Wow, that last entry got a crazy hit count in no time. If you think mentioning Zizek will drive up the traffic, try talking about orgasms!
Monthly Archives: May 2009
Orgasms > Zizek
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The Jouissance Beyond Life (and Death)
“The loosening is both a re/lease of limbs and song, but also a death.”
And is this not jouissance as “plus-de jouir,” that is, as sur-plus, more (more!) pleasure and also a lack of pleasure? There is a reason why an orgasm in French is a “petit mort” or “little death,” as the pleasure, the love, the life grows, its border with death and inertia shrinks. There is infinite pleasure to be found in the infinite circlings a-round and a-round by the ghosts in their drives, each time a joy-ride and a near-death experience rolled into one.
This is exactly where the connection lies between the drives, and where Zizek brushes with vitalism. There is an odd relation between Life and Death, pleasure and pain, expansion and contraction, as all us transitory beings fade in and out of being, flickering with life for a short while to collapse into dust while our ghostly selves continue to be pushed and pulled about the cosmos and involved, still, with life and death.
There is only the death drive, the drive to infinity, and all things are this death drive as all things collapse and fade in and out and in again finding the pleasure of this fading, though it is by definition unbearable…
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Kevin has asked me to clarify the nature of drive in spectral realism, namely, how I can have two drives that are really one.
In Bohme and Schelling, there are two drives which I have adopted, expansion and contraction (though the early Schelling will claim there are potentially infinite drives, these are the only two which are discussed and taken up in the later works). What I have added to these two drives is the impossible telos, with the goal of expansion being Being qua Being (as infinite presence or occupation), and that of contraction being absolute Non-Existence. No thing exists infinitely, that is, eternally across all time and infinitely across all space. Conversely, no thing has absolute non-existence, for if it did it would never exist or ever have the possibility of existing and we would be unable to even speak of it. Both Being and Nothing exist as absolute non-possibilities.
What then of the drives? All things that do exist are the result of the tension between these two drives (the early Schelling makes the same argument, which I have discussed here and will further qualify in an upcoming post tentatively titled The Tension of Temporary Existence). Essentially, drive is the process of Nature, which is always moving towards the impossible ends, Being and Nothing (impossible because the existence of finitude precludes their possibility; because of the accident known as Becoming, these ends cannot be achieved, but are always infinitely distant). This leads me to posit the spectrality of objects and conclude that hauntology is first philosophy (ontology being impossible as it’s object of study being impossible, likewise with me-ontology). All things (ghosts) are eternally moved towards these impossible ends which has lead me to the bizarre conclusion that nothing is ever gone in the sense that anything that ever has been or could be exists within the same reality as those things which seem to have the most existence, that is, temporary presence. If all presence is temporary, then we must conclude that it is possible for all absence to be equally as temporary, in other words, anything can come to be, any ‘thing’ is possible.
There is however a qualitative difference however between presence and absence as we know them. Those things which once had more presence do not affect us as they once did, hence my turn to “mourning,” which we can understand as the closest we have to phenomenology within hauntology. It must be understood that mourning is used in a specific sense, as I have discussed previously.
What must be understood for this explication of drive is that things are continuously moved towards these impossible extremes. Does this mean that there is a fundamental dualism however? No; the drives to expansion and contraction, while seeming to have entirely different goals, achieve the same end: collapse. When a thing expands or contracts too much, that is, is taken from it’s precarious position of existence as we know it, it essentially disintegrates in the sense that is it no longer linked to other ghosts in the same way. This is the end that all things achieve at some point, their own elimination from this network we are a part of, the network of haunting and mourning. This is why both drives are ultimate death drives, as they both achieve death, in one form or another, in their drive to infinity.
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What kind of realism is this anyway?
“For me it is individual objects that are real. And what’s becoming more important to me is this question: for all those positions that call objects a useless fiction, what are they granting reality in its place?
On the one hand there is what I called, in Bristol, the “undermining” approach to objects. In other words, objects are superficial encrustations or actualizations. What is real is either a boundless apeiron, or a churning matter laced with cryptic forms, or a primordial flux, or a topological pre-individual realm.
On the other hand there is what we could call, by analogy, the “overmining” positions. For such positions, the object is not a superficial encrustation, but a pseudo-deep and spooky fiction that explains nothing, since reality is much more evident. Reality is how it manifests itself to us. Or it is a thing’s relational involvements with other things. Or it is just a bundle of qualities. And so forth.”
It would seem on first glance that a spectral realism is part of Graham’s first group, the “undermining” of objects folks. I think this is wrong though, as is the alternative. As Graham has presented these position is flawed in a particular way that I think excludes both my own position, and my reading of Schelling (Bohme would fall into this category as well), that is, what I call the Hermetic position.
As Graham puts it, on one extreme objects don’t matter because they’re really just their set of relations or maybe reality is just “how it is given to us.” The other extreme is where I think he would put me, the end which claims that objects don’t matter because what has primacy is either the whole of the cosmos before we chisel it up with perceptions and ideas, or the idea that reality is just a primal flux with objects forming as clots. In the middle of these two extremes stands OOP, the only group that says objects are themselves that which makes up reality (it’s objects all the way down), but also the whole of reality would itself be an object. In other words, for Graham and OOP in general, reality is simply an infinity of objects.
So what’s the problem for spectral realism then? I’ve said before that reality for me is simply drive, or to be even more specific, the twin drives of expansion and contraction (what Freud called the life instinct and death instinct, respectively, and which Lacan clarified in his maxim that all drives are death drives, which of course all comes from the middle period Schelling [the Freiheitsschrift and Weltalter, although part of my thesis is trying to show that it’s already there in the early work] and which originates in Jakob Bohme). Reality as drive means that all objects are temporary stabilities on the road to collapse. The problem arises however when this is taken to mean that objects are somehow not real, or “less real” than drive. For me, and I would argue this whole lineage I’ve linked myself up with, there is no “more real” or “less real,” because the Hermetic tradition has a very simple maxim: As above, so below; this is the microcosm/macrocosm relation of all reality. When Schelling writes a psychology of God (which Bohme did as well), he’s not “anthropomorphizing” as Zizek claims, but making a valid Hermetic move: all things in reality are basically the same, but not in the Neoplatonic sense of “All is One,” but in a very weird way, that if one object in reality is really understood, this knowledge is applicable to all of reality. By understanding the human mind then, we not only understand ourselves, but all of reality. This was the secret of Hermetic science, the goal of which was divine knowledge (as in, knowledge of the divine) and the method was natural philosophy, learning of the cosmos (which is why the Hermetics were so keen on things like alchemy and astronomy). When Bohme came along, he took this principle and began to understand psychology as it had never been understood before, the heritage of this work being not only Schelling, but all of psychoanalysis.
What this means for Graham’s distinction is that spectral realism also occupies a middle position, one that claims all reality is drive, but all objects are manifestations of drive, that at bottom what an object is, is drive. But all of the parts of this object are also drive, and so is the whole of reality, and so is God. It is not then that there is a churning pool of drive and then it freezes up in some parts and these are objects, rather, the relationship is one of microcosm and macrocosm: there is only drive, only becoming (in the sense of no static being and no absolute nothingness). Objects have reality, no more or less than anything else, but this reality is their drive.
Then, from Levi:
“Braver then goes on to distinguish between trivial dependent entities like beliefs and real independent entities. Attitudes towards this distinction actually define something of a fault line among Speculative Realists. Speculative Realists like Ray Brassier, Nick Srinicek, and perhaps Quentin Meillassoux (I can’t speak to Iain Hamilton Grant’s Position here) would wholeheartedly endorse Braver’s description. To be real, for these realists, is to be independent of humans. Object-Oriented realists such as myself, Graham Harman, and Bruno Latour adopt a more egalitarian ontological position. Our view is not that the puff of matter on the other side of the universe is somehow more real than the United States (an entity dependent on humans). Rather, the Object-Oriented Philosophies are united around the thesis of a flat ontology in which there is no hierarchy of being or modernist distinction between culture and nature. There is just being. Being is pluralistic and differential, coming in many kinds and flavors, but it is no less real for all that.”
I think it follows that by Levi’s distinction as well, spectral realism occupies a similar position to OOP. Nothing is more or less real than anything else, whether it is a property of civilization or nature, because all is nature; there is nothing artificial about reality. I would add though, again, that Being (qua Being) is always only an impossibility for spectral realism, that it is this perfect Being that the first drive is always striving for, while the second drive strives for the Nothing (though metaphysically, the drive for contraction, the latter of these two drives is first; there is always contraction before expansion).
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Update / Reading Aristotle
Sorry I haven’t been around much. I’m working all summer as an editorial assistant, and the past little while has been swamped with work since our deadline has moved from the end of the year to the end of August. I should have the next little while free though before I start work on the next set of essays.
Besides that, I have a few essays I’d like to finish this summer. One is on the Ur-Event in Badiou (building off of the paper I mentioned before on Badiou and Rousseau), one is on Zizek and vampires (continuing my interest in the relation of Zizek to vitalism as seen in his readings of Lacan’s lamella), and the third is another on Badiou that I’m not ready to talk about yet (which I’m not sure I’ll really have time for until next year, but I want to get it started). Oh, I have this piece on Graham and OOP too, which I need to clean up a bit before I do anything with it. I’m looking to publish it somewhere, but I haven’t really decided where yet. Plus, you know, that thesis I’m writing. As for that, the summer is really just for all the background reading I need to do, while the writing proper won’t really start until this fall, although I do have a couple of essays and a couple of seminars given that are to make their way into the current thesis.
In other news, a friend of mine was just accepted to his first choice in PhD program. He’s worried though because this is a Jesuit school, and his background in Thomism and Scholasticism is a little shaky, I guess. He’s asked me to be part of a reading group this summer to whip him into shape since I have more of a background in Medieval philosophy that most of the people at MUN (before coming here and re-focusing my attention on continental philosophy, my plan had actually been to follow up the other half of my thesis, that is, focusing on Medieval philosophy and mysticism as part of a degree in Theology; I’ll be editing my thesis on Heidegger and Meister Eckhart early this fall for publication, since it will be published in an open, online journal that I will be editing, I plan on sharing it with you all as soon as I can).
We’re starting with Aristotle’s Metaphysics, then likely moving on to the De Anima, and then we’ll see what Aquinas we can cover with the rest of the summer. First meeting of this reading group is tonight. There’s only four of us in the group, three students (one Hegelian and one Cartesian, plus me) and one prof who was literally just hired on after being a session prof this past year, whose specialization is neo-Platonism, I think focusing on Augustine (but I could be wrong on this). Should be good.
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that’s a fun age, isn’t it?
I just wanted to say that I loved Ben’s new post on the subject of the madness and speculation.
As one of those who takes both madness and Lovecraft seriously, I approve.
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Nietzsche the Spectral Realist
Couldn’t have put it any better myself:
“Let us beware of saying that death is the opposite of life. The living being is only a species of the dead, and a very rare species.”
The Unconscious and the Critique of Correlationism
(The following is a small [edited] section from a recent paper I’ve written on Meillassoux’ critique of correlationism as it pertains largely to Schelling, though I hope to expand it to include other “thinkers of the unconscious” as much of my research relates to the history of the unconsciouss. This paper will likely find its way into the second half of my thesis.)
The fundamental question to be asked when attempting to determine whether a thinker is a correlationist seems to be the following:
Is there or can there be being without thought? If so, can we know it or speak of it?
There are two correlationist positions on the matter: First, there is the weak position which claims that there are things-in-themselves but that we cannot know them, and second, the strong correlationist position claims that there are no things-in-themselves at all, as the very idea is unsupported speculation. I would like to put forward the suggestion that a certain strain of thought associated with the concept of the unconscious should be thought of as a “third way” on the matter of things-in-themselves. Both Schelling and Schopenhauer for example pose a difficult problem for this dichotomy, as they both claim allegiance to the Kantian legacy of transcendentalism and yet both criticize Kant for his agnosticism on the subject of things-in-themselves. What is crucial in understanding the problem these thinkers pose to Meillassoux’ dichotomy is that while they both claim there are things-in-themselves, they also both claim human beings have knowledge of them. For Schopenhauer, this is Will, while for the early Schelling, this is Nature as productive (Natura naturans). The distinction Meillassoux makes between weak and strong correlationism seems to fall apart in light of such thinkers, as they prove the possibility of a position not accounted for, not a realism in the sense Meillassoux insists upon (what he calls ‘speculative materialism’), but not a Kantian idealism with an unknown X lurking in the background, nor a true speculative idealism whereby the possibility of being without thought proves impossible.
These two thinkers prove there can be a position which accepts Kantian things-in-themselves, but eliminates the mystery often associated with them. How is this done? It is with the concept of the unconscious. For Schelling for example, Nature is not inanimate matter, but nor is it quasi-divine mystery, it is unconscious spirit, unknowingly free (it images freedom). The distinction is not one of things-as-appearances and things-in-themselves, but rather, one of things as conscious (subjects), and things as unconscious (objects). There can then be being without thought, because this is simply the state of the natural world, that is to say, entirely unconscious. In other words, metaphysical thinkers of the unconscious are entirely free of the correlationist circle as they accept a universe free of human beings as a possibility, the ancestral statement need not be put through the filter of the correlation in the present, as natural history has a place in a system like Schelling’s whereby natural science studies precisely those instances of spirit older and other than the human being. Again, there are things-in-themselves, but they are not unknown, they are like us, they simply don’t know it. Both thinkers allow for there to be existents without human thought attached to them, and therefore do not fit his correlationist criteria. We should say then that there are more options available to contemporary metaphysics than simply correlationism or Meillassoux’ speculative materialism. Indeed, there is a whole other historical lineage available to contemporary realism, it simply needs to be brought to light.