Tag Archives: Badiou

Notes on Structuralism

Anxiety

– Structuralism is no longer limited to a linguistic theory or even a general theory of language, as is often supposed. Rather, it has become a general metaphysical system.

– Structuralist linguistics, which is based on the idea of fundamental dichotomies or oppositions, was combined with Kantianism and Neo-Kantianism for form a metaphysics based on two central principles: 1. anthropocentrism, and 2. the centrality of trauma.

– Recent thinkers to consider: Saussure, Natorp, Cassirer, Rickert, Jakobson, Lévi-Strauss, Lacan, Badiou, Žižek.

– Historical thinkers adopted by this tradition: Descartes, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel.

– At its most basic, structuralism is a system which says that reality is inherently antagonistic, and that the human being must shield itself from the trauma of the Real. This is done through the construction of meaning.

– See for instance Cassirer on the construction of symbolic meaning, Lévi-Strauss on culture and Lacan on the Symbolic.

– Structuralism is a philosophy obsessed with order. To psychoanalyze structuralism is to stumble upon theoretical OCD; the structuralist fears any sign or semblance of chaos, of disorder, of the Real. Yet while they consciously desire to keep out the creeping chaos outside of the Symbolic Order, they unconsciously rely on its creativity, productivity and energy. More than this however, such thinkers rely on the opposition of order and chaos, presupposing that the latter has existence-for-itself, while the latter is but a network dependent on the mutual opposition of its myriad members.

– Meaning is only seen then as a human function, serving essentially therapeutic purposes. Both Cassirer and Rickert assert that meaning and value are distanced from things like life and are purely rational. This is in opposition to Dilthey, Nietzsche, Bergson and Uexküll who insist that meaning is deeper than humanity and extends to all life. We should follow Peirce, Deleuze and Serres who go even further than this and insist that meaning is a constitutive part of existence, that all things structure reality in meaningful ways.

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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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Let X equal the cold.

Badiou

I’m going over both Being & Event and Logics of Worlds for a paper on Lacanian metaphysics. Every once in a while I get this odd feeling reading Badiou though, like a repetition of that scene from the movie Proof where Catherine reads aloud her father’s writings, thinking his mind is allowing him to once again do complex maths, but instead ends up with:

Let X equal the quantity of all quantities of X. Let X equal the cold. It is cold in December. The months of cold equal November through February. There are four months of cold, and four of heat, leaving four months of indeterminate temperature. In February it snows. In March the Lake is a lake of ice. In September the students come back and the bookstores are full. Let X equal the month of full bookstores. The number of books approaches infinity as the number of months of cold approaches four. I will never be as cold now as I will in the future. The future of cold is infinite. The future of heat is the future of cold. The bookstores are infinite and so are never full except in September…

That is to say, I think Badiou is bogged down tremendously by his reliance on math and logic and that his points could be made much better if he didn’t attempt to couch his arguments in such language. I’ll probably talk about this in the paper, but my impression is that Badiou is simply attempting to maintain the Lacanian Real-Symbolic relation without wanting the Symbolic qua Order to simply be a repetition of Heideggerian Language. I take Logics of Worlds to be an attempt to distance himself even further from the linguistic turn in his move to transcendental logic.

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International Journal of Zizek Studies – Call For Graduate Student Papers

Badiou-Zizek

The following CFP should be of interest to many who read this blog. I’ll see if I can’t come up with something on Žižek, Badiou and the metaphysics of psychoanalysis.

Žižek and Badiou

This special graduate student issue of the International Journal of Žižek Studies will explore the relationship between Slavoj Žižek’s and Alain Badiou’s work. It asks, how can we combine Žižek’s and Badiou‘s work? Are there specific areas or issues which enable a productive confrontation between their respective approaches? And, how can we utilise the differences and continuities to stimulate innovative engagements within other discourses?

For Issue 5.1 of the International Journal of Žižek Studies we invite graduate student submissions, within any context, on the above or related themes. Abstracts of 250 words should be submitted by 31st August 2010 and the final deadline for submission of papers will be September 15th 2010. Please contact Guest-Editor Robert Crich to discuss submissions or queries: CrichRA@cardiff.ac.uk

Areas of interest include: comparative-engagements which utilise their different approaches to shed new light on a particular topic; comparative studies of their respective approaches to any particular issue; evaluations of their critical positions in relation to a particular theory or thinker; evaluations of the overlap between their respective philosophical and critical positions; their political positions and, for example, their critiques of liberal democracy, multiculturalism or the notion of tolerance; their account of capitalism and the role of political economy in their work; the role of ideology critique in their work.

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The Eternal And Necessary Bond Between Politics and Ontology: Some Notes On The Nature Of Artifice

I wanted to write something on ontology and politics since it’s been going around. I haven’t had a chance to read the posts by Ben and Reid regarding this issue, so this may be painfully out of date and for that I apologize. I always worry when a hot topic goes around and I know that both Ben and Reid have commented on the issue that I will simply be repeating them. This comes largely as notes on Nina’s original post and Nick’s follow-up. It is not meant to be conclusive, but simply a statement of belief regarding the relationship of ontology and the political.

I can understand the theory that brought these ideas forth, I have even made similar arguments against someone in my department (a post-Marxist who draws on Deleuze and Negri and insists that ontology is inherently political). What I am concerned about is more of an epiphenomena of such a critique. I accept Nick’s claim that Being (and it’s study) should not be hindered by one’s politics; monarchists have just as much access to reality as Marxists. I do however worry about what such a sharp divide does for ontology.

One of the things I very much dislike about Badiou is that for him philosophy is very much reactionary. It is always the result of someone working within one of the conditions and then applying such advances, discoveries, or beliefs to philosophy. It strikes me that this is what is at root of both Nina’s and Nick’s writings on the relation of politics and ontology. It seems very much like a Reese’s problem, as if the history of thought said: “you got your politics in my ontology,” “you got your ontology in my politics,” and now we are looking to separate the two. I don’t think ontology is inherently political, reality is not conservative or liberal or capitalist or communist, it is what it is. That being said, I don’t think the division can be stated so strongly. Politics are a part of reality, as part of humanity they are an emergent property of the real, that is, Nature. There is nothing artificial about politics. One of the points of Nina’s original post was that there is a necessary split between politics and ontology, even if it is entirely artificial. There is no such thing as artificiality. All is Nature. As such, we must consider politics as entirely natural. I am very much an Aristotelian in this way (or perhaps a pre-modern or anti-modern), we should look to Nature in order to understand our own political struggles. This is exactly why I have proposed a loose outline of survivalism, a form of ethics and politics that takes the health and well-being of systems as its goal.

It is not then that politics have infected metaphysics, ontology is not in itself political. What is the political though? I think it can be defined as essentially “the development and maintenance of systems of things and relations.” At it’s most basic politics are a complex system of relations. Ontology as I understand it, the study of Nature (the only realm of existents), is also relational. It would follow then that the study of one will necessarily involve the understanding of the other. We must be clear however that I grant no sacredness to the political the way Nick seems to, politics are the logical extension of a thing able to act on those systems which generated it, just as ontology and ethics are studies which develop from specific things in reality (complex animal organisms), so too is the political able to act on on its own ground. This is consequential of the outgrowth of consciousness in Nature: organisms can now act rather than simply react. In this sense I grant politics to all relational organisms, or rather, all organisms able to act on their own systems of relations. This means, again, that politics are not sacred. I see nothing special in human politics except that we are more partial to them because we are implicated in their development and decisions. I’m sure if the politics of bees had an impact on me I would be much more concerned with their network of workers and queens, but as it stands the system of human relations are just another system. Certainly I would not stand for political decisions that I see as unethical or unjust, but that does not make such systems holy, only of more concern for my wellbeing. To repeat, I see Nature as inherently relational, and I see the political to be nothing more than a complex system of relations. It follows then than we should, following Aristotle and many others, attempt to understand the political through an understanding of Nature-itself.

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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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Being Without Thought: The Unconscious and the Critique of Correlationism

I have decided to make available a short draft version of a larger work, what could probably be called my greater “project” that I am actively working on. As has been pointed out by both Nick and Ben in their recent interviews with Paul Ennis, I am part of a small group of speculative realists (a name I gladly wear) that not only defends, but attempts to expand on the tradition of psychoanalysis, or more specifically, the metaphysics of psychoanalysis.

Descartes

The piece in question is “Being Without Thought: The Unconscious and the Critique of Correlationism” and could best be described as my immediate reaction to Meillassoux’ After Finitude, written a few months ago. The work is still very much early on, and I hope to expand on it a fair amount, with all of the sections growing. The purpose of the paper was to cap off a reading course I did this past winter on Schelling, Lacan, and Zizek. I had just read Meillassoux’ book and asked my advisor if I could write a short piece attempting to sort out my ideas on how Meillassoux relates to the metaphysics of psychoanalysis. The sections on Badiou, Schelling and Schopenhauer are admittedly rough, but I think there’s a seed of something larger there. I will be expanding on all of these ideas this fall when I will be sitting in on a seminar on Schopenhauer, since it’s been a couple of years since I read The World as Will and Representation. I also hope to add a section on Eduard von Hartmann, but I’m not sure when or if I’ll have time to really deal with his massive The Philosophy of the Unconscious. I would also like to figure out how Zizek fits in with all of this, though I suspect his Hegelianism would not fare well.

Anyway, please read the piece (again, it is only very brief, draft, etc, etc.), and let me know what you think.

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