Bogost and I had an interesting phone conversation last night concerning the role that concrete practices play in philosophy. One of the running themes here at Larval Subjects has been the tendency of philosophers and theorists in the humanities to propositionalize everything in their posing of philosophical questions. Everything becomes a matter of signs, propositions, representations, texts, and contents. However, what role do practices play in philosophy? This role, if it is indeed crucial, would tend to disappear in philosophical texts, leaving only subterranean traces of nonhuman encounters– perhaps what Deleuze would call “becoming-x’s” –that deeply influence the form a philosophy takes.
Putting this in less abstract terms, we could ask what role lens grinding played in Spinoza’s philosophy. Was Spinoza’s lens grinding a tangential activity outside his thought that he simply engaged in to make money, or was it central to the formation of his philosophy? Similarly, what of Leibniz’s many works in engineering, formations of library catalogs, etc? In Bogost’s case, what role has computer programming played in his thought? What role has being a musician and a part of various bands played in Cogburn’s thought? We could also ask what role his gaming has played in his thought. In my own case, what role has cooking, gardening, clinical practice, and playing simulators played in my own thought? What role has activist work played in the thought of Badiou? Likewise with Foucault’s various forms of political engagement and practices. How did Lacan’s clinical practice inform his thought?
The point here would be that these sorts of practices are not simply outside or secondary to philosophy, but rather problematize the world in such a way as to call for new metaphysics and epistemologies. In these sorts of practices we discover a real of the world, a sort of resistance of the real, that calls for forms of thought that can’t be reduced to the propositional. We can then ask ourselves the question, “what would an experimental metaphysics look like?” It’s likely that pedagogy and conferences would look very different were we to practice experimental metaphysics. For example, conferences would not simply consist in the presentation of papers and the discussion of texts. Rather, conferences would also involve all sorts of experimental activities where the participants could engage in alien matters, strange strangers, to discover the powers that reside within them. Perhaps we would toy around with environmental and social simulators to discover how different patterns emerge based on certain actions. Perhaps we would learn a bit of simple programming. Perhaps we would do a little cooking. Perhaps we would do a little topology with construction paper and scissors, or discover odd properties of knots with bits of string. Maybe we would play about with algorithms to see what complex patterns emerge from simple rules. Similarly, it seems to me that theory conferences should also be melded with the arts, containing exhibits and performance art presentations. I don’t know. The point would be to engage with something other than representations, signs, and texts to encounter a bit of the real that’s irreducible to these things and far from being a passive matter over which the net of thought is thrown.