DOES “ALL THINGS SHINING” MANAGE TO ESCAPE FROM ONTOTHEOLOGY?

“Ontotheology” means positing a (usually unitary) transcendence outside and ruling over an immanent field. This is a structural categorization: there is no need for the transcendent element to be explicitly religious. For example, some forms of humanism have been called “theological” because they abolish God but they put “Man” in the same foundational role, so the same structure as theistic religious belief is conserved. Scientism is another.Going on from there, various authors have indicated that notions of a unitary subject confronting a purely objective world, or of a unitary world as ultimate thing-in-itself are theological.
On a first reading, ATS is compatible with this kind of tracking down of, discarding, and creatively going beyond theological presuppositions. The Deleuzian “evil trinity” of God, Subject, World is overcome. From the beginning the context is after the death of God, and the phenomenological descriptions are, and have to be “methodologically atheist”. The Subject has at least been attenuated by the critique of the autonomous individual and its closure, by a revision in terms of openness. The World has been reworked in terms of different worlds associated to diverse understandings of being, and these in turn as epochal configurations of gatherings of practices. Yet, problems persist. Unities are posited and made use of, but are found to lead to difficulties.

Some possible ontotheological residues in the ALL THINGS SHINING experience:

1) Recourse to descriptive terms containing theological connotations

the use of so-called “phenomenologically appropriate” descriptive terms such as “gift” (under erasure, as it is “without a giver”) and “authority” (under erasure, as of course there is no giver of orders beyond or behind the authority-effect). These terms have personological connotation, even if that is not ther intention

2) Ontotheolical reduction of the pluralist semantic field: the primacy of “authority”

the book uses a plurality of positivity-laden terms: intensity, meaning, certitude, being in the zone, openness, mattering, worth, shining things, sacred things. This democratic semantic plurality is sometimes simplified in the discussion in an oriented way privileging for example “sacred” over other possible predicates. This is a theocratic reduction of the semantic field. Similarly, in the book the word “authority” is used only five times. In his interviews Sean Kelly uses it far more often. This usage of “authority” is ambiguous between an immanent and a transcendent acception of the term. The expression “extra-human authority” is quite compatible with an immanent interpretation, but one may regret the personological connotation of “authority” – there remains a whiff of God’s commanding in this word. Deleuze, in a similar context, talks of an impersonal “power”, but this is almost as unsatisfactory. The problem here is at least in part an artefact of the translation into English. Deleuze has devoted many pages to the reworking and creative explicating of the notion of power as “puissance” (power as capacity), and to distinguishing it from that of “pouvoir” (power as constraint exercised over another). Kelly and Dreyfus have not done a similar reworking of the notion of “authority” (and its use as integral to the ALL THINGS SHINING project calls out for explication).

3) ALL THINGS SHINING AS “POP-PHILOSOPHY”

The comparison with Deleuze is interesting as Deleuze and Parnet’s DIALOGUES II repeats Deleuze’s oft expressed desire to construct a pop-philosophy – which I think expresses part of Dreyfus and Kelly’s ambition for ATS. As their indications of the Heideggerian underpinnings of the book shows, pop-philosophy does not mean a demagogical anti-intellectual hostility to theory or concepts or erudition. Pop-philosophy has an immediate appeal to readers who find something useful for their lives (and thinking, as your fifth case of truth establishing itself recalls, is essential to the human form of life); but it must also have enough conceptual backbone to make it really a contribution to philosophy and not just opinionating or free-associating on a theme. These indications of the conceptual underpinnings of ATS and of their own interventions are welcome reminders that they are not just spouting opinions off the top of their head, but articulating clearly and creatively a long path of philosophical investigations.

3) Remythologisation is an ambiguous move

the exception made in the case of Jesus, treated as himself a work of art. I know “Jesus” is under erasure as Dreyfus and Kelly are referring to the character as presented in the Gospels (which is just as well as there is no reason to believe that such a person ever existed). In that case they should have taken the Gospels as the work of art. Their “deduction” of the Trinity from their tripartite ontological schema involving background practices, an exemplar, and articulator(s) is particularly off-putting, and brings them very close to Zizek’s Christian atheism. It makes me wonder whether their vocabulary of openness, meaning, wonder etc is a set of partial synonyms for Paul Tillich’s notion of “ultimate concern”, a sort of de-mythologised ontotheology.

4) Reduction of all cases of “bad” to adhesion to the autonomous ego

Dreyfus and Kelly’s contrast between those who believe that there is no meaning in the world aside from what we put in to it and those who are open to meanings that are already there in the situation is too Manichean. The bad guys are always the autonomous ego guys, from Penelope’s suitors to Ahab to poor DFW (which pokes a big hole in their thesis of the incommensurability of epochs). I think Ahab is not a case of the (self-)destructive power of the autonomous will, but rather, as some aspects of their analysis suggest, he is a case of the destructive power that openness to and espousal of perceptions and pulsions of physis can (but not necessarily) have on the territorialising values of poietic nurturing i.e. of physis overwhelming an ego unprotected by by metapoiesis.

5) Unifying commensuration is theological

first the different understandings of being are posed as each regenting totally an epoch and as mutually incommensurable. This leads to a strong thesis that there is no overarching instance that would explain the historical succession of worlds (this is just as well, because such an overarching explanatory instance would be theological). However, there are similarities and contrasts between the diverse worlds, and the whole point of talking about them in ATS is to find features and aspects that are of current relevance. This implies some form of commensuration, which Dreyfus and Kelly spell out in terms of a dominant majoritarian gathering of practices and of various marginal practices. This view is a provisional compromise: he notion of unitary epoch is itself theological. Heidegger himself implicitly critices his “work of art” paradigm as still theological when he moves on to his “thing thinging” paradigm. ATS is an unstable half-way compromise between the macroscopic “work of art” paradigm (still fairly structuralist) which functions as a useful first approximation and the the more accurate micro-account of the thing thinging (which is in fact one of things thinging, the plural is important as ratifying more clearly the intra-epochal plurality).

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