Monthly Archives: February 2009

The Superior Civilization

Just wanted to bring this review of The Superorganism to your attention. If I had any money, it would be the next book on my reading list and looks very good.

I studied the philosophy of biology years ago in my undergrad, focusing mostly on “units of selection” and I was always interested in these “superorganisms,” ants and bees, but also fungi and slime molds. What’s strange is this stuff has all creeped its way back in to my life with my study of the early Schelling and the emergence of life in his system.

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History of the Ghost

I’m working on a couple of pieces for the blog on hauntology and unlike previous posts where I just sat down with a cup of coffee and wrote what I was thinking, I’m taking my time with them. Until I get the first one done, I’d suggest heading over to this post from New Mappings which gives some nice background.

On the one hand, it’s well written and the author (Steen?) obviously knows what they’re talking about. On the other hand, now I don’t feel the need to write the background that may be necessary to understand what I’ve been talking about for the past couple of weeks or so.

So go check it out and in a couple of days I should have something written on hauntology and architecture.

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Presence and Negative Theology

This is inspired by the following quote from Graham’s blog on deconstruction:

“Hägglund follows Derrida in conflating ontotheology with realism. He doesn’t do this sloppily, but openly proclaims the identity of the two, when attacking Kevin Hart’s claim that pseudo-Dionysius is a deconstructive thinker.

Hägglund does this with a turn of phrase that might sound congenial to my own work, though in fact it’s diametrically opposed. Hart claims that the God of negative theology is deconstructive because it lies beyond all affirmation and negation. Hägglund counters that this is still classically metaphysical, because being beyond human predication does not mean being beyond classical concepts of identity and presence.”

Now, I don’t know Hägglund, but I do know Derrida and negative theology. As much as I really like some of Derrida’s work (his Hauntology, obviously), I’m fairly critical of his work on negative theology and Hägglund seems to be making (based on this tiny bit at least) the same mistake that Derrida made. That is, conflating all Neo-Platonisms (and there are many). While it is true that some thinkers in this tradition have made God = Being and made Being = One, this is not a universal claim for all Neo-Platonists.

Pseudo-Dionysius is actually an excellent example of this, because he places no highest in his system, but leaves the space empty for the mysterious God whose face is never seen.

“Trinity!! Higher than any being,
any divinity, any goodness!
Guide of Christians
in the wisdom of heaven!
Lead us up beyond unknowing and light,
up to the farthest, highest peak
of mystic scripture,
where the mysteries of God’s Word
lie simple, absolute and unchangeable
in the brilliant darkness of a hidden silence.
Amid the deepest shadow
they pour overwhelming light
on what is most manifest.
Amid the wholly unsensed and unseen
they completely fill our sightless minds
with treasures beyond all beauty.”

– Pseudo-Dionysius

What does this mean? Well, when Hägglund says that “being beyond human predication does not mean being beyond classical concepts of identity and presence” it means that actually, it could be beyond classical concepts of identity and presence. The whole point of negative theology is to deny that God is = Presence (or perhaps as a negative theologian would say “mere Presence”). The point is that no claim can be affirmed. I’m much more sympathetic to Kevin Hart in this case, as my own reading of Negative Theology (at least Pseudo-Dionysius, and Meister Eckhart as those are the thinkers in this tradition I’m most comfortable / familiar with) is quite deconstructive. When Eckhart “prays God to rid [him] of God” is is precisely a deconstructive move, a claim that God must be MORE THAN GOD HIMSELF or else He’s not God. In this way, God cannot be made mere presence and when Pseudo-Dionysius makes God = Highest (actually, higher than the Highest!), it is a move away from the pitfalls of presence, to a God that is always more than Presence, but is actually that which gives Presence (since God is Love). I’d suggest that if anyone wants to read more about this, Jean-Luc Marion’s God Without Being and his essay “In the Name: How to Avoid Speaking of ‘Negative Theology'” are both excellent sources, even if you’re not a fan of his phenomenology (which I’m not).

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Zizek and Schellingian Realism

So I wrote the following over on Graham’s blog. I’m going to post it here and then add a couple of things that I meant to say or should have said:

“If we think of it in basic Schellingian terms (which I know are problematic because Zizek is a very… *select* reader of Schelling) I think it might be more clear. This is coming from the middle Schelling by the way (Freedom Essay, and the Weltalter):

– There exists some infinite unconsconsciousness (Ungrund).

– A decision (cutting off) is made (for Schelling this is by God and thanks to his Hermetic ontology [As Above, So Below], the decision is made on all levels of existents). It’s not REALLY God who made the decision as God only comes to be IN THE DECISION. It is the “will to be” (which Schelling inherits from Spinoza with some alterations…), the drive for existence itself.

– This decision is the decision for consciousness which creates the division between consciousness and unconsciousness (for Zizek, this would be the division between the Symbolic and the Real).

– The problem arises though when you compare notes between Schelling and the Lacanians (including Zizek and Badiou). For Schelling, this is all done by Will (aka Freedom), whereas you’re right Graham, it is humans (although I suspect transcendental subjects) for the Lacanians.

– I think it’s better to think of examples from time rather than from things. I mean, this is exactly where Heidegger gets his “the past comes to meet” you bit; there only exists a past when you are in the present. Who I was only makes sense in the context of who I will be, so I can only ever understand the direction my childhood took after a certain time, with a certain distance.

– Now, the past isn’t less real than the present, but a break has been decided, and we now distinguish between the two. For God, this becomes the break between the unconscious drives for existence and actual free existence, creation and self-knowledge. For the human being, it means basically the same thing from a psychological level, that I am able to look back at who I was (what is self-consciousness but the ability to really look at oneself?) Ultimately though, the human being is the eyepiece for God, and through our consciousness it is God who becomes self-aware (for example, through scientific insight into Nature).”

Now, what I want to add is that although it seems the Lacanians are explicitly human-cenetered (Badiou is perhaps the worst for this, as we’ve seen in the recent blog posts), Schelling doesn’t even say he’s talking about humans. The Freedom essay and the Weltalter are explicitly THEOGONIES. I don’t think we can properly infer that it is only God and the Human Being that he’s talking about either. If we incorporate his later philosophy of time and freedom with his earlier philosophy of nature, it seems that everything that exists underwent some sort of decision from their unconscious surroundings. Again, in the early works he talks about things coming to be by accident, that they ought not to be. I am beginning to think that the later works are simply the extreme microcrosm/macrocosm cases, where in the early works he describes coming to be in terms of the processes of Nature, the later works are both this on the smallest scale (an individual thing coming to be) but also the grandest scale (God coming to be).

Back to Zizek though, I want to say that while I agree with Graham’s conclusions (ultimately I disagree with almost everything Zizek says), I just worry that he’s not being fair to Zizek and possibly putting words in his mouth. I think it’s a lot more complicated than either “the subject produces the world” or “they co-produce each other,” but rather that both are produced by the same decision, neither of which made that decision.

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Baudrillard – Postmodern Eucharist

I’m still busy with papers (although I handed in two yesterday which just leaves this Badiou piece on fidelity for Thursday) so I figured I’d just quickly post this video I made a couple of years ago when I was still posting videos on YouTube (in case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t posted a video since finishing my undergrad). I was thinking about this video while I was grocery shopping this afternoon and realized that it’s probably just as relevant to Zizek’s work as Baudrillard (maybe moreso):

I’m still interested in exploring Baudrillard’s thought more, but I can’t see myself tackling that task in the near future which is entirely consumed with Schelling. I have been thinking of a paper idea using Baudrillard recently though. I think something needs to be written on Graham’s Object-Oriented Philosophy and Baudrillard’s concept of seduction. I think the latter would only help the former.

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Now that’s what I call Hauntology

I’m pretty much swamped with work for the next week or so, so this will probably have to tide you over for the next couple of days (at least). This is a rather informative (and funny!) video on ghosts from the Look Around You series. Enjoy!

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Voluntarism vs. Intellectualism

Graham has an interesting post up on viewing the history of philosophy in oppositional dualisms. One of the things I like about Graham is his ability to cut these problems down to their essential components.

In this case, the opposition he’s talking about is Occasionalism vs. Skepticism. I’m not going to talk about his post, so much as the general idea at work, so go read it.

I always find these sorts of oppositions interesting. I have a prof who seems to see everything according to either Voluntarism or Intellectualism / Rationalism (metaphysical not epistemological). “What is primary, Will or Intellect?”

This debate also goes back to Neo-Platonism (“What emanates out of the One first, Nous or World-Soul?”), and has found its way into more recent philosophy as well (with people like Schelling, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche [and their followers] taking up the voluntarist cause against people like Hegel). Spinoza poses an interesting problem with this dichotomy: thought and extension are the attributes of substance that we are aware of, yet he also claims that all bodies strive (conatus) and all minds will (voluntas). So what is the relation of Will (generally) for Spinoza? I remember from reading Schopenhauer that he thought Spinoza got it backwards, and that Will is primary, but is this really fair to Spinoza? Maybe someone who knows more about Spinozism can help me out here.

Are there any other such dichotomies that people want to draw?

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