Expanding a bit on my last post, I recall that my initial impression of Harman’s Tool-Being was that it was a strange Badiouianism. This is certainly an odd claim to make as Badiou is nowhere a key reference in Graham’s work, nor does he deploy concepts like multiplicity, event, truth-procedure, or set in his ontology. So given such profound differences between these two thinkers, what could have led me to discern such a profound proximity between the two of them? Simply put, both Harman and Badiou are profound anti-relationists and subtractive thinkers. Badiou’s multiplicities are militantly anti-relational and, moreover, everything in his thought revolves around what can be subtracted from situations: events and truth-procedures. Likewise, while we find nothing like events or truth-procedures as Badiou understands them, Harman’s objects are nonetheless subtracted from all relation by virtue of the fact that they are radically withdrawn.

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In response to one of my posts over at Deontologistics, Traxus writes:

latour and social constructivism is a tricky issue. he’s not technically a social constructivist, but his metaphysics is anti-normative. if everything is a product of forces (without additional predicate), then no ‘kind’ of force can be superior to any other. any justification for why a given constellation of forces is right in a given case would have not have recourse to metaphysical arguments. in terms of his metaphysics only force decides (naturalism might be superior to theism because it has stronger relations to different types of forces, but this can’t be determined in advance).

i see the OOO-osphere as reacting to the nietzscheanism inherent in this view by asserting objects over relations as the fundamentally real units.

oh, and badiou’s antiphilosophers aren’t necessarily sophists. for badiou they’re essentially religious — they assert a founding ahistorical, moral intuition — for latour it would be the importance of ‘democracy.’ like foucault, latour engages in genealogical (of a kind) critiques of knowledge in the form of case studies, with one rather ironic foray into systematic philosophy with ‘irreductions.’

At the outset, I suppose I should confess that I have an almost visceral suspicion of philosophical and political discourses that make normativity their central focus. On the one hand, I associate this sort of focus with neoliberal and conservative discourses that obfuscate social issues by portraying them as issues of “values” and rights. There seems to be a way in which the moment we begin talking about values and normativity, discussion and politics gets detached from the structure of concrete situations, rendering all of that invisible. This has even been enshrined in the whole distinction between the “is” and the “ought”. Insofar as the “is” is completely separated from the “ought”, normative discourses see themselves as entitled to ignore the “is” altogether. As a Marxist and a historical materialist, I simply think this is the wrong way to go. Moreover, contrary to those who seem to believe that neoliberalism is a discourse where self-interest is the only deciding factor and that Marxism is an axiological discourse independent of self-interest, I can’t help but see that Marx’s arguments are based on interests. What Marx shows is that our self-interest lies with the collectivity. This is why, for example, we join unions, pay taxes, form institutions to protect ourselves, and so on.

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16_fullBogost has an interesting post up reflecting on Nick’s talk [.PDF] on actor-network theory and politics. Ian writes:

This is something like what Srnicek is suggesting for politics: instead of the fast-cook burger revolution of revolution, what if we considered the slow-cook barbeque of reform?

Another implication of this notion, which Nick hints at but doesn’t say directly, is whether this process can be understood in relation to Badiou’s notion of the event. Is Badiou’s idea of fidelity as a process by which an event is sustained compatible with Srnicek’s political slow cooking? Or is the event too static, more like the protein denaturing of the burger than like the melting collagen of the slab of ribs? It seems to me that the event is too retrospective, too singular, and too momentarily constituted to stand up to the sauce of reform.

I confess that the term “reform” really causes my hackles to rise. To me it just sounds a lot like “working within the system to change the system”, where one becomes a politician or joins a corporation with the intention of changing things. In this respect, Badiou’s notion of “truth-procedures” strikes me as closer to what Nick is getting at, though “truth-procedure” isn’t quite the best term either. Responding to Ian’s worry, it’s worthwhile to recall that for Badiou it is not the event that is important, but the practice that emerges following the event that is important. Truth-procedures proceed by restructuring elements, objects, and relations belonging to a situation, producing the sort of groundwork for new networks and relations that Nick describes in his paper.

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600px_SpiderWebIt seems that one of the standard criticisms recently emerging in response to OOO is that 1) it is apolitical, and 2) it is an apologetics for neoliberalism. I confess that I find both criticisms to be deeply perplexing and am unsure what to make of them. I am unsure of whether or not I’ve ever claimed that OOO is apolitical. If I have, then I was speaking sloppily. What I have consistently emphasized is that questions of ontology and questions of politics are distinct. This is exactly what we would expect from a realist ontology. Insofar as realist ontologies reject correlationism or the thesis that objects can only ever be thought in their relation to a subject and that subjects can only ever be thought in relation to objects, it follows that the being of beings is an issue that is independent of politics. Were the being of beings always bound up with the political, we would not have a realism, but rather a correlationism. Why? Because beings would necessarily be bound up with the human.

However, and I think this is a key point, the claim that questions of ontology are distinct from questions of politics is not equivalent to a rejection of politics. All the claim that ontology and politics are distinct entails is that ontological questions are not to be decided on political grounds. That’s all. Nothing more. In this regard, I take myself to be claiming nothing different than what Badiou claims. As Badiou argues in the Manifesto for Philosophy, it is a disaster for philosophy whenever philosophy is sutured to one of its four conditions: love, politics, science, and art. Badiou does not advocate a particular ontology on political grounds. The questions of ontology are internal to ontology. Yet in affirming this autonomy, he is clearly not rejecting the political, as can be seen in his copius contributions to political philosophy.

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Here. Damned straight. Ben WoodARD conducts the interview here (sorry for mangling your name in the past Ben!). In my view, Badiou’s remarks about Laruelle are most interesting. I think he’s absolutely right: Laruelle is a dead end, a regressive move, a fall back into the project of endless critique, rather than a new opening. Time will tell. I also think Badiou is right with respect to his observations about the absence of a theory of the event among the speculative realists, though I’ll hold this thesis close to my vest for the time being. Now why the hell did he pull out of contributing to The Speculative Turn? No explanation was ever given, nor any formal withdrawal, just an end to communication. For the theorist of truth-procedures…

UPDATE [3:37 PM, 9 September 2009]: Since I have received some rather outraged responses to my suggestion that Laruelle is a regressive move for SR, I suppose I should clarify why I believe this. The last forty or fifty years of Continental philosophy, especially in the English speaking world, have been dominated by philosophy as textual analysis. Philosophy has been practiced as the analysis of texts. Whether we are talking about the predominance of hermeneutics in the reading of philosophical texts, or the reign of deconstruction as textual analysis, philosophy has not been dominated by theory building, but rather the analysis of already existing texts. And if one wants to argue that Laruelle is not doing textual analysis, the point stands simply in that he makes philosophies the object of his analysis. If non-philosophy is a regressive move, then this is because it has every likelihood of repeating this institutional structure as the primary mode of philosophical practice. Philosophical practice becomes trapped in the rut of being about philosophies, rather than engaging in theory building. Insofar as Laruelle’s non-philosophy takes philosophy as its object of analysis, it promises to continue this rut of looking backwards towards the philosophical tradition, continuing engagement with the texts of that tradition, and discouraging active theory building for its own sake. This is an institutional structure I would like to see pass. The point is not that we shouldn’t talk about other philosophers, that we shouldn’t write monographs on other philosophers, etc. All of that will remain and should remain. The hope is that we’ll see the passing of the day where philosophy is seen primarily as talk about texts, rather than as an attempt to comprehend the world. One of the most promising things about SR is that it marks the return of genuine metaphysics and a movement beyond the practice of endless commentary.

I look forward to the day when it is exceedingly rare for graduate students in Continental programs to write dissertations about another philosopher. To be sure, work will continue to draw substantially on other thinkers, to engage with other thinkers, and all the rest. But what will have passed, what will have become rare, will be the idea that work should be about another thinker rather than an issue, a question, or a problem.

NrG poses a very difficult and vexing set of questions. NrG writes:

You stated in your response [to my question] that:

For example, nothing in my position precludes the existence of a humble and completely isolated object in a far off region of the universe related to nothing else at all. This is possible because objects have both their endo-differential structure and their exo-relational structure. At the level of endo-differences and relations, the object still produces differences, but these are differences that remain, as it were, internal to the system of the object.

I guess my question is simply this: “How can we not have something exo- for every object?” Or to put this another way, how can we have a closed set without something exterior to the set itself?

I think this simple question gets at something fundamental pertaining to issues of space and time– issues that I haven’t fully worked out –so a few remarks are in order.

read on!

Nina Powers has a terrific interview with Badiou in The Philosopher’s Magazine. See the uncut version here.

For those not familiar with Badiou, this interview presents an excellent summary of his thought.

I worry this might sound really vulgar and naive, but what if we were to raise certain questions about Badiou’s ontology in relation to the Barber of Seville paradox. Among Badiou’s most famous claims is the thesis that ontology belongs not to philosophy, but rather mathematics. Maths, and, in particular, Cantorian set theory, articulates all that can be said of being qua being. I remember the excitement and pleasure I took in this thesis when I first encountered it in graduate school. Not only did I already have a deep and abiding love of mathematics, but there was also something marvelously perverse in a Continental philosopher championing mathematics. Who can forget the title of Heidegger’s lecture course The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, his claim that maths doesn’t think, or the generalized hostility towards maths one finds everywhere in Continental philosophy with the notable exception of Deleuze. What could be more contrary to Heidegger’s thesis than the Mathematical Foundations of Ontology? Moreover, in a field of philosophical alternatives dominated by obsessive meditations on the human, the body, language, and power, few things could be as “other-worldly” and inhuman as the elevation of humble mathematics… A humility that paradoxically is coupled with the most acrobatic conceptual innovation, daring to think spatial configurations, multiplicities, topologies, and all the rest remote from anything like the “everydayness” we experience in our intuitive relations to the world.

I suppose you could say that I took an impish pleasure in how Badiou must stick in the craw of my fellow Continentalists. I will never forget having coffee with a very well known Continentalist in his own right, my face, words, and gestures animated by my enthusiasm for Badiou like a child having at it with a new toy, only to hear him despairingly say “it’s kinda like analytic philosophy, though.” Kinda, but not quite. Badiou had really hit a symptom at the heart of contemporary Continental thought. Where Derrida and the others were endlessly talking about free play and dissemination, Badiou put his finger on the remarkable univocity of mathematical prescription. But this is not all. Where everyone was endlessly talking about difference, Badiou took this one step further, developing a radical articulation of difference. Many of us had become accustomed, through Heidegger, to thinking of maths as the most extreme form of enframing and identity thinking. What Badiou showed, through his deployment of set theory, was that far from the valorization of identity, maths give us the resources to think multiplicities qua multiplicities without one, or absolute difference and dissemination. Similarly, where many were celebrating the accomplishment of Derrida’s thought and the aporetic undecidables it acquaints us with in every domain, Badiou dared to declare that we must decide the undecidable, and articulated a rigorous account for doing so through his discussions of forcing and the generic with respect to truth-procedures. Indeed, the very fact that he said truth at all, and in such an interesting way, was a shock to the system within that intellectual context.

Yes, Badiou had hit a symptom. For those of us who had cut our teeth on the intricacies of Lacan and thinkers such as Laclau, reading these figures in the happy days following the advent of the beautiful work of Zizek and Fink where Lacanian thought had been freed from the endless rut of the imaginary and cinematic accounts of suture, where the late Lacan was finally, slowly, so slowly, becoming readily available, and who were already acquainted with the intellectual atheleticism required by set theory, topology, and all the rest, Badiou arrived at just the right time and just the right moment. Badiou arrived as the philosopher of these formalisms. Those of us intoxicated by Lacan and Zizek, worried, as philosophers, at how we might escape the rut of literary and cultural criticism. The question that haunted the time was that of how psychoanalysis might be put to use philosophically. Badiou provided precisely the answer to this question, not by virtue of being a psychoanalytic thinker, but by mobilizing all of these set theoretical and topological structures we had been exploring in Lacan but with respect to questions of ontology, ethics, and politics. And above all, Badiou arrived at a moment where interpretation, philosophy as interpretation, had largely exhausted its potency, becoming a dreary and oppressive activity, appearing daily to be more a way of insuring that everything remain in place and that the tradition be preserved against any and all change. The potency of Badiou lay not so much in his explicit declarations and theses, as in his invitation to think again and his reminder of what philosophy ought to be. Indeed, he went so far as to denounce doxa. Who, in our Protagorean age, in our age dominated by simulacra of Gorgias, in our age where rhetoric had come to trump philosophy (i.e., the triumph and primacy of ethos or local custom over logos), had dared denounce doxa? Badiou did.

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The always brilliant Asher Kay has an interesting post up on the whole dust-up surrounding Badiou’s Logics of Worlds over at Spoonerized Alliterations. Picking up on my almost obsessive critique of the confusion of epistemological and ontological questions– what I call, following Roy Bhaskar, the “Epistemic Fallacy” –Asher writes:

As I noted before, this providential trap – this luxurious cage with its limitless supply of ‘Nilla Wafers – is not the same thing as what Badiou is being accused of. Badiou is being accused, as Levi says in one of the linked posts, of “conflating questions of epistemology with questions of ontology”.

Why would someone consider this a bad thing? After all, concepts play a central role in doing ontology, and any ontology worth its salt will be able to explain its concepts.

One possible reason is that one believes that epistemological questions are – ontologically – different from ontological questions, and that conflating them (or outright claiming that they’re the same) is simply getting the ontology wrong. Also, if one believes that ontology is different from epistemology, then the person who is conflating them isn’t really even *doing* ontology.

As it turns out, I am about half-finished with an article outlining the principles of my Onticology that deals heavily with these issues. In the course of my preparation for this article, I came across a terrific set of distinctions in Zubiri’s magnificent On Essence that helps, I think, clarify the problem in question. Aristotle distinguished between three different types of ἀρχή or principles, two of which, I think have largely been lost in the last 300 hundred years. When we speak of ἀρχή, we are speaking of the “whence” of things. According to Aristotle there are three different ways of speaking about the whence of things: ἔστιν, γίγνεται, and γίγνώσκεται. ἔστιν refers to the principle whence something is, γίγνεται refers to the principle whence something becomes, and γίγνώσκεται refers to the principle whence something is known.

I’m in a hurry at the moment so I’ll only make a few remarks. Beginning largely with 17th century thought, philosophy became increasingly preoccupied with ἀρχή of the third sort, and specifically questions of certainty and skepticism. While we can raise these questions with respect to principles pertaining to knowledge, the epistemic status of the ἀρχή pertaining to ἔστιν and γίγνεται have a very different status. Nothing prevents us from claiming that claims about principles in this domain have a hypothetical or speculative status, subject to further revision and development. More importantly, when we speak of ἔστιν and γίγνεται, the issue isn’t one of knowledge or how we can know, but of the principles or ἀρχή pertaining to the things themselves. This I think, is a very simple point. The question of ontology is not a question of being qua subject or being qua language or being qua Dasein or being qua body or being qua power and social forces. No, it is a question of being qua beings. Yet endlessly we mix up these questions of the principles from whence knowledge comes and the principles whence things are and become. They are two distinct issues.

It might seem that such a conflation is perfectly innocent and without importance, but really it makes quite a difference. Take Husserl’s famous Principle of All Principles. As a result of his restriction of claims to what can be presented in intuition to consciousness, he unwittingly ends up excluding all non-presentable (for us) differences from the domain of philosophical speculation. I think that’s a big mistake. When I object to certain elements of Badiou’s ontology– and I genuinely have a deep and abiding admiration for his work –it is because I see him implicitly introducing some form of consciousness into every ontological relation. Thus, for example, when Badiou talks of the “count-as-one” as the condition under which consistent multiplicities are forged out of inconsistent multiplities or the infinite abyss of being, I think we should exercise tremendous caution with respect to this use of the term “count”. Counting implies someone who counts. If Badiou wishes to adopt a realist account of being, then he should avoid the use of this sort of subject-centered language. Yet we find it all throughout his work and, to add insult to injury, we find that with very few exceptions, the only consistent multiplicities he ever talks about are cultural in character. This suggests to me that for Badiou there isn’t a world independent of humans. One can object that Badiou calls himself a realist and a materialist, that he excludes anything like the transcendental subject, etc., but this issue is to be judged in terms of the content of his position, not his declarations about his position. Merleau-Ponty makes similar claims about his own position on the grounds that it is the body not a cogito, transcendental subject, or ego that presides over manifestation, yet his position is no less anti-realist for all that.

There is far more to be said here, but I have to scoot.

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