(Auto)biography and Derrida II (finished reading)

Originally posted on angelaroothaan:

It created a trip down memory lane, to read the Derrida biography. At first because I saw the rebelliousness of some of my generation in the 70ties as the echoes of the anti-traditionalist choices of the young Derrida and his likes around 1950. Reading the chapters up to the eigthies, I was accompanied by memories of my first boyfriend, who studied French literature at first, and then followed me into philosophy. I saw him reading, always (and me being annoyed by it) – the whole of Proust, but also many authors unknown to me, and figuring prominently in ‘Derrida’: Philippe Sollers, Jean Genet, and more. He wrote his master’s thesis on Derrida, and now I am certain that the name of Agacinski (Sylviane, the unofficial second woman in Derrida’s life between 1975 and 1984) was also mentioned in the conversations between his supervisor and him. I wasn’t interested in biographical…

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WITHIN THE DOMAIN OF THE SUN’S INVERSE: Computation, Speculation, and Cosmos

I am looking forward to participating in this very interesting event:


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FROM RELATIVIST EPISTEMOLOGY TO PLURALIST ONTOLOGY: The pluralist realism of Paul Feyerabend and Bruno Latour

I have just completed a paper on Feyerabend and Latour’s realist pluralism. This synthesises and extends my contributions to the Pluralism Wars and hopefully puts an end to the conflation of realist pluralism with cultural relativism.

academia.edu: link.

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FROM LATOUR TO LYOTARD: Gaia needs cosmos

It is not sufficient to append the prefix “cosmo-” to one’s position to be sure of escaping anthropocentrism. In the case of Bruno Latour, “cosmopolitics” sounds promising, but he ultimately ties it to our status as “earth-bound” as some sort of permanent state, whereas Lyotard treats us as sun-bound, but only as a provisional halt on the path of complexity. That is to say that cosmopolitics can go in the direction of a contraction of the universe, a containment within prudential limits, perhaps more easily than it can go in the sense of its expansion.

Lyotard thought that this inhuman process of complexification was to be cultivated, yet he believed that it left something out. This is why he emphasised the need for anamnesis in order to bring it in relation to another inhumanity, that of the unconscious, which in his earlier work he analysed in terms of intensities. He later regrouped these heterogeneous networks of intensities by means of incommensurable régimes of phrases. One of the main reasons for this change of ontology was to combat scientism, now limited to the régime of reference, and to give full importance to ethics and politics. Where Latour elevates religion to the dignity of a separate mode of existence, Lyotard places the ethical mode (or ethical “régime” in his terminology).

The opposition that Latour has in mind would seem to be the (false) equation expansion = extensity, and by implication contraction = intensity. Latour’s repeated appeals to “Gaia” can be seen as an attempt to import ethical prescription into his pluralist system, which is in danger of re-iterating at the meta-level of the modes the same ethical vacuity that we find at the level of the heterogeneous networks. Yet this appeal to Gaia also serves a function of subjectivation or psychgenesis, interpellating us as “earth-bound”, in Latour’s vision.In other words, Gaia is not just an object of science, confined to the referential mode, but a trans-modal or inter-modal entity. If one being can have this trans-modal status, there is no reason why many other beings cannot have this same property. The whole policing of incommensurabilities and enforcing of respect of felicity conditions is threatened or seriously mitigated by the existence of such trans-phenomena.

However, this conversion to the close things of the Earth called for by the eruption of Gaia is driven (and validated) by Latour’s analysis and espousal of the religious mode as both prescriptive of attention to the close and underlying the binding of our psychic multiplicity into a unified subject. Without this monistic overcoding effectuated by the religious mode Latour cannot exclude other cosmological elements from entering into the construction of our subjectivity. The Sun, the planets, the stars, the galaxies, black holes and space itself are, if Latour’s pluralism of modes is to have any sense, not just objects of science, but also metamorphic presences. From a polytheistic perspective Gaia alone makes no sense, and while our subjectivity can and must be grounded anew, that ground is inseparable from a pluralistic cosmos both physically and psychically.

I do not see the positive result of de-mystifying our vision and practice of science and of mathematics if we proceed to re-mystify it by importing into our metaphysics the even more dubious presuppositions of monotheistic religion.

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Bruno Latour’s book AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE presents itself as containing not just a theory of and an appeal to empirical metaphysics, but as an actual example of such a practice. Empiricism is closely linked to the notion of testability, or what Latour calls, no doubt following his translators, “trials”. However the very possibility of being exposed to such tests is severely limited by both the scenography of his book and the technical arrangements accompanying it.  For example, an acceptable “contribution” to his website is one that does not constitute a test of its theoretical structure but rather one that proposes an extension of its applications with a minimum of modification of the rest. The performative status of the project is conveyed in empirical rhetoric, but the actual practice is that of normal science immunised from criticism.

The performative illusion is maintained that the book is based on an ethnographic inquiry, and that the AIME site is the continuation of that inquiry by fellow ethnographers. However, there is no actual ethnography in the book, this is just an englobing pedagogical metaphor to present the metaphysics of the modes of existence as if they were the result of empirical research. This pseudo-performativity is doubly dubious as it maintains at the phantasmatic level the scientistic ideal, only now the candidate for reducing philosophy’s pretentions to scientific truth is the science of reflexive sociology or ethnography. Thus

1) the performative ideology of the text as “empirical” metaphysics is false, and

2) the basis for this performative ideology is a sociological invalidation of philosophy by ethnographic reductionism

Similar confusion can be found in the englobing metaphor of diplomacy, presented as a quasi-fact when all that we have is a diplomatic scenography with no real partners. The test that a real diplomatic situation could have provided is scrupulously avoided, in favour of rhetorical appeals and in-group attempts at consensus. The final conference showed that there were serious rifts inside the team on the status of nature and on the political vision associated with the project. The “chargés d’affaires” to whom the project was presented did not validate it, but provided deep-reaching criticism on its form, intention, possible impact, and content. Yet we see no trace of trying to explicitly deal with the critiques provoked by this “trial” in Latour’s subsequent pronouncements. Once again, a rhetoric of empiricism veils a dogmatic practice.

The diplomatic metaphor legitimates the promotion of experts in each domain held to be relevant to the modes, or to the project as a whole, into politically empowered negotiators. Thus reductionism and élitism are elevated under cover of an egalitarian ideology that does not go so far as an attempt at instaurating democracy.

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“PLATO WAS WRONG”: Michel Serres on finding truth in the cavern

“The night is the model for our knowledge, not the day. We enter a classroom, we enter a museum like entering a cavern. The cavern is the place of knowledge…Plato was wrong, to see truth as a sun is a rather fascist idea. There is not just one truth, but billions of truths, like so many stars”.

From a short interview with Michel Serres about his new book YEUX (“eyes”).

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OBJECTS AS DE-WORLDED BEINGS: Harman’s contracted ontology

Harman’s solution to the problem of hermetically sealed understandings of being, or incommensurable worlds, is the exact opposite of that of Hubert Dreyfus, and very close to Badiou’s solution in maintaining that “mathematics is ontology”.Harman’s solution is to posit the existence of real objects outside any world-structure of intelligibility. This “de-worlding” of beings is advanced by Dreyfus as crucial to a reallist reading of Heidegger’s account of science. Harman “de-worlds” even further than the scientific mode of understanding, which still approaches beings in terms of historically variable theoretical paradigms.

Badiou , contrary to Harman, adds to this de-worlded and de-temporalised ontology the concept of “event”, leading Lyotard to speak of his having in fact two ontologies. As we saw in the previous post Harman’s gesture of de-worlding beings to the point of arriving at an ontology of pure unrelated objects seems to offer a way out of entrapment in mutually incommensurable worlds, but only at the price of making such mutual incommensurability, now baptised “withdrawal”, a universal predicament. A further undesirable consequence of this view is is explained in my review of Mehdi Belhaj Kacem’s LETTRE A TRISTAN GARCIA:  “objects” so conceived are so “de-worlded” that radical paradigm change in the sciences becomes inconceivable as a cognitive event embodying scientific progress, and can only be considered a brute fact of intellectual fashion.

Thus this de-worlding of beings, and their replacement by un-worlded objects, explains why Harman tends to see not only the sciences, but also philosophical worldviews, as arenas for pugilism and fashion, rather than for an expanded, pluralistic, practice of rational debate.

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