Over at I Cite Jodi Dean has written a gorgeous mournful post, nicely articulating many of my own recent feelings. In many respects, frustrated by the political situation we find ourselves in, I’ve found myself in a “tend your garden” mode, preferring to think of anything so long as it isn’t politics. Things are just too depressing at the moment, and I confess I feel deeply powerless, as if I’m a serf or a peasant tied to the land that has no power over my circumstances. As I watch the shenanigans of Congress and the administration, I can’t but come to the conclusion that government is simply an arm of the wealthy. I suppose I always knew this, but it’s really hit home for me recently. Moreover, as I observe the behavior of many of my fellow citizens, I can’t help but feel deep disgust at the hatred and resentment that seems to fill them, the superstitious irrationality, and feel deeply sad at the manner in which this pathos compels them to side with the real source of the problem. I thus end up tending my garden.

At any rate, in the comment section Aidan makes an extremely interesting observation related to the blogosophere and speculative realism. Aidan writes,

It’s a very strange and disquieting time in the blogosphere. The speculative realists have made Badiou and Zizek look a little like they belong to another era. Perhaps the most disquieting was how quickly that happened. Almost within the space of a few months. To me it was really momentous, and made me realise how contingent our attachments are. I don’t believe SZ and AB no longer have relevance, but I don’t think it is possible to approach anything now as if SR hadn’t happened. I just wonder about the politics that will arise from it. Perhaps that will be its biggest test.

While I’m far from believing that Badiou and Zizek belong to another era or have grown stale, I do think Aidan is right in observing that the dominant themes in the theory blogosphere shifted almost over night. It was as if a bifurcation point had been reached and a new form of organization arose or came into being. For me the question is why and how these sorts of shifts take place so suddenly. Another way of posing this question would be to ask what was brewing prior to this shift that rendered speculative realism an attractive “solution” or response to these sets of concerns and problems.

read on!

For some reason I find myself thinking of Latour’s discussion of Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot’s On Justification: The Economies of Worth in We Have Never Been Modern. Latour writes that,

…critical unmasking appeared to be self-evident. It was only a matter of choosing a cause for indignation and opposing false denunciations with as much passion as possible. To unmask: that was our sacred task, the task of us moderns. To reveal the true calculation underlying the false consciousnesses, or the true interests underlying the false calculations. Who is not still foaming slight at the mouth with that particular rabies? Now Boltanski and Thévenot have invented the equivalent of an anti-rabies vaccine by calmly comparing all sources of denunciation– the Cities that supply the various principles of justice –and by interweaving the thousand and one ways we have, in France today, of bringing an affair to justice. They do not denounce others. They do not unmask anyone. They show how we all go about accusing one another. Instead of a resource, the critical spirit becomes a topic, one competence among others, the grammar of our indignations. Instead of practising a critical sociology the authors quietly begin a sociology of criticism. (44)

The project of critique requires the critic to occupy a position of “objectivity” or “truth” that is invisible to the group that is the object of critique. Where the critic stands outside of social forces and can therefore see the play of social forces clearly, the group that is the object of critique is treated as being duped by these social forces. The vocation of the critic is to unmask these social forces, revealing how these others have been duped. If, then, Boltanski and Thévenot’s book is so quietly disturbing, then this is because it engages in a sociology of criticism that reveals the manner in which criticism is itself a socially formed practice and the critic is a socially formed identity. Where before the critic holds a privileged place with respect to the social and political order, now the critic is placed on equal footing within that order.

Latour goes on to remark that,

Suddenly, thanks to this little gap opened up by systematic study, we can no longer fully adhere to the spirit of the modern critique. How can we still make wholehearted accusations when the scapegoating mechanism has become obvious? Even the human sciences are no longer the ultimate reservoir that would make it possible at last to discern the real motives beneath appearances. They too are made part of the analysis; they too bring issues to justice, and become indignant and criticize. The tradition of the human sciences no longer has the privilege of rising above the actor by discerning, beneath his unconscious actions, the reality that is to be brought to light. It is impossible for the human sciences to be scandalized, without henceforth occupying one of the boxes on our colleague’s grid. The denouncer is the brother of the ordinary people that he claimed to be denouncing. Instead of really believing in it, we now experience the work of denunciation as a ‘historical modality’ which certainly influences our affairs, but does not explain them any more than the revolutionary modality explained the process of the events of 1789. Today, denunciation and revolution have both grown stale. (44 – 45)

I think Latour hits on something extremely important here. Who has not felt this sort of staleness of critique he’s talking about. Who has not felt, like in a relationship that has reached its end but where the couple do not separate, that practicing deconstructive analysis, the analysis of power structure, the analysis of ideology there is a way in which we are going through the motions half-heartedly, continuing these activities because we don’t know what else to do, but nonetheless not being quite convinced any longer. Indeed, in the last five years the world of theory has been inundated with inquiries into how change is possible.

Lest I be misunderstood, I am not making the claim that politics is at an end. My point is rather different. Far from being at an end, I wonder whether there isn’t a way in which speculative realism was able to resonate at this time and in this moment by virtue of this creeping sense that somehow old modalities have lost their potency. In this connection, speculative realism would not simply be a series of metaphysical inquiries, but would also be a challenge to the foundational assumptions of contemporary thought, of how, to use Latour’s term, the modern Constitution is organized, so as to find an alternative. Innocent and apparently a-political inquiries into the being of being would here be attempts to develop a new Constitution capable of responding to our historical moment, regardless of whether the speculative realist is aware that this is what is taking place in her thought.