GRACE, SHINING, AND INDIVIDUATION: Adam Miller, Hubert Dreyfus, and Sean Kelly on David Foster Wallace

Two years ago Adam S.Miller, the author of SPECULATIVE GRACE: Bruno Latour and Object-Oriented Theology, published a text criticising Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Kelly’s ALL THINGS SHINING for its misunderstanding of David Foster Wallace, whom they accuse of nihilism. Miller accuses Dreyfus and Kelly themselves of nihilism for having based their argument on the « saving power » of meaning as a remedy against the nihilistic loss of meaning of the modern world. Such meaning, according to Miller, is a distraction from the real task of redemption:

« Mythologies (macro-scale meaning-maps) are a byproduct of religion in the same way that stories are a byproduct of life. This is fine. But our stories are not alive and our maps are not the way. It’s a mistake, I think, to think that religions are in the business of making meaning ».

Now while I fully agree that Dreyfus and Kelly get David Foster Wallace totally wrong, I think Miller was a little severe with their general project in ALL THINGS SHINING, even if they applied their concepts wrongly in their discussion of Wallace. I think their notion of « meaning » is not reference or even signification but is rather like Bruno Latour’s notion of religion as conversion to an attitude of attention to the things that are near us. So I would argue for the equation grace (in Miller’s sense) = shining (in Dreyfus and Kelly’s sense).

It must be remarked that in Latour’s scheme in AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE myth would seem to correspond to the mode MET, the mode of existence of beings of metamorphosis that are formative of the psyche, whereas religion is a mode that constitutes us as persons. Myths give us meaning and psyche, God gives us attention and personhood. I do not fully agree with this schema, but I can see its motivating force. My own dissenting view is that, while there is surely a difference between myth and religion, even in the very refined forms that Latour and Dreyfus and Kelly propose to analyse them, both of these are sub-modes of a more general mode that could be called the mode of individuation.

Whatever one may think of this last point I have been reading the newly published interview with David Foster Wallace QUACK THIS WAY, and I was struck by how all his advice on writing was the exact opposite of Drefus and Kelly’s take that he was trapped in the autonomous ego and its masterly will. The connection between David Foster Wallace and Bruno Latour seems direct in this case. DFW too wants to provoke a « conversion » away from the ego and towards what is close, yet he seems to me to be freer of ontotheology than Latour


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