Monthly Archives: June 2009

The Architecture of Absence

Ghost House
Courtesy of Pruned

I have so much I want to say about this “urban graffiti of absence,” but am going to hold off for now until I’ve gathered my thoughts.

(Check out the Flickr Group, The Unconscious Art Of Demolition for more of this.)

I also want to take the time to collect some things that will, eventually, make their way into The Bones of Ghosts, whatever that ends up being. Consider this “Notes Towards Furthering ‘The Bones of Ghosts.'”

One thing that needs to be included in such an architecture of absence is “Reverse Graffiti,” like this:

Also included would be the work of Daniel Libeskind and other contemporary architects for whom the whole is found in the absence of parts, that is, where perfection is found in fragments. An example of this in fiction can be seen in the Second Death Star in Return of the Jedi, which, though seemingly incomplete and imperfect, is actually much greater in power than the original.


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Death Drive, Wanting to Die, Inorganic Nature, and Ghostly Relations

I want to again stress that my use of the term “death drive” is not that of Freud’s. Nor is it a claim that things “Want to die” or something so foolish. Even Freud’s talk of the death instinct is not a “wanting to die” per se, but the unconscious desire to return to the inorganic processes of nature. Tracing this back to it’s metaphysical root in the early Schelling’s Naturphilosophie, we can see it is rather the tendency for the products of Nature to prove temporary, forming for a short while only to return to the processes which birthed them. It can be seen then not as a wanting or wishing for death, but a return to the Infinite, which for the early Schelling is the infinity of Nature. The problem is that for Freud, Nature is nothing more than inorganic mechanism, and his claims that organic life wishes to return to the inorganic, in the light of his metaphysical forerunners, only grasps half of the truth since for these thinkers, there is no such thing as the inorganic. Rather, the death drive should be seen as an indication not of some unconscious fantasy, but a valid metaphysical claim of finitude.

For me, and for spectral realism, the death drive is not a wish, but a tendency in things to fade out. All things are in the process of fading, of either exerting their presence by expanding their relations and influence, or contracting their power, cutting themselves off, and “dying.” Again, recall that the whole point in doing a hauntology rather than an ontology is the understanding that nothing is ever alive or dead in the usual sense, but everything is always a combination of presence and absence, with no absolute presence or absence being possible. By undergoing such a reduction, the death drive is really just the tendency of things to keep to themselves, to cut themselves off and fade away. It is not a strictly human tendency either, but is visible in the fact that things alter their relations, that non-human entities are defined by their shifting relations. The rocks and trees outside are not simply disembodied entities existing outside of space and time, but are what they are in large part due to their relations with other ghostly entities. When these change, that relation, although it no longer exists, has still exerted itself on the identity of the entity, affecting it in some way. All entities have a history, a history that is at least in some way defined by by its relations, past, present, and future. This means that while an entity is not “nothing more than its relations” (Whitehead, Latour), but a thing is defined in some way by its drive to existence, which is exerted on all of its relations some of which are cut off completely, while others leave a relational residue, a memory, a remainder.


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The Edge of the World

The Ocean at Quidi Vidi

I really needed that yesterday. Manda and I went for a walk over to Quidi Vidi and ended up just sitting for a long time enjoying the isolation and the ocean. I think I sorted some things out, philosophical issues I was having based on recent discussions here. Basically I had started to think that maybe what I’m working on, what I’ve been writing is nothing more than human centered thought. But sitting in that place, feeling the wind off the ocean and seeing history in the wearing away of rocks, I realized that I’m not trapped in the human-world relation, that while there is a place for the human being, the essentials of spectral realism don’t require human beings at all.

Anyway, I’ll write more on this later. Right now, I need to read an essay on Fichte for Jockey Club this afternoon, being presented by a Hegelian (oh what fun).

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like thousands of tiny eyes

I love this piece of art by Enrique Muda Bull (courtesy of DesignBoom).

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On Dark Vitalism and an Ontology of Unrest

The talk has moved in some circles to the concept of “dark vitalism,” a term which I am still unsure of. Ben has been using this term for his own emerging system (pun pun pun) of thought, along with “dark phenomenology” and I think “dark naturphilosophie” as well if I’m not mistaken. What I am unclear of is what “dark” actually adds. My understanding is that, similar to “cold vitalism,” the darker cousin is supposedly less cheerful than Deleuzian vitalism. It has been said that this vitalism is both “nihilistic” and “mechanistic/deterministic.” I have outlined what I take to be the minimum requirements for a philosophy to be vitalist elsewhere (anti-dualistic, anti-mechanistic, anti-humanistic), and I will repeat my worry of bringing any form of determinism/mechanism into what I see as essentially a philosophy of freedom. Again, I will simply ask what the modifier, “dark,” adds to a vitalist system, how this differs from what I have outlined as “bare vitalism” if you will, based on Lash’s definition.

Besides this simple definitional issue, I also wanted to touch on Kevin’s recent post on the subject of dark vitalism. While I enjoyed much of it, especially the extended commentary and explanation of slime molds. I found the following paragraph worth bringing up:

Now it must be stated that an ontology of Death Drive, at least from a Freudian foundation, is one that already assumes a non-vital basis for Substance (or totality), for if Substance itself is living, a return to it would not be a death. […] A strict dichotomy between Life (Pleasure/Joy), and Death (nil, an inorganic realm), while not conceivable for Spinoza, for Freud seems determined by the very centricity of vision, an absolute focus upon the biological organism itself as a complete boundary (from which life is attempting escape, or at least unweave itself).

I have said before that mine is a metaphysics of death drive and I feel I need to explain this further, using the above-quoted passage as a reference. First, it must be said that one of the points of my use of hauntology (indeed, my entire use of Derrida) is to do away with dichotomies such as “Life/Death” or “Being/Non-Being.” The image of the spectre provides us with the ground to rethink such things as the metaphysics of presence, and to apply this example to the whole of reality, as nothing is ever entirely present or entirely absent. In the same way, I don’t want to say that a vitalism is limited to saying “substance is alive” or even “Being is Life,” which is why I always say that “the proper name of Being is Becoming, or Life.” What Life gives us is a state between Being and Non-Being, as all living things are slowly dying, that is, they are always approaching both Being and Non-Being in their actions yet achieving neither, but maintaining a precarious balance between the two.

Why do I being this up? Because I think that we need to understand “Life” and “Becoming” not as states of being per se, but really understand them for what they are, the in-between. I mentioned recently on Kevin’s blog that I had been thinking of this is terms of Augustine. In the Confessions, Augustine defines life in terms of “unrest,” as the perpetual dis-satisfaction of our desires, which can of course never be desired. What I have said is that beings, that is, existents, have a basic relationship to reality of alienation; things want to either encompass all (Cf. Drive to Expansion) or, failing to do so, annihilate themselves from reality (Cf. Drive to Contraction).

What Kevin says above is that an ontology of Death Drive cannot be a vitalism, because it assumes a non-vital origin in the in-organic, but a vitalism does not allow such a dichotomy as organic/inorganic anymore than it allows one of life/death (all is organic in various degrees / all is alive in degrees). What I think would help clarify this is what I am tentatively calling “an ontology of unrest.”

Augustine defines life in terms of unrest, but what does this mean? It means essentially the same as Freud’s Life and Death Instincts, that we are caught in the drives between infinities, neither of which can ever be achieved. For Augustine, our desires can only be satisfied in the Infinity of God, while for Freud, as for Lacan and spectral realism, this infinite satisfaction of drives is impossible. For me it is impossible because of Time, and the important role it plays in my system (along with memory). An ontology of unrest is one that is both alive and dead all at once, as to die does not mean either to not exist (which, following hauntology, is not properly possible), or to be inorganic in the normal sense of the term (as nothing is ever really “dead” in this sense as it is always in motion). An ontology of unrest is an ontology of motility, which claims that things are always moving, that underlying the appearances of things as they seem, there is a deeper existence which defies notions of presence/absence and life/death. What once lived still lives to some degree, and what once existed goes on existing to some degree. The death drive then, at least as I read it, is the impossible drive to self-annihilation in the face of history, the longing to have never existed because it is impossible to be the only existent, which is the only condition for the complete satisfaction of desire. Faced with these impossibilities, all existents are tossed between these ends on the spectrum of becoming or life.


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The Next Big Thing (Uncharted Waters)

Graham has a great post up on “the next big thing” in philosophy, in reference to the recent flurry of activity in regards to Badiou.

What I especially liked about this post was the following:

In continental philosophy, the cutting edge is usually wherever 25-30 year-olds are working right now. The senior figures in continental philosophy are more likely to still be working on whatever was hot when they were 25-30. (My older Department colleagues, bless them, still think Merleau-Ponty and Derrrida are the latest news. Nothing against Merleau-Ponty and Derrida, but they are obviously not the latest news. I assume this would be far less likely to happen in analytic philosophy circles.)

This reminded me of my undergraduate thesis experience. My grad advisor, Sean, taught at my undergrad institute and was going to supervise my thesis on Eckhart and Heidegger (and at the time, Derrida). My basic premise was that while contemporary philosophy of religion (Caputo, Kearney, and Marion) were enthralled in the “innovations” of Heidegger and Derrida (on ontotheology and negative theology) that the same innovations could be found in Eckhart’s German sermons, that almost identical moves had been made. The hope was to use this as ammunition for an eventual revival of Eckhart, who, while Caputo even has a book on Heidegger and Eckhart, has been mostly overlooked in contemporary philosophy of religion. I was excited about this, and Sean was excited as well.

Unfortunately, Sean left and came to my current school, which is where he’s from originally. He and his wife moved back here to raise their son. At the time I was really upset because I’d already begun work on my thesis and thought I would have to find a new topic, which I really didn’t want. I met with my new advisor, who specializes in Aristotle and Virtue Ethics. He assured me that I could keep my same topic, and that he had an interest in both mysticism and Medieval philosophy. I was relieved to say the least.

After working on the first half of my thesis in the Fall, the half on Heidegger, ontotheology, and Eckhart, I had a meeting with him. I was told he didn’t want me to do the Derrida half, that this should be a thesis on Heidegger and Eckhart. I didn’t understand why, considering Derrida was (and still is) highly relevant to the philosophy of religion. My advisor told me that Derrida hadn’t proved himself to be a lasting figure yet. I was stunned. I considered myself something of a deconstructionist at the time, and had plans to study it further in grad school and was being told that what I was working on, what I was planning to continue working on, wasn’t a proven system yet even though Derrida had just died and had been producing work for decades, not to mention all of the work of other deconstructionists. All of the contemporary people I was working with for my thesis were highly influenced by Derrida. Again, I was stunned.

The rest of the year was spent miserably trying to turn what I had thought was simply a chapter, less than half of my total thesis, into the thesis itself. I was depressed, angry, and confused. My advisor became more and more critical of the contemporary thinkers I was using for my thesis, telling me that I needed to be doing a historical thesis. I tried to explain that I was doing a work of hermeneutics (which had been the point all along) which he also seemed to scoff at. To top it off, I found out early on that my advisor wasn’t reading any of the books I was reading. I had read the complete works of Eckhart, Heidegger’s Identity and Difference, a couple of books by Caputo (The Mystical Element of Heidegger’s Thought, and Weak Theology), a couple by Marion (God Without Being, and Being Given), and one by Kearney (The God Who May Be), plus assorted essays and secondary sources. My advisor didn’t read any of them.

I had a couple of good courses that year though, a seminar on Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception, and a seminar on Foucault which I sat in one (it was a sociology course and I lacked the pre-reqs). What I loved about these courses is that in the case of Merleau-Ponty, I was understanding the context of Jean-Luc Marion much better, while reading Foucault furthered the interest I already had in Deleuze.

I realized that year that while I am interested in the history of philosophy as it is broadly understood, I wanted to be doing contemporary work, looking for that next big thing. I think that’s why when I came here for my MA, while I had planned originally to write a thesis on Derrida (essentially writing what would have been the second half of my undergrad thesis) I quickly abandoned it to study the contemporary relevance of Schelling, reading Grant’s book, along with a lot of Zizek.

Basically, I was very unhappy working with someone who thought the history of philosophy (at least continental philosophy) ended sometime in the beginning of the 20th Century. Now I’m working with someone who is much more understanding of my interests, and has even started reading speculative realism texts in order to also understand the next big thing.


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Badiou > Zizek + Orgasms

The Badiou Wars® are proving to be an even bigger boon for page hits than even the combined forces of Zizek and Orgasms. I can’t help but wonder if I’ve been playing for the wrong team this whole time. I mean, if Badiou has that kind of power, he can’t be wrong, can he?


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Badiou and (the future of) philosophy

(To track the revolt against Badiou, these are the relevant posts: Alex, Reid, Dominic [and again], Levi, Mark, Ben, Kevin.)

Having not yet read Logic of Worlds, I realize I may be the odd man out in this discussion (it’s on my reading list, I swear!). I’m also coming at this as less of a fan of Badiou than most of those listed above. While I certainly had an early attraction to Badiou’s minimalist system, I’ve since entirely rejected any real affiliation to his thought. I think his philosophy is not only a humanism (which I am against), but also a fundamental dualism (also against), and indeed requires a sort of transcendental subjectivity in order to work (which he hasn’t y discussed as a product of the world a la Schelling, and which I must therefore also oppose). To top that off, I don’t see anything really very new or shiny in his system as it has developed. I think he takes a lot from Lacan and a lot from Heidegger and attempts to cover his tracks by replacing the Symbolic or Language with the Matheme. I’ll discuss this more when I’m satisfied with my piece on the Ur-Event in Badiou, which I argue is intimately tied to his reliance on both Lacan and Rousseau.

While I say all this, essentially quarantining Badiou from my own in-development system of thought, I still see some hope for Badiou. That isn’t to say that I can conceive of a time or situation in which I will fall to my knees and convert, or even try to work him into my own thought. No, instead, what I see is a possibility for Badiouian philosophy to develop at least into something new and interesting, so long as the right moves are made.

I think one of the best, that is most solid, critiques of Badiou is the argument against humanism. John Mullarkey makes this argument for example in his Post-Continental Philosophy (which I know people don’t like for some reason; I’ve only read the section on Badiou and thought it informative and well-written). He argues essentially that Badiou stakes his claims on subjectivity with the fundamental divide between humans and non-humans in the area of counting as the most basic form of mathematics (the count-as-One being the condition for the wager being made on the event and thus the origin of subjectivity). Mullarkey points out that if this is the case then we should at least be able to extend subjectivity to those beings which are capable of counting as it is a sign of mathematical ability. Of course Badiou doesn’t say anything of the sort, as parrots and gorillas are denied subjectivity just as much as trees and earthworms.

I share this sentiment with Mullarkey, as I have attempted to work out with my own brand of vitalist metaphysics. For me, philosophy needs to be able to talk about the non-human, but not only that, the non-existent as well (but I’ve written on that already). But it seems there is something that Badiou’s thought is ready to address besides Marxist politics and modern art, and that is cybernetics.

What I mean by this is that I think Badiouian philosophy (as I have read it, maybe he discounts this in LOW, again I don’t know yet) can deal with the future of humanity and its eventual further integration with technology. Think about it: what are computers but extremely complicated counting-devices for the purpose of manipulating and the storage of data? It seems to me that it would be very easy to manipulate Badiou’s work into a mathematical manifesto for the cybernetic revolution to come. The integration of robotics with humanity would create not only the capacity for further ontology, but through the programming of our future minds, we could birth new subjectivities that are built to be faithful to the event.

While I enjoy the speculation of Badiou and cybernetic subjectivities (indeed, I’m writing a paper on it in the future because I find it so interesting) and think it potentially a valuable contribution to philosophy, I don’t buy in to it. I guess what I’m saying is that before everyone abandon the S.S. Badiou, don’t get entirely hung up on what he has said or done, but focus on the work his thought can do. Already I’ve imagined a scenario in which Badiou’s humanism is turned on its head into a future roboticism, and I don’t even like Badiou. Imagine what someone who felt a kinship with his thought could come up with.

[ADDENDUM: I should add that this last point, on figuring out what you can do with a thinker rather than focusing on what they have said, is what I would consider one of the foundations of new and interesting philosophy. While I’m not an Object-Oriented thinker, I have true respect for Graham’s “misreading” of Heidegger. Hell, I’ve combined Schelling, Psychoanalysis, and Derrida and I call the result “realism!” One can’t be too afraid to “misread” now and then.]


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The Graveyard of the Atlantic

Check out this map of Sable Island, including all of the known shipwrecks since 1583 (over 350).

When I was growing up in nearby New Brunswick, we would hear tales of buried treasure on the fabled island…

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Six Days At The Bottom Of The Ocean

Because I can’t sleep. I’m actually listening to the album, but wanted to share and that’s a pretty great performance.

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