What kind of realism is this anyway?

From Graham:

“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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3 Comments

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3 responses to “What kind of realism is this anyway?

  1. kvond

    CL: ” 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).”

    Kvond: How does this differ from Spinoza’s position that the essence of all things is conatus, which is “striving”?

  2. Kevin, it is my understanding that for Spinoza there can be no conatus without substance, whereas for spectral realism (and I think Schelling as well) there in fact can be drive without objects. My point in this was that simply because drive has an ontological precedence, does not mean it is more real than the ghostly things that are driven.

    Also, the conatus in Spinoza is a specific drive to existence (or perhaps presence) whereas the dual drives are for infinite Being and infinite Nothing and are therefore in competition with one another, creating the tension that is existence as we know it. I’ll write a post on this tension soon, which I hope will clarify this matter.

  3. kvond

    Michael: “Kevin, it is my understanding that for Spinoza there can be no conatus without substance, whereas for spectral realism (and I think Schelling as well) there in fact can be drive without objects.”

    Kvond: Hmmm. This seems to set up a parallel, conatus is to drive as Substance is to objects, but this certainly is not the case in Spinoza. Objects for Spinoza do not have substance in the Aristotlean sense. Objects are simply the conatus of striving. In fact, what we call an “object” is really a perspective taken on the one huge expression of Nature/God/Substance.

    Michael: “Also, the conatus in Spinoza is a specific drive to existence (or perhaps presence) whereas the dual drives are for infinite Being and infinite Nothing and are therefore in competition with one another, creating the tension that is existence as we know it. ”

    Kvond: Yes, this definitely is something Spinoza would reject. Freud, as you know, came up with the Death Drive so as to explain phenomena which the Pleasure Principle did not seem to explain. This simply is not the case in Spinoza. There is no ontological lack, and everything is explained by the Pleasure Principle. But because there is a kind of zero degree intensity in Substance, everything, all striving, is a kind of Death Drive, not in the sense of attempting to return to the inert, the dead, but from the point of view of Substance/Eternity, every intensity is flat.

    Perhaps though you can connect this to Lacan’s proviso that all drives are Death Drives. You seem to want to propose TWO drives, but then insist that they are ONE. If you can make this clear I would really enjoy it.

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