Monthly Archives: November 2009

Nature and its Discontents

Walden 2.0

Ben has some thoughts up on Zizek’s “Unbehangen in der Natur.” I was talking about this for Jockey Club on Friday so I thought I’d just make a couple of comments. Like Ben, I have some serious problems with Zizek’s piece as well as his conception of nature. For Ben this seems to be the imposition of a transcendental subjectivity but for me it is the concepts of alienation and rupture.

There is a clear connection between this piece and Freud’s “Unbehagen in der Kultur” (“Civilization and its Discontents”, uneasiness in culture). It is not the case that fro Freud most of us socialize normally but some people “don’t quite make it” and so must be normalized. It is rather that culture as such, in order to appear normal, ordered, etc., involves a whole series of distortions, manipulations, and pathologies. We are then “uneasy” in culture as such. One of the goals of Zizek’s work on ecology is to show this as true for nature as well, that we are uneasy, homesick, in nature itself.

This is the alienation of subjectivity, which is essential to Lacanianism. The subject only exists as alienated, through alienation. But is it the case that the human being is fundamentally alienated from nature-as-such? Part of Zizek’s structuralist narrative that he inherits from Lacan, Levi-Strauss, Rousseau, etc., is the dichotomy of nature and culture, that there was some sort of transcendental rupture in reality when human beings developed the capacity for language and suddenly we went from being apes to human beings. In this process we began instantly to supplant nature with culture, imposing ourselves on the chaos of nature, ordering it. Is this the case? Isn’t it rather that the human being, and human culture, developed slowly out of nature? Zizek wants us to believe that either there is a radical break with culture or we are New Age obscurantists who want to naively go “back to nature.” There is surely a middle ground to this ridiculous dichotomy, one that will say that culture is thoroughly “natural,” while still being (clearly) different, in the same way that both animals and minerals are natural but different.

Where does this supposed alienation from nature come from? Zizek doesn’t tell us. He wants us to think that nature is terrifying and horrible, and certainly it can be though isn’t always, that we are fundamentally afraid of it. Now, I didn’t grow up in an industrial centre or a big city; I grew up in the woods of south eastern New Brunswick, we had deer and wolves and bears in the area, sometimes in our backyard. As a child, I was never “alienated” from my surroundings, I was at home. I’m reminded of Erazim Kohak’s Embers and the Stars, one of the few works of phenomenology that I really truly like. Kohak abandons his life in Boston to live in the woods and essentially writes a phenomenology of nature. He doesn’t feel alienated either, but at home in the wilderness. Of course, he isn’t living in a cave or anything, he builds a cabin, but still. He lives with the rhythms of nature, he feels a kinship to a family of porcupines who live down river. Nature is not terrifying.

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MUTO by BLU

This is so well made I can’t believe it.

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Lovecraft the spectral realist

Lovecraft has one again become bedside reading for me. I found this quote the other night in “The Shadow Out of Time” and thought I’d share:

Had something been groping blindly through time from some unsuspected abyss in Nature?

I love it.

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On Vicarious Head-Scratching

I’ve been seeing a lot on Harman and capitalism and his model of causation as “nonsense” and whatnot and thought I’d try my hand at an explanation. For one, I don’t see why Harman’s model of causation is so hard to grasp but maybe its because I have a different background than most of those involved in the theory-corner of the blogosphere. I also want to stress that I’m not an object-oriented philosopher. I have serious misgivings about OOP which will be evident from my paper for Speculations. In fact, my paper will be on the subject of change and causality. That doesn’t mean however that I don’t think highly of the theory or that Harman should be insulted or attacked. Disagreements happen, we’re all adults here.

There are essentially two modes to understanding Vicarious Causation. The first is Aristotelian, the second is Kantian. It should be noted that both of these give us different versions of Occasionalism, that is, a mediated model of causality. I think the main problem people have with Harman’s theory is that they approach it strictly from the perspective of Heidegger’s tool-analysis, which while foundational for Harman’s thought has been overshadowed by a newer model of OOP over the past year. I think this this clear from lectures he’s given recently where the tool-analysis is explained but not foundational. He’s found new, better ways to ground the theory which makes it much more historically relevant and probably much easier to grasp by those without the Heideggerian or even phenomenological baggage.

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Mid-November Update

I have been swamped with non-blog duties lately. We’re now basically done with the Heidegger book, which is great. Going over what I think will be the final draft over the next week or so and then its off to the publisher and out of our hands. Work has also begun in earnest on AH Vol. II, to be published in January. Re-formatting and proofing of some of the early essays is happening as we speak!

I’ve also been working more on the Freud book recently after starting and stopping since my grandmother passed away. I’m feeling good about the most recently written stuff (isn’t that always the way?) and am hoping to carry this momentum as long as possible. I also figured out a way to integrate some material that I thought would have to be excluded as too tangential, which I’m happy about. I think the flow of the book will be much better because of this. After a dreary Fall I think I’m looking at a more productive Winter.

I did some guest lectures for a couple of courses at the university recently. The first was on Zizek and ecology in an environmental philosophy course. I filled in for a couple of days, the first of which we watched An Inconvenient Truth, then the second day was strictly lecturing on Zizek, capitalism, crisis, and environmentalism. In the hermeneutics class I’m sitting in on, I did a crash-course in structuralism before we began reading Derrida since no one in the class knew anything about it.

In more blog-related news, Paul Ennis has moved forward with the kernel of an idea for a journal, going full steam ahead and making it a reality in the form of Speculations. I’m happy to be helping out in this endeavor as well and look forward to further developments.

Also, this Speculative Realism Pathfinder has got my interest. Does anyone know the meaning of this site?

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Lacan and some philosophers

I’ve been sitting in on the seminar on hermeneutics that Sean is doing this semester. Besides Gadamer’s Truth and Method, we’re reading several essays by Ricoeur, and some pieces by Derrida. Our last class was on the topic of ideological critique, reading a piece on Habermas’ critique of hermeneutics as being unable to adequately critique ideology or politics at all because of its inherent relativism.

The next day I was exchanging emails with Sean and this ended up with a discussion of Freudo-Marxism and Lacanian-Marxism, and Sean leading me to look at a few pages of a book by Charles E. Reagan called Paul Ricoeur: his life and his work. Pages 25-31 (available as a free preview on Google Books) detail Ricoeur’s relationship with Lacan, which was unusual to say the least. I find the relationships that Lacan had (or tried to have) with philosophers very interesting. I of course knew about his attempt to seek approval from Heidegger and the encounters with Deleuze, but I was unaware that he had sought out both Merleau-Ponty and Ricoeur as potential allies. The whole thing has this very bizarre feel to it. Of course now there are many philosophers who pledge allegiance of some sort to Lacan. Does anyone know of any other relationships between Lacan and philosophers, and if so, were they as strange as these?

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