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!

Monday, 26 January 2009

On having your cake and eating it.

The blogosphere is alive with talk of speculative realism and its sub-genre, object-oriented philosophy (as manfully elaborated by Graham Harman and Levi Bryant). The political stakes of this have also been interrogated, (see especially here) but I find a slight flaw in much of the discourse surrounding this issue, a weakspot or point of blindness.

The challenge to political (or politicised) ontologies is clear: illegitimately bringing the political into the ontological is an underhand philosophical manoeuvre (if being = cosmic difference = innately creative and revolutionary for example then already an overly convenient political orientation is present at the level of being) and hence somewhat unbelievable. If the challenge of a realist orientation in metaphysics is that being is radically flat, divested of hierarchy or morality (no layer higher or more significant, authentic, real etc than any other) then the grounding of normativity cannot be located within an ontological analysis. Of course, we already have a certain kind of normativity within the claim towards radical ontological egality, but one which is de-charged or a-signifying- it gives no clue as to preferential principle. In this regard flat ontologies are capable of overcoming the Deleuzean ethology or Nietzschean forces which incessantly moralise over that which ought to be a matter of descriptive naturalism. Whilst Badiou’s minimal ontology in some regards escapes this politicisation of being, his notion of event as trans-being and political truth procedures emerging via the momentary uncovering of the hidden being of being itself comes close to a similar structure to Deleuze or indeed Nietzsche: there is an aboriginal state to being, which is innately good, which is somehow perverted, manipulated, falls into a state of disarray, illusion, falsehood etc. The edenic structure of political ontologies is plain, and must be undermined at all costs because it leads metaphysics towards absurdity. For, to take the example of Nietzsche, if his force analysis is a kind of naturalism, then a force is what it does, and the play of such forces simply is- without guide towards preference. If the weak forces predominate over the strong we have no reason to think them weak at all.

However, I cannot but find the true implications of this for the political to have been safely “bracketed”, to have been separated so far from the political field as to be of little importance. It would seem that if Speculative Realism not only de-couples the world from the human but also necessarily and as a consequence removes all hierarchies between layers and scales, then politics as such is deeply problematised. The current blog discourse seems to hold that this new metaphysics might be deployed as a kind of analytical conceptual technology, in the service of political aims or projects. But this seems to have failed to learn the proper lesson- for surely such political praxes are themselves justified in terms of a system of norms, at the very least a theory of “the good”. It seems as if many writers would want to use the descriptive powers of flat ontologies or network/assemblage theories (of the kind proffered by De Landa and Latour) in the service of pre-existing political orientations. To do so would simply be to fall into a sort of double-think. For each political praxis is itself justified by a theory of what is good, each of which can be genealogically traced to a prior philosophical or religious system, each of which are crucially undermined by the very notion of an ontology without preference. If we are to think only pragmatically then we remain within the domain of the correlation—to remain neo-liberal democrats, Marxists, humanists etc. There is a clear issue of how the bare/indifferent/non-preferential ontological interacts with the human-ontic. Two options seem available. Firstly we think ‘pragmatically’, deploy flat ontological analyses as a mere technological appendage to serve pre-existing political vectors, but this seems to be somewhat paradoxical for it entails a hidden claim that the ontological has no baring upon the political—but this indicates the technological potentials of the philosophy are null and void. Alternatively we might think the other formulation: if being gives us no ability to prefer this over that, then we cannot do so (or seek some other form of validation). But to seek other validation is to inevitably rest upon some other problematic ground (all the different kinds of situated-chauvinism from racial-tribalism to humanism or vitalism). To take SR seriously is to hold to a radical nihilism, and it is in this respect that Ray Brassier comes closest to unravelling the full consequences (in spite of his own apparent gestures towards the continued validity of collective politics, perhaps another example of doublethink?). Either SR has no impact on politics, or destroys politics (and its reliance upon the situated-chauvinistic) altogether. It seems intrinsically a-political. In making of philosophy a science, we can no longer draw political claims from it, or rather perhaps, only a rigorous (though absolutely whimsical) anti-politics where it as good to eliminate the human race as to institute globalised communism. In this sense a kind of political hyperchaos might be thought, or perhaps an anti-phenomenological/inhuman ur-nihilistic existentialism.