OOO, Language, Activity

Semiotics

Ben does a nice job of pulling together the relevant material on the recent debates, so if you’re not up on the haps already, go here and read what he has to say, along with what he links to.

There are certainly many things we could talk about in this exchange, but only a couple I want to draw on now: Language and Activity.

It seems the term “Linguistic Turn” is problematic in this debate. Graham and Levi will both say that the Linguistic Turn was a problem for philosophy and something that contemporary philosophy still struggles to overcome. What people concerned with semiotics (like Adrian) seem to hear from this is that “language is a problem, so let’s not worry about it.” This simply confuses this further. I’m currently writing about the metaphysics of language, really on inhuman communication. Not all language is a problem; there is a particular kind of philosophy of language that seems to dominate continental thought which is problematic for any form of realism, which I have called generally “structuralism.” More precisely, there is a founding metaphysical structure in all philosophies which I deem structuralist: the incompatibility of Nature and Culture, or, the rift between world and human.

Ultimately, this is a mutated form of correlationism founded on a metaphysics that says Language is a human trait equated with Rationality that has the power to structure and make sense of the unstructured non-sense of the inhuman world. Outside of culture (read broadly as the cohesive structure of signs human beings create as a womb) there is only chaos. I say it’s mutated correlationism because it actually stands against both weak and strong correlationism. Weak correlationism says there could be things-in-themselves, but we couldn’t ever know them anyway (we might imagine them, or like Meillassoux, maintains that the things-in-themselves represent the possibility for things to be other than what they are), while the strong correlationist maintains that there are no things-in-themselves because nothing can exist outside of thought (if you think a thing outside of thought, you bring it into thought by thinking it). The structuralist holds a different position: there are things-in-themselves, that is, there exist things outside of thought/rationality/language/culture, but they exist as traumatic pseudo-entities, things which break our womb of culture/etc and which must be dealt with. This is the underlying metaphysics of Lévi-Strauss, Lacan, Badiou and Zizek (and possibly Heidegger and Derrida, but we’ll leave them alone for now). I talk about this specific structure in Lacan and Zizek in a forthcoming essay for the International Journal of Zizek Studies. (Badiou appears prominently in the essay as well, though after reading Logics of Worlds this past Fall, I’m not sure if he can be read entirely in this way anymore. He seems to be focusing more on the structural aspect rather than the traumatic. I certainly think this is the structure at work in Being and Event though.)

This is the “Linguistic Turn” that poses a problem for contemporary realism, those thinkers which reduce everything to language (what I called in my Claremont talk, following Levi, “eliminative idealists” which also includes social constructivists). So in my current essay, I can talk about Deleuze and Serres and it isn’t a problem, Jim Bradley can present a robust realism based in Peirce, also not a problem, etc.

Speaking of Jim, this brings me to my second point: Activity. Ben mentions briefly in the above-linked post that “OOO is Newtonian.” I wish he would elaborate on this because this is a central part of my reading of Graham’s work. Indeed, it’s what I criticize in “To Exist is to Change.” Something that Jim mentioned in his talk at Claremont (that unfortunately didn’t make it into the wonderful live blog) was a little comment about my work. One of his criteria for truly “speculative” philosophy is a strong principle of activity, and he mentioned that my work is an attempt to push OOO in this direction, but that it otherwise isn’t there. (This is also drawing exclusively from Graham’s work, since neither he nor I have read The Democracy of Objects yet. I’m sort of assuming based on recent and past comments that this is something Levi is attempting to move towards as well.) This is something I’m working more and more on, having begun in “To Exist is to Change,” continued in my Claremont paper “The Inner Life of Objects” and am pursuing in a couple of forthcoming essays.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “OOO, Language, Activity

  1. Pingback: one other point about Austin « Object-Oriented Philosophy

  2. deontologistics

    Just a small point, but one of the interesting things about broadly ‘structuralist’ approaches to language coming out of Saussure, is that their focus on the signifier (and its relation to the signified) over the sentences within they feature tends to hamstring them theoretically. This is in marked contrast to the tradition coming out of Frege which takes sentences (and the propositions they express) as primary and then understands signifiers in terms of the role they play within the context of sentences. Part of this difference has to do with the structuralists wanting to have a broader account of the symbolic than the specifically linguistic, but I won’t go into that. One major structuralist strategy is to attempt to account for the vertical relation between the signifier and what is signified by it in terms of horizontal relations between signifiers (e.g., synonymy, metonymy, etc.). The problem here is that they can’t appeal to the properly *rational* function of these signifiers without understanding the role they play in sentences, because only sentences stand in *inferential* relations to one another.

    Anyway, cutting things short, what this shows is that structuralism doesn’t necessarily place as much importance on rationality as you might think, and moreover, there are approaches to language which place far more importance on rationality (and perhaps even the nature/culture split) without thereby falling into correlationism. Obviously, I’d argue that Brandom is a good example here, but there are others. I know your comments focus mainly on continental philosophy of language, but it’s still interesting to see the connections across traditions.

  3. Thanks Pete. You’re right, I am coming at this problem purely from the continental tradition and I appreciate your insight into what is really a blind spot for me. I suppose by “rationality” I actually mean something fairly specific: the structuralist appropriation of both Descartes and Rousseau (in Lacan, Badiou and Zizek) emphasizes the fact that things are “ordered” (that is, rationally structured) within the womb of Culture/The Symbolic/Being, and that subjectivity strives to extend this order, to make human, the chaos of Nature/The Real/Events. I plan to write a short essay on this specific point in Zizek, since I take it to really be the foundation of his notion of subjectivity, the founding gesture being the expulsion of the unclean and the repression and recoil from the Real.

  4. Pingback: Stiegler and Hyperobjects: The Becoming of Objects « Larval Subjects .

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