March 2011


A new blog has emerged that has shown a great deal of interest in OOO and which is full of energy and thought. In recent days, a debate has emerged surrounding realism with Fragilekeys arguing for an antirealist position, and Joseph Goodson arguing for a realist position (here, here, and here). In my view, OOO doesn’t fit easily with any of these positions (and here I’ll cop that I’m speaking about my version of OOO, not Graham’s, Ian’s, or Morton’s).

This whole issue is very complicated. First, there are two types of idealism: metaphysical and epistemological idealism. Metaphysical idealism is the strong thesis that ideas (whether in the form of cognitive processes, signs, power, or language) literally create reality such that there is no reality apart from these things. This would be the absolute idealism that Hegel attempted to develop (under a non-Zizekian reading), but also the subjective idealism of Berkeley. Epistemological idealism is the thesis that there is a reality independent of human categories, but we can’t know anything about it. This would be the thesis of theorists such as Kant, Derrida, and moderate versions of Lacanianism. We can contrast these positions to those of representational realism (what is often called “naive realism”). Representational realism would be the thesis that 1) what we represent is reality as it is and 2) that this reality would be the way we represent it regardless of whether or not human beings represented it.

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This morning my dear friend and second mother Linda died from a massive stroke. I will never talk to her again. I will never hear her laugh again. I will never hear her wry humor again. She will never meet my daughter Lizzie, nor will Lizzie ever meet this person who has been so important to me. She touched countless lives and genuinely made the world a better place. I miss my friend and grieve for her loss and her family’s loss. She went too young, at the age of only 63. It is suitably grey outside today.

On Friday September 16th CUNY Graduate Center will be hosting an event entitle Speculative Medievalisms: A Laboratory– Atelier II. Eileen Joy tells me that this is a follow-up to the event that King’s College hosted in London last January. That’s going to be one hell of a week.

I was pleased to find a copy of Lars Iyer’s new book Spurious (signed and with a wonderful and very generous note written in the cover, no less) in my mailbox this morning. For those of you who are not familiar with his blog Spurious, it is populated by, hands down, the most beautiful and poetic prose in the blogosphere. It is by measures hilarious, full of pathos, apocalyptic, and deeply philosophical. There’s a very real sense in which Lars has simultaneously resurrected the form of dialogue as a mode of philosophical exposition and created an entirely new genre of philosophical writing. Is it philosophy? Is it literature? Is it poetry? I don’t know, but it’s damn good. I can’t wait to read this.

I’m in really rough shape right now. This morning I found out that a very dear friend of mine has had a massive stroke and is on life support. She’s been my second mother throughout life, even though it’s been a few years since I talked to her. I was best friends with her son throughout elementary school and high school. We lived at each others houses. When my parents moved away from Toledo I lived with them for 3+ months, and all throughout college I would drive from Columbus to Toledo to have evening dinners with her and shoot the breeze. We would even read crappy fantasy and science fiction novels together. This sucks. I’m sitting here in class trying not to lose my shit. Thank God I’m giving quizzes today.

Bogost complains when I write too many posts in a single day, but I have to get thoughts down as they occur to me. Today is such a day (perhaps it has something to do with being licked by a giraffe yesterday). At any rate, Luhmann has, on occasion, been described as the most resolutely posthumanist thinker that ever existed. Why might this be? The key thesis of Luhmann’s sociology is that humans belong to the environment of social systems. What does Luhmann means when he says this? He means that social systems are not composed of humans. While humans are a necessary condition for social systems (in much the same way that certain chemicals are a necessary condition for DNA), they are nonetheless outside the social system. For Luhmann, social systems are composed not of humans, but of communications. Communications, for Luhmann, communicate with communications. They aren’t messages sent to a person from another person. Rather, communications only ever respond to communications. Humans can perturb social systems according to Luhmann, but they cannot participate in social systems. If you want to understand the dynamics of how all of this works, read The Reality of the Mass Media and Social Systems.

So why is Luhmann’s theoretical orientation posthuman? The first thing to note is that it is not antihuman. Luhmann does not deny the existence of of humans (what he calls “individual psycho-neurological systems), nor does he reduce humans to products of the social and linguistic systems or power. Individual psychic systems are every bit as real as any other system in Luhmann. It just happens that humans aren’t a part of society, that’s all. Perhaps we can get some traction on the issue by comparing humanism or anthropocentrism to posthumanism. Humanistic and anthropocentric approaches are such because they treat human systems (individual psychic systems) as an essential component of any and all relations. In an anthropocentric or humanistic approach, for example, we ask how humans relate to society, how humans relate to a particular form of technology, how humans relate to other forms of life, and so on. The equation– which Meillassoux calls “correlationism” –is always one in which we are to ask how the “human is related to x”. For example, we might ask how humans make use of various forms of military technology.

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On September 15th CUNY will be hosting an event entitled “Speculative Realism: A Conversation With Jane Bennett, Levi Bryant, and Graham Harman”. I’m looking forward to this tremendously, especially since I haven’t met Bennett in person yet. It’s likely that there will be another event on the following day (or before), but that’s still in the planning stages right now.

As a funny aside, I had no idea I was participating in this event until one of the organizers contacted me and asked whether a particular time worked for me. In Deleuzian terms, I guess you could say I’m undergoing a sort of “becoming-object” where I’m just scheduled for things without being aware of it. I confess that’s a very nice place to be!

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