To Keep it Real, or Paul Ennis interviewed.
First, Paul offers an interesting discussion about Heidegger and about his own phenomenological/realist committments, which seem to index two different planes of speculation…a position which is pretty close to my own, and my way to make sense of Meillassoux. It is important to remember that Meillassoux –at the Goldsmiths workshop– claimed, in a response to Graham Harman’s questions:
‘I don’t deny the stability of laws. Maybe these laws will persist for eternity, I don’t know. I just say that it is possible, really possible, that laws just stop working, that laws disappear. They are facts, just facts, they are not necessary….I fully uphold your right to be a phenomenologist, if you want to speak about things, because you have to describe them‘ (Collapse III: 393).
Paul also rightly notes that ‘it is almost always the first chapter of After Finitude that gets discussed’. This is very true, and I often find it very puzzling. My own experience with After Finitude was that the first chapter made a powerful and memorable impact (the argument from ancestrality and the critique of correlationism) only to be followed by what I felt was Meillassoux’s real aim (and a much more compelling idea): the principle of factiality. Sometimes we get too stuck on how Meillassoux is not really refuting correlationism, or how he really considers it a powerful argument and therefore remains stuck with it…this might be all true. But I think that the constructive part of his thought, the affirmation of principle of factiality and the problem of the interface of the latter with mathematics, is what is more interesting to him, and to me.
Second, Paul claims that
One could conceivably imagine a world without Dasein but there would be no meaning produced in this world and technically it wouldn’t even be a world. So it all comes down to whether you think the real can still be made sense of without Dasein. This is where Meillassoux comes in of course. Such a place existed and it is called the ancestral realm!
For me, there is probably nothing more crucial than the equation of real and meaning. I am not sure that we can use the expression ‘to make sense’ of the real, or at least it requires that we carefully disentagle ‘what happens’ from ‘what should happpen’. I think that following Meillassoux we have to say that also in ‘this’ realm right here and right now we cannot ‘make sense’. And yet our western metaphysical knee-jerk reaction is to jump from ‘meaning-less’ to ‘unreal’, and our Heideggerian legacy tells us that we always-already made sense, for our familiarity with the world is manifest the ground of being itself. This is where the ‘two levels’ kick in again: I shall elaborate this further sometime, but I think that there doesn’t need to be conflict. I would like us to dismiss ontotheological ‘meaning’ once and for all, while at the same time keeping our conventional, phenomenological talk of coping with the world and think of the real universe as ruled by hyperchaos and of being as an inconsistent multiplicity.
Finally, Paul smuggles in his responses some very interesting remarks about the current philosophical climate.
Like a lot of the ‘new’ generation I struggle to track the changes that are happening. Philosophy seems to be moving at a rapid pace. Badiou and Deleuze are already talked about as if they’d lived in the 19th century. Speculative realism is already discussed in the past tense. Derrida seems to come from the ancestral realm itself.
We have been bequeathed, and this is an excellent gift to young philosophers, with problems rather than dogmas. Even a casual cross-tradition conversation will reveal a shared attitude that there is much work to be done and that the time of exegesis is perhaps coming to an end for a short period.
I could not agree more with Paul. Our current philosophical predicament is an extremely exciting one for several reasons. This ‘rapid pace’ is the effect of a series of cross-contaminations (analytic-continental, natural sciences-philosophy [particularly 'physics and neuroscience-phenomenology']) which has displaced (yet not erased) many of yesteryear’s dogmas. It is not simply a self-referential feeling of cultural instability that might have sprung from the postmoden climate of 20 years ago, but the recognition that we do live in a decade of genuine philosophical transition. It is my contention that most of this gestalt shift has been caused by the unprecedented cultural power of the natural sciences, so that –just like Churchland’s observer of the starry sky has to ’tilt his head’ in order to accomodate the scientific image and see the world ‘as it really is’– the philosopher today is forced to tilt his or her thought if he or she doesn’t want to end up on Sokal’s blacklist. And the shockwave of this shift is accelerated beyond measure by a network of digital technologies (as I write this I receive emails, I check other blogs, I have philosophy-related Twitter updates popping up on my screen, and I am downloading a podcast of some conference) which now allow for a quasi-real-time discussion, one which almost makes impossible the ossification of any position into a dogma.
If one could say that there is something like ‘normal philosophy’ (and in a way, don’t all the anti-correlationists accuse the post-Kantians of doing ‘normal philosophy’?), one could claim that we live a period of philosophical crisis. Crisis though, not yet revolution. Because for a revolution we need something more:
This is why Heidegger wants to overcome metaphysical language. It is simply not up to the ‘task’ or as Derrida will try to show it is the language itself that leads to aporias. This brings us back to the aporia of the arche-fossil. The question about ancestral statements is, after all, whether they are literal or realist. To get over the problem we might need nothing less than a new vocabulary. As far as I am aware nobody has pulled this off yet!
Exactly. It does not take an obsession with language to see how an improved vocabulary is necessary in order to ‘talk’ a new metaphysics. Can a new vocabulary be invented out of the blue? Of course not. Are there other vocabularies from which to enrich and modify ours? Of course there are. Speculative realism (especially in its object-oriented form) has opened the frontiers of philosophy for a new way of exchanging words (both as in a dialogue and as exchanging vocabules) with the natural sciences: hasn’t Latour vouched for a ‘democracy of words’ (Irreductions 2.6.3)? Isn’t this ‘hybrid vocabulary’ speculative realism’s most fertile gift to philosophy?
And yet, it is my belief that this is still not enough. And that to fully understand and exploit speculative realism’s opening of frontiers we should look at the vocabulary of other philosophical traditions with the eyes of the interested and democratic vocabulary-builder, not with the eyes of the antiquarian. And I think here of the arguments of Dipesh Chakrabarty, in Provincializing Europe (5)
As I argued before, it is ok to discuss with Aristotle or Kant, and with their language, while it seems less ok to discuss with Akṣapāda Gautama or Tsongkhapa and with their language. Haven’t we reached the inclusion of the non-human realm, in search for new ways to talk about modes of existence, before finishing the census of all the ways humans have approached the problem? Haven’t we ‘provincialized the human’ before making sure that our ways of doing were not exclusively western? Haven’t we opened the parliament to things before opening it to non-western people? Didn’t Latour highlight how the internal great divide between nature and culture is isomorphic with (and in fact engenders) the external one between ‘us West’ and ‘them the Rest’? And even if only the denunciation of the first could lead to the debunking of the second, is it not time to get on with it? This is not my way of saying ‘speculative realism is politically incorrect’, but my way of saying ‘speculative realism (or at least some forms of it) is a current which has the metaphysics to do this cross-cultural work’.
All of these –partial– considerations are part of my future plans, and to be expanded into my thesis and (hopefully) in my little contribution for Speculations.