Critical Animal has posed a series of questions to the so-called “Speculative Realists”. I’ll take a stab at trying to respond to some of them.

(1) For an intellectual movement that has such a strong internet presence, why do you all have such an unhelpful wikipedia entry?

No doubt this has to do with those who are writing the wiki entries. It would be rather self-indulgent to write one’s own wiki entry.

(2) What are the major different currents of speculative realism? I just would not have thought to combine many of you together as part of a philosophical movement (school? gathering?). So, what holds you all together as an idea? What are the major different currents?

It seems to me that the major currents among the speculative realists are those of reductive materialism (Brassier), materialism (Meillassoux), object-oriented ontology (Harman, Latour, and myself), perhaps variants of vitalism (Grant?), Deleuzian thought (DeLanda, myself), and many other variants aside. The speculative realists are more united by what they oppose, than by the philosophical claims they share in common. In short, all of the SR positions share the thesis that the human and human phenomena have no special place within being and are opposed to the thesis that we must start with an analysis of something pertaining to the human (mind, history, language, power, signs, etc.) to properly pose questions of ontology. For my own part (and I think Harman and Latour would agree with me here), this does not entail that these things are unworthy of study or should be dismissed, only that everything else shouldn’t be subordinated to them. Moreover, Latour, Deleuze, and myself all hold that we cannot study the social in abstraction but that nonhuman objects or actors are key components of the social that make their own contributions and which aren’t simply vehicles for signs or power. Irreductions is really good on this point. Apart from that, there are pretty marked differences among the various speculative realists. For example, Brassier seems to advocate a reductive materialism where only things like subatomic particles and neurons are real, whereas Harman and myself are more pluralist, counting anything from the atom to the character of Harry Potter as being real. In other words “Speculative Realism” does not exist.

Each one of these positions develops a positive ontology, very different from the others. If things continue this way– and there seems to be every likelihood it will given the rise of Deleuze and Guattari, Badiou, and Meillassoux in theory circles –“speculative realism” will very quickly shift from debates with correlationists to debates among one another in years to come. In other words, it seems like the day of a particular kind of philosophy is passing very quickly. These debates are already beginning. Thus, for example, we see Hallward critiquing both Deleuze and Badiou. We see Harman critiquing DeLanda, Latour, and Grant. We see Brassier critiquing Deleuze, Badiou, and Meillassoux. All of these critiques are productive, but nonetheless they do mark real differences.

(3) I know not all of you have a beef with Foucault, but I have seen several vaguely dismissive comments from the object-oriented types about Foucault. So, what is the matter with Foucault?

I can only speak for myself with respect to Foucault. On the one hand, I have a deep admiration for Foucault. On the other hand, I find Foucault problematic for two reasons: First, I see Foucault, despite his avowed anti-humanism, as a variant of correlationism. All beings of the world are filtered through discursive formations and power structures, enjoying no autonomy or being of their own. On the other hand, following Latour, Foucault treats power and discursive formations as explanatory principles, in much the same way that a sociologist might appeal to “society” or “social forces” to explain some phenomenon. However, society, power, and discursive structures explain nothing, rather they are what is to be explained. In other words, the object-oriented philosopher holds that we must examine how these things come to be assembled, put together, etc through networks of objects of actors. Objects or actors are not explained by reference to power, discursivity, and social forces, but rather the reverse: power, discursivity, and social forces are explained through objects or actors. Foucault gets it backwards. With that said, there is nothing to prevent an object-oriented approach to Foucault’s thought that surmounts this problem. However, it’s worth noting that the way Foucault articulates his theory and his actual theoretical practice differ markedly. In his theoretical articulation it’s all power and discursive regimes. In his practice, by contrast, we see him discussing all sorts of assemblages that include human and nonhuman actors. This is what renders a Foucaultian object-oriented philosophy possible. I should also add that one of the things I find deeply attractive about OOP is that it allows you to retain a number of the key discoveries of the correlationists– in modified form, of course –without falling into the anti-realist camp.

read on!

(4) I have also seen responses from several of you against accusations that you don’t have a politics. The responses have tended towards variations of “We have a politics, but we don’t subvert our ontology to our politics.” Which is fine, but for me raises far more questions than it answers: What are your politics? Are your politics separate from your ontology, or do you feel that your politics flow from your ontology?

I think you mean that “we don’t subordinate or ontology to our politics.” This follows from the answer to your second question. If the various forms of speculative realism reject correlationism, then it is clear that questions of ontology cannot be subordinated to questions of politics. That said, politically I advocate a version of assemblage based Marxism, and have both published on this and written widely about it on my blog. It just so happens that when I have my “ontologist” cap on I’m not working on questions of political theory, that’s all.

(5) Question number four leads me to this question, which you might or might not want to group in with the last answer. Are you concerned with the question of first philosophy, or do you find such questions rather boring? Do you believe that you have to get your ontology right first in order to have a politics and/or an ethics, or do you feel that the domain of ontology has a certain separability from these other philosophical domains?

It seems to me that all of the thinkers in the speculative realist camp are engaging in questions of first philosophy or metaphysics.

(6) Why did the speculative realist cross the road? Or, alternatively, how many speculative realists does it take to change a light bulb (please give number and reason for that number)?

Answer: ∞

The explanation of this answer can be found in the core ontological hypothesis of OOP regarding objects.

(7) Can you suggest two books by Bruno Latour I should get around to reading sooner rather than later? I have read Science in Action, but that was several ago, and could be convinced to reread it.

Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory


Irreductions in The Pasteurization of France

I suspect, coming from a critical animal studies perspective you would also find The Politics of Nature valuable.

(8) This is a blog dedicated, at least on some level, to critical animal studies. Obviously, speculative realism’s anti-humanist and anti-anthropocentrist viewpoints are somewhat in line with the problematic of critical animal studies, however, what can you foresee as the relationship between speculative realism and critical animal studies, if any? Clearly, an ontology of generalized actors (whereby rocks and plants and machines are as much actors as humans and animals) might guarantee an non-anthropocentric ontology, but does not guarantee a non-anthropocentric ethics. Which is fine, but I am just pointing out that there seems to be no obvious connection between the two philosophical movements.

I don’t know a whole lot about critical animal studies, but this sounds right. Again, I think you might find Latour’s Politics of Nature of interest as he does, if memory serves me correctly, try to develop a non-anthropocentric ethics where nonhuman actors must be taken into account every bit as much as human actors. I’d be very interested in seeing what such an ethics might look like.

(9)Obviously there are some interesting questions about how speculative realism relates to the big branches of contemporary philosophy — How does speculative realism relate to continental philosophy? How does speculative realism relate to analytic philosophy? — but what I am really curious about is how does speculative realism relate to decolonial philosophy? I probably wouldn’t even think about asking about this, except a recent post by k-punk that talked about how Badiou helped awaken him from a deleuzian slumber. For me, Badiou had nothing to do with my awakening from a Deleuzian slumber (if anything he only intensified my affection for Deleuze and Guattari, the same with Zizek), but decolonial philosophy and the philosophy of radical women of color completely changed my relationship with continental philosophy. Reza obviously has serious engagement with Iranian thought, but what about speculative philosophy in general?

On the one hand, I think this is largely a question of influence. Harman, for example, is deeply influenced by Latour and Heidegger. I’m deeply influenced by Deleuze, Badiou, Zizek, Lacan, and a host of other thinkers. Brassier draws a lot from Quine and Churchland. Meillassoux is clearly working from Badiou. And Grant, of course, is deeply influenced by Schelling and Deleuze. On the other hand, I think all of those in the speculative realist camp are deeply exhausted by styles of philosophy that begin from the standpoint of critique (in the Kantian sense), the phenomenological analysis of experience, hermeneutics, and textual analysis. There’s a sense that these approaches to philosophy, as powerful and valuable as they are, have exhausted their possibilities and are standing in the way of engaging with the sorts of questions demanded by our contemporary moment. For example, its difficult to imagine something less relevant than phenomenology, hermeneutics, semiotics, or deconstructive textual analysis to the sorts of issues posed by the ecological crisis. Ecology just requires a very different set of conceptual tools. Moreover, we are living in the midst of one of the most remarkable periods in scientific and mathematical development and invention, yet we have a group of philosophers continuing to pretend that the Greeks said it all and that philosophy largely ended at the beginning of the 19th century. It is also simply bizarre to think that these developments are adequately thematized through the resources of textual analysis or semiotics. We need to become a bit more pre-critical again, I think, to adequately discuss these sorts of issues.

(10) What is the difference between realism and materialism? Why are you speculative realists instead of speculative materialists?

I think the major difference between realism and materialism is that the latter grants reality to only one type of thing and then attempts to derive all other things from that type of thing, whereas the realist treats a number of different types of things as being real. Thus, for the materialist only particles, for example, might be real. For the realist, by contrast, signifiers can be real, the United States can be real, and atoms can be real. All of these things, for the realist, are different types of objects, without being reducible to one type of object.