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LARUELLE AND WAVE ABSOLUTISM: against quantum integrism

We have seen in many posts on this blog (e.g. here) that François Laruelle’s non-standard philosophy represents a significant advance over the naive absolutism that characterises “sufficient” philosophies, including Graham Harman’s idealist object-oriented philosophy and the diverse forms of scientism.

By adopting a “quantum” model of thinking Laruelle is able to jettison, at least partially, his long-standing scientism. This scientistic prejudice continued as a grave flaw in phase II and phase III of his non-philosophy, and that persists ambiguously in his phase IV and phase V.

Laruelle himself began to see his thought as evolving through different “phases”, and later in Phase V or non-standard philosophy, based on quantum thought, declared that these preceding phases were themselves to be conceived in quantum terms as so many “waves”. The latest wave, non-standard philosophy, was thus considered to be the most inclusive as it allowed Laruelle to conceive his philosophical evolution in quantum terms and as the least scientistic, as his use of the quantum model was open and generic rather than closed and scientific.

However, this “wave” view is not enough to guarantee that Laruelle has escaped from all sufficiency and absolutism. Each of these waves, including the last, is highly exclusive of alternative and rival views. Each wave posits the Real as pure immanence in such a way as to demarcate itself from “sufficient” philosophies. Thus each wave is absolute even if it is constituted, if we grant credence to Laruelle’s often grandiloquent claims, on different principles, notably on a principle of non-sufficiency (as against standard philosophy’s putative structuration by the principle of sufficiency).

Laruelle’s retroactive re-conceptualisation of these phases as “waves” attempts to nullify the closed nature of the universal structure of sufficiency that he purportedly uncovered as constitutive of philosophy as a thought-form. In particular it introduces, in principle, a degree of the quantum porosity and uncertainty that he appropriates in his most recent phase.

Yet this fifth phase of non-standard philosophy, despite its porousness as “wave” and its ambiguous inclusiveness (extended to selected philosophical, scientific, religious, and artistic experimentations), is itself highly exclusive and demarcationist, as Laruelle’s ANTI-BADIOU demonstrates.

It is interesting to compare Laruelle’s grandiose claims and exalted self-image with Ken Wilber’s “integral” research programme. Like Laruelle, Wilber divides his own work into five “phases”, and he indicates the presence of waves characterising noetic development. His difference with Laruelle is that for him waves are no guarantee against sufficiency and closure, but contain their own specific danger of “wave absolutism”, stigmatising other waves in the name of an exclusionary Real.

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VIEWS OF A GLIMPSE (2): Realist Reprise and Platonic Recall

Stephen Mumford’s GLIMPSE OF LIGHT bears the Cartesian subtitle New Meditations on First Philosophy. In a reprise of Descartes’ MEDITATIONS ON FIRST PHILOSOPHY the book is organised in seven chapters comprising six “Meditations” and a seventh chapter “Objections and Replies”. While not strictly self-contradictory there is some tension in the subtitle, as a reprise can be either a beginning again to do properly or a continuation and transformation. The meditations are new contributions to the old task of first philosophy.

There is also an influence from Husserl’s CARTESIAN MEDITATIONS in that Benedict seeks to withdraw into himself to resolve or banish his doubts:

anyone who seriously intends to become a philosopher must “once in his life” withdraw into himself and attempt, within himself, to overthrow and build anew all the sciences that, up to then, he has been accepting (Husserl, CARTESIAN MEDITATIONS, page 2) .

The difference between the two is that Husserl’s meditations found his phenomenology, a philosophy oriented towards the subject, whereas Benedict’s meditations seek to found a realist vision oriented towards the world. Husserl’s Cartesian meditations are presented in a philosophical treatise and can proceed without interruption, while Benedict’s new meditations are presented in a novel where the real world constantly intrudes on his attention and other people interrupt his cogitations. The real, it is implied, often signals its presence by interruption.

In the first meditation Benedict considers the skeptical arguments against realism, which have begun to undrmine his previous realist certainties, the wellsprings of  his sense of the meaning of life and also the premises of his career (and income). In Benedict’s view Skepticism has a new incarnation in “social constructionism”, just as its ancestry can be traced back to the Sophists’ arguments combatted by Plato. Benedict has come to Norway to isolate himself in search of a glimpse of Platonic light. Aristotle claimed that unlike the gods humans cannot dwell in this light, but can only gain glimpses of it by intermittence.

Benedict’s problem stems from the doubts he has begun to feel in the face of skeptical challenges to his realist conviction in a world that exists independently of us, of our beliefs, concepts and practices. He sets up these challenges in a disembodied way that conflates arguments for skepticism based on the omnipresence and the inextricability of mediations, on the necessary filtering (and perhaps constitution) of the real by means of experience, of theoretical presuppositions, or of social construction.

This scenography is unfortunately one-sided, despite the novelised format. On the one hand the novel gives us a good view of the person and the motivations of Benedict, and offers a thick description ofsome important aspects his embodied existence. On the other hand we get no such description of the skeptics, but a vague composite image where all the different types of skeptical argument are grouped together. So we suspect from the beginning that there is no real suspense in the intrigue, despite the protagonist’s sense of existential urgency.

This lack of suspense is no real objection to the book. We all know the real world exists in at least relative independence of us. I do not know of any representatives of a full-blown social constructionism that denies the existence or even the conceivability of a human-independent reality. The arguments of the idealist-sounding social constructionist that Benedict cites, who posited only the retroactive existence of electrons constructed post hoc, are not fleshed out. We get no embodied idea of why anyone would come to defend such a position. There is a certain resemblance with Bruno Latour’s ideas, but Latour has written many books trying to define how construction and realism are compatible.

In short, Mumford’s first chapter sets out the scenography of a quandary that following Quentin Meillassoux can be called the “correlationist” predicament: how can we affirm the mind-independent existence of a real world that we can only know by means of the mind and its products?

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VIEWS OF A GLIMPSE (1): On Stephen Mumford’s philo-fiction

I am reading Stephen Mumford’s recently published novel GLIMPSE OF LIGHT: NEW MEDITATIONS ON FIRST PHILOSOPHY, and I will be live-blogging my impressions here. So far I have read the first two chapters. The book is well-written and clear, both the framing story and the philosophical reflections are a pleasure to read.

Mumford’s GLIMPSE OF LIGHT can be regarded as a work of philo-fiction, describing a fictional philosopher’s retreat and meditations in a solitary cabin in Norway. French philosopher François Laruelle speaks of “philo-fiction” on the analogy with science fiction.

The framing concept recalls both Descartes MEDITATIONS and Wittgenstein’s Norwegian retreats. The fictional philosopher’s name, Benedict Chilwell, recalls Spinoza. It will be interesting to see which of this trinity of patrons prevails over the others.

I may be led to disagree with the author over this. In the second chapter Chilwell seems to arrive at some certainty over the foundational concept of “causation”, suggesting that Spinoza is accorded primacy. It may be that the form of the novel, its status as a linguistic artefact, and its inter-textuality undermine this primacy and favour a reading against the grain in which Wittgenstein prevails.

The fictional form and the narrative of solitary meditation serve to give both intellectual focus and existential intensity to the ideas and the arguments evoked. Explicit scholarly references are eliminated, conceptual and argumentative purity predominate. Yet the focus and intensity of this mise-en-scène may have the corresponding disadvantages of excessive abstraction and over-simplification.

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POST-ALTHUSSERIAN WITHDRAWAL: OOO and dtermination in the last instance

I have described François Laruelle’s non-philosophy as a particular variant of post-Althusserian thought maintaining intact key Althusserian notions such as the distinction between the real object and the theoretical object, and determination in the last instance.

Graham Harman’s OOO is similarly a de-scientised and de-Marxed variant of the post-Althusserian problematic:

One is entitled to ask: what corresponds to the Althusserian notion of “determination in the last instance” in the OOO problematic? The answer is “withdrawal”.

OOO’s doctrine of the real object corresponds to what Zizek in DISPARITIES calls “full objectivization”. For Harman what really exists in the last instance is the real object, the rest is “sensual”, mere sham, illusion.

Zizek deploys the notion of “overdetermination” to resist the homogenization imposed by doctrines of withdrawal or of determination in the last instance (the last instance never comes). A fully withdrawn object can never be subject, it is brute substance, a pure posit of the non-dialectical imagination.

It would be a mistake to suppose that Harman’s incoherent system could be saved by the introduction of a more or less robust notion of causality. Harman’s strict OOP perspective rules out the unification of the real that the category of causation would impose.

On Harman’s view objects withdraw from each other, objects withdraw from all relation including the causal relation. Other variants of OOO, such as Levi Bryant’s naturalised construal of objects, tried valiantly but incoherently to re-inject causality and capacity into the OOO system. However, Bryant ultimately saw the futility and the impossibility of such a hybrid and gave up the title of OOO altogether.

Note: I am indebted to a discussion with David Morey for helping me to clarify this last point.

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IMAGINE SPHERES: Sloterdijk’s refutation of solitude

Many people read Sloterdijk’s SPHERES trilogy too literal-mindedly and concretistically, whereas I can only make it work for me by reading it metaphorically and imaginatively, by way of the imaginal vision advocated by the post-Jungian analyst James Hillman.

Such reductionist readers are searching for too direct a link with their own experiences, while also conceiving these experiences literalistically. They proceed in straight lines to read a book that is written and requires to be read spherically.

Part of what is at stake in empiricism beyond its naive egocentric forms is the critique of experience, of its partiality and one-sidedness, and its defence of the need to re-imagine and to re-conceptualise our experiences.

I think this sort of misreading is in part provoked by Sloterdijk’s style. Experience is not a brute given, to be taken only literally. Yet Sloterdijk gives us an ontogenetic narrative that describes the individuals progress from womb to cosmos.

Sloterdijk is at pains to show us the need for imaginative participation from the start, on the threshold of the first volume (BUBBLES) with his meditation on the apocryphal image of the invocation “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here” inscribed, according to tradition, over the entrance to Plato’s Academy, and his replacement of this intellectualist requirement with the less élitist maxim:

let no one enter who is unwilling to praise transference and to refute solitude.

Misreadings often come when readers have have the wrong (because too personalistic) set of transferences and become more interested in dwelling on and sharing their own experiences, and so have no real transference to (love of) philosophy nor to Sloterdijk’s books.

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Review of Levi Bryant’s ONTO-CARTOGRAPHY

In this review I consider the contradiction between Bryant’s desire to inherit and carry further certain progressive post-structuralist themes and his allegiance to the regressive schemas of object-oriented ontology.

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