 When he thus radically separates thought and sensibility from bare matter and describes the latter exclusively in mathematical terms, Meillassoux reinstates an avowedly Cartesian dualism.10 He reaffirms the very condition that Alfred North Whitehead diagnosed as the basic error of modern Western thought: the “bifurcation of nature.”11 This is the schema according to which we radically separate sensory experience from the physical actualities that generate that experience. We divide “the perceived redness and warmth of the fire,” on the one hand, from “the agitated molecules of carbon and oxygen,” the “radiant energy,” and the “various functionings of the material body” on the other.12 These two descriptions are taken to belong to entirely different registers of existence. The first is phenomenal, while the second is scientific. Once we have divided up the world in this manner, it matters little which side of the bifurcation we favor. Phenomenology valorizes perceptual experience, while ignoring, or failing to give an adequate account of the molecules and the photons. Reductionist scientism, on the other hand, disparages phenomenal experience as merely a “psychic

addition, furnished by the perceiving mind,” and not really present in “the molecules and the radiant energy which influence the mind toward that perception.”13 In banishing the body and the senses from his account, Meillassoux takes up a position on the scientistic, reductionist side of the bifurcation of nature. This is the only way, he claims, to escape the presuppositions of correlationism. I want to suggest, however, that the reason Meillassoux arrives at this position is, paradoxically, because he isn’t anti-correlationalist enough. The principal target of Meillassoux’s polemic is phenomenology, the legacy of Husserl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty. With its insistence on the indissoluble tie between subject and object, or between the human act of thinking and the world it thinks, phenomenology is the correlationist philosophy par excellence. And yet, despite his opposition to phenomenology, Meillassoux still takes for granted, and never questions, the phenomenological assumption that thought is fundamentally and necessarily intentional. For phenomenology, every act of thinking is directed to an object beyond itself. A mental state always points to something. This remains the case regardless of whether that “something” is a thing that really exists in the world, or whether it is fiction, or an abstraction, or a mental construction. No matter the case, thought is always about something. It follows that thought is intrinsically a relational activity, and indeed a correlational one. The “decision” that inaugurates thought has ruled out any other possibility. Because Meillassoux takes the intentionalist model of thought for granted, he assumes that any non-correlationist ontology must dispense with thought altogether. In other words, instead of questioning the overall bifurcation of nature, he affirms one side of the dualism and rejects the other. And this is what leads to the curious dissymmetry that I have already mentioned. When Meillassoux first defines the correlation of thought and being, he says that “both terms of the appropriation are originarily constituted through their reciprocal relation.”14 But he fails to follow through on the implications of this reciprocity. He seeks to escape the correlationist claim that “we never grasp an object ‘in itself,’ in isolation from its relation to the subject.” But he never tries to undermine the reciprocal claim, that “we can never grasp a subject that would not always-already be related to an object.” Indeed, he takes this claim entirely for granted—which is precisely why his self-proclaimed “materialism” requires the elimination of any “sensible mode of subjectivity.”15 Meillassoux thus presents only a limited, one-sided escape from correlationism. He explores the way that objects exist for themselves, rather than just being for us. But he fails to consider how thought might also subsist on its own, without any need to correlate things to itself. A more thoroughgoing anti-correlationism must also explore the existence of non-correlational thought: that is to say, of a sort of thought— or consciousness, or sentience, or feeling, or phenomenal experience—that is nonphenomenological, insofar as it goes on without establishing relations of intentionality

5

Quentin Meillassoux, “Iteration, Reiteration, Repetition: A Speculative Analysis of the Meaningless Sign,” trans. Robin Mackay, in Genealogies of Speculation: Materialism and Subjectivity since Structuralism, ed. Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik (London: Bloomsbury, forthcoming). 6 Meillassoux, After Finitude, 36, 38. 7 Meillassoux, After Finitude, 36–37; “Iteration, Reiteration, Repetition,” 2. 8 Meillassoux, After Finitude, 2. 9 Ibid., 3. 10 Ibid., 1–3, 11–13. 11 Alfred North Whitehead, The Concept of Nature (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2004), 30, 26–48. 12 Ibid., 32.

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13 Ibid., 29–30. 14 Meillassoux, After Finitude, 8. 15 Meillassoux, “Iteration, Reiteration, Repetition.”

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to anything beyond itself, and even without establishing any sort of reflexive relation to itself. If we seek to liberate the world of objects from its servitude as a mere correlate of our thought, then we must also strive to liberate thought from its servitude to its own self-imposed grounds, reasons, and conditions of possibility. Only in this way can thought “get outside itself” as Meillassoux demands, so that we can truly reach “the great outdoors, the absolute outside” to which he so stirringly calls us.16 This point can also be made in another way. There is a curious slippage in the course of Meillassoux’s analysis. He argues that any non-correlationist philosophy must be open to “an absolute that is at once external to thought and in itself devoid of all subjectivity.”17 The slippage comes in the way that Meillassoux implicitly moves from an object, or a world, that is independent of anything that our thought imposes upon it, to objects and worlds that are also devoid of thought in themselves. Meillassoux seems to take it for granted that thought is unique to human beings. He justifies this acknowledged anthropocentrism on the grounds that any attribution of thought to nonhumans is simply a case of anthropomorphic projection.18 However, there are good reasons, empirically at least, to doubt that human beings are as unique as Meillassoux claims. Ample scientific evidence points to the sentience of organisms like trees, slime mold, and bacteria, and to the evolutionary continuity between such sentience and that of animals, including ourselves.19 Meillassoux is simply wrong to assume that “a world not yet affected by the modes of apprehension of our subjectivity” must necessarily “have no subjective-psychological, egoic, sensible or vital traits whatsoever” of its own.20 It is also worth noting that there are many different degrees and forms of human sentience, and many different modes of perception, sensation, awareness, and cognition. Not all of these are necessarily directed at objects. The range is even broader when we turn to other forms of life. Organisms like slime molds probably do not think according to our own all-too-human models of conscious intentionality. Even if human beings are inveterate correlationists, slime molds need not be. Establishing just how slime molds think is of course a matter for empirical research. But philosophy can give us guidelines as to how a non-correlational mode of thought might work, either in ourselves or in other entities. Gilles Deleuze offers us one possible clue. He writes of the “historical crisis of psychology” that arose at the end of the nineteenth century, at the very moment of the invention of cinema. This crisis concerned “the confrontation of materialism and idealism,” leading to a “duality of image and movement, of consciousness and thing.” At the time, Deleuze says, “two very different authors” made efforts to “overcome” the duality: Edmund Husserl

and Henri Bergson. “Each had his own war cry: all consciousness is consciousness of something (Husserl), or more strongly, all consciousness is something (Bergson).”21 Bergson’s “war cry” resonates “more strongly” for Deleuze than Husserl’s, because Bergson’s formulation short-circuits the correlation at the heart of phenomenology. It allows for sentience without reflexivity, and for a kind of experience that remains “in-itself,” without transcendence toward an external object. If “all consciousness is something,” then thought immanently coincides with matter, in “the absolute identity of the image and movement.”22 Therefore, as Deleuze puts it elsewhere, “It is not enough to say that consciousness is consciousness of something.”23 Rather, we must move backward and downward, in order to reach the primordial point where “consciousness ceases to be a light cast upon objects in order to become a pure phosphorescence of things in themselves.”24 Non-correlational thought happens on a level below or before what Deleuze calls the “structure-Other.”25 Without the explicit presence of an Other to provide “a structure of the perceptual field,” such thought simply does not make the “distinction of consciousness and its object.”26 In this register, thinking—or better, sentience—is nonintentional and noncognitive. Quite literally, it is not involved in processes of cognition or recognition. It does not recognize or interpret anything; which is to say, it comes before, and does not participate in, anything on the order of the Heideggerian “as-structure,” or of what the cognitivist philosophers of mind describe as representationalist information processing. We might well describe such non-correlational thought or sentience as “autistic”—provided that we use this term in a nonpejorative and nonmedicalized sense. Contrary to popular (and sometimes medical) prejudice, autists are not solipsists, and they are not lacking in empathy. As the neurodiversity movement helps us understand, autistic modes of thought should not be stigmatized as deficient, just because they are evidently different from the neurotypical ones. In particular, people along the autism spectrum seem to be less incorrigibly “correlationist” in their basic attunement to the world than neurotypicals are. They do not entirely operate according to Deleuze’s “structure-Other” or Heidegger’s “as-structure.” Further exploration of autistic perception and autistic affectivity might take us a long way toward an account of non-correlational thought.27

16 17 18 19

Meillassoux, After Finitude, 3, 7. Meillassoux, “Iteration, Reiteration, Repetition.” forthcoming. Ibid., 5. Steven Shaviro, ed., Cognition and Decision in Nonhuman Biological Organisms (Ann Arbor, MI: Open Humanities Press, 2011). 20 Meillassoux, “Iteration, Reiteration, Repetition," forthcoming.

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21 Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 56. 22 Ibid., 59. 23 Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 220. 24 Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), 311. 25 Ibid., 309ff. 26 Ibid., 307, 311. 27 Emily Thornton Savarese and Ralph James Savarese, eds., “Autism and the Concept of Neurodiversity,” Disabilities Study Quarterly 30 (2010): 1.

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Non-correlational sentience is an immanent attribute or power of being. It involves what Whitehead calls “feelings,”28 rather than articulated judgments or Heideggerian implicit preunderstandings. It is nonintentional: it is not directed toward, or correlated with particular objects, even though it may well be implicated with them. Such a mode of sentience is nonreflexive, and may well be unconscious; it is a kind of phenomenality without phenomenology, or a nonconceptual “whatis-it-likeness.” One task for Speculative Realism in the years to come is to explore the potentialities of this mode of thought.

28 Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (New York: The Free Press, 1978), 40–42.

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Fig. 15 Fig. 14

The Idiot Paradigm Matthew Poole

Art today exists within a post-Duchampian condition that eschews any dominant paradigm or, indeed, the very notion of art historical progress. It is a condition in which art historical hierarchies of genre, aesthetic categories, and formal genealogies have been flattened, creating a field of production that is now principally ordered by the vagaries of capital exchange. This condition indexes art’s presumed democratic materialism1 as it provides a polyvalent groundlessness according to which all subjects, be they bodies and/or languages (and body/languages), can participate equally and freely in the political currency of art, free from the strictures of the academy and the biases of ideology. This is, however, merely a pseudo-materialism, one of the many ideological illusions of neoliberal idealism. If by the term “paradigm” we mean model or pattern, showing things sideby-side rather than progressively one-after-the-other, as per the once dominant Greenbergian genealogy of modernism,2 then there would appear to be no models for art now. Art is taken to embody a post-medium, post-Conceptual, post-diachronic condition, where there are no distinct genres or hierarchies of subject matter, where art may take any material or immaterial form, be that a static physical form 1

2

I use this term to distinguish classical Enlightenment liberal idealism from the rhetoric of various forms of neoliberal economic politics that we see burgeoning today globally. Where classical Enlightenment liberalist idealism is based on the unattainable but “regulative” ideals of Truth, Justice, and Beauty, democratic materialism operates on and through the substrate of actually existing bodies and languages proposing that, as Alain Badiou put it, “The individual is convinced of, and formatted by, the dogma of our finitude, of our exposition to enjoyment, suffering and death.” So, instead of subjectivities being oriented to and driven by and toward regulative ideals, subjects instead are driven to attend to their own subjective affectual modulation and amplification as goals (or quasi-ideals) in themselves. This analysis helps to explain the rise of the experience economies and economies of scope in contemporary capitalism, as well as the burgeoning of immaterial labor models. See Alain Badiou, “Bodies, Languages, Truths,” available at www.lacan.com/badbodies.htm. As is well known, Clement Greenberg’s genealogy of modernist painting maps a linear and progressive trajectory of formal innovations and dialectical transgressions of subject matter from Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet through Abstract Expressionism to Post-Painterly Abstraction, halting abruptly at and rejecting anything that might resemble what we now refer to as Minimalism. Marcel Duchamp’s oeuvre challenges this linear teleological syntagmatic trajectory. From as early as 1912, Duchamp produced “things” that were, formally, extraordinarily diverse and eclectic and that appeared to represent a confusing blizzard of subjects. Duchamp indeed placed this diverse range of things side by side as discrete paradigms, but by eschewing either formal or hermeneutic connections between them he also and simultaneously collapsed the horizontality of syntagmaticism and the verticality of paradigmaticism. This collapse of hierarchies within Duchamp’s oeuvre is crucial to understanding the level and structure of the spatiotemporal critique that he was attempting to produce through his work. Equally, if we take Duchamp at his word when he describes Étant donnés (1966) as the same art work as The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (1915–23) then we are forced to rethink the spatiotemporal specificity of the artwork since, according to Duchamp, it both exists in two places at once and was produced at a minimum of forty-three years apart.

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or a dynamic processual form, and where art is produced and evaluated outside of a dialectics of the temporal. I propose, however, that this condition does have a paradigm, albeit a quasi-paradigm of particular malleability, a quasi-paradigm that produces the illusion of and allusion to art having a particular ontological and epistemological malleability vis-à-vis the presumptions about bodies and languages that democratic materialism proposes and propagates. I propose that art today exists within the quasi-paradigm of paradigmaticism: the idiot paradigm.3 In ancient Greece, those regarded as idiotes were excluded from public affairs on the grounds that they had nothing to offer the affairs of the polis and nothing to lose by the actions taken therein. The idiotes existed at the periphery of the sphere of sovereignty of those with stakes in society and validated to exercise agency in public. The uneducated, the mentally ill, slaves, and women were such groups barred from taking part in the affairs of the polis and thus regarded as idiotic. By not participating in the civic or public life of the polis, the idiotes was a figure who lived an abstracted life, disinvested from the field of politics, disconnected from the hegemonic relations of the wider society and thus trapped in a condition of assumed non-relationality. The idiotes did have a relation to the polis and its sphere of sovereignty, but no legitimate power to put into effect its agency to this relation as a validated political force because its relation to society was simply one-way: total subjugation. As peripheral to the sphere of sovereignty, however, the status of the idiotes actively delineates a horizon, providing a form of political potential, albeit a static one. Philosophers that deliberately undertook life as idiotes include Antisthenes, Diogenes, other Cynics, and Socrates. To say that they were not concerned with larger affairs, though, is not strictly correct. Such characters were concerned with larger affairs, but believed that their way of life existed on a much larger and more profound level, a cosmic level unconcerned with the trivial business of other citizens. They thus deliberately withdrew from the status of metropolitan citizen to become cosmopolitan—figures without familiar topological or spatiotemporal grounds, or at least figures that presented the illusion of and allusion to such groundlessness. Unfortunately, it is within this illusion that neoliberalism proliferates, as it not only permits everything within its parameters of sovereignty (within the assumed-to-be infinite parameters of hyper-capitalist economies of scope); but, more significantly, proliferates by and as the reification of subjects to permits, radically renouncing the dialectic of subject-object relations that might otherwise govern or constrain its subjects.4 Within neoliberal crypto-ideology everything that is valuable is a subject, and so every subject, including the human subject, has a value that can be calibrated

and measured, though all these values/subjects remain in a state of pseudo-absolute dynamism. As values, all neoliberal subjects, like all subjects, point toward a telos, albeit an embodied one, an ideal of the permissive and permitting force of capital (in the case of neoliberalism) in whatever form, even though the illusion of a total pragmatism is expounded by their hidden attenuated ideology. It is important to note that all idiotae, self-declared or not, are apolitical figures without agency to engage in politics, without a polis, and specifically without a civic connection. Aristotle famously believed there was something pathetic about being apolitical, citiless—like being “a solitary piece in checkers.”5 Similarly, in her 1958 book The Human Condition Hannah Arendt writes a brief passage focusing on the privations suffered by those engaging in or afflicted by idiocy.6 Arendt, however, believed in the private sphere, the proto-idiotic domain, as an important space of refuge, like a backstage, where one could regroup one’s thoughts to reenter the public-political stage reinvigorated. Similarly, the likes of Antisthenes and Diogenes saw freedom in this deliberate act of withdrawal, though they had no desire to reenter the metropolitan stage of, in their view, the corrupt polis of Athens. Indeed, pathos (solitary suffering) was their very condition of life, not ethos (collective habit(ation) or enculturedness). However, the freedom in which such philosophers believed is only an illusion of and an allusion to another ideal image of freedom bound up within the dialectic of public and private. It is not a materialist freedom, that would consider existence per se utterly indifferent to the existence of perceptual apparatuses (such as humans) that can perceive things existing; rather it is an idealist, or we might say ideological, imago of freedom that re-invokes the ideologically constructed public/private dialectic. The paradigm of contemporary art’s freedom suffers this same pathos and rigid self-limitation as it seeks out ever more atomised paradigms laid side-by-side as if in non-Euclidean parallel lines. Private subjects exist within the illusion of a freedom in which they are permitted and determined as valuable simply because they can exist as subjects, away from the form of a field or ground of any absolute relationality, toward an assumed non-ground of what we will call a pseudo- “absolute relativity”:7 away from any grounding syntagmatic rules or external governance of any kind. This is the great lie of neoliberalism and, in the art context, the great conservative

3

4

The idiot paradigm of contemporary art is a paradigmaticism in that it is a model that promotes a proliferation of diverse paradigms, apparently unconnected by linear temporal relations, a random bustling of atomized individual parts not subject to any conjunctive directional force or criteria. It is a quasi-paradigm in that it is at once a paradigm, a syntagm, and neither. Here, I literally mean that any subject, whether a human subject or any other material abstraction, is permitted to effect any material or abstract force and transformation upon any object whatsoever, simply by virtue of the fact of validation as a subject (and not an object).

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6 7

“And a man that is because of nature and not merely because of fortune citiless is either low in the scale of humanity or above it (like the ‘clanless, lawless, hearthless’ man reviled by Homer, for he is by nature citiless and also a lover of war) in as much as he resembles an isolated piece at draughts.” Aristotle, Politics, 1253a 4–7. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1998), 38. “Absolute relativity” appears to be an oxymoron, but only if it is conceived from the perspective of an idealist language that seeks and operates upon an assumedly stable ground of assumptions of an a priori spatiotemporal background. By analogy, in physics Absolute Relativity Theory (ironically crowned with the acronym ART) does not presume a preexisting spatiotemporal ground to the universe, instead proposing that space and time are as much material symptoms of the as yet unfathomed forces of the universe as anything else that can be currently observed or theorized within it.

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irony of, for example, “relational” or “dialogical aesthetics”8—that each and every participating voice is valid and free to be expressed as equally valid—even though the proponents of such types of art believe that they are producing points of resistance against the prevailing hegemonic ideology in interstitial spaces or “microtopias,” as both Nicolas Bourriaud and Hans Ulrich Obrist have consistently asserted. The liberal assumption here is that the multiplicity of subjective expressions can and does emanate from stable subjects that are first of all assumed a priori to exist as such with an a priori validated agency, and then secondly, but equally importantly, can be and are located in and of themselves however abstract they are—and they are necessarily material abstractions (meaning that subjects are reified). This in itself is a patently conservative politics, as it does nothing to change subject relations, especially property relations. Instead, it simply propagates the ground necessary for the more aggressive forms of subjection and subjectivation that we find in neoliberalism. It is the crypto-ideological locating of subjects within their subjectivity that is the hidden ground that is never questioned (as all subjects must be ideologically oriented and produced, even if they are assumed only to point to themselves, as in neoliberalism), because the telos of their assumed embodied freedom obscures this contradiction from discourse that would otherwise diagnose the reality of their status and ontic state. In the canons of art history, and in particular the canon of modernism, it is Dada that explicitly attempts to inhabit and embody this quasi-paradigm of the paradigmaticism of the idiot; and it is the Dadaist ethos that is reproduced in most art today. In Hugo Ball’s 1916 “Dada Manifesto” his aggressive use of the concepts of first-cause, destruction and creation, foolishness, eternal bliss, madness, and the transmutation of subjects and objects:

Similarly, Tristan Tzara’s 1918 “Dada Manifesto” alludes to such idioticism in its imagery of dance and fecund creation from wild destruction:

Dada is a new tendency in art. […] Dada world war without end, Dada revolution without beginning. […] How does one achieve eternal bliss? By saying dada. […] Till one goes crazy. Till one loses consciousness. […] I let the vowels fool around. I let the vowels quite simply occur. […] I want the word where it ends and begins. […] Each thing has its word, but the word has become a thing by itself, […] the word outside your domain.9

8

9

I am referring to the participatory art practices championed by Nicolas Bourriaud, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Maria Lind, Uta Meta Bauer, and Grant Kester, among others, where relational aesthetics and dialogical aesthetics respectively denote the titles of Bourriaud and Kester’s most well-known historico-theoretical accounts of the rise and proliferation of such practices in art from the late 1980s to the present day. It is worth noting, although it is obvious and well documented, that these participatory practices have become a significant and dominant mode in contemporary art that is dubbed “politically active,” or, more controversially, “socially engaged.” It is also worth noting that these two phrases are not only woefully inaccurate, being both blindly tautological, but also often used incorrectly because of the actually antidemocratic hubris of the ethics of those that utter them in earnest together with the incorrect theorizations of sociability and the political that they espouse. Hugo Ball, “Dada Manifesto, 1916”; available at www.manifestosarchive.blogspot.com/2011/11 /hugo-ball-dada-manifesto.html.

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abolition of logic, which is the dance of those impotent to create: Dada. […] every object, all objects, feelings and obscurities, every apparition and the precise shock of parallel lines, are weapons for the fight: Dada; abolition of prophets: Dada; abolition of the future: Dada. […] Elegant and unprejudiced leap from a harmony to the other sphere; […] the interlacing of opposites and of all contradictions, grotesques, inconsistencies: LIFE.10 But it is Richard Huelsenbeck’s 1918 Berlin “Dada Manifesto” where we see the most direct connotation of idiocy: “The true Dadaist […] half Pantagruel, half St. Francis, laughing and laughing.”11 Repeatedly in all the Dada manifestos we see references to powerful vitality, superabundant creative fecundity, ouroborosic hermeticism, and the collapse of morality and ethics, which are all allusions to the condition of the paradigmaticism of idiocy. As the plurality of techniques, forms, subject matter, and approaches in Dada works attest, each work is itself idiotic, and is believed to sit in parallel with every other work: a nebula of non-relationality that creates the illusion of the uprooting of every subject from its relation to a corresponding object, freeing it supposedly radically. These attempts at producing a radically paradigmatic (non-)structure ultimately fail because the proponents of Dada aim to provoke the paradigmaticism of idiocy; hence the need for manifestos. Because of this they unwittingly invoke a quasi-syntagmatic field, albeit a strange pseudo-non-relational field in which the de facto relation between nodal points of transgression is the illusion of refused relationality. Dada ultimately reproduces the paradigmatic/syntagmatic dialectic because it attempts to provoke the collapse of the dialectic itself. This happens primarily because of the insistence that Dada is not Expressionism, is not Futurism, and so on. What the Dadaists did not learn from the symbolism of the mythological figure of the idiotes is that this state cannot be provoked but only divinely ordained (if one believes in such things). It is as if they forgot that idiocy is allegorical—a metaphor, an ideologically constructed representation. Much like heroism, the condition of idiocy cannot be self-declared. One must befall such conditions, and the befalling is absolutely chaotic and unpredictable, just as the anointment of the idiotes as Carnival King can only be divinely ordained. What Dada produced was merely pseudo-anarchism, which is entirely commensurate with the radical pseudofreedoms expounded by neoliberalism, as it ultimately fails to escape the dialectics of same and other, master and slave, producing simply a conservative reactionary form 10 Tristan Tzara, “Dada Manifesto,” 1918; available at: www.manifestosarchive.blogspot.com/search/label/1918 11 Richard Huelsenbeck, “Dada Manifesto” (1918), in German Expressionism, Documents from the End of the Wilhelmine Empire to the Rise of National Socialism, ed. Rose-Carol Washton Long (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 267–69.

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of abnegated sovereignty. What we see in the ethico-aesthetics of much art today is equally pseudo-anarchism existing within the contradictions of the idiot paradigm. Turning to the mythological figure of the idiotes to explore its symbolism, we begin to see how and why its epistemological and ontological status closely maps art’s current idiotic status, albeit a status that is not fully or coherently achieved by contemporary art. One of the clearest depictions of the idiotes can be found on the Townley Vase, a second-century Roman vase discovered in 1773. Upon its relief surface we see the idiotes leading a Bacchanalian/Dionysian triumphal procession, its principal function to lead an epistemo-ontological collapse of reverie and delirium, to collapse the dyad of the primal and the civilized. It is symbolized by alpha, signifying a new beginning, first cause, or origin. So the idiotes is a heroic fool representing chaotic, irrational, random action intended to break the conventions of the polis. The idiotes is depicted moving from right to left symbolising a shift from conscious to unconscious cognition, eschewing its ego, entering an archetypal realm and becoming god-like, its own archetype, its own origin, and thus object-like, insomuch as it is “shedding its skin” of the ego-illusion of being a sovereign individual subject. The idiotes is also seen whistling, representing a spirit of vitality. “Fool” derives from the Latin follis denoting a bellows; follis is a Latin euphemism for the scrotum, another bag containing vital creative spirit. The fool is then an unrestrained source of breath. So the idiotes is the ontic object of aspiring creativity: an artwork sui generis. As such, it is beyond ethics embodying its own telos, which it suffers existing within this pathos. In this sense it is Olympian. But, the idiotes is also barefoot, connoting spiritual and material humility, grounding it in ordinary life connected directly to matter. Thus it is also chthonic. The idiotes’ cloak is multi-coloured, representing spring, transformation, and rebirth. Its seven headband feathers signify the pantheistic spirit of the seven planets and the fool’s coxcomb (the cock heralding the dawning of new awareness). Dionysian primal fecundity is also connoted in depictions of the idiotes being followed by a panther, being in proximity to vines, grapes, figs, a serpent, and wearing fawn skin. It also carries a thyrsus, a pinecone-tipped stalk of the giant fennel—the tool Prometheus used to steal fire from the sun: a powerful phallic symbol of fecundity and liveness, but also an allusion to the foresightedness, or scope, of the Titan (and the meaning of his name) and the eternal suffering inflicted upon him by Zeus for his acting independently of the Olympian gods in his act of pity toward mankind. Most significantly of all, the idiotes is the archetypal puer aeternus, the eternal child. So the idiotes is half-devil/half-savior, the threat of destruction and the promise of creation held synthesised within it. The idiotes is fundamentally immature, incompatible with the public sphere as it can never be pubes, adult. Because of this it is always alongside (para) and shows (digm) the path between worlds that can never be placed or arranged in order syntagmatically. The idiotes is always parallel to the sovereignty, or paradigm, of any given order, and can move simultaneously between and through dimensions that are ordered by their own respective paradigms, such as life and death. The simultaneous transverse movement of the idiotes between and through

sovereign realms allows it to be the embodiment of a complex matrix of conflicting, contrasting, or even contradictory paradigms, such as life and death (it is after all a figure that is alive in the realm of the living, yet as an eternal child also somehow dead) making it the paradigm of the paradigmatic.12 Such a state characterizes contemporary art today, which is distinguished by the paradigm of paradigm-less-ness, or a paradigm that permits the endless proliferation of disconnected paradigms. The contradictions of the idiot paradigm are of course entirely commensurate with the contradictions of neoliberalism, where a pseudo-liberal humanism of pseudoradical individuality fuels and legitimates the crypto-syntagmatic field of capitalist economic relations. That is to say, capitalist economic relations appear to be so blindingly complex and intertwined with all aspects of life that we appear not to be able to discern cause-and-effect relationships between social, political, ethical, or economic activities in the world. However, there are ordering systems and logics at play, as there must necessarily be (however difficult they may be to grasp) because capital can still be accumulated and subjects are still the points at which capital accumulates and around which it is oriented. Art today suffers within this contradictory system where its innovations, changes, and developments are either explicitly and overtly market driven or are explicitly and overtly driven by the ideological illusions of liberalhumanist ethics. For example, the work of artists such as Jeff Koons or Maurizio Cattelan functions predominantly by the violence of repression in the apparatus of the art market, but also in the museum, in art criticism, and in art history, while functioning secondarily by the more subtle violence of ideology in all these apparatuses to ensure its own apparent cohesion and the reproduction of the values that it propounds to self-legitimize its violent means.13 In the same way, but conversely, the work of a self-proclaimed ethical artist such as Marina Abramovic´ functions predominantly by the violence of liberal-humanist ideology, but also secondarily by

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Here, for example, we can use the example of death to help clarify. Living human subjects can have no access to or knowledge of death while they are living. To access death or to have knowledge of it means one is, of course, dead. This means that the knowledge of the living and the knowledge of the dead cannot be conjoined in any way. The manifold of the moment of death itself provides an abyssal rupture in the continuity of the knowledge of the living. Death is a paradigm that the living paradigm cannot assimilate and so the syntagmata of the living ends abruptly at the manifold disjunctive conjunction with death in the moment of death. The idiotes, by contrast, is able to hop and skip back and forth across this abyss and thus contains secret knowledge of both the living realm and the realm of death, though to neither of which can it disclose the other’s secrets. This monstrous capacity that the idiotes embodies is a principal reason for the fear of and hence public exclusion of those branded as idiots (women, slaves, the mentally ill, and so forth). What I am proposing here is that art can be encountered idiotically but must not be regarded as embodying or representing function or, worse, the meaning of the idiotes as paradigm. In any market there are many layers and mechanisms of violent repression, such as those that allow certain goods and certain vendors into the market place, the agora, or bar them from it. Others are the mechanisms that determine the pricing of goods, which create violent repression of other forms or registers of value or currency to be admitted to operate in the market place. And, of course, the very notion of private property is a form of violent repression that confiscates objects or services from free public usage into the private sphere. Maurizio Cattelan’s and Jeff Koons’s oeuvres have been deliberately choreographed by the artists to gain their value principally from the art markets.

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violent repression, even if this is highly attenuated and concealed, symbolic even, as with it is for the ideological state apparatuses of the family or education systems.14 What is at once obvious, banal, and ubiquitous is that the humanist-capitalist matrix produces a nebula of pseudo-radical difference within the material of the field of the art world (i.e., a plurality of forms, techniques, subjects, and attitudes toward difference) in order to sustain and reproduce the illusion/allusion of the (pseudo-) radical freedom of the individual artwork under the illusion/allusion that we are radically free individual subjects that are targets for and products of both the economic and ethical surpluses of such art. This ethico-economic matrix promises that art can make life better in some way, and indeed that its duty and function is to do so. What this produces is a complex field of apoliticity, where politics as such is impossible. Instead, the play of ethics is confused and misinterpreted as the force of politics; only a self-sustaining field of ethics is reproduced and no substantive change in the material abstractions that govern permitted ways of life occurs, because the polis itself is idiotic. In order to challenge this apolitical hegemony, a non-idealist materialist critique of the quasi-syntagmatic ethico-economic conditions of art needs to supersede the self-limiting and confining illusions/allusions of freedom that are both the principal currency and the constraining embodied weblike structures of art today.15 14 Abramovic´’s work since the 1960s has been dedicated to an ethical way of living in which art plays a central ameliorative and curative role. She believes in the power of obscure rituals, which are prescribed as her art practice, to directly improve the lives of individuals. In a revealing interview, Abramovic´ candidly explains her messianic world view and project for art: “Art can help so much in society because we have lost our beliefs. There [are] no churches anymore, so we have to rebuild. […] I’ve always believed that why I’m here is for the big picture. […] I just want to create situations where people forget time. […] I never saw so much pain. People are afraid to express their inner feelings, but when you go inside, you’ll see it. People live in so much pain. I understand it.” Elisa Lipsky-Karasz, “Once Upon a Time,” Harpers Bazaar, February 7, 2012. Available at www.harpersbazaar.com/fashion/fashion-photography/bedroom-marina-abramovicinterview-0312#slide-1. The very fact that Abramovic´ believes her art to be the key to unlocking the happiness of other people is itself a form of violent repression; and as the author of the rituals that she uses in her practice for such unlocking she also controls the means. While her intentions might be good, she “paves the road to hell” in precisely the manner outlined by Badiou (see note 1). At no point does her work challenge subject relations, especially not property relations. Instead, like the great charitable philanthropists of the nineteenth century, she dedicates her time to making people happy by such means as making them eat bread balls wrapped in gold leaf while bathing in the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean, while children in the Third World continue to work under slave-labor conditions making the designer clothes that she also claims she agonizes about in the Harper’s Bazaar interview. On the violence of ideology and ideological state apparatuses, see Louis Althusser’s “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (London: New Left Books, 1971), 127–88. 15 This essay is principally a diagnostic summary of one of the many key problems in contemporary art. In order for it to contribute to a materialist critique of contemporary art and of the waning political currency of art, it must provide no prognosis. To do so would be utterly contradictory as it would be an act of prediction, of foreknowledge. As an element of a materialist politics, this essay, indeed any essay, can only be diagnostic in as much as it properly will act as an idiotes as it passes through (dia-), across—and not by a spiritual metaphysical knowledge (gnosis) but simply a knowledge of things, of knowledge as a thing. However, this diagnosis is not merely a description but the statement of a position. As a diagnostic description it is an instantiation of the non-idealist gnostic elements of the parts that are stated here as such, and so is a firm taking of a stance, which is its properly political materialist dimension.

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Reason Is Inconsolable and Non-Conciliatory Ray Brassier in Conversation with Suhail Malik

Suhail Malik: By way of general introduction, let’s start with the development of your thinking and ideas through nihilism. In Nihil Unbound, you advocated a (perhaps modernist) project, maybe best exemplified by science, in which the rational understanding of the world undoes all conventional accounts for it (from the mythic to structured or individualized beliefs to most philosophical structures insofar as they do not take seriously enough the discoveries and horizons opened up by the sciences).1 As I see it, you argue that the rational revisions of understanding, the cosmos (philosophically and scientifically apprehended), the self, and the conditions of thought do not depend on or lead to anything predetermined. Or, to put it otherwise, they depend on and assume nothing as their condition other than the iteration of rational thought in a material world. The absence of any positive term as a condition or result of this process—the absenting of a transcendental condition or determination of rational enquiry, its nothing—marks rational thought as a productive nihilism: nihil unbound, as the title of your book has it. One way to capture this nihilistic condition for thought, its termlessness, is your image of the death of the sun, which, thanks to scientific prediction, we know will happen in about five billion years. You ask the question Lyotard does of how thinking addresses its own extra-terrestriality as a rational injunction—and perhaps organizes its own departure from the solar system in a politics of survival2—but, beyond that, solar burnout captures a kind of ultimate nothing for thinking as we have understood it so far, and of its (terrestrial) conditions. So—and here is an audacious move—solar burnout becomes a positive figure for how rational thought in a way assumes nothing as its condition. If this is right, clearly thought cannot be predicated on human interests or have the human as its term, even if it is the human who thinks rationally (perhaps not exclusively, but as at least one such species-actor). This is the antihumanism and non-correlationism of your work. My initial questions are twofold. The first concerns the drama of nihilism: solar burnout if not universal termination is a grand and Conversation conducted by e-mail in September and October 2013. 1 2

Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). Jean-François Lyotard, “Can Thought Go Without a Body,” in The Inhuman: Reflection on Time, trans. Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992).

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catastrophic vista from which to think the base conditions for rational thought and its development. Your more recent work revolving around the work of the mid-twentieth century American analytic philosopher Wilfrid Sellars seems by comparison relatively modest. The aspects of Sellars’s work you are interested in are his theorizations of how ideas are revised by a rational agent by the relation between what he calls the “manifest image”—approximately how the world appears and makes sense to a general rational consciousness—and the “scientific image”—the world as it is known in the terms of theoretical science. Other than explaining your turn to Sellars, the question—which I think is not just about rhetorical strategies but is close to core shifts in your approach—is: Why this “modesty” of returning to an encultured human actor as the basis of your inquiries now? At first blush, it seems a regression or stepping down from the scales and ambition of your earlier work in two regards: first, it concerns only intricacies of processes of rational thinking and concept generation rather than literally stellar conditions for thinking the future of thought; the scope seems much reduced. Second, given your earlier advocacy of a trenchantly antihumanist or non-correlational condition and term for rational thought, the “concept-monger” (to take up your citation of Robert Brandom) involved here seems indelibly human. And this is very far from a now established perception of your interests. In either instance, the emphasis now seems more constructive than nihilistic, more anthropological than cosmological. (I think they are no less nihilistic but it may need some explanation to make it clear why so.) Brassier: At the heart of Nihil Unbound (NU) is an argument defending the necessary link between rationality and nihilism, such that, as you put it, rational thought must assume nothing (what the book calls “being-nothing”) as its productive condition. But the subsequent move toward Sellars, who was all too summarily dealt with in NU, is a direct continuation rather than a detour or a regression from this agenda. I realize it may look like a step backward—a retreat from the impasse of extinction—but in fact it’s a case of what the French call reculer pour mieux sautez, that is, stepping back in order to leap farther. In this particular context, it means reconsidering my overly hasty dismissal of Sellars’s defense of the manifest image in order to think through what it might mean to unbind thinking from its terrestrial condition. I’ve come to understand why Sellars insisted on the indispensability of the manifest image and its role in the process of conceptual revision that fuels cognitive discovery. There’s nothing sacrosanct about the contents of the manifest image (except perhaps for the category of “personhood,” which is not species-specific for Sellars: persons need not be human). What is crucial is its normative infrastructure, by virtue of which it constitutes what Sellars called “the space of reasons.” This normative infrastructure is spelled out in Sellars’s inferentialist theory of meaning,

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which has been vastly amplified by Brandom. The basic idea is simple: if you believe or mean something, you also ought to believe or mean everything that follows from it. Inferentialism ties together semantic and epistemic holism. Semantic holism is the idea that the meaning of any individual claim is defined by its relations to other claims: not just the claims it implies, but those that imply it in turn. These relations are inferential: what something means is a function of what you can infer from it, and what implies it in turn. But this means that to be committed to the meaning of any single claim is also to be committed to the meaning of all those other claims with which it is inferentially bound. This has an epistemic consequence: any individual belief is defined by its inferential relations to all the other beliefs presupposed by or implied by it. So if you believe one thing, you also ought to believe everything that follows from that one thing—regardless of whether or not you are explicitly aware of it (which, clearly, most of the time we are not). This notion of “discursive commitment” is central to inferentialism: the meanings of our claims regularly outstrip what we currently intend or are aware of. This is because the implications of our claims regularly outstrip what we are currently aware of. To be rational is to keep track of those entailments and thereby to track what we become committed to when we commit ourselves to a belief or claim. “Deontic scorekeeping” is the name Brandom gives to the practice whereby we keep track of these discursive commitments. We as rational beings strive to keep track of what we ought to say, think, or do, just as a good chess player strives to keep track of what will follow from all the possible moves that might be made given a specific configuration of pieces on the board. In other words, what we mean when we think or speak is determined by all the things we also ought to think or say in its wake. This inferentialist account of meaning and belief turns out to be a valuable resource for me because it defends the autonomy of rationality without violating the constraints of naturalism (or, if one prefers, “materialism”). The “normativity” invoked in this inferentialist theory of meaning and thought must be distinguished from the sense in which we refer to as “socio-cultural norms.” Rational normativity is distinct from social normativity even if it is invariably socially instituted. This is something Hegel understood and it’s the reason why Hegel can be a rationalist (indeed, an absolute rationalist) while insisting that rationality is always socially and historically embodied. Sellars is Hegelian to the extent that, for him too, the practice of giving and asking for reasons is socially instituted. But institution is not constitution: to say that reason is socially instituted is not to say that it is socially constituted; that is the kind of historicist relativism that both Hegel and Sellars were attempting to avoid, not least because it founders in incoherence. Reason is a practice, but not all practices are equivalent. To claim that they are is to lapse into the kind of vulgar pragmatism which subordinates all practices to a single standard of utility, whether social or biological. Inferentialism insists that the ends governing the practice of giving and asking for reasons cannot be reduced to those of other social practices, even if they are bound up with them in complicated ways.

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This is one way in which inferentialism has allowed me to substantiate the distinction I made in NU between the ends of thought and the ends of life. This is also why it would be a mistake to view my current focus on the inferentialist link between conceptual function and linguistic practice as symptomatic of a drop from the cosmological register to the anthropological register. The “modesty” of my apparent stepping back from thought’s cosmic condition and returning to an account that roots thinking in the activities of encultured human agents is strategic. It’s necessary in order both to ground the normative valence I accord to thinking, and to explain what thinking is and why it ought to be deterritorialized. Unless I can give an account of the “ought” in a statement like “thinking ought to be freed from its terrestrial condition,” its status as an imperative is null. More generally, one has to give an account of the normativity of truth in order to break out of the paradox of nihilism: if nothing matters, then even the thought that nothing matters doesn’t matter. Therefore mattering can’t be adjudicated by thinking; it can only be determined by living. Having destituted reason and truth, nihilism crowns feeling and instinct in their stead. Living holds sway over thinking. Equally, the Laruellean account of thought which I sought to repurpose in NU proved unsuited to the task of liberating thinking from living because it relegated the need for justification to the transcendent realm of philosophy that it claims to suspend. From the standpoint of what Laruelle calls “radical immanence,” rational normativity is just another philosopheme among others. The move from Laruelle to Sellars is the move from the absolute suspension of justification to the justified suspension of the absolute. For my purposes, Laruelle’s “non-standard philosophy” remains too static, too formalist a procedure; its “realism of the last instance” reifies conceptual structures and reduces inferential necessity to authoritarian whim—that of “the philosophical decision.” But unless one can give an immanent, materialist account of the status of rational normativity, one cannot but regress from the cosmological to the anthropological. Inferentialism provides an account wherein thinking that thinking makes no difference does make a difference in and for thinking itself. It matters whether or not anything matters; determining whether or not nihilism is true makes a difference for thinking and this makes a difference in reality: not because thinking is magically keyed in to the fabric of reality, but because thinking is an activity performed by language-using animals, an activity that makes a difference because it is embedded in material reality. Because concepts are functions, they are relayed by the activities of language-using animals, but this does not mean that the properties of conceptual function are to be identified with properties or capacities exclusive to the human animal. Humans may be the only concept-mongers on Earth, but this is not to say they are the only possible concept-mongers. Ultimately, the inferentialist account of conceptual practice ties into a metaphysics of processes wherein conceptual function may be realized by very different kinds of physical processes. Sellars’s vision entails a transcendental functionalism wherein thinking is a process among

other processes, but one whose peculiar involution generates a cognitive gateway onto those other processes.

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Let’s clarify and situate your broad ambition a little more. Two interrelated aspects are worth highlighting here, even at risk of repetition. The first is forward-looking, the second is backward-looking. Prospectively, what is the “farther” horizon you want to “leap” toward, that the turn to inferentialism will help you secure? Retrospectively, accepting the divergence between the interests and claims of reason and those of life—reason transforms life because it is other to it—it seems that rational thought is for you more fundamentally yet the “engine” for its own extension beyond human determination, in two senses: first, you avow the extension of reason qua inferentialism outside of the human into material and practical processes in general; second, it is rational thought qua philosophy that generates an adequate account of this extension and its possibility. Philosophy is then not just a belated self-reflection on the conditions of thought and reality but at once a practice effected through language. This nuanced global distinction leads to the question of what other recursive inferentialist pattern formations there can be. Certainly, making inferences through a recursive pattern formation is a central conceit of capitalist markets as pricing mechanisms constituted through the Efficient Market Hypothesis. Here, all prices in a market are “true” reflections of the market as a whole insofar as it is transparent to itself; price changes arise only as a consequence of nonsymmetrical information before returning to “rationally determined” equilibrium precisely through recursive operations of trading for maximal gains. This may not quite be an inferentialism as per the philosophical lineage you are drawing on, but it seems to observe the same functionalist account. If so, today’s capitalist markets, drawing on these basic premises and also the automation of their practical implementation, would seem to constitute—you may prefer “institute”—a kind of rational agency, and at speeds and capacities that far exceed human limits. At least, that’s what’s declared by those who advocate for capital markets as generating “accurate” prices. Equally, writers, artists, and filmmakers have “embodied” capitalist markets or recursive information network systems as fantastical, spectral figures, proposing a personification of a kind of nonhuman inferentialist functioning: William Gibson’s Neuromancer trilogy is one influential example here. If these or other extensions or generalizations of inferentialism qua recursive patterning process have validity qua reasoning for you, how do you locate inferentialism qua philosophy as a practice in relation to other inferentialist/patterning operations? Sub-question: What is its privilege, if any, and what can you say about this privilege compared with the one

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philosophy had in the high Enlightenment as the rational discipline (given that philosophy then also covered what are now distinguished as sciences and now does not)? First of all, I’d like to obviate a misunderstanding: I wouldn’t say that I “avow the extension of reason qua inferentialism outside of the human into material and practical processes in general.” While it’s true to say that reason is incarnated in material and practical processes, this is not to say that these processes are themselves “rational” or that inferential patterns are realized by all sorts of material and practical processes in general. On the contrary: I want to uphold the crucial (Kantian) distinction between rule-governed conceptual practices, which I take to be constitutive of rationality, and which are exceedingly rare and metaphysically exceptional, and pattern-governed processes, which are ubiquitous and metaphysically unremarkable. In other words, I want to maintain the exceptional status of reason and insist on the “unnatural” nature of our rational capacity without lapsing into a metaphysical dualism of the mental and physical (of the sort recently rehabilitated by philosophers like David Chalmers)3 but also without attributing to it a supernatural origin. The distinction between rule-obeying activity and pattern-governed behavior disqualifies the claim that markets think or dynamic systems reason. Rule-following is pattern-governed but not every pattern incarnates a rule. So, not everything thinks: rationality is a metaphysical exception. But it’s the exception constituted by the rule that discriminates the exception from the rule. So the “farther horizon” toward which rationality propels itself is one that reason must construct: it is not pre-given and it is fundamentally incompatible with the brand of metaphysical eschatology for which the ultimate horizon is the reconciliation of mind and matter or reason and nature. Reason is inconsolable and non-conciliatory. Rational inquiry is propelled by cognitive interests that are generated anew by breaking with past modes of understanding. In this regard, reason is the “restlessness of the negative.” It progresses by refusing the lure of reconciliation—even and especially the lure of being reconciled to the irreconcilable. The farther horizon toward which it progresses is the universal understood as determinate negation of parochial, context-specific modes of understanding. What this progression ultimately implies is a transformation of reason’s relation to time. Why? Because the critique of intellectual intuition, which is the rationalist variant of the myth of the given, requires that we acknowledge the discursive structure of rationality: concepts are linguistically instantiated functions. But to say that reason is discursive is also to say that reasoning takes time: just as there is no nondiscursive rationality, there is no timeless reason. It is because reason takes time that it constitutes a “self-correcting enterprise” in which even our most cherished categories may have to be revised or abandoned. Among these are the temporal 3

David J. Chalmers, The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).

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categories of past, present, and future. My wager is that our understanding of the articulation of past, present, and future—and hence of the structure of time—will eventually be transformed in the light of cognitive discovery. This is where I think reason harbors the possibility of a cognitive solution to the problem of nihilism, which, as Nietzsche rightly saw, is simply the problem of what to do with time. Why keep investing in the future when there is no longer a transcendental guarantor, a positive end of time as ultimate horizon of reconciliation or redemption ensuring a payoff for this investment? Reason promises to transform our relation to time such that the purposelessness of becoming would become intelligible as the enabling condition of action. In Platonic terms, this would be to grasp the intelligible form of formlessness, which is time as such. This would be the rationalist alternative to Nietzsche’s irrationalist solution, which is simply to affirm, rather than understand, the senselessness of becoming (“eternal recurrence” as amor fati). It’s an old quandary: either learn to love fate or learn to transform it. To opt for the latter is to extend the Prometheanism of reason to becoming itself. Prometheanism, in the words of Alberto Toscano, is the articulation of action and knowledge in the perspective of totality.4 It is the attempt to eradicate the discrepancy between what is humanly made and what is nonhumanly given—not by rendering the world amenable to human whim or by merely satisfying our pathological needs, but by remaking ourselves and our world in conformity with the demands of reason. In metaphysical terms, this requires reinscribing the transcendence of time into the immanence of space. To grasp the form of formlessness would be to transform the structure of fate understood as the way in which things happen to us. The gain in intelligibility is practically transformative once one realizes, with Sellars, that thinking is a kind of doing, or as he puts it, that “inferring is an act.” Thinking is not a preliminary to doing, but a kind of doing whose potencies we have yet to understand. The point at which thinking and doing coincide is the point at which idealism and materialism fuse. Pete Wolfendale has suggested that it’s time to rehabilitate logocentrism, a sentiment with which I heartily concur. Everything is ultimately accessible to reason, but reason is not accessible to everything. The Kantian resonances of inferentialism may chafe against contemporary neo-materialism, but among its clear advantages over the latter is ruling out the suggestion that corporations are persons. The personification of complex systems, whether corporations or markets, is among the most unfortunate consequences of the pseudo-materialist tendency to elide the distinction between rational agency and complex behavior. The result is neo-animism: the indiscriminate attribution of agency to anything and everything (speed bumps, traffic cones, pencil sharpeners, and so forth). This is theoretically and politically disastrous. Among the duties of philosophy is reminding theorists that hard-won distinctions like the one between action and behavior cannot be 4

Alberto Toscano, “The Prejudice Against Prometheus,” Stir (Summer 2011). Available at www.stirtoaction.com/the-prejudice-against-prometheus.

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dissolved by fiat. But this is not to say that philosophy can reclaim its former privileges, such as claiming to be the rational discipline. The secession of the special sciences cannot be overturned. Philosophers—and metaphysicians in particular— should be more humble before the astonishing achievements of the empirical sciences. But philosophers need not abase themselves before natural scientists or social scientists. Philosophy retains two indispensable tasks: scrutinizing the conceptual logic underpinning theoretical discourses and identifying the most fundamental categories presupposed by those discourses. This is a modest remit with far-reaching consequences. It’s preferable to a grandiose trumpeting of the return of metaphysics, which often means the regression to precritical dogmatism.

cognitive access to nature. There is no other way of knowing what nature is (certainly not intuition, pace Bergson and others). Third, Kant’s critique of dogmatic rationalism, which I accept, rules out the possibility of an a priori or metaphysical science of nature. This means that empirical science is the privileged source for our understanding of nature, as well as for demarcating the natural from the supernatural. But after Darwin, it becomes increasingly implausible to maintain the Aristotelian thesis that a kind of proto-rationality is already encoded in nature. From a Darwinian perspective, rational purposefulness is an artifact of purposeless processes. Yet reason is purposeful and is honed to track purposes. This engenders the following dichotomy: on the one hand, there are naturalists who think reason is natural because nature is reasonable—a repository of essences and final causes, as Aristotle maintained; on the other hand, there are rationalists who think reason must be unnatural because nature is unreasonable. They see an absolute disjunction between reason and nature. I reject both forks of this dilemma, which leads me to my fourth consequence: reason is unnatural but not supernatural. It is unnatural because rational purposiveness cannot be reduced to natural process: every rule is incarnated in a pattern, but not every pattern incarnates a rule. Yet reason is not supernatural because rules (i.e., concepts) must be realized in patterns: they can do nothing independently of their material realization. In other words, concepts are functions, but functions must be materially realized in order to do anything—and I use “material” in the broadest possible sense here, to encompass the microphysical, neurobiological, and sociohistorical domains. Part of philosophy’s remit is then to excavate the infrastructure of rationality as contingently instantiated in the cognitive capacities of the human organism. Since Homo sapiens is the only concept-monger we know of on this planet, it is the bearer of rational capacity and deserves to be privileged, albeit only insofar as it exercises this capacity. From this point of view, rationalist anthropocentrism is indissociable from logocentrism understood as reason’s self-interestedness. In other words, reason is self-interested because it is the source and legislator of every interest. Without it, nothing is of any interest whatsoever. Reason is nonanthropological precisely insofar as sapience is the defining attribute of humanity.

Accepting that rational thought deprioritizes human life as its privileged agent (a historical privilege attributable, in fact, to various evolutionary contingencies and, in myth, to human self-regard) seems to subscribe to an antihumanism. Yet, that the human is one rational agent in the universe among others (a condition familiar from science fiction) would be a trans-humanism. And if rational thought extends the human as its historical agent in terms other than those (primarily biological-symbolic terms) established to date, this corresponds to a post-humanism. Would you identify any one of these as of greater importance to you than the others? Or do you advocate these multiple yet cogent de-anthropologizing effects and consequences of rational thought (among others) equally and simultaneously? Where and how do you situate your work and ambitions in relation to the spectrum of antihumanism, post-humanism, and trans-humanism? My primary commitment is to a rationalistic naturalism, so there are elements in your characterization of each that I would endorse, viz., that humans are not necessarily the privileged bearers of rationality (antihumanism); that humans may not be the only rational agents (trans-humanism); that rationality may extend itself through post-biotic systems (post-humanism). Others may quibble with these definitions, but what I endorse in your version of these positions is the emphasis on rationality, which is precisely what some advocates of these stances are concerned to minimize or deny. The matter is complicated because there is a disavowed humanism in anti-, post-, and trans-humanism, and there is a necessary inhumanism implicit in humanism. It’s the latter that I’m particularly interested in. So I don’t think one can simply pit the nonhuman against the human, or plump for one over against the other. In order to clarify my own position on these issues, I need to explain what I think rationalistic naturalism entails. I think it has four basic consequences. First, there can be no such thing as an extraterritorial or arational critique of reason, since critique is a normative term whose ultimate warrant derives from reason itself. This remains the case even if one accepts, with Hegel, that the structure of human reason is always historically bounded. Second, reason is our sole means of

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Does nonanthropological reason then necessarily require its cosmological determination as you have it in NU? If rational thought is a nonanthropological functionalist pattern formation by inference, there are in principle many determinations of the nonanthropological in addition to the cosmological one. Why then privilege the cosmic dimension of reason as the direct consequence or horizon of its ex-human generalization? In doing so, don’t you flatten or obviate the proliferation of inferentialist processes exposed in principal by the “step back” from the cosmic as condition of rational thought to Sellarsian persons? Doesn’t Sellars’s functionalist account of reason instead offer a complexification of generalized reason?

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Nonanthropological reason requires its cosmological determination if the “cosmological” is understood as the piercing of the terrestrial horizon by the universal construed as intelligible—but inhuman—exteriority, rather than some spurious absolute alterity. This is what physics, biology, and cosmology jointly encourage philosophy to elucidate. But it doesn’t if “cosmological” is understood in its limited regional sense as a specific empirical discourse about the physical universe—a discourse that deserves no special epistemic privileging by philosophy. To follow up on my previous response, it is a cosmological rationalism that affirms the inhuman core of human cognitive capacity, i.e., sapience as the gateway onto nonhuman reality, while those varieties of post-humanism whose leveling of the difference between the human and the nonhuman is predicated on dissolving the distinction between sapience and sentience end up promoting an unbridled anthropomorphism. They generalize certain properties of human subjective experience and attribute them to everything. The result is what Wolfendale has called “introspective metaphysics”: a metaphysics that believes it can feel its way into the ultimate nature of reality because it claims that what is going on in us is also going on everywhere outside us.5 This may well be realism, but it’s a wildly indiscriminate realism that is incapable of explaining the difference between appearance and reality because it has abolished the distinction between knowing and feeling. Rationalist anthropocentrism, through which reason reveals a radically unfamiliar universe, strikes me as far less parochial than arational anthropomorphism, whose absolutization of human subjectivity encourages us to believe everything is really just like us. And since I’m a rationalist—although of the Kantian rather than metaphysical variety—I believe enlightened anthropocentrism marks a decisive cognitive advance over anthropomorphism, whose rehabilitation leads to a kind of post-modern animism. It is somewhat disconcerting to see animism proclaimed as a theoretical advance: I’m afraid I can only see in it a lamentable regression to pre-modern superstition. It’s the result of privileging feeling as a source of insight into nonhuman reality. But if using feeling to move beyond anthropocentrism yields only untrammeled anthropomorphism, then it’s hardly preferable to correlationism. You are associated for better or worse with Speculative Realism, the one tenuously common point of the various thinkers and projects gathered under that umbrella term being precisely an interest in overcoming the limitations of what Quentin Meillassoux has called correlationism: that thinking always assumes and reinstantiates the thinking subject, so the real outside of thought cannot be thought as such. Can you clarify whether for you the affirmation of rational thought is necessarily non-correlational? To explain this question a little more: the problem captured with a striking reductive power by the term correlationism is not only how thought 5

Pete Wolfendale, “The Noumenon’s New Clothes,” Speculations: a Journal of Speculative Realism 3 (2012): 365.

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thinks the non-human in its exteriority to human apprehension but, more precisely, how thinking as such—by any subject or person of thought such as a postbiotic or alien rational agent—can think outside of itself (the real) without supposing that the exterior to thinking is thought. You are clear that inferentialism as the functionalist account of rational thought permits the first-mentioned extraction of rational thought from the human as its historically privileged subject, and it also seems that Sellars’s secular account of transcendental reason is itself a “realist” account of rational thought (it is an exceptional kind of pattern formation amongst others in a materialsemantic dimension). But does it then follow that even such a de-anthropologized thought is non-correlational? Put simply, even if it is not a human subject that thinks the real but an abstractly determined “person,” if that generalized rational thinking no less apprehends what it thinks in terms of its thinking, even in what you identify as “an immanent, materialist account of the status of rational normativity,” it is nonetheless a (perhaps ex-anthropic) correlationism. If it is to be non-correlational—and here, the conditional “if ” is to be stressed—how does inferentialism abdicate the thinking person it constitutes with regard to what it thinks? How do you situate the realism rather than materialism (non-anthropic cosmology) of rational thought qua inferentialism? It’s important to distinguish the good and the bad senses of “correlationism.” Correlationism as an epistemic doctrine is perfectly unobjectionable and indeed undeniable. It simply means that we can’t know objects without concepts. This sound epistemic doctrine only becomes objectionable if it’s conflated with a contentious skeptical claim that we can never really know whether or not objects truly correspond to the concepts through which we know them. The latter is rooted in a fallacy commonly known as “Stove’s Gem,” which I’ve discussed elsewhere.6 The inferentialism I endorse is a kind of naturalized Kantianism and it is correlationist in the first, epistemic sense, but not in the second, skeptical sense. I share Meillassoux’s antipathy to the skeptical version of correlationism, but I think he’s wrong to think it follows ineluctably from the first, epistemic or Kantian sense of correlation. Indeed, the suggestion that we can only refute skepticism by dispensing with epistemic correlation, understood as the synthesis of concepts and intuitions, seems to me untenable, since it assumes that either reason or sensibility can separately intuit the real, the former being the rationalist variant of the myth of the given, the latter its empiricist version. So I don’t think Meillassoux’s appeal to “dianoetic intuition” successfully avoids the difficulties associated with what Kant called “dogmatic rationalism.”7 Once correlationism is understood as a strictly epistemic 6 7

Ray Brassier, “Concepts and Objects,” in The Speculative Turn, ed. Levi Bryant, Graham Harman, and Nick Srnicek (Melbourne: re-press, 2010). See Quentin Meillassoux, “Subtraction and Contraction: Deleuze, Immanence and Matter and Memory,” trans. Robin Mackay, in Collapse 3 (November 2007): 433.

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doctrine, it can be seen to be the condition for realism—not just empirical realism, which is the corollary of Kant’s transcendental idealism, but transcendental realism, which asserts the mind-independent existence of theoretical entities (this obviously requires a lot of unpacking, but I don’t have the space to do it here). I find the idea of a “non-correlational realism” incoherent because the issue of realism is tied to that of explanatory justification, which involves epistemic correlation. The point is to know what we mean when we qualify something as “real” and to be able to adjudicate questions about something’s “reality” on rational, as opposed to dogmatic, grounds. Shorn of this rational constraint, the banner of “realism” by itself becomes strictly meaningless. In fact, the relations between “realism,” “materialism,” and “idealism” are of considerable dialectical complexity so I think it’s a mistake to brandish any one of them in isolation from the others. They derive whatever philosophical sense they possess from their contrastive interdependence. Just as the assertion of an unqualified or indiscriminate “realism” is uninformative, the proclamation of “materialism” has also become meaningless, a genuflection to academic orthodoxy often licensing positions that are indistinguishable from the most objectionable theses of “idealism” (subjectivism, spiritualism, pan-psychism, vitalism, the identity of thought and being, and so on). In this context, I think the term “idealism” merits strategic resuscitation as a way of reasserting the autonomy of the conceptual and combating the virulent anti-rationalism of certain contemporary strains of “realism” and “materialism.” “Idealism” as a claim about the autonomy of the conceptual need not entail a “realism of the idea” in Iain Hamilton Grant’s sense, although the two are closely linked.8 I think what divides Grant and me is a divergence over the ontological status of concepts as well as the conceptual status of “nature.” But we both proclaim the necessity of articulating eidos and hyle, idealism and materialism. As I understand it, this means upholding the primacy of reason together with the arationality of the real. I’m not sure whether this makes me a materialist idealist or idealist materialist, but in any case, oxymorons are dialectically instructive. Let’s return then to the distinction between rational norms, as you’ve further elucidated them here, and sociocultural norms—partly in order to disambiguate the two and clear up confusions arising from the common term “norm,” but also to understand better if one informs the other and, if so, how. The question here is a short one but its reasoning requires a fairly lengthy elaboration. From your earlier responses, we can take rational thought to be a bio-semantic or bio-social contingency particular on this planet (so far) to the human: rational thought need never have happened but it has, as a historical and conceptual fact qua Homo sapiens, and 8

Iain Hamilton Grant, Philosophies of Nature After Schelling (London: Continuum, 2006). See also Jeremy Dunham, Iain Hamilton Grant, Sean Watson, Idealism: The History of a Philosophy (Durham, NC: Acumen, 2011).

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you propose, against a recent tendency to deprioritize human agency and specificity, that we need not be unduly modest about this human privilege with regard to reason nor unduly understate its capacity and effects. Granting this exceptionality, rational inquiry renews cognitive interests by, as you say, “breaking away from past modes of understanding.” That renewal—the work of reason, if you will—can be further specified: (a) it is universalizing qua negation of particularized instances of understanding (perhaps including its own bio-semantic ontic particularity of human instantiation?); (b) it is not eternal since it emerges in cosmological time and history and also because it is a temporal “self-correcting enterprise” in discourse (reason is a contingent fact in the cosmological dimension and there is no intellectual intuition); (c) yet reason is cosmological in that it is how human intelligibility—which is for you defining of humanity—is pierced by nonhuman non-terrestrial reality; and (d) rationalism is the commitment to inferential adumbrations of any claim or proposition. Any discursive or cognitive interest has to be committed to its consequences, and consistently so (in your own case, the espousal of a materialist rationalism requires you to abjure Kantian reason as itself a myth of the given, hence the turn to Sellars). This last determination of reason—meaning here only rational thought and certainly not an autonomous realm of ideas—is how and why reason is normative. It is then clear why such norms ought not to be confused with sociocultural norms insofar as the latter are historically (which is to say, parochially and particularly) derived rather than rationally constituted (that is, universalizing and inferentially rigorous). To return to the terms of your earlier formulation: though rational normativity takes place discursively in time—instituted in language, with all the historical contingency that supposes—it is not constituted by given language or sociohistorical norms (let us call such norms “cultures”). Rather, rational thought’s inferentialist injunction is, if anything, directed against the necessarily residual commitments of cultural norms. (Which is not to say that rational thought is necessarily cast against this or that cultural given, only that its avowal of the same takes place on another basis than that of culture: that of its epistemo-semantic holism. For rational thought, culture must align with reason.) Now, if this outline of the distinction between cultural and rational norms stands, then does it not follow that reason qua rational thought is a—if not “the”—cogent “engine” of counter-normative cultural transformation (qua sociohistorical norms)? The reasoning is this: though rational thought in principle negates the particularity of any culture or historical fact in its universalizing tendency, rational thought nonetheless takes place in time and discursively. As such, it is always occasioned in fact at a particular time and in a particular language, however formalized that language

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may be (such a formalization could be understood precisely as a rational undertaking in the continuing negation of the historical particularities and parochialism of our languages as given cultures; but even this formalization is in fact specific and parochial: it has to be learned). In other words, rational thought is in principle distinct to culture but is in fact instantiated in the languages we have, perhaps modifying them along the way. Manifest in and through a parochial language, predicated on a bio-semantic contingency, rational thought is historically located; or, again and in short, it is in fact cultural. In its negation of the parochialism of culture and language, its inferentialist imperatives even generate a cultural history. (Certainly, this was the avowed task of the Enlightenment as a historico-philosophical endeavor.) And even if rational thought were to confirm a particularity of a given culture (a philosophy or scientific endeavor, say, but maybe also a law or a mode of production), it would only do so on the basis of its universalizing inferentialism, redetermining that particularity in terms other than the cultural ones in which it had been temporarily manifest to that point. (The relevance of Hegel’s dialectic of the idea that you mention above is pressing here as, from another angle, are Edmund Husserl’s writings on the foundation of European science. But let’s leave this aside for now since I think it is clear enough that the inferential account is distinct from these in having the advantage of not proposing a horizon to the rational endeavor.) More generally, we can assume that rational thought negates sociohistorical givens—particulars and norms—but it does so as itself a sociohistorical fact. In any case a negation of sociocultural norms, reason is a counter-normative functional process of rule-following with respect to cultures insofar as the latter are merely given—including those cultures in which rational thought takes place discursively and historically. In fact, since it is contingently occasioned in bio-semantic particularity, rational thought is at origin culturally given. It is not just that rational thought is articulated and instantiated in sociohistorical norms but is not subordinated to them; rather, and moreover, reason countermands culture and, in doing so, it proposes new cultural facts (less parochial discourses, unfolding in time) and so renews culture. Without this cultural manifestation of thought observing rational norms, there could be only intellectual intuition or a non-discursive, atemporal reason—a meta- or ex-cultural reason—and so no inferentialism at all (as per Plato). If the argument has traction for you, the primary question here is: Even while observing the difference between rational and sociohistorical norms in principle, does their confounding not in fact realize rational norms as new cultural norms via a process that from any given culture can only be seen as a counter-normative violation? Accepting the distinction in principle and prescriptive conditions between reason and culture, is it

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not then untenable to hold on to their distinction in fact and descriptive differentiation? Does the inferentialist account of rational thought not have to accept that the consistent adumbrations of any statement are somewhat shaped by sociohistorical particularities (that is, limited in time and language)? This is a very difficult question. The claim that, as you put it, “rational thought is a—if not the—cogent ‘engine’ of counter-normative cultural transformation (qua socio-historical norms)” is a good distillation of the project of radical Enlightenment—with the proviso that the factual “is” be changed to a normative “should be,” since, understood as a factual claim, this formulation is obviously refutable. It’s the claim that rationality should be the engine of counter-normative cultural transformation that I’m committed to, not that it is or has been. And I’m committed to it precisely insofar as I’m interested in reactivating the project of Enlightenment in its radical, Promethean form. But then the problem is precisely the one you’ve pinpointed: having conceded that, as a matter of fact, rational norms are always socially instituted, can I really insist that they have to be distinguished in principle without relapsing into an objectionable dualism of rational form and sociohistorical content? This would be another version of the traditional distinction between logical form and semantic content, which is precisely something that inferentialism calls into question. Inferentialism starts from the primacy of material inference—from “It is raining” to “The streets are wet”—and maintains that semantic content is individuated by the rules governing such material inferences. These rules are constitutive of the meaning of linguistic expressions; they are not just something derived from or applied to pre-existing semantic units. Moreover, purely logical or “formal” inference is merely the rendering explicit, or explicitation, of relations of discursive commitment, entitlement, and incompatibility that are already implicit in everyday perception, reasoning, and action. So logic, in Brandom’s words, is merely “the organ of semantic self-consciousness.”9 This is to say that discursive rationality—the game of giving and asking for reasons—is more basic than logic, which presupposes it. But this also implies that what we mean is indissociable from what we do, that is, from our everyday practical purposes. Since these practical purposes are embedded in a social context, this means that our rationality, understood as our ability to give and ask for reasons for what we do and say, cannot simply be abstracted from the social practices in which this ability is embedded. This is to say that discursive rationality cannot be dissociated from practical, which is to say social, rationality. In this regard, inferentialism relays the old Marxian idea that conceptual contradictions reflect practical contradictions. If the task of philosophy is to render explicit the conceptual norms implicit in discursive practice, and to identify 9

Robert B. Brandom, Tales of the Mighty Dead: Historical Essays in the Metaphysics of Intentionality, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 10.

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contradictions at the level of theoretical discourse, then it is also bound to expose the contradictions, or rather incompatibilities, between theoretical norms and practical norms, as well as the incompatibilities pitting various practical norms against each other. Because rationality is indissociably conceptual and social, theoretical rationality is inseparable from practical rationality in the broadest sense, which encompasses every variety of human practice, whether material or intellectual. In this regard, what you call the “counter-normative”thrust of philosophical rationality is its latent revolutionary calling. Philosophy does not (indeed, cannot) hold sociocultural norms accountable to some allegedly superior tribunal of pure reason. What it does do is hold sociocultural norms accountable to their own implicit criteria of rationality by rendering explicit both their conceptual inconsistencies and their practical incompatibilities. In doing so, it exerts the minimum degree of discursive pressure required to initiate the process of revising and ultimately transforming both social and cultural practices. I’m not suggesting that such discursive pressure is tantamount to political pressure, or that rational critique is a sufficient condition of revolutionary transformation. But I do want to suggest that it is a necessary condition, and that cognitive, political, and artistic revolutions can be understood as propelled by the obligation to achieve the rational supersession of incompatibilities between saying and doing, or between implicit norms and explicit practices. This is the rational motor of universalization and, thus construed, it does not imply any hypostasis of the universal. It’s an immanent and eminently Hegelian conception of universalization as a process that is implicit in every human society, no matter what its state of “development,” and in every variety of human practice, no matter how parochial. Inferentialism is Hegelian insofar as it conceives of the universal as the selfsupersession of particularity. In Badiouian terms, I think this is how truth-procedures reconfigure the state of the situation—but the difference is that from an inferentialist-Hegelian viewpoint, there are immanent cognitive criteria governing the inception of the truth-procedure that brings about the situation’s generic extension (truth’s subtraction from knowledge is still governed by extant knowledge: knowledge supersedes itself by recognizing its own limitations). That the sociality of human reason can compel us to overcome the shortfall between our practical ideals and our practical achievements, whether in science, politics, or art, is the basic wager of Enlightenment. Inferential reasoning and the maximal prosecution of a proposition’s consequences that such reasoning requires have so far been understood as a linguistic practice. That is faithful to Sellars’s philosophy extended by Brandom, how far the argument can be taken in termss of broader cultural practices, can the modality or medium of inferentialist reason also be extended to nonlinguistic practices? What, if anything, would this change in

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the Sellarsian account of inferentialist practices? In an interview with Mattin on the political and philosophical resources of post-music noise you propose: If noise harbours any radical political potential [determined per rational norms], then it needs to be elaborated via a process of interrogation, which would involve working through questions such as: What is experience, given that capitalism commodifies sensations, affects, and concepts? What is abstraction, given that capitalism renders the intangible determining while dissolving everything we held to be concrete? What freedoms are we invoking when we proclaim noise’s “freedom” from the alleged constrictions of musical genre?10 The content and direction of such interrogations are in line with your broad avowals of Marxism as the politics of a rational collective organization necessary to challenge neoliberalism as the currently prevalent configuration of capitalist domination. But the question that remains here is whether such interrogations need to be overtly philosophical or linguistic inferential consequences alloyed to noise but not themselves noise as a material practice distinct from language, or whether such “interrogations” and “deontological scorekeeping” can be undertaken through a cultural/ nonlinguistic material organization such as noise (qua genre) itself. That is, can the nonlinguistic material practice draw up inferences and address the questions you propose in its own logic and medium rather than in the converted and displacing terms of linguistic inference? The task here is distinct from the inferentialism characteristic of a certain modernism in which a particular artistic or cultural genre follows its formal or material logic to the end: you propose that the interrogations a particular genre or medium needs to make are not determined or limited to its specific conditions and limitations but according to horizons external to it (experience in conditions of capitalist abstraction, the content of emancipation, and so on). To be clear: the question here is not about noise itself as a genre of cultural production—the same argument and demands can presumably be extended to other practices of material-cultural organization—but about the kinds of “work” that can be done by cultural practices: either as being in relation to (and therefore not immediately) the kind of rationalism you advocate or, instead, as being at once such a rationalist practice but undertaken in and as nonlinguistic quasi-communication. I think the answer to your question is yes, nonlinguistic practices can draw up inferences and address the sorts of questions cited above in their own medium and 10 “Metal Machine Theory: An Electronic Email Conversation”; available at www.mattin.org/essays/ METAL_MACHINE_THEORY_3.html.

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independently of language. Although the inferentialist premium on discursive practices privileges the game of giving and asking for reasons, this game is not only or exclusively realized in specifically linguistic discourse. The category of discursive practice is broader than that of linguistic practice. This is to say that reasoning understood as the unfolding of discursive commitments, entitlements, and incompatibilities, is not confined to the medium of explicitly self-conscious theoretical discourse, which unfolds in and through language. Not every rational discursive practice operates in this specifically linguistic medium. Artists think, and some artists think as rigorously as any theoretician, albeit in and through a nonlinguistic medium. Where noise is concerned, an artist like Mattin is engaged in thinking through the implications of the commitment to the ideal of “free improvisation.” In the course of working out these implications, he has discovered an incompatibility between what is implied by the norm of free improvisation and the conventions governing its actual practice. So he has undertaken a series of experiments designed to test the limits of what is allowable within those conventions and in doing so he seeks to expose the latent contradiction between the norm and the practice. I see Mattin as someone engaged in an eminently rational cognitive practice, in which self-consciously linguistic theorizing is just one element deployed alongside other, nonlinguistic elements: sonic, gestural, verbal, visual, and so forth. His performances frequently bring all these elements into play. And the fact that the rational reconstruction of the complexity of assertions implicit in these performances is often retrospective in no way compromises their discursive rigor: the rationality of a discursive practice is always retrospectively constructed. This is what it means to say that thinking takes time; the rationality implicit in a discursive practice—where “rationality” is understood as the intersubjective elaboration of discursive commitments, entitlements, and incompatibilities—is never immediately accessible to its participants at any single stage of its unfolding. Moreover, Mattin’s work is characterized by its self-consciousness (I mean this in the sense of cognitive awareness) about the status of artistic practice in late capitalist society and, in this regard, it explicitly addresses issues such as the nature of abstraction and the content of emancipation. Thus he is doing more than merely testing the conditions and limitations of a specific artistic medium—“noise” and/ or “free improvisation”—he is exposing the ways in which specific artistic practices are implicated in broader social and discursive contexts. And the “philosophical” tenor of his interrogation of his chosen medium has been generated in and through his practical engagement with it: it is not an extraneous imposition. In interrogating the limitations of a specific artistic practice, he has been compelled to investigate whether and how these limitations may be conditioned by the nexus of other practices in which it is enveloped. Thus the engagement with universality follows from unpacking the logic of a specific practice.

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Suprematist Ontology and the Ultra Deep Field Problem: Operations of the Concept Iain Hamilton Grant

It took fourteen billion years to produce this image, for time to present its insuperably partial self-portrait:

Figure 1: The Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF)1

The image raises many questions concerning the character of time, the emergence of order, and the imageability of creation. It presents the early universe approximately one billion years after the big bang, yet was taken in 2004. The Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF) is the name of the image, not of what it images. It images time through space because the farther into the universe imaging reaches, the deeper into time it descends. For all the marveling we might do concerning science, or what knowing makes, the image does not, of course, present the inexistence antecedent to the “imaged” infant universe or that inexistence antecedent to the universe’s emergence. The first inexistence is merely that of the billion years missing from the image, which is, to that extent, a deep field problem. Yet this is merely a relative inexistence. The ultra-deep field problem, which the HUDF does not image, involves not only the relative inexistence that fringes the existent image, concept or entity, but the absolute inexistence entailed when the deep field problem is acknowledged. Only this 1

This image “should offer new insights into what types of objects reheated the cold, dark universe about one billion years after the big bang, when stars first started to shine, about thirteen billion years ago.” See www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2004/mar/HQ_04086_Hubble_UDF.html.

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warrants the qualification “ultra-deep field,” since it exceeds depth in the direction of the depthless, exceeds any existent in the direction of inexistence. Historically, then, the HUDF is of something antecedent to its being imaged. In other words, the image of the antecedent is consequent upon not only an image-capable universe (deep field), but also upon the universe (ultra-deep field). As such, the image is additional with respect to the universe: not merely an image of it but an additional element in it. The HUDF shows that every journey into the past takes place not only in the future of that past, as is entailed by journeying into it; it also shows that, as a result, this past is consequent upon the future in which it is made; and that, as a result, the past for which the infant universe was a future remains a past undisturbed by Hubble’s intrusions. From this perspective, despite the fact that the universe insuperably antedates its being imaged, it is not inconceivable that creation itself be imaged, though this entails the image of the inexistent universe consequent upon that inexistent universe. But the imaged creation would be the future of the unimaged, its consequent rather than its reproduction, and would amount to the production or emergence, within that universe, of its own inexistence. Accordingly, the irreducible remainder of imaged inexistence will be the existent universe. For the same reason, however, the surd or remainder of a newly existent universe is precisely its inexistence, from which alone, according to the “Earliest System Program of German Idealism,” creation can be understood as “emerge[nt] out of nothingness,”2 that is, historically or temporally. It is this inexistence, the nothingness or not-being of the universe, which, once there is a universe, is paradoxically ineliminable. To see this, consider what temporality entails. According to F. W. J. Schelling, temporality is what is always in excess of what is, because “what is” cannot be reduced to a thing or an object. He writes: “Everything is temporal, the actuality of which is exceeded by the essence, or the essence of which contains more than it can contain in actuality.”3 Essence consists in more than actuality only if everything actual, everything currently active, is emergent. Temporality therefore entails the inactuality from which being operative must itself emerge if it exceeds actuality. Thus understood, temporality is temporality only if creation is involved, and creation entails inactuality, an inexistence consequent upon what is actual that remains irreducible to the inexistence antecedent to the emergence of this actuality. Accordingly, creation is consequent upon creation, or if creation is at all, it is creation to the nth power. The “time before the world,” the antecedent of the image of the infant universe or the HUDF, is therefore both a consequent of the existent universe and irreducible

to the antecedence it conceives. In other words, the concept of creation is itself an instance of creation, involving the same irreducibility to the conceived as the universe has to its creation: there is always an irreducible remainder between creation and its concept, image, or additional element because the latter are instances of the former and therefore involve their ineliminable inexistence. After Immanuel Kant,4 philosophers would object here that any attempt to conceive or to image “nature in its natural state—the time before the world”5 is an attempt to conceive without concepts, to conceive a preconceptual nature behind all concepts. Hence they would conclude that any attempt to conceive of what is without concepts is self-contradictory. The concept of universal inexistence, such philosophers would argue, merely captures a mourning, in the act of conceiving, for its inability to conceive its own creation, a melancholic Romanticism bewailing what the concept cannot conceive, or what is “given” in advance of the concept (“nature in its natural state” and so forth). Rather than pursue the self-contradiction, it would be better, it might be argued, to abandon the attempt to conceive of what being is before being conceived. Better not to do ontology at all and to complete the shift that Kant initiated, according to some, from ontology to deontology.6 The “space of reasons” that concept-using creatures by definition occupy, they argue, is insuperable for such creatures which, to that extent, are not saliently biological.7 To acknowledge that conceivers irrevocably occupy such a rational space is thus to accept that it is not things that issue rational demands, but only reason-givings. It is this on which philosophers should concentrate, and thus “privilege inference over reference,” abstraction over representation, or the norms entailed in making judgments over (hypothetically) nonrational realities.8 This need not deny that there are photons before there are speakers, but only that photons issue

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F. W. J. Schelling, Friedrich Hölderlin, and G. W. F. Hegel, “The Earliest Program for a System of German Idealism,” in Theory As Practice: a Critical Anthology of Early German Romantic Writings, ed. and trans. Jochen Schulte-Sasse et al. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 72–73. F. W. J. Schelling, “On the Relation between the Real and the Ideal in Nature, or the Emergence of the Axioms of Naturephilosophy from the Principles of Gravity and Light” (1806), Schellings Werke II (Stuttgart and Augsburg: Cotta, 1856–61), 364. (Hereafter Schellings Werke is cited as SW plus volume number. Unless otherwise noted, all translations from Schelling are my own). For Schelling’s theory of essence (Wesen) or “being operative” (wirksam sein), see his Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom and the Objects Connected Therewith (1809), in SW VII, 341–342, 346, 258.

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That contemporary philosophy is insuperably “downstream from Kant” is asserted, for example, by Robert Brandom in his “From German Idealism to American Pragmatism—and Back,” in Perspectives on Pragmatism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), 1: “Developments over the past four decades have secured Immanuel Kant’s status as being for contemporary philosophers what the sea was for Algernon Swinburne: the great, gray mother of us all.” This is the definition of Romanticism Novalis gives in §31 of his Allgemeine Brouillon, in Gerhard Schulz, ed., Novalis Werke, 3rd ed. (Munich: Beck, 1987), 455: “The time of universal anarchy— lawlessness—freedom—nature in its natural state—the time before the world (the state). Pre-world time provides as it were the dispersed traces of post-world time. […] Chaos is creation fulfilled. The future world is rational chaos, self-permeating chaos, chaos or .” As the neo-Hegelian philosopher Brandom claims, for instance, in Tales of the Mighty Dead (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 212. Examining “Some Pragmatist Themes in Hegel’s Idealism,” Brandom writes that, insofar as they occupy the space of reasons, “merely biological beings […] become spiritual beings, undertakers of commitments” (Tales of the Mighty Dead, 217). He later clarifies this view: “The world consists of things and their causal relations, and they can only cause and not justify a claim or a belief ” (Perspectives on Pragmatism, 123–24). Robert Brandom, Articulating Reasons: An Introduction to Inferentialism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), 1. Such “non-rational realities” are merely hypothetical in the sense implied by the famous Hegelian dictum that “what is rational is actual and what is actual is rational.” See §6 of Hegel’s Encyclopaedia Logic, trans. T. F. Geraets, W. A. Suchting, and H. S. Harris (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1991), 28–30.

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rational demands to which reason-exchanging creatures are practically responsive.9 Such rational demands include well-justified scientific fact. No one can deny that conceptual work is insuperable in all conceiving. But can it be straightforwardly assumed that the space of reasons is therefore not nature? Surely to do so relies on an assertion concerning what reason is that, contrary to the hypothesis, privileges reference over inference, if only in this instance—a realism, that is, even if only with regard to the concept. This realism tends, interestingly, to be cashed out in terms of doings, of practices (chiefly the making and justifying of judgments), rather than by considering the concept to be an “object,” a risk philosophers share, according to Freud, with schizophrenics.10 Yet since concepts issue only from judgments and do not precede them, the only conceivably real doings are those of judgment makers. Attention is paid neither to the operations of the concepts themselves nor to actors other than those that occupy the space of reasons. Insofar as this position maintains but does not elaborate this restricted realism, it fails to note the deep field problem: as the HUDF shows, no matter how deep the field, it is fringed with the inexistence of that field in which all imaging, conceiving, and constructing are in consequence insuperably partial constituents. A consistent realism concerning the concept, the image, or the additional element therefore entails either that “reality,” being itself a concept, is a state that cannot be extended beyond the conceptual or that the concept of reality, if not so restricted, entails conceiving the inexistence of the concept. Examining the work of Kazimir Malevich, I will contest the claim that the concept—this abstract entity or additional element—is not part of the universe in which conceiving arises. For it is hard to see how a concept, an image, or an abstract element may be added to a world if a world were not some field in which thoughts, images, and abstract elements occur. In consequence, the insuperability of the conceptual does not entail the abandonment of nature for norms, nor a naturalization of normativity or, what amounts to the same thing, the normativization of nature.11 And so I deny, secondly, that the insuperability of conceiving licenses the abandonment of ontology: if conceiving arises, it does so (a) in a universe and, (b) consequently upon the inexistence that the concept shares with the universe that arises and in which that concept itself arises. The realism at issue concerns the operations, the distributions of antecedence and consequence, by means of which alone elements may be additional.

The Flight Paths of Dust

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See Brandom’s discussion of the status of photons before there were vocabulary users in Perspectives on Pragmatism, 125–27. 10 Sigmund Freud, “The Unconscious” (1915), in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 14, ed. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1953–74), 204. 11 This last is John McDowell’s favored response to the problem. See especially his “two sorts of naturalism,” in Mind, Value and Reality (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), 167–97; and his responses to Robert Pippin in Reading McDowell on Mind and World, ed. Nicholas H. Smith (London: Routledge, 2002), 274–77.

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Malevich’s theory of The World as Non-Objectivity, as its title argues, does not claim that because nonobjective art abandons imitation and expression, it therefore abandons realism, but rather that the world is nonobjectively.12 Thus the realism Malevich advocates for nonobjectivism, insofar as this consists in a knowing of what is, is for him inseparable from the works of science, as he constantly argues, just as some scientists have argued that the productive element and transformative productions that “knowing makes” turn physics into art.13 It is not by virtue of their various objects (stars, paintings, concepts) that the sciences, arts, and philosophy are “realist” in the sense I wish to spell out, but rather by virtue of the surd-structure, the “irreducible remainder” or the “time before the world” that the concept of creation entails and that is entailed in turn if there are additional elements. The concept of creation, that is, entails that what is created was not. This structure is universal, I will argue, insofar as, if true even in a single instance, it rules out its non-occurrence. Three theories underpin the philosophy of nonobjectivity, according to Malevich’s unpublished writings of the 1920s. The first concerns the theory of the additional element, the second that of the world as nonobjectivity, and the third, the theory of the copula. Each entails the other two: To the question “To what is an element additional?” therefore, the answer is—and “of course,” we might say—“the world”; not, however, the world just as we find it, the world of experience and concrete objects for instance, but the world as it is, as “nonobjectivity.” Just as in any proposition the copula is that element that combines a subject (such as “a square”) with a predicate (such as “white”), so too an additional element augments the nonobjective world by means of the copula. What the copula does, therefore, its actions or operations, how an element is added to a nonobjective world, forms the theory of the Suprematist copula. Crucially, how the copula operates and in what environments it operates demonstrate that it is not reducibly a concept or formal device, where “formal” is understood as not being material. We will address each of the three theories in turn. Malevich begins his account of creation thus: Not in vain have little airplanes emerged from the bowels of the Earth [1]. They will not be stopped on Earth by the three-dimensional law [2], they will fly to the place whence they have come [3], they are the dust of the Earth 12 Kazimir Malevich, The World as Non-Objectivity. Unpublished Writings 1922–25, ed. Troels Andersen, trans. Xenia Glowacki-Prus and Edmund T. Little (Copenhagen: Borgen, 1976). 13 Johann Wilhelm Ritter, “Die Physik als Kunst” [Physics as Art] (1806), in Fragmente aus dem Nachlasse eines jungen Physikers [Fragments from the Literary Remains of a Young Physicist], ed. Birgit and Stefan Dietzsch (Hanau: Müller & Kiepenheuer, 1984), 288–320. His account of what “knowing makes [was das Wissen schafft],” a pun on Wissenschaft, or “science,” occurs at pages 294 and 319. For a contemporary, albeit more “constructivist” variant, see Isabelle Stengers’s account of science as the experimental embrace of a risky future in Power and Invention, trans. Paul Bains (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 162–66.

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which flies off the Earth’s surface, and by this means pulverize the globe [4] […] Everything is striving to leave the globe [5], and to make its way further into space [6], but thanks to the relationship between the elements which have not yet been discovered, it sits like a tick on the Earth [7].14 The seven points I have singled out clarify the sense of the passage, which concerns the character of the world as nonobjectivity or demonstrates the problems to which the category “object” is ontologically prone. [1] Airplanes do not take off from airports but “emerge” from subterranean worlds. The scope of the flight is larger than its geographically located points of departure; and destinations, or its essential operations, to recall Schelling, exceed the actual flight. The airplane’s natural history thus encompasses the ores from which its metals were smelted, the formation of these ores over geological timescales and the development of the engine. Accordingly, technology and nature are not different in kind. Just as the natural history of the airplane exceeds its flight, point [2] argues that the flight exceeds the limitations of terrestrial geometry. Yet it also problematizes this: implicit in “geometry” is that it does not measure all dimensions, but only those of ge, of the Earth. It is a local or ontic science, tied to its object. That there are other dimensions—and not reducibly spatial ones, as [1] affirms—again attests to temporality, of what Schelling called the excess of essence over actuality, of the operation over any local “what is” (“What is the Earth?” “What is flight?”). The core of the problem of the flight path that absorbs the entire passage is addressed in point [3], which offers one solution to it, which I will call Trajectory A. The passage asks whether the flight, as what Malevich will call an “additional element” or “culture of action,” is a line or a curve. Here he asserts that airplanes, and by extension natural history, “will fly to the place whence they have come,” that is, that its flight paths are ultimately circular such that origin and end points are identical. Point [4] thus completes the circuit: flight is from and to dust. From the dust the flight becomes; the earth, its elements exhausted in this effort, turns to dust in turn, raising the crucial question of whether first dust (D1) is equal to second (D2), to which I will return below. Point [5] argues that it is not, and reposes the problem of flight not in terms of orbits but of striving. If essential operations exceed actuality, then this amounts to a realism concerning striving that is, for that reason, not restricted to the airplane or to the Earth. With point [6], therefore, it is not the airplane or the pilot (interestingly unremarked by Malevich) that strives; rather “everything is striving” to abandon earth for space. Point [6] therefore opens Trajectory B—that of the line in the “aerial element.” Striving is a straight line insofar as striving is considered as such and not in regard to the objects within which it is caught or, what amounts to the same thing, to the subject whose striving it might be. Yet no sooner is Trajectory B set against Trajectory A than an animal skepticism rears up 14 Malevich, World as Non-Objectivity, 111–12.

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to recapture striving among objects. The airplane does not leave the Earth but “sits like a tick” on the planet, locked into its changeless parasitism. Finally, then, if [3] appears to be confirmed by tick-talk, that is, that the local holds flight captive, that return is not a habit but a physically insuperable cycle, our attention is returned to the presupposition of the Earth, the history of which gives point [1] its force. If the natural history—mineralogy, metallurgy, manufacture, electricity, and combustion—on which the extended flight path is inalienably dependent, what gives the Earth its ultimacy, what licenses the Earth’s exemption from this history? What makes it the ground upon which all else occurs and to which, therefore, the flight paths of dust must invariably return? Malevich’s first indication of the Earth’s historicity is by way of its future—which turns out to be the future of dust: “Possibly our globe itself will be pulverized, as once a huge lump was pulverized, creating the globe [8].”15 Is this another cycle? More tick-talk? If the Earth itself emerges from pulverization, from dust, then either this is an eternal cycle, or escape is the rule rather than the exception. With [8], we are thus returned to the problem first spelled out in [3], namely, that the place whence all derives is the flight path of dust. Dust is itself emergent from pulverization, however, once again inculcating a behavioural cycle, like the tick, but this time holding planetary formation (and everything consequent upon it) prisoner.

The Theory of the Additional Element The problem raised here is whether antecedent and consequent dust are the same. That is, is D1=D2? If [3] is true, then D1=D2; if [6], it is false. Only [5] supplies a possible differentiator for the two trajectories, by raising the theory of action. An act occurs only if its consequent is not contained in its antecedent, or just when it forges a difference such that, in this instance, D1 D2. Malevich’s fullest account of “action,” and thus a guide to what is meant by “striving” in nonobjectivity, occurs in his “Theory of the Additional Element in Painting” (1926): Under the sign of the additional element is hidden a whole culture of action which (in painting) can be defined by a typical or characteristic state of straight or curved lines. The introduction of new norms, the curved fibrous-shaped additional element of Cézanne, will make the painter different from that caused by the sickle formula of Cubism or the straight line of Suprematism. […] After Futurism comes a new element, the supreme straight, which I have called the Suprematist additional element of dynamic order, the appropriate milieu for the airplane, for the aerodynamic structure of planites, aerial Suprematism.16 15 Malevich, World as Non-Objectivity, 112. 16 Malevich, World as Non-Objectivity, 156, 188.

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This further clarifies the character of the problem that gives rise to the tick-cycle, or to thesis [3] that D1=D2. Like a physicist, Malevich’s construal of “element” is not an indivisible atomic body, but rather concerns fundamental forces. An element is additional, therefore, when it induces actions of which the field in which it acts was previously incapable. Thus Cubism’s sickle formula (figure 2B) does not eliminate but mutates Cézanne’s residual organicism, with its “fibrous lines” that curl, twist, and knot. With the Suprematist “aerial line,” as in Malevich’s beloved Schopenhauer,17 everything strives, nothing rests.

sufficient to demonstrate that, even if “the world” were not created, creation is nevertheless effected. Yet it is just this that Malevich disputes, insofar as, across large timescales, the fact of flight is reducible to orbital dust. The flight paths of dust bring critical focus to the object as a frame of reference regarding the temporality of creation. Whether the measure of creation is world, airplane, dust, or tick is irrelevant to the problem. Each entails its perspective accidents because in each case these objects cannot but remain constant referents. Hence Malevich’s emphasis on striving, on the actions that form the theory of the Additional Element: “Everything is striving to leave the globe.” This proposition counters the others: “the airplane is planetary dust,” “the world is rest.” They can be countered because they concern particular states, so the truth or falsity of the proposition is timescale dependent: as a simple consequence of the second law of thermodynamics, the airplane will be dust and the world will be rest, even if neither is dust or rest now. A key Platonic insight: what can be stated of anything consisting of time-dependent states is neither true nor false, since it will have been both.

Figure 2. A: Cézanne’s fibrous curve, B: Cubism’s Sickle-Curve, and C: the Supreme Straight.18

It is from that perspective that the flight is minimally different from the earth from which it emerges. It is the world’s future (the future of what is both “world” and “rest” in the Russian term “mir”) by means of which its past is first exhibited. The futurability of the earth—how long it will endure, rather than how long it has endured, being the true measure, according to Kant,19 of its age—becomes finite just when it is destroyed; but its destruction—and this is the second point to note from the earlier passage—is coincident with its creation, just as the airplane will “fly to the place from whence it has come,” remaining dust, or a tick on the planet’s skin. Hence the question whether D1=D2 remains unresolved. Implicit in this account, if from dust to dust is true, is the impossibility of novelty or the nonoccurrence of creation. To claim that there are no actions, therefore, amounts to the hypothesis that creation has never been, that what is, insofar as it is or even if it is, always is, so that the world is eternal. The slightest novelty in such a world, the most meager “additional element,” would eliminate the hypothesis. In the present context, is a world without flight the same as one with it? Surely the fact of flight is 17 Troels Andersen cites Malevich from his notebooks as saying “On Schopenhauer’s book it says ‘The World as Will and Representation.’ I should have said ‘The World as Non-Objectivity.’” Accordingly, Andersen’s introduction to The World as Non-Objectivity analyzes the structural similarities of the two works. 18 Ibid., 118. 19 Immanuel Kant, “The Question whether the Earth is aging, considered from a physical point of view,” trans. Olaf Reinhardt, in Kant: Natural Science (The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant), ed. Eric Watkins (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 165–66.

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The three propositions at issue run: P1. Everything is striving. P2. The airplane is dust. P3. The world is rest. According to P1, an action (striving) is predicated of all things, an action ruled out if P3 is true, or if “everything” covers the same number of cases as does “world.” Yet P1 and P3 are notably dissimilar to P2, which is the most concretely objective of the three. This is because it simply asserts of one object that it is another. Yet in so doing, the copula, the “is” in the proposition, effects or covers the transit between what must, if P2 is true, be considered two states of the one object: the airplane state and the dust state are, accordingly, not different objects but just one.

The Ring and the Copula How the copula, the “is” in “the world is rest,” is understood—whether it effects or eliminates transition—is what is at stake between P1 and P3. If P3, then no transition takes place, so that P3 is the hypothesis of the eternity of the world, or the non-occurrence of creation. If P1, then not only is there transition, but the transition has consequences for the subject or the “everything,” such that no state is taken as primary or as the ground of consequent actions, since every state consists in “striving.” P1 is therefore object-eliminating while P3 is transition-eliminating. Malevich’s decision is evident in a 1916 Suprematist manifesto:

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I have destroyed the ring of the horizon and got out of the circle of objects, the horizon ring that has imprisoned the artist and the forms of nature. This accursed ring, by continually revealing novelty after novelty, leads the artist away from the aim of destruction. […] Objects have vanished like smoke; to attain the new artistic culture, art advances toward creation as an end in itself and towards domination over the forms of nature.20 Thus Malevich opts for P1 over P3 precisely because P2 is both true and false. Several terms are introduced here that flesh out the theory of the world as nonobjectivity. Firstly, the “ring of the horizon” imprisons not just the artist but also the forms of nature. As with nature and technology, neither is art of another kind than nature. If this were not so, nothing could bond the two and art’s dominion over nature would be inconceivable. Secondly, while art pursues creation as an end in itself, the artist’s aim is destruction— in the first instance, of the ring. There thus arises the question of what this ring is, such that it is capable of binding both artist and nature yet is susceptible of destruction. The ring or cycle is the universal copula to the extent that it binds all things (nature and art) insofar as it asserts of one thing that it is another (the airplane is dust; the world is rest). As binding all things, it consists in continuous novelty as form follows form; but this continuous sequence of forms thereby destroys all novelty. Thus the ring is accursed because, insofar as it is restless novelty, the only true novelty—rest—is impossible, so that, conversely, because it is ceaseless, absolute novelty is absolute rest, just as the airplane is dust. Rest—mir, or the world—lures the artist from destruction and art from creation because the cycle returns all forms to ultimate formless indifference. The ring is the horizon, remaining the constant point of reference not merely for the division of earth from sky, mapping the terrestrial geometry within which aerial escape is condemned to return, but also thus fixing the coordinates of all transit, sealing reversible motions into objects and all objects into one world, so that D1=D2. The ring is accursed because it precisely eternalizes objects—“novelties”—and thus imprisons the forms of nature in changeless eternity. It is destroyed when objects no longer circumscribe the capacities of creation, when creation cannot be reduced to the created. The ring is therefore the form and consequence, the self-identical pattern of entailments following from the hypothesis of the eternity of objects. Malevich hates the curve because it welds all differences into a single intuition of the world, a single horizon. As a partial ring, a curve describes the horizon of object, apparently guaranteeing particularity but betraying it to another, since limit states, like outlines, belong both to the limited and the limiting. As such, the curve endlessly unravels particularity: if the airplane is dust, if all things are just “things,” then their destiny is not the maintenance but the elimination of particularity. As such, the ring or the curve, the universal copula that welds all differences into one, 20 Kazimir Malevich, “From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: The New Painterly Realism,” trans. John E. Bowlt, in 100 Artists’ Manifestos, ed. Alex Danchev (London: Penguin, 2011), 106–07.

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is transition-eliminating since a cycle, having no end, has neither beginning nor finality: in consequence, claiming to describe particularity, to outline things, the maximal non-particularity of the curve (the concave interior is externally convex, such that the single line describes both) entails the deep field inexistence of objects: the airplane is dust, returns to the earth which was and will be dust again. All is dust. Thus, an object’s outline does not individuate it but generalizes it qua object such that no object, insofar as it is an object, differs from another. At best, objects flicker in and out of existence; but this, too, is a merely local phenomenon, since this, too, is a cycle, a being and a not-being of the same thing. The endlessness of the ring therefore proves, for Malevich, that reality is nonobjective, that is, that the world is “nothing”: If the world is endless, i.e., has no end, neither a beginning nor a finality, then the circumstances of the movement of matter are also endless. The facets, therefore, are endless, if this is correct, [and] it proves that the reality of the world cannot be expressed, for there is no limit, there is no beginning, there is no finality, and under this condition there can only be a “nothing.”21 What is there to image in all this dust? If all particularity is eliminated in it, then there is nothing to image, nor, since an image is part of the world it images, could there be sufficient differentiation between it and what is not it such that an image might be possible. In the nonobjective world into which the ring plunges all existents, the deep field problem is that of the elimination of objects, of particularity, for which reason it cannot be resolved by representation or expression. But even the proposition “all is dust” is a differentiator, so the image of dust remains, as the HUDF shows, too objective. The image is trapped, as in Plato’s Sophist, between “plurality of being and unlimited not-being,”22 but pointing forward to an inexistence antecedent to what both is and is not. Hence, once there is existence, ultra-deep field inexistence (unlimited not-being) arises consequently upon deep field inexistence.

The Operations of the Concept Thus, in accordance with the post-Kantian philosophical horizon within which he works, Malevich’s realism is not only inferentially based, but realist concerning all inferences, all abstract or additional elements. That “everything that exists for us also exists in the universe”23 does not mean that the universe consists solely in “everything that exists for us.” Rather, from conceiving the insuperability of the deep field problem, there derives the ultra-deep field problem of the inexistence of the universe. Inexistence is ineliminably an element of the universe. Thus, it is due to the operations of the concept 21 Malevich, World as Non-Objectivity, 60. 22 Plato, Sophist, 256e5–6. 23 Ibid., 87.

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that ultra-deep field inexistence is consequent upon deep field inexistence. Since such an operation has occurred, therefore, it follows that it had not. The transition between “had not” and “has” is itself therefore the additional element, the action that differentiates the inexistence consequent upon the operation of the concept not only from the concept itself, but from the inexistence antecedent to what acts. If, following Kant, the “great, gray mother of us all,” everything is concept, the concept “concept” is maximally indifferent. This is why Brandom insists that it is the judgment rather than the concept that is the minimal unit of sense: to say something about something, even if this something is insuperably conceptual, is still to say something, and from this, various rational commitments flow. Nevertheless, this acknowledges even as it denies deep field inexistence: rational commitments buttress concept users against the inexistence from which reason turns. Yet the world of which the concept is part, when there is a world in which there is a concept, is capable of differentiation only if the concept’s actuality is not given in that world, but arises. That the concept is thus operative rather than representative was, in fact, Schelling’s response to the post-Kantian problem of the insuperability of the concept: It comes to a point where man must liberate himself not merely from revelation but from everything actual (Wirklich) in order to flee into a complete desert of all being, where nothing is to be encountered but only the infinite potency of all being, the sole immediate content of thought in which it moves only within itself as within its own ether.24 Schelling’s reading of Kant’s lesson does not stop with the straightforwardly idealist thesis that “all is insuperably concept, so that the concept ‘being’ is, firstly, the only being there is, and secondly a consequent of conceiving” (in fact Kant expressly denies this, as does Schelling).25 Rather, thoughts or conceivings are acts or motions, even if only in “their own ether.” Being consists in motions or acts only if being is creation. But it is by moving in itself that thought discovers the “infinite potency of all being.” That is, even if being were a mere creature of thought, a concept, it would be consequent upon an act antecedent to which being was not. Even consequent being entails that inexistence from which alone its production can be conceived. Moreover, if thought were this act by which being arose, then thought, too, would have to emerge from what is not thought, or no act would have taken place. The consequent inexistence of everything actual follows therefore from chasing down the movements of thought that are instances of the potencies of being which, since they are “infinite,” cannot eliminate inexistence once there are concepts at all. 24 F. W. J. Schelling, Grounding of Positive Philosophy, trans. Bruce Matthews (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2007), 142. (Translation slightly modified.) 25 Kant goes to some lengths to demonstrate that existence cannot be a predicate, from which arguments Schelling draws the following conclusion: “It is not because there is thinking that there is being, but because there is being that there is thinking” (Ibid., 203n).

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In Defense of Representation1 Tristan Garcia

Throughout the century of modernity and postmodernity, “representation” has been frowned upon, even forbidden, to such a degree that it has been necessary to invent ways to dispense with this old and embarrassing concept in art, politics, and ontology: expression, exemplification, reference, or even pure and simple presentation, pure and simple. There is an understandable aesthetic reason for the rejection of the concept: its unsatisfying definition, capable neither of anticipating nor of following the mutations of art in the twentieth century, from Kazimir Malevich to Allan Kaprow, from Marcel Broodthaers to body art. But if “representation” no longer succeeds in accounting for the natural inclination of the plastic arts toward presence (of objects, bodies, events), it is also because philosophy has failed, has not been capable of proposing and presenting to artists a well-grounded concept of “representation” inscribed in matter and in the reality of objects. * Any theory that claims to be materialist or realist should be judged according to its ability (or lack thereof ) to provide an account for the status of representations. An image, for example, is certainly a material object or a real object, but it is also another object that has the particular nature of not being what it is: a watercolor and gouache by Dürer that represents a hare is not itself a hare; moreover if it were the animal, it would no longer represent the animal. But if it is not in any way the thing itself, how can it represent that thing? Must I admit the existence of an ideal hare, in addition to its image? In that case, entities proliferate: there’s the real hare, the image of the hare, the hare of which this is the image. Or perhaps the hare of which this is the image exists neither outside of the image nor in the image, but rather in the mind of the one who sees it? This way I remove representations from objects, locate them in consciousness, and then, eventually, seek a materialist or naturalist theory of mind. Thus I am rid of representations, these sort of half or double objects that proliferate in matter, in reality, and undermine materialism and naturalism. Yet it would be particularly strange to think that a materialist or realist would not situate representations in things themselves rather than in consciousness, because materialists, realists, and idealists agree on this one thing: representations do not exist in truth except by and for those things that they represent. On the 1

Translator’s note: The French title, “Défense de Représentation,” carries a double meaning that is difficult to render in English: défense can mean both defense and prohibition.

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contrary, I assert that an authentic realist or materialist way of thinking should be able to account for the objective, real and material, existence of representations produced by human art. The history of Western philosophy proposes at least three major ways to conceive the status of representational objects: the representational object is understood to be either a copy, a sign, or a duplex.

II

I The first model for thinking about representation is mimesis, which is the idea that in the West dominates antiquity and the classical age. The major contribution of mimetic theories is the affirmation that representation is a relationship between two terms in which one of the terms transposes the other by extracting certain of its qualities; thus a two-dimensional representation of a chair transposes the chair onto a surface, making an abstraction of its third dimension. Every copy made by representation is a diminished version of the representable object. Plato considers that there exists a ladder of ontological degradation from the idea to the object and from the object to the representation. Not only natural objects are susceptible to being imitated in this way—for Aristotle, that which is said or that which should be is also representable. Mimesis can be understood as the linking of two objects or of two series of objects: the first is present, or real, and the second is represented, meaning transposed into a form that draws certain qualities from the first. The identity between the two is assured by a certain resemblance: recovery, analogy, or structural homology. However, three difficulties hobble such a definition of representation. First, as Nelson Goodman has noted, resemblance, unlike representation, bespeaks a symmetrical relationship.2 The portrait of Thomas More by Hans Holbein surely resembles Thomas More, and Thomas More resembles his portrait—but the portrait represents the face of the humanist while the face does not represent the portrait. So representation is not resemblance. Next, mimesis supposes not only the precedence but the pre-existence of that which is represented relative to its representation: one can not represent that which does not already exist. Finally, mimesis implies an ontological degradation between what is represented and the representation: that which is represented is in some way “de-presented,” since something has been snatched from its full and entire presence to make it exist under another form, diminished, as a copy. Let’s try another model.

The second model for representation is signification. This is the model that has dominated modernity since the nineteenth century, under the influence of the work of Charles Sanders Peirce and Ferdinand de Saussure. A representation is no longer thought of as a copy but rather as a sign. For Peirce, representation is a relationship between three terms, the representamen, the object, and the interpretant.3 A bison drawn with pigment that I perceive on the wall of a Paleolithic cave is the representamen; the bison that these traces seem to me to designate is the object; the set of signs that I mobilize in order to attach the first to the second comprise the interpretant. All the images of bison, drawn or photographed, that I have perceived in the past contribute to the composition of this specific representation of a bison. To interpret a sign is to triangulate ceaselessly between the sign, its object, and other signs. The same word, with the same spelling and the same sound, can designate many different objects, depending on the interpretants brought into play. When associating the word “rock” with the terms “Chuck Berry” and “Telecaster,” you get a very different object than if you reference “granite” or “clay.” Thus, to signify is to link a sign to an object through the mediation of other signs; it is no longer a question of resemblance or imitation. Within the context of our semiotic model, representation would never be anything but a type of signification: the portrait of Emile Zola by Manet relates to what it represents, the French writer, by the mediation of a series of other signs. If, after an apocalypse, survivors who lost all trace or memory of the existence of Zola were to discover the painting in an archaeological excavation, they would find a representation of a bearded man, but not of Émile Zola. And if we were to discover a representation of something that we couldn’t identify, made by an extinct people of whom we know nothing, we would perhaps not even be able to recognize it as a representation. Thus, according to the semiotic model, there is no representation without signification, that is to say without interpretation. However, there is one major objection to the subordination of representation to signification. An essential characteristic of a representation as a sign is its variability: the official sign for “no smoking” shows a cigarette in a barred circle. But each airport, hospital, or cinema, in each region of the world, uses different images to embody this sign—a cigarette or perhaps a pipe, a cigarette with filter or without, a cigarette inscribed in a circle or a square, barred by a cross or by a simple transverse line, on a black background or white—yet the meaning remains the same. Several images can thus serve to signify exactly the same thing, such that one can alter a sign without altering what it means. But does the same go for the image? A steam locomotive can easily signify any kind of train, because it has become the 3

2

See Nelson Goodman, Languages of Art (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1976), 3ff.

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See Charles Sanders Peirce, “Logic as Semiotic: The Theory of Signs,” in Philosophical Writings of Peirce, ed. Justus Buchler (New York: Dover, 1955), 98–119.

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archetype of this mode of transport in the collective imagination. But even so, it does not represent all trains. And an image of a cigarette does not represent exactly the same thing as an image of a pipe. If the image can become sign, or the sign image, they nevertheless remain absolutely distinct; what separates them is the delicate attachment of the image to what it represents. Thus, no representation can be affected without affecting that which it represents. Marcel Duchamp’s Mona Lisa with a moustache is no longer the Mona Lisa of Leonardo da Vinci; a photograph retouched by software that permits the accentuation of contrast or the erasure of blemishes no longer represents exactly what it represented before. By contrast, the sign—determined by the triangular relation between the sign itself, the object to which it refers, and the interpretant that attaches one to the other— can vary without changing the object, so long as the interpretant adjusts the triangulation. In signification, the presence of the sign erases itself behind its relation with its object mediated by an infinity of other signs, while in representation there is nothing other than a relation between that which is present and that which is represented.

by naturalism (the recognition of images is a natural cognitive facility developed by our species) and on the other by conventionalism (recognition of images is regulated by conventions that vary from one culture to another). All the contemporary stances on the duplex character of representations situate themselves in this complex three-dimensional space: Goodman is objectivist, while supporting a logical theory of reference and tending toward a moderated conventionalism; Hyman, by contrast, defends the determining character of resemblance (in his “occlusion shape principle”); Wollheim’s theory of “seeing-in” is ontologically subjectivist, logically midway between resemblance and reference; Walton’s “make-believe” shifts this position toward a radical conventionalism, while the defense of “recognition” by Schier pushes it the other way, toward naturalism.4 What stays constant throughout all these variations is the concept of the image as a duplex reality: one thing is two, two things are one. All these theories, whatever their respective merits, tend to consider representation as the relation between two things presented in one alone. For this reason, they are condemned to develop ontologically, logically, and psychologically between two poles, always still missing an aspect of representation. The more they account for the image as an object, the less they can account for the object of this image, and vice versa. Their error is to attribute a single presence shared between two objects (the representing and the represented), instead of conceiving a single object shared between presence and absence.

III To explain this phenomenon, a third contemporary model exists, one that pertains neither to classical or ancient mimesis nor to modern semiotics. The redefinition of the image, as distinct from the sign, has been an important trend in analytic philosophy since the 1960s. This trend has submitted the notion of mimesis to scrutiny, all the while resisting the semiotic and structuralist groundswell that, in the fifties and sixties, increasingly classified the image as a sign among other signs. In pondering the status of iconicity, Goodman, Richard Wollheim, Kendall Walton, John Hyman, and Flint Schier have attempted to propose a redefinition of representation. At the heart of their reflections, diverse as they are, lies the same concern for understanding how an image can really combine two things in one: that which represents and that which is represented. For this reason it is tempting to describe this third model as the duplex concept of representation, since it is based on the intuition that a representation presents itself as other than it is and that a theory of representation should seek to model and explain this “duplicity.” It is possible to organize all the proposed answers by imagining that they have all evolved in a space defined by three axes: an ontological axis, a logical axis, and a psychological axis. Along the ontological axis, the theories oscillate between objectivism and subjectivism, according to whether the object represented is objectively or subjectively understood in the representing object. On the logical axis, it is a matter of the relation between the two that is debated: the positions vary between recourse to resemblance (which leads to mimesis) and recourse to referentiality (which leads to semiosis). Finally, the psychological axis is bounded on the one hand

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That is why I have been working for several years on a completely different model of representation.

IV To represent is first of all to absent. All representation, be it visual, sonic, or even tactile, presupposes the work of absenting present matter: an image is a three-dimensional object reduced to the state of a quasi-surface, whose depth has been reduced to almost nothing, and one side of which has been transformed into the verso. Thus, to apprehend a photograph as a representation supposes that one is capable of not equally considering the edge, the recto, and the verso of the photographic image: the recto becomes the prominent surface, the edge is overlooked, the verso is the blind back of the image. 4

See Goodman, Languages of Art; John Hyman, The Objective Eye: Color, Form, and Reality in the Theory of Art (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006); Richard Wollheim, “Seeing-as, Seeing-in, and Pictorial Representation,” in Art and Its Objects, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 205–26; Kendall Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Arts (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990); and Flint Schier, Deeper into Pictures: An Essay on Pictorial Representation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

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Thus, a visual representation consists first of all in the absenting of a spatial dimension. For a sonic representation, it’s not exactly the same: when we hear, for example, the recording of a bird’s song, what is absented is the spatial origin of the sonic phenomenon, since we don’t consider the speaker, the stereo, or the record to be the one that sings. Also, in a certain sense all music is representative as soon as you separate the sound from its cause and no longer hear the effect of a guitar or a violin, but rather a sonic development where each sound seems to cause the following sound, whether in a rhythmic or melodic phrase. Visual representation, like sonic representation, is the absence of presence, of a dimension of space or of the spatial source of a sound. And in absenting a presence, one necessarily presents a presence. The key to our argument is that all representation should be understood as a system of exchange that takes place within objects themselves: in constraining a dimension or a portion of space to reduce itself to almost nothing (in absenting it, that is), one, not by magic but rationally, makes something that isn’t there appear. And the representation is not initially the presentation of something absent that would exist elsewhere, but the emergence of something absent, owing to the absence of something present. One understands thus that even Malevich’s white square on a white background, the blue monochromes of Yves Klein, or Pierre Soulages’s black monochromes represent something in the sense that they absent a dimension of space and therefore also present something absent. What? At least a surface. Maybe a colored surface. Maybe a surface broken up by forms. In this way, the great aesthetic illusion of the twentieth century—the belief that we were done with representation because we had discovered the power of abstraction—dissipates: all representation is an abstraction, the abstraction of the presence of things. And this abstraction has the necessary consequence of presenting something absent: a countryside, a face, a feeling, shapes, colors, an event, and so forth. What we see in an image, what we understand in a piece of music, is never there—the image and the music present something absent because they absent something present. This absenting is neither a conventional decision nor a power of our cognition: it is a constraint that the representing object exerts on our perception. Representation is a constraint produced by art and incorporated in an object by work, which forces our perception to absent a part of the presence of things. Insofar as it is a constraint, our perception can always oppose it, and I can try to consider a photograph as a three-dimensional object, observing with equal interest its front, back, and side; I can listen to music forcing myself not to perceive the sound as the effect of an instrument. But in so doing I will need to spend considerable energy forcing myself to believe that I do not see or hear the representation, because the representational object contrives to constrain my perception from recognizing it for what it is. The representational object is not a copy: it does not imitate another present object, but rather, it presents an absent object. What a photograph of Henry Fonda

in My Darling Clementine seems to present to me is not really Henry Fonda himself, but his absence. But how to present an absence? All representation possesses a certain degree of determination: in presenting me with an absence, even an emptiness, the representation determines, surrounds, or defines this emptiness. If I merely trace a circle on paper, I produce a large and enveloping absence: it could be almost anything—me, you, a balloon, the earth—just as easily as it could be Henry Fonda’s head. In working the circle, scrutinizing it, I can constrain my perception to eliminate more and more possibilities: viewing a face traced in charcoal, with eyes and a mouth. I can always pretend to see the earth or a balloon, but my perception must strongly resist the drawing. By fortifying the strictures—for instance, by including a caption inscribed at the bottom of the drawing—I can force the drawing to designate Henry Fonda. But the representation will never be constraining enough to be saturated, that is to say, to achieve the presence of that which is presented: this will never be the cut-off head of Henry Fonda in person appearing on the sheet of paper in the same way that Henry Fonda will never be present in his representation. What is present in a representation is an absence, which can be strongly determined but never to the point of saturation with presence. In this way, there is no ultimate degree of realism of a representation. A representation is thus neither an imitation nor a type of signification; it neither resembles nor refers to what it represents. It presents something absent and determines it without otherwise transforming it completely into presence. In redefining representation this way—starting from an ontology of objects, a human art as a form of representation, a specific manner of absenting a certain part of the presence of objects—I propose that it is possible to restore it to the heart of art, and to rethink the work of the artist as that of a transmuter of absence and presence.

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* Our representations are, then, neither in our minds nor in our perceptions: they are inscribed by human art in certain objects, which constrain our cognition to recognize the absence of a presence in them, and by way of compensation the presence of something absent. This operation, which to me is the impetus of all human art, is neither mimetic nor semiotic; it requires a new model of ontology to understand that it is not a matter of magical, irreal, or immaterial thought: quite the contrary. The only way for materialist or realist theories to recognize the status of artistic representations is to understand that representation is that which objectively inscribes absence in matter, or in the real. Translated from the French by Molly Whalen

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Concepts That Surrender to Materiality and to the Real Katerina Kolozova

Quentin Meillassoux’s critique of correlationism and François Laruelle’s nonstandard philosophy (or non-philosophy) have demonstrated that materialism is yet another project determined transcendentally rather than realistically. In other words, materialism is not determined in the last instance by matter or the real immanently affecting the idea of “matter,” but rather by a philosophical doctrine of materialism and matter. Eliminative materialism is yet another philosophy about matter and materialism, a theory relying on the philosophical presumptions that matter is in the last instance situated in biology and on the purely philosophical decision that materialism equals realism. The equation materialism=realism pretends to have always already established the site of truth and appointed itself as the supreme guardian of that truth. My claim is that in order to radicalize materialism we ought to resort to the realism of non-standard philosophy, a term more or less synonymous with what Laruelle formerly called “non-philosophy.” Both terms refer to a theoretical position that enables use of philosophical material in a way determined not by any doctrine but instead by what Laruelle calls “the syntax of the real.” The procedure of realist thinking is one that follows the “syntax of the real,” a procedure Laruelle terms cloning.1 Laruelle’s non-philosophy is a complex and open-ended project pursuing a theory of scientific rigor that makes use of philosophical concepts in order to arrive at their determination in the last instance, the conceptual result of the effect of the real. The operation of conceptualization surrenders to the immediacy of trauma produced by the real rather than to the clarity of the transcendental plane of philosophy. To produce a radical concept means to employ language and signification, that is, the work of the transcendental in the sense in which the term has been used since Kant. Like any other concept, the radical concept is transcendental. Nonetheless, it is minimally so. It does not come from philosophy or science (not even from “folk psychology,” which is yet another form of philosophy) but from the raw attempt of the affected instance of the real to transpose its experience into an abstraction that should represent an absolute and immortalization of the effect of the real. The maladroit attempt to transpose “the lived” into “a meaning” is the first gesture of transcendence. It is one bruised by the marks of the symptom (the only way that the real leaves a mark that then serves as the backdrop for signification), one that 1

François Laruelle, L’introduction au non-marxisme (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2000), 46–47.

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is descriptive and affective, while also rigorous through the accomplishment of the simple task of indexing the instance of the real. According to the Western speculative mind (in Luce Irigaray’s sense), the affective transcendence belongs to the realm of the poetic/artistic, whereas the rigorous belongs to the scientific.2 If the radical concept represents a hybridity of the two presumably incompatible modes of thought, it is then fundamentally monstrous. How does one radicalize concepts and clone the real according to the method of non-philosophy? To rigorously explain a reality means to describe effects of the real, and to assume a posture of thought that reacts to the “workings of the real” nesting in the conceptual phenomenon that re-presents it. In order to execute thought radicalized in the way non-standard philosophy proposes, it is indispensible to disorganize any philosophical system or anti-system (which merely mirrors the structure of a system). The philosophical cosmos should be affirmed for what it is—auto-referential. Simultaneously, its “transcendental material” should be extrapolated from its cosmological structure in order to be conceptually minimalized by way of rendering it a philosophical chôra, the unordered “transcendental material” with which thought operates. This chôra succumbs to the authority of the instance of the real rather than to that of a philosophical legacy or the authoritarian figure of a “Thinker.” For example, one can theoretically operate with the concept of “unilaterality” one finds in Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy without having to “become a Deleuzian” or use it only in modes that are determined by and within Deleuze’s system (or “organized thought”). In order to radicalize the term, that is, execute its transcendental impoverishment, one has to reduce it to its conceptual contents, describing the symptom of the real that necessitated the creation of the concept. The minimally transcendental contents of a concept consist in its determination in the last instance. In order to arrive at a radical concept, thought has to correlate with the real in an immanent way rather than with the entire apparatus of a doctrine.3 According to Laruelle, three doctrinal legacies are minimally philosophical such that their radicalization can prove to be more productive than that of the great philosophical legacies sensu stricto. The three legacies at issue are Marxism, psychoanalysis, and Gnostic Christianity rid of philosophy/theology and grounded in the “figure of Christ” as a radical concept.4 The application at stake concerns the use of concepts in the interpretation of a particular reality. The fact that concepts of Marxian or psychoanalytic origin are used in an interpretation does not make the interpretation and/or its author automatically a Marxist or a Freudian. What

characterizes all these three forms of thought is that they are grounded in radical concepts that are fundamentally hybrid or monstrous. They describe the effects of the real, the imprint of the trauma of the experienced. The singularity of the experience they describe is elevated to a statement that stipulates a universal, which is grounded in the given of the experienced. It is fundamentally detached from procedures of subjectivization—in spite of the fact that the theorizing subject invokes its own experience—and, therefore, does not impose a cultural, class, racial, and other societal model as a universal that, in fact, only camouflages the generalization of one’s subject position. Does art need the radicalization and philosophical impoverishment offered by non-philosophy? Philosophy is any conceptual tendency to establish a selfsufficient universe that will usurp the position of the real and act in its stead. It is defined by its “decision” (Laruelle) as to how the world and real/ity should be enjoyed and what is thinkable. Art has always been constitutively co-defined with philosophy, just as philosophy has always sought to determine itself and the world aesthetically. A philosophical universe is always a cosmology: an orderly organization of representations that aim to sublimate the real. Nonetheless, art has always been heretical with regard to the philosophy it seeks to express. The affect, the lived (Laruelle’s le vécu), le joui sans jouissance (or the joy without a predetermination of its “meaning” and the ways in which it is to be enjoyed) 5 exceed the philosophical message of the artistic feat. That feat liberates itself from “the idea,” supersedes the intention, and through its raw materiality surprises the philosophizing subject that the artist is. The materiality at issue consists in the effect of trauma, that is, the sheer lived that evades mediation through language. The almost autonomously acting instance of the lived (du vécu) dissolves the masterful philosophical subject, reducing it to the vulnerable, exposed, heretically rebellious real—the point of departure of all alienating processes leading toward the constitution of the speaking subject. Philosophy or the transcendental is at work while constantly submitting itself to be checked by the purely lived. The lived or the experienced is in fact the effect of the real introduced by the philosophical intention and desire. Desire or intention is an event of the real that precedes its philosophical transposition. A philosophical system is always dissolved into chôra and subjected to the dictate of the real (in its aspects of trauma, the sheer lived, or the purely experiential). The more artistic work suspends philosophy, reduces it to chôra, and subjects itself to the pure trauma of the unmediated lived, the more radical it is and the more the philosophical project has surrendered itself to the rule of the real. Take for example Michael Gira and his band Swans. Beginning in 2010, the latest phase of Gira’s musical project is essentially nonmusic in the sense that it steps out of any known doctrine or philosophical definition of what music is. It is not anti-musical, which would make it a philosophical project par excellence. It is nonmusic yet

2 3 4

Luce Irigaray explores this bifurcation in Speculum of the Other Woman, trans. Gillian C. Gill (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985). Ibid., 21, 66, et al. See, respectively, Laruelle, L’introduction au non-marxisme; François Laruelle, Théorie des étrangers: Science des hommes, démocratie, non-psychanalyse (Paris: Éditions Kimé, 1995); and François Laruelle, Future Christ: A Lesson in Heresy, trans. Anthony Paul Smith (London: Continuum, 2010).

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5

Laruelle, Théorie des étrangers, 225.

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radically and in the last instance musical in the same sense as non-Euclidian geometry is geometry in the last instance, determined by its heretical stance toward the philosophical legitimizations of geometry as science. Gira’s artistic production is radically affective and traumatic. That is, it confers pain while its effect in the last instance is joy (without jouissance). It disturbs the philosophically established categories of music, poetry, theater, and religious ritual only to collapse their transcendental pillars into a philosophical chôra to be used by what can be determined in the last instance as radically musical or radically poetic (in the etymological sense of poiesis). The material determination in the last instance lies in the praxis of music. Its generic determination in the last instance is the radically poetic. The real by which any determination in the last instance is affected is the joy or the trauma that are the two first names of the purely lived. In April 2013, Gira initiated a curatorial project titled Mouth to Mouth, which consists only of musical events and in which the only participating artists are musicians. “Artists are chosen based on their ability to resuscitate, set fire to the air, or mesmerize,” explains Gira. “All of the performers chosen for this year’s festival I find personally to be compelling in this regard. The goal: joy!”6 He resorts to transcendentally impoverished terms, non-philosophical or descriptive of the radical identity or of the effect of the real that language seeks to mediate. They are also poetic and, therefore, hybrid or monstrous. That is, they are sheer descriptions of effects of the real, something that would be by definition characteristic of scientific expression. Nonetheless they operate only through recourse to the purely imaginary, phantasmatic, or the fetishistic, that is, through signification liberated from the obligation to reference the real. It is a signification “out of joint” acting independently as if it were an instance of the real itself. Insofar as it produces an effect of trauma or joy, it is such an instance. The radical concepts Gira uses in this statement—as he does in his poetry and musical expression—appear as instantiations of the real in their own right; but they also fulfill the function of the transcendental in the form of radical concepts. Radical concepts are produced in an immanent way; they follow the syntax of the real and are affected by immanence. Thus emerges the monstrous double effect of the real’s penetration into the universe of signification. When Gira invokes Jesus on stage through the hallucinatory enunciation shouted as a command—“Jesus, come down right now!”—the experience conferred on the audience is that of trauma and joy, as instances of the lived par excellence. The more radical a conceptual art is, the less it is “conceptualist.” The conceptual or the transcendental is accentuated in such radical way that “philosophy” (that is, the conceptual cosmos) collapses into the black singularity of that minimal thought conditioned by the trauma of the lived. The lived does not recognize the opposition between the body and the mind, matter and idea. Nonetheless, it is determined in the last instance by trauma (pain or pleasure). This makes it fundamentally material or physical. 6

See koko.uk.com/listings/mouth-mouth-04-04-2013.

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Fig. 16

Fig. 18 Fig. 17

Fig. 19

Fig. 20

The Temptation of the Diagram Matthew Ritchie

Toward Diagrams This essay is concerned with the diagram as a tool of inquiry and as an expressive and causal form. I use the term “diagram” here in its widest sense, including hand-drawn diagrams, phase diagrams, maps, graphs, open and closed logical and circuit diagrams, and wider applications such as large and small-scale biological and physical network theory and the study of diagrammatic thinking, whose use in the selective processing of eidetic and physical choices is necessary to all theories of consciousness. To diagram is to intentionally compare and link alternatives, to indicate potential choices and boundaries, typically using a conceptually clear line or boundary to indicate the limits of the comparison underway. A successful diagram not only expresses an underlying topology but also produces a manifold where otherwise invisible force relations between pluralities of subjects can be articulated. Diagrams, seen and hidden, constitute the pivotal means, or body, by which we can move through the overlapping topologies of prediction, memory, language, and metaphor without contradiction. Over the last two centuries, the diagram has become the essential mechanism for our collective efforts to articulate and negotiate an almost impossible circumstance: reality itself. John Bender and Michael Marrinan identify the reemergence of the diagram in the seventeenth century as an essential tool of research whose openness and ability to cut across boundaries can be clearly distinguished from the rules that govern access to the closed disciplinary arrays that Michel Foucault describes as inherent to any system of knowledge.1 As Bettina Funcke observed, Foucault’s archive, or “discourse of rules,” is “inscribed on a hidden carrier taken up in the materiality of the medium”; and there exists an unarticulated contradiction between the materiality of signs and the indestructible identity of this hidden carrier (the diagram) that for Foucault induces a fear of “the proliferation of meaning.”2 Boris Groys describes this hidden carrier as “a figure of suspicion” that can only be imagined.3 I am indebted to the Getty Research Institute, Columbia University, the Mellon Foundation, Dr. David Brafman, Natilee Harren, and Andrea Rosen for supporting my interest in this entire area of research—and most especially to the editors for their tireless efforts. 1

2 3

John Bender and Michael Marrinan, The Culture of Diagram (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010); Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith (New York: Pantheon Books, 1982). Bettina Funcke, Pop or Populus: Art between High and Low, trans. Warren Niesluchowski (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2009), 47. Boris Groys, Under Suspicion: A Phenomenology of the Media (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012).

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In contrast, for Bender and Marrinan the open form of the diagram is the basic form of what Krzysztof Pomian calls the “elements of discourse” in science4—the propositions, images, and theories that allow us to connect objects, forces, and interactions that would normally be inaccessible to us. Beginning with Newton and Maxwell, the cumulative articulation of a complex series of otherwise humanly inaccessible object-to-object relations has been accomplished through the proliferation of a vast series of diagrams—the isomorphic manifolds of increasing abstraction shown in Max Tegmark’s diagrammatic classifications of formal systems (fig. 1). This is not simply a disguised essentialism: for Tegmark the scientific pursuit of higher and higher orders of formal abstraction definitively does not necessarily point toward a final “Theory of Everything”; rather, each generation of diagrams offers radically new perspectives on local nature.

Through a precise definition of inherent topological relations, a new diagram can ultimately produce a radical reduction of local complexity and a corresponding change in relative accessibility as the defining local force relations become apparent and newly accessible, as for instance in the way Richard Feynman’s famous diagrams reintegrated the confusing bestiary of particles and interactions that preceded the standard model (fig. 2).

Figure 2. “Electron-electron scattering is described by one of the earliest published Feynman diagrams. […] One electron (solid line at bottom right) shoots out a force-carrying particle—a virtual photon (wavy line)—which then smacks into the second electron (solid line at bottom left). The first electron recoils backward, while the second electron gets pushed off its original course. The diagram thus sketches a quantum-mechanical view of how particles with the same charge repel one another. As suggested by the term ‘Space-Time Approach’ in the title of the article that accompanied this diagram, Feynman originally drew diagrams in which the dimensions were space and time; here the horizontal axis represents space. Today most physicists draw Feynman diagrams in a more stylized way, highlighting the topology of propagation lines and vertices.” (Reproduced by permission from David Kaiser, “Physics and Feynman’s Diagrams,” American Scientist [March–April 2005]: 153; diagram from Richard Feynman, Physical Review, 1949.)

Figure 1. “Relationships between various mathematical structures. The arrows generally indicate addition of new symbols and/or axioms. Arrows that meet indicate the combination of structures— for instance, an algebra is a vector space that is also a ring, and a Lie group is a group that is also manifold. The full tree is probably infinite in extent—the figure shows merely a small sample near the bottom.” (Reproduced by permission from Max Tegmark, “The Multiverse Hierarchy,” in Universe or Multiverse?, ed. Bernard Carr [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007], 4.) 4

Krzysztof Pomian, “Vision and Cognition,” in Picturing Science, Producing Art, ed. Peter Gallison and Caroline A. Jones (London: Routledge, 1998), 227.

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As Manuel DeLanda noted, a diagram contains all its possible expressions; the inventorying of natural properties may be suddenly and effectively replaced by a higher order of unity.5 The recent discovery of the “amplituhedron” is another such example (fig. 3).6 This remarkable jewel-like form replaces the need for hundreds of Feynman diagrams with a single graphic equation.

5 6

Manuel DeLanda, “Deleuze, Diagrams, and the Genesis of Form,” ANY: Architecture New York 23 (June 1998): 30. Nima Arkani-Hamed et al., “Scattering Amplitudes and the Positive Grassmannian,” arXiv:1212.5605, 2012.

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Figure 4. (Reproduced by permission from James Mensch, “A Brief Account of Husserl’s Doctrine of Time Consciousness,” available at: www.academia.edu/590652/A_Brief_Account_of_Husserls_ Doctrine_of_Time_Consciousness_with_Accompanying_Translations.)

Figure 3. “A sketch of the amplituhedron representing an 8-gluon particle interaction. Using Feynman diagrams, the same calculation would take roughly 500 pages of algebra.” (Reproduced by permission from Nima Arkani-Hamed, “A Jewel at the Heart of Quantum Physics,” Quanta Magazine, September 17, 2013; www.simonsfoundation.org/quanta/20130917-a-jewel-at-the-heart-of-quantum-physics/.)

By proposing new conventions of dimensional connection across an infinite sheet, such exploratory diagrams also reinvigorate theories of picture and the possibilities of agency within them. Frederik Stjernfelt, in his magisterial Diagrammatology, characterizes the diagram as a form of hypostatic abstraction, demonstrating that any painting or sketch always indexes another group of terms, even as it moves away from it, always referring back reciprocally through a kind of sublated or hidden diagram.7 Stjernfelt goes on to link C. S. Peirce’s theory of diagrams, premised on the concept of an isomorphic continuity or transformation across an invariant structure (such diagrams being co-extensional with mathematics and theories of picture), to Edmund Husserl’s analysis of representational forms and his series of time-diagrams (fig. 4) that describe a separation of objective and experienced time and seem to promise a final reconciliation with the infinite.

7

Frederik Stjernfelt, Diagrammatology: An Investigation on the Borderlines of Phenomenology, Ontology, and Semiotics (Heidelberg: Springer, 2007), 306.

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Like Feynman’s and Tegmark’s diagrams, the diagrammatic conventions used by Husserl and Peirce are semasiographic, not dependent on the conventional organization of meanings linked to human experience of time and space. So effective is the diagram as a scientific tool, it might be easy to mistake its functions for a basic condition of informational space. But the diagram (a diagram, all diagrams) is neither a simple expression of the terms of the space it occupies, nor simply a useful metaphor for a hidden bridge between the local manifolds or ordering system and the proliferation of localized difference that constitutes the primary operating system of conscious thought. It is something more than a translator; in the presence of diagrams, the profound questions of relative time, scale, distance, gauge symmetry, proximity, and imagined immunity from discontinuity and relationality that define our use of any shared informational space become painfully evident. This discontinuity has recently entered a new and increasingly ubiquitous sphere of influence, making it more relevant than ever. Computational space, the hidden substrate and indexical basis of contemporary culture, is built from highly ordered diagrams of microstates that physically integrate quantum force relations, relying on directed movement and a central ordinator to make the letters we see into lines of code, patterns of electrons—an architecture of pure energy. As an artist, I’m most interested in the extent to which this environment, with its simultaneous advantages and problems, can be properly understood and utilized, both physically and metaphysically, as an exploratory tool. Despite the familiar complaint of “information overload,” the humanly experienced web largely duplicates,

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juxtaposes, or compresses what we already know into degraded “sensory appearances,” while the non-human, object-to-object force relations that sustain it (temporal, physical, political, and environmental) are increasingly hidden. The culture of diagrams introduced through publishing, globalized in the nineteenth century and now radically extended by computational space, is becoming a continuously edited substrate, a form of shared creation whose extended use might powerfully affect how reciprocal relationships between material and concept are understood. As the horizontal force relations of networks become increasingly predictable, as shown in the scale-free network theory of Albert-László Barabási,8 and our own responses become more and more conditioned to the limited options within it, will this highly programmed and increasingly predictable computational environment come to “know” us better than we will ever know ourselves? Given the growing reliance of contemporary art culture on computational management systems, performance metrics, and financial engineering, the stealthy but steady emergence of an essentially eidetic or algorithmic art culture makes the review of underlying concepts of diagram all the more urgent. Hand-made diagrams have tellingly begun to vanish from the visual tool-kit of artists and architects to be replaced by the invisible hands of programs; the concepts of network, distribution, and hub are becoming central to art historical presentation. For a discipline whose basis is the movement away from the index and toward the proliferation of meanings, surely the only unacceptable trajectory is a too complete belief in the current diagram, one that would abandon its exploratory modes and become fixed into the rules of discourse.

experiences surviving an enormous whirlpool, describing how he had coolly observed the various features of the terrifying gulf with an “unnatural curiosity,” and then, following the principles of Archimedean physics, had lashed himself to a barrel, the only geometric form that can be successfully propelled out of the abyss. Poe’s “Maelstrom” has been characterized as an early form of scientific fiction or “science fiction” (a term whose inverse complement might easily be the phrase “weird realism” coined by H. P. Lovecraft—or even Speculative Realism itself ). Poe’s text contains no fantastical or supernatural elements. It is only his narrative rigor and personal distance when describing phenomena extending beyond human terms of reference that make it “scientific fiction” at all. It is in this superposition of informational space and imaginative space that we find the accompanying premise: that human cognition needs metaphorical technologies to extend itself effectively into transitional areas and new sensory experiences, which we may find only partially comprehensible and hence “weird.” As Poe’s contemporary and admirer Gustave Flaubert wrote in The Temptation of Saint Anthony, “somewhere there must be primordial figures whose bodily forms are only symbols. Could I but see them, I would know the link between matter and thought; I would know in what Being consists!”10 Flaubert’s tortured hermit, besieged by an encyclopedic parade of gorgeous visions, still hoped to reconcile Bouvard and Pécuchet’s later confusion between sign, symbols, and reality at a time when diagrammatic thinking and behaviors were moving from symptom to syndrome. Fifty years later, Poe’s story and Flaubert’s vision would collide in Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem “Un coup de dés,” which features another shipwreck survivor, this time consumed by the whirlpool of chance and myth. When Mallarmé, another admirer and translator of Poe, wrote that “the poetic act consists in suddenly seeing that an idea splits into a number of motives of equal value and in grouping them,”11 he almost seems to be echoing Poe’s “The Philosophy of Composition”: “It is my design to render it manifest that no one point in its composition is referable either to accident or intuition—that the work proceeded step by step, to its completion, with the precision and rigid consequence of a mathematical problem.”12 And so Poe, already well known for his “incalculable influence on succeeding generations of writers of horror and science fiction,”13 must also be given credit for his role in the introduction of systematic thinking into fiction, a concept that would lead to the so-called death of the author, so vital to the linguistic turn against which Speculative Realism sets itself. The emergence of derealization as a widespread clinical condition, closely linked to depersonalization and the ensuing disbelief in the world as a continuous

Toward the Maelstrom The ways of God in Nature, as in Providence, are not as our ways; nor are the models that we frame any way commensurate to the vastness, profundity and unsearchableness of His works, which have a depth in them greater than the well of Democritus. —Joseph Glanvill, “Against Confidence in Philosophy and Matters of Speculation,” in Essays (1676) This epigraph was used by Edgar Allan Poe in 1841 as the introduction to “A Descent into the Maelstrom,”9 exemplifying his theoretical project to elaborate the difficulties faced by a rational author in a chaotic universe. In Poe’s tale, a fisherman recounts his 8

9

Réka Albert and Albert-László Barabási, “Topology of Evolving Networks: Local Events and Universality,” Phys. Rev. Lett. 85 (2000): 5234–37. Available at www.barabasilab.com/pubs /CCNR-ALB_Publications/200012-11_PhysRevLtr-TopologyEvolNetworks/200012-11_PhysRevLtr -TopologyEvolNetworks.pdf. Edgar Allan Poe, “A Descent into the Maelstrom,” in The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe—Vol. II: Tales and Sketches, ed. Thomas O. Mabbott (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1978), 574–97. Available at www.eapoe.org/works/mabbott/tom2t044.htm.

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10 Gustave Flaubert, The Temptation of Saint Anthony, trans. Lafcadio Hearn (New York: Modern Library, 2001), 179. 11 Stephane Mallarmé, “Crise de vers,” trans. Rosemary Lloyd, in Mallarmé: The Poet and His Circle (Ithica, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005), 231. 12 Edgar Allan Poe, “The Philosophy of Composition.” Available at www.eapoe.org/works/essays /philcomp.htm. 13 Joyce Carol Oates, “The King of Weird,” New York Review of Books 43 (October 1996). Available at www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1996/oct/31/the-king-of-weird/.

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phenomenological whole (which disbelief Speculative Realism so ardently refuses), can also be definitively located in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Cotard’s syndrome, a complex form of schizophrenia where the patient believes they possess a body that is dead, or without physical limits, was first diagnosed in 1880.14 The contemporary impulse in philosophy and art was to produce a similarly depersonalized algebra of signs that would support the messianic and exponential proposals of the nineteenth century, through whose geometries, graphs, and encyclopedias the possibility of totalizing, multi-positional strategies of art production (and everything else) would became a historic inevitability in the twentieth century. As Wassily Kandinsky wrote ecstatically from the heat of the crucible, when time and space were collapsing as fast as precision-guided munitions could eliminate them, “the life of the spirit may be fairly represented in [a] diagram.”15 The exploded geometric spaces of Gaspard Monge’s technical drawings and Nikolai Lobachevsky’s non-Euclidean geometry converged into Kazimir Malevich’s squares and his statement that “the artist who wants to develop his art beyond the potentialities of conventional painting is forced to resort to theory and logic,”16 then exploded into Kurt Schwitters’s Merzbau. Under the misnomer “machine drawings,” diagrammatic connections were critical for Francis Picabia, Raoul Hausmann, Marius de Zayas, and Marcel Duchamp. For Duchamp, the universal connectivity of the diagram became an essential tool in the dimensional isomorphism of the Large Glass and ultimately the only stable referent in the construction of a project as scale-free as the world itself. Over time, Duchamp produced a hidden web of imprisoned connections, an unstable pseudo-archive, variable in meaning, legibility, scale, and materiality that could be projected (in reverse) into the art history of the twentieth century, constituting a series of isomorphic manifolds far exceeding the terms of a private language.17 This essentially diagrammatic premise, the superposition of multi-positional formal and temporal terms, of a passive carrier and active body in a single practice or volume, would eventually give rise to a wide range of different sculptural possibilities and ways of contemplating pictures, depending on which abductive, bodily, or intellectual stance was adopted. The combines of Schwitters and Robert Rauschenberg led to the combinatorial logics of Sol LeWitt and Mel Bochner. If the diagrammatic program began with an artist becoming the world, it reached some kind of conclusion with the world being diagrammed as a potential space for art in the practice of Joseph Beuys, an artist in whose practice diagrams and drawings are indissoluble.

As is evident in the range of diagram projects, there is a price for this freedom. Diagrams of universal conditions produce a further superposition, one of ludic confidence, simultaneously encouraging limit-case thinking and a hermetic withdrawal from the conventional taxonomy of the world. With its properties as universal translator, limit-case eidetic, Peircian abduction-deduction-intuition machine, fantasy generator, and “thing-in-itself,” the diagram as model-of-thought offers one final fantasy, of omni-directional potency. Rhapsodic thinking, quasi-science, suspicious topologies, and mathematical inconsistencies can all be elided with a confident group of gestures and terms. There is no requirement for rationality, only mutuality—or isomorphism of parts. As Deleuze wrote: “A diagram is a map, or rather several superimposed maps. And from one diagram to the next, new maps are drawn.”18 Without a gauge theory to discipline it, every new diagram displaces the author horizontally to the “authority” of the diagram and cloaks the anthropomorphic centrality of the rules or local regime. This is not to suggest that diagrammatic thinking constitutes an easy escape route for the visionary or fantastical impulse (far from it!). Poe, Duchamp, Flaubert, Mallarmé, Beuys, and a thousand others labor under infinite obligation to the freedoms, compulsions, and intensities of their own universes and achieved varying degrees of mutuality. Whether we are truly accessing higher orders of reality or simply fantasizing that we are (which is the central question underlying mathematical formalism as well as art), diagrams are where concepts connect to their consequences, where ideologies are inexorably networked to the specific concepts and compromises that undergird or undermine them. An incomplete diagram is like an incomplete equation—if it does not portray a full set of relations, then its orientation is ultimately away from mutuality. The price for failure is high, an incoherent (or non-isomorphic) dead-end cosmology of the kind Poe published as “Eureka” mixing fact, speculation, and outright fantasy but unable to distinguish between them, swamped by a maelstrom of unmapped intensities and opposing forces.19 Any practice that seeks to describe an overall “reality” in any way, no matter how obscure or personalized, must also always describe a relationship between the opposed or cooperating forces and objects that support it. If, as Husserl contends, scientific realism takes “physical objects and their determinations [to be] correlatives of logical, categorical, theoretical thinking, and therefore not experienceable in sensory experience, which is misconstrued as being taken as implying unknowability,” then, by contrast, for Husserl, “to posit a noema as an entity is to posit the object corresponding to the noema. The object appears within the noema as the moment of unity among its constituent predicates.”20 For Stjernfelt, this process is

14 Jules Cotard, “Du délire hypocondriaque dans une forme grave de la mélancholie anxieuse,” Annales Médico-Psychologiques 4 (1880): 168–74. 15 Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, trans. M. T. H. Sandler (Toronto: Dover, 1977), 6. 16 Kazimir Malevich, The Non-Objective World: The Manifesto of Suprematism, trans. Howard Dearstyne (Mineola, NY: Dover, 2003), 51. 17 “This experiment [of the Three Standard Stoppages] was made in 1913 to imprison and preserve forms obtained through chance, through my chance.” Marcel Duchamp, “Apropos of Myself,” in Marcel Duchamp, ed. Anne d’Harnoncourt and Kynaston McShine (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1973), 273.

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18 Gilles Deleuze, Foucault, trans. Seán Hand (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), 44. 19 Edgar Allen Poe, Eureka: A Prose Poem (New York: Putnam, 1848). Available at www.eapoe .org/works/editions/eurekac.htm. 20 J. N. Mohanty, Edmund Husserl’s Freiburg Years, 1916–1938 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011), 21, 69.

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accomplished through the diagram itself; in building diagrams of thought, we are constructing a variable, non-corporeal body for the eidetic exploration of the infinite variety of objects and spaces. “Diagrammatical experimentation is […] only made possible by gaining access to a landscape by means of a body,” thus complicating the conventional understanding of the landscape as passive and the body as active or causal, and fusing body and landscape as active, causal terms.21 This non-corporeal, roving body provides the promise and the reality of an environment in which we can endlessly vary the terms of what Husserl calls fantasy, in that fantasy “shares the picture’s relation to its subject, defined by similarity and variation, while, on the other hand, fantasy seems, just like perception, to take place directly and without any intermediary.”22 Diagrams not only bring ideas into proximity through a body, they then both superimpose and superpose them. The intensities of localized forces will always define the expression of the topology. The diagram is, in certain fundamental ways, the generator and interpreter of this topology or body, capable of being read in the terms of both emergent quality and sensual object, fantasy, and facts. Just as we cannot truly create an ontological diagram of nature, we cannot create one of mental reality. But what we can do is create new assemblages inside this condition, a diagram of what we can relate to, that produces its own distinct form of knowledge.

in every detail (though very differently than Kant’s indefinitely large mathematical sublime). Paradoxically, the distant and impersonal author relies on an artificial collapse of distance and time to dramatize our bodily awareness of the induced disassociation as widely separated categorical terms are vigorously collided, inducing the rhapsodic confusion familiar from biblical, alchemical, and political tracts. Like Foucault’s “hidden carrier,” Lovecraft’s hideous Cthulhu, the engendering proliferator of nonhuman topology can (must) only be imagined. By bending two human imaginary spaces, language and time, Lovecraft creates a kind of intermediate zone, a diagonal disassociation of the dimensional isomorphism between allusive and eidetic spaces similar to Harman’s (and Husserl’s) separation of space from time and similarly ambiguous in intent. For Harman, Lovecraft’s project is rendered isomorphic through its specific use of local conventions of narrative and language, forcing us to progress along the semiotic axis that Peirce labels “abduction” or guesswork. For artists, it may be precisely the progress their work makes along this axis and away from the original index that constitutes its true “sensual objecthood.” But in Lovecraft’s work our movement along the abductive axis is placed under an insufferable tension, as the process of human-oriented abduction is warped toward a nonhuman pole. This extended informational space, the intermediate space of weird realism and real weirdness, or the space of possible knowing, seems to be precisely the condition that Speculative Realism is interested in exploring. Since diagrams initiate a vertical disassociation between informational space and real space and have a theoretically infinite capacity for extension by proposing new conventions of connection—isomorphism in many directions—it is only to be expected that a philosopher positively oriented toward research, vertical isomorphism, overlay, and connection would have ultimately to produce a diagram of his own. The curious notion of a human capable of a nonhuman perspective, the implausible in pursuit of the impossible, leads us to Harman’s diagrams in The Quadruple Object (fig. 5).

Toward Confidence The most merciful thing in the world […] is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. —H. P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”23 In Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy, Graham Harman details how Lovecraft’s precisely nuanced relations between object and background or “ontography” allow him to develop a convincingly “allusive weirdness” that allows his concept of “gods” (the Cthulhu mythos) to become narratively plausible as a direct consequence of their orientation between “the normal” object or figure and the background.24 As we read Lovecraft, we search our memories for comparisons between the human figure and the universal ground only to find a space growing between the psychic landmarks we use to locate ourselves and a universe Lovecraft explicitly identifies as indifferent to human concerns or concepts of knowledge and yet highly specific

21 22 23 24

Stjernfelt, Diagrammatology, 290. Ibid., 159. Weird Tales 11, no. 2 (1928): 159–78. Graham Harman, Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy (Alresford: Zero Books, 2012).

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Figure 5. Graham Harman, The Quadruple Object (Alresford: Zero Books, 2011), 78.

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Like Poe and Lovecraft, Harman proposes finitude as a guiding principle, arguing that the universe is not only finally incomprehensible to human minds (and, indeed, to any relation, human or nonhuman) but is also ontologically incapable of being grasped in its totality. But that Harman felt compelled to produce a diagram (albeit with a collaborator) reveals something about his universalist and intentionalist sympathies. Harman’s view of what he terms polypsychism (which might otherwise echo Lovecraft’s bleak cosmicism) has (to me) a charming relation to vitalism, the spiritual fuel of Gothic romance that is (for me) where Harman’s own diagrammatic impulse reveals itself as a particularly generous and relevant gesture. We do not yet have a shared language to describe changes in the intensity of our knowledge of ontological force relations (or tensions, junctions, and radiations as Harman calls them), so we have no way to gauge the effect a radical reduction in noetic complexity might create—but Harman’s diagram provides a critical step toward any articulation of such force relations by offering an inclusive topology to access regional ontologies that have been warped away from each other. Like the other ardent diagrammaticists he cites (Plato, Aristotle, Greimas, Heidegger, McCluhan, and others), Harman expresses his polarities through the bridge of a fourfold diagram possessing the visual authority (as Peirce insists) of an “icon.”25 Considered as an icon, Harman’s diagram can be read as both image and metaphor, referring back to its own ontology through the intermediary of itself, creating a hypo-iconic feedback loop. Although Harman’s diagram is thereby completed on its own terms, the accompanying premise, that this might open the door for a “diagram of diagrams,” a philosophical equivalent of the amplituhedron, leaves the field wide open for additional inquiry. In the terms Harman uses to isolate and articulate space and time in relation to each other, the “diagram” here constitutes both background and foreground. Who knows how additional dimensions, categorical changes, or more complex topologies might affect our reading of questions of mutuality, force relations, relative isomorphism, folding, and disassociation? In the spirit of speculation the following series of diagrams continue this premise as a visual game for the reader. In figure 6, a detail of the table of contents diagram at the front of the book, the core categories used by the editors of Realism Materialism Art (RMA) to group various approaches and interests are shown as an interconnected hub.

Figure 6. Detail of RMA table of contents. (Illustration by the author.)

In figure 7, the six core categories of RMA (selected by the editors) are isolated from the indexical diagram and specifically matched to the six poles and axes of Harman’s diagram as an initial gesture towards diagrammatic commutation.

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Figure 7. Unwinding the topological links between the sections of RMA allows them to be matched to the poles and axes of Harman’s quadruple object. Potentially any group of diagrams can be presented in isomorphic or commutative diagrams of varying graphic types. (Illustration by the author.)

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25 Graham Harman, The Quadruple Object (Alresford: Zero Books, 2011), 79.

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Articulation Designation

Abduction Deduction

Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Eidos (Theory) Eidos (Theory)

Deduction Pierce

Pierce

Sign/Signifier Eidos (Theory)

Deduction Pierce Sign/Signifier Eidos (Theory)

Pierce Nature

Open diagram (Search) Open diagram (Search) Open diagram (Search) Open diagram (Search) OTHER The Real OTHER OTHER The Real The Real The Real Lacan Non Human Oriented Non Human Meanings Oriented Non Meanings Human Oriented Meanings Non Human Oriented Meanings Form Nature Symbolic OrderSymbolicNature Order

Nature

Form Symbolic Order

Lacan

Form Symbolic Order

Essence

OTHER Lacan

Real Objects

Form

Nature Nature Nature Nature Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Interpretant Non Human Oriented other other Sciences other other Subject/Society Object Object Oriented Sciences Object Object Subject/Society Subject/Society Deduction Sign/Signifier Non Human Sciences Oriented Non Sciences Human Non Human Oriented Stratification Stratification Diagram Diagram Diagram Diagram Stratification Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Agencement Agencement Agencement No Human Access No Human Access No Human Access No Human Access Open diagram (Algorithm) Open diagram (Algorithm) Open diagram (Algorithm)Open diagram (Algorithm) Imaginary Order Imaginary Order Imaginary Order Imaginary Order

bduction

Abduction

Aisthesis

Real Objects

Object

Sign/Signifier Abduction Deduction Eidos (Theory)

Sign/Signifier Abduction Deduction Eidos (Theory)

Sign/Signifier Deduction Pierce Eidos (Theory) Pierce

Subject/Society Object ObjectSubject/Society Subject/Society duction/Intuition Induction/Intuition Induction/Intuition Induction/Intuition

Sign/Signifier Deduction Pierce Eidos (Theory) Subject/Society

Nature Pierce Object

Nature The Real Object

Nature The Real

The Real

Form Nature OTHER

Form OTHER The Real

Matter Aggregation Aggregation Aggregation Matter Object Order Symbolic Object Symbolic Order Symbolic Order

Quality Quantity

Quantity Quality

Space Nature Nature Object Object Sincerity Sincerity

Sign/Signifier Subject/Society Stratification

Sign/Signifier Aristotle AristotleSubject/Society

Attribution

Object

Empirical Phenomena Empirical (now physically Phenomena ‘subjective’) (now Empirical physically Phenomen ‘subjec Empirical Phenomena (now physically ‘subjective’)

Nature Aristotle Object

Form Lacan OTHER

Lacan

Matter Aggregation Symbolic Order

Nature Object

Nature Object

Space Theory

Power relations Representability

Space Theory

Designation

Form OTHER

Real Objects Lacan

Lacan

Matter

Real Objects

Foucault Real Objects

of Quasi Proliferation Objects (Hybrids) of Quasi Objects Prol Proliferation of Proliferation Quasi Objects (Hybrids) Latou Non Human Oriented Non Human Meanings Oriented Non Meanings Human Oriented Meanings Non Human Oriented Real Objects Real Objects Real Objects Real Qualities Real Qualities Real Qu

Representability

Theory Space

Theory

Designation

Sensual Object Sensual Object

Space

PowerTime relations Representability

Power Time relations Representability

Factiality

Designation

SpaceTheory

SpaceTheory

Power relations Time Representability

Deduction

Human Oriented Access Sciences Human Access Human Access Human Access Non Human Oriented NonSciences Human Oriented NonSciences Human Oriented Sciences Non Human Stratification Stratification Stratification Diagram Diagram DiagramStratification Diagram Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Agencement Agencement Agencement Agencement Open diagram (Algorithm) Open diagram (Algorithm) Open diagram (Algorithm) Open diagram (Algorithm) Induction/Intuition Object Induction/IntuitionObject Induction/Intuition Interpretant Interpretant Induction/Intuition Interpretant Interpretant other other other other Subject/Society Object Object Object Object Subject/Society Subject/Society Subject/Society De Landa De Landa De Landa Deleuze Deleuze Deleuze Ranciere Ranciere Ranciere Ranciere Divergent Actualization Divergent Actualization Divergent Actualization Divergent Actualization Aisthesis Aisthesis Aisthesis Aisthesis

Sincerity Object De Landa Deleuze

Sincerity

SincerityDuplicity

Sincerity

Real Objects Foucault

Duplicity

Articulation Designation

Articulation Allure Designation

Articulation AllureDesignation Allure

Factiality

Articulation Harman Designation Allure

Harman

Factiality

Harman

No Human Access

Factiality

Object Harman

Object

Object Human Access

Factiality Nihilism

Subject/Society Subject/Society Object Human Access Human Access

Eidetic variation Eidetic variation Eidetic variation Open diagram Open (Search) diagram (Search) Open diagram (Search) Open diagram (Search) Non Human Oriented Non Human Meanings Oriented Non Meanings Human Oriented Meanings Non Human Oriented Meanings

Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Subject/Society Subject/Society Object ObjectSubject/Society Eidos (Theory) Eidos (Theory) Eidos (Theory) duction/IntuitionInduction/IntuitionInduction/Intuition Induction/Intuition Pierce Pierce stinction of meanings Distinction of meanings Distinction of meanings Distinction of meanings

Sign/Signifier Subject/Society Eidos (Theory) Pierce

Nature Object Pierce

Nature Object

Nature Aggregation Object

Form Matter Aggregation Nature Aggregation Object

Form Matter

Form Matter Aggregation Lacan

Essence

Lacan

Form Matter

Real Objects Real Objects Sensual Object Sensual Object Lacan

Lacan

Deduction

Deduction

Space

Deduction

Non Human Oriented Non Human Sciences Oriented Non Sciences Human Oriented Sciences Non Human Oriented Sciences Stratification Stratification Stratification Stratification Diagram Diagram Diagram Diagram De Landa De Landa System 4 System 4 System 4 System System 4 3 System 3 System 3 System 3 De Landa Stabilization Meanings ofStabilization meanings meanings Stabilization of meaningsStabilization of meanings Agencement Agencement Agencement Agencement Human Oriented Non Human Meanings Oriented Non Meanings Human Non HumanofOriented Meanings Deleuze DeleuzeBIOGRAPHICAL-SELF/OTHER Deleuze Ranciere Ranciere Ranciere RanciereOpen diagram Open (Algorithm) diagram (Algorithm) Open Open diagram (Algorithm) Nature Nature OrientedSign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier NON SELF NONdiagram SELF (Algorithm) NON SELF NON BIOGRAPHICAL-SELF/OTHER SELF BIOGRAPHICAL-SELF/OTHER BIOGRAPHICAL-SELF/OTHER

Essence

Time

Space Theory

Aisthesis

Aisthesis

Time

Time

Space Theory

Mysticism Contingency Contingency

Theory Space

Mysticism Contingency

Mysticism Contingency

No Human Access No Human Access No Human Access

Theory

Oppositional Oppositional Oppositional Oppositional Duplicity Duplicity Duplicity Duplicity De-positional De-positional De-positional Sincerity De-positional Sincerity Sincerity Sincerity De Landa Nature Nature Nature Nature Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Non Human Oriented Non Human Meanings Oriented Non Meanings Human OrientedSign/Signifier Meanings Non Human Oriented Meanings Harman Sign/Signifier Deleuze Harman Harman Mysticism

Divergent Actualization Divergent Actualization Divergent Actualization Divergent Actualization

Aisthesis

Contingency Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meanings

Fantasy Fantasy Fantasy of meanings Fantasy meanings Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meanings Proliferation

Subject/Society Subject/Society Subject/Society Subject/Society Object Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Oriented Sciences Non Representation Human Representation Sciences Representation ArtObject Art Oriented Art Art Induction/Intuition Induction/Intuition Induction/Intuition Induction/Intuition Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Stabilization ofRepresentation meanings Eidos (Theory) Eidos (Theory) Eidos (Theory) Eidos (Theory) Distinction of meanings Distinction of meanings Distinction of meanings Distinction of meanings Abstractions Abstractions Abstractions Abstractions Biosemiosis

Biosemiosis

Nature Object

Open diagram (Search) Open diagram (Search) Open diagram (Search) Open diagram (Search) Non Human Oriented NonMeanings Human Oriented Non Meanings Human Oriented Meanings Non Human Oriented Meanings Matter Matter Matter Aggregation Aggregation Nature Aggregation Aggregation Form Form Form Nature Nature Object Object Object Attention Attention Attention Attention

Mysticism Allure Mysticism Allure Allure Contingency Contingency

Contingency

Factiality Factiality Factiality Brassier Non Human Oriented Non Human Sciences Oriented Non Sciences Human Sciences Non Human Oriented NihilismOriented Nihilism NihilismSciences Nihilism Grant Non Human Oriented Non Human Meanings Oriented Non Meanings Human Oriented Meanings Non Human Oriented Me Meillasso Harman Harman Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Sign/S Nature Nature Nature Nature

Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings

Eidetic variation Eidetic variation

Abstractions Abstractions Abstractions Abstractions Subject/Society Subject/Society Stjernfelt Subject/Society Object Object Stjernfelt Subject/Society Stjernfelt uction/Intuition Induction/Intuition Biosemiosis Biosemiosis Induction/Intuition BiosemiosisInduction/Intuition tinction of meanings Distinction of meanings Distinction of meanings Distinction of meanings

Stjernfelt Object

ement Measurement Eidetic variationMeasurement Eidetic variation EideticMeasurement variation Eidetic variation on Human Oriented Non Human Meanings Oriented Non Meanings Human OrientedSign/Signifier Meanings Non Human Oriented Meanings Nature Nature Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Object Object Phenomena Phenomena Interpretant Phenomena InterpretantPhenomena Interpretant Interpretant istinction of meanings Distinction of meanings Distinction of meanings Distinction of meanings Ranciere Ranciere Ranciere

System 4 System 4 NON SELF NON SELF System 1 System 1 PROTO-SELF PROTO-SELF Ranciere

Object

Aggregation Object

Aggregation

Matter Aggregation Object

Attention Matter

Matter Aggregation Neurology

Neurology

Eidetic variation

No Human AccessNo Human Access No Human Access

Dematerialization Dematerialization of the ‘art’ objectof Dematerialization the ‘art’ object of Oppositional the ‘art’ Dematerialization object of the ‘art’ object Space Theory Theory Space Theory Oppositional Oppositional Oppositional De-positional

Space Space Theory De-positional De-positional De-positional Nature De Landa Sincerity Deleuze Object

Nature Nature Nature Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Non Human Oriented NonMeanings Human Oriented NonMeanings Human Oriented Meanings Non Human Oriented Meanings

Eidetic variation

Duplicity Duplicity Duplicity Sincerity Sincerity Sincerity Harman Harman Object Object Interpretant Interpretant Mysticism Mysticism Object Mysticism Interpretant Mysticism Phenomena (physically Phenomena ‘subjective’) (physically Phenomena ‘subjective’) (physically ‘subjective’) Phenomena (physically ‘subjective’)

Contingency Positional Contingency Positional Contingency PositionalContingency Positional Multi-positional Multi-positional Multi-positional

No Human Access

Non Human Oriented NonMeanings Human Oriented NonMeanings Human Oriented Meanings Non Human Oriented Me Factiality Factiality Factiality Brassie Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Sign/Si Nature Nature Nature Nature Grant Non Human Oriented NonSciences Human Oriented Non Sciences Human Oriented Sciences Non Human Oriented Nihilism Nihilism NihilismSciences Nihilism Meillas Duplicity Harma Harman Harman Object Object Interpretant Object Object Interpretant Interpre Interpretant Phenomena (physically Phenomena ‘subjective’) (physically Phenomena ‘subjective’) (physically ‘subjective’) Phenomena (physically ‘subj Human AccessSciences HumanOriented Access Sciences Human Access Human A Multi-positional Human OrientedHuman Sciences Oriented Human Human Oriented Sciences Sign/Signifier

Proliferation of meanings Proliferation (Chimeras) of meanings Proliferation (Chimeras) of meanings (Chimeras) Proliferation Allure Allure Allure of meanings (Chimeras) Allure Eidetic variation

Attention

Human A

Causation Causation Real Objects RealObject Objects Sensual RealObject Objects RealObject Objects Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Sensual ObjectSensual Object Causation Sensual Object Causation Sensual Object Sensual Qualities Sensual Qualities Sensual Qualities Sensual Qualities Sensual ObjectSensual Sensual Sensual Qualities Sensual Qualities Sensua Real Objects Real Objects Real Objects Real Objects Real Qualities Real Qualities Real Qualities Real Qualities Real Qualities Real Qualities Q Human Oriented Human Sciences Oriented Sciences Human Oriented Sciences Human Oriented Real Scienc Confrontation Confrontation Confrontation Confrontation Non Human Oriented Non Human Sciences Oriented Non Sciences Human Oriented Sciences Non Super-positional Human Oriented Sciences Non Human Oriented Non Human Sciences Oriented Non Sciences Human Oriented Sciences Non Human Oriented Sciences Nihilism Nihilism Nihilism Nihilism Abstractions (logically Abstractions ‘objective’) (logically Abstractions ‘objective’)(logically ‘objective’) Abstractions (logically ‘objective’) Super-positional Super-positional Super-positional Scientific observation Scientific observation Scientific observation Scientific observation Abstractions (logically Abstractions ‘objective’) (logically Abstrac ‘obje Time Time Time Time (technologically (technologically subjective) subjective) (technologically subjective) (technologically subjective) Mysticism Mysticism Mysticism Mysticism Contingency Contingency Contingency Contingency Proliferation of Quasi Proliferation Objectsof(Hybrids) QuasiProliferation Objects (Hybrids) of Quasi Objects Proliferation (Hybrids)of Quasi Objects (Hybrids)

Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meaningsProliferation of meanings

Attention

Human Access

Mysticism Allure

Non Human Oriented NonMeanings Human Oriented Non Meanings Human Oriented Meanings Non Human Oriented

Matter Form

System 4 System 4 System 4 System System 4 3 System 3 System 3 System 3 Human Oriented NonMeanings Human Oriented NonMeanings Human Non Human Oriented Meanings Nature Sign/Signifier Nature Oriented Meanings Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier NON SELF NON SELF NON SELF NON BIOGRAPHICAL-SELF/OTHER SELF BIOGRAPHICAL-SELF/OTHER BIOGRAPHICAL-SELF/OTHER BIOGRAPHICAL-SELF/OTHER ement Measurement Measurement Eidetic variation variation Eidetic variation Eidetic variationMeasurement Deduction Eidetic Deduction Deduction Deduction Non Human Oriented NonSciences Human Oriented Non Sciences Human Oriented Sciences Non Human Oriented Sciences De Landa De Landa Stratification De Landa Stratification Stratification Stratification Diagram Diagram Diagram DiagramDeleuze Deleuze Deleuze Ranciere Ranciere Ranciere Stabilization of meanings Stabilization Stabilization ofRanciere meaningsStabilization of meanings Agencement Object Agencement Agencementof meanings Agencement System 1 System 1 System 1 System System 1 2 System 2 System 2 System 2 Object Open diagram (Algorithm) Open diagram (Algorithm) Open diagram (Algorithm)Open diagram (Algorithm) Phenomena Phenomena Phenomena Interpretant Phenomena Interpretant Interpretant Interpretant PROTO-SELF PROTO-SELF PROTO-SELF PROTO-SELF CORE-SELF CORE-SELF CORE-SELF CORE-SELF Distinction of meanings Distinction of meanings Distinction of meanings Distinction of meanings Proliferation of meanings Proliferation meanings Proliferation meanings Proliferation of meanings Divergent of Actualization DivergentofActualization Divergent Actualization Divergent Actualization Fantasy Fantasy Fantasy Fantasy meanings Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meanings Aisthesis Aisthesis Aisthesis Aisthesis

Attention

Mysticism

No Human Access

Proliferation of meanings Proliferation (Chimeras) of meanings (Chimeras) Proliferation of meanings Proliferation (Chimeras) of meanings (Chimeras) Essence Essence Essence Essence

Biosemiosis

Oriented Non Representation Human Sciences Representation Representation Art Sciences Art OrientedRepresentation Art Art Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings

Eidetic variation

Non Human Oriented Non Human Meanings Oriented Non Meanings Human Oriented Meanings Non Human Oriented Real Objects Real Objects Real Objects Real Objects Real Qualities Real Qualities Real Qu Sensual Object Sensual Object Sensual Object Sensual Object Sensual Qualities Sensual Qualities Sensual Human Oriented Sciences Human Oriented SciencesHuman Oriented Latour Scienc Human Oriented Sciences Foucault

Human AccessHuman Access Aisthesis

Brassier Grant Subject/ Human A Meillasso Harman

Essence

Causation Causation Causation Real Qualities Real Objects Causation Real Objects Real Qualities Real Qualities Real Qualities Sensual Object Sensual Object Sensual Qualities Sensual Qualities Sensual Qualities Sensual Qualities Confrontation Confrontation Confrontation Confrontation Foucault Foucault Foucault Time

Proliferation of Proliferation meanings of meanings Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meanings

Deduction

Essence

Human A

Eidetic variationEidetic variation Eidetic variation Eidetic variation NonMeanings Human Oriented NonMeanings Human Oriented Meanings Non Human Oriented Non Human Oriented Real Objects Real Objects Real Objects Real Qualities Real Qualities Qu Proliferation of Quasi Proliferation Objects (Hybrids) of Quasi Proliferation Objects (Hybrids) of QuasiReal Objects Prol Lat

Non Human Oriented NonSciences Human Oriented NonNihilism Sciences Human Oriented Nihilism Sciences Non Human Oriented Nihilism Sciences

Subject/Society

Subject/S

Human Access

No Human AccessNo Human AccessNo Human Access

Duplicity

meanings Distinction of meanings Distinction Subject/Society of meanings Subject/Society Distinction of meanings Subject/Society ObjectDistinction ofObject Object

Mysticism

No Human Access

Sensual Object Sensual Object Sensual Object Sensual Object Sensual Qualities Sensual Qualities Sensua Human Oriented Human Sciences Oriented Sciences Human Oriented SciencesHuman Oriented Scienc Mysticism Mysticism Mysticism Mysticism Contingency Contingency Contingency Contingency

Theory

Duplicity

Mysticism Contingency

Human Access Human Access Derivation

Representability

Theory Space

Mysticism Contingency

Sign/Signifier Nature Nature Nature Nature Subject/Society Subject/Society Subject/Society Object Object Oriented Object Object Non Human Oriented Non Human Sciences Oriented Non Sciences Human Sciences Non Human Oriented Nihilism Nihilism Nihilism Sciences Nihilism Duplicity

Closed diagram (Table) Closed diagram (Table) Closed diagram (Table) Closed diagram (Table) Sensual Object Sensual Object Sensual Qualities Sensual Qualities Sensual Qualities Sensual Qualities Confrontation Confrontation Confrontation Confrontation

Power relations Time

Mysticism Contingency

No Human Access No Human Access No Human Access

Attribution Attribution Attribution Attribution Causation Real Objects Causation CausationReal Qualities Real Qualities Real Qualities Real Qualities Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Foucault Foucault of meanings FoucaultStabilization

Causation Real Objects

Nature Kant Subject/Society Subject/Society Subject/S Object

Factiality Deduction

Induction/Intuition

Attribution

Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meanings Allure Allure Allureof meaningsProliferation Allure Derivation Derivation Derivation Essence Essence Essence Essence

Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meanings Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meaningsStabilization of meanings Deduction

Qua

Derivation

Attribution

Nature Nature Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Distinction of meanings Distinction of meanings Distinction Subject/Society of meanings Subject/Society Distinction of meanings Subject/Society Object Object Duplicity Duplicity Sincerity SincerityDuplicity Articulation Articulation Articulation Articulation Designation

stinction of meanings Distinction of meanings Distinction of meanings Distinction of meanings

Deduction

Quantity Quality

Object Sub Subject/Society Subject/Society Latou Distinction of meanings Distinction of meanings Distinction of meanings Distinction of meanin

Contingency

Proliferation of meanings Proliferation meanings Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meanings Divergent of Actualization Divergent Actualization Divergent Actualization Divergent Actualization Open diagram (Search) Open diagram (Search) Open diagram (Search) Open diagram (Search) Non Human Oriented NonMeanings Human Oriented NonMeanings Human Oriented Meanings Non Human Oriented Meanings

Aisthesis

Deduction Subject/Society Subject/Society Deduction Subject/S Object

Object

Foucault

Essence

Power relationsPower relations Power relations Representability Representability

Object Induction/IntuitionSign/Signifier Induction/Intuition Interpretant Object Induction/Intuition Induction/Intuition InterpretantSign/Signifier Interpretant Deduction Deduction Deduction Sign/Signifier

Aisthesis

R

Articulation Designation

Essence Essence Stabilization ofStabilization meanings of meanings Stabilization of meaningsStabilization of meanings Foucault Foucault Foucault Closed diagramClosed (Table)diagram (Table) Closed diagram (Table) Closed diagram (Table) Causation Causation Causation Real Objects Causation Real Objects Real Qualities Real Qualities Real Qualities Real Qualities

Lacan

Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meanings Human AccessHuman Access Human Access Human Access

Aisthesis

Relation Modality

Proliferation of Quasi Objects (Hybrids) Proliferation of Quasi Objects Prol( Proliferation of Quasi Objects (Hybrids) Object

Stabilization ofStabilization meanings of meanings Stabilization of meaningsStabilization of meanings

Agencement

Modality Relation

Abstractions (logicalA Abstractions (logically ‘objective’) Nature Kan No Access No Access Stabilization human Stab Stabilization of human oriented of meanings Rationalism Rationalism Rationalism Ro

Nature No Access

Attribution

Proliferation of Proliferation meanings of meanings Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meanings Derivation Derivation Derivation Attribution

Abduction Deduction

Modality Relation

Induction/Intuition Idealism

Induction/Intuition Induction/Intuition Induction/Intuition

Proliferation of Proliferation meanings of meanings Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meanings

Abduction

Qua

Derivation

Attribution Luck

Material Cause

No Human Access No Human Access No Human Access No Human Access Imaginary Order Imaginary Order Imaginary Order Imaginary Order

Abduction

Deduction

Quantity Quality

Human Access Sign/Signifier

Plato other other Object Subject/Society Subject/Society Subject/SocietyPlato

other

Deduction

Quantity Quality

Object Correlationism CorrelationismObject Correlationism Correlationism Subject/Society Subject/Society Subj Proliferation of Quasi Proliferation Objects of(Hybrids) QuasiProliferation Objects (Hybrids) of Quasi Objects Prol Sign Sign/Signifier Nature Distinction Nature Nature of meanings Distinction of meanings Distinction of meaningsSign/Signifier Distinction of meanin

Quality

Closed diagram (Table) Closed diagram (Table) Closed diagram (Table) Closed diagram (Table) Material Cause Subject Subject Subject Subject Foucault Foucault Foucault Opinion/Intuition Opinion/Intuition Opinion/Intuition Opinion/Intuition Power relations Power relations Power relations Power relations Representability Representability Representability Representability

Material Cause

R

Object

Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings

Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Induction/Intuition Object Induction/IntuitionObject Induction/Intuition Interpretant Interpretant Induction/Intuition Interpretant

Nature Quality Quantity

Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings

OTHER Subject

Relation Modality

Kant No Access Stabilization ofStabilization human oriented of human meanin Stab Rationalism Rationalism Ro

Induction/Intuition Idealism Induction/Intuition Idealism Idealism Induction/Intuition

Efficient cause

Efficient cause

Distinction Object of meanings Distinction of meanings Distinction Subject/Society of meanings Subject/Society Distinction of meanings Subject/Society Object

Object

Modality Relation

No Access Rationalism

No Access

Modality

Theoretical Science Nature Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Deduction/Empiricism Deduction/Empiricism Deduction/Empiricism Deduction/Empiricism Plato Plato Plato Human Access Human Access Human Access Human Access

Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meanings

Deduction Matter Pierce

Nature

Ideal Ideal Ideal Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings

Theoretical Science Theoretical ScienceTheoretical Science Nature Nature Nature

Interpretant

Subject Eidos (Theory) OTHER

Luck

bduction

No Access

Derivation

Attribution Attribution Attribution Attribution Material CausePhilosophical Material Cause Material Cause Nature CauseMaterial Nature Nature Nature Understanding Philosophical Understanding Philosophical Understanding Philosophical Subject Understanding Subject Subject Subject Final Cause Final Cause Final Cause Final Cause Formal Cause of meanings Formal Cause Formal Cause Causeof meanings Stabilization Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meaningsFormal Stabilization Opinion/Intuition Opinion/Intuition Opinion/Intuition Opinion/Intuition Closed diagram Closed (Table) diagram (Table) Closed diagram (Table) Closed diagram (Table) Theoretical Science Theoretical ScienceTheoretical Science Theoretical Science Symbolic Order Contingency Contingency Contingency Contingency Power relations Power relations Power relations Power relations RepresentabilityRepresentability Representability Representability

Symbolic Order

Modality Relation

Abstractions (logically Abstractions ‘objective’) (logicall A Aristotle

No Human Access No Human Access No Human Access No Human Access Imaginary OrderImaginary Order Imaginary Order Imaginary Order

Symbolic Order Symbolic Order

le

Empirical Phenomena Empirical (now Phenomena physically Empirical ‘subjective’) (now Phenomena physically ‘subjective’) (now Empirical physically Phenomen ‘subjecti Idealism Idealism Idealism Idealism Induction/IntuitionInduction/IntuitionInduction/Intuition Induction/Intuition Modality

Deduction/Empiricism Deduction/Empiricism Deduction/Empiricism Plato Plato

Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meanings

Speculation ObjectAbduction bduction

Sign Nature Nature NatureSign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Distinction of meanings Distinction of meanings Distinction of meanings Distinction of meanin

Ideal

THE TEMPTATION OF THE DIAGRAM Real Real

Sign/Signifier

Representation

Ideal

Nature

Opinion/Intuition Opinion/Intuition Opinion/Intuition Opinion/Intuition Theoretical Science Contingency Contingency Contingency Contingency

Theoretical Science Theoretical ScienceTheoretical Science

Eidetic variation

Eidetic variation

Eidetic variation

Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Non Human Oriented NonSciences Human Oriented Non Sciences Human Oriented Sciences Non Human Oriented Sciences Non Human Oriented NonSciences Human Oriented NonSciences Human Oriented Sciences Non Human Oriented Sciences Nihilism Nihilism Nihilism Nihilism Abstractions (logically Abstractions ‘objective’) (logically Abstractions ‘objective’) (logically ‘objective’) Abstractions (logically ‘objective’) Super-positional Super-positional Super-positional Super-positional Scientific observation Scientific observation Scientific observation Scientific observation Abstractions (logically Abstractions ‘objective’) (logically Abstract ‘ob (technologicallySensual subjective) (technologically subjective) (technologically (technologically Sensual subjective) Matter Sensual Object Sensual Object Sensual Object Sensual Object Sensual Qualities Sensual Qualities Sensual Qualities Object Sensual Object subjective) Sensual Object Object Sensual Qualities Sensual Qualities Sensua Neurology Neurology Art Sensual QualitiesArt Art Material S Human Oriented Sciences Human Oriented Sciences Human Oriented Sciences Human Oriented Scienc Confrontation Confrontation Confrontation Art Confrontation

Figure 8. Using Harman’s graphic convention to show isomorphic relations between other diagrammed systems of thought and Harman’s object. (Illustration by the author.) of Quasi Proliferation Objects (Hybrids) of Quasi Proliferation Objects (Hybrids) of Quasi Objects Proliferation (Hybrids)of Quasi quadruple Objects (Hybrids) Time ProliferationTime Time Time

Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings Stabilization of meanings

Dematerialization Dematerialization of the ‘art’ object Dematerialization of the ‘art’ object of the ‘art’ Dematerialization object of the ‘art’ object

276

Representation

s

Biosemiosis

Biosemiosis

System System 4 3 System 3 System 3 System 3 NON SELF BIOGRAPHICAL-SELF/OTHER BIOGRAPHICAL-SELF/OTHER BIOGRAPHICAL-SELF/OTHER BIOGRAPHICAL-SELF/OTHER System System1 2 System 2 System 2 System 2 PROTO-SELF CORE-SELF CORE-SELF CORE-SELF CORE-SELFDe Landa De Landa De Landa Deleuze Deleuze Deleuze

Stjernfelt

Attention

De-positional De-positional Nature Object De Landa Positional Deleuze

De-positional

Attention

Attention

Neurology Attention

OppositionalOppositional De-positional

Oppositional

Oppositional

NatureNon Human Oriented Nature Nature Sign/Signifier Sign/Signifier Non Human Meanings Oriented Non Meanings Human Oriented Sign/Signifier Meanings Non Human Oriented Meanings Object Object Object Interpretant Interpretant Interpretant Phenomena (physically Phenomena ‘subjective’) (physically Phenomena ‘subjective’) (physically ‘subjective’) Phenomena (physically ‘subjective’)

Positional

Positional

Mysticism

Contingency Contingency

Proliferation of Proliferation meanings of meanings Proliferation of meanings Proliferation of meanings

Fantasy Fantasy of meanings Fantasy of Proliferation meanings Fantasy of meanings Proliferation of meanings Proliferation

Oriented Non Human Representation Representation Sciences Representation Representation ArtSciences Art Oriented Art Stabilization ofStabilization meanings Art of meanings Stabilization of meaningsStabilization of meanings Stjernfelt Stjernfelt Stjernfelt Abstractions Abstractions Abstractions Abstractions

System 4 NON SELF System 1 PROTO-SELF

Mysticism Contingency

Representation

Positional Multi-positionalMulti-positionalMulti-positional Mysticism

Contingency

Sign/Signifier Interpretant

Mysticism Harman

Harman

Multi-positional Harman

Non Human Oriented Non Human Meanings Oriented Non Meanings Human Oriented Meanings Non Human Oriented Me Nature Object Harman

Sign/Signifier Interpretant Sign/Signifier Brassier Sign/S Nature Nature Nature Object Object Object Interpretant Interpret Grant‘subj Phenomena (physically Phenomena ‘subjective’) (physically Phenomena ‘subjective’) (physically ‘subjective’) Phenomena (physically Meillassou Human Oriented Sciences Human Oriented Sciences Human Oriented SciencesHuman Oriented Sciences Harman

277

Proliferation of Proliferation meanings (Chimeras) of meanings Proliferation (Chimeras) of meanings Proliferation (Chimeras) of meanings (Chimeras)

Neurology

Biosemiosis Stabilization ofStabilization meanings of meanings Stabilization of meaningsStabilization of meanings

Neurology

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THE TEMPTATION OF THE DIAGRAM

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The potential utility of this principle for hypo-iconic communication (especially for those lost at sea) is shown in figure 9, which uses the color key from figure 7 to create a simple tiling system.

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In figure 8, the inherently diagrammatic mutualism of Harman’s conceptual framing is further shown by locating diagrammatic equivalents from several other well-known systems of philosophical inquiry onto a similar schematic.

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Figure 9. A folding isomorphic language showing some formal relations between the diagrammed systems of thought shown in figure 8. Colors and divisions indicate philosophical orientations, Figure 9. Using quadratic geometry to create a visual isotypical language showing formal relations between the same diagonals indicate folds, circles indicate topological holes. It is hoped that this might be useful for diagrammed systems of thought shown in Figure 2. Colors and divisions indicate philosophical orientations. when atcommunication sea. (Illustration by at thesea. author.) It is hopedlong this distance might be communication useful for long distance when

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Figure 10 uses Peirce’s graphic convention instead to show clearly that system-wide isomorphic commutation is not dependent on Harman’s own graphic layout. Categories can be can moved, inverted, and mirrored without affecting any of their topological relationships.

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THE TEMPTATION OF THE DIAGRAM

MATTHEW RITCHIE

Harman’s categories (and by extension all topologically similar categorical systems) are applied to other potentially useful systems, including Feynman, Muller, and Oswald in figure 11, visually expressing the different tensions inherent to each. This implies significant possibility for a theory of potentially unifying gauge symmetries.

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Harman’s diagram is both completely specific to him and us (how could it not be?) and diagrammatically multiversal, explicitly attempting to build bridges across universes. Like the survivor’s barrel in Poe’s “Maelstrom,” propelling him through the impossibly vast but utterly specific forces of nature, Harman’s diagram both proliferates toward and secedes tidally away from multiple meanings, conveying us toward and through the totalizing hermeticism of real objects by the underlying forces of the universe he invokes. The assertions of his diagram reveal a beguiling confidence in the universal search for mutual association that reinforces the polypsychic orientation of Harman’s project. At least in this particular instance, the “rational author” can be embraced as the most confidently irrational figure of all: an artist. And in this, much like Object-Oriented Ontology, Harman’s diagram emerges as a research tool in and of its time. It embodies our interest in humanity as a directed and limited quantity, one we all have a vested interest in understanding and extending to the very limits of our abilities.

Figure 10. Using Peirce’s graphic convention to show isomorphic relations between other diagrammed systems of thought and Harman’s quadruple object. (Illustration by the author.)

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-non-music-non-stopAchim Szepanski

The Laruellian concept of “superposition” proposes two different treatments of sonic thinking (that is, thinking sonically rather than about sound) as non-representation. One illustrates an incommensurability of sound’s closure, hermetically separated from other materials, paradigms, and theories; the other illustrates an incommensurability of the relation and exchange of sound, which is porous enough to permit heterogeneous assemblages without imposing them. While closure includes representation as thinking about sound, permanent exchange tends to confusion as it fuses thinking and sound. This confusion reflects the belief of experimental electronic music in its first period (from Luigi Russolo through Pierre Schaeffer and classic musique concrète) that everything in the world is musical, an unrecognized belief associated with what Jarrod Fowler calls the Principle of Musical Sufficiency.1 By contrast, non-musicology breaks with the idea that everything is musical and develops a science of music as well as a music related to science (Iannis Xenakis’s use of stochastic processes, for example). For Fowler, “the program of non-musicology is to use musicology to construct alien theories without those theories being yielded by the Principle of Musical Sufficiency: ‘All is not musical, this is our news.’”2 Non-musicology breaks not only with musical self-sufficiency; it also articulates another break that does not so much involve a new subversive immersion of the audience into the conditions of hearing as lead to the ecological anticause, what Fowler calls a different hearing-in-rhythm, which is identical with rhythm insofar as rhythm is different from metrics and recurrence. What is rhythm? First, rhythm is a temporally extended pattern that can be described by information-processing systems through several parameters summarized by Inigo Wilkins: spatial, temporal, amplitude, frequency, and superposition.3 While processing systems involve an observer-dependent reality of rhythm, it is possible to discover the existence of rhythms that are beyond human sensory perceptual capacities through technology, math, and science. Second, it has to be asked whether or not there is a simple opposition between noise and rhythm. The answer is no, because we can define rhythm as the relation of identifiable and unidentifiable processes that allow the incommensurable chaos to pass into an order of difference, a degree or quantity of nonlinear and nonrhythmic noise. Rhythm may exist at many degrees of dynamics 1 2 3

Jarrod Fowler, “A Sequence of Non-Musicological Praxis Corresponding to Phases of Non-Musicology.” See www.irreversiblenoise.wordpress.com. Ibid. Inigo Wilkins, “Enemy of Music," Irreversible Noise (blog), www.irreversiblenoise.wordpress. com/2013/03/06/enemy-of-music/.

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and magnitude. It may emerge from noise; the simulation of noise through stochastic processes demonstrates that the process of the enfolding of rhythm and signals offers a large quantity of heterogeneous movements occurring at different time scales and frequencies. Still, noise has a larger dynamics and magnitude than rhythm. Noise is foreclosed to any ontological or epistemological theory. If rhythm is distinct from metrics, we enter the field of non-frequency politics, the politics of productive difference, which includes the fact that rhythm is distinct from metrics and science, and therefore uses science and music as pure material. Here, nonmusicians start to reduce discourses of philosophy and science to pure material to achieve—in interaction with hearing-in-rhythm—pulse “rhythmights.” A non-musicological term invented by Fowler, “rhythmight” opens up experimental methods of rhythm production: we can now speak of rhythm in terms of nonperiodic pulsed or clicked music. We find here a transversal disjunction, heterogeneous temporalities, and spatial components that overlap and coexist in a track; in the invincible evidence of its short signal and contextless reference, the click opens various potentials to move on without giving any noticeable association. Through the concatenation of signs something like indetermination starts to be indicated, whereby failure can become part of music. Failure is not an inscribed meaning in clicks and cuts, but rather a referential that indicates possibilities of previous and emerging sign concatenations. In the nameless “in between,” meaning is constructed with the help of signs that are not what they pretend to be. Through reference to other signs, a momentum of meaning is produced, because a sign like the click realizes différance, suspended presence, while also referring to signs to come. Similarly, the pulse can be understood as an inherent stress that falls on certain metrics or beats. While listening to the clock, one might hear “tick-tock” instead of “tick-tick,” because every other beat is more stressed than the beat before. This repeating stress is the pulse; and in music different sorts of pulses can be overlapped and constructed by grouping beats together in different milieus or patterns. The technique of antihuman music forces a temporal division into such nuanced patterns, which only machines can perform with perfect precision. Here is another hotspot of nonmusic in a Laruellian sense. Laruelle claims a dispersive a priori of an autonomous theory (here, transposed to music) related to the foreclosed and indifferent real, posing the question: How can a generic and real but nevertheless transcendental and a priori term of difference be constructed, an a priori of difference that is a matter of an immediate given condition?4 The relation between the different speed of waves and the maxima of intensity or the zero degree of variation constitutes a dispersion. At this stage rhythm is still hearing-inrhythm as radical ecology. While non-musicology imposes a unilateral relationship between rhythm and hearing, hearing-in-rhythm cannot affect rhythm, while rhythm

is foreclosed to hearing-in-rhythm. For example, the theoretical practice of music remains dependent on sample politics, oscillating between an actual pool of samples and the capacity to create new samples. Samples are nowadays part of the media pool, regardless of whether they are saved on analog or digital media. Sampling includes the program-controlled, machinic transformation of the musical material with special features, transposing, time-stretching or cut up, and so forth. Sampling is a technology for access and transformation of media material, that functions by grasping the signals of the media of transmission. Sampling subverts the purposeful transfer from source to destination. Instead of an exact process of mapping the input onto the output, sampling activates a production process, using the signal subtracted from its functional and contextual environment. As a condition of that production, it is a sampling-in-the-last-instance. Going from sampling to so-called pulse rhythmight (produced with techniques through immanent and generic methods of percussive flights and differential structures of sound) is to attend not to being-in-theworld, but being in music. A music that remains radically immanent, rhythmight is constructed from the heterogeneity of rhythm as incommensurately sampled-in-thelast-instance and binds the methods of rhythmics to ecological hearing-in-rhythm. The relation between rhythm and hearing is unilateral: it only goes one way. The unilaterality of rhythm, which is anticausal, doesn’t imply that music can be reduced to rhythm, but rather that, aside from its territorial motives and melodic landscapes, music is in-the-last-instance rhythm and heard from rhythm. The exology (the closure of paradigms, knowledge, and so on) of hearing, which arises from the indifference of rhythm, must hallucinate music as metrics, order, and composition by ignoring the radical ecology of rhythm, which is related to non-music’s objectivity without representation.5 At the same time, rhythmight corresponds to a relative ecology (perception of music) that is permanently infiltrated by the convertibility of money, the processes in which the virtuality of value is actualized as price. At this juncture non-musicology has to indicate a radical mutation of the radical ecology of rhythm according to the foreclosed real. If nonmusic or nonstandard music is, as Inigo Wilkins says, situated in the “non-standard phase space” between periodic sine tones and non-periodic or non-individual complex transformation and modulation, it might fall within the same theoretical neighborhood as Dante’s bourdon or Olivier Messiaen’s compositional techniques.6 The latter combines listening to the rhythmic singing of each individual bird and the overall rhythm as an orchestra. On one side, there is no total rhythmic disorder, analogous to the incommensurability of closure, as unrelated tones do not couple with one another; on the other side, the birds are not synchronized to the ticking clock, as though a regular pulse would allow them all to share a common beat. Now, it looks as though non-frequency politics would be nothing

4

François Laruelle, “The Decline of Materialism in the Name of Matter,” trans. Ray Brassier, Pli 12 (2001): 33–40.

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Fowler, “Sequence of Non-Musicological Praxis.” See Dante, Purgatorio, Canto XXVIII, 7–19; and Wilkins, “Enemy of Music.”

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other than a reinvention of Dante’s bourdon; but the ritornello of the birds as accompanied by the noise of the wood is not only a musical sensation. It forces rhythm via an interaction with hearing-in-rhythm, in order to find a radical objective music, which includes the refusal of the world, even the refusal to create alternative worlds, yet demands the real as parallel to the world. Rhythmight produces tension and solidification at the same time in hearing-in-rhythm, while non-musicians become aware of how to subtract rhythm from the metrum, endlessly mixing and remixing the conditions and relations of rhythmights and at the same time separating fragments from these mixtures in order to use these autonomous theoretical fragments indifferent to the musical structure. Laruelle would reject Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s treatment of music as the capture of affects and percepts (the relationship between material and forces)7 and would instead postulate in music an autonomous theoretical order, a nonscientific thought according to the radical immanence of the real—the real, here, understood as foreclosed and indifferent, without mirroring aesthetics or knowledge or being mirrored by science; the real, which has to be thought as neither a meaning nor a truth but rather as immanently given “without givenness.” The exteriority of the real is being-nothing, which confronts being with nothingness. This demands the real as parallel to the world. By reducing all transcendental thought to pure material, thought can be developed according to the syntax of the real. Instead of a truth, which has its telos in the white silence of a full speaking, in which even the real should be countable, nonmusicology presents an incestuous conjunction of the principles of superposition (immanence of One-in-One) and non-commutativity. Where Deleuze and Guattari distinguish between scientific variables, artistic varieties, and philosophical variations, Laruelle’s non-philosophy reduces all concepts of philosophy and philosophy itself to pure variables.8 Non-musicology reduces philosophy, science, and musical objects to pure material, by starting to sample the material from within nonmusical discourses such as science and philosophy. By cutting off the Principle of Musical Sufficiency, the immersive properties of sound in relation to perception and affect might be also cut off. Nonmusic instead produces an irreflective processing of variables by variables, a fractal proliferation of models without transcendence. In his latest works, Laruelle speaks of the nonstandard method as a kind of immanent fiction that includes invention, construction, performance, and so forth as a nonrepresentational and non-expressive method that uses only abstract and pure thought for non-aesthetics and that doesn’t need to appeal to the parallelism of philosophy and art.9 This demands neither thinking of sound as sonic philosophy

nor thinking about sound, but an abstract theory of sound, a radical abstract theory that is absolutely non-worldly and non-perceptual, as Laruelle says. Music is not oriented to a world, nor is it perceptual; rather it focuses on the immanent character of music as such, being in music. Music is radical objectivation without representation or intentionality. Following Laruelle, this semblance of music must be no longer an imitation, a tracing, an emanation, or a representation of world or of language, of affect, or whatever. Rather, there exists a non-world of music for both the musician and the philosopher of music. This non-world still exists in the present and is real, while nonmusic is always rooted in matter. At this point non-musicology stops tracing the Rhythmicity of rhythm in hearing-in-rhythm through sampling-inthe-last-instance. As a kind of objectivity without representation, non-musicology begins instead to sample material from science and philosophy, from musical material itself, to construct the immanent generic matrix of nonmusic, which is no longer overdetermined by the capitalist relation of production and circulation.

7 8 9

See Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 163–99. See Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy; and François Laruelle, Introduction aux sciences géneriques (Paris: Editions Petra, 2008), 200. See, for example, François Laruelle, Anti-Badiou: On the Introduction of Maoism into Philosophy, trans. Robin Mackay (London: Bloomsbury, 2013).

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Concept Without Difference: The Promise of the Generic Amanda Beech

Art today reeks of a lack of imagination. It is burdened by its own histories, its tales of emergence, its attachment to contexts, its sick love affair with location and the personal histories of “lives.” Identifying art as the great social redeemer aids and abets capitalism as does the private self-reflective work of the artwork as personal memoir. Equally, intellectually rigorous art increasingly defends the viability of a labor of the mind. Here, the artist as interdisciplinary “researcher” conducts anthropologically revealing exercises on others, yet the work ends up revealing more about its maker. In general terms, art today is based on an ethics of making and recognizing differences, the problems of which stand as the defining crisis of art’s good conscience. The demand for another art, a different art—one that we long to see—must therefore be taken in distinction to the proliferation of art observing an ethics of difference. It proposes a difference from the proliferation of differences. * We assert here that all problems of art observing an ethics of difference are manifestations of the condition of being Duchampian. Two currently prevalent examples of art’s “being Duchampian” are: —Immaterial, inaesthetic, experiential modes of practice that claim to manifest the real through the overcoming of mediation; an art that brings us together via the social axis of free interpretation and free experience; a reveling in the orgiastic collectivity of sensational “feeling.” —Tiresome but still popular “intellectual” word-game art that puns its way toward oblivion, language here being the primary means for signaling some form of finitude: Art as the game of representing the knowledge of the limits of knowledge itself. It is an art of irony and parody at the limits of meaning. To be Duchampian is to be in contradiction. On the one hand, art is claimed as a nonhierarchical field of differences: Duchamp’s work itself—especially the readymades—buys into the assumption that some objects are wholly indifferent (the

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bottle rack for example, is chosen for its “arbitrary” status, its anonymity). Yet, on the other hand, such differences are established against present-historical-empirical conditions, setting up a hierarchy or inequivalence of differences including, primarily, that art is something different than the chosen object. The “anything whatever” of the artwork is eclipsed by the predilection for meaning as art.

as a form of knowledge. This faith in the generic exposes art’s central and defining methodology. Art figures the generic method through its processes, which now define its claims. Art finds itself as genre in this methodology of critique. It is very much at home. 2.

Being Duchampian, art has stood as its own measure, defining itself through sets of differential relations from which it can articulate its own existence and specific identity. The Duchampian claim that the artwork can be anything at all is here designated as “the generic.” The generic artwork is nonspecific as an object or even as an idea. The Duchampian artwork manifests the force of the generic, of leveling hierarchies toward a yet-more anarchic equality of signs, objects, and meanings as its primary critical moment. Yet it presents the contradiction of art as immanent differentiation and as a “superior” result of difference, in turn posing the primary question: favoring immanent differentiation, how then to understand the generic without principle, without difference, and without relation? What would it mean to capture the promise of the generic otherwise than as the manifestation of difference as a genre? * To be clear, to be Duchampian is to be equivocal with regard to the generic: 1.

Duchamp’s leveling of hierarchies relies upon an idea that neutral, everyday, or common sense languages and idioms are exempt from the hierarchy of categories in the first place. The readymade is appealing as a context-free object, and it is this referent to alterity that lends the readymade its critical weight. The critique it gives rise to, including institutional critique (which only prosecutes this program in a particular context), claims this more egalitarian and anarchic basis as the condition for identifying and condemning the “abstraction” of hierarchical languages, institutions, power, and so on. The assumption of neutral forms organizing the hierarchical distinction postulated by such condemnations is itself predicated on an idealizing claim to the “anything whatever” as an abstraction or genre. The claim to the “anything whatever” manifests the standardized and incorrect assumption that art can access the unknown. This aspiration for radical difference—that art can offer the experience of what is unknown to us—is won by securing the generic

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In contrast to genre, the generic is then immanent to the artwork, its readings, and its production. François Laruelle’s philosophy is preoccupied with the notion of generic immanence and so provides an important guide to addressing the problem for art identified here. Whereas for Duchamp the generic is occasioned in the collision of art and life, concept and practice, critique and habituation, for Laruelle the generic is immanent to a collision of philosophy and science. Being Duchampian in its radical sense therefore enables an extended apprehension of Laruelle’s conceptualization of the generic. *

The generic in this sense promises a complex condition of equality that cannot be obtained or captured by already existing designations, including that of art. Yet this is what is blocked and revoked in the restitution of the everyday object as art, by being Duchampian qua genre. The latter rescinds the promise of art’s self-estrangement—its alterity, its value, and its name “art”—with a notion of difference that takes art to be determined in the relation that the generic has to difference rather than in the generic itself. Being Duchampian subordinates the generic of art to difference. By contrast, the generic promises the real unbinding of differences required for meaning and, on the other hand, reinstates the standard and inherited systems of difference that are the mainstay of art’s critique. The promise of the generic is to evacuate the standard forms of a politics of difference that have been captured and sedimented in post-Duchampian art without reinstating extant institutions. The difficulty is in conceptualizing and obtaining the generic without the standard politics of difference that is today’s artistic commonplace. * The generic as a concept is a means by which art divests itself from the paradigms of the claustrophobic isms that have regimented its production and reception. Now difference is inherently tied to the concept of the generic and vice versa. * The demand for another art traverses the problem of how to disengage itself from the all-encompassing and all-permissive system of art being Duchampian—a problem that can now be cast in terms of the difference between generic art and art as a genre.

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The target here is the system that misidentifies the generic as a genre. We must traverse this problem without underscoring or falling back into the mistaken logic of elevating difference over the generic. The idea that the generic can be art is to be supplanted by an art that must be generic. We cannot be held back by empirical constraints or by any sense of redemption that idealizes thought over matter or image. The challenge here is to conceive an art that no longer imagines that it can act as the difference-agent or hero of the political event. The generic is to be the condition of our aesthetic paradigm. It is to be the paradigm for art’s modes of production, what it is as a product, its aesthetic dimension, and the rhetorical affect of the image. * To fully expunge art as a genre we must also identify the real limits set by an art that tries to out-maneuver the constraints imposed by the ethics of difference; that is, identify the art that looks to surpass the limitations of genre’s neutrality by reinstantiating itself as becoming different, and even in understanding itself through a theory of its own edicts by becoming the thought of difference and, in either case, escaping representation. * The specter haunting our inquiry is the perennial myth that escaping representation provides a comprehension of a real or of objective reality as it is. Our difficulty is that philosophical or artistic critique is today habituated in paradigmatic and ideological formations, and this is art’s dominant formation in neoliberal culture. In this condition, art spontaneously formulates an operation called “critique,” rejects representation, assumes its own language is free from power. Stipulating that art’s critique should be other than this ideologically supine condition requires us to overcome this condition. * Louis Althusser’s description of the “circle of decision” as the defining practice of philosophy is instructive here. For Althusser the crisis is that ideology and science are at risk of collapsing into one totalizing milieu. Philosophy must intervene in order to produce a distinction between a corrupt manifestation of ideology, “a culture that cultivates,” and real science as the advancing of facts.1 The “circle of decision” philosophy draws up in response to this danger is in fact “not a circle at all” but a practice without coordinates that nevertheless leads somewhere: 1

Louis Althusser, Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientists and Other Essays, trans. Gregory Elliott (London: Verso, 1990), 95.

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I entered the necessary circle deliberately. Why? To show even crudely that whilst it is indispensable to leave philosophy in order to understand it, we must guard against the illusion of being able to provide a definition—that is, a knowledge—of philosophy that would be able radically to escape from philosophy: there is no possibility of achieving a science of philosophy or a “meta-philosophy”; one cannot radically escape the circle of philosophy. All objective knowledge of philosophy is in effect at the same time a position within philosophy. […] There is no objective discourse about philosophy that is not itself philosophical.2 The formulation is instructive in that Althusser assumes that while philosophy is part of this “whole” it is nonetheless unfree to establish a speculative relation to knowledge, and is implicitly bound to its spontaneous form. Philosophy does not seek to become science but instead to effect its discipline at the highest level, policing and producing correct science. This is not a practice of looking back. It is rather the exacting power of philosophy itself. This is a rendering of decision as the drawing of a line between science and ideology that grasps their difference and remains philosophy in doing so. This is philosophy as difference: a processional method that seeks to overcome any requirement for a comparative distinction between those naive habits and the “correct” path. Philosophy is then privileged in that it draws the “circle of decision” as a practice of power even as it embosses that circle as the figure of thought. * The drawing of the curve of this circle—philosophy for Althusser, critique for us—as the ceaseless mark of an inaccessible extra-philosophical reality is now a repetitive indoctrination, the stamp of the circle as philosophy itself in a yet more spontaneous form.3 2 3

Ibid., 102. Pierre Macherey presents the final problem latent in the circle: “[Althusser’s] intervention consists in tracing the lines of demarcation, which in reality only retread the lines already traced, and demand to be retraced again, with no assignable issue, in so far as the conflict of forces that it brings to light cannot emerge as a definitive division that would once and for all isolate all its manifestations. One might see in this approach the index, not so much of a vulgar theoreticism, as of a mystique of the philosophical, which would fundamentally be the last word of Althusserianism, a last word which no ‘autocritique’ would succeed in rescinding.” In Pierre Macherey, “Althusser and the Concept of the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientists,” trans. Robin Mackay, Parrhesia 6 (2009): 14–27. What Macherey here identifies as the “mystique of the philosophical” is the ever-yet-greater spontaneity of philosophy.

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Althusser’s demand for a nonspontaneous drawing up or generation of differences returns us then to another spontaneous philosophy. This is a problem that Althusser identifies but also re-inaugurates.

completely.”5 As Laruelle concedes, philosophy enters into photo-fiction as “an essential […] materiality,” and in doing so is deprived of its “pretensions of the absolute.”6 And what is the photo-fictional camera?

To be Duchampian in art is to be Althusserian in philosophy. That is, critique is figured through “difference” in Duchampian art and Althusserian philosophy. However, these processes and methods advance another spontaneous philosophy for Althusser and a spontaneous artistic critique for Duchampians. Because art today for the most part inherits and practices a critical method in this manner, contemporary art as we know it strikes us as being disastrous. * Laruelle’s non-standard aesthetics and nonstandard philosophy acknowledge the paradigms identified here and the apparently intractable problems they present, and no less look to overcome them by subjecting them to the power of a universal science (distinct in this from the “everyday” science preoccupying Althusser). Laruelle leans into the Althusserian problematic by tackling what might be called “a spontaneous philosophy of philosophers.” Where for Althusser vigilant philosophical intervention prevents the collapse of science and ideology into one another, for Laruelle critique is charged by the destruction of these relations. In The Concept of Non-Photography Laruelle argues that the circle of decision need never be entered in the first place.4 The idea that we should think that we are always already in the circle, and that a philosophy need work through it in order to overcome it is evidence of yet another spontaneous philosophy. In fact, for this reason all philosophy is spontaneous. * Being Duchampian, being Althusserian, philosophy or aesthetics or critique or art are inadequate to the real. How then might we think the adequacy of thought or aesthetics or art to the real? In Photo Fiction, An Essay in Non-Standard Aesthetics Laruelle writes that the “photofictional camera” of nonstandard aesthetics “is no longer indexed to or inclined toward philosophy […]; it does away with the pretensions of philosophy, without denying it

4

Francois Laruelle, The Concept of Non-Photography, trans. Robin Mackay (Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2011), 82.

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It is a new type of object […] adding fiction to the photo according to a precise logic, without imitation or dialectics, and then elucidating this structure. This photo-fictional theoretical apparatus will be an aesthetic impossibility, a nonaestheticizable or non-philosophizable impossibility, and it is as such that it will realize a non-aesthetics of the photo. This photo-fictional apparatus […] is made only for generating fictions that are like “theoretical captions” that eventually accompany [the viewing of] photos.7 In short, and to return to the considerations above, the construction is that “photofiction is a generic extension of the photographic apparatus, which is to say that it is neutralized in its philosophical or aesthetic pretensions.”8 If the aesthetic/philosophical regime of the image is temporal, unnatural, and irreal, the image as photo-fiction is by contrast a generic matrix—the matrix here being the extended “box” of the photo-fiction apparatus, to photo-fiction what a camera is to a photo.9 * This solution is, however, only an apparent one. The lingering incompleteness of philosophy/aesthetics within the generic matrix, together with the invitation to identify a hierarchy between non-philosophy and philosophy and between nonstandard aesthetics and aesthetics, risks reinscribing the relational problems outlined in the Duchampian paradigm. The problem here is that the generic is mistaken for a genre, establishing a difference between aesthetics and non-aesthetics to which the generic must be subordinated. This hierarchy operating across both the science-image and the philosophy-image dislodges the truth of the generic because what is claimed is impossible: that some images are more generic than others.

5 6 7 8 9

François Laruelle, Photo Fiction, An Essay in Non-Standard Aesthetics, trans. Drew S. Burk (Minneapolis: Univocal, 2012), 20 (translation modified). Ibid., 18. Ibid., 12. Ibid., 14 (translation modified). Ibid., 15.

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* In order to settle this, we have to pay closer attention to Laruelle’s careful articulation of the non-relation between standard regimes and the nonstandard axis of the thought-image. To achieve the overcoming of specific regimes, Laruelle invites an almost pragmatic trust in the nature of things, while at the same time promising that a “scientific attitude” can effect a new formation of thought out of philosophy. What Laruelle calls the photo-fiction represents the extinction point—rather than the suppression or destruction pure and simple—of philosophy as ontology or World-thought, an extinction that is effectuated through the infra-photographic “objective lens” of the scientific stance in regard to the real. It testifies just as much to the manifestation as such (the explicit manifestation) of science and to its refusal of the World, as to the resistance of the latter and of the old thought—philosophy—of which it is the element.10

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Consequently, and second, philosophy is reawakened as a real enterprise because the hitherto categorized irreal philosophical-aesthetics now actually turn out to tell true stories: the story that evidences their demise. The act of “bearing witness” to the evolutionary extinction of our bad regimes reinforces the circle as the obstacle and remainder of a weak ideal, won as a booby prize through another tale of self-transcendence.11 * We must then carefully distinguish between the false claims to comprehend realities through (the production of ) difference qua neutral genre and, on the other hand, the real materialism that thinks the real as such. Following Laruelle, science qua universal is the paradigm for a real materialism. The counter-risk, however, is spontaneously to assume or neutralize scientific thought itself, be it a “natural” or “universal” science; that is, to assume that any scientific thought transcends the language that manifests its articulation, however abstract and technical that language may be.

Philosophy, then, is to die a death through evolutionary means. It will be asymptotically extinguished.

*

It is a death effectuated through “the scientific stance” taken “in regards to the real.”

It is the scientific stance that does not naturalize scientific thought that provides the clue for how art can effectively surpass the confines of our initial aesthetic paradigm (which constrained the generic to difference) as a genre of the arbitrary or neutral sign or concept.

It seems that this death requires no relation between philosophy and non-philosophy. In Althusserian terms, it is the struggle between the life of a real force and the death of the false.

What is advanced here is an interdisciplinary project of a new scientific realism.

* Laruelle’s philosophy then marks the reality of philosophy’s death (and therefore its own) and holds the truth of science to come. Yet, even at this point of philosophy’s demise, two things happen that once again recover a conditional relation between philosophy and non-philosophy: First, Laruelle’s description of philosophy’s extinction serves to reenter the circle as another form of spontaneous photo-fiction. While photo-fiction is not claimed to be philosophy but its extension by science, that claim is nonetheless made on philosophy’s behalf and so, as Althusser notes, remains distinctly philosophical.

10 Ibid., 15; and François Laruelle, The Concept of Non-Photography, trans. Robin Mackay (Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2011), 91.

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Such a scientific realism challenges the ethical paradigm of art as it is presently established. It requires thinking art in a truly generic way as much as a truly generic art, overcoming our predilection towards a genre of aesthetics, leaving behind of the category of the uncategorizable. To not be Duchampian.

11

As Ray Brassier remarks, non-philosophy cannot give up on its determination of philosophy as the axiom against which it determines itself. Brassier argues that Laruelle’s concept of adequation reproduces certain strictly philosophical problems because “while it may be perfectly coherent to claim, as Laruelle does, that I am identical-in-the-last-instance with radical immanence, or that I think in accordance with the real and that my thinking is determined-in-the-last-instance by it, it does not follow then that I am the real qua One.” See Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 136. That is, Laruelle confuses thinking with an identity that fixes both the real and the human as category form and, in doing so, risks a “transcendental individualism” (Ibid., 137).

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* Not being Duchampian: we are not seeking a modification of art under the name art, but rather an interrogation, traversal, and a leaving behind of art as a name for difference. And also, crucially, the overcoming of the fear of aesthetics toward a greater understanding of how we operate with and through aesthetics, not as stable and established entities but rather as systems of force. These are the central challenges for art made through and with science. At issue is whether art can take the risk of annihilating its own identity.

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Geographies of Time (The Last Pictures) Trevor Paglen

On November 21, 2012, planet Earth acquired a new moon. It wasn’t anything particularly out of the ordinary. In fact, hardly anyone noticed. Since the former Soviet Union placed the first “artificial moon” in space on October 4, 1957, the world’s nations and corporations have added thousands of satellites to Earth’s orbit. Some of them monitor the weather, others take pictures or relay telephone calls. One of them, the International Space Station, even serves as temporary home for humans. In 2012, there’s nothing remarkable about adding new moons to Earth’s vicinity. Some of these satellites, however, are a great deal stranger than we realize. The vast majority of satellites (and space debris) are in relatively low orbits, anywhere from a few hundred to a thousand kilometers above Earth. Because of their close proximity to our planet, they experience small amounts of drag as they dart through the highest wisps of the upper atmosphere. In time, drag accumulates, the satellites slow down, and they eventually fall back to Earth. A small number of other satellites, however, have an entirely different destiny. The majority of communications satellites—providing Internet bandwidth, broadcasting television signals, routing credit card transactions, and streaming music toward the Earth below—are in an orbit designed to keep the satellite stationary over a fixed point on Earth. The television dishes seen on so many houses and apartment buildings are pointed toward satellites based at a fixed location in the sky. To “hover” in one spot, a satellite must orbit around the Earth at the exact same rate that the Earth itself rotates. This is called a “geosynchronous” or “geostationary” orbit. There’s only a very small band in space where this particular orbit works. The magic number is 35,786 km above the equator. Several hundred communications satellites hover at that distance from Earth, forming a ring of machines sometimes referred to as the “Clarke Belt.”1 But the Clarke Belt is not only unusual for its orbital characteristics. Communications satellites are so far from Earth that they experience no atmospheric drag whatsoever. Hence, they’re never pulled back toward Earth. Every spacecraft Information about Trevor Paglen’s The Last Pictures project is available at www.creativetime.org /projects/the-last-pictures/. 1

The name honors science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, who in 1945 proposed using geosynchronous spacecraft to create global “communications relays.” Nonetheless, the name “Clarke Belt” is somewhat unfair. The orbit was first theorized by the Russian aerospace visionary Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in the late nineteenth century and the Slovenian engineer Herman Potoc ˇnik first calculated its distance in 1928.

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placed in the Clarke orbit over the last half century remains there (or in a slightly higher “graveyard” orbit) to this day. What’s more, they will remain in Earth’s orbit indefinitely. The implications are profound: 35,786 km from Earth, some of human civilization’s greatest engineering achievements are effectively frozen in time. More than the cave paintings at Lascaux, the Pyramids of Giza, the Great Wall of China, or the ancient city of Çatalhöyük, the ring of abandoned satellites far above the Earth’s equator will be human civilizations’ longest lasting artifacts. In fact, there’s really no comparison with any other human invention. The ultimate fate of geosynchronous satellites lies with the sun. About four billion years from now, the sun will have burned through most of its hydrogen and will start burning helium. When that happens, our star will swell to become a red giant and will probably swallow the Earth (and the lingering geosynchronous satellites). But four billion years is a long time from now. For a bit of perspective, four billion years is about sixteen times further into the future than the advent of the dinosaurs was in the past; it is four times further into the future than the entire history of complex multicellular organisms on Earth. A billion years from now, a species as unrelated to humans as we are to ancient trilobites may look up at the sky and see the ring of machines leftover from a civilization in the impossibly distant past. Placing a satellite into geosynchronous orbit means placing it into the deep and alien time of the cosmos itself. One of these satellites is different from others in the Clarke Belt. Like most spacecraft in geosynchronous orbit, EchoStar XVI is a communications satellite. It doesn’t do anything appreciably different from what EchoStars I through XV have done. Like its predecessors, EchoStar XVI is designed to broadcast pictures on hundreds of television channels. But there is nevertheless something unique about EchoStar XVI: it carries other pictures. Attached to its anti-earth deck, a gold-plated aluminum housing contains a small silicon disc designed to last for billions of years. Embedded into this disc is a collection of one hundred pictures. EchoStar XVI and the image disc onboard have a profound and counterintuitive set of relationships to time. On the one hand, the satellite is an instrument of speed, transmitting hundreds of thousands of images per minute, all at the speed of light. On the other hand, EchoStar XVI’s materiality inhabits time (billions of years) in a way that is utterly alien to human experience and understandings of history. As such, EchoStar XVI, like other communications satellites, embodies a deep contradiction in time itself. EchoStar XVI comes from a lineage of communication and transportation technologies that have, in a relatively short historical period, fundamentally altered our relationship to time and space. In the nineteenth century, the advent of steam engines, trains, and telegraphs made the world dramatically smaller. Railroads meant journeys that had once taken days or weeks were reduced to mere hours. Telegraph cables meant messages that were once hand-carried by men riding horses could now travel at the speed of light. Transportation and communication technologies

integrated global commodities markets and led to the creation of international financial markets. Over the course of a single generation, time sped up so quickly and so dramatically that humans found it nearly impossible to keep up. Communications technologies had outstripped time-keeping. Time, it seemed, had been broken. Nineteenth-century artists and philosophers tried to make sense of a new world of speed, commerce, and distorted geographies. In 1844, J. M. W. Turner showed the unmooring of time from human perception with a blurry painting called Rain, Steam and Speed—The Great Western Railway. Four years later, Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, declared that the “constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. […] All that is solid melts into air.”2 He later expounded on this point, arguing that the continual speeding up of time was one of capitalism’s fundamental dynamics, which he famously described as the “annihilation of space by time.”3 So complete was the nineteenth century’s annihilation of space and time that time itself had to be reinvented. Before the railroads, each place kept its own time. When the sun was overhead, the time was noon. In England, Oxford time was five minutes behind Greenwich, and Leeds was a minute behind Oxford. Dover, in the east, was separated from Penzance by half an hour.4 But in order to coordinate their schedules and prevent accidents, the railways had to create their own system of time, railway time, to bring the discipline of a shared clock to the towns and stations along their routes. Railway time was the first step in a grand reinvention of time, an international effort to engineer a centralized, common time. “Time coordination,” explains historian of science Peter Galison, “was an affair for the individual school buildings, wiring their classroom clocks to the principal’s office, but also an issue for cities, train lines, and nations as they soldered alignment into their public clocks and often fought tooth-and-nail over how it should be done.”5 The creation of absolute time meant subjugating localities, regions, and nations to the centralized tick of a clock at the Royal Observatory in south London: Greenwich mean time. Not everyone wanted to go along: in 1894, the French anarchist Martial Bourdin tried to blow up the Royal Observatory (his bomb exploded prematurely, killing him). But by the end of the century, the transformation was nearly complete. “Time ceased to be a phenomenon that linked humans to the cosmos,” explains Rebecca Solnit, “and became one administered by technicians

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Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker, 2nd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1978), 476. Karl Marx, Grundrisse, trans. Martin Nicolaus (London: Penguin, 1973), 539. Dan Falk, In Search of Time: The History, Physics and Philosophy of Time (New York: Thomas Dunn Books, 2008), 70–71; see also www.greenwichmeantime.com/info/railway.htm. Peter Galison, Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps: Empires of Time (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003), 40.

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to link industrial activities to each other.”6 Time became something that was both absolute and malleable. The second hands at the Royal Observatory ticked uniformly, but time-bending technologies from railroads to telegraphs could be used to manage, leverage, destroy, and create time anew, particularly in the service of warfare or profit.7 The industrialization of time had a curious historical partner in the discovery—and subsequent invasion—of geologic time. In 1788, James Hutton published his Theory of the Earth. By carefully cataloguing geologic strata, Hutton began to realize that the Earth was far older than the six thousand years biblical scholars had calculated. “The world which we inhabit is composed of materials not of the earth which was the immediate predecessor of the present but of the earth which […] had preceded the land that was above the surface of the sea while our present land was yet beneath the water of ocean.” From the deep histories inscribed in rocks, he said, “we find no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end.”8 Hutton is credited with the discovery of deep time: the timescale of tectonic plates and gradual erosion, the forces that slowly sculpt the earth’s surface over millions of years, creating mountains, canyons, continents, and seas. Just as the industrial age discovered deep time, it began actively to shape it. The “Anthropocene” is an informal term for the period in which humans began to shape the earth’s surface on a planetary scale, and when political and economic forces began to have geologic consequences. In his 1994 article “On the Efficacy of Humans as Geomorphic Agents,” earth scientist Roger Hooke set out to assess the impact of human activities such as agriculture and mining on the earth’s surface. He found something remarkable: over the last hundred years or so, humans have moved more sediment than has been moved by classical geomorphic processes. Agricultural erosion, he estimated, moves about seventy gigatons of sediment annually, almost twice as much as meandering rivers (at forty Gt/y). Mining and highway construction move more earth than plate tectonics, glaciers, wave action, and aeolian (wind) processes combined.9 The implication was profound. Shortly after the Industrial Revolution, human activity eclipsed natural earth processes as a geomorphic agent. Other earth scientists have expanded Hooke’s work, suggesting the idea of an “anthropic force” and proposing new fields of “neogeomorphology” or “anthropogeomorphology.” Geologist Peter Haff explains: “Anthropic modification

of landscape is a new and unique phenomenon,” whose effect on the earth’s surface may be as significant as the emergence of vascular plants four hundred million years ago. Contemporary scientists wanting to understand earth processes, he argued, might do well to study economics, sociology, demographics, and other fields usually associated with the “soft” social sciences.10 In the Anthropocene, the price of gold futures determines whether mountains will rise or fall, and farm subsidies and commodity prices influence the rate of erosion. The Anthropocene is a period of temporal contradictions, a period in which Marx’s space-time annihilation chafes against the deep time of the earth. The coalfired plants and mass-produced automobiles of the industrial age have remade the air, concentrating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and eating holes in the ozone. It is an age in which ever-faster economic and political forces have ever more enduring consequences. The timescale of climate change, which unfolds over thousands of years, contradicts the timescale of human experience, which we measure in years or lifetimes, and the timescales of capital accumulation, measured in quarterly profits. With nuclear power and nuclear weapons, the timescale of geopolitics and strategic military planning intersects the deep time of nuclear waste, which poisons its surroundings for countless thousands of years. A cup of fast-food coffee is meant to be sipped for a few minutes, but its Styrofoam takes more than a million years to biodegrade. A carbon-saturated atmosphere, nuclear waste, and Styrofoam cups inhabit space at the expense of time. As such, they become historic agents, producing their own futures. In the Anthropocene, communications and transportation technologies are ruthlessly deployed to annihilate space by accelerating time, but in human activities—from coal burning to fast-food coffee cup manufacturing—we find an equally pitiless annihilation of the future: something we might call the annihilation of time by space. The fractures and folds in spacetime that form where the timescales of economics and politics collide with the deep time of geomorphology are emblematic of the contemporary moment. The various ways in which humans have remade time, both speeding it up and slowing it down, show that time is not something that just happens, like a ticking clock as backdrop to other activities; quite the opposite. Time is produced through human activities, and through the things we make, and through our interactions with the world around us. To quote physicist and theorist Karen Barad, “Time is articulated and re-synchronized through various material practices […] time itself only makes sense in the context of particular phenomena.”11 The implication, then, is that the production of time is a political phenomenon. How, and in accordance

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Rebecca Solnit, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West (New York: Penguin, 2004), 61. For the space-time dialectics of capitalism, see David Harvey, A Companion to Marx’s Capital (New York: Verso, 2010), 37; and David Harvey, Spaces of Global Capitalism: A Theory of Uneven Geographical Development (London: Verso, 2006). John McPhee, Annals of the Former World (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998), 79. Roger LeB. Hooke,“On the Efficacy of Humans as Geomorphic Agents,”GSA Today, vol. 4, no. 9 (September, 1994): 217, 224–25.

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10 Peter K. Haff, “Neogeomorphology, Prediction, and the Anthropic Landscape,” draft paper, Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, Duke University, Durham, NC, 2001), www.duke.edu/~haff/geomorph_abs/neogeomorph%20paper/ neogeomorphology.pdf. 11 Quoted in Rich Dolphijn and Iris van der Tuin, eds., New Materialism: Interview and Cartographies (Ann Arbor, MI: Open Humanities Press, 2012), 66.

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with whose interests, is time produced? Producing time carries a set of ethical obligations that we have paid scant attention to: How to produce time in a manner that is just, not only for the present, but for that which has yet to come? Too often, we imagine the future to be an unknowable void—something that does not exist because it has not happened yet. But much of the future has, in fact, already taken place. Through the annihilation of time by space, the things we’ve made have guaranteed certain futures at the expense of others. The prison at Guantanamo Bay, for example, is still open and operating. The brute fact of its sedimented concrete walls provides much of the inertia needed to carry it into the future: it continues to exist, in large part, because it exists. In the longer run, the climate will continue to change as the result of anthropogenic transformations to the atmosphere. Nuclear waste will poison great swaths of earth for tens of thousands of years. And a ring of dead machines, far above the equator, will silently watch it all unfold over millions of years. All of this has already happened, in the future. Earth’s new moon, EchoStar XVI, is an instrument of time, frozen in time. While it whirls and hums with energy over its fifteen-year operational life, EchoStar XVI will broadcast more than ten trillion pictures and video frames to earth-based televisions and computer screens.12 All these pictures will be as fleeting as the radio signals that carry them, appearing and disappearing with the speed of light. But EchoStar XVI holds other pictures. A modest collection, to be sure, but one designed to last far longer than the oldest cave paintings. A collection designed to transcend the Anthropocene and to transcend deep time itself. A collection of pictures meant, in part, to acknowledge the future.

Computational Infrastructures and Aesthetics Nick Srnicek

Maps themselves are like laboratories where experimentations on tracings are set in interaction. Thus, here the map is opposed to the structure; it can open itself in all its dimensions; it can also be ripped apart; it can be adapted to all kinds of assemblies. A pragmatic map can be started by an isolated individual or a group, it can be painted on a wall, it can be conceived as a work of art, it can be conducted as a political action or as a mediation. —Félix Guattari, “Reference Points for a Schizoanalysis”1 Recent years have witnessed a resurgent philosophical interest in materialist and realist ontologies.2 Following the lead of sociology, archaeology, and feminism, philosophy is once again taken up with the task of thinking materiality. This ideational movement is paralleled in turn by a political movement seeking to deal with the complexity of the global capitalist world. The latter finds its intellectual inspiration in Fredric Jameson’s notion of cognitive mapping: those techniques that allow individuals to situate themselves within a larger structural whole.3 Whereas at one point the phenomenology of the world could plausibly be argued to correspond with the structural forces of the economy, in today’s globalized world, we are buffeted by forces far beyond our finite conceptual capacities. It is in this context, this conjunctural moment, that we increasingly recognize the limits of relying on internal cognitive capacities and subsequently the potentials within technology for extending our minds.4 We exist in, as, and from socio-technical assemblages. The complexity of these systems gives rise to both the need and the means to cognitively map them, increasingly permeating our phenomenology with a new digital aesthetic. The aim of this essay is to examine the political implications of this new world of cognitive technologies. 1 2

3 12 This estimate assumes that EchoStar XVI broadcasts thirty frames per second on one thousand channels over fifteen years.

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In The Machinic Unconscious: Essays in Schizoanalysis, trans. Taylor Adkins (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2011), 173. For two representative examples see Diana Coole and Samantha Frost, eds., New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010); and Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek, and Graham Harman, eds., The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism (Melbourne: re-press, 2011). Fredric Jameson, “Cognitive Mapping,” in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, eds. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1990), 347–60. Andy Clark, Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

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Machinic Cognitive Capitalism

cannot live the knowledge of itself as a fleshy entity (because to do so would simultaneously eliminate the consciousness that is aware), so too does cognitive mapping of our structural position remain unliveable.7 It is instead recognized as a form of abstract knowledge partially divorced from our phenomenology. In cognitive mapping, “the spectator has the opportunity to understand that what he is seeing is how he is being seen”8 — the transformation of the first person perspective into a third person perspective. What is required in order to make the structural image of neoliberalism amenable to action is stereoscopic vision, combining the manifest image and the scientific image, the local and the global, the ideological and the scientific. The phenomenological everyday experience of being-in-the-world appears in tension with the scientific and abstract image of our structural position. Yet the issue here is not that the manifest gets eliminated by the scientific. Rather, the manifest becomes material for the scientific perspective—it is both its foundation as well as its material. The global-structural to local-phenomenological shift here needs to be made continuous (ideally both visually and conceptually), but this is precisely what is its most difficult task. It is here that speculation on the material nature of thought can be productively combined with the political manipulations of technology in order to marshal together the resources and capacities needed to construct a cognitive map. Recent reflections on the nature of thought and its situatedness within computational infrastructures has demonstrated that certain aspects of cognition can be outsourced beyond our biological surface, entering into material circuits of technology and augmenting our limited capacities. In fact, one of Bruno Latour’s most significant insights is that complex societies cannot exist without such material embodiments of social relations and cognition. We build, embed, and manipulate objects into material infrastructures precisely in order to solidify a state of society. These infrastructures thereby form both the reification of a state as well as the platform for expanding into new states. Take technologies away from human societies and one is left with very little, reliance on memory and institutionalization instead being premised on fallible oral and auditory methods of interaction. In this regard, representational technologies—those technologies that expand our specifically conceptual capacities to make intelligible large-scale structures—are particularly crucial to the task of cognitive mapping. Such technologies have a long history, particularly as employed by state and proto-state political formations:

For the most part, these technologies find themselves associated with “cognitive capitalism,” whose most striking feature of the past decade has been the degree to which the supposedly unique qualities of human labor—affective, intelligent, cunning, and communicative—are all being transformed into the fixed capital of machinery. At their speculative edges, the computational infrastructure of today’s capitalism tangentially approaches the limits of physics, with the speed wars of high-frequency trading forcing decisions into the nanosecond scale. More mundane developments combine the collection of massive amounts of data about individuals (purchasing habits, travel patterns, browsing history, and so forth) with sophisticated mathematical analytics that provide forecasts for marketers. Emerging developments, such as drone deliveries and automated driving, all portend an increasingly automated and computational future. The world is being rebuilt to communicate with itself, outside of human perception. It is giving rise to what Benjamin Bratton calls the Stack: The Stack is planetary-scale computation understood as a megastructure. […] At the scale of planetary computation, The Stack is comprised of seven interdependent layers: Earth, Cloud, City, Network, Address, Interface, User. In this, it is an attempt to conceive of the technical and geopolitical structures of planetary computation as a “totality.”5 It is the emerging global computational infrastructure that forms the material basis of today’s economy. Yet in spite of its ubiquity within circuits of capitalist accumulation, the computational infrastructures being constructed also contain within them the potential for repurposing. In particular, they contain a potential response to one of the fundamental problems of contemporary leftism: its inability to think the global economy. Broadly speaking, analyses of neoliberalism tend to remain at either a local, reactive level (for example, campaigns against welfare cuts, social housing cuts, precarious work, and so on) or attempt a global analysis through obsolete dialectical categories (David Harvey’s work being the paradigm here). For most of the left, what is missing is a cognitive map of the situation we find ourselves in—that is to say, the means to make our own world intelligible to ourselves through a situational understanding of our own position.6 This type of knowledge situates the individual observer in a larger array of forces—and remains, in a sense, unliveable by the individual. In much the same way that Thomas Metzinger shows how consciousness 5

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Benjamin Bratton, “The Cloud, the State, and the Stack: Metahaven in Conversation,” Metahaven, December 16, 2012, mthvn.tumblr.com/post/38098461078 /thecloudthestateandthestack. Jameson, “Cognitive Mapping.”

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The long-distance organs of perception of social complexity enabled the state to “see” the past and the present and, consequently, to foresee and program the future. […] Graphic statistics made it possible to encompass 7 8

Thomas Metzinger, Being No One: The Self-Model Theory of Subjectivity (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004). Mercedes Álvarez, “Tracing a New Map,” in Situation Room, ed. Pablo de Soto (Barcelona: dpr-barcelona, 2010), 13.

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in a glance the society as a whole, to compare and contrast all the objects comprising it, and hence to make calculated forecasts. They contributed, in fact, to the decline of the hegemonic regime of discourse and its replacement by a dictatorship of measured facts—which would be the very foundation of social planning, social security and national accountancy.9 While these technologies are ubiquitous in literatures on state-formation, they can also be appropriated by critical perspectives. A critical use of these representational technologies entails two primary types of cognitive maps—on the one hand, an economic model of contemporary neoliberalism, and, on the other, a model of a post-capitalism system. The former provides a navigational tool (both epistemic and political), while the latter provides a flexible cognitive map for a future system. Yet what must be made clear is that the idea of cognitive mapping remains empty insofar as it limits itself to a passive contemplation of a representation. Cognitive mapping only takes on political significance once it generates an active means for leveraging the dynamics of a system. It should, in true Jamesonian fashion, be capable of augmenting our phenomenological experience in such a way as to make clear the structural elements determining it, thereby making them visible and open to transformation. It must be capable, in other words, of translating structural forces into amenable aesthetic perceptions. One of the political problems of aesthetics is therefore not how to represent power, but how to create power. How, in other words, does one use art in order to construct mechanisms of effective action? In a world where overwhelming complexity and the futility of central planning are the default beliefs of neoliberal economics (that is, the basic Hayekian point against communism), the creation of means to modulate complexity from the bottom up is an essential political intervention. What must be constructed is what John May calls a “managerial surface”—an interface that makes possible the manipulation of a complex system. Yet whereas May sees the managerial surface as a control mechanism and as a flight from reality, in fact, the logic of a complex assemblage dictates that it is precisely the managerial surface that makes self-governance and autonomy possible.10 In all these aspects, it is the figure of the control room that most clearly concretizes them.

Opening the Local onto the Global The control room operates here as both a metaphor (a physical embodiment of an abstract diagram of local-to-global transitions) and a literal configuration of materials and cognitive capacities. These are centers of calculation that mediate between 9 Bureau d'etudes, "Representing the System," in de Soto, Situation Room, 30. 10 John May, “Logic of the Managerial Surface,” in Praxis: Journal of Writing and Building 13 (June 2012): 116–24.

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local phenomenology and global structures in order to render a complex system amenable to modulation and action. The classical control room finds its paradigmatic example in the war room: products of that moment where existential threat compelled capitalist economies to shirk their liberal pretenses and adopt a thorough system of economic planning. The links between centralized economies and war are so close that it’s no surprise to learn that Gosplan in the Soviet Union was inspired by and modelled after Germany’s World War I economic system.11 In these classical models—often constructed by designers and architects manipulating technology around human contours—emerges a system of top-down, highly centralized control, with orders emanating from the top and acted upon by below. Yet it is precisely these types of control rooms that are ineffective and made obsolete after the failures of really existing communism. New situation rooms have sloughed off the traditional pretenses toward full control and instead attempt to modulate flows: examples include the traffic control rooms in global cities, border management in politically sensitive areas, and the policing of major metropolitan areas.12 In this regard, the Chilean experiment with Cybersyn (an interactive national cybernetic communications network utilized during the Allende period) is an important precedent.13 Precisely because it incorporates worker autonomy and worker control over the factories into a decentralized planning system, Cybersyn tore apart the ancient ideas of Soviet Gosplan with its impersonal and tedious bureaucracy. Cognitive mapping enters here both in the overall structure, which aimed to modulate the national economy, as well as in the form of a simulator of the Chilean economy. While the simulator was a relatively simple model of the Chilean national economy at the time, the principle behind it still holds today: melding epistemic accelerationism of economic science with political accelerationism of post-capitalist planning. With today’s computing power, this simulator could not only be greatly expanded but could also run multiple possible outcomes in order to determine the best possible one. Whereas the real economy today, running on a price system of information, can only run one outcome at a time, the virtual economies of the simulators could choose which path through phase space an economy would be best suited for.14 The figure of the control room therefore condenses within it (1) the necessity of technology to extend cognitive capacities and map the current system, (2) the necessity of translating this structural map into a local aesthetic, (3) the necessity of technology to act as a means for leveraging power, and (4) the necessity of computational infrastructures for achieving all of this. 11 Bureau d’études, “Representing the System,” 33. 12 José Pérez De Lama, “From Control Rooms to Situation Rooms,” in Situation Room, ed. Pablo de Soto (Barcelona: Barcelona: dpr-barcelona, 2010), 38. 13 For a discussion of the history of Cybersyn, see Eden Medina, Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende’s Chile (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011). 14 W. Paul Cockshott, et al., Classical Econophysics (London: Routledge, 2009), 329–30.

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Conclusion The problem that remains is that most attempts at cognitive maps have stalled at the level of the beautiful and evaded the level of the useful. The French artists Bureau d’études, for all the beauty of their work, are a prominent example. Their works present global capitalism at a glance: intricate and detailed networks of financial, political, and social relations embodied in alluring designs. Yet this work remains content with the technological sublime. The viewer remains overwhelmed at global capitalism’s complexity, and struck by the beauty of the connections, but the viewer’s capacity for transformation is left unaugmented. What is needed instead are artworks that move beyond the replication of capitalism’s complexity and that seek to design means to begin thinking and altering the current conjunction. These are models that generate an understanding of how to take apart and rebuild economic systems. What happens if a basic income is instituted? What happens if automation permanently removes large numbers of workers from the labor force? What happens if quantitative easing for the masses is carried out? Such questions require a cognitive map to navigate the ramifications of new possible paths. Moreover, these cognitive maps create new possible practices by expanding the means of intervention and interaction with systems. For instance, Cybersyn’s coordination of workers during a strike by the bourgeoisie was made possible by its cognitive map of the Chilean economy. In this regard, such cognitive maps literally create power by generating new capacities to act in the world. In conclusion, what is needed is not a perpetual nomadism or a withdrawal from power (two standard figures of contemporary leftism); instead, what is necessary today is a counter-hegemonic operation. The field of power and the shaping of material infrastructures and social relations all need to be contested and fought for, not removed from struggle. The material infrastructures and cognitive extensions provided by technology act as a platform for both speculative political thought and action.

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Fig. 24 Fig. 25

Real Noise Acts Mikko Canini

Fig. 26

Most are now aware of the arms race known as “high-frequency trading” currently underway in the market as investment firms, deploying custom-coded algorithms, compete to exploit microfluctuations and capture the bits that add up to bytes that add up to dollars. As this practice relies absolutely on speed and volume (any individual buy or sell is evaluated by a system that counts in microseconds and calculates in microprofits), its most noted effect has been the competition for physical proximity to the various exchange servers and access to the fiber-optic cables through which the market streams. In the first instance, this points to the material limit rapidly being approached by disparate teams of mathematicians, coders, engineers, and their financiers: the speed at which information can travel. The obvious consequence of this acceleration toward the material horizon is that the closer they get to this limit, the less marked the differences (and therefore the possibility for competitive advantage) between each firm. If we had, so far, fully accounted for the dynamics of high-frequency trading, the inevitable resolution is that, taken as a whole, the practice would become janitorial: predictably vacuuming up the small change in a role accommodated for by—and eventually indispensable to—the market. (There are indications that this might already be happening, as the firms that specialize in this practice have reported diminishing returns in the years following their first explosive profits.) However, the possibility of resolution is forestalled by other strategies that exploit not so much raw technological power as the theorization and practice of noise. In 2010 the newswire Dow Jones introduced a service called Lexicon that delivers real-time financial news translated into actionable form for its subscribers’ computers to parse. In the first instance, this provision simply underscores the raw power of computer-assisted trading insofar as no human trader could read and assimilate this constant stream of data while analyzing the market to exploit any lag between the immediacy of the news and its effects. The more fundamental principle at work, however, is the capacity for algorithms to recognize meaning in noise—to draw information from data. If in the above example this is rendered as a simple effect of speed (the possible effect of any specific bit of news on the market may well be better understood by the mind than the algorithm, and the latter only acquires its advantage through the raw computational power that backs it), this speed, which is after all the effect of power, is also deployed to explore the noise of the market in order to generate information. In one tactic, the noise of realtime market data is scanned for signs that a large fund is buying specific securities in order that the high-frequency trader’s system can leverage its speed, buying up

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these securities and immediately selling them for a marginal but significant profit. In response, these large funds now deploy their own algorithms to camouflage their trading activities, breaking up larger trades into smaller units that they hope will be indistinguishable from noise. Market analysis firms that commercialize their ability to read market noise have stepped into this fray, selling their information to teams hoping to uncover competitive strategies and to see if their own algorithmic signatures were identified. And of course, there is the practice discovered by market analysis of introducing noise (through the tactical dispersal of algorithms that, say, place tens of thousands of buy orders per second before canceling them over extended periods) in order to increase latency (a kind of noise) in a system for which one’s own productive algorithms are tuned accordingly. In very practical, immediate, and diverse ways, high-frequency trading is involved with noise, and this makes it a useful model through which to think about recent work in noise theory. What I am particularly interested in are those theoretical models that take noise, as a figure, to be invested with subversive potential, a potential analogous to the possibility of the political act in the field of the social.1 If this is a big claim, and it is, the reasoning is nevertheless sound. The logic is best explicated through thinking about noise as a category of music production: noise as (anti-genre) genre.2 For the musician, the challenge of producing noise properly, and avoiding any of the mannerisms that we might expect when presented with “noise music” (which function to standardize the genre and thus negate its aspiration to be noise), is significant. For this reason, certain practical principles have come to be articulated for the noise artist: improvisation, dissonance, the use of nontraditional instruments and sounds, and, above all, the principle of nonrepetition. (Non-repetition is fundamental if sound is to escape the structuring principles of rhythm and melody and be noise, not music.) Formally, then, claims for the radicality of noise as a music are justified, at least to the degree that (a necessarily specific instantiation of ) noise evades assimilation as genre—the established order that structures the production and reception of music. From this short description, it is clear why this model of noise would be attractive to those interested in theorizing the political act. The act, as a disruptive gesture that forcibly reframes the symbolic order, is opposed here to an action, which

is any gesture that is already accounted for by this order. In the political dimension, the act’s paradigmatic instantiation is obviously revolution. As it is typically understood, what allows for the act to occur in the first instance is the subject’s alienation from a complete absorption in the symbolic order. Put simply, for the act, the order that structures the subject’s world must first be denaturalized insofar as the subject’s alienation from this order is at the same time the acknowledgement of this order as contingent and mutable. What this inevitably involves is some kind of engagement with the real, namely that which is unaccounted for by the symbolic order, indeed, that which the order attempts to foreclose. If, in music, noise is inescapably an exploration of the space outside the symbolic order (of genre), it is at the same time an exploration of the real as such, and is in this sense a model for radical alterity. Part of what makes this model of noise and its relationship to the real convincing is noise music’s inherent antagonism. This antagonism is not because noise needs to be aesthetically “aggressive” (John Cage’s 4’33” demonstrates this nicely), but because in situating itself as music it needs to perform its otherness. According to Jacques Lacan, of course, the real is experienced as threatening to the degree that it undermines the integrity of the symbolic order and that order’s capacity to organize the subject’s experience of reality. And it is easy enough to map this on to noise music’s antagonistic otherness. However, so far as this model of noise exists as a negative relation to the symbolic order, it is that order which decides whether this or that is noise. And if, in this model, noise is our stand-in for the real, then what distinguishes the real (i.e., noise) from banal reality (say, sound, in general) is its framing as such by the symbolic. In this case, then, the real is rendered as the effect of a positioning, or attitude, on the part of the symbolic’s subject. In order to articulate the problem with this account, we will return to the example of high-frequency trading. It is immediately observable that the model of noise being employed here is of a different kind. Noise, the market’s oceans of 1S and 0S that comprise the practice’s milieu, is not the real, but merely reality. In the simple bifold model we’ve been describing, reality simply names the matter—the undifferentiated all of everything—on which the symbolic is understood to work.3 From the level of the subject, of course, reality is reality-as-mediated-by the symbolic, and we can call this “ground.” The noise ground that forms the world of the market articulates one problem with the noise model of the real we’ve already pointed toward, which is that noise as such doesn’t trouble the symbolic so far as it can be articulated as (mere) noise. (When noise appears in that space organized for it by the symbolic it is nothing more than a recognized element of the what-is.)

1 2

For examples of this position, see Mattin and Anthony Iles, eds., Noise & Capitalism (Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain: Areteleku Audiolab, 2009). Ray Brassier notes: “In being used to categorise all forms of sonic experimentation that ostensibly defy musico-logical classification—be they para-musical, anti-musical, or post-musical—‘noise’ has become a generic label for anything deemed to subvert established genre. It is at once a specific sub-genre of musical vanguardism and a name for what refuses to be subsumed by genre.” “Genre is Obsolete,” in Noise and Capitalism, 62. For this reason, everything from Beethoven to free jazz to black metal can be articulated through noise. However, for our purposes, “noise music” can simply refer to a category of music production whose practitioners are explicit in their commitment to exploring radical notions of noise, and includes such figures as John Cage, The Nihilist Spasm Band, and Hijokaidan.

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The distinction here between reality and the real is not dissimilar to the difference between the real as it is articulated in early and late Lacan. In the former, the real simply names the undifferentiated matter on which the symbolic is understood to work, while the articulation of the real in late Lacan intervolves the real with notions of traumatic excess.

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Noise, as it exists in the model of the market, is not formally antagonistic for the symbolic, but is, rather, indifferent, having been domesticated as one of the symbolic’s elements. (It is of course not a question of intentionality but the extent to which this noise conforms to the role accorded to it in ground.) This indifference, or at least non-antagonism, gives us a clue as to why the noise (music) model above inevitably articulates the real in its subjective dimension, which is that its noise is fundamentally a representation of noise that, as an intentional (art) thing, exists for the subject (in the first instance, anyway). If indifferent noise in the market model is analogous to pre- or un-symbolic reality, where nonetheless this noise is accommodated as ground by the symbolic, one might expect that the real makes its appearance in those moments when analysis uncovers some previously unobserved aspect that has escaped symbolization, for example, the discovery of a pattern that signals the presence of an algorithm that expresses a novel strategy. One can imagine here a technician running a mass of data through a freshly tweaked algorithm and finding not the previously observed noise, but that part of that noise was the result of a pattern of orders and cancellations, emanating from a single IP address in bursts every 400 milliseconds, 1200, 3600. If this does not fully work as a model for the real, it is because this operation is already accounted for by the symbolic: it is precisely the kind of thing that the original algorithmic analysis was expecting to find, even if its specific instantiation surprises. If the real is to have any meaning beyond its effects for the subject, it must be both material and novel (and therefore antagonistic to ground if only to the extent that its novelty is disruptive). Like the act, it must disrupt the symbolic order in a way that is coextensive with its own appearance; unlike the action, its existence cannot have been prescribed a place in ground. The market model of noise provides us with a useful analogue, most dramatically instantiated by the so-called flash crash of May 6, 2010. On that date at 14:42, the US stock market experienced a sudden, massive plunge before returning, more or less, to its previous state twenty-five minutes later, in the process evaporating and then recreating one trillion dollars in assets. Though there is disagreement over the causal mechanisms, the official report published by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) argues that the event was sparked by a single, poorly executed algorithm that, in the first instance, caused the value of the shares it was written to sell to sharply decline.4 The effects of this mishandled algorithm were then exacerbated by high-frequency trading algorithms that had first purchased the contracts en masse as they appeared on the market, but then rapidly began unloading them as their value fell, accelerating the drop. As these effects were registered across the

market, and because of the speed and scale in which the event unfolded, these algorithms got caught up in feedback loops with one another, rapidly buying and selling the same securities back and forth and in the process driving the prices of some bluechip stocks to a single cent, while others ballooned to $999.99, if only temporarily. Although there are numerous reasons to doubt the accuracy of this official account, of special interest for us is that this narrative articulates the origin of this event as the result of a rogue algorithm (programmed to sell a large block of shares at a rate set to a percentage of the trading volume of the previous minute, but crucially without consideration of price or time, and with the consequence that too many shares were offered too quickly, thereby driving down their value). In effect, the report frames the event as the result of an externality insofar as the alien logic of the algorithm in question did not conform to the logic of the market to the extent that it continued to put shares up for sale even as this action continued to drive down the value of the shares that it was still programmatically committed to sell. This narrative of a disruptive externality aligns with the noise music model of the real insofar as the real (in this case, the logic of this specific algorithm) is understood to derive its power to subvert the symbolic order precisely through its otherness to this order. However, the SEC and CFTC’s practical response—the introduction of virtual “circuit breakers” that automatically suspend trading on shares that are seen to move up or down more than a certain percentage over a short period of time—gives the lie to their own narrative. There was nothing novel about the original trades, either in volume (which was not uncommon for the investment firm in question) or in the use of this particular algorithm (which had been deployed in the past). All of its actions were actions, gestures that were “legal” in the sense of conforming to the symbolic order’s established practices. The response (of introducing circuit breakers) evidences this in that officials could not identify a core generator responsible for the event of May 2010 against which to regulate (despite the narrative of the report). Its response was therefore confined to the attempt to register and limit the effects of this unknown cause should it reappear (which it has numerous times since). And it is here, in our market model of noise, that we find the real: when, as a consequence of the normal run of things, reality returns unexpected effects and a spectral shape emerges from noise. It is the experience of ground-become-figure: some hidden element of material reality appears to act, to escape the symbolically mandated options to produce a new, simultaneously undermining the symbolic order’s hegemony insofar as this new has no place in the established order. While the preceding does not invalidate the noise music model of the real, it does require a different model of the act. As we have seen, the noise music model values the real insofar as it demonstrates alterity and therefore carries the potential to provoke an act: the subject, when presented with the choice between actions A or B, and having caught a glimpse of the noisy real beyond the symbolic order, chooses, instead, nineteen. That is, the subject acts when it performs a gesture that escapes

4

Findings Regarding the Market Events of May 6, 2010, prepared by the staff of the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (Washington, DC, September 30, 2010). Available at www.sec.gov/news/studies/2010/marketevents-report.pdf.

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the symbolically mandated options and thereby reflexively forces a reconfiguration of ground, of the what-is recognized and what-is possible. The subjective (noise music) model of the real is thus paired with the thoroughly subject-affirming model of the act. From a different perspective, however, the real—in its appearance as a new in ground—is already involved in this work of forcing. This real does not instantiate the possibility of an act (as a gesture that reconfigures the symbolic) since, in this sense, an act has already occurred. However, as a new, the real necessarily opens up the possibility for new gestures, or what we might here call quasi-acts. These gestures, made possible by the appearance of the real, are not acts as such to the extent that they do not originate in the subject (but are, rather, made available to this subject). But nor are they properly actions, for they do not originate in the symbolic order and therefore participate, as all actions do, in the maintenance of this order. And it is here that we come to the crux of the matter, which is that this gesture (neither an act nor action) only has meaning in relation to the real, while from the perspective of the symbolic it can only appear as noise.

Thick Dia-Chronic Crash. Incision into Delay Andy Weir

Drone script: Scene from moving train window. The glass is in focus to pick up plays of sunlight over cracks and texture of its surface, turning the landscape behind into a smoothly shifting blur of bokeh. It looks, as much as can be gathered, like generic Western European countryside. The shot is held long enough to announce itself as a drift from narrative. An electric hum slowly swells and fades, interrupted with sporadic PA announcements about die Verspätung. Focus pulls to industrial landscape approaching view. Machinery overflows contaminated ignimbrite and tuffaceous rock. Inside steel casing, copper canisters cool in storage pools.

Contemporary Art Tension Delay in Glass Use “delay” instead of “picture” or “painting”; “picture on glass” becomes “delay in glass”—but “delay in glass” does not mean “picture on glass”— It’s merely a way of succeeding in no longer thinking that the thing in question is a picture—to make a “delay” of it in the most general way possible … —Marcel Duchamp, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Green Box) (1934)

Thanks in particular to the ongoing research project “The Matter of Contradiction” at the Treignac Project (2012–13), as well as to the projects “Does Contemporary Art have an Ontology?” (2012), “Escapologies” (2012–13), and “When The Site Lost The Plot” (2013), all at Goldsmiths, University of London, for research, collaborative work, and opportunities to discuss and produce the material on which this paper is based.

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What is the time of contemporary art? Boris Groys addresses this question in his 2009 essay “Comrades of Time,” proposing the contemporary as a time of delay, uncertainty, and indecision.1 It is, for Groys, a hesitant boring time, allowing for reflection on the projects of modernity. He defines it as a time of suspense, or wasted time, that precisely through its nonproductive excess gains its power, escaping absorption into history or product. This suspense could also be understood as a specific form of tension—a holding in wait for thought, or openness to a plurality of reflections and interpretations. A paradigmatic aesthetic operation, for such contemporaneity is the extended delay of the slow, correlating conveniently to an affect of escape from the hyper-accelerated subjectification of semiocapital,2 time to think, and the warm encasing of the body in stretched images and bass drawl. In 2011, for example, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg staged an exhibition titled “The Art of Deceleration,” which included “deceleration cubes” where viewers could immerse themselves in contemplation of works such as Douglas Gordon’s video 24 Hour Psycho (1993) feeling the suspense of Hitchock’s film elongate into the tense lure of contemporary delay.3 It is also 24 Hour Psycho that sparks inchoate reflections by the protagonist of Don DeLillo’s novel Point Omega. Watching the work at MoMA in New York, this character notes, “there seemed to flow an array of ideas involving science and philosophy and nameless other things.”4 Gordon’s flow-of-namelessthought-provoking work is premised on two simple operations: first, using video to delay and extend the temporality of Hitchock’s Psycho to twenty-four hours; and second, through gallery installation and framing, situating this under the conditions of contemporary art viewing;5 a readymade delay in video. Delay draws in and spits out, while it anticipates and opens to a subject of reflection. In 24 Hour Psycho, temporal material coagulates, addressed to a viewing interpretive subject. Encountering the image, attention is jolted inward, stuck, through its seductive unfamiliar pace, which lures a responsive perceptual body open to the image as it sticks and drifts, a subjectivity bound to the image in sweet horror. At the same time, attention is jolted outward, repelled, through the self-conscious unfamiliarity of the slowing operation, drawing attention to the conceived limit of the work—twenty-four hours—in excess of its experienced force. Through this slowing, the work, firstly, proposes a utopian gesture of subjective

transformation—attention is bound to the image in a viscous perceptual drawl, a molecular drift that nonetheless plays out within a given territory. Secondly, on its conceptual premise, through awareness of a limiting frame, a subject is bound to a limit constituted by the duration of the piece in its institutional setting. In this oscillating movement between immersive image and distancing image, the work performs a play of self-loss and self-mastery—of indeterminate freedom and controlled autonomy—a production of affect and thought that point to but are contained within and rely upon a specific subjective frame. Its promise, calling out from the dark gray analogue hole of Janet Leigh’s juddering throat to DeLillo’s anonymous character, or the cubic communites of decelerators addresed by the exhibition in Wolfsburg, is that of exchanging your capital-speed-subsumed time for the liberating suspense of contemporary delay. What it pays out in return, however, is a specific subjectification premised on freedom within its own frame, inseparable from the spirit and affective demands of current neoliberalism.6 Subject, environment, and screen, through the incision of contemporary temporality, form an exogenically tense system of openness, staged through the affective play of flux and control, which maintains their mutually supportive limits.7 The time of contemporary art is premised on this field of reversible exchange, where subject and artwork are mutually co-constituted within its meta-institutional framework.

1 2 3 4 5

Boris Groys, “Comrades of Time,” e-flux, no. 11 (December 2009). See www.e-flux.com /journal/comrades-of-time. Franco Berardi “Bifo,” “Cognitarian Subjectivation,” e-flux, no. 20 (November 2010). See www.e-flux.com/journal/cognitarian-subjectivation/. “The Art of Deceleration: Motion and Rest in Art from Caspar David Friedrich to Ai Weiwei” Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Germany, November 12, 2011–April 9, 2012. Don DeLillo, Point Omega (London: Picador, 2010), 12. Understood here as a viewing condition that, following an extended logic of the readymade, frames anything whatever as art, creating dependence for meaning upon the prioritization of an interpretive subject (figured conceptually and affectively), addressed as free within the meta-institutional framework of contemporary art itself.

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Drone script: Scene cuts to viewpoint of a UAV hexacopter. It surveys granite bedrock walls cut with exploratory boreholes, bounces LIDAR through access tunnels, and drops through dolostones and shales deep into the earth.

Dia-chronic Image The deep geological repository is a site designed to store nuclear waste securely underground without future maintenance. The time of nuclear storage and decay is of great concern to human beings; yet at the same time this projection of a future “without maintenance” also invokes a time span indifferent to the human, 6

7

Contemporary art, in other words, is structurally and ideologically inseparable from the legacy of the myth of freedom. As Matthew Poole puts it, “This seems to be exactly the dilemma we face today in democratic states organized centrally around the principles of capitalist economic imperatives: there is total freedom within the bounds (law) of the system that produces those freedoms, either/both representative democracy and Post-Fordist Capitalism.” Matthew Poole, “Anti-Humanist Curating,” Journal of Visual Art Practice, vol. 9, no. 2 (2010): 99. “Exogenic tension is an economical tension […] whereby the system, instead of staving off or dismissing exteriority, economically binds it within the affordable duplicity of capacity and exorbitant external world.” Reza Negarestani, “Globe of Revolution: An Afterthought on Geophilosophical Realism,” Identities: Journal for Politics, Gender and Culture 17 (2011): 28.

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that of the continuum of deep time.8 The thinking and material construction of these sites, therefore, is premised upon registering and modeling conditions not dependent on the priority of a free interpretive subject separated from its objects of concern. This deep temporality contradicts and is unaccounted for by the time of contemporary art, failing to be bound to its limits. If delay promises freedom while opening to resolution by a transcendent subject, the repository designs a scenario where any such transcendence is flattened out into its surrounding environment. Its architecture is proposed as a defense against this ungrounding, which attempts to manage contagion through the fiction of control over an indifferent world.9 What the repository registers, ultimately, is the horror of a real of which we are already a part since we cannot be separated from it, where any transcendent positioning of the human subject against a static “nature” has already been undermined.10 Against the space to think within a framed environment of the delay, it forces thought to hurtle toward an unknown limit of its own irreversible decay. This can be understood in terms of moving toward a time of extinction without becoming bound to finite limits or recursive futurity,11 and, drawing on François Laruelle, as an incision into the reciprocal “reversible” coconstitution of being and thought.12

It is this correlation of being and thought that has been brought into question by Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude. Meillassoux uses the term “dia-chronic” to refer to the statements made by science about events “anterior or ulterior to every terrestrial-relation-to-the-world.”13 While the “arche-fossil” or “fossil-matter” plays the role of “indicating the existence of ancestral reality or event,”14 the diachronic statement includes the claims to make verifiable and meaningful reference to this matter as well as to events ulterior to the extinction of the human species. For Meillassoux, such a statement, which includes describing the decay of radioactive material, introduces a temporal discrepancy between thinking and being: “the meaning of the dia-chronic statement about a radioactive decay older than all terrestrial life is only conceivable if it is construed as absolutely indifferent to the thought that envisages it,” referring to something both contingent and absolute.15 This raises the question of what the conditions of meaning would be for such a statement, leading to contradictions for correlationist thought, which is defined through its refusal of the absolute and its wedding of thinking to being—we can only have access to the correlation between thinking and being, never to either term apart from the other.16 Through the dia-chronic statement, thought’s capacity to think what is, whether thought itself exists or not, is unveiled—thought thinks its own contingency. Meillassoux, therefore, uses this contradiction to build his argument against correlationism and speculative proposals of rational mathematical access to the real. Art that draws on the deep geological repository has a different relation to the dia-chronic than does the scientific or philosophical statement.17 The former manifests temporal collisions through the complexities of their material embodiment—simultaneously as conceptual (through the conditions of its framing as art) and as material recalcitrance. It is this traumatic investigation, both interior and inasssimilable to the contemporary horizon, that can be understood as the dia-chronic image—defined as art practice’s registration of time indifferent to the human subject (deep time) through materializations addressed, at least partly, to human subjects.18 The gelatinous dia-chronicity of this image acts as machinic register of exposure to deep time, intercessor to its inassimilable objecthood, while its

8

The half-life of Uranium-238 in spent nuclear fuel, for example, is 4.46 billion years. See Richard J. D. Tilley, Understanding Solids: The Science of Materials (New York: Wiley, 2004), 501. This almost mirrors the time of 4.5 billion years from now, proposed by Jean-Francois Lyotard as the time of the extinguishing of the sun, and consuming of the terrestrial horizon. See Jean Francois Lyotard, The Inhuman: Reflections on Time (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1991), 9–10. 9 It is a “fiction” insofar as none have yet been designed that store high-level nuclear waste. For discussion of this, as well as design “without future maintenance,” see the art research project by Smudge Studio, Containing Uncertainty (2010) at fopnews.wordpress.com/2010/02/24 /containing-uncertainity-design-for-infinite-quarantine. The argument for fiction can be extended by considering the role the repository plays in imagining both a world of human control over radiation and a world without humans, while actually collapsing both of these scenarios into a situation where inside (contamination) and outside (nature) become impossible to separate. 10 It registers, in other words, the shock of the Anthropocene as the geological age that marks the evidence and extent of human activities on their environment, flattening out the priority of the human as one object among others. See, for example, lamatiere.tumblr.com/ungrounding -the-object. 11 This is situated, therefore, against the recuperation of radiological temporality through its folding, evident for example in Susan Schuppli’s analysis of such time as “anarchic feedback loops between radically non-contiguous temporalities in which the future-yet-to-come is overlaid onto the past in a process of continuous modulation.” See Susan Schuppli, “The Most Dangerous Film in the World,” in Tickle Your Catastrophe: Imagining Catastrophe in Art, Architecture and Philosophy ed. Frederik Le Roy, Nele Wynants, and Dominiek Hoens (Gent: Academia Press, 2011), 126–41. Such analysis relies upon the reversible co-constitution of irreducible excess potentiality and actual punctual eruption, which is undermined by the irreversible cut. 12 “Reversible,” drawing on terms from François Laruelle, as a form of mutual co-constitution premised on a bifurcated real. The dual reciprocal symmetry of reversibility is opposed by Laruelle to the irreversibility of “the unilateralization and contingency of a ‘second’ term by the One which however does not posit this second term and, consequently, is not determined in turn by it.” See François Laruelle, Philosophies of Difference: A Critical Introduction to Non-philosophy, trans. Rocco Gangle (London: Continuum, 2010), 15.

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13 Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier (London: Continuum, 2008), 112. 14 Ibid., 10. 15 Ibid., 117. 16 Ibid., 5. 17 Such as, for example, the Containing Uncertainty project (see note 8). See also Ele Carpenter’s Nuclear Cultures (blog), nuclear.artscatalyst.org. 18 Reza Negarestani defines “trauma” as a “universal and contingent transplantation of the exteriority and regional realization of openness.” See Negarestani, “Globe of Revolution,” 30. Negarestani also discusses the non-dialectical negativity of “the insider,” as “an interiorized yet inassimilable (unilateralized) negativity which uses the economic affordability of the conservative horizon as an alternative medium for the eruption of exteriority.” See Reza Negarestani, “Drafting the Inhuman: Conjectures on Capitalism and Organic Necrocracy,” in The Speculative Turn, ed. Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek, and Graham Harman (Melbourne: re-press, 2011), 210.

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ungrounding humiliation of the anthropocentric suggests a horror unaccounted for by the bounded-image-thought of the contemporary. What the latter depends upon, through the condition of its viewing, as well as through its play of image, affect, and thought, is a subject/object split that assumes the transcendentalization and priority of a viewing, participating or interpreting subject. The time manifested in the diachronic image, on the other hand, is that of an absolute indifference to this split, and so an indifference to the sovereignty or openness of the subject-viewer addressed by the work. As art, the dia-chronic image traumatizes contemporary conditions of presentation and representation through interiorizing material indifference to their limits. While the arche-fossil brings into question the conditions of meaning of the scientific statement, the dia-chronic image brings into question, and so incites reflexive analysis of, the conditions of meaning for contemporary art, which is forced to think its own contingency.

surface that can not define any real power of the image. Secondly, refusing the sublime limit-institution of unknowability as its end, such opacity necessitates didactic supplements in the form of fiction and theory. Such fictions excavate the strangeness of a world opaque to subjective reconfiguration, but remain at the level of subjective fictions. At the same time, through description or theoretical explanation, deep time is brought back under the condition of existing philosophy and existing subjectifications, subordinating art’s potential to think and its capacity to change.

Drone script: The repository site is approached from a number of representational angles. It is diagrammatized and digitalized. Pans scurry or sweep across unremarkable wall features, dark and indistinct, while shots of inside and outside merge into a flat and indistinct procession. Images repel and rebut containment in vision.

The incision of the dia-chronic image interrupts the bipolar drift between the romantic irreducibility of art and the didactic reduction of it to existing theory, creating another tension, one that does not anticipate its resolution by a subject but is triggered by a cut across the subject, opening toward panic. Stripped of its qualities, the dia-chronic image becomes a surface for these anxieties, transmitting and dispersing them though media networks. While the bounded image-thought of the contemporary immunizes against the real, open to a pre-negotiated outside that perpetuates its survival, the dia-chronic image turns immunization to autophagic dieback, performing its own paradoxical limitations through the production of an affect of simultaneous panic and reassurance (it’s all OK, it’s just an image). While the figure of the bounded image-thought is the credit card—it will give you as much freedom as you want because it knows it can afford you—the figure of the dia-chronic image-thought is a valiumic vampiricism, biting your throat while whispering into your ear that it’s all going to be OK.

Opaque Aesthetics The dia-chronic image runs into a number of problems. First, a motif of opacity emerges. This opacity has two faces: on the one hand, as thought is put into contact with the unimaginable, it can be figured as romantically sublime, serving to institute a limit to knowledge through the ultimate unknowability of what can only be felt as beyond all possibility of measurement.19 On the other hand, it can also be banal, steeped in its own failures and incapacities, figured as a rejection of any sensuous response to deep time.20 We are left, in other words, with either the epistemological emptiness, pseudo-religiosity and political quietism of an affect of “wonder,” or a simple rejection of art as form of knowledge of the real. Neither are sufficient. This two-faced opacity suggests that figuration of the repository is affecting in a way irreducible to its reception and, simultaneously, that this horror of the image is unreadable through its qualities as they appear to perception, leaving only a repellent 19 See, for example, the underground anechoic chamber as “Repository Experience” proposed by Liam Croft and James Perry, using the architecture of the void as an image of the unspeakability of the repository materials in Half-Life: A Deep Geological Repository for Nuclear Waste (2012), available at www.presidentsmedals.com/Project_Details.aspx?id=3063. 20 William Verstraeten’s Metamorphosis (2012), for example, a painted repository exterior gradually fading to become invisible by 2103, can be read as drawing attention to the failures of paint to figure deep radioactive temporalities adequately.

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Drone script: Pyroclastic soaked chrono-dread accelerates, chewing at the edges of the skin like a William S. Burroughs tape experiment melted into rock. Through sonic fictions, the force of deep time’s abduction is captured and transmitted virally through blocks of recorded and camouflaged sound.

Drone script: Image data files compress. Acoustic fossil oscillation detection, used by theoretical cosmologists to infer properties of the early universe through modeling sound waves, is combined with the use of computer simulations to model the material effects of stored nuclear waste over an extended time period beyond human life. Together these methods are used to simulate future acoustic oscillations.

Untitled Contemporary art feigns to offer absolute freedom while establishing the limits of an affordable exorbitance. This relies upon a temporality that reaffirms the finitude of the interpretive subject as determining center of its world. The dia-chronic image

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cuts across this, severing its reliance on the reversible co-constitution of being and thought, and transplanting unassimilable exteriority within, while also running into further problems. Thinking art synchronous with the radical decentering of events such as nuclear waste storage, as well as with realist and materialist philosophy, incites this traumatic complicity with the temporal conditions of contemporary art.21 Responding to this, if art wishes to escape its inflated promise of indeterminate freedom and produce speculative knowledge within the real, it can no longer rely upon the subjectifying demands and desires of the contemporary nor abandon them for a practical leap into an untheorized absolute. These conditions instead become part of its materials, flattened out according to the contingencies of an immanent and continuous real, in a process of self-devouring reflexivity. This brings into question art’s conditions and alliances, as well as those of the data processes it employs. As such, it demands ongoing experimentation in methodologies and modes of presentation that refuse a reprioritization of subjective experience through affect and interpretation, or impose a limit to artistic knowledge through didactic reduction, aesthetics of opacity or the sublime. If the time of contemporary art is bound to the limits of neoliberal subjectification, then its dia-chronic incision demands the crafting and mobilizing of new navigational tracks between subjects of regional focalization and their universal contingent histories, without delay. Drone Script: Plot twist. Radiation erases data, drone loses connection to operational controller spiralling into rock. Paranoia collides with quartz, mica, and plagioclase-rich feldspar, causing unexpected porphyritic agitation. PVC resins of melted clay plasticize, disrupting endocrines. Crystallized from magmas evolved to the eutectic through igneous differentiation, the discounted theory of metasomitism is unearthed. Bokeh spreads to surface glare. Pushed up through stoping intrusion and gooey surface leaks, the pumped-up drone repurposes its vision function to compress silica and soda ash, spraying GBU-12 Paveway IIs. Sparks strike sand-spiked polyethylene terephtelate, branching fulgurite and producing non-crystalline polymer moldavites, which, drone-blown, exhibit glass transition and cover the surface of the earth.

21 “Synchronous” is understood in terms proposed by Gabriel Catren, drawing on Jean-Claude Milner, as both “conditioned by” and “desutured from.” See Jean-Claude Milner, “Outland Empire: Prolegomena to Speculative Absolutism,” in Bryant, Harman, and Srnicek, The Speculative Turn, 338.

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Synechistic Critique of Aesthetic Judgment Reza Negarestani

Even though the interwoven yarn of science and speculative philosophy has long frayed into separate individual threads, evolutions of both are driven by the same impetus—the history of shifts in perspectives. This is the history of the invention and modification of new perspectives as modes of epistemic mediation. From the eye of Zeno’s tortoise that sees the geometrical synthesis of infinitely many terms, to the medieval angel whose transitory location is defined by its noetic operation rather than by a predefined position, to the diagram of the classical perspective in which the vanishing point is the homothetic center of the observer’s scope launched into infinity, to the telescopic perspective of the Copernican subject who sees itself only from an imaginary point beyond the orbit of its manifest location: the trajectory of speculative and scientific thought takes shape as the evolution of perspective, an abstract technology for the systemic deracination of the subject. Rather than heralding the abolition of the subject, the perspective operator cuts the subject loose from its immediate foundation by mapping it from one domain to another. Once the subject’s reference point to any privileged instance or position (first or last, particular or generic) is removed, it is finally possible to draw a nontrivial passage from the local subject to the global structure, in effect realizing a continuity that defines an absolutized nature as a universal continuum. It is this nontrivial continuity that uproots the subject from its immediate foundation and reconstitutes it as a site in the reflexive relation of nature to itself.1 For this reason, the reflective relation of the deracinated subject to itself and to nature cannot 1

Throughout this essay, the concept of nontriviality is used in a sense similar to its original application in mathematical language. In terms of conceptual behavior, triviality expresses a condition according to which the behavior of the concept regardless of the context and application is always the same (self-similar) and is not required to be modified. In terms of structure, triviality suggests a local-global relationship in which the global structure is simply the extension of the local structure (for example, the image of world being the extension of the image of man, or a cylinder—a global structure—being generated by the revolution of fiber or a local structure around a central axis). Nontriviality on the other hand is the expression of an asymmetry between local and global levels of the concept and structure. For example, a Möbius strip is a cylinder with a global twist; in other words, the global is not simply the extension of the local. Nontriviality is often a condition arising from a multi-modal continuity that permits different trajectories of evolution, global structural plasticity, and complex local orientations. Accordingly, nontriviality entails epistemic navigation of different behaviors of the concept. It demands the change of perspective and action according to a logic of rules, spatial situations and structural parameters.

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be addressed unless through the reflexive relation of absolutized nature to itself. In other words, following Gabriel Catren’s formula for absolving the Kantian legacy from its reactive premodern proclivities and remnants of anti-Copernicanism, the reflectivity of the subject must be subsumed within the reflexivity qua self-reflection of nature.2 This subsumption is indeed tantamount to a “transcendental dehumanization of experience” by way of opening a nontrivial space for transcendental faculties and modes of judgment, including aesthetic judgment.3 If the subject is now immersed in a continuous global structure, the separation of the subject from nature is a required epistemological distinction, not an inherent ontological severance. And if such separation is not ontological, then instantiations of the absolutized nature cannot be measured or scaled against the subject. The Bataillean “nature as immensity” connotes a “magnitude” only possible by a radical break in nature, thus conditioning a dialectics of magnitudes (between the magnitude of nature and the magnitude of the subject) suggestive of the premodern image of the world and the pre-Copernican account of nature. From a historical perspective, both the aesthetic judgment and aesthetic paradigms of art have been directly influenced by the determination of nature or a global structure for the subjective faculties in terms of magnitudes. Along with the history of shifts in perspective, the history of articulation of magnitudes should indeed be identified as the second defining trajectory for the evolution of speculative thought and science. In order to briefly investigate the influence of the evolution of articulations of magnitude on art and reinterpret some of the concepts of aesthetics in terms of the determination and interaction of magnitudes, it would be best to begin with a classic but helpful definition of magnitude. “Magnitude is anything that may be said to be equal to or not equal to another. Two things are said to be equal, if in each statement you can substitute the one for the other.”4 In this sense, magnitude is articulated through the dialectic of sameness-otherness or equality-inequality within the same subject. The credit and debit columns of a ledger represent magnitudes of gain and loss. A bar of iron expands as its temperature rises, expressing the magnitude of heat extended over the arrow of time. A windmill moves under the pressure of two different wind currents. And, most importantly, the epistemological determination of nature that requires the dialectic of nature (natural causes) and thought (normative causes) within the subject are both expressions of magnitude. Mathematically speaking, quantity is the product of the dialectical articulation of magnitudes within “one subject”: the total balance of a ledger page, the extension of a bar of iron due to being heated, the amount of ground flour produced by the windmill, or a judgment undertaken by the thinking subject. Here quantity denotes the productivity implicit

in the interaction of different magnitudes within a subject; it is a marker of intelligibility that can be extracted by measurement. In each of the previous cases, quantity is characterized dialectically as a negative link between two positive predicates or magnitudes whose opposition is not that of logic (i.e., it is not a contradiction) but that of balancing, compensation, suppression, translation, and further disequilibrium of forces. Quantity is therefore the explicit or intelligible result of articulating or conjoining magnitudes, no longer as passive parts but instead as distinct dynamic and oriented/vectorial forces. This is in fact the meaning behind the late scholastic concept of articulation as related to measurement and quantification: to express degrees of intelligibility of a subject, form, or phenomenon by putting together and joining (articulatus) various intensive and extensive magnitudes, which abstract the interaction or points of liaison (joints) between the subject in question and its surrounding matrix.5 Properly speaking, then, magnitudes are expressed through tension-spaces and are rendered intelligible as quantities. Immanuel Kant suggests that magnitudes are always articulated in negative fashion via an opposition—a dialectic of forces—that joins them together within one subject. To this end, judgment is a tension-space for articulation of magnitudes insofar as judgment is the determination of the magnitude of the universal (nature or a natural law for example) with regard to the magnitude of the particular (the manifold of subjective or cognitive faculties) for and within the thinking subject. Just as the articulation of magnitudes always exerts a dynamic expression that drives the subject (for instance, the motion of the windmill in the above example), judgment does not leave the thinking subject intact either. It drives the subject and its faculties (sense, imagination, reasoning, power of action, and so forth) according to the manner by which it expresses and effectuates the interaction of the universal and the particular, nature and thought, stimulation and sensation. From this perspective, since aesthetics is a category of judgment, a deep understanding of aesthetics as a dynamic interactive system that structures both certain modes of cognition and action is impossible without an analysis of aesthetics and aesthetic judgment in terms of magnitudes and the conditions of their interactivity. Conditions of interactivity can be defined as schemas of space or points of liaison that structurally parameterize and give orientation to each magnitude; by doing so, they dictate the manner by which magnitudes act upon themselves or one another, and consequently drive or mobilize the subject in a specific way. The analysis of the conceptual matrix of aesthetics in order to upgrade it—a task whose absence in canonical art criticism has put art in jeopardy of becoming a bastion for human narcissism and a playground of myopic alliances—leads us to perhaps the most systematically developed account of aesthetic judgment. This is Kant’s historically consequential attempt at outlining aesthetics not in terms of eternal categories but in terms of the spatiotemporal positioning of the subject within the world and, by doing so, putting it in the direction of a thoroughgoing disenchantment.

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See Gabriel Catren, “Outland Empire: Prolegomena to Speculative Absolutism,” in The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, ed. Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek, and Graham Harman (Melbourne: re-press, 2011), 333–67. Ibid., 333. Hermann Grassmann, Lehrbuch Der Arithmetik (Berlin: Enslin, 1861), 1.

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On the concept of articulation with regard to magnitudes and intelligibility, see Gilles Châtelet, Figuring Space: Philosophy, Mathematics, and Physics (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2000).

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In The Critique of Judgment, Kant formulates aesthetic categories as categories of reflective judgment, while defining modes of judgment themselves in terms of interaction and expression of magnitudes that delineate natural causes (or causal determination) and normative causes specific to the rational agency. But the question is, what is the manner of articulation of aesthetic categories? Under which conditions do magnitudes enter dialectical interaction within the subject? The answer lies in the reflectivity of the reflective judgment. Reflectivity is a specific relation to the world. It is conditioned by a certain intuition of the spatiotemporal arrangement of the subject and the world with regard to one another. The reflective is a topographic model of interaction according to which the magnitudes of thought and nature act upon each other in a specific way. In the reflective relation, the subject is invariably delineated by two vectors, one facing out toward the world and the other facing inside in the direction of the given and allegedly well-secured interiority of the subject. This orthogonal orientation always registers nature as a magnitude both outside the subject and greater than it—an immense entity that is growing, indeterminate, and in excess of the subject. This is because the reflective orientation translates the rigid inside-outside tension of the subject and the world into the open and—hence, indeterminate—magnitude of nature versus the strictly demarcated magnitude of the subject. Moreover, since the reflective relation posits a spatial model in which the world always faces the subject and “is lived as a confrontation,”6 the articulation of any magnitude associated with an unbound nature or the world is readily quantified against the subject. Here we can identify a trajectory of aesthetic and philosophical paradigms—from the Kantian sublime to Bataille’s exorbitance, Freud’s model of trauma, and the philosophy of Speculative Realism, for which the incalculable scales of nature are readily expressed in confrontation with the human subject. This is, of course, no arbitrary juxtaposition, in that these aesthetic and philosophical paradigms are products of the same model of articulation of magnitudes that is the extension of a quasi-Ptolemaic structural model of the world. “Why quasi-Ptolemaic?” one might ask. Because worldly magnitudes—that is, nature’s dialectics of sameness-otherness, equality-inequality, and the relaying of this dialectics by means of magnitudes of tensions and calculi of forces—are always articulated according to a privileged frame of reference: whereas in the Ptolemaic model for a subject on the surface of the stationary Earth the sky is given as the world above, in the quasi-Ptolemaic model—by virtue of the subject’s privileged frame of reference—the world always confronts the subject as an object of experience, its magnitudes external to the subject and its perturbing forces issuing forth from the infinite, formless, and generic (that is to say, purposeless) trajectories of nature. The still evolving trajectory of the Copernican Revolution terminates this isolating difference between the world above and the world below, and in the process, it problematizes the subject’s privileged frame of reference. 6

Gilles Châtelet, “Sur une petite phrase de Riemann,” Analytiques (Psychanalyse-Écritures-Politiques), no. 3 (Paris, 1979): 67–75.

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Figure 1: Kant’s reflecting bonhomme and its tale-telling world

In the sense that for Kant the aesthetic judgment is a reflective judgment that seeks to find a non-given universal (expressed by an inexact magnitude) for a given particular, it is bound to a certain mode of articulation of magnitudes, as seen in Figure 1. In Kant’s aesthetic judgment, nature is inherently susceptible to being expressed by way of a great magnitude that always confronts the subject. This is a restricted tension-space in which forces of the world and the subject, thought and nature, are perpetually posited in a head-to-head collision and generate both privileged visions of nature and bound conceptions of the rational subject. Accordingly, it is no surprise that at the pinnacle of Kant’s aesthetic judgment rests the aesthetic paradigm of the sublime. The sublime and its subject qua genius are not quandaries for the aesthetic judgment, as one might suspect, but rather are the logical consequences of how worldly magnitudes interact and condition a specific judgment for a subject. When an external indeterminate magnitude associated with an unbound nature or a formless object interacts with the intensive magnitude of sensation, a quantity of this interaction for understanding is produced.7 If subjective faculties cannot determine a quality for this quantity because it is an overwhelming quantity that scrambles the senses of the subject, the feeling of the sublime is effectuated. For Kant, beauty, for example, is also a quantity produced by an indeterminable magnitude, but it is a quantity whose quality can be determined and is also in harmony with understanding. It is important to note that the external indeterminate magnitude associated with a formless object or boundlessness does not directly give rise to the sublime. The sublime is the consequence of how the indeterminable magnitude is parameterized by the structure of the reflective relation of the experiencing subject to itself and to the world that now appears to be confronting it. The sublime, in this sense, is the outcome of a judgment formed by a subject whose privileged 7

The mathematical sublime—as different from the dynamic sublime of worldly magnitudes— is generated by formally abstracted magnitudes.

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position and frame of reference have not yet been assimilated within the reflexive relation of an absolutized nature to itself. From this perspective, the sublime is not that of the impersonal abyss of nature; it is quite simply confined to the personal. If until now art has not managed to fully dispel the omnipresent specter of the sublime, it is because: (1) it has not seen the world and the subject within different geometries of interaction, and (2) it has not explored alternative tension-spaces in which magnitudes of this or that event are articulated in different ways and as a result drive the subject in entirely different trajectories. The history of articulation of magnitudes is the history of shifts in the geometry of interactions between magnitudes and the examination of complex tension-spaces. In other words, it is the realization that magnitudes, like forces, interact and act upon one another according to the underlying spatial organizations that influence terms of interaction through orienting, arranging, and liaising magnitudes. In order to expand frontiers of action and understanding for the subject of judgment, the geometry—that is to say, the spatial organization—of interactions between magnitudes should be treated as a hypothesis. It is the hypothetical structure of the tension-space, its manipulable variables, its normative plasticity, constructible horizon, and ramified orientations toward hitherto unenvisaged landscapes that broaden the horizon of understanding and augment the armamentarium of possible action. Constituted by the interaction of magnitudes, judgments are, in this sense, sites for reorientation and navigation according to new rules and spaces. Within the tension-space, magnitudes play the role of vectors that simultaneously open up new hypotheses of orientation (forcing the subject of judgment to orient toward …) and dimension (introducing the subject to new spaces of rulebased navigation). Since every magnitude carries its own space or parameterizing structure with it, judgment as a site for the articulation of magnitudes always yields new orientations and dimensions.8 Here magnitude is no longer seen as something that affects the subject by decrease or increase (of scales, quantities, or intensities) but as something that is capable of creating complex situations of productivity and production for the subject, even new complex magnitudes. Such complex magnitudes are in reality new platforms for expression, manipulation of forces, tensions, syntheses, and judgments. The head-to-head model of collision between intensive and extensive magnitudes can be replaced by magnitudes that enter dialectical interactions hitherto inaccessible to the classical subject of personal experience. A whole bestiary of tension-spaces is born in which the interaction of magnitudes enables new modes of extraction of intelligibility, modes of judgment, and, correspondingly, new

decision-making directives, rational orientation, and action. The diversification of these tension-spaces, as well as the complex modes of judgments they unlock, is impossible without annulling the subject’s privileged frame of reference and immersing its so-called personal reflectivity within the impersonal reflexive continuity of nature to itself. It is the epistemological analysis of nature’s protean continuity that grants the possibility of the subject’s access to a range of complex structures and modes of interaction otherwise inexistent from the reflective perspective.9 Likewise, the conceptual foundation of aesthetic judgment must be revised from the viewpoint of this impersonal reflexive field, whose continuity allows not only continuous/constant and discrete/variable structures but also structures with intermediate geometries.10 This is the kernel of what we shall call—following Charles Sanders Peirce’s doctrine of continuity or synechism—the synechistic critique of aesthetic judgment. The exhaustion of aesthetic judgment and paradigms in contemporary art— what perpetuates the illusion of a fast approaching death for art practices—is largely due to an overinvestment in a model of subjectivity in which the world is always readily lived as an experience, a personal experience. According to such a model, novelty is always the expression of a world that confronts the subject. But since indeterminable magnitudes of a confronting world are always articulated in excess of the magnitudes of the subject, novelty becomes synonymous with energetic rupture, defeat of senses, and the eruption of a messianic regime of force that is deemed liberating and limiting in equal parts. Any account of aesthetic novelty is surreptitiously built upon a classical regime for the articulation of magnitudes, a trivial tension-space between a subject whose conditions of experience are already given and a world that by definition always faces the subject like a tale-telling outside. To overcome the exhaustion and replenish the inventory of aesthetic paradigms as hypotheses through which art further deepens its sovereign trajectory and broadens its scope, it is imperative to accentuate new regimes of tension and diversify tension-spaces. The aim of a tension-space in this case is not to express the quantitative

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The examination of magnitudes within a continuous medium (rather than a discrete identification) demonstrates that magnitudes are vehicles for transporting spatial situations (such as orientation and dimension) and structural parameters. This is a revolutionary insight of the Kantian philosopher and mathematician Hermann Günther Grassmann. A similar view has been expressed by G. W. Leibniz in the context of analysis situs and philosophy of situations. See Hans-Joachim Petsche, Hermann Grassmann (Basel: Birkhäuser, 2009); Vincenzo De Risi, Geometry and Monadology: Leibniz’s Analysis Situs and Philosophy of Space (Basel: Birkhäuser, 2007).

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The continuity of the reflexive field should be understood as a nontrivial continuity insofar as its structure does not permit overstretching any particular field or inflation of any specific horizon and its functions. Neither can everything be subject nor can everything be object. Instead it brings about the possibility of intricate (diachronic, asymmetrical, entangled) co-constitution of subject and object. Furthermore, the nontriviality of this continuity distinguishes the interaction of magnitudes on the basis of their orientations. This allows for diversification of modes of synthesis and, respectively, judgment. Suppose A is the oriented magnitude of the subject and B the oriented magnitude of the object. AB is not equal to BA; that is they express two non-commutative terms because they are different products of magnitudes and their specific orientations. Since they suggest different syntheses, they occasion and demand different modes of judgment as well. 10 On continuum as a protean continuity, see Fernando Zalamea, “Peirce’s Logic of Continuity: Existential Graphs and Non-Cantorian Continuum,” The Review of Modern Logic 9 (2003). Also on the theory of topoi as what “allows the passage from constant to variable sets (and back) and is a basis for studying relationships between (variable) quantities and (variable) structures” see Francis William Lawvere, “Continuously Variable Sets: Algebraic Geometry=Geometric Logic,” in Proceedings of the Logic Colloquium (Amsterdam: North Holland, 1975), 135–57.

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or qualitative measure of the magnitude of the object and the subject, nature and thought, or the stimulation and sensation, in terms of greatness, intensity, size, scale, escalation, intensification, and general dissensus between forces. It is instead to reparameterize and reprogram tensions or magnitudes that mobilize the field of the subject by nontrivial orientations and spaces of navigation. These tension-spaces bring about the possibility of renegotiating the geometries of interaction between the universal and the particular. The renegotiation of formal dialectical maps between inside and outside, thought and nature, is equal to changing how magnitude finds expression and forces interact. And insofar as the interaction and expression of magnitudes within and for the subject directly determine the mode of judgment, we can say that redefining the spatial situation of local-global products (subject-world, immanence-transcendence) allows new modes of judgment and action. Every geometrical relation in terms of interaction and operation of magnitudes is a propositional content for the subject and is endowed with a pragmatic assertion. It calls for a specific action by conditioning judgment as what forces the subject to enter a complex system of rational commitments, to contrast between existing judgments and taking judgments to their ultimate conclusions. Here lies the meaning behind the task of diversifying modes of judgment by diversifying tension-spaces. If there is a lesson to be learned by art from the speculative-scientific history of the articulation of magnitudes, it is that magnitudes by themselves—regardless of how great and singular they might be—do not offer any particularly liberating or speculative opportunity for the subject of judgment. The liberation both in terms of judgment and the paradigms it offers is to be found not in the extent of this or that event, the intensity of this or that experience, but in the nontrivial fields of interaction between them—that is, in the structure of tension-spaces and their valence for moving the subject, even systematically deracinating it, according to complex judgments that not only shed the subject’s local privileges but also reorient and reintroduce it to new spaces of navigation, in effect perpetually revising the self-portrait of man drawn in sand. In order to reinvigorate the aesthetic judgment and overcome the paralyzing illusion of the crisis of aesthetic paradigms, art must adopt new tension-spaces that are not limited to the trivial relation between a world out there and a subject whose condition for experience is already given. It is in its renewed commitment to highlighting and crafting new tension-spaces between the artist and her materials, between the spectator and the art, the manifest and the scientific images,11

the conceptual and the sensible that art finds its own political asymptote. If the global dominance of neoliberalism aims to nullify all tension-spaces under the pretext of fighting the evil of ideology, art is returned back to political consequentiality and contemporaneity by the shift from scale of events (magnitudes of tensions and their affective valence) to structures through which such tensions are expressed, manipulated, or translated into alternative driving forces for the subject. Only by seeing and acting beyond the ready-made regime of affect (itself a trivial mode of articulation of worldly magnitudes) and mobilizing its resources in the direction of alternative tension-spaces as navigable hypotheses of understanding and action, can art stave off the realization of a so far illusory death. Without manipulative and navigational possibilities of tension-spaces that align the subject with the deracinating trajectory of modern thought, the prospect of breaking away from existing liberal models of interactivity and trivial tension-spaces of non-cooperation and dissensus is indeed truly remote. As for the jaded fascination with great scales of the beyond and their aesthetic import for art: if a genuine inhumanism is to be found, it is not in the expression of great magnitudes of abyssal timescales or vast spaces. It is in how such magnitudes force the sapient to renegotiate its own capacities and descriptions in each and every turn. It is in how tension-spaces drive the rational subject according to complex fields of synthesis and navigation maps in which there is no privileged frame of reference whether in the name of the given conditions of experience or the global orientation of an environing world. This is the inhumanism intrinsic to articulation and the dynamics of complex magnitudes that result from the systemic softening of rigid designations of inside and outside. It is an inhumanism that, rather than antagonizing the human, takes “human significance” to its ultimate rational conclusions. It has nothing whatsoever to do with a mystical antihumanism that seeks to belittle the rational subject by imposing upon it the so-called great and singular magnitudes of the universe. Inhuman aesthetic judgment is not given; it is a matter of struggle, revision, and construction.

11

The manifest image is “the framework in terms of which man came to be aware of himself as man-in-the-world,” a commonsense framework comprised of intentions and thoughts through which man correlates the observable image of himself to the world and objects, and understands the world as a global projection of himself. According to the American philosopher Wilfrid Sellars, the posterior alternative to the manifest image is the scientific image in which the world consists of microphysical entities behaving according to natural laws that are no longer seen as “truncated persons.” See Wilfrid Sellars, “Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man,” in In the Space of Reasons: Selected Essays of Wilfrid Sellars, ed. Kevin Scharp and Robert B. Brandom (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), 374, 381.

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What Is It That Makes Today’s Realism So Different, So Appealing? João Ribas

The very premise of a book dedicated to the intersection between contemporary artistic practice and the so-called “speculative turn” in continental philosophy invites a set of questions. First, what is the place of art within these divergent varieties of realism and materialism, emphasizing once relatively marginal themes1 and loosely collected by terms such as “Speculative Realism” and “Object-Oriented Ontology”? Second, what, if any, is the relevance of such thought to contemporary artistic or curatorial practices? To ask this last question in another way: Within contemporary art, why should there be any interest at all in these new types of philosophical thought, beyond mere novelty or instrumentalization? Even asking the question is to admit it: everyone seems to be a Speculative Realist now. These two questions can be parsed into distinct themes. Why should contemporary artistic production be interested in a return to objects or in issues of realist ontology or Kantian epistemology? Let’s call this the external question. And what aspects of this philosophical thought have been concerned with, or even pertain to, art or aesthetics directly? Let’s call this the internal question, that of the place of aesthetics in an ontology. Is there a natural affinity between the thematics of contemporary art and the nature of such thought? Do curatorial or artistic practices need to develop anti-correlationist forms? If so, why? Does a flat, nonhierarchical ontology invite consideration of art objects by extension? In discussions relating such discourse to artistic or curatorial contexts, it is easy merely to conflate such questions or to assume that one discipline casually compliments or entrains the other, supposing that, because contemporary artists or curators are interested in such thought, it has something to say about, or for, contemporary art. The external question is perhaps the most obvious one to address: a return to “accommodating things, matter, science, and the real qua objects as important as language, thought, the phenomenal, and the social” would seem to be of clear interest in light of the emphasis on participatory, relational, and social practices in the art of the last two decades—that is, as a return of the repressed.2 Moreover, this allows for a return substantiated by new formations of objecthood (a much benighted term), new ideational contexts, and a novel lexicon, seemingly unburdened by the trappings of formalist, phenomenological, or post-structuralist approaches. 1 2

Louis Morelle, “Speculative Realism: After Finitude, and Beyond? A Vade Mecum,” Speculations 3 (September 2012): 242. Available at speculations.squarespace.com/speculations-3. Ibid., 241.

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Here the external interest might mirror the internal one in the way that forms of anti-correlationist thought—this being the remaining singular feature that unites an otherwise heterogeneous set of approaches—are positioned as reversing antirealist trends of postwar philosophy. That is, both the external and internal questions have Kantian biases at their source: Kantian epistemology and the critical turn in the case of the former; aesthetics and Kantian judgment in the case of the latter, as we shall see. Yet is this interest more than a nostalgic or reactionary turn toward objects or object-based artistic practice,3 or at worst a kind of metaphysically fueled return to formalism? Is it a case of new philosophical language appended to the same old objects?4 Or does the “speculative turn” only continue the long critical history of the relation of ontology to aesthetics?5 A “return” to thinking about objects through these new forms of realism may in fact reveal a gap in our ability to think about the speculative nature of art itself. I want to suggest that any supposed inability to deal with the complexity of objects—this presented as the central lacuna in continental philosophy that such thought addresses6— can be reformulated as a repressed or lost function of the aesthetic. If we are somehow compelled to turn to realist ontologies to tell us something about art objects, this is because we need to recover an alternative art history of speculative propositions. Such propositions in fact pervade aesthetic practices. The history of twentieth-century art, in particular, is suffused with radical, speculative ontologies. We can find them in Alfred Jarry’s pataphysics, “the science of imaginary solutions”; in Joseph Beuys’s Energy Plan for Western Man, originating in his studies in biology and entailing relations between energy and matter conceived with antipositivist rigor; in Marcel Broodthaers’s metaphysics of the mussel (a kind of Cartesian irrationalism); or even earlier, in the aesthetic pedagogy of Friedrich Fröbel, centered on play and learning through color and form.7 These all braid aesthetics to science, as Meillassoux reconciles realism with the (post-critical) condition 3

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Robert Jackson, “The Anxiousness of Objects and Artworks: Michael Fried, Object Oriented Ontology and Aesthetic Absorption,” in Speculations 2 (May 2011): 137. Available at speculations. squarespace.com/speculations-2; Jackson, “Heidegger, Harman, and Algorithmic Allure,” paper presented at the Annual Association of Art Historian’s Conference, 2010. Available at www.academia.edu/313558/Heidegger_Harman_and_Algorithmic_Allure. The question was suggested to me by Christoph Cox: “Does the ‘speculative turn’ only continue a critical history of the relation of ontology to aesthetics in the first place?” Harman has lectured about Greenberg and Warhol, for example. See Darius Kazemi’s notes on one such lecture, available at tinysubversions.com/2012/10/notes-graham-harman-non-relational -aesthetics-cmu-oct-23-2012. The present author is no exception: the thrilling language of Meillassoux’s then newly published Après la finitude (2006) found its way into an exhibition on the allusion to noumenal aspects of form I organized that year. As Robert Jackson writes, “fusing ontology and aesthetic expression has a long, convoluted, and chequered history” (“Anxiousness of Objects and Artworks,” 138). Heidegger’s aesthetics and Michael Fried’s discussion of theatricality and absorption are two examples that Jackson, in a particularly lucid way, has related to Speculative Realist thought and to Harman’s notion of “allure” in particular (discussed later in this essay). This is evidenced by the term “correlationism” itself. See Gabriel Compayré, History of Pedagogy (Boston: J. S. Cushing & Co., 1892), 457–62.

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of empirical science in the early pages of After Finitude.8 Such a relation is already evident in art historical confluences: André Breton’s first Manifesto of Surrealism of 1924, proposing the uniting of “two distant realities,” was published the same year as Louis de Broglie’s doctoral thesis extending wave/particle duality to all matter.9 As such, these aesthetic propositions suggest a world of objects as strange as that proposed by Harman’s “dark subterranean reality” of withdrawn, mereological relations,10 the kind reflected as much by the quantum entanglement of “spooky action at a distance,”11 as the curious world of Jarry’s Dr. Faustroll. Perhaps particularly relevant to the non-anthropocentric focus of Speculative Realism, we can look to Robert Smithson’s interest in crystalline structures and his formulation of the enantiomorphic, proposing relations between vision, objects, and their mirror, but not equivalent, image.12 Or the ontology of Paul Valéry’s seashell, which he turned between his fingers, asking: By what sign do we recognize that a given object is or is not made by a man? It may seem somewhat absurd to pretend not to know that a wheel, a vase, a piece of cloth, or a table has been produced by someone’s industry, since we know perfectly well that it has. But what I say is that we do not know this just by examining these things. If no one had ever told us, then by what marks, by what signs should we know? What is it that indicates the presence or absence of a human operation? When an anthropologist finds a piece of flint, does he not often hesitate as to whether man or chance fashioned it?13 In fact, the “turn” itself, at least in its application to aesthetic practices, might rest on a mystification, in which artworks are provided with an autonomous existence “to the point where [they are] sometimes treated like quasi-subjects capable of autonomous thinking […] [where this] thinking work begins to take action by itself,” in the words of artist Nairy Baghramian.14 Such a conception—the reification described by Marx’s metaphor of dancing tables in Capital15—relies on what Bruno Latour calls “factishes,” the neologism conjoining fact with fetish, in the sense of both as fabricated by particular orders of knowledge. As such, factishes 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier (London: Continuum, 2008), 9–27. Gavin Parkinson, Surrealism, Art, and Modern Science: Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Epistemology (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 23–25. Graham Harman, Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects (Chicago: Open Court, 2002), 2. See Jurgen Audretsch, Entangled Systems: New Directions in Quantum Physics (Weinheim: Wiley Blackwell, 2007), 130. See Jennifer Roberts’s masterful study, Mirror-Travels: Robert Smithson and History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 36–60. Paul Valéry, “Man and the Sea Shell,” in Paul Valéry, An Anthology, trans. James R. Lawler (London: Routledge, 1977), 118. Nairy Baghramian, “Le Mepris” in Texte Zur Kunst 22 (September 2012): 22, 110–14. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy 1, trans. Ben Fowkes (New York: Vintage, 1977), 163ff.

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are “those beings we fabricate and that fabricate us,” giving a discipline “the power to talk about the world independently of the relationships that humans create,” as Isabelle Stengers explains.16 It is from these factishes that the practitioner (be it the physicist or artist, technician or curator, etc.) “receives autonomy by giving [them] an autonomy he does not have,” writes Stengers, summarizing Latour.17 If any turn to speculative thought in contemporary art is symptomatic of a “gap” in our ability to think about objects (which might at least answer the external question), this does not mean that such philosophies can, or should, be directly applied to art objects as a kind of theoretical appendage, at the expense of addressing precisely the terms through which aesthetic modalities have themselves been curtailed. They would then merely suffer the same fate as phenomenology, late Wittgenstein, Deleuzian “becoming,” or Chantal Mouffe’s “antagonism,” to name a few, while precisely missing the point of Valéry’s type of speculation (for example). The internal question—about what aspects of this philosophical thought concerns or even pertains to art—is perhaps more complicated to address, and certainly more technical. It is partly a hermeneutical problem, as a major text on the relation between aesthetics and speculative ontologies is yet to be produced.18 As such, this should invite an ethics of reading, an address to Speculative Realist or OOO texts with both analytical rigor and methodological clarity, one that does not reduce them to easy quotation or second-order summary in their application to aesthetic concerns.19 In response to this hermeneutical, or rather, Talmudic problem, two approaches can be emphasized: Timothy Morton’s writing on aesthetics and causality, and Graham Harman’s ongoing discussion of “allure.” Morton’s aim in his recent book Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality is to free “aesthetics from its ideological role as matchmaker between subject and object,” a role intrinsically tied to its Kantian basis.20 For Morton, the aesthetic is directly linked to the philosophical discussion of causality that spans from Aristotle to Hume to quantum mechanics. The ontology of withdrawn things suggested by OOO implicates the aesthetic as a domain of relations: “If things are intrinsically withdrawn, irreducible to their perception or relations or uses,” Morton writes, “they can only affect each other in a strange region out in front of them, a region of traces and footprints: the aesthetic dimension.”21 The significance of art is precisely that it acts as an investigation of causality, itself an aesthetic phenomenon: 16 Isabelle Stengers, Cosmopolitics I (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 8. 17 Ibid., 23. Stengers uses the neutrino as an example of a “factish.” 18 Harman is said to be working on just such a text. See “Interview: Jonas Zakaitis talks with Graham Harman,” The Federal 1 (March 2011). Available at the-federal.com/index.php?/editions/issue-1. 19 The style of Harman’s writing in particularly is notable for its mixed registers, the way he shifts to poetic, rhapsodic modes when the limits of language mirror the limits of ontology—a character lost in many references to his work. 20 Timothy Morton, Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality (Ann Arbor, MI: Open Humanities Press, 2013), 22. 21 Ibid.

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Aesthetic events are not limited to interactions between humans or between humans and painted canvases or between humans and sentences in dramas. They happen when a saw bites into a fresh piece of plywood […] [when] a massive object emits gravity waves. When you make or study art you are not exploring some kind of candy on the surface of a machine. You are making or studying causality. The aesthetic dimension is the causal dimension.22 Harman’s conception of allure has for its part “considerable repercussions on art history and criticism,” as Robert Jackson notes.23 For Harman, allure is “an aesthetic effect,” through which objects become, as he explains, “split from their accessible qualities and seem to lie at an inaccessible distance despite our being able to sense that they are there.”24 As Harman suggests: Usually aesthetics is treated as a somewhat minor branch of philosophy— a pleasant hobby for philosophers who happen to like pretty music and pictures. For me, by contrast, aesthetics lies at the very core of reality, since allure is one the four basic ruptures that can occur between objects and qualities.25 This “aesthetic effect of allure” is thus not reducible to aesthetic reception by the subject, but inherent to all relations. As Harman writes, “given the apparently overwhelming scope of allure, aesthetics may deserve a rather vast role in ontology.”26 Aesthetics, for Harman, thus “becomes first philosophy.”27 We have then a case not of art without the subject, as the ready interpretation of Speculative Realism might suggest, but of an aesthetics without art itself. This recursive negation from within seems to displace any specific relation of such thought to contemporary artistic forms. In fact, the central possibility that speculative ontologies are thought to offer is precisely that which is largely neglected as a result of the Kantian grounding of Western aesthetic theory: knowledge gained from aesthetic modalities. As a result of such bias, the value of aesthetic experience has persisted between the strictures of empiricism and the ineffable enchantment of qualia. Is this by the nature of the properties of aesthetic objects? Or perhaps it is less a concern for the possible relations of objects than of the value of the aesthetic in relation to the dominant form and “privileged guarantor of knowledge” after the critical turn, 22 Ibid. 23 Jackson, “Anxiousness of Objects and Artworks,” 135. Jackson’s work on Harman has set early and fertile ground for discussion of the relation between Speculative Realism and aesthetics. 24 “Jonas Zakaitis talks with Graham Harman,” 14. 25 Ibid., 21. 26 Graham Harman, “On Vicarious Causation,” Collapse 2 (March 2007): 216. 27 Ibid., 221.

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Speculative Poetics— Preliminary Reflections

namely, science.28 The space that is opened between speculation and metaphysics, and between science and philosophy, by such strains of thought then becomes invaluable in opening a horizon of ontological speculation that points directly back to a function of the aesthetic. As François Laruelle puts it: Art is a half-science rather than a half-philosophy—something which, in the former case, does not mean to say, as in the second, that it is poorer than science: perhaps on the contrary, it is more complex. […] It is the non-scientific use of science, that is to say a use outside the totality of its conditions of validity or knowledge-relation. It is science applied to the World outside the reduction that founds the scientific relation to the World.29 The gap that Speculative Realism might fill for art objects might then be reformulated as the repressed function of art as a speculative form of science.30 As a speculative science, a way to articulate an account of the world, can art amend the potential of what belongs to the domain of scientific or philosophical speculation? What of those forms of speculation or understanding that transcend, or merely fall beyond, the domain of any particular science, as with speculative metaphysics? Is this the place where artistic speculation of the type described above resides? Is this not the very territory that these realisms attempt to fold into the concerns of speculative philosophy—the kind art has always attempted to occupy? Perhaps it is this domain of the speculative that art has always addressed, though it has sat uneasily between metaphysics and science, and so reduced the aesthetic to regimes of taste, beauty, or affect as a result of its own Kantian bias. Such new varieties of realism merely braid the aesthetic precisely with those modalities of knowledge it has always attempted to claim. Rather than the reality that art objects are “accessing” or attending to, the concern is with the possibility of the speculative as both analogous to the “experimental” in the empirical sciences, and yet as a claim to knowledge outside of experimental fact, or empiricist, positivist, veridical, or falsificationist criteria—the possibility, that is, of an aesthetic modality of speculative knowledge, of art as a speculative science. 28 See Meillassoux, After Finitude, 119–120. The ontology of aesthetic objects is interesting in some regards: take for example, ectoplasm, a kind of matter “‘produced’ by the technology of photography,” as Marina Warner describes it. See her Phantasmagoria (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 301; and Mike Kelley, “The Aesthetics of Ufology,” in Minor Histories, ed. John C. Welchman (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004), 409. 29 François Laruelle, The Concept of Non-Photography, trans. Robin Mackay (Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2011), 143. 30 In using the term “science” I am invoking Alexander Baumgarten’s idea of aesthetics as the “science of sensual cognition,” while also alluding to a series of practices with ideational, experimental and observational criteria, if not necessarily empirical or veridical ones. This entails a rejection of the autonomist and epistemic implications of Kant’s aesthetics parallel to that of Speculative Realism/OOO’s larger rejection of Kantian grounds. See Kai Hammermeister, The German Aesthetic Tradition (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 7. See also Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Werner Pluhar (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1996), 74.

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Armen Avanessian Linguistic Ontology Speculative poetics is an attempt to link the language-based philosophy of recent decades with the contemporary interest in ontology. It is generally overlooked that speculative thought since Leibniz and Hegel has consistently striven for selfdetermination through its linguistic practice. By such self-determination I do not mean the correlationist myth of the creation of the world by language but an ontological reinterpretation of the following (post-)structuralist thesis: language alters the world. At the same time, the world-altering and world-creating function of language— poiesis—can only be understood on the basis of linguistic-ontological approaches in philosophy and theory of language. Poetics is speculative when it takes as its philosophical horizon both a tradition of speculative linguistics and semiotics (from the mereology of the speculative universal grammarians of the Middle Ages all the way to Charles Sanders Peirce), and when it bears in mind the poietic function of language. Recent examples of the linguistic-ontological approach advocated here can be found in the work of the linguist Gustave Guillaume (especially his thesis of a linguistic “chronogenesis” of time) and, following him, Gilles Deleuze.1 All too often, however, the increasingly numerous exponents of the speculative turn understand it one-sidedly as the complete repudiation of a linguistic turn in force since the early twentieth century. According to a cherished myth, the linguistic turn kept deconstructionists, structuralists, and analytic philosophers at the levers of discursive power for an entire century of darkness and distance from the senses. But this effort at discursive-historical revisionism is the symptom of a profound misunderstanding. It is based on a simplistic misinterpretation to which the new speculative realists cling no less stubbornly than do all the linguistic philosophers (whether deconstructionist, structuralist, or analytic) they group together into a single united front. The dogma shared by both sides is a belief in the arbitrariness and hence non-referentiality of language. And so there is on both sides a largely unquestioned consensus surrounding the fundamental gap between linguistic philosophy and ontology. From the vantage point of a speculative poetics, which seeks to oppose the positions of postmodernism without leaving behind post-structuralism’s insights and accomplishments, both sides form a united front that fails to recognize the speculative and ontological potential 1

See Armen Avanessian, “Nachwort: Gustave Guillaume als spekulativer Denker,” in Gustave Guillaume, Zeit und Verb: Theorie der Aspekte, der Modi und der Tempora, ed. Armen Avanessian and Anke Hennig (Zurich: diaphanes, 2014).

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of linguistic theory.2 (Against this self-proclaimed anti-linguistic ontology, it would be not only fascinating but also quite rewarding to apply Graham Harman’s analyses of what he calls “tool-being” to the tool that has traditionally enjoyed a special privilege where the subject is human access to the world: natural language.)

-altering). Hence every theory of language also requires a poietics of thinking. Philosophy of art—aesthetically oriented since Baumgarten and Kant and recently dominated by visual studies (that is, further instrumentalized to suit the purposes of the art market)—has overlooked the poietic dimension of language. The dimension of the poietic goes far beyond the production of texts, which is what it has been reduced to under the aegis of the aesthetic regime of the last two centuries in a foreclosure of the potential of poetics as world-making in its poiesis. To consistently point out a poietic moment in language and thinking precisely does not mean further aestheticizing theory. Rather, it forms part of a productive attempt to speculatively poeticize philosophy, an attempt that opposes the correlationist dualism of sense experience and thinking that has characterized philosophy since the invention of aesthetics in the second half of the eighteenth century.4 The return to poiesis is thus by no means simply an attempt to restore a larger role to literature within speculative philosophy. For this reason, the most recent monographs of Quentin Meillassoux on Stéphane Mallarmé and Graham Harman on H. P. Lovecraft should not be read as evidence that after all literature is still more important to Speculative Realism than the visual arts. Rather than focus on an entirely false and unproductive opposition between literature and art, postmedium speculative poetics is concerned to discover alternatives to the continuing regime of aesthetics. For the dominance of the aesthetic is also an obstacle to recognizing non-correlationist tendencies in contemporary art. In fact, “the generic postmedium concept of art reincorporates ‘literature,’ returning it to its philosophical origins in early German Romanticism.”5 And what Peter Osborne goes on to say about the category of the “contemporary” in general applies to literature as well: the concept of contemporary literature “projects into presence a temporal unity that is in principle futural or horizonal and hence speculative.”6 These theses may be adduced against a widespread misconception that holds that the aesthetic object exceeds the specific domain of art, so that aesthetics would then be the theory of an expanded concept of art or the artistic field. Here, too, a poietic approach proves its value: first, the aesthetic object always derives the principle of its creation of world, its poiesis, from what we know as art; and second, the truth of the aesthetic object never exceeds the truth opened up by poiesis. While the essential characterization of aesthetic truth is “appearance” (Schein), that of poietic truth is the “new.” Speculative poetics is, then, oriented toward the future, alters our view of the past, and interacts with the present. Under the sign of contemporary art, the literary takes on the task of creating a global, social, and political present. The present as unity

(Thinking) Literature However, one of the fundamental theses of speculative poetics is that language, literature, and thought are all part of the world. In this sense, “thinking literature” means situating natural language, literary artifacts, and poetic thinking on a common plane. Here too, it is helpful to turn to established positions of speculative thought. Alfred North Whitehead, and Isabelle Stengers with him, have already shown that speculative philosophy calls for experimentation with language “because … every ready-made use of words leads to failure.”3 According to Stengers, the experimental or ethopoietic character of knowledge never takes language to be simply at hand and freely available for philosophical use. Hence, if speculative poetics takes an interest in literature, it does so not primarily to discover individual works or the poetologies of their authors, but rather because literature constitutes what might be called a research laboratory of nonarbitrary language. And every instance in which language turns back upon itself must also be regarded as a further unfolding of the world. Viewed in this way, literature is neither pure style nor empty sign but a knowledge of world. The universal mode of linguistic development in this arena is recursion; that is, and precisely, not self-reflection in the modernist sense.

Against Aesthetics: The Speculative Poeticization of Philosophy The broader thesis advanced here is that neither aisthesis (perception of the world) nor noiesis (thinking of the world) can exist without poiesis (world-creating and 2

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For example, if we read Hegel’s definition of the “speculative proposition” (in the preface to his Phenomenology of Spirit), with his requirement of an “identity of subject and object” as an actual “proposition,” that is, as a linguistic construct, we see that, unlike subject and predicate in the predicative proposition, subject and object are precisely not identical to each other but become different. Just as in Hegel’s distinction between the logic of being and that of essence, in the dialectical movement of the proposition its original subject is negated by a predicate that turns out to be a substance. “Thus the content is, in fact, no longer a Predicate of the Subject, but is the Substance, the essence and the Notion of what is under discussion. […] Starting from the Subject as though this were a permanent ground, it finds that, since the Predicate is really the Substance, the Subject has passed over into the Predicate, and, by this very fact, has been sublated.” See G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 37. Isabelle Stengers, “Thinking with Deleuze and Whitehead: A Double Test,” in Deleuze, Whitehead, Bergson: Rhizomatic Connections, ed. Keith Robinson (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 28.

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For more on this, see the roundtable discussion “Beyond the Contemporary,” in which I participated together with Amanda Beech, Robin Mackay, and Suhail Malik in Spike 36 (Summer 2013): 90–104. Peter Osborne, “The Fiction of the Contemporary: Speculative Collectivity and Transnationality in The Atlas Group,” in Aesthetics and Contemporary Art, ed. Armen Avanessian and Luke Skrebowski (Berlin: Sternberg, 2011), 109. Ibid.

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of time is a poietic fiction, never a (medially given) fact. Thinking speculatively about literature—and art in general—implies a methodology that reflects this and, instead of relying on a literary-historical chronology, bases itself on the poetics of time, in which asynchrony is object as well as method. The reference point of an asynchronous poetics is a speculative horizon that, conceived in line with Meillassoux’s post-metaphysical materialism, allows the future to return to itself and in this way opens up access to an unpredictable past—le passé est imprévisible (the past is unpredictable).7

modernism opposed traditional storytelling (the recounting of things past) with a radical focus on the present. Instead of sublating traditional (past-tense) fiction and nouveau storytelling, altermodernism develops the modern present tense further in an effort to find its way back to a new type of fiction. The infinite poetic judgment of the altermodern present-tense novel splits the now in order to narrate another present, a pure present of the past—a present that was never actually present to itself.8 According to the opening of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), it is too late for any Now: “A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now. It is too late.” Methodologically as well as historically, there is a need for new conceptual perspectives. Hence, instead of countering postmodernism with a return to modernist positions, conceptions of literary and philosophical altermodernism come to the fore. The altermodern present-tense novel thus not only contributes a new type of fiction to literature; it also enriches the tense system of our language as such. The fact that language creates our chronological notion of time, and the manner in which it does so, is something that becomes palpable only in the experience of literary fiction. Speculative poetics documents what is never purely the achievement of individual authors or works but the product of literature at large.

The Altermodern Present Tense The asynchronous poetics of time in literature continue to develop modernism’s achievements while taking up classical questions as well by altering the meaning of the present tense. A literary example: He is fifty. He is the general in overall command of the artillery with the French army in Italy. His residence is at Milan. He wears a high-collared tunic with a front embroidered in gold. He is sixty. He oversees the completion of the terrace of his chateau. He is shivering, wrapped in an old military cloak. He sees black spots. By evening he will be dead. He is thirty. He is a captain. He goes to the opera. He wears a three-cornered hat, a blue tunic gathered in at the waist, and a dress sword. What exactly is it that differentiates the opening of Claude Simon’s historical novel Les Géorgiques (1981) from that of a traditional historical narrator? As an altermodern novel, it is neither a modernist metafiction nor an instance of postmodern play with narrative forms, both of which are extremely worn-out poetological variations on the thesis of the arbitrariness and emptiness of the signifier, a thesis that finds no corroboration even in literature. An answer can be found at the blind spot of a literary studies occupied with the philosophy of time, which gives primacy to aisthesis and the experience of time and which has a preference for classical modernism (Proust’s Recherche, Woolf ’s “moments of being,” as well as certain perennial postmodern favorites). In the area of grammar, which is situated linguistically between phonology and semantics, we find that the present tense, unsuitable though it seems to be for fiction, becomes in the late twentieth century the basis for the independent phenomenon of the present-tense novel. Attempting to cast out aesthetics or aisthetics (respectively, theories of the arts or of perception) and still convinced of the linguistic materiality of the present tense, the avant-gardes were certain that the present-tense novel would preclude fictionality. Obsessed with negativity (anti-fictionality, anti-narrativity, etc.), 7

Quentin Meillassoux, “Time Without Becoming,” trans. Robin Mackay, Spike 35 (Spring 2013): 95.

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The Experiment of Poetics Philosophy thinks literature, literature produces theory, and language itself is a form of knowledge: speculative language (Jacques Derrida) and poetic ontology (Valerij Podoroga) stand in an immanent relationship to literary production.9 Making that relationship productive requires collaboration among writers, literary theorists, and speculative philosophy, a collaboration that determines the structure of the research project “speculative poetics.”10 In addition to the need for numerous translations, this also means working toward a swapping of roles between philosophy and literature, a recognition that literature knows something about philosophical questions and that philosophy has something to tell us about narratological issues in liter-ature. Hence, making the knowledge embodied in literature fruitful also means that we are still quite far from knowing what literature is or, better, what it can do. 8

These remarks are based on a monograph coauthored with Anke Hennig, Präsens: Poetik eines Tempus (Present: Poetics of a Tense) (Zurich: Diaphanes, 2012). Indeed, although I would be unable to attribute them one by one, virtually all of the ideas in this essay are dependent on our conversations and the writing we have done together. 9 Jacques Derrida, “Preface,” in Catherine Malabou, The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic, trans. Lisabeth During (London: Routledge, 2004), xi. 10 Either through their participation in workshops, through lectures and talks, or through translations (see the Merve Verlag’s series Spekulationen as well as the publications referenced at www.spekulative-poetik.de), all of the (living) theorists mentioned in this essay may be situated within the orbit of speculative poetics.

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Against an aesthetic skepticism typical of modernism and postmodernism, I follow Walter Benjamin and a speculative poetics that has been topical since Romanticism in seeking alternatives in the limits of our experience rather than in its crisis and impossibility. Poiesis creates those possibilities which can become conditions of experience, and its speculative moment insists on the accessibility of (absolute) knowledge. A corresponding speculative materialism chooses to explain what is, not by calling on a notion of equivalence, a philosophy of becoming, or a science of causal explanations, but by embracing a path of experimentation. Facts are contingent, necessarily contingent. This is also the locus of a poietics: the creation of something that could not be regarded as necessary before it was created; the production of something whose genesis cannot be causally motivated but that seems to have chance as its model and that ultimately opens up a space of truth in this artistic act of poiesis.

Recursion and Speculation Poiesis has “recursion” as its primary linguistic-ontological operator. Recursion differs from what Meillassoux has famously called the correlationist “circle” (the circle for which all “objective” reality is aesthetically perceived or thought by a “subject”)11 in that poiesis introduces a difference: the new. Our consciousness itself may be described as a product of precisely the recursive circles that thinking creates. With the figure of the circle, a meta-level is no longer included within the paradigm of a structural linguistics based on equivalence, reflection, and difference. On the contrary, with recursion, which is based on part/whole relations, a linguistic function is described whose task is to establish higher cognitive planes. Language arrests recursive states on a next higher level of wholeness. It is a speculative instrument for thinking the world. In this sense, speculative poetics is not distinguished from Speculative Realism simply by the addition of a theory of language, but rather by the fact that it concretely investigates language in search of its cognitive dimensions. Speculative poetics is not interested in aesthetic negativity or the nature of our faculties; its gravitational pull is toward the future. Only when taken together with a corresponding philosophical (“ancestral”) or poietic (asynchronous) conception of time does the notion of “speculation” acquire practical effect and can new things arise within a differentiation of future and past. The old arises through something new, past arises through future. Correlationism is not a pseudo-problem that can be discussed in the context of a philosophy of science alone and then dismissed; rather, it is an aporia that must be resolved. Once again, speculative materialism necessarily includes a poietics. Translated from the German by James Gussen 11

See Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier (London: Continuum, 2008).

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Automated Architecture: Speculative Reason in the Age of the Algorithm Luciana Parisi

Early nineties cybernetic culture did not fully anticipate the emergence of the automated form of reason that now subtends the infrastructural architecture of everyday life. After more than twenty years, it has become apparent that what Sanford Kwinter calls the “age of the algorithm”1 points to a new form of rationality not only leading to new methods of calculating economic risk, or performing simulations of social behavior, but also involving the computation of space and time. This new form of rationality, defined by the convergence of computation and topology, or information theory and nonstandard geometry, has produced a specific aesthetic that can be found in algorithmic architecture. In this field, which includes the pioneering works of digital architect Greg Lynn,2 among others, computational design has taken inspiration from vector fields so as to model, for example, the speed and direction of a fluid moving through space, or the strength and direction of a magnetic or gravitational force as it changes from point to point. Here the architectural form is the result of the computational processing of biophysical variables (the distribution of weight, gravitational pressures, circulation of air, intensity of traffic, frequency of movement).3 Influenced by second-order cybernetics of evolving feedbacks, algorithmic architecture of the 1990s started to adopt biophysical dynamics as inputs in software programs, and biophysical data became a new parameter for computational design. By closing the gap between mathematical models and biophysical contingencies, computation has entered a field of spatiotemporal connectedness—a topology—involving a continual transformation of form without cutting or tearing. Topology, as the geometry of place, here refers to the mathematical 1 2

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Sanford Kwinter, Far From Equilibrium: Essays on Technology and Design Culture (New York: Actar, 2008). Greg Lynn, “Architectural Curvilinearity: The Folded, the Pliant and the Supple,” in “Folding in Architecture,” ed. Greg Lynn, special issue, Architectural Design 63, nos. 3/4 (March/April 1993): 22–29. According to architect Karl Chu, algorithms have been central to the late twentieth-century convergence of computational and biogenetic revolutions leading to the ultimate design of biological and mathematical codes, which promise the embodiment of life, emotion, and intelligence. See Karl Chu, “Metaphysics of Genetic Architecture and Computation,” in “Programming Cultures: Art and Architectures in the Age of Software,” ed. Mike Silver, special issue, Architectural Design 76, no. 4 (July/August 2006): 39. This position is not too different from debate about cybernetics in the late nineties that directly engaged the new techno-scientific ontologies of biological bodies.

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understanding of geometrical shapes and spaces, in which connectedness and continuity are preserved under their continuous deformations, such as stretching and bending. It also refers to the geometrical understanding of form in terms of its evolution in time and thus to the genetic capacities of a form to change through time. From this standpoint, biophysical unpredictability has become superior to mathematical axioms, as the reality of abstraction has slipped behind the concreteness of matter. In other words, the materiality of data and their variations in time have replaced mathematical models in their attempt to represent reality through abstract rules. The digital design of space has superseded the Euclidean matrix of extension by adding temporal evolution to fixed points, developing a topological surface enveloping all points in space and time. The figure of the blob or the fold corresponds to the continuous topological surfaces now defining the dominant aesthetic of digital architecture. In particular, as Patrik Schumacher has argued, parametricism now represents the new global style for architecture and design.4 When applied to large-scale urbanism, for instance, parametricism is said to transform the differential distance between points into an integral surface of continual connection.5 From this standpoint, parametricism implies the inclusion of contingent elements—atmospheric, geological, biological, and physical elements—into the program in the form of variable parameters whose temporal evolution becomes the motor for the transformation of the architectural whole. This means that variables are not only added to the program (as if from the “outside”), but also partake of the software environment of parametric relations. Parametric programming is not just concerned with the computation of existing elements, but additionally, and significantly, with how feedback relations between finite parameters can engender the infinite variations of an architectural form. Nevertheless, as a style of contemporary digital architecture, parametricism has been particularly discussed as a manifestation of the “cultural logic of late neoliberalism,” whose topological operations of continual transformation, structural coupling, and mutual correspondence between the inside and the outside define the

choreographic arrangement of data.6 Yet this critical view of parametricism is predicated on the fact that parametricism promises a formally open-ended and flexible space that does not physically match realized architectures, and that it is the direct incarnation of the spirit of the neoliberal market. I propose that parametricism is not abstract enough to meet the possibilities offered by a radical algorithmic formalism. If parametricism only relies on the operative function of algorithms and the interactive programming of parameters without questioning what these material forms of abstraction can do beyond the intentional design of the program, then it remains unable to engage with the unthought-of capacities of these automated systems to determine new spatiotemporal forms. Without denying that parametricism is an instance of the topological aesthetic of governance, I want to problematize the rejection tout court of the agential character of computer programming and its real algorithmic objects.7 That is, I take algorithmic objects to be necessarily implicated in the sociality that they invisibly structure. The stealthy intrusion of computational programming into everyday culture requires a close engagement with the nuances of the digital apparatus as well as the axiomatic thought—that is, with logic and the formalism that subtends it—that indirectly shapes culture. From this standpoint, the new topological architecture of relations expressed by parametricism is precisely what needs to be challenged in order to reveal the irreversible transformation that algorithmic objects have brought to digital formalism. In other words, I suggest that it is now crucial to readdress emerging types of formalism, parametricism in this case, that characterize the aesthetic of neoliberal capitalism (specifically its having subsumed all culture and life to its own interactive and changing rules). However, instead of rejecting formalism, I propose that one has to revisit its significance in the light of radical changes within its computational modus operandi, which may offer aesthetic and cultural possibilities inconsistent with the capitalist axiomatic of a whole that subtends all its parts. In particular, I argue that these computational systems are populated with what

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Schumacher recently claimed that parametricism is the dominant style of today’s avant-garde, characterizing the power of large-scale urban schemes. See Patrik Schumacher, “Parametricism: A New Global Style for Architecture and Urban Design,” in Digital Cities AD: Architectural Design, ed. Neil Leach (London: John Wiley and Sons, 2009), 14–24. In computer programming, a parameter is a variable: a symbolic name given to a known or unknown quantity of information, so that the name can be used independently of the information it represents and can then be assigned different values in different places. A parameter, therefore, can be used in a new way or in the same way (iteration). Parameters are used in subroutines (a procedure, function, routine, method, and so forth) to refer to one of the pieces of data provided as inputs to the subroutine. In contrast to standard software packages based on datum geometric objects, within digital architecture parametric software links dimensions and parameters to geometry, thereby allowing for impact of the incremental adjustment of a part on the whole assembly.

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Parametricism has been criticized for many reasons, but I will briefly mention only two here. On the one hand, typified by Owen Hatherley’s criticism, parametricism is decried as an apolitical self-proclaimed avant-garde. Referring to Schumacher’s text “A Glimpse Back into the Future,” which accompanied the exhibition “Zaha Hadid and Suprematism” at the Galerie Gmurzynska in Zurich, Hatherley argues that parametricism strips Russian avant-garde architecture of any social or political dimension denuding it to its bare formal radicality. See Owen Hatherley “Zaha Hadid Architects and the Neoliberal Avant-Garde,” Mute, October 26, 2010, www.metamute.org/ editorial/articles/zaha-hadid-architects-and-neoliberal-avant-garde. On the other hand, Schumacher’s parametricism has also been accused of disengaging from the physical ground of architecture and overlooking the contingencies of urban planning through an excessive search for formal relations. In particular, it has been argued that the excessive search for the beauty of form has completely derailed digital design from becoming useful for urban and infrastructural problems. See Ingeborg M. Rocker, “Apropos Parametricism: If, In What Style Should We Build?” Log 21 (March 2011). On the problematics of nonphysical design of space associated with a Deleuzian reading of architecture, see Douglas Spencer, “Architectural Deleuzism: Neoliberal Space, Control and the ‘Univer-city’,” Radical Philosophy 168 (July/August 2011).

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Alfred North Whitehead calls “eternal objects,” which I conceive as incomputable entities that possess an infinite capacity for the eventuation of change and for radical contingency.8 My aim here is to show, via Whitehead, that parametricism, as a particular type of formalism, may offer, despite its ostensible homologies with neoliberal capitalism, a non-intentional degree of “interference” that breaks open from within the axiomatic wholeness of neoliberal capital. A close analysis of this transformation can help explain how structural changes in programming are not only not negligible but are in fact ontological expressions of computational culture and power. This analysis highlights the incongruence—the asymmetry and nonequivalence—between software as a totalizing system of governance and algorithms as a series of fractal or inconsistent events. One could argue that parametricism immediately transforms formalism because it incorporates contingencies into its model by using real time data. Yet introducing temporality into programming does not fully challenge the formal nature of the enterprise; it only affords formalism the pretension of describing how mathematics can incorporate physics by creating a totalitarian system of relations, according to which a few mathematical rules are able to lead to the evolution of complex structures by establishing continual feedback with the environment. This means that parametricism’s topological qualities do not in fact challenge formalism: instead, insofar as the computation of biophysical contingencies only serves to construct the program as being open to change, they are but the reification of its formal logic. The introduction of qualitative and real-time variations in algorithmic programming aims at anticipating spatiotemporal changes, which means designing the potential transformation of scenarios. In other words, software interactions with the real data of the environment have become constitutive of the aesthetic of topological governance based on the effects that potential data can have in its internal architecture of relations. Instead of simply reducing biophysical variables and contingencies to sets of binary codes, which are unable to process the gray areas between states, digital design now uses the topological integration of differential relations, or intensive data, to build spatiotemporal connections and anticipate incipient changes. The use of evolving algorithms or open-ended instructions that respond and adapt to the external environment also reveals that governance now relies on the calculation of differentials, or the variable qualities or infinitesimals found in the relation between states.

connectedness. We turn therefore to information theory to address algorithms as sequential spatiotemporal data structures conditioned by infinite amounts of information. I believe that these data structures are actual spatiotemporalities and are precisely the objects of algorithmic architecture. This means that an algorithmic object is more than a temporal form or the result of interactive inputs, that it defines spatiotemporal structures as stemming from the increasing amount of automated data exploding in our computational culture.9 In order to understand the status of algorithms in digital architecture, I suggest that algorithms need to be considered in Whitehead’s terms as actualities: spatiotemporal data objects.10 Algorithms are not simply instructions that have to be executed by a program, but are actualities spatiotemporally constrained by the data of which they are composed. This spatiotemporal conception of algorithms helps us to rethink algorithmic architecture as the performative vehicle of the spatiotemporalities of data structures constituting algorithms. In other words, in order to define the aesthetics of algorithmic architecture and the formation of new spatiotemporalities, one must first confront the spatiotemporal matrix of algorithms. Contrary to the view that computation is a reductive form of rationalism, I want to rethink computation in terms of speculative reason, to borrow another term from Whitehead.11 Computation as an instance of speculative reason does not correspond to the topological order of potential connectedness between points. On the contrary, Whitehead’s understanding of speculative reason explains that the function of reason is to add new data to the continual chain of cause and effect—here, the continual processing of data. Similarly, a speculative view of computation implies that such processing is not a mere compression of data or a structure of relation defined by sets and subsets. Instead, a speculative understanding of computation implies that each set and subset of instruction is conditioned by what cannot be calculated, the incomputable

Speculative Computing It is important to specify that interactive algorithms and responsive computation occlude, rather than reveal, the what and the how of algorithmic objects—objects deemed to remain passive in the face of an ever changing governance of continual 8

See Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (New York: Free Press, 1978), 22ff.

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This is an important argument against the idea that algorithms are merely temporal forms destined to disappear in the background of ubiquitous computation. Computational design problematically embraces the logic of prediction and the calculation of probabilities, which are already set data and are unable to explain novelty in spatiotemporal experience. I argue against this form of meta-computation and against rational logic that is based on few unchangeable rules, the combination of which produces all forms of complexity. 10 For Whitehead, the actual world is composed of actual occasions, or actualities. These are grouped in events and become the nexus of actual entities that are “inter-related in some determined fashion in one extensive quantum.” Events therefore explain the togetherness of actualities, which Whitehead calls the “nexus.” But every nexus is a component part of another nexus that emerges as an unalterable entity from the concrescence of its component elements, and stands as a fact, possessed of a date and a location. See Whitehead, Process and Reality, 109, 230. 11 According to Whitehead, “the history of modern civilization shows that such schemes fulfil the promise of the dream of Solomon. They first amplify life by satisfying the peculiar claim of the speculative Reason, which is understanding for its own sake. Secondly, they represent the capital of ideas which each age holds in trust for its successors. The ultimate moral claim that civilization lays upon its possessors is that they transmit, and add to, this reserve of potential development by which it has profited.” Alfred North Whitehead, The Function of Reason (Boston: Beacon Press, 1929), 72.

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data that disclose the holes and gaps within (and not outside) the formal order of sequences. Algorithms are conditioned by incomputable data because that which cannot be calculated in advance is the internal limit of any computational process, manifested by the incapacity of a program to include all possible answers in its premises or by the failure of formula to determine all of its expressions. This means that a notion of speculative computing is not concerned with quantifying probabilities to predict the future, but rather with a concrete system of algorithmic objects defined by randomness or incompressible quantities of data. Thus, a notion of speculative computing is not to be confused with the capacity of algorithmic architecture to create temporary forms that simulate what spatiotemporal structures and infrastructures could become. On the contrary, I advance the notion of speculative computing to suggest that random data—which in information theory means non-compressible data—are the contagious architectures of the present. These data architectures, far from withdrawing from the present as temporal forms that appear and disappear, are instead actual objects that, even when they cease to be present or function, nonetheless remain objective data to be inherited, evaluated, and selected by subsequent algorithms. I have so far argued that the scope of algorithmic architecture cannot be confined to the specific forms of built or designed environments. Algorithmic architecture inevitably unleashes the question of what and how algorithms are, thus exposing the invisible dynamics of spatiotemporal data structures that subtend and drive the increasing use of algorithms to design environments. It is therefore possible to suggest that algorithmic architecture reveals the immanent reality of patternless data, exposing the inconsistent unity of algorithmic objects and thus determining a fractal and not topological arrangement of spatiotemporalities in our computational culture. What is most important here is that this reality cannot be encompassed by the totalizing and invariant function of a topological model of continuous surfaces. From this standpoint, algorithmic architecture does not just reveal the neoliberal aesthetics of topological relationality; rather, this newly automated aesthetics consists of the abstract reality of algorithmic events emerging from the automated selection and production of incomputable data: random information. Like Whitehead, I contend that the aim of speculative reason is the production of an abstract scheme, the concrete arrangement of relations.12 In other words, for reason to be truly speculative, the schemes that are produced and realized must be able to encounter their finitude and limits: to account for the incomputable, the discrete parts that cannot be incorporated into the continual evolution of the whole.13

What can be learned from understanding computation in terms of speculative reason is that the contemporary form of governance ventures toward the actuality of incomputable probabilities (infinite discrete unities that are bigger than the totality of the whole sequence of algorithmic instructions) that lie behind the digital ground of universal computation and the continual surface of topological connectedness. The age of the algorithmic governance precisely marks the moment at which the unintended consequences of ubiquitous computing unleash the limit of data programming (the limit of computation) into the everyday, whereby new spatiotemporal structures that cannot be assimilated into what we know or perceive take over. It would be wrong, however, to view these incomputable structures of data with naive enthusiasm and thus rest in them our hope of breaking open the topological continuity of governance. Instead, it is important to address the reality of algorithmic objects without overlooking the fact that the computation of infinity is at the core of a new logic, rationality, and ultimately governance. This concern with incomputable probabilities is therefore ultimately a concern with the transformation of the formal logic of computation. This is not to be confused with a call for an underpinning mathematical or digital ontology or politics. Instead, I prefer to follow Gregory Chaitin’s discovery of Omega, an incomputable probability that shakes the mathematical or digital ground of truth by revealing that the probability for infinity is an algorithmic affair, exposing the limit of reason and perhaps the irreducible presence of a non-human thought.14 This also means that what subtends the algorithmic architecture of contemporary culture is the computational process of calculating that which cannot be predicted in advance, and that the computational idealism of efficiency is in truth internally challenged by its limit. However, this is not simply to say that the incomputable always already escapes computational formalism because it remains ungraspable and fully dependent on the physicality of experience. Instead, I suggest that the incomputable is nonetheless apprehended in the last instance by a computational process whose internal limit has become the condition for any form of calculation. What enters the cultural field therefore is not the failure of computation to incorporate the incomputable, but the capacity of the incomputable—the uncompressible and entropic expansion of data—to drive what can be computed. To conclude, I want to emphasize the argument that algorithms expose precisely the inevitable reality of automated modes of thought through automated spatiotemporal data structures that cannot be subsumed under a totalizing principle of computation. From this standpoint, if we want to understand algorithmic

12 “The true activity of understanding consists in a voyage to abstraction which is in fact a voyage to the more fully concrete: to the system in which the fact is enmeshed. The system as conceptualized may be more abstract than the fact itself in that it is more general, but the real systematic context is more concrete, and its elaboration yields more about the existential relations of the fact.” Ibid., 76. 13 “Abstract speculation has been the salvation of the world—speculations which made systems and then transcended them, speculations which ventured to the furthest limits of abstraction.” Ibid.

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14 The notion of the incomputable is a development of the halting problem defined by Alan Turing in the 1930s. Chaitin explains that the definition of the halting probability is based on the existence of prefix-free universal computable functions, defining a programming language with the property that no valid program can be obtained as a proper extension of another valid program. In other words, prefix-free codes are defined as random or uncompressible information. See Gregory Chaitin, Meta Math! The Quest for Omega (London: Atlantic Books, 2006), 130–31.

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architecture as an extended practice of governance, it is important to challenge the assumption that governance, in its conjunction with computation, corresponds to a topological form (the continual variation of a whole connecting every point). Instead, a closer look at automated architecture suggests that algorithms, or the stuff of computing, are parts that can be bigger than wholes, as much as wholes can be smaller than parts. Hence, automated algorithms have the opportunity to turn the topological aesthetics of governance into a fractal arrangement of incomputable infinities.

Metaphysics and Extro-Science Fiction Quentin Meillassoux

I would like to discuss the difference, which seems important to me from a metaphysical point of view, between two regimes of fiction that concern experimental science, and for which I shall use two terms, one well known, the other my own: science fiction and extro-science fiction: SF and XSF. Before discussing the meaning of this difference, I would like to clarify something, so as to avoid misunderstandings and possible objections. I shall define science fiction in what I believe to be a fairly commonplace way, in order to clearly distinguish it from what I call extro-science fiction. But once I have given the definition of these two notions, one could think that the literary genre of science fiction also contains extro-science fictions, that there are examples of XSF books within SF, and thus that the SF genre contradicts the distinction I propose. I do not intend to argue this point; my intention is to bring to light a conceptual distinction and to demonstrate its philosophical interest. After that, science-fiction specialists can decide for themselves whether or not extro-science fiction stories already exist in futuristic literature, and whether the genre of science fiction comprises the proposed conceptual difference or not. My thesis is that if these stories exist, and whether or not they are inscribed within the SF genre, they belong in truth to something profoundly distinct from science fiction, and have a right on this basis to be considered in their singularity, to constitute in some way a “genre within a genre,” an “empire within an empire.”

Science Fiction and Extro-Science Fiction Now let’s proceed to make this distinction: SF/XSF. The relation of science to fiction in SF seems, generally speaking, to be as follows: it is a matter of imagining a fictional future for science that modifies, and often enlarges, the possibilities of its knowledge and its mastery of the real. The relation of man to the world is seen to alter along with this modification of scientific knowledge, as it opens up unheard-of possibilities. In science fiction, possible futures, whatever great upheavals they herald, are retained within the sphere of science. All science fiction thus implicitly abides by the following axiom: in the anticipated This essay transcribes a lecture presented at the École Normale Supérieure in May 2006 and carries the traces of its oral presentation. A revised version is published under the title Métaphysique et fiction des mondes hors-sciences (Paris: Aux forges de Vulcain, 2013). It was first published in English as part of a special edition of Florian Hecker’s CD Speculative Solution (Mego/Urbanomic, 2010) and is reprinted here by kind permission of Urbanomic.

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future, it will still be possible to submit the world to scientific knowledge. Science may be profoundly transformed, but there will always be science. Hence, of course, the generic name for this type of writing: fiction can produce extreme variations, but within a science that always remains present, even if it becomes unrecognizable as its possibilities are transformed. Now, what do I mean by the fiction of worlds outside science, or XSF? When speaking of a “world outside science,” I do not mean worlds where science is simply absent, worlds where the experimental sciences do not exist, like worlds in which people have not, or have not yet, developed a scientific relation to the real. A world outside science means worlds where experimental science is in principle impossible, rather than unknown. Extro-science fiction thus defines a particular regime of the imaginary, which is concerned with conceiving of worlds structured—or rather, destructured—in such a way that no experimental science can constitute its object within them. The guiding question of XSF is: What could a world be like for it to be in principle inaccessible to scientific knowledge, for it to be incapable of being established as the object of a natural science? My intention here is to give a precise conceptual content to this definition—so far still very general and solely negative—of extro-science worlds. At the same time, for me it is a matter of demonstrating the properly speculative interest there might be, on the one hand, in being conscious of the difference between science fiction and extro-science fiction and, on the other, of cultivating the type of imagination, distinct from that of SF, that would be XSF. If I am interested in extro-science fiction, it is because it is at the source of a classic metaphysical problem to which I have long dedicated myself: the problem of induction, or more precisely, the problem of the necessity of natural laws, as posed by the philosopher David Hume first in his Treatise of Human Nature and later in the Enquiry into Human Understanding. Now, it seems to me that this problem was profoundly misunderstood by one of the most important epistemologists of the twentieth century, Karl Popper. Popper has the honor of being the first to refer to this problem of induction by the expression “Hume’s problem.” And he claimed to have given it a rigorous and original response. I see Popper’s misunderstanding of Hume as precisely the result of the fact that he mistook an XSF problem for a SF problem. Popper posed an entirely different problem from Hume’s, one that implies the mobilization of another type of imaginary. For if Hume, as I believe, mobilized the imaginary of extro-science fiction to pose his problem, the one that Popper posed can only be conceived within the imaginary of science fiction. Following this, I shall examine the response to Hume’s problem given by Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason, more precisely in the objective deduction of the categories. Unlike Popper, Kant had no illusions about the nature of Hume’s problem. He responds on Hume’s own terrain, which consists in creating the fiction of a world where science has become impossible. But I am critical of Kant’s thesis too, showing that the weakness of his transcendental deduction comes most

notably from an insufficiently developed, and rather limited, extro-science imaginary. A more acute sense of extro-science fiction allows us to launch another type of response to Hume’s problem, one that is neither Popper’s nor Kant’s.

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Two Billiards Matches: Hume and Asimov The paradigmatic text in which Hume poses his famous problem of causal necessity consists in a fantasized description of a billiards match during the course of which the laws of dynamics cease to hold: When I see, for instance, a Billiard-ball moving in a straight line towards another; even suppose motion in the second ball should by accident be suggested to me, as the result of their contact or impulse; may I not conceive, that a hundred different events might as well follow from the cause? May not both these balls remain at absolute rest? May not the first ball return in a straight line, or leap off from the second in any line or direction? All these suppositions are consistent and conceivable. Why then should we give the preference to one, which is no more consistent or conceivable than the rest? All our reasonings a priori will never be able to show us any foundation for this preference.1 The question Hume poses, through the use of these imaginary scenes, is that of knowing what truly guarantees—but also what persuades us—that physical laws will continue to hold in a moment’s time, given that neither experience nor logic can assure us of this. There is no logical contradiction in imagining that laws might change in the future; and no experience of the past constancy of law permits us to infer that this constancy will endure in the future. Hume concludes that only the habit of past empirical constancies persuades us that the future will resemble the past. This is a psychological solution of the problem he set himself, one that did not satisfy those who tried after Hume to resolve, in their turn, the challenge he issued to reason, principally, Kant and Popper. Let’s begin with the most recent solution, Popper’s, as related in his famous work The Logic of Scientific Discovery, and pursued further in his later books. The principle of Popper’s solution is very simple: had we posed to Popper the question of what guarantees that Hume’s billiard balls will not adopt the fantastical behavior described above, he would have responded not only that nothing could guarantee it, but moreover that this was a good thing, since there is nothing fantastic about these possibilities—they must be taken entirely seriously. For Popper, our foreknowledge 1

David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Peter Millican (Oxford University Press, 2007), IV.10.

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of the future consists in theoretical hypotheses that are essentially falsifiable by new, that is to say not yet well-established, scientific experiments. For him, what makes a theory scientific is precisely the fact that it is in principle falsifiable by experience. It is this intrinsic falsifiability of scientific conjecture that explains the dynamism of experimental science, the incessant movement in whose course physicists advance to new hypotheses, recuse old ones, and submit rival theories to merciless testing. In which case, there is no point in asking, as did Hume and the empiricists who came before him, what assures us that the sun will rise tomorrow, that every living being must die, or that bread nourishes. Nothing can—or should—assure us, for the good reason that these things are not at all necessary. Moreover, they do not always hold true. As Popper writes in Objective Knowledge:

the possibility of scientific ruptures equally radical to those that have already taken place, which include, for example, Newtonian theory superseded by theories as revolutionary and unforeseeable to the men of the eighteenth century as general relativity and quantum physics. Even if we cannot know, or foresee, what a future physics or a future biology might be, we must accept the possibility that an experimental science to come might be as incommensurable with present science as present science might have been with that of past eras. In order to accede to the Popperian epistemology, it is very much a matter of conceiving of science fiction, but an indeterminate science fiction, because rather than inventing the positive content of a future science, we content ourselves with positing the being—perhaps radically other—of such a content to come, in relation to our current knowledge. So how does Popper misconstrue Hume? Well, Popper actually poses the following problem: Could our theories be refuted in the future by new experiences? His problem is epistemological; it concerns the nature of our scientific knowledge. It is not ontological, like Hume’s problem. The latter is not simply about the stability of scientific theory, but about the stability of the processes described by physical laws. Popper does not confront this problem at all. He tells us that new experiences could refute our theories, but he never doubts that existing, well-established experiments will always produce the same results in the future. Given exactly the same circumstances, the same experiments will always yield the same results; only unprecedented circumstances can give unprecedented results. We can see this very well in the examples he gives: it is only in proximity to the pole that the sun ceases to rise every twenty-four hours; it is only because of a bacteria that bread ceases to nourish and instead kills. Never, in unchanged circumstances, will we see the sun suddenly cease to obey gravity and, for a change, take a trip outside of the system that bears its name; nor will bread identical in composition to that which nourishes become for no reason deadly to whomever eats it. For if this were to occur, we would no longer be dealing with a science bound to revolutionize its theories to account for new experiences, but rather with an experimental science that had become impossible with the collapse of the laws of physics themselves. Now, this hypothesis of a future world where science itself would become impossible is the real problem posed by Hume. Popper’s problem—what is the guarantee of our theory—is a science fiction problem, a problem driven by a fiction that presupposes that there will always be a possible science in the future. But Hume’s problem mobilizes another imaginary, an imaginary of extro-science fiction, the fiction of a world that has become too chaotic to permit any scientific theory whatsoever to be applied to reality anymore. And here one can see very well that the difference between two regimes of fiction—SF and XSF—has real metaphysical stakes, since Popper’s misconstruction of it led him to conflate his own, epistemological, problem with Hume’s ontological problem. To sum up the difference between Hume’s problem and Popper’s, we can return to the example of the billiard ball’s fantastic trajectory: according to Hume

In all three cases I found that these established laws were actually refuted in the sense in which they were originally meant. (a) The first was refuted when Pytheas of Marseilles discovered “the frozen sea and the midnight sun.” The fact that (a) was intended to mean “Wherever you go, the sun will rise and set once in 24 hours” is shown by the utter disbelief with which his report was met, and by the fact that his report became the paradigm of all travellers’ tales. (b) The second—or rather, the Aristotelian theory on which it is based—was also refuted […] by the discovery that bacteria are not bound to die, since multiplication by fission is not death, and later by the realization that living matter is not in general bound to decay and to die, although it seems that all forms can be killed by sufficiently drastic means. (Cancer cells, for example, can go on living.) (c) The third—a favorite of Hume’s—was refuted when people eating their daily bread died of ergotism, as happened in a catastrophic case in a French village not very long ago.2 Returning to the case of the impacts of the billiard balls, if we follow Popper we must say that they could indeed behave in unprecedented ways in the future, either because one has modified the circumstances of the experiment (by, for example, metalizing the balls and introducing a powerful magnetic field); or because someday one will have discovered a way of altering the gravitational field in which their movement takes place. Now, why did I say that this solution rests on a misinterpretation of the original problem formulated in Hume’s Enquiry? First of all, the Popperian solution belongs to an imaginary homogeneous with that of science fiction. For what does falsificationism require us to admit concerning scientific theory? That in the future the theory may be falsified in favor of other theories completely unenvisaged at present. The examples Popper gives of such refutations belong, of course, to the past; but the principle of his epistemology consists in projecting into the future 2

Karl Popper, Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972), 12.

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the question is what guarantees that the ball will not adopt a trajectory that is not only unforeseen, but in principle unforeseeable, which cannot be modeled, since it escapes not only every known law, but any law that might conceivably be known. According to Popper, the question is what guarantees that unprecedented circumstances, combined with as-yet unknown laws, may not permit us, in an undetermined future, to send the ball on a trajectory that is completely unforeseen, even if in principle foreseeable for a future being of science. The first question goes beyond the limits of science fiction, whereas the second belongs wholly within them. There is a science fiction text that illustrates this difference so perfectly it is as if it were written specifically for this purpose. Isaac Asimov’s story “The Billiard Ball” is the last in the collection Asimov’s Mysteries, where the conceit is to combine SF stories with detective mysteries, to fuse the “whodunit” à la Agatha Christie with the SF genre. In “The Billiard Ball” Asimov narrates the tale of a man endowed with a genius for theoretical physics, specializing in the Theory of General Relativity, who is the suspect in a murder perpetrated by means of a billiard ball. The whole intrigue lies precisely in the unexpected trajectory of a billiard ball; but the question at the heart of this intrigue is none other than that of whether we address this inexplicability from within the framework of Popper’s problem— within the arena of the science fiction imaginary—or from within the framework of Hume’s problem. All will become clear once we explain the plot of this tale. The narrator, a science journalist, intimates in his personal notes that he suspects the greatest scientist of his time, Professor James Priss, of having committed a murder. Here are the events he recounts: Priss, though more honored than any other scientist of his time, had always remained in the shadow of Edward Bloom, who, devoid of any theoretical talent, nevertheless displayed a great genius for applying the most abstract thinking of his time, in particular Priss’s. A sort of super-Edison, through his concrete inventions and their considerable financial consequences, Bloom becomes extremely rich and celebrated, both more so than Priss, who never surpassed the limited notoriety of a professional scientist. An implicit rivalry, and a sort of mutual jealousy develops between the two men, each secretly envious of the type of knowledge the other boasts. Both men are known to be redoubtable players, and their rivalry crystallizes in the weekly billiards match the two have habitually held since youth. This hostility, masked by amicable and civil outward behavior, explodes when Bloom claims to have applied Priss’s theory of the anti-gravitational field. In this theory, which won him a second Nobel Prize, Priss foresaw the theoretical possibility of annulling all gravitational effects by countering gravity with an electromagnetic field. Only, according to Priss, this possibility is impossible in practice, because the electromagnetic field necessary for the effect would have to be infinite and is thus technically unrealizable. Bloom disagrees with this, and announces that he will create an anti-gravity machine without an infinite electromagnetic field. Tension

mounts between the two men, their reputations on the line, until, a year on, Bloom announces that he has succeeded. He invites the international press to attend the first public demonstration of his success. And, of course, he also perfidiously invites Professor Priss to witness before the whole world the marvelous application of his brilliant theory. When everyone is present, Bloom leads the audience to his laboratory, where a device that stupefies them all is presented. At the centre of the room, in the midst of numerous pieces of equipment, stands a billiards table, and at the centre of the table is a luminous, vertical ray. Bloom gives the following explanation: he has never before tried his antigravity ray on a material object, even though he is sure it will work. The reason is that he wanted Priss to have the honor of doing so, by sending a billiard ball beneath the central ray—a supreme perversion, which, under cover of an homage, condemns him to making himself ridiculous before the entire world by giving credit to his rival in a game of billiards that he will have lost forever. According to Bloom’s predictions, the ball will become weightless in the ray, and then slowly rise. The audience members are wearing sunglasses because of the brightness of the beam, so they cannot see Priss’s expression at the moment when Bloom makes this announcement. At first paralyzed, Priss seems to gather himself. He approaches the table and slowly takes aim; he strikes the ball, which takes a complicated trajectory, rebounding, and finally entering the ray. A thunderous noise is heard, everyone panics, and, when calm returns, Bloom is dead, a hole the precise size of the billiard ball puncturing his chest. A totally unforeseen event occurs: the ball has followed a trajectory aberrant not only to our physics, real physics, but also to the fictive physics of Priss and Bloom. If the story were Humean—that is, an extro-science fiction story— then there would be nothing more to say about this aberrant event, and the plot would leave us high and dry. But luckily, it is a science fiction story—Popperian, not Humean—and the plot ends in a brilliant denouement. Priss explains what he did not realize at first—he explains that he is well-known for thinking slowly— namely, that an object exempt from gravitation would not move with the serenity of a weightless object, but would be displaced with the speed of an object without mass, that is to say, at the speed of a photon, the speed of light. The tale thus ends with the narrator anxiously wondering whether, confronted with the risk of his reputation being ruined in front of everyone, Priss had seen what would happen, and taken the time to calculate the angle required for the billiard ball to avenge him forever. The story works because it is Popperian. It is based on the fact that the totally unforeseen event was not unforeseeable in principle, since the laws of physics could explain it. The crux of the story is precisely the forever unprovable possibility that Priss had in fact foreseen what was going to happen. Prevision must be possible for the story to function: the event must be subject to a law, even if the latter is so unprecedented that our suspicion must remain forever a suspicion.

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But beyond the case of this story, a more general conclusion seems to emerge concerning the value—not metaphysical but properly literary—of our two regimes of fiction. It seems that only science fiction permits the construction of a fictional framework, of a narrative, that may be fantastic but certainly is coherent. In science fiction we inhabit a world in which physics is other, but not one where laws are purely and simply abolished, where everything and anything can happen for no reason whatsoever. Tales can be told because we are still involved in worlds— ordered totalities—even if they are governed by another order. Individuals can act in them—and even premeditate a murder—because they can always foresee the consequences of their actions. In extro-science fiction, on the other hand, it would seem that no order of any type whatsoever can be constituted, and consequently no story can be narrated. If this is true, then we would be in error to speak of extroscience “worlds”—since a world incapable of giving rise to science would not be a world but pure chaos, a pure diversity that nothing orders. This is precisely Kant’s thesis, and his way of resolving Hume’s problem: according to Kant, if laws were not necessary, then no world, and no consciousness, could emerge; there would be only a pure diversity, with no cohesion. Now, this thesis is contestable, because in truth an extro-science world, and even a plurality of such worlds, is conceivable. So, we shall try to establish both the metaphysical validity of such worlds—by making them worlds whose possibility one cannot deny—and their literary value, by making them the possible milieu for the armature of fiction.

all perception and all consciousness of an object. For if the scene of Hume’s billiard balls is imaginable as a scene, it is because the “decor” before which the balls frolic itself remains stable. The billiard table, the smoky room in which the match is held, the players themselves—the whole context around the billiard balls contradicts the supposed hypothesis of the contingency of laws. This context testifies, more broadly, to the persistence of the world that surrounds the balls, that is to say of a nature that remains impeccably obedient to the laws of nature. Now, if the laws of nature fail for the balls, they must fail in general; and then the world itself would crumble, and with it, of course, any subjective representation of it. The fault of Hume’s argument, according to Kant, is that he dissociates the conditions of science from the conditions of consciousness. Hume gives us a situation where we are conscious of a world in which science has become impossible, a world in which we can still perceive objects—the billiard table, the balls—but where these objects might do anything. But, for Kant, consciousness without science is nothing but the ruin of all reasoning: consciousness would not survive the absence of science, which proves the impossibility of any such failure of science and of the laws of nature one day manifesting itself to us. Broadly speaking, Kant’s approach is as follows: Suppose that laws cease to govern the given and that objects lose their constancy; science would then become impossible, but we could never perceive it—at most we might dream it. For Kant, the difference between perception and dream passes uniquely (and this is a consequence of his idealism) through the difference between objects that obey physical constancy and those that do not. If natural things were to cease obeying causal connection, everything would take on the cast of a dream, and we could no longer assure ourselves in any case that we had perceived a strange phenomenon rather than having dreamt or fantasized it. This phase of Kant’s deduction can be illustrated by the oneiric scene of the cinnabar, in the subjective deduction:

The Transcendental Deduction and the Three Types of XSF World In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant’s response to Hume’s challenge belongs to the moment of the transcendental deduction, more precisely the moment of the objective deduction of the categories. It is impractical to reiterate this in detail here, but let us recall the general strategy: Kant certainly wishes to legitimate our belief in the necessity of physical laws. But he does not want to do so as a speculative metaphysician such as Leibniz would have. A Leibnizian, faced with Hume’s challenge, would doubtless have responded that it is possible to prove the existence of a beneficent God who has it in his heart to create and maintain the best world possible— namely, ours. The constancy of the world, from this point of view, owes itself to the wisdom and beneficence of a sovereign being. Kant does not proceed in this way, because he recuses all forms of speculative thought in general. His strategy is rather to attempt an ad absurdum proof of the constancy of physical laws. This proof can be summarized as follows: Hume asks what allows us to exclude the eventuality of those fantastic trajectories of the billiard balls he has us imagining, on the basis of a pure inconstancy of physical law. The principle of the Kantian response is as follows: this scene we imagine could never really be perceived, because what would render it possible—the contingency of the laws of nature—would render impossible

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If cinnabar were sometimes red, sometimes black, sometimes light, sometimes heavy, if a man changed sometimes into this and sometimes into that animal form, if the country on the longest day were sometimes covered with fruit, sometimes with ice and snow, my empirical imagination would never find opportunity when representing red colour to bring to mind heavy cinnabar.3 We should emphasize here that the imaginary convoked by Kant, in which everything takes on the consistency of a dream, is an imaginary homogenous with that mobilized by Hume in his scene of the billiards, namely an extro-science imaginary, an XSF imaginary. Kant, as I have said, no longer makes the mistake Popper did. 3

Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith (New York: Macmillan, 1929), A101.

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He does not mistake an XSF problem for an SF problem. He confronts Hume on his own ground—the real without laws—and opposes him with his own idea of chaos. Chaos versus chaos, cinnabar versus billiards: the first victim of Kantian chaos is that perception becomes indiscernible from phantasm. But Kant’s chaos is even more intense than that described in the scene of the cinnabar. According to Kant, if laws were to disappear, the real would no longer even have the consistency of a dream, in which one still manages to discern things: cinnabar that decomposes, people who transform, a landscape where the seasons speed along. A real without laws, in truth, would be far too unstable to permit these identities-in-becoming to be adumbrated: everything would implode, and even the consciousness I have of myself within time would not survive, for my memory of my own persistence would disappear along with the insubstantial remainder of those things the dream would still accord me. All that would remain would be pure chaotic diversity, without consciousness or consistency. As we can see, then, Kant’s proof is a proof by fact: as the hypothesis of the contingency of the laws of nature would imply, if it were true, the abolition of any presentation of the world, the fact that there is a representation of the world, is a refutation of the Humean thesis. At the same time that this thesis of the contingency of physical laws is disqualified, the XSF imaginary as possible literary genre also seems condemned in advance by the Kantian approach. Such an XSF imaginary seems destined to degenerate into the monotony of a pure chaos, a pure diversity, within which nothing can be distinguished from anything else. Nevertheless, this remark on the XSF imaginary allows us to point to a possible weakness in the Kantian solution. What prevents us from imagining extro-science worlds far more stable, and by the same token more interesting, than those described by Kant? Why indeed can’t one imagine worlds that do not obey necessary laws, rather unstable worlds, capable of absurd behaviors here and there, but, on the whole, regular—a regularity that does not at all result from necessary causal processes? In other words, what allows Kant to exclude the possibility that there exist worlds that are in fact regular, but without that regularity proceeding from necessary laws? Why should a world without laws self-evidently be so frenetically inconstant? Kant tells us: were our world not governed by necessary laws, nothing would subsist of it. But we want to respond that a world that obeys no law has no more reason to be chaotic than to be ordered. It must be able to be, indifferently, one or the other, precisely because nothing stops it from being either. It seems to me that Kant relies here on an implicit law that allows him to assert an identity between a world without necessity and radical chaos: it is a probabilistic law. Kant’s reasoning here rests on the argument that, if the world were deprived of laws, if the least of its components could behave in any way whatsoever at every moment, it would be an extraordinary chance if it displayed the kind of enduring and global order that, for example, characterizes the nature we know. But if this

is Kant’s argument, we could easily reply that a world that obeys no law has no reason to obey any probabilistic or statistical law whatsoever. Nothing prevents such a world from composing, even against all sane probability, a global order that would constitute a world, an order of which certain aspects might, however, go off the rails at any moment, like Hume’s billiard balls. Thus we discern that the weakness of the transcendental deduction proceeds from its insufficient practice of the XSF imaginary. A more acute XSF imagination would have prohibited Kant from excluding the possibility that the world could in the future transform into a lawless world, or even that we already live in such a world, although the chaotic detail does not appear to us in any obvious fashion. Consequently, Kant’s resolution of the Humean enigma—how to prove the necessity of physical laws, their future persistence—this resolution via the transcendental deduction would seem not quite as satisfying as it first appeared. If we try, in turn, to deepen the hypothesis of extro-science worlds, we will see that Kant’s thesis that consciousness and science have the same conditions of possibility—the necessity of physical laws—does not stand up to analysis, since we can fictionalize as many worlds as we wish that blatantly contradict this hypothesis. In fact, we can conceive of three types of extro-science worlds, of which only one corresponds to that described by Kant, the two other types deviating from his limited imaginary: Type 1 Worlds: All possible worlds that would be irregular, but too little to affect science or consciousness. Worlds, then, that are not extro-science in the strict sense since they still allow the exercise of science. Still, they contradict the thesis that the strict necessity of laws is a condition for the existence of science and consciousness alike. These worlds contain causeless events that occur too spasmodically to jeopardize consciousness or science. Such events consist in causal ruptures that are observable, but impossible to reproduce in any regular fashion. These worlds do not endanger science, because science is structurally indifferent to events that can give rise to individual testimonies but not to a protocol for their reproduction. If in such a world someone claims to have observed the billiard balls in his drawing room do all sorts of strange things for a good few minutes, scientists can say nothing of it—not because they doubt the good faith of the spectator, not even because they suppose him mad, or the victim of an hallucination, but simply because science cannot do anything with events the observation of which admits of no procedure to assure its reproducibility. Even if there were multiple testimonies concerning unlikely physical events, and even if one supposes a world in which these events were indeed physically absurd, experimental science would—literally—have nothing to do with them, and would not even be endangered, since its proper domain—experiments, experiences that are reproducible—would remain intact in the face of such chaos. For science, any spasmodic event without cause is either nonexistent, or has a cause that is not yet attestable and is thus without any consequence in its own right.

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As to consciousness, there is no reason why it should perish any more than science. Dream and hallucination would continue to exist, and exist qua distinct from perception and from the sudden production of absurd phenomena. Certainly, each witness of a causeless event might in principle question himself or herself as to whether it was not a dream or hallucination, but there would be precise reasons for them to suppose this not to be the case. In this type of world, which is regular for the most part, a witness could consider that the context of the event was not identical to that of a dream (he or she was not asleep, did not wake up after having made the observation), nor that of hallucination (in this world, hallucination would be linked to certain known pathologies). Further, they could appeal, in certain cases, to criteria of intersubjectivity, as it is possible for these events to happen before a multitude of witnesses, who would thus guarantee for each other that they were not dreaming. Since non-causal worlds of Type 1 are thinkable without contradiction, this shows that neither science nor consciousness have as their condition of possibility the strict universal applicability of the principle of causality. Type 2 Worlds: Worlds whose irregularity is sufficient to abolish science but not consciousness. These are the real extro-science worlds. A Type 2 world would be a world in which experiments in the laboratory give the most diverse results, abolishing the possibility of constituting a natural science. But it would be, at the same time—a supreme inconsistency—a world in which everyday life would still be possible, on the basis of relative stabilities. A world in which there would be “accidents of things,” sudden slippages of material objects, which are too rare to destroy all human life but not rare enough that a scientific experiment could be conducted with any confidence. A world whose margins have become capricious, but with a caprice that does not belong to any hidden intentionality. This would be a world where one could only hold on to a chronics of things—for example, one might say, supposing that we speak in the vocabulary of our own scientific theory: “Between this and that date, nature ‘in the laboratory’ stopped being relativistic, and regressed to a Newtonian dynamics; from this date to this date, there was a true renewal of quantum physics, but above all in laboratories in the southern hemisphere,” and so forth. One could no longer extract properly scientific laws from the course of nature. But let us be more precise: in truth, no manifest irregularity could suffice to prove that there wasn’t some hidden law, subjacent to the apparent disorder. Whatever the manifest disorder, one might always, as Henri Bergson emphasized after G. W. Leibniz, find within it an unknown order, or one that does not correspond to the order we hoped for. One can therefore always imagine, in an extro-science world, that there exists some hidden law beneath the apparent disorder of natural chronics. But it would be a case of a world where those who persisted in seeking such a secret law beneath the absurd variations of nature would seem as eccentric or vain as those who still seek, in our own world, a quantitative law that would explain the course of human history.

In such a world, we would be in the middle of things, like a driver surrounded by other vehicles: we could rely on a reasonable behavior on the part of the real, but we could never exclude an absurd behavior of nature, just as we can never exclude pulling up alongside a driver who doesn’t respect the highway code. An acute vigilance would thus be the consequence of such a nature—subject to sudden “crashes,” but still predictable for the most part. Road accidents can be submitted to frequentialist laws; and it is indeed upon such frequencies that we base our vigilance, even if we don’t have in our mind any exact evaluation of risks. The same would go for a world of Type 2: the plausibility of real behavior would be sufficient to act and to live, even if in a painfully uncertain way. More generally, natural regularity would be analogous to social regularity: stable for the most part, but capable of unforeseeable derailments. But to accord such a “social” predictability to the Type 2 world, wouldn’t that be, after all, to admit that the beginnings of a natural—even statistical—science would still be possible therein? To render the analogy between the two types of regularity—Type 2 nature and society—more precise, and to permit us to think the world free of all experimental science, we must add a historical dimension to it. Suppose that a man living at the end of the eighteenth century had tried to evaluate the approximate frequency of horse-and-carriage accidents in the Paris of his time. Had this man known that the number of such accidents in Paris in the twenty-first century would be close to zero, he would have been able to deduce that progress in equine security had made a great leap from one century to the other. But he would not have been able to foresee the almost total disappearance of horse-drawn carriages in Paris in favor of a mode of transport that did not exist in his own time. Thus, social regularity, which allows us to base our lives on quantifiable probabilities as to others’ behavior, despite its unpredictability in individual cases, goes hand in hand with the possibility of historical change, which is unforeseeable in a more profound sense, since it cannot be submitted to any quantitative law whatever. And yet these changes of epoch, impossible to inscribe in causal laws of an experimental type, have not suppressed all trace of social regularity, even during the greatest historical upheavals, that is to say during transitions from one era to another. Similarly, we could then say that the denizens of Type 2 worlds would also know “transitions between natural eras,” linked to progressive—but profoundly unforeseeable—transformations in everyday constancies. But this time, contrary to what one might ultimately suspect to be the case with historical change, these transformations would be entirely free from any attestable cause: they would introduce “epochs” in nature, whose long-term modifications would be compounded with short term “leaps.” In short, such a nature, capable of marginal caprices and of epochal modifications, is thinkable without contradiction—and with it we think an unbinding of the conditions of possibility of science from those of consciousness. A world in which the conditions of science disappear is not necessarily a world in which the conditions of consciousness would also be abolished. Consciousness without science is not the ruin of thought.

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Type 3 Worlds: Finally, the third type of extro-science world—if they can even be called worlds, since in this case we are talking about lawless universes in which disordered modifications are so frequent, that, like the chaos described by Kant in the objective deduction, the conditions of science and those of consciousness alike are abolished. We see then that, among the three categories of universe that we have fictionalized, two contradict the transcendental deduction, and one constitutes a proper extro-science world: the world of Type 2, world XSF-2.

The second solution: nonsense. One can accommodate oneself to multiple arbitrary events rather than reducing them to one unique event, if the author plays about, producing absurd and unexpected situations. In fact, worlds of Type 2 possess a certain vis comica, a certain burlesque potential, that could be exploited. One might think here of Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which a machine that generates extremely improbable events transforms some missiles into a whale and a bowl of petunias. But here it is still a matter of a machine obeying the laws of chance and susceptible to probabilistic—if perfectly delirious—reasoning. Finally, the last solution—the one that expresses most faithfully the XSF genre—stories of uncertain reality, those in which the real crumbles gradually and ceases to be familiar to us from one day to the next. I have not yet found any novel that is, in this domain, properly XSF, that is to say, one that gives no explanation whatever for the lawless decomposition of its environment and characters. But we might think of one of Philip K. Dick’s masterpieces, Ubik, in which the real ages, or regresses, without any apparent logic: the atmosphere is close to XSF-2 worlds, if one leaves aside the explanation given by the author, namely, that it is a question of the psychic world of a cryogenically-frozen body slowly devoured by a comatose child with monstrous mental powers. Three solutions for possible XSF novels: the catastrophe, nonsense, and the dreaded uncertainty of an atmospheric novel. Undoubtedly not quite enough to constitute a genre—in which respect XSF, which possesses a certain metaphysical interest, probably possesses less potential than science-fiction from a literary point of view—at least, that is, unless some talented authors prove me wrong.

Conclusion To conclude, I would like briefly to address the question of whether XSF could constitute a literary genre, like science fiction (if we at least agree that science fiction is a genre). Could there be—and under what conditions could there be—XSF stories? Or even: Are there already stories of this type, branded “science fiction,” but which my efforts here expose as truly belonging to another type of imaginary?4 The difficulty in writing XSF stories—and what I think condemns them to constitute isolated singularities—is that one begins with what would normally be excluded from narration: not just pure arbitrariness but an arbitrariness that can strike again and again, at any moment. If the reader of science fiction is ready to allow futuristic writers postulates as fantastic as can be, he or she nevertheless expects the author to stick rigorously to those postulates and not to introduce into the fictional world ruptures without any cause or reason, which would remove any interest in the narrative as a whole. To get around this difficulty, it seems to me that there could be three solutions, although this list does not claim to be exhaustive. The first solution consists of introducing just one rupture without cause or reason, a sort of unique physical catastrophe, that at once plunges the protagonist into a world where some inexplicable physical phenomenon has been produced on a massive scale. The standard novel of “XSF catastrophe” is René Barjavel’s Ravage, in which electricity suddenly no longer exists, without the slightest explanation provided for this. It has certainly been said more than once that this novel, published in 1943, recalls disagreeably the “return to the earth” promised by Philippe Pétain at the time. What is nevertheless interesting about this story, whatever else one thinks of it, is that it transposes into nature a historical catastrophe—the debacle of May 1940—as one of the consequent ordeals—the extinguishing of lights, the blackout imposed in occupied Paris for sixteen hours. This reiterates the comparison I sketched between Type 2 worlds and the radicality of unforeseen historical events. 4

Translated from the French by Robin Mackay

I must thank Tristan Garcia, to whom I owe many pointers for research into this matter that I have not been able to pursue here as thoroughly as I would have liked.

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Contingency The future doesn’t consist of future possibilities. The future is real but possibility is not real. Possibility is a fabrication made up after the real. The real future (as opposed to our toy-idea of a future) is made up of events, which emerge out of nothing that may anticipate them. Such events create the possibilities that “will have led” to them.1 Nassim Nicolas Taleb calls this the “backward narrative” and these history-changing events “Black Swans.”2 Reality always exceeds fiction. We encounter the real without previous warning. We are made aware of the event and of the world that this event brings about, and then go looking for a partition of that world into “states of affairs” or “states of the world.” This conceptualization of the real is only a model that is derivative from the