Monthly Archives: August 2009

The Horror of Humanism

A few days ago Paul Ennis posted a blogpost on humanism. In this post he asks why people associate speculative realism with anti-humanism, saying:

What I cannot understand is why people think speculative realism is out to debase the subject. Or why it is an anti-humanism.

I responded at the time with this:

I can only answer for myself here, but I am an anti-humanist (and I have argued before that [neo-]vitalism is as well).

I am an anti-humanist in two important ways. First, the human being is absolutely not the centre of the universe, not all things happen for humans. Second, the human being is not “the top” of philosophy either. Let me explain, in certain forms of vitalism (Schelling and Bergson for example), while there can and does exist phenomena outside of human thought, there is a generally teleology to nature whereby it is shown to have always progressed to the human, and now that there are human beings, nature has in some way achieved its goal. I reject this. While I agree that all of nature is an infinite striving and does indeed have a goal (infinite presence and/or absence), it is an impossible one to achieve and yet all of nature is this perpetual drive towards being. The point being that the human being is not the be-all, end-all of existence and so shouldn’t be considered as such for philosophy. The human being is different from other things, but it is not any more special. In this way, anti-humanism is not “against humans,” but “against humanism.”

What I wanted to do was expand on this comment, and give perhaps a clearer explanation of my anti-humanism.

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New Feature – Suggested Reading

I have added a new feature to the sidebar. On your right, you’ll see a list of entries titled “Suggested Reading,” chosen to highlight what I think are the most important entries for anyone who is new to the blog and doesn’t want to go through everything. So if you are new to the site, or just want to see what I consider the most significant pieces of writing here, check them out.

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Autopsy Of A Large Animal On An Unknown Planet

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(Click through for larger images.)

From Wooster Collective.

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The Desire of the Other (Null and Void)

I’ve decided to share another text. This one isn’t as relevant as the last piece I shared, but someone might still find something of value in it. This is a lecture I gave last January on Levinas. Here’s the scenario: I was in a course based on the annual faculty colloquium, where each week a faculty member would present a paper, with all of the papers being variations of a common theme. The theme this past year was “responsibility.” So each Tuesday, a professor would give a public lecture, and two days later, a student would give a response to it. I was responsible for the first response of the year, responding to a paper which basically outlined Levinas’ ethics of the Other, infinite responsibility, etc, etc.

The lecture I gave is titled “The Desire of the Other (Null and Void)” and was written largely immediately following the Tuesday afternoon Levinas lecture, cleaned up a bit the next day, and presented essentially as you see it the day after that. Minor changes have been made since then, a couple of references had to be tracked down, and some of the wording was different, but this is basically the lecture as I delivered it.

As for the substance of the piece, I critique Levinasian ethics from three different perspectives, beginning from my anti-humanist (vitalist) perspective, moving on to a metaphysical critique, followed by an ethical critique. The last of these comes from my background as someone who was at one time much closer to Levinas, having been swallowed up by the whole “theological turn” in phenomenology and hermeneutics for a time, while the other two are perhaps closer to my current views (the first critique, the critique from vitalism, being the one I am most confident in). Feel free to respond to this piece. It is pretty short, as I had to allow for not only the response to my response from the professor of the initial paper, but also for a shared Q&A session on both of our lectures. It is also probably the only piece on Levinas to contain references to Barrack Obama, The Simpsons and The Fly!

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Fly On The Wall

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The Nameless City

In honour of H.P. Lovecrafts birthday today, I give you “The Nameless City” (Note: There is much Lovecraft to be found at WikiSource):

When I drew nigh the nameless city I knew it was accursed. I was traveling in a parched and terrible valley under the moon, and afar I saw it protruding uncannily above the sands as parts of a corpse may protrude from an ill-made grave. Fear spoke from the age-worn stones of this hoary survivor of the deluge, this great-grandfather of the eldest pyramid; and a viewless aura repelled me and bade me retreat from antique and sinister secrets that no man should see, and no man else had dared to see..

Remote in the desert of Araby lies the nameless city, crumbling and inarticulate, its low walls nearly hidden by the sands of uncounted ages. It must have been thus before the first stones of Memphis were laid, and while the bricks of Babylon were yet unbaked. There is no legend so old as to give it a name, or to recall that it was ever alive; but it is told of in whispers around campfires and muttered about by grandams in the tents of sheiks so that all the tribes shun it without wholly knowing why. It was of this place that Abdul Alhazred the mad poet dreamed of the night before he sang his unexplained couplet:

That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.

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Transcendental Nihilism?: Teleology and Messianism in Brassier

There was some debate, a little back and forth really, on Twitter about Ray Brassier’s Nihil Unbound and whether extinction constitutes a telos or terminus, or not. This was specifically raised in the context of whether or not we can think extinction as a form of messianism. First, before approaching the question of whether or not extinction is teleological, I want to clarify some terminology in relation to messianisms.

Eschatology, Messianisms, The Messianic

Derrida makes a distinction in his work between messianisms and “the Messianic.” The latter is the very structure of anticipation, a philosophy of anticipation (which marks deconstruction) as opposed to the various messianisms (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) which anticipate something specific. There is a specificity because these messianisms are built on textual structures, revealed religions, prophecies, etc.

Deconstruction is Messianic rather than a specific messianism because it anticipates the impossible, with no guarantee that it will come or occur. This can be seen for example in his philosophy of time in the distinction between the future (as predictable and expected: tomorrow, next year, etc.) versus l’avenir (that which is to come, the unpredictable and the unexpected). Messianisms would fall under the former, while deconstruction would be the latter (the coming of the Other, the undeconstructable, the real future) because they are eschatological. This means that they have predicted the end, the end of time, the end of history, etc, etc. They are teleological in this sense, we are moving towards these known ends, whereas deconstruction would be transcendental (I don’t know if Derrida would say this, but I don’t think it’s all that controversial) in that rather than being concerned with the end as such, it is concerned with limits.

Freud’s Myth and the Limits of Life and Death

Now, I will admit right away that I’m not necessarily confident in my reading of Brassier, and have focused primarily on the final part (Part III) of the book since it has more to do with my interests (let’s be honest, I skimmed Part II, focusing my reading on the Meillassoux chapter and Part III). That being said, I still think the way to understand extinction for Brassier is not in terms of ends, but limits.

What is the problem for correlationism with thinking extinction? What is extinction? It is not, first of all, the destruction of Being. Correlationism can deal with the destruction of Being because this is also the destruction of Thought as such. The problem is thinking the two apart from each other, for Meillassoux this is presented in the idea that there was a time prior to Thought, a time when there was Being with no Thought attached to it (hence why the correlationist must make the odd claim that the past prior to Thought is actually somehow For-Thought).

For Brassier, the other end of this is also true; not only can correlationism not think a time before Thought, but it cannot think a time after Thought either, that is, a world without us. The fact that he draws on Badiou here is important, with the connection between thinking and being (their Parmenidean unity) thought in terms of the One, which precisely “is not,” which is where Brassier gets the term “being-nothing” as the condition which allows for existence in the first place. Thought emerges ex nihilo along with Being as multiplicity. Nothing is the cause of Being. Nothing is the condition for Thought.

Extinction surrounds life and conditions it. In his use of Freud’s myth of the first organisms, we see that death is the source and end of life, that which allowed the first forms of life (the birth of life is death, the death of the outer wall of the living to allow it to live, to reproduce, and to die). Death is the limit to life, with the death drive as the mark, the scar of the birth of death, of this original inorganic state of being.

Extinction cannot be a messianism then, because it is entirely inconceivable, while it also cannot be the Messianic, because not only is it possible, it is predictable. Extinction is not eschatological because it is not just the end, but the beginning as well (while also always being alongside us). It can only be described as transcendental in that only through extinction is there the condition of the possibility of life itself or perhaps more importantly, of Thought itself. It is only because everything is dead already that we can think at all.

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