Tag Archives: Nietzsche

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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Thinking, the In-Itself

Zizek

There’s been some back and forth and back again between Paul and Graham largely as a result of Paul’s recent interview with Peter Gratton as part of Peter’s course on Realism. See also the exchange between Ben and Graham on Hegel and Zizek.

Paul’s been brining up Hegel for a while now since he’s “in the air” in Dublin. I have to say this makes me more than a little uncomfortable. I’m not friendly to Hegel or Hegelianism and the neo-Hegelianism of the Ljubljiana Lacanians makes me equally as on-guard. The reason I’m so uncomfortable with this is the ease with with they all do away with the very real problem of the in-itself.

The in-itself is of course a long-standing issue for debate in post-Kantian philosophy and is one of the important fault lines that Meillassoux revives in After Finitude where he bases correlationist thought on the principles of correlation and factiality. The strong correlationist is the one who maintains the strength of the principle of correlation and does away with the principle of factiality (doing away with the in-itself, contingency, and freedom ultimately). I shouldn’t have to repeat this, I’m assuming people know this. By aligning yourself with Hegel (especially) you fall immediately into the Fichtean move of rejecting the in-itself (or more accurately for Fichte, making the in-itself a closeted for-us, making things-in-themselves a necessary illusion in order for the performance of the infinite ethics of the Kingdom of Ends; depending on your reading of Hegel, the same move is made though possibly for different reasons).

The same move is made by the Lacanians; the in-itself for Zizek is nothing but the “Imaginary Real,” a fantasy of a non-Symbolic realm prior to language or even humans. There is no world outside of the Symbolic for Zizek meaning there is no in-itself. This is why ultimately he favours Hegel to Schelling. Schelling of course maintains the in-itself in opposition to both Fichte and Hegel (though with the support of Schopenhauer, who is of this Schellingian strain of post-Kantian thought that finds its way into people like Nietzsche, Freud, Bergson, etc.) The significant move of this strain of post-Kantianism is not only that they maintain the in-itself, but that with this school of thought the in-itself is in some sense known. In opposition to both the Fichtean line which does away with the in-itself and the more orthodox Kantian line which maintains the in-itself but also its unknowability, this line of thought (which I refer to as “Vitalist”) says that the in-itself is in some sense grasped through self-analysis (this is the importance of “intuition” for Schelling and Bergson for instance). We have access to our own noumenal existence by which we understand other existents to have their own non-phenomenal (that is, non-for-us) existence. Just as I am not the sum of my phenomenal appearance (I am unconscious, I am will, I am virtual, etc, etc.) neither are objects.

This also gives us clues as to how non-human objects interact with each other, as well as their inner lives. First, it allows for a pre-human and post-human world. Vitalism accepts history as a given, things existed, things happened, before there were human beings to observe them and these things are in no way dependent on our knowing to have existence. In the same way, aspects of my existence go un-actualized, remaining unconscious. This in no way means they do not exist, simply that I don’t know of them.

The importance of this cannot be under-estimated. The road to anti-realism is paved with Hegelian intentions. I don’t see how anyone could read Hegel and take a realism from it without doing some serious work (which even the Marxists have trouble maintaining, what does Nick Land call dialectical materialism? Shoddy idealism, I think). This means ultimately that I’m on the side of Graham and Grant on this one, once the in-itself is ditched, there is no possible realism. For the same reason then that Fichte irreversibly anti-realist, so too is Hegel.

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Félix Ravaisson’s Of Habit

I just read Ravaisson’s Of Habit. It is really a great little book. There is so much more in this essay than I expected and it really shows just how indebted 19th-20th Century French Metaphysics are to Schelling. Ravaisson of course attended Schelling’s lectures in Munich and was apparently set to translate some of Schelling’s works into French though it never panned out. Bergson sounds so much less “out there” when read in the context of Ravaisson. Not only are the roots of Bergsonism in there (by way of the virtual, the focus on memory and repetition, “secret vital forces” at the heart of the organism, etc.), but also the carnal phenomenology that largely separates the French phenomenologists (Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, Henry, Marion, etc.) from the Heideggerian tradition. There’s also a form of the unconscious, which he calls an “unreflective spontaneity” that “breaks into […] the organism, and increasingly establishes itself there, beyond, beneath the region of will, personality and consciousness” (53). He also speaks of it in terms of “effort,” which the translators use to translate both “effort” and “puissance” [power]. The latter term of course becomes important in Deleuze and his reading of Nietzsche. It also proves important in Foucault’s later writings on the Self. Deleuze distinguishes “puissance” (as power-to, possibility) from “pouvoir” (as power-over, domination) when he discusses Nietzsche’s Will to Power. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Ravaisson talks of “puissance” in relation to an unconscious drive (connected with “instinct” and “tendency”), as the ground of possibility at the centre of the organism, much in the same way that the psychoanalytic and vitalist traditions see it. There must be a connection between this early 19th Century Naturphilosophie and the later French psychology tradition (Janet). Besides that, it shows the biologization of Schellingian speculative metaphysics, grounding Schelling in much the same way that thinkers like Lorenz Oken did. Anyone interested in either the Schellingian or 20th Century French tradition owes it to themselves to read this brief essay.

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the object itself is force…

Thanks to Zach (can I call you Zach? I’m gonna go ahead and call you Zach) for this quote from Deleuze which I had entirely forgotten about:

… the object itself is force, expression of a force. … There is no object (phenomenon) which is not already possessed since in itself it is not an appearance but the apparition of a force.

— Deleuze, Nietzsche & Philosophy, 1.3, p. 6

It’s been a couple of years since I really sat down and read any Deleuze and I feel like I’m in a much better place to read it now, so I’m going to find the time to (re-)read as much Deleuze as I can this summer. I started Bergsonism today, which I have never read, so we’ll see how much time I have and how much I can get in (I also picked up his Spinoza from the library along with Bergsonism since his books are never available).

To anyone that’s been following along with what I’ve been writing, this tiny quote packs in a lot that I like, though I’m uncomfortable with the idea of reducing objects to “just the apparition of a force,” but I’m still trying to figure out exactly what I think of the relation of drive to ghost, whether a ghostly object can actually be reduced in such a way, or if time/history doesn’t allow for such a move. I think I want to say that while yes, metaphysically, drive comes first (since things are nothing but accidental articulations of drive), we cannot simply reduce these objects to just the drives of Nature, since in their becoming, they create a whole new level of reality. So in this way, an object is not “just” drive, but is rather a further creative act above drive itself, since it is drive-historicized and relationized, that is, not simply drive as lack or craving, but drive as instinct and creative urging, if that makes any sense at all.

[ADDENDUM: I think this is why I am sort of confused by the problem that both Graham and Levi often articulate with Whitehead and Latour (collectively forming the rock supergroup, The Relationists). Both Graham and Levi say that objects can’t be simply nothing more than their relations or else change is impossible, so Graham (I’m not sure how Levi does this, so I’ll speak only of Graham here) takes the position that we need some substance-like-thing, that is, substance that is not inalterable or eternal, but some dark untapped core at the heart of things in order for there to be potentiality and change (while saying also, like Leibniz, that finite things contain infinity or maybe it’s closer to Nicholas of Cusa’s “relative infinity…”) Graham also says that it is this problem that causes Latour to move to his talk of plasma, which approaches monism or at least quasi-monists like Deleuze and Bergson, essentially the idea of an infinite reserve underlying all objects).

It seems to me though that another option besides positing infinity either within all objects, or underlying all objects, is to work with an idea of drive, will, or conatus. In this way, I think you get a model of change which better reflects reality. I suppose this is the option I’ve chosen to explore, which is why I tie myself to the vitalist tradition so strongly, since they, along with certain neo-Platonists (the ones who claim the world-soul to be more primary than the divine intellect) and voluntarists also seem to make this move, or at least a similar one. I’m hoping to write more about this tradition soon.]

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that’s a fun age, isn’t it?

God is Dead!

This is probably my favourite one.

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Nietzsche the Spectral Realist

Couldn’t have put it any better myself:

“Let us beware of saying that death is the opposite of life. The living being is only a species of the dead, and a very rare species.”

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A Triumphant Irruption of the Plant in Us

Check this out: Zarathustra vs. the Muck-Encrusted Mockery of a Man!

Courtesy of BldgBlog (although actually found on his twitter).

Swamp Thing

I had never made the connection between the Swamp Thing and Nietzsche before, but remembering back to my childhood (when I was a pretty big comic book fan, one of only a few in my small town), the connection seems obvious.

– Swamp Thing is an example of the Eternal Return (going by Alan Moore’s version). There have always been Swamp Things defending The Green, and it seems there always will be.

– Swamp Thing is More-Than-Man. In the initial version, he was a human who became part plant and gained superhuman powers, whereas in Moore’s retelling, he was a vegetable-entity who dreamed he was a human. I think the latter case is actually superior in this situation. The vegeman was without human flaws (obviously, he would have his own), was quite literally infinite (could regenerate, but also could reincarnate) as his identity is not “this human being,” but “this infinite underground network of plant-stuff.” Is the Swamp Thing rhizomal-man?

I’ll have to end this here, I have a seminar on Freud and Lacan that I have to prepare for. I may add to this later when I’ve thought more about it (I feel like I have a lot to say about this “plant in us”).

Title taken from Deleuze/Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus.

Swamp Thing

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