UNSCHOLARLY APHORISMS ON NEO-PESSIMISM: from terror-forming to terra-forming

1) Neo-pessimism is monism: the mono-tonal subjectivation of a passively received a-tonal world.

2) Neo-pessimism is not “cosmic” pessimism. Cosmic pessimism is a contradiction in terms: https://t.co/Rl9zcLT3Uu

3) Neo-pessimism is pseudo-scientism, it mobilises no real scientific knowledge of physics or biology just an antiquated “sciency” worldview.

4) Neo-pessimism is 50 identical shades of black.

5) Neo-pessimism has a continuist view of history, history without the event: there are no discontinuities, there are no ruptures.

6) For neo-pessimism, all history is non-history: history ended before it began.

7) Neo-pessimism is a-speculative realism. It has renounced speculation while retaining a nostalgic realism.

8) Neo-pessimism groups all the incommensurabilities of multiple worlds into one big mega-incommensurability, and so is a homogenising force.

9) Neo-pessimism finds the world “unthinkable”. This is what Wittgenstein called a philosophical cramp.

10) Neo-pessimism is no friend of Gaia, but of terra-forming. It remakes the Earth in its own image.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

50 (IDENTICAL) SHADES OF BLACK: Cioran, pessimism, and the white-washing of worlds

Emil Cioran is one of the patron saints of the absurd association of lucidity and pessimism, supposedly embodying a “lucidity” greater than that of philosophy. This assumption of supra-philosophical lucidity is no spontaneous reaction to Cioran’s prose, but is contained within it as purportedly part and parcel of his de-mystification of all and sundry except for himself.

“I turned away from philosophy when it became impossible to discover in Kant any human weakness, any authentic accent of melancholy, in Kant and in all the philosophers”.

This is an interesting declaration. We know that Cioran was at first very enthusiastic for Adolf Hitler, even to the point of calling himself a “Hitlerist”, and then he “turned away”. His conversion (or de-conversion) away from Hitler was seemingly for the opposite reason than he had for turning away from Kant and from philosophy in general: Cioran turned away from Hitler because of Hitler’s “human weakness” (he lost).

For many he is a great writer, but Cioran is above all great in terms of auto-publicity in the name of a one-sided view. This one-sidedness is what  gives him a unified homogeneous perspective and the perspicacity that goes with that, and he is just blind to the rest. Cioran just goes on and on about how “lucid” he is and has programmed people to repeat “Cioran is lucid” as if it were their own opinion. Cioran is monist, and so not as “lucid” as all that.

One may be willing to acknowledge that Cioran is no model of lucidity, nor of resistance, but exculpate him in the name of his intensity. Once again, we must realise that Cioran’s intensities are very limited in range, and this repetetiveness and lack of differenciation are in fact a form of de-intensification. Cioran is intensely hypocritical. He may be a useful hero in a period when one needs that sort of heroic intensity, but the repetition, montony, and one-sidedness quickly become boring.

Note: I am indebted to a facebook conversation with Artxell Knaphni and Adrian Martin for helping me to clarify my ideas.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

METTRE FOUCAULT A L’EPREUVE: hypothèses vs mots d’ordre

La question “peut-on critiquer Foucault?” a été posée par Daniel Zamora dans un interview récent. Elle n’a d’intérêt que si on la prend dans un sens poppérien. Foucault se critiquait tout le temps, et la citation proposée par Soilihi Thomas Ernesto, malgré la polysémie habituelle à Foucault, exprime très bien ce parti pris pour l’auto-critique contre le dogmatisme statique et identitaire:

“Et quoi, vous imaginez vous que je prendrais à écrire tant de peine et tant de plaisir, croyez vous que je serais obstiné, tête baissée, si je préparais -d’une main un peu fébrile – le labyrinthe ou m’aventurer, déplacer mon propos, lui ouvrir des surplombs qui résument et déforment son parcours, ou me perdre et apparaître finalement à des yeux que je n’aurais plus à rencontrer. Plus d’un comme écrivent pour n’avoir plus de visage. Ne me demandez pas de rester le même: c’est une morale d’état civile ; elle régit nos papiers; qu’elle nous laisse libre quand il s’agit d’écrire” (Archéologie du Savoir).

Foucault nous a proposé des “programmes de recherches métaphysiques”, pour parler comme Popper, combinant des éléments empiriques et des éléments spéculatifs. On peut critiquer Foucault d’un point de vue empirique, en confrontant ses idées et ses analyses avec l’évolution de la société, des mouvements sociaux, et des luttes pratiques. On peut critiquer l’élément spéculatif par diverses méthodes, par exemple en le comparant à d’autres programmes de recherches métaphysiques, y compris celui (ou ceux) du néolibéralisme. Daniel Zamora et ses collaborateurs effectuent ces deux tâches critiques avec beaucoup de façon très intéressante et très intélligente.

Dans ce sens on peut voir la question “peut-on critiquer Foucault?” comme une façon de poser la question “Est-ce que Foucault est irrationaliste?”, “Est-ce qu’on peut critiquer Foucault rationellement, en termes de critères qu’il partageait?” Jean Bricmont n’a pas de doute, il affirme

“il était bien pire que néo libéral; irrationaliste et par là, ultra-réactionnaire; il a bien sûr entièrement gagné et ce qu’on appelle la gauche est acquise à ses idées-la politique de l’identité en est un bon exemple” (ici).

Si Jean Bricmont donne un sens cognitif, et non pas simplement émotif, à son affirmation que Foucault est un irrationaliste, alors il s’agit d’une hypothèse empirique et non pas d’un dogme, d’une superstition, d’un mot d’ordre, ou d’un fantasme personnel. Cette hypothèse ad hominem (“Foucault est irrationaliste”) est réfutée par le travail de Daniel Zamora et de ses collaborateurs. Ils construisent un champ théorique où ils sont capables non seulement de mettre les analyses foucaldiennes à l’épreuve, mais où ils sont aussi capables d’engager dans un dialogue critique avec la pensée de Foucault, sans l’emprisonner dans une identité statique, ou dans un stéréotype a-critique (“Foucault irrationaliste”, “Foucault marxiste”). Donc l’hypothèse “Foucault est irrationaliste” est disconfirmée.

L’hypothèse que Foucault défendait une politique des “identités” est logiquement séparée de l’accusation de l’irrationalisme. Elle aussi est contredite par la citation ci-dessus où il parle de la nécessité de perdre le visage, et de ne pas rester le même. Dans toute son œuvre théorique Foucault a constamment critiqué le concept d’identité en tant que prescription répressive.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“COSMIC PESSIMISM” IS A CONTRADICTION IN TERMS: on some isolated quotes from Eugene Thacker

This may well be the worst of all possible reviews of Eugene Thacker’s forthcoming book COSMIC PESSIMISM. I have no access to the book, and I am basing my comments on a review by someone who apparently has read the book, and who gives us a couple of quotes and some commentary. So I could be wildly mistaken. This post is offered in the spirit of provoking discussion.

Here are the quotes:

“Pessimism’s two major keys are moral and metaphysical pessimism, its subjective and objective poles, an attitude towards the world and a claim about the world. For moral pessimism, it is better not to have been born at all; for metaphysical pessimism, this is the worst of all possible worlds.”

and

Cioran once wrote, ‘I turned away from philosophy when it became impossible to discover in Kant any human weakness, any authentic accent of melancholy, in Kant and in all the philosophers.’ I keep returning to Kant, but for the opposite reason. Each time I read, and witness the scintillating and austere construction of a system, I cannot help but to feel a certain sadness—the edifice itself is somehow depressing.

Thacker talks about “all possible worlds, a pluralist notion, but his pessimism is monist: “Pessimism’s two major keys are moral and metaphysical pessimism, its subjective and objective poles, an attitude towards the world and a claim about the world. For moral pessimism, it is better not to have been born at all; for metaphysical pessimism, this is the worst of all possible worlds.” How many other possible worlds has Thacker visited? If he is conveying not an “attitude about the world” but a “claim about the world”, where is his evidence. It is very “cosmic” to claim, inverting Leibniz, that our world is the worst of all possible worlds, but Thacker’s counterpart in each of the other possible worlds is probably saying the same thing. Does Thacker want to one-up himself (his possible selves, some of whom no doubt disagree) and claim that “they’re all the worst”?

To Thacker’s “metaphysical”, i.e. monist, pessimism (“this is the worst of all possible worlds”. “this”? What “this”?) I prefer Alain Badiou’s pluralism: “Man is the animal to whom it belongs to participate in numerous worlds” (LOGICS OF WORLDS, 513).

“This is the worst of all possible worlds”. This view is quite surprising coming from someone who has read and appreciated François Laruelle. The statement belongs to the worst sort of philosophical sufficiency. “Cosmic pessimism” my foot! To use Laruelle’s ideas, this is pre-quantum, a moralistic inversion. For Badiou there are a “discontinuous variety of worlds”, but Thacker proposes unity, continuity, homogeneity. This is the “lucid” underside of democratic materialism, described as “a-tonal” by Badiou. Thacker’s cosmos is not a-tonal, but mono-tonal, pessimism as subjectivation of a-tonality.

On Emil Cioran, a pessimist who white-washed his “dark” past, Thacker comments: “Cioran once wrote, ‘I turned away from philosophy when it became impossible to discover in Kant any human weakness, any authentic accent of melancholy, in Kant and in all the philosophers.’ I keep returning to Kant, but for the opposite reason”. This is an interesting quote. We know that Cioran was at first very enthusiastic for Hitler, a “Hitlerist” as he once called himself, and then “turned away”. Seemingly for the opposite reason than for turning away from Kant and from philosophy: he turned away from Hitler because of Hitler’s “human weakness” (he lost).

To return to Laruelle and the quantum: as in the case of Badiou, Laruelle elaborates a non-pessimistic philosophy. Laruelle tells us that the aim of his quantum turn was to get us out of “the circles of hell”, so there is no room for pessimism. Quantum uncertainty is the other face of the pluriverse. There is no sense of the pluriverse in Thacker’s statements (as quoted here), nor even any sense of  contingency (hyperchaos!). With that attitude any world you are in would be the “worst possible of all worlds”. Thus I can see no distinction between the two senses (moral, metaphysical) of pessimism that Thacker distinguishes.

In conclusion, pessimism is monism but the cosmos is a pluriverse. Thacker’s pessimism shows no sense of of the cosmos. Nor does Thacker formulate his pessimism as a “claim”, except in the self-contadictory form of the title “cosmic pessimism” (i.e. pluralist monism), or of the self-contradictory formula “this is the worst of all possible worlds”. There is no “this”, there is no “worst”, and many worlds are actual. Mono-tonalism is merely the subjectified validation of a-tonalism. As such it is a doctrine of passivity and anesthesia.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

THEORY-LADEN, POWER-LADEN, SUBJECT-LADEN: obstacles to democratic exchange

Cross-posted as comment to a post by Bharath Vallabha, on his blog IN SEARCH OF AN IDEAL.

To translate your analysis into my terms, you are saying that Stanley’s book is theory-laden, power-laden, and subject-laden (which I take it that you think any book is, not just his). His theory is at the level of thought purely ad hoc, it encodes already existent or readily accessible insights. Usually one would think that a theory-laden observation or insight is inseparable from the theory used not just to account for it, but also formulate it or to express it. In Stanley’s case, you argue, this is not so, hence the impression of “conceptual” mobilisation around platitudes that are in principle separable from the theory and concepts. This separability means that his theory is functioning as extraneous meta-language, i.e. first elaborated on a different plane it remains on that plane, and doesn’t interact with the insights and examples that are conveyed in the book to shed new light on them. Nor do the insights and examples transform the theory. So there is no positive heuristic to take us forward: once you have read his book you have no idea how to go further in understanding and dealing with propaganda in your life.

Your therapeutic recommendation at this level seems to be to drop the jargon and talk about your ideas.But maybe this is a little one-sided, and you could also say: stop being so static about your jargon, push it further and transform it when you apply it. Otherwise you are enouncing a dualistic version of Wittgenstein’s maxim of silence, that you criticise at the end. The dualist version seems to say: let the theoretical mind be silent, but let the public mind talk. This is in danger of enforcing conformism, because sometimes to get further we need to reconceive or at least reformulate platitudes.

If we take an example of a failed conversation to see the problem better, we can take the dismissal by Chomsky of “Continental” thinkers such as Zizek, Foucault, and Derrida. Chomsky has declared repeatedly that it is a waste of time to read these people, because they merely express obvious ideas in convoluted language. On some days I believe he is right, but on others I am convinced he is wrong. The point of the obscure language of the Continentals is that they think that you need a sort of “poetic” break with the ordinary way of talking to get new ideas. So maybe your critique goes too far, in that what you are thinking through by means of the specific example of Stanley’s book cannot be simply generalised.

It is true that in France in the 60s and 70s intellectuals had to write in a complicated élitist style to gain social prestige and institutional power, and then in the 80s and 90s began to valorise a more democratic style (power-ladenness was at work). But it is not obvious that they could have gotten to their later ideas without putting their brains through the jargon-mixer (which was also, one hopes, a concept-mixer). Today, Alain Badiou writes brain-crackingly complicated books, but after publishes simpler summaries. So he makes a democratic effort without presuming that the whole of his theory can be captured that way. Bruno Latour says he wants as little meta-language as possible, but this may paradoxically make his latest book AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE in some ways more difficult to understand.

Your therapeutic recommendation for the subject-ladennes seems to me quite sound. Do not impose the path you followed to get to your insights on your conversational partners. Do not presume that people need to go through the same experiences, master the same disciplines, apply the same methods. Yet are all my insights fully detachable from my path through life, including my academic path? I want to say: it depends. Somtimes I may need more experience, or a change of heart, to understand what you are saying. Or even just to read more.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My View

terenceblake:

Examples of pluralistic, Wittgensteinian, non-Academic philosophy include: Paul Feyerabend, Bruno Latour, and myself. My blog is an attempt to articulate, explore, and defend View 8.

Originally posted on In Search of an Ideal:

Contemporary philosophy in America is in the midst of a sea change. In simplest terms, it is going from being mainly about a canon of white males to becoming more pluralistic. But this is not a binary issue: traditional or pluralistic. There is much scope for genuine, productive philosophical disagreement on what pluralism can look like, and what form it can take.

To see this, consider the following three questions:

1) Is Pluralism, as opposed to Eurocentrism, correct?

2) Is there merit to Wittgensteinian criticisms of philosophy? (One might ask similarly of Heidegerrian or Pragmatist criticisms, and so on.)

3) Is it possible to do cutting-edge philosophy outside academia?

Each of these questions can be answered yes or no. That means there are eight possible views in conceptual space.

View original 513 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

LARUELLE’S DE-PERFORMATIVE USE: re-essentialising Badiou

In a recent interview surveying the overall sense and direction of his oeuvre, self-styled “non-philosopher” François Laruelle contrasts his search for “new” uses of philosophical concepts to the arrogant, dogmatic use that philosophy has always made of its own conceptual creations. Laruelle calls this “bad” use of concepts “philosophie suffisante”, usually translated as “sufficient philosophy”. However, Laruelle is playing on another sense of “suffisant”, which in French can also mean “arrogant” or “self-important”.

On this construal of the term, Laruelle’s critique of sufficient philosophy is a form of virtue epistemology, and for him the sufficient philosopher is not virtuous. Sufficient philosophy is not only closed and dogmatic, but also arrogant and authoritarian.

“Sufficient philosophy” is Laruelle’s name for the enemy, corresponding to what others have called “onto-theology”. Laruelle’s work contains not only a critique of ontology, but also, in recent books such as FUTURE CHRIST and CHRISTO-FICTION, a rejection of “theology”. Striving to find a “new use” for religious concepts such as the Christ, he extends his critical analysis of sufficient philosophy to the domain of sufficient Christianity and posits a new figure, that of the “quantum” Christ. This quantization of Christ has much in common with Meillassoux’s hyper-chaoticisation of God and falls prey to much the same objections; In particular, Laruelle’s messianism cannot exclude the coming of a “quantum” flying spaghetti monster as synonym of his own more traditional appellations.

An important conclusion of this discussion is that there is no saving metaphor: you can’t break from the tradition simply by conserving its vocabulary and quantising, or “hyper-chaoticising”, the terms that happen to please you more than the others. Something more is needed. Laruelle acknowledges this problem, that a re-visionary conceptuality is not enough to ensure philosophical “virtue”. A new use of concepts is required. Here, a second problem arises. Laruelle cannot just declare that he is making new uses of old concepts, he must give us some reason to think that he is indeed doing so.

Laruelle constantly declares that he is not using philosophical material in the same old non-virtuous way. Yet is it so? His Anglophone disciples do not bother to pose the problem, and take him at his word. When they feel the need to justify Laruelle’s repetitous incantatory self-legitimations, they talk of his “performative” style. However, this is to ignore that “performatives” have felicity conditions, as Bruno Latour tirelessly points out. A performative can be inappropriate, inauthentic, feigned, or irrelevant. It can be a fake or a failure.

The discussion takes place at such a high level of abstraction that we are often tempted to “take his word for it”, but this would not be virtuous. It would also amount to attributing to Laruelle’s propositions the very “sufficience” that he is attempting to break free of. In such a confused and confusing situation, an example may help us to fix our ideas. In the aforementioned interview, Laruelle sums up the difference between his approach and that of Alain Badiou:

“I find the reference to physics more fecund than the reference to mathematics. Mathematics has always had to do with philosophical authority, while physics refers to strategies of thought, to gestures of interpretation, as does quantum theory” (my translation).

Here Laruelle is unwittingly repeating Badiou’s distinction between Truth and knowledge, between the event of a new truth disrupting the static structures of authoritative, and authoritarian, knowledge and that knowledge as instituted veridicity. Mathematics, for Laruelle, is always already linked to synchronic domination, whereas physics is diachronic, mobilising “strategies” and “gestures”.

Thus, Laruelle takes over Badiou’s distinction, which applies inside each domain insofar as it participates in one of Badiou’s “truth-conditions” (art, politics, love, and science), and turns it into a criterion of demarcation between static authoritarian domains and dynamic democratic ones. This is a case where we can see Laruelle at work in what he calls a “new use” of philosophical material. The philosophical material is Badiou’s conceptual distinction between Truth and knowledge, alluded to in Laruelle’s distribution of roles between mathematics and physics. The “new use” is Laruelle’s extraction of ths dialectical distinction from a dynamic historical perspective and his reifying it into some essential distinction between domains.

In short, Laruelle’s use of this philosophical material is abstract, universal and essentialist, whereas Badiou’s use is in comparison concrete, historical, and dialectical. His attempt at new performativity fails, it is sufficient and not virtuous. Worse, Laruelle is incapable of recognising a more virtuous performativity when he comes across it in Badiou, and instead of citing Badiou in a democratic pluralist spirit as an exemplar of his own goals, hailing his non-standard usages, he re-essentialises them.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments