July 2007

It seems to me that, heated as it was, the discussion between Antigram and K-Punk regarding education and arguments from experience has prompted a lot of productive discussion, which is a testament to the value of the blogosphere. Although I am interested in the discussions surrounding the relationship between specific educational institutions, class structure, and habitus around which these discussions have centered, I find myself focusing on more abstract questions surrounding the ontological status of structure. In a response to my post, Daniel writes:

I want to respond to this point about individuals and structures.

My position is that individuals have nothing to do with class, because individuals do not exist. I think the idea of the individual is an ideological illusion. I want to radically excise the individual from philosophy; I believe that the individual has no ontological status whatsoever.

I precisely reject the conjecture that we could talk about structure as lying between individuals, in the sense “the individual finds herself enmeshed in a web that exceeds her control, understanding, and intentions.” No – I think (the mirage of) the individual is itself a product of that web, and there is no feedback relation between the individual and that web.

I think if we want to talk about feedback vis-a-vis structure, we need to talk about agents, objects, subjects, not individuals. To my mind, the concept of the individual is utterly compromised, and, since Freud, redundant.

When someone argues in this way, claiming that “the individual is itself a product a product of that web, and there is no feedback relation between the individual and that web [structure, system]”, what is the ontology presupposed by such a claim? That is, what ontological status are we granting to structure? What kind of think is structure? How does structure produce individuals as effects? In what way does structure exist? Given that we never directly encounter structures, what set of considerations lead us to posit the existence of structures?

I suspect that there is a misunderstanding here between Antigram and I, and that he takes me to be saying something very specific when I evoke the category of “individuals”. However, for anyone who has spent time on this site, I hope that it is clear that I am somewhat sympathetic to the claims Antigram is here enunciating. It seems to me that these are precisely the sorts of questions Deleuze is addressing with his account of individuation, where he describes the movement from the virtual to the actual as the movement from multiplicities or structures to actualized individuals. That is, Deleuze, in his early work, is striving to account for the precise way in which the individual is a “product of structure”. For me the question is one of how structures comes to be, how they pass away, and how they maintain themselves over time. Suppose we treat language, following Saussure, Hjelmslev, and Jakobson, as an example of structure. The first question is necessitated because we know that there are different languages and that these languages therefore came to be. Similarly, the fact that we no longer speak Sanskrit tells us that languages pass away. Finally, the fact that languages persist from generation to generation indicates that there must be a way in which structure maintains and transmits itself.

What, then, is it that we’re talking about when we talk about structure? Antigram’s comments suggest that there is one thing, structure, and another thing, individuals, such that structures produce individuals. Or rather, Antigram’s statements suggest that there is only one thing: structure. Yet where do we ever find these structures and what leads us to conclude that they exist? Is structure something that exists in its own right, as Antigram seems to suggest? Is there one thing, Language, and another thing Speech (individuals, individual events), such that Speech is only an instantiation of transcendent structure? Or rather, is structure shorthand for a heuristic device that linguists, anthropologists, political theorists, etc. create to describe pattens common to a group of agents within a particular geographical and historical context, such that there is no such thing as Language independent of Speech, but only speech perpetually reproducing language? When we say that individuals do not exist, are we not also saying that structures would exist regardless of whether or not there were bodies to embody them? Or are structrures only in bodies, yet are emergent patterns that cannot be reduced to any one individual body? That is, what is the explanatory work that the concept of structure is doing? Do structures function like iron and inescapable laws– Saussure suggests as much when he argues that it is impossible for any individual to invent a word –or are structures more like fuzzy aggregates that exemplify patterned activity that the theorist idealizes or purifies and then reifies as a set of iron laws governing social interactions? Do structures have an agency of their own, like Hegelian Geist, or is there something else at work here?


A heated discussion has begun to emerge surrounding the validity of arguments from experience. The entire tussle began with an interesting post by K-Punk on the relationship between class-relations and intersubjective attitudes. In the course of this post, K-punk made reference to his own experience, which prompted Daniel from Antigram to present a critique of arguments from experience based on the Lacanian theory of fantasy. In my view, K-Punk was not basing his position on his own personal experience, but rather illustrating his point through a representative example. In many respects, K-Punk’s thesis reminds me of Bourdieu’s discussions of taste, where Badiou, in Distinction, shows how the milieu of individuation in which an agent emerges within a particular social field gives form to the affects and percepts that populate the agent. That is, it seemed to me that K-Punk was raising questions of individuation. Unless we are to treat affects as innate or as fictions, it is necessary to raise questions such as those of why one agent is filled with rage when seeing an American flag burn, another joy, and yet another indifference. If this point is conceded, if this variability is acknowledged, then there must be some process of individuation agents undergo that produces a system of affects, a system of how the world is affectively encountered, that gives form to ones affective space. It seems to me that this is what K-Punk was getting at, what he was trying to draw attention to. Is one’s affective and perceptual space simply a private affair, an individual and impersonal idiosyncracy, or does it point towards a more collective affectivity produced as a result of processes of morphogenesis, speaking to all sorts of things ranging from economic structures, to class relations, to gender relations, etc? A similar point could be made in relation to Lacan’s theory of affect as presented in Seminar 10: L’angoisse, where Lacan outlines the manner in which affect is structured around the signifier. Nonetheless, Antigram makes an interesting point in drawing attention to the way in which experience is imbricated in fantasy. In Seminar 6: Desire and Its Interpretation, Lacan argues that fantasy is the frame of reality. Reality, for Lacan, is not on the other side of fantasy, but rather the two form a mobius loop, such that fantasy provides the window through which reality is encountered. As Lacan will say in Television, “reality is the grimace of the real.” Fantasy is that which renders the real tolerable, allowing the subject to encounter it. It seems that Antigram treats the term “fantasy” in pejorative terms in a way that is foreign to the psychoanalytic clinic.

In response to Antigram’s analysis, both Jodi Dean and Shaviro jump in, the former surprisingly drawing attention to the way in which fantasy and arguments from experience has played a disturbing role in certain forms of identity politics (this is surprising given the predominence of arguments from experience on I Cite… Recall the discussions about pedestrian traffic in London), the latter offering a critique of Antigram’s position. Of particular importance is Shaviro’s reminder that for Lacan “there is no metalanguage”. This is one of the key features of the Lacanian understanding of transference as it operates in the clinic and is of central importance in differentiating the Lacanian clinic from other psychotherapeutic clinics. Apart from the impossibility of imagining any psychoanalytic clinic that doesn’t focus on the analysand’s experiences, one of the central features of the Lacanian clinic is that the analyst abdicates the position of master or the master’s discourse. To say there is no metalanguage is to say that the analyst too is caught up in the relations of transference, that he or she is not immune from the effects of the unconscious. I suspect that appropriations of psychoanalysis outside the clinic often function not as instances of the discourse of the analyst, but rather as discourses of the master, where the theorist deploying psychoanalytic discourse occupies a position of mastery with regard to the cultural artifacts they analyze and comment on. In this connection, Shaviro’s comments strike me as valuable. It does not seem to me that Shaviro is so much rejecting Antigram’s point as problematizing it. The point seems to be that while experience may indeed be perpetually bound up with fantasy, we are nonetheless unable to escape experience. Consequently, it cannot be a question of escaping or rejecting experience altogether– as Shaviro makes clear in relation to his comments about Althusser’s theses about the inescapability of ideology and the nature of science –but of encountering the problematic status of experience (in the Kantian sense of a regulative ideal or a problem that persists in its solution). To this Antigram responds in a rather heated manner.

In connection to Antigram’s response, I will only say that one of the crucial features of “taking responsibility for one’s subjective position” consists in the affirmation of one’s experience without searching for authorization from the big Other. An analysand who has traversed the fantasy is also an analysand that no longer looks to the Other– as embodied in the analyst but also in the social world as well –as a norm that would tell the analysand what he ought to be or whether or not he is living up to some set of standards. The post-analyzed subject no longer believes that there is a master that contains knowledge of “how to get ahead in the world”, “how to have a successful romantic or sexual life”, “how to make it in academia”, etc. This is because such an analysand has come to recognize that the Other does not exist, or that the Other itself is lacking, incomplete, riven by desire and does not itself know what it desires. It becomes clear that there is no one road to Rome, and that, in any event, perhaps Rome doesn’t even exist. This would include how that analysand understands the sense of their experiences, their meaning, their signification. More fundamental than the discovery of ones own status as a split subject, is the discovery of the Other as split, as not-existing. In this regard, an analysis does not so much divest an analysand of experience, so much as affirm the experience of that analysand. If the analyst respects and honors anything, it is the speech of the analysand for that speech is the site of truth. To be sure, the analyst is always listening for that “Other discourse” in the analysand’s speech– in slips of the tongue, double entendres, dreams, jokes, omissions, contradictions, etc –but the analyst certainly is not in the business of discounting the analysand’s experience or disregarding it. How could he? Not only would the analyst here set himself up as an authority, thereby inviting various conflictual relations, but he would also be adopting the position of the ego-therapist, presuming to be capable of arbitrating between truth and falsity.

Here it is important to recall that for Lacan, fantasy is not so much fantasy pertaining to the subject and the subject’s wants, as it is fantasy of what the Other desires, what the Other wants, with regard to the subject. In this connection, it could be said that the analysand’s entire life, prior to traversing the fantasy, has been structured as a lure for the Other, striving to satisfy or thwart what it believes the Other’s desire to be. The analysand has lived his entire life as the equivalent of fishing tackle, organizing his actions and desires as lures for the Other’s desire so that he might capture that desire. It is in this regard that the analysand is often led to betray his own desire, to renounce it, so as to be the object of the Other’s desire, thereby generating the symptom as the mute witness of that betrayed desire, as the trace that persists and continues to insist. This is precisely why traversing the fantasy can have an effect on the real of the symptom, as the symptom is always addressed to the Other as framed by the fantasy of the Other’s desire. Returning to K-Punk’s original post, it could be said that here traversing the fantasy would not so much entail the worker recognizing that his position is his own subjective responsibility (i.e., blaming the victim), so much as it would consist in the worker being able to posit himself as his own value, as his own condition, rather than measuring himself relative to those who enjoy a position of privilege. That is, it would be a surrender of differentially defined, oppositionally defined, identity. This, for instance, seems to be what Badiou is getting at with his subjects of a truth procedure. In a manner that sometimes echoes Nietzsche’s conception of master-morality, the subject of a truth procedure, as subtracted from the situation, no longer defines itself oppositionally in relation to a set of social and class identities, but is, rather, engaged in the project of producing its own values and truth.

UPDATE Infinite Thought weighs in on the discussion:

Anecdote and reflections upon one’s upbringing in the light of the revelation that not everybody had the same experience as me are frequently of great value: how else do we get to an understanding of class than by comparing the gap between how class is experienced (falsely or otherwise) and the economic and social structures that perpetuate this division? A Year Zero approach to class in which one should simultaneously possess a strict Marxist conception of class combined with an acceptance of responsibility for one’s own position as a subject seems unnecessarily punitive and not necessarily useful for attempting to change entrenched (but crucially not unshakeable) class divisions. (Incidentally, the odd ahistoricism of psychoanalytic categories frequently seems to me to be a major problem for any historical materialist analysis – as does the absence of any notion of a collective subject. But this is rather old-fashioned quibbling, perhaps.)

Why education, then? Education seems to me to be a good way of analysing some of the more concrete elements of class division, the way in which class perpetuates itself ideologically. Here we have a structure (schooling), legally imposed, which creates different kinds of social groups. It is neither based on academic capacity (although it sometimes claims to be via the entrance exam), nor equality at the level of the teaching, curriculum or opportunities provided. It is based on economic differentiation, and the perpetuation of that difference by any means necessary – convincing otherwise not-very-bright children that they are the best thing since primitive accumulation is one of the products that Private schools sell, along with a system of social networks, increased cultural expectation that you will go to university, etc.

Read the rest here. It would be interesting to do a similar analysis of how different tiered universities function in the United States at the level of the sort of subjectivities they produce and the networks of opportunity they engender. Once again, in all of these discussions, Bourdieu– specifically Homo Academicus seems especially relevant. As IT points out, education is one of the ways in which ideological class divisions reproduce themselves. To put it differently, education is one of the conditions for the reproduction of the conditions of production. As I reflect on this discussion, I find myself wondering whether the tools of psychoanalysis are particularly relevant.

UPDATE II Antigram elaborates more.

Let me make myself clear: The social problem of class cannot be understood so long remains understood as a relation between identities. Between the Emperor and a beggar, one cannot see society. Class is nothing to do with individuals; rather, it is a problem contained in the relations persisting between structural forces. The task of critique, the task of argument in general, is to demonstrate the workings of those forces by pulverizing the integral experiences they conjure into their constituent aspects and parts. Arguments from experience are bad and reactionary because argument as such is pitted against experience.

I have to confess that I’m nervous about these claims about structure. A good deal of what I’ve been thinking about lately is the ontological status of structure. What, exactly, is a structure? It is not that I’m here opposing Daniel and siding with the individual. Rather, what I’m wondering if structure is something other than its enactment in and through individuals. Class has a good deal to do with individuals insofar as these structures couldn’t exist without individuals to enact them. Clearly the intuition underlying claims about structure is well founded in that everything is not up to the sovereign individual as the individual finds herself enmeshed in a web that exceeds her control, understanding, and intentions. However, wouldn’t it be more productive to think the relationship between individuals and structure as a feedback relation where structure is perpetually being (re)produced through the activities of individuals and where individuals are being individuated through the effects of structure? When we side with structure or the individual, we end up in a relation that could be described in Hegelian terms as abstract insofar as it fails to think the interdependence of relations in a system. The thesis of interdependence– or, more properly, inter-determination –allows for a much more fluid and dynamic conception of social relations, that might also open other spaces of structure-transforming political engagements. It also loosens, a bit, the iron grip of structure, it’s tendency to be treated as eternal and solid, by opening the possibility of collective relations introducing new forms of structuration in much the same way that Deleuze and Guattari describe the aberrant connections produced through the orchid and the wasp. My worry is that a number of difficulties emerge if structure is reified and treated as something existing in its own right. Perhaps a part of the meaning behind the thesis “the Other does not exist” is the thesis that structure does not exist, i.e., structure would here be an effect of the subject’s belief in Zizek’s sense of the term. Not only does such a thesis open alternatives of engagement, but it also explains the possibility of structural shifts and changes in a way that reified conceptions of structure seem to render impossible. As an added aside… Damn it Daniel, you messed up the link to my blog! :-)

UPDATE III Dominic weighs in:

This leads me to think that some additional mechanism is involved, that the moment of collapse is – again, reaching for the sniper rifle – triggered, and is caused less by the failure by schools to instill the proper level of self-belief and more by their success – or that of society at large – in installing something else. Here I must confront Daniel’s skepticism concerning the social production of affect, which he seems to regard as spontaneously and indifferently woven by the subject of fantasy out of whatever experiential material happens to come to hand. In the first instance, I wonder how it is that corporations ever get to see a return on the millions of dollars they put into advertising if it is literally absurd to suggest that the affective lives of individuals can be prompted, moulded, manipulated and operationalised by outside forces. (Clearly there is something a bit rum about fantasizing that my emotional life is constantly being manipulated by evil corporations, but that is because in the fantasy I am aware of the manipulation but can do nothing about it).

Let us consider the nature of insult. I insult you; you take offense. If I have insulted you effectively, you will take offense in spite of your determination to rise above my petty jibes: the insult is effective to the extent that it causes its target to feel offended in spite of himself. Later you will curse yourself for responding so hastily and angrily to what were, after all, only words. You will, if you are exceptionally disciplined, own that your response was unworthy, that you should not have allowed yourself to become besides yourself with fury. I will then insult you again, making artful use of the humiliation I have already inflicted, and if my aim is true you will again fly into a rage. I enjoy a power over you that you do not wish to grant me, and would withhold from me if you could.

Read the rest here.

An undercover reporter takes a cruise sponsored by the National review with a group of conservatives.

I am standing waist-deep in the Pacific Ocean, both chilling and burning, indulging in the polite chit-chat beloved by vacationing Americans. A sweet elderly lady from Los Angeles is sitting on the rocks nearby, telling me dreamily about her son. “Is he your only child?” I ask. “Yes,” she says. “Do you have a child back in England?” she asks. No, I say. Her face darkens. “You’d better start,” she says. “The Muslims are breeding. Soon, they’ll have the whole of Europe.”

I am getting used to these moments – when gentle holiday geniality bleeds into… what? I lie on the beach with Hillary-Ann, a chatty, scatty 35-year-old Californian designer. As she explains the perils of Republican dating, my mind drifts, watching the gentle tide. When I hear her say, ” Of course, we need to execute some of these people,” I wake up. Who do we need to execute? She runs her fingers through the sand lazily. “A few of these prominent liberals who are trying to demoralise the country,” she says. “Just take a couple of these anti-war people off to the gas chamber for treason to show, if you try to bring down America at a time of war, that’s what you’ll get.” She squints at the sun and smiles. ” Then things’ll change.”

I am travelling on a bright white cruise ship with two restaurants, five bars, a casino – and 500 readers of the National Review. Here, the Iraq war has been “an amazing success”. Global warming is not happening. The solitary black person claims, “If the Ku Klux Klan supports equal rights, then God bless them.” And I have nowhere to run.

From time to time, National Review – the bible of American conservatism – organises a cruise for its readers. I paid $1,200 to join them. The rules I imposed on myself were simple: If any of the conservative cruisers asked who I was, I answered honestly, telling them I was a journalist. Mostly, I just tried to blend in – and find out what American conservatives say when they think the rest of us aren’t listening.

Read the rest of the hair raising article here.

I began reading Ray Brassier’s dissertation today, Alien Theory: The Decline of Materialism in the Name of Matter. Throughout he deals heavily with Laruelle, Deleuze and Guattari, Michel Henry, Churchland, and Quine. If the opening pages are any indication, his forthcoming work with Palgrave, Nihil Unbound, will be a true tour de force. The work is rigorously developed, wide ranging (dealing with both specific epistemological, ontological, and political questions), and argued in a vigorous and spirited fashion. The following passage left me shaking with excitement and filled with relief, feeling as if perhaps the malaise of the primacy of anthropocentricism, culturalism, and the linguistic turn are, at long last, coming to an end and it is becoming possible to philosophize once again without being shackled to the phenomenological condition. I quote at length.

Challenged by the philosopher to provide something like an ‘adequate’ account of the phenomenon of human sapience, the scientist, distilling the various insights provided by evolutionary biology, AI, and thermodynamics, is in a position to put forward a perfectly precise response: human sapience, like many other instances of negentropic energy capture, is a carbon based variety of information processing system, and nothing besides. The philosopher of course will immediately protest that the response is ‘inadequate’ vis a vis the phenomenon in question because hopelessly reductive. But it is not more reductive than the claim that water is nothing but H20; that temperature is nothing but mean molecular kinetic energy; or that the colour red is nothing but electromagnetic radiation with a determinate spiking frequency. All scientific truth is ‘reductive’ precisely insofar as it dissolves the veneer of phenomenological familiarity concomitant with the limited parameters of anthropomorphic perspective. The real question the philosopher has to ask him/herself is this: what is it exactly about the scientist’s banal but remarkably well-supported statement that he or she finds so intolerably ‘reductive’? Is not part of the philosophers unease concerning scientific ‘reduction’ directly attributable to the unavowed wish that, as far as man is concerned, there always be ‘something’ left over beside the material: some ineffable, unquantifiable meta-physical residue, some irreducible transcendental remainder?

Nowhere is this unavowable philosophical longing more transparent than in the phenomenological project, which seems determined to stave off this putative ‘disenchantment’ of phenomena by science by delmiting a dimension of radically unobjectifiable transcendence: that of the phenomenon’s invisible phenomenality. It is with the inapparent ‘how’ of the phenomenon’s appearing, rather than the ‘what’ which appears, that transcendental phenomenology concerns itself. Yet the phenomenological conception of ‘phenomenality’ seems to us so dangerously narrow and parochial as to render the much-vaunted project of a ‘transcendental phenomenological ontology’ into an insidious form of anthropmorphic imperialism [amen to that, and likewise to any position that would shackle all being to language, culture, etc]. If the conception of ‘phenomenon’ is, in Heidegger’s definition, that of something ‘which shows itself in itself’, a ‘self-showing’ which ‘manifests itself in and through itself alone’, then we require:

1. A rigorously theoretical, rather than intuitive, definition of individuation in order to explain what is to count as an individuated appearance, one which does not simply reinstate the metaphysical circularity implicit in Leibniz’s maxim according to which, ‘to be is to be one thing’.

2. A rigorously theoretical, rather than intuitive account of ‘appearance’ or ‘manifestation’ which does not surreptitiously invoke the predominantly optical paradigm of sensory perception which we are empirically familiar.

On both of these counts, phenomenology– whether it take intentional consciousness or human being-in-the-world as its starting point –seems to us to remain wanting: it illegitimately universalises a paradigm of ‘phenomenality’ constructed on the basis of intuitions about individuation and manifestation derived from our empirical perception of middle-sized objects. Yet in exactly what sense, for instance, can the Big Bang, the Cambrian Explosion, or a 26 dimensional superstring (phenomena which are strictly unphenomenologisable precisely because they remain utterly unintuitable in terms of our habitual statio-temporal parameters), be said to be things that ‘show themselves in themselves’? What are the parameters of this ‘showing’? To whom and for who is it supposed to occur? Whence does the mysterious faculty of intuition that is supposed to provide us with an immediately pre-theoretical access to the phenomenological essence of these rigorously imperceptible entities originate?

The standard phenomenological rejoinder to such questions, which consists in protesting that these, along with all other varieties of scientific object, are merely ‘theoretical’ entities whose mode of being derives from that ‘more originary’ mode of phenomenality concomitant with our ‘primordial’ pre-theoretical engagement with ‘the things themselves’, is hopelessly question-begging. Belief in this pseuo-originary, pre-theoretical dimension of experiential immediacy is the phenomenological superstition par excellence.

Briefly: the claim that intentional consciousness subtends a continuum of eidetic intution running from tables and chairs at one end to transfinite cardinals and hyperdimensional superstrings at the other is grotesquely reductive. Just as the suggestion that objects of ‘regiional ontology’ such as quarks, leptons and black holes have as their ultimate ontological root in Dasein’s being-in-the-world (or the subject’s infinite responsibility for the Other; or the auto-affecting pathos of subjective Life [Michel Henry]) is an outrageous instance of anthropocentric idealism. If anyone is guilty of imperialistic reductionism as far as the extraordinary richness and complexity of the universe is concerned, it is the phenomenological idealist rather than the scientific materialist. Husserl’s idealism is as punitive as it is unmistakable:

The existence of Nature cannot be the condition for the existence of consciousness since Nature itself turns out to be a correlate of consciousness: Nature is only as being constituted in regular concatations of consciousness. (Husserl, 1982, 116)

When it was written in 1913– a full 54 years after the publication of Darwin’s On the origins of Species –this statement was already profoundly reactionary. Now, 142 years after Darwin, Husserl’s idealism is utterly indefensible– unless it be by those who approve of phenomenology’s boundless contempt for natural science. The choice with which we are confronted is as clear as it is unavoidable: either Darwin or Husserl. To continue to persist on the course initiated by the latter is to plunge headlong into intellectual disaster and the ruin of philosophy as a credible theoretical enterprise. The future vouchsafed to philosophy by phenomenology is too dismall to contemplate: a terminally infantile, pathologicall narcissistic anthropocentrism. The situation is too grave, the stakes too high to allow for equivocation or compromise.

Once again, the issue seems to us to boil down to a simple matter of intellectual honesty, a blunt but irrecusable alternative that no amount of conceptual obfuscation or rhetorical sophistry can obviate. Either the philosopher insists that man is de jure irreducible to the natural ontological order investigated by science because the essence of human being is transcendence (subjectivity, Spirit, Dasein, etc.), in which case everything science implies concerning the ontologically derivative character rather than transcendentally constitutive character of Homo Sapiensfalse; or scientific statements of the type ‘Man is a carbon-based information processing system’ are true, not just ’empirically adequate’ or ‘factually correct’–, and man is not a transcendent exception to the cosmos but just one relatively commonplace material phenomenon among others. There is no longer any room within the bounds of a univocally physical natural order for a special category of putatively trans-natural being called ‘human’. (14-17)

A little further on:

Against such reactionary philosophical protectionism, it is the business of a thoroughgoing naturalism to emphasize– rather than minimize –the corrosive power of scientific reductionism vis a vis both the tenets of phenomenological orthodoxy and the established parameters of socio-cultural consensus. The task can be achieved by exposing the entirely contingent, conventional character of the phenomenological self-image promulgated through the myth of subjective interiority; by denouncing the hallucinatory character of privileged access [the lynchpin of all foundationalist demands]; and by inveighing against the illusory authority of the first-person perspective; myths which, whether taken separately or in combination, serve to shore up the subjectivist ideology through which liberal democratic capitalism convinces a stupified population of consumers that they are sovereign individuals, naturally endowed with freedom of choice, and that the interests of subjective freedom coincide with the interests of a free market economy. It is by punturing the persistent myths of first-person autonomy and of the irreducibility of consciousness; it is by excoriating the apparently inviolable ubiquity of the cultural privilege which folk psychological superstition has successfully arrogated itself through the process of its enshrinement in the medium of natural language, that a virulently anti-phenomenological skepticism of the kind espoused by Quine, or an eliminative materialism such as that endorsed by Paul Churchland, suggesting as they do that a radical reconfiguration both of our own self-image and of our vision of the world around us is always possible, can help undermine those phenomenological Ur-doxas which help perpetuate the cultural consensus manufactured by capitalism. (21)

To Quine and Churchland, he also adds Dennett’s work in biology as the most eloquent and creative of the three. At any rate, wow, just wow. Open the windows and let in the fresh air. It’s been beginning to stink in here for quite a while, what with the lingering odors of Germanicism, postmodern language philosophy, and anthropocentric police forces striving to carve out a free zone for themselves in the face of science. As my friend Melanie likes to argue, art, philosophy, and theory must always think closely with the latest developments in science (just as science must think closely with the developments in these other practices). For too long, however, it seems that philosophy and theory have adopted a reactionary stance, seeking to disavow these developments, by asserting the primacy of a phenomenological being-in-the-world, or the hegemony of language games. It seems that a particular style of philosophy is quickly coming to an end, even if there are many still walking about like Bruce Willis’ character in The Sixth Sense. I, for one, would like to be the first to welcome our new insect overlords.

UPDATE: Marc Goodman has kindly provided a link to the entire dissertation here (warning pdf). Given the passages I quoted, I do not wish to give the impression that Brassier simply mobilizes a variety of sciences to debunk varieties of idealism. The particular passages quoted come from the introduction where he’s discussing his commitments. The remainder of the text rigorously engages with varieties of idealism and materialism, drawing heavily on the “non-philosophy” of Laruelle in relation to figures such as Deleuze, Michel Henry, Husserl, Heidegger, Kant, etc., to develop an account of matter free of idealism. That is, his argument unfolds at the level of philosophemes. Not having ever read a word of Laruelle, I’m not entirely sure what he’s up to yet.

I’m well behind the curve on this one, but Shaviro has an outstanding review of DeLanda’s A New Philosophy of Society. An appetizer:

I like DeLanda’s basic argument: which is to insist on the exteriority of relations. Traditionally, positivist, atomistic thought has pretty much denied the importance of relations between entities: the entities themselves are the absolutes, and all relations between them are merely accidental. Thus neoclassical economics adopts a “methodological individualism” according to which “all that matters are rational decisions made by individual persons in isolation from one another” (4). On the other hand, what DeLanda calls the “organismic metaphor” (8) asserts that entities are entirely defined by the totality to which they belong, entirely constituted by their relations: “the basic concept in this theory is what we may call relations of interiority: the component parts are constituted by the very relations they have to other parts in the whole” (9). Hegelian thought is the most powerful example of this tendency, thought Saussurean linguistics and the “structuralism” influenced by it could also be mentioned.

Now, the partisans of both these views usually claim that the two opposed positions are the only possible ones: there are no alternatives. Partisans of methodological individualism simply deny the existence of units larger (or smaller, for that matter) than that of the “individual” (or at most, the patriarchal nuclear family): they see such formations as being metaphysical abstractions with no objective validity. Hence Margaret Thatcher’s notorious statement: “There is no such thing as society. There are only individuals and families.” Of course such “methodological individualism” is absurd, since it is contradicted by everything in our minute-to-minute and day-by-day experience. We are never as isolated as methodological individualism assumes, and we probably couldn’t survive for very long if we were. The very fact that we use language, that we use tools and techniques that we didn’t invent from scratch ourselves, let alone that we use money and engage in acts of exchange, belies the thesis. It’s a curious paradox that the most rabid partisans of methodological individualism tend to be free-market economists and rational-choice political scientists and sociologists, since their entire logic depends upon denying the very factors that make their arguments possible in the first place. But if you press the more intelligent methodological individualists, they will admit that their presuppositions are, indeed, “methodological” rather than ontological, that they represent a kind of abstraction, and that such a methodology, and such an abstraction, are necessary in order to avoid getting stuck in top-down, totalizing theories (their aversion to which is often justified with citations from Karl Popper, Isaiah Berlin, or Friedrich Hayek on the dangers of totalitarianism).

But on the other side of the divide, Hegelians and other proponents of the “organismic metaphor” are just as insistent that their systematic (or “dialectical”) ways of doing things are the only alternatives to the absurdities of atomistic reductionism. I can’t tell you how many arguments I’ve had with Marxists, Zizekians, and others over the years, who insist that my Deleuze-inspired objections to the very notion of totalization, or to the idea that events occur only through a dialectic of negativity (usually up to and including the “negation of the negation”), is untenable: they claim that, to reject these “relations of interiority” is ipso facto to lapse into the absurdities of positivism and atomistic reductionism. The same is true for partisans of various sorts of systems theory (all the way from followers of Niklas Luhmann, to devotees of the Lacanian Symbolic order), who tell me that I cannot escape their system, because anything I say against it already presupposes it, and is already positioned somewhere within it. (Hardcore deconstructionists, despite their denial of the very possibility of totalization or a coherent system, are nonetheless also in this camp: as they argue — just like Lacanians — that one can never escape the presuppositions and aporias of Language. Deconstruction is entirely a theory of relations of interiority, even though it recognizes that such relations are never completed but always still in process).

What DeLanda says — which is indeed what Deleuze said before him — is that we need not accept either term of this binary (nor need we be stuck in the aporia of shuttling endlessly between them). What Deleuze and DeLanda offer instead is not the golden mean of a “Third Way,” but rather a move that is oblique to the very terms of the opposition. What does it mean to affirm the exteriority of relations? As DeLanda explains it, an entity is never fully defined by its relations; it is always possible to detach an entity from one particular set of relations, and insert it instead in a different set of relations, with different other entities. For every entity has certain “properties” that are not defined by the set of relations it finds itself in at a given moment; rather than being merely an empty signifier, the entity can take these properties with it, as it were, when it moves from one context (or one set of relations) to another. At the same time, an entity is never devoid of (some sort of) relations: the world is a plenum, indeed it is over-full, and solipsism or atomistic isolation is impossible.

I particularly appreciate the way he navigates criticisms of Deleuze coming from Zizekians, Lacanians, Hegelians, and Badiouians. Read the rest here.

For those who have had any interest in the issues surrounding networks, resonance and systems of late, the blog adventures in jutlan is dealing with similar themes in a sophisticated and interesting way. Roughtheory gives a thoughtful review.

In response to my post on resonance and my other post on assemblages and emergent organizations, ktismatics writes,

For Prigogine emergent order is still deterministic, isn’t it? Though structures emerge that are qualitatively different from their precursors, the process by which the transformation occurs is repeatable and can be described mathematically.

As ktismatics points out, for Prigogine chaos is really shorthand for “deterministic chaos”. The idea is that apparently random behavior nonetheless is governed by a principle of some sort. However, Prigogine also seems to suggest that emergent orders are genuinely creative or that they bring something new into being. The organization has a structure or a lawfulness to it, but it is a local organization. This is one of the more interesting aspects of Stengers and Prigogine’s work. As they put it,

The dialogue between man and nature was accurately perceived by the founders of modern science as a basic step towards the intelligibility of nature. But their ambitions went even farther. Galileo, and those who came after him, conceived of science as being capable of discovering global truths about nature. Nature not only could be written in a mathematical language that can be deciphered by experimentation, but there would actually exist only one such language [my emphasis]. Following this basic conviction, the world is seen as homogenous, and local experimentation can reveal global truth. The simplest phenomena studied by science can thus be interpreted as the key to understanding nature as a whole; the complexity of the latter is only apparent, and its diversity can be explained in terms of the universal truth embodied, in Galileo’s case, in the mathematical laws of nature. (Order Out of Chaos, 44)

This would be one understanding of the philosophical conception of logos. The thesis here would be that every local manifestation is an instantiation of a global logos, such that one and the same logos applies to the apparent or manifest diversity of appearances. As such, the investigation of the case (the local) discloses the global logos, such that all diverse appearances are homeomorphic to one another or are variations of the same. Thus, for example, one and the same set of principles applies to the falling apple and the movement of planets and galaxies. I have tried to argue against this position in a variety of contexts, arguing that a whole or a global logos does not exist (here, here, here, here, and here).

Read on

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