Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Values as objects – A quick conjectural reply to Larval Subjects.

Levi responds with an extremely well-thought out post on object-oriented philosophy and nihilism here. Whilst I am not fully signed up to the definition of objects-as-difference, it seems apparent that it is indeed the case that norms (and even fictions) exist as objects/actors etc. Levi continues by stating that norms or values must always be produced, rather than emerging from some transcendent operation (no God delivering stone tablets on mountains for example). The question then resolves to the production of these particular objects, and that as produced (by biological, linguistic, social and historical processes) the kinds of relations they enter into and the processes of change they engender (including the forms of subjectivity they might be capable of conferring). That fictions are adopted as objects (providing, for Levi at least, if they make a difference, have an effect, which appears to be a crucial distinction between his own position and that of Reid Kotlas of Planemonology’s or Graham Harman’s) can be squared with the CCRU concept of the hyperstitional narrative, and indeed Badiou’s under-theorised idea of “the powerful fiction of a completed truth” (that rests at the core of the tricky notion of forcing within the transformative truth procedure).

Not all belief-objects or norm-objects are the same in terms of their machinic effects or diagrammatical workings, but none is more fundamental than any other (no matter their relative truth values). In this category we can certainly place ideological-objects, (which as Zizek frequently jokes, work even if you don’t believe in them). However, I am uncertain that Levi has banished the threat of nihilism yet- for whilst the teeming network or assemblage universe is filled with all kinds of components or actors, amongst them norms and values, just as there are planets, nematode worms, jokes and computer operating systems, our only recourse in terms of a selection principle seems to be the contingent set of normative assemblages acting upon us, enunciating us. Descriptively this is certainly highly satisfactory, and a useful way to think sociology perhaps. But equally it dissolves everything to the level of a cold-vitalism, or an amoral machinism (or perhaps even an a-political politics) wherein even life itself or machinic efficiency cannot be preferred over inert death or stasis or sclerosis (because the very norm of life or efficiency has been reduced to the ontological status of merely another actor within the network). I would be perfectly happy to agree to this outcome, a purely descriptive naturalism bereft of prejudice. What is capable of domination predominates over that which is incapable, and it is neither good nor bad (or possibly it is either/both, dependant on the point of view invested in the judging subject as side-effect of pre-personalising norm-objects). Though effectiveness itself is not ‘good’ it will lead to predominance within a system, (though even the claim that to be is better than to not be is unsupportable) and one implication of this is that the very status of ‘fiction’ and ‘truth’ become dislodged from their usual significations- is there not also the considerable danger of a rampaging relativism here?

A short note on Harman and Hallward.

In one of his many excellent posts Graham Harman (here) seemed to argue that Peter Hallward’s repeated calls for a more relational ontology were based upon the idea that it would be innately more leftist in orientation. I think that Hallward (in his recent reviews of Meillassoux’s After Finitude and Badiou’s Logics of Worlds) is pointing towards the more practical issues of praxis. It is not so much that Hallward identifies relational ontologies as necessarily being leftist in orientation, rather that his critique of Deleuze Meillassoux and Badiou rests upon the lack of concrete and strategic support their political ontologies offer for praxis. If we are thinking of Hallward’s recent criticisms of Badiou (and his pupil Meillassoux) it is above all paralysis and quietude, passivity in other words, that is his chief target. For Hallward relational ontology offers a better tool for a leftist politics to analyse problematical practical situations and derive new ways of actually acting within them. Badiou’s hyper anti-relational politics (if in doubt check out his thoughts on political organisation in Metapolitics- “the most unbound place of all” etc) offers little beyond its analysis of evental sites and marginality as the zone from which revolutionary activities spring from. Even in terms of the relational update Logiques des Mondes Badiou remains pretty primitive (cf: his analysis of Mao’s red army thought in terms of the adaptations of a body of a truth to various ‘points’ which confront it). However I am also aware that the kind of relational ontology Hallward has in mind is going to be far from a De Landian or Latourian form (in conversation Hallward has stated that De Landa’s A New Philosophy of Society is “slick” but ultimately with little concrete to offer a politics of emancipation). I myself think De Landa is quite a bit more worthy of comment, specifically in the way that his post Deleuzo-Guattarian account of assemblages is able to challenge the more traditional “folk-political” concept of the political field.

Moreover the prospective Hallwardian project (aka “Relational Reality”) will consist of a relational ontology combined with a kind of post-Sartrean (or neo-Sartrean) subject equipped with a political will, against the crucial backdrop of history. The latter entails some kind of resurrection of the “resources of the dialectic”, though so far Hallward has yet to reveal what form this might take. My own hunch might be a thoroughly re-equipped version of something resembling Sartre’s own Critique of Dialectical Reason, with a more thoroughly integrated relational component, a fascinating if dangerous approach!