Tag Archives: Kant

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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The Limits of ‘Correlationism’

The Sea of Ice

Graham mentioned that he liked my distinction between structuralism (read broadly) and other forms of correlationism. I’ve felt, probably since first reading After Finitude, that Meillassoux’s categories tell a very small story and that that story should be broadened to include new categories or designators. In some ways this has meant broadening ‘correlationism’ but it also means looking at how contemporary thinkers designate their contemporaries. Graham’s work for instance is very good on this, as he lays out clearly why his position is different from materialism (of many types), the two forms of correlationism, empiricism, occasionalism, relationism, etc, etc. He writes a story with many characters (17 apparently, if Treatise on Objects will contain his own system against 16 others), which I really appreciate. I suppose my own efforts stem from this desire to tell a big story, to have many characters rather than a strict argument against one single position. In my paper in Claremont for instance, there were several such systems at work, with some overlap: eliminative materialism, eliminative idealism, weak and strong correlationism, speculative materialism, OOO, transcendental realism, and neo-vitalism. The two forms of eliminativism could perhaps (in the case of eliminative idealism at least) be subsumed under the heading of correlationism, as I mentioned yesterday of structuralism.

As for structuralism as a variety of idealism, I don’t think this is quite right. I don’t know if the category ‘idealism’ makes sense anymore after we have chosen to adopt ‘correlationism.’ As Graham has said before, initially Meillassoux thought himself to be arguing against idealism, but he realized that there were important differences between ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ forms of correlationism, both of which would be, under more classical terminology, ‘idealist’ in the sense of being anti-realist. But the important difference has to do with things-in-themselves, and not simply the principle of correlation. Since structuralism as I have defined it maintains the possibility of novelty, of things being other than what they are, and of things existing outside of thought (however traumatic this transition from unthought to thought may be), they are not really classifiable under Meillassoux’s schema. Nor are they classically idealist. If we take perhaps the two extreme forms of idealism to be those of, on the one hand, Berkeley, and on the other, Fichte, then this becomes clear. For Berkeley, there are no things in themselves because everything is always being perceived by God. So while we could say he is an idealist in the sense of all things being mental, he is also an anti-realist in the sense that nothing exists apart from being perceived. For Fichte, we have the relation of Subject and Object boiling down to the fact that the Object is always created by the Subject as a form of opposition. The Object only has being from the Subject, who creates it in order to strive against it (in the form of absolute freedom and the striving for Justice). He is therefore both an idealist (the Object is created entirely by the mind of the Transcendental Subject) and an anti-realist (the Object has no reality apart from this relation to human mind). There also really are no things-in-themselves for Fichte for this reason, as the Object is always excluded from Subjectivity in order to be further integrated and included. So both extreme examples of idealism share the fact that they are strong correlationists (there are no things-in-themselves) as well as the fact that they are anti-realist (all things are reducible to mental processes or Mind generally).

Structuralism, which I should point out I am entirely against, maintains along with the weak correlationist that there are things-in-themselves, but claims we not only imagine them as a possibility, we encounter them as trauma. We also do not cause them to exist, as they have some disorganized being outside of thought, existing whether we like it or not. So the structuralist is neither a correlationist in the weak or strong sense (things-in-themselves actually do exist and we know them in some traumatic way), nor are they a strict anti-realist (Nature exists in opposition to Culture, even if it is a swirling tumult of chaos).

I have also proposed a lineage of “Transcendental Realism” in both my Claremont talk as well as another essay, where I maintain that there is a lineage after Kant that takes Kantianism (and critical philosophy generally) seriously, while also maintaining that there is more to things than our ideas of things. I locate this tradition with the rejection of Fichte by his star students, Schelling and Novalis, and see it as the ground of Romantic philosophy broadly understood to include Schopenhauer, Fechner, Nietzsche, von Hartmann, etc. It’s also a tradition which takes Spinoza very seriously, as well as aesthetics and mysticism. This is because they represent a group that knew that the logical consequence of Enlightenment thought was the reduction of the real to the rational and that this isn’t the case. They accept that there are things-in-themselves and that we have some vague knowledge of them through non-cognitive means, like sensation, imagination, intuition, etc. This is precisely the critique of Kant that Schopenhauer makes, that we actually know something of the in-itself because we are able to grasp the in-itself in us intuitively. They are also realists in the sense that things exist prior to human thought and will exist after we are gone. This is because they accept the metaphysical unconscious, that conscious perception not only is not the ground of reality, but is really only a very small part of the cosmos.

I think this gives some idea, at least in part, of the limitations of ‘correlationism’ as a category. While it is useful and telling of certain figures, it is in no way the whole story. We simply need to add more characters to the story of contemporary philosophy.

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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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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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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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Ghosts of Time and Space

This is something I had intended to write when Reza Negarestani first posted his “Memento Tabere: Reflections on Time and Putrefaction,” but due to deadlines, put on the back burner only to forget about it entirely. Fortunately, Ben has just written on it, making me realize that I had yet to write this. So here we are. The essay that Reza writes tries to think through the relationship between time, space, and decay. I have yet to put the Spectral Realist concepts of time and space down in any concrete way, having only implicitly said anything on these concepts. I’ll take this opportunity then to formulate these concepts more concretely using Reza’s essay as a way of navigating these ideas.

Reza will ask:

“What is exactly the role of time in decay, does this role reinscribe the correlationist appropriation of time through experience and presence or does it amount to an idealism which favors and privileges time over space?”

I was to begin by saying that in response to this question, Spectral Realism does say quite simply that time is privileged over space. Space is, like the objects that occupy it, entirely accidental, that is, space and time are not intimately related as in Kant, nor do we find a complicity of time and space as in Reza’s post. Rather, the drives that underly all products exist in time, or to be more precise, the movement of the drives (the movement which they simply are) is time. Were there no objects existing as results of this productivity, there would still be time, there would simply be no visible result of the work of time.

Ghosts can exist without place, but only ever exist in time (history). The act of haunting is always a temporal one, and not necessarily a spacial one.

I hope to elaborate more on spacial hauntings when I have time to write the piece on Walter Benjamin that I promised as Bones of Ghosts II. Until then, it must simply be understood that spectrality is a historical phenomenon in that a ghost is the movement of an entity in time, but that this entity need not ever have taken up space, as is evident in the death drives which themselves are never constituted in space save for the ghosts they move.

But what is this drive-based time? Following Bergson’s concept of duration, we should say that time is the pure mobility of the contraction and expansion of the dual drives. Time is simply the drives themselves as they are nothing more than their infinite mobility toward impossibility, towards absolute expansion and contraction, or, to put it another way, time is the movement of the infinite towards it’s own collapse.

This brings me to the same quote that Ben draws out from Reza’s piece:

We can say that in decay space is perforated by time: Although time hollows out space, it is space that gives time a twist that abnegates the privilege of time over space and expresses the irrepressible contingencies of the absolute time through material and formal means.

Space is nothing more, the Spectral Realist will say, than the result of the tension of the drives, the accidental coming-to-be of things which themselves are driven towards collapse and, so long as there are continual oppositional drives, exist for all time as ghosts in history. We can see then that these ghosts are not on equal footing with time itself (qua drive) but must be the results of the temporal struggle of reality. Space comes to be in time, while time lies beneath all spaciality.

Finally, what then is decay? Decay is the necessary result of space having invaded time, it is the consequence of existence as such. The drives do not decay, only things decay, in fact, all things decay. The decaying of things is a sign of the primacy of time, of destrudo over objects. It is important to note that ghosts, the children of Thanatos, do not rot, but echo for all time as they are pulled indefinitely and unpredictably, growing and spreading just as much as they are decaying and dying.

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