Monday, October 20, 2014

thoughts on philosophy outside of the walls of the neoliberal university

(I've bolded the most important ideas/highlights in this post due to its length.)

After Nature reader Brian B. wrote to me last week asking me about my thoughts concerning philosophy in light of the rise of the "neoliberal" university - which is essentially where the core of philosophy has now been placed, that is, in terms of of degree granting education and training  (the "formal" or "traditional" place of philosophical activity, corresponding to peer-reviewed publication) - versus philosophy that happens outside of those walls, such as online.

Brian then went on to take Speculative Realism as a test case for an event or occurrence of philosophy whose main incarnation happened online rather than in the rooms of graduate seminars or in the pages of well known, peer-reviewed, professional academic journals (e.g. non-graduate student run journals whether print or online Open-Access, or non "independent" journals); that is, inside academic walls.  Brian wondered whether there was more "creativity" happening outside the walls of academia in the "underground" of philosophy/online, or whether "real philosophy" can happen inside the formal university, perhaps even today (e.g. within the neoliberal university).  He pointed out that I have experience in both places, having myself been a tenure track professor and then having had several offers for tenure positions before voluntarily "retiring" to a VAP position due to my health issues, where then I picked up philosophy again in the "underground" and online.

There's alot to think about, but I told him I'd offer some thoughts in the form of a blog post.

I think that philosophy, creatively speaking, is happening in both places.  Although how philosophy occurs is markedly different.  I do believe that how philosophy occurs in one place is by and large better than in the other, although as neoliberal institutional models increase that form of "traditional" philosophy inside the academy will more than likely vanish.

It is true that the anarchic conditions outside of academic walls can, at times, spur creative philosophical events - as in the case of the "former" Speculative Realism (not the current trademarked "brand" of Speculative ®ealism™.  But, how philosophy then is sustained as an activity changes due to sheer nature of the medium.  I am not sure that philosophy is meant to happen on Twitter for instance, where the speed of thought trumps the rigor of argument or the slow and careful reading and evaluative decision making that is required for the sound apprehension of  detailed and subtle philosophical positions.  I think alot of conversation in philosophy can occur online, but the hard work of philosophy itself, still to me at least, seems best reserved for more formal argumentative presentations of view, whether through papers, book chapters, books, or even conference presentations (which can be recorded and then uploaded online) as places to test those argumentative presentations of view.  But for me, publication slows down at least to a moderate degree the speed of philosophy online, which is why Open-Access publication online can set a more reasonable pace for publication than the glacial advance of print publication.  So long as the publication venue is peer-reviewed and of moderate to good quality I cannot see why publication online would succumb to uncalled for speeds of thinking that undercut the activity of philosophical discourse.

Now, even slow and carefully reasoned philosophy - as an event inside university walls - is itself under attack, where market conditions and new educational models of neoliberal education (online classes, for example) replace core pedagogical techniques that have been more or less "traditional" but are also often times more helpful in learning difficult texts and materials - this even beyond taking or teaching a class online, or via whatever method the current university will state that makes the most financial sense.   Two examples might help me make this point.

First, inside university walls graduate education can often times be a transformative experience where the apprehension of material is slowed down in a group reading process that provides the structure required for a more formal engagement with the material; in a place where real human beings face to face engage, dialogue, receive, and shape texts and ideas.  This seems to be simply an educational experience that is just not available online, even through GoogleHangouts (to a limited degree) which would be the nearest thing one could get.  I think just the credentials involved, the tradition of a department and its faculty who've spent years developing key research profiles, all shapes that personal face to face experience.  This is not to say that those experiences cannot be recreated elsewhere, such as at the recent PAF Summer Institute. The latter seems rare however, but is still possible..

Second, the act of writing graded papers and book reviews in a graduate seminar, and then finally even the act of writing the dissertation itself, where feedback and appropriate face to face dialogical conversation can actually mature one's philosophical perspective, seems to trump (in most cases at least) many of the popular forms of online philosophical practice.  I remember quite well actually that the very process of writing the dissertation changed me and changed my perspective - I learned so much from the experience of doing a formal literature review but then having the chance to vet the literature review before my advisor and before my colleagues.  While my own perspective was able to grow and mature beyond graduate school and take on new schemes of ideas, those ideas varying but nevertheless relating back to areas of inquiry that I took up in the dissertation, that development has been slower only because of a lack of opportunity for in-person communication and dialogical conversation.  In short, in person conversation goes a long way in maturing and developing one's views.  Again, this often times can be re-created outside of academic walls although is rare in online interactions.
To that end, still, in person face-to-face conversation always seemed more valuable to me.  I recall several years ago having a conversation about Speculative Realism with Tom Sparrow at the December APA.  And just that conversation about Speculative Realism seemed to impact us both, perhaps moreso than the ongoing occurrence of Speculative Realism happening online!
My point is that philosophy as I see it and try to practice it, is essentially an activity where human beings sit down face to face and dialogically engage in conversation about questions of ultimacy.  The medium of online philosophy outside of the academy, so far at least, has more often times than not stifled any productive way to engage in that same activity.  But it has also expanded the range of the conversation.  Blogs and social media are instrumental in establishing that range.  On the other hand, whether reading body language, or simply sitting before others who have worked through a difficult text that you yourself are trying to learn, the rules of engagement are different in that conversation is the most "concrete" transmission of ideas, where ideas can be worked upon "in depth" - beyond the "surface" of quick social media grazing.

However, as the university is neoliberalized, I fear that those measures,too, will be supplanted by facile and surface dwelling techniques of all things within an online education: the speed of thought, the lack of real depth in engagement, the propaganda of social media accounts, fad and fashion.  All things that have to some degree been kept in check in former university environments.  This isn't to say that traditional graduate programs haven't been swayed by fashion (some have), or that time limits apply for one to complete a degree in the first place.  My point is that the creative fires burning in graduate departments always had checks and balances - checks and balances that are largely absent when philosophy is had in the anarchic conditions of the online world.

Philosophy online seems (to me) to be more of a conversation, part of a process of individuation, where indeed good results can occur from time to time, finding their way to publication whether print or online Open-Access.  See my post HERE on "Blogophobia" for example.

On the other hand, as the rise of the neoliberal university and its educational model supplants those traditional models with their checks and balances, and as the neoliberal university affects for the worse the job market, the anarchic world of online engagement - blogs and online journals that are "indie" or "underground" - may be the only place that philosophy is left with - the last outpost where real creative and new ideas can occur.  Although, as I have stated elsewhere (HERE), if that is the case then I do not have much hope for carefully reasoned and just and fair debate given the politics involved.

Is there a middle between the two?  In favor of that, Robin Mackay from Urbanomic's comment found in Jon Cognburn's take on Pete Wolfendale's latest book - a comment which I've been meaning to copy now for more than a week - puts in perspective how "underground" or "independent" philosophical events, such as publishing houses, can best institute new checks and balances that would apply to the anarchic online philosophical world.

I'll post Robin's comment as a way to close this post, along with two other comments after that, as a way to show how this checks and balances system seems to be trying to work itself out online.  The test case is Pete Wolfendale's latest book where the Preface talks about the new Speculative ®ealism™.   Whether the event or philosophy in question chooses to respond to those proposed checks and balances, and acknowledge those who deserve to be acknowledged, is a different story.  Please carefully read what Robin has to say as he spent some time evidently writing it.  Unlike a blog post which usually is scanned, his comment really should be read.  (Originally found on Job Cogburn's "Circling Firing Squad" post HERE from 10/10/14.)  The issue is of course whether Pete was justified in the claims he presents in his Preface.  But because the book was published by Urbanomic Robin would like to provide justification for the contents of the book given the political conditions surrounding "Speculative Realism."  There are also some other political dimensions at stake but I'll let readers see for themselves how that all works out.

I feel like I’ve been forced to spend time responding to this, time I really can’t spare and which I fear will be wasted, but since you have mentioned me by name, and despite the welcome comments from others in defence of Urbanomic, I have spent considerable time doing so in what I hope is a reasonable fashion (at least, reasonable in view of what Pete and I have been accused of). 
I have spent over a year with Pete working on his book. I have read every line of every chapter and have discussed it with him and offered extensive comments; there were certain parts that I advised him to take out or alter, and each time this was discussed at length and Pete, being an intelligent adult (and a far better philosopher than I!), was able to hear my views, consider them, and make his own decisions. At every point we continued to reevaluate the content of the book, the reasons for and against publishing it, the possible positive and negative effects of its appearance, the fact that Pete is a previously unpublished author and what that means, and the fact that its polemical nature was sure to anger some people. Pete and I also carefully reviewed and reshaped the overall trajectory of the book and the tone in which its arguments are conducted. 
More generally, if you were to ask any one of the authors who have written for Collapse or any other Urbanomic publication I think they would confirm that Urbanomic if anything has an unusually traditional hands-on interventionist editorial policy. Compare this with, for example, Zero Books, who have published many Harman titles: You can email your book proposal to Zero from their website, they have an almost entirely automated system for production, the editorial touch is by all accounts extremely light, and many of the books published are in effect enhanced collections of blog posts. That seems to me an entirely valid, and evidently successful, approach for a twenty-first century publisher - it’s just not Urbanomic’s. Then on the other hand, you have academic presses, which certainly have systems for review in place. But I’m afraid one would be mistaken in thinking their editorial, copyediting and proofreading services to be impeccably professional (I could give some shocking examples).

My point is, there are different models, and models within those models. Why do you believe, on the basis of (the preface to) one book, that Urbanomic alone has fallen below the universal standards – and moreover why do you think in the first place that *your* standards (especially on this issue in which you obviously have a strong personal investment) are *the* universal standards? (They’re also standards that would write Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Hegel, and many others out of the history of philosophy). All the more so given that, as has been pointed out above, academic literature is in fact full of *dissimulated* infighting, spite, snarking, jockeying for position, etc. It would seem that you object simply to someone actually saying what they think – that this strikes you as vulgar or improper. Is this the case even when their right to speak has been earned by penning thousands of words of closely-argued readings of an author’s arguments, on the basis of having read *all* of their books.
Regardless of this, it is simply patronising to Pete to suggest that he has no mind of his own, and that somehow because he is a ‘kid’ (like you once were before you became wise i.e. got a job) he is prey to unscrupulous bad editors. It seems that the pivot of all your arguments is the academic job market: what you can’t say if you don’t have an academic job; what you mustn’t say if you ever want to have an academic job; what people with academic jobs have agreed is allowed; what is widely read and referenced by people with academic jobs. According to the above, what people without academic jobs write is apparently entirely determined by their desperation to get an academic job; and those with academic jobs are ‘successful’ and shouldn’t have to respond to them … What about argument, what about philosophy?  
If all this is what ‘professionalism’ amounts to, it’s appalling. That’s the reason why Urbanomic exists and was announced from the outset (intro. to Collapse I) as being *amateur* (in the proper sense) in spirit. Urbanomic is not an academic press. I am one person (btw I’m not wearing a suit) who has invested a decade of my life, without any of the support a university press can count on, without any public funding, without the backup of academic or other employment, in order to publish work that I believe is important and deserves to be read, regardless of the author’s ‘status’. This is not a corporate monograph factory. Each book involves large personal financial and time commitments. No project is taken lightly or pursued for spurious ends, and they always involve close collaboration with the author(s). To be frank I absolutely don’t care whether any of these publications are seen to be abiding by the ostensible probity of academic norms. In my view those norms are self-evidently not a solution, but part of the problem, as far as the future of philosophy is concerned; and through the integrity of Urbanomic’s work I’m quite confident in having earned the right not to have to answer to them, or to such repulsive arguments from authority as are presented above.  
For many people – all four of the original Speculative Realists among them - Urbanomic has offered a chance to be read and appreciated by a wide audience that they wouldn’t have found through the professional channels because (a) their work just wouldn’t have been accepted for academic journals; and (b) reception of those journals would have remained inside a closed academic circle. Most authors have been happy about this situation, have shown good grace, have remained on friendly terms with me, and have continued to keep in mind the fact that not only are there other ways of doing things, these other ways are in fact *crucial* to the flourishing of the intellectual climate. Pete book continues that tradition. 
It’s nonsense that Urbanomic is a ‘vanity press’; and it’s simply bad faith to suggest that no editorial care has been taken with this book, just because you happen to disagree with it or dislike its tone. There are plenty of vanity presses out there, and there are plenty of crappy print-on-demand books (some of them put out by university presses). Printing a real print run of a real book, in a narrow subject area such as philosophy, is a serious investment in every sense for a small press. There are very few people still doing this, and the dissemination of indiscriminate opinionated views such as yours are, if anything, just going to help kill them off. 
As for me, I’m delighted that for now this is even anywhere near being a viable way of life. But only just: I have no time off, I have no vacations, I have no life insurance, I have no pension, I have no job security, I have two kids to support. My life is spent searching out, editing, designing, typesetting, translating, writing introductions to, marketing, and mailing out books (in your case Jon, a free copy) that I believe are philosophically significant and have the potential to make a contribution to a cultural life including but wider than professional philosophy. 
And what do you do, Jon? It’s great that you have an academic job, it’s great that you use logic symbols in the majority of your papers; but is it really the most constructive use of this fortunate position to denigrate Urbanomic's work for no apparent reason, and simultaneously to be condescending and insulting to someone who has spent two years of his own time simply *doing philosophy* – i.e. rigorously following up on his misgivings and questions about a philosophical position, meticulously working through them, and arriving at a conclusion – not because it’s his job, but because he believes that this is an interesting and important thing to do? 
Your vituperative attack on Pete’s admirable persistence in a rather thankless task is launched solely on the basis of an extremely tendential reading of the preface. As is traditional, the preface sets out (rather calmly and reasonably I think) the *causes* for the book’s existence and the *reasons* why it deserves to be read; and gives some anticipation of what it will contain. I believe the preface succinctly answers your own question ‘Why write a four hundred page book about something dynamically pathological’? But you have preferred to amplify the mild tone of irritation in which Pete recounts the episode with Harman and Bryant into a ‘kvetching revenge narrative’. In fact, as is quite clear, the whole point of the story is that when Pete tried to formulate his objections more precisely he found this was actually quite a rewarding and productive challenge to take on, given what it revealed about conetmporary relations between metaphysics and ontology, and how methodology, argument, and allusion function in philosophical writing . That, *quite obviously*, is the *first reason* (in the order of reasons rather than that of causes!) for the book’s existence. (And in fact it reflects badly on a whole lot of us that none of us did it. We have a lot to thank him for!) 
And then of course you also refer to Ray’s postscript, which, evidently, you turned to *before* reading the rest of the book, as you were hoping it would supply some scandal, and in which you found exactly what you were hoping to find. 
It really seems to me that you, and others, are really keen for this to be nothing but a flamewar (or as you have it ‘circular firing squad’) and are doing your best to make it so before reading and digesting the arguments of the book. I hope I’m wrong, I hope that Pete’s work is treated seriously as it warrants. I’m sure I’m right in saying that Pete would have no problem with his arguments being taken apart, refuted and condemned for their incompetence if that’s what ensues upon a serious reading of the book; the book is precisely an appeal for that kind of philosophical engagement. His contention is that such engagement has been sorely lacking in the case of OOP. This is a reasonable contention, which I have no hesitation in defending. 
I have remained largely silent in all of the arguments over SR/OOO/etc. (ok, apart from flippant offhand comments on social media). This is partly because I had already had my fill of blog-bickering before SR even ‘broke’. But also because one of the principles of Urbanomic was always that it had no ‘party line’ but is interested in publishing work from different perspectives which, together, could provide some co-ordinates for the space of contemporary philosophical thinking. 
But since your intervention more or less demands it, let me tell you what I know of the sad story already alluded to above, a story which may or may not explain why, after having published Graham Harman’s work, I, and Urbanomic, became an ‘enemy’, and which may lend some justification to the claims of Pete's book (although this is my personal view, not his) I am not writing this so as to stoke the controversy, but because telling the truth about what happened then, even if it's a partial, personal narrative, helps me to put into perspective what you’re saying now. 
(Firstly I should mention that, as far as being ‘one of Brassier’s people’ goes, I have no idea what that means, he’s certainly a good friend but I am not absolutely in agreement with Ray philosophically, nor on other matters – for instance, as should be evident from Urbanomic’s social media profile, I don’t agree with his wholesale dismissal of online stupidity, nor do I think that SR should – or can – simply be written off, although I agree it has given rise to some facile rubbish. Nor for that matter do I agree with Pete about everything. Forming a group where you all agree on everything is not really the point, is it?) 
Ray was at one time an enthusiastic promoter of Graham’s work. He introduced it to me in 2006-7, describing it as an original, interesting and promising philosophical enterprise. I read *Tool-Being* and agreed, and I was happy to publish Graham’s work in Collapse alongside that of Ray and Quentin, under the then rather vague rubric of ‘Speculative Realism’ (along with that of astrophysicist Roberto Trotta, Reza Negarestani and Paul Churchland…SR was pleasingly inchoate in the pre-branding era!) However I already had some questions about the overall direction of the project. In the original draft of the introduction to that volume (Collapse 2), I wrote a couple of sentences suggesting that, with this ‘aesthetics as first philosophy’, one would have to guard against its going beyond phenomenology into simple poetic evocation. Having read the draft, Graham requested (via Ray) that I remove this comment. He didn’t argue the actual point with me, but effectively insisted that, as his junior, and in the spirit of fair play, it was *improper* that I should make such a negative comment. Ray spoke up on Graham’s behalf and I was persuaded to remove it, it wasn’t really a big deal for me. Quentin never objected to being described as ‘grand-style French’ though! But perhaps here I was already crossing the boundaries of propriety. In any case, that seemed to be that. Collapse II was a great volume. 
After Collapse 3 (with the SR transcript) was published, I set up a private blog where a few of us could discuss the issues arising from this discussion (some of those involved didn’t feel happy participating in a public blog discussion). There were about 7 people invited, if I remember rightly, and it was rather shortlived. There I wrote a post, not particularly sophisticated, maybe a little abrupt, following up a little on one of Peter Hallward’s comments in the conference, addressing the question of what Graham meant by an object, whether human encounters with objects were being transferred to object-object interaction, and above all whether, in addressing object-object interactions, one could possibly avoid ‘undermining’ (ie decomposing and thus losing sight of) ‘objects’ in the sense of the discrete unities that we (humans) consensually recognise. Again, Graham demanded that this post (which only 7 people would ever see) be removed, again he appealed to Ray, and Ray emailed me, saying that Graham was sensitive about criticism and that perhaps I should just remove it. So I did. 
Soon after, a friend of mine (who is also called Robin) posted something on a shortlived blog of his that I hosted on Urbanomic, where he suggested he was unconvinced by Harman’s arguments, and made a lame joke about Harman’s use of index cards when lecturing. Again I received an indignant Harman takedown notice (obviously, he thought it was me, but when explained otherwise remained adamant that the post shouldn’t be there). This all seemed a bit strange at the time (‘weird petulance’ if you like, Jon) but, I thought, maybe understandable – my rationalisation was that Harman had been something of an ‘outsider’ because of how his thesis had raised the hackles of orthodox Heideggerians, and perhaps that had made him more defensive about his own work being critiqued. 
Unfortunately I came to learn of other cases (some more serious in their consequences for those concerned), and I saw the pattern repeated and exacerbated: criticisms being met with allegations of impropriety, deviousness, folly, and personal undermining, rather than the straightforward philosophical response they merited. This happened until, I think, a good many people (those who weren’t happy simply to reiterate the wonders of OOO) simply gave up, or decided it was more productive and life-affirming to step aside, do something else, and possibly sporadically take the piss instead. At the same time, Harman continued to gather around him a coterie of OOO fans who tended to reiterate these tactics – the overall outcome was to make OOO apparently effectively ‘invulnerable’, so that the ratio of argument to assertion dropped dramatically (nb. Pete has some very interesting things to say in the book on how OOO’s longevity is partly explained by the intrication of many strands of argument and assertion, and the impossibility of a ‘knock-down critique’ of OOO) 
Of course, a whole book of responses has been promised by Harman, but, to take Pete’s case alone, if you search Harman’s blog for Pete’s name you’ll see that in May 2010, June 2010, Sept 2012, June 2013, and April 2014 Harman enumerated various reasons why he hadn’t found time yet to respond to Pete, and repeatedly promised a response that in fact has never come. Which seems remarkable given the lengths to which Pete went to engage with Harman’s philosophical position. There are reasonable grounds here to claim that criticisms of Harman’s OOP are not being answered; and they can’t be dismissed by saying that Pete is presumptuous to expect to be answered by someone so ‘successful’ – he’s been ‘charitably’ awaiting an answer for four years now! But things got worse. As Mark has already alluded to above – and I don’t wish to elaborate - Harman made some vile personal attacks on friends and associates, concentrating not only on their academic ‘failure’ (somehow seen to be the worst sin and to warrant dismissal of anything they may say) but also their character, motives, and even their mental health (the worst of these have now been removed from his blog at the very strong request of others, but they are on record elsewhere). 
I’m not sure, since I had no contact with Harman since Collapse 4, but I think I became an official ‘enemy’ with Collapse 5, mostly edited by Damian Veal, who for a brief period was one of his prime targets (not only because he is a philosopher of science, which Harman seems to take as a personal affront in itself; but also because, once again, he had no job, and had the temerity to mount a philosophical critique of OOO on a blog comment somewhere. Nb. Isn’t this strange given Harman’s championing of the blogosphere as a suitable site for philosophical debate?) At that point Harman apparently decided that Collapse was to be lumped in with the ‘scientistic’ camp and declared on his blog that he ‘for one, would not be reading Collapse again’. Well thanks. This despite the fact that anyone who reads Collapse can see that there are a great many different viewpoints represented (including OOO even in the most recent volume!) This is where the real sadness lies for me: The original idea of the journal, as set out in vol. 1, was NOT to represent or form a school, NOT to have any editorial ‘line’, and to UNDO rather than to promote factionalism. So perhaps you can understand why, for me at least, ‘SR’ has become something of a frustration, and why it seems important that we begin (a) to understand its ascendancy in symptomatological terms and (b) to counteract the popular spread of a set of uninterrogated notions with some vigorous philosophical examination. This is precisely what Pete has begun to do, with great panache. 
I regard all of this as frustrating and regrettable; and can’t help thinking all the bad blood is entirely unnecessary and was very much avoidable. I’m afraid it’s not personal animus that leads myself and others to attribute it to Harman’s way of dealing with criticism. That’s simply what we saw happening, even when all of us (including Ray) were at the outset well-disposed toward him and his work.    
There are times I have bitterly regretted publishing the transcript of the SR event. The wonderful thing about Pete’s book is not that it sets out to destroy something, but that it shows how, after all, there is still hope that Speculative Realism has been instrumental in stimulating renewed philosophical thinking rather than just hype, gang-mentalities, and bad anthropocene-poetry.

Comment from Mark:
I am fully aware that this is not the book review itself, and that fact was clear throughout my long comment above (thus I kept saying “If you do decide to write a review…”). And frankly, the fact that you are determined to stand by your baseless and potentially very damaging assertions that Wolfendale wrote the entire 400-page book “purely as an act of revenge” suggests to me that you are simply not competent to write such a review. I do not suggest that all your academic work is incompetent; I have no idea about that. But as I said above, it is clear to me that you have far too emotionally investment in the issues treated in the book to evaluate it with the objectivity it merits.
Your claim that the book “was not edited properly by the people at Urbanomic” seems to be based upon the occurrence of the word “pathological” in the preface. Allow me to quote the passage in question more fully:

“After this, the book turns to the historical and sociological significance of OOP (chapter 4): I integrate the insights uncov¬ered earlier into a synoptic picture of the rise of correlationism after Kant (4.1), in order to describe the genesis of OOP/OOO in the present (4.2), and then provide a ‘hyperbolic reading’ of a future in which its influence is unopposed (4.3). This is the culmination of a historical story that slowly develops over the second half of the book (3.4, 3.5, and 4.1), and which encom¬passes the overarching dialectic of metaphysics, its split and parallel development in the analytic and Continental traditions, and the evolution of the Kantian noumenon within the latter tradition. This story forms the background for a sociological account of the development of the Continental tradition from the middle of the twentieth century to the present day (4.1), which explains the influence of correlationism, its imbrication with the project of critique, and the emergence of an opposing constructive orientation. Taken together, these analyses do more than let us understand where OOP/OOO has come from and where it is going—they give us a chance to take stock of where we are as a discipline, and what must be done if we want to divest ourselves of the pathological dynamics typified by Harman’s work.”

Now, having not read the book, I do not know what Wolfendale is referring to here by “pathological dynamics”, but I would be surprised if that does not become clear upon reading the relevant chapters. Since you have yourself not yet read the chapters in question, don’t you think it might have been advisable for you to have done so before declaring the publisher to be either a “a vanity press” or “suffering from Harman derangement syndrome”? You will of course excuse your own hypocritical use of the language of pathology here by saying “this is a blog, not a book”, but you should realise it’s an exceptionally feeble defence, not least because blogs are far more readily accessible than the insides of printed books published by obscure independent publishers.
In effect, what you are saying is that, regardless of context, and regardless of how much interpretative and argumentative work is wielded in support of it, it is simply never acceptable for anyone to use the term “pathological” with reference to somebody else’s work in a printed book, but that it’s perfectly acceptable to dismiss an entire publisher as a either a “vanity press” or as “suffering from Harman derangement syndrome” on the basis of them allowing the word “pathological” to appear in one of their books. Never mind the fact that you claim to admire Urbanomic for its “cool punk rock samizdat ethos”. Never mind the fact that they are clearly *not* an "academic press", and explicitly state that they set up the press to explore philosophy outside of mainstream academia, and academia per se (see Robin Mackay’s extensive comments above). No, according to you they are duty bound to adhere to the accepted conventions of academic discourse as established by the likes of Oxford University press. So much for your supposed admiration for that dissident “punk rock ethos” eh? 
Moreover, if Wolfenale and Urbanomic are beyond the pale in publishing a book in which the words “pathological dynamics” appear, what about Harman’s comment that “the psychologizing of one’s opponents is not always beyond the pale, but sometimes has valuable rhetorical power and even a grain of truth”? What about all his published tirades against “the table-pounding aggressions of hack scientism”? What about his attacks upon Metzinger as "completely overrated”, a “devotee of aggressive-exterminative scientism”, and a “don’t-have-a-clue-materialist” who “generally behaves like a haughty modern physician laughing off a coven of village witches” and “displays markedly aggressive animal passion?” (Have you read any Metzinger? If so, does any of this strike you as remotely fair or accurate??!!) What about his contention that anyone who refers to “folk psychology” is an arrogant “scientistic hack”? What about his contention that the natural sciences are based upon “a metaphysics fit for two-year olds”? What about his dismissals of epistemology as a “cop’s fantasy project”? What about all his comments about “the aggressive self-assurance that typifies analytic philosophy”? What about his dismissal of Quine as “a desolate tax lawyer” who, like all analytic philosophers, is a “dreadful writer”? What about his contention that there has rarely been “a more ridiculous philosophical boast” than to suggest that Metzinger and Dennet count as “imaginative thinkers” (“if the robotic debunkers Dennett and Metzinger count as ‘imaginative’ thinkers, then black is white and night is day”)? What about his suggestion that we should leave behind “all Heideggerians (they will hardly be missed)” 
And these are just a few things that I can recall off the top of my head from his published works (of which I am only familiar with a few). Are you now going to write a post berating e.g. Open Court, Edinburgh UP and and Zero Books for failing to edit his books properly, or accuse them of being either vanity presses or run by deranged people suffering from some kind of revenge syndrome?
You also say:
“one can disagree with even central points without coming even close to dismissing someone's entire body or work as being both pathological and indicative of the main weakness of a whole tradition of philosophy. These are both the kind of absurd, indefensible claims we wouldn't accept in form an intro student.”
So, on the basis of reading only the short preface of the book, and having yet to engage with a single one of the book’s many detailed arguments, you have come to the firm conclusion that because the phrase “pathological dynamics” occurs in the preface, not only is the publisher either a vanity press or run by deranged people, but that the author must be doing no more than “dismissing someone’s entire body of work … as pathological”. Do you perhaps think you might be overlooking the fact that the author -- who you yourself acknowledge as one of the most promising philosophers of his generation -- has spent more than three years of his life engaging every facet of Harman’s oeuvre and now produced a 400-page book devoted to carefully, rigorously and critically examining them? How does this amount to simply “dismissing” that oeuvre as “pathological”?
And again, you have decided that to arrive at the conclusion that a certain philosophical trend is (in your words) “indicative of the main weakness of a whole tradition of philosophy” is “absurd” and “indefensible” and that “we” (i.e. "we professional philosophers") “wouldn’t accept it from an intro student”. Oh really? And what if said student was not only prepared to argue this at length by drawing upon detailed knowledge of the entire history of philosophy since Kant, but handed you a 430 page manuscript setting out the arguments for the claim in painstaking argumentative detail? On the basis of those professional accolades you keep boasting about, you might be labouring under the assumption that you can easily refute Wolfendale’s arguments -- after all, he is only “a kid fresh out of graduate school”. Well if so, all I can say is: yes, please, give it your best shot. What you will find is that Wolfendale is not only one the very brightest philosophers of his generation, but also that he can run rings around you when it comes to the history of philosophy.

Thus, if he does indeed claim that Harman’s philosophy is “indicative of the main weakness of a whole tradition of philosophy”, it’s not as if this is just an off-the-cuff remark by some ignorant undergraduate hell-bent on personal revenge against a professor he doesn’t like. No, rather this is coming from an exceptionally gifted philosopher who has a truly extraordinary grasp of both the analytic and continental traditions, who has spent years studying Harman’s entire corpus in great detail, and who has produced a 400-page book packed with arguments in defence of his claims. From the preface alone, it is clear that Wolfendale is not simply “dismissing” Harman’s entire oeuvre as indicative of what he finds most problematic about a certain tradition of philosophy. Rather, he has gone to the length of reconstructing that entire tradition. Thus he says that his conclusions about OOP are“the culmination of a historical story that slowly develops over the second half of the book … and which encom¬passes the overarching dialectic of metaphysics, its split and parallel development in the analytic and Continental traditions, and the evolution of the Kantian noumenon within the latter tradition. This story forms the background for a sociological account of the development of the Continental tradition from the middle of the twentieth century to the present day … which explains the influence of correlationism, its imbrication with the project of critique, and the emergence of an opposing constructive orientation”.
But you, instead of reserving judgement until you have read these hundreds of pages of dense argumentation, simply decide that his claim is “absurd”, “indefensible” and unworthy of first-year undergraduate. Are you beginning to see why I might have doubts about your ability to write an objective review of this book? 
While you insist upon continuing to falsely attribute to Wolfendale the view that he was motivated to write the entire book out of “pure revenge”, you seem to have missed passages in the preface such as the following: 
“It is all too easy in contemporary philosophical discourse to use the mere fact that one seriously disagrees with another’s ideas as a reason not to explore the nature of the disagreement any further. But it is worth remembering that doing so can improve our understanding of the relevant issues and stimulate the evolution of our own ideas. This is certainly what I got out of exploring my disagreements with OOP/ OOO. However—and this is where things took an unusual turn—these theoretical gains did not come from uncovering useful philosophical insights or novel dialectical distinctions lingering beneath the surface. Quite the reverse: whenever I began to address seemingly simple ideas that struck me as problematic, their flaws would turn out to run much deeper than was initially apparent. Time and again, I discovered that I couldn’t pull on a single loose thread without unravelling the whole fabric.” 
Now, what is your assessment of this statement? That Wolfendale is lying? That he claims to have discovered that Harman’s metaphysics is vitiated throughout by arguments that do not withstand rational scrutiny, but that as a matter of fact he is just saying this because he is motivated by a malicious and deranged spirit of ressentiment? 
Well, no, it seems to me that Wolfendale has discovered what many of us have discovered upon reading Harman’s work: namely, that he has built nothing but a philosophical house of cards, and that the core arguments upon which he rests the entire edifice are riddled with howling non sequiturs thinly disguised by the use of confused metaphors centring around the terms “withdrawal” and “exhaustion”. Having discovered this, a number of philosophers (such as those who run or ran the Kvond, After Nature, Agent Swarm and others blogs) have been making this case for many years now, and yet Harman refuses to address his critics otherwise than by launching ad hominem attacks upon them or by citing how many books he has published in comparison with them.

Now, you may think that my contention that Harman’s entire metaphysics rests upon little but blatant non sequiturs “absurd” and “indefensible”. That is fine, but it seems to me that Wolfendale has arrived at much the same conclusions, and spelt them out over hundreds of pages, basing his critique upon a thoroughgoing study of Harman’s entire corpus. Thus, you now have the opportunity to grapple with Wolfendale’s arguments and attempt to show where and why you think they are misguided. I wish you every luck with that, but how about if we stick to *philosophy* and *arguments* from now on, rather than issuing baseless denunciations based upon the “tone” that somebody or other has chosen to adopt?

Comment from Roger:

If I may make a recommendation, Jon, perhaps a productive way forward here would be for you to host a reading group/forum for discussion of Wolfendale's book in which you respond to each of the sections of the book and leave comments open for others (e.g. Wolfendale, Harman and others) to respond? There have been many of us looking to have this debate about OOP/OOO for years now, a debate in which it is purely and simply the claims and arguments that are discussed, minus all the personal attacks and smear campaigns, so what better opportunity has there been than here, now (or rather, once the book is published at the end of the month)? So long as everybody promises to keep personal animosities out of it (and as blog owner, you could moderate this), and not have recourse to vacuous arguments from authority, it could be the most interesting online debate for many years, with both OOO's advocates and supporters (e.g. yourself, Harman, Bryant, Morton and Bogost) debating their critics (e.g. Wolfendale, Brassier, Niemoczynski and Blake). What do you think? 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Object Oriented Phiasco (post from The Trott Line blog)

Another view on "the Wolfendale kerfuffle," a.k.a. the Speculative Realism "meltdown" (head nod Nick Land on that coinage).  I am in the camp that Gratton and Shaviro just plain have it wrong, and am publishing at least one review saying so.  There are just too many holes in the relevant literature cited in their books (or better, what is not cited in their books); missing way too much about the real movers and shakers.

Land's coinage of "meltdown" is no joke.

Oh, I smile when I see renditions of the new band so-called (there is a .gif going around that I'll have to dig up) rational materialists (or something like that) or neo-rationalists (I'm a fan of Whitehead, Hegel, etc. etc. so I can get away with that, maybe I'd play drums or something) of Wolfendale, Brassier, Niemoczynski, and Blake.  Pretty funny...if I can dig it up again.

Link to Adriel's post HERE.

Herbart's Philosophy of Nature (precursor to Bergson, contemporary of Schelling and Hegel)

Just an excellent summary HERE over at Scottish Hegelian blogspot.  Very worth the read, see the summary below.  For me what was interesting in the summary is discussion of the continuum - which welds together mathematics and metaphysics pace Deleuze, Peirce, and Bergson.  Also the sections on "matter" and "realism" are worth the read - and the animated.gif about the 20th century being a "winter" for the philosophy of nature was nice.
This post summarizes Herbart's philosophy of nature. Herbart shared the project of a philosophical understanding of nature distinct though complementary in its aims and method from natural science with his contemporaries Schelling and Hegel. This is not now a common project. We draw for our account on Marcel Mauxion's La Métaphysique de Herbart (1894). The above image is of the Herbartdenkmal in Oldenburg around 1900.

Pragmatism and the New Metaphysics (seminar/course by Colin Koopman)

It's worth reading this interesting syllabus.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Iain Hamilton Grant on Naturphilosophie at MUN June 2014 (audiointerview Mp3)

Ht dmf. That's Sean McGrath with the introduction. (McGrath is great: read his Schelling on the unconscious book and loved it!). I always thought MUN would be a perfect fit for me, they have that perfect historical yet contemporary blend of Continental philosophy that my own training is steeped in. Sadly the Peirce scholar there (James Bradley) has passed on although metaphysics is still going strong. I'd love to teach there based just on what I see so far, if only to round out Continental metaphysics with a hybrid Euro-American approach: not only Peirce but Hegel, Deleuze, Dewey, Whitehead, and other important titans.

more Nick Land on the meltdown of SR + Wolfendale's response to Cogburn

"Meltdown" certainly better describes what's happening rather than "dust up" or "kerfuffle" (although head nod to Brian Burt for coining "the Wolfendale Kerfuffle").  It's certainly an end of an era and a rather concretely stated transition that (perhaps) occurred back in 2007, as in "stillborn," or only recently "died" in meltdown with a Postcript which re-states emphatically the view expressed by all of Wolfendale, Brassier, Niemoczynski, and Blake.

Either way, things are very, very different now and the future once again is open.  Perhaps another axis has formed...who knows.

First, Nick Land:
Urban Future is merely scavenging irresponsibly around the edges of the Speculative Realism meltdown, attracted by turbulence, and connected tenuously to some of the figures involved. The greatest advantage of such detachment is that it allows for a free framing of the issues at stake, and these are becoming truly fascinating. The battle over the New Ontology (aka ‘Speculative Realism’) is spiraling into the question: does it — itself — actually exist?

Second, Pete Wolfendale's post HERE, below we have in excerpt a response to Jon Cogburn's post on "Circular Firing Squads" (HERE).

I urge everyone to read for themselves Pete Wolfendale's lengthy post and Jon Cogburn's (as well as the comments in Jon's)It's definitely worth a look if you are looking to get your finger on the pulse. 

An excerpt from Pete's post linked above:

There’s a lot I could say in response to Jon’s claim that SR obviously exists, and that to say otherwise is either trivially false, or worse, contradicts my claims about the collapse of the SR blogging community. There’s no doubt that there are people who self-describe as speculative realists, and that there are CFPs, conferences, and art exhibitions where it gets referenced liberally. However, if all SR means is a renewed concern with metaphysics in the Continental tradition, then there’s no clear reason why it doesn’t include people like Deleuze, Badiou, Zizek, Stengers, and the like. If nothing else, this is amply demonstrated by the extent to which these figures (and people influenced by them) form the most natural interlocutors of those who count themselves as speculative realists. What is it about the work of Meillassoux and Grant that warrants them being categorised separately from these other figures, as somehow more appropriately listed beside Harman than any of the others, other than the fact that they attended a workshop together in 2007? There are others who have come to the SR label later, such as those interested in Whitehead, Latour, and various strands of so called New Materialism, who genuinely have more in common with OOP/OOO than these figures, but if SR is taken to index these commonalities, then it has by far more to do with OOP than any of the other work it was originally supposed to index (hence the inevitable slippage to ‘SR/OOO’).

The claim that SR doesn’t exist is simply the claim that there isn’t any distinctive philosophical common ground indexed by the intersection of Meillassoux/Harman/Grant/Brassier. However, this is entirely compatible with the claim that at one point it looked like there might be, and that this promised a potentially new philosophical trajectory that would be genuinely distinct from extant trends. The sense in which SR can be said to have ‘died’ is simply the sense in which this promise proved to be false. This sort of thing happens. It’s precisely what Badiou tries to capture in his account of fidelity, wherein one simply has to commit oneself to the existence of an Event despite its occurrence being indiscernible. Sometimes the fidelity pays off, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Monday, October 13, 2014

Nick Land on Speculative Realism

HERE.  He mentions bleak theology, which is cool.  
"Speculative Realism blows up. (It’s a lot of fun, whatever emerges from the rubble.) More. Vaguely related (but ultimately far more interesting): Bleak Theology."

Reminder: P.E.S.T. "Speculative Autopsy" - Oct. 31st, Philadelphia

For those local in the Philadelphia area...

P.E.S.T. presents,

Speculative Autopsy

Following upon last year's highly successful "Speculative Misanthropy" workshop, P.E.S.T. returns once again to discuss 21st-century philosophy in the P.E.S.T. organization's own unique and daring style: underground, off radar, and free from constraint.  The best and brightest of young philosophers doing contemporary metaphysics in the States will discuss their views on a variety of topics within contemporary metaphysical philosophy.  Seminar leaders include Karen Oyama, Leon Niemoczynski, and Jason Bell.    

This year's workshop is a four hour evening event; hosted locally in Philadelphia, October 31st!  Yes, that's music, philosophy, and Halloween!

Topics up for discussion include: the philosophy of Ray Brassier, Nick Land, and Francois Laruelle; Pete Wolfendale's latest book on OOP through Urbanomic; #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader; Ontological Suprematism; Dark Vitalism; Dark Fiction and Non-Philosophy/Non-Theology; Speculative and Ecstatic Naturalism; Bleak Theology; and Science Fiction and Philosophy.  Plus you can expect a few surprise guests and live music for all!

If you're in the area come join the fun.  Dancefloor, electronics, dark philosophy.  That's for more info.  (Limited seating available.)

#No_light  #No_social  #No_charlatans

A fist in the face of cronyism since 2013... This isn't a "skirmish," this is war ...

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Towards an Ecological Metaphysics

Matt from Footnotes to Plato blog HERE contributes to the conversation between Adam Robbert (from Knowledge Ecology blog) and me on the ecologization of philosophy.  Matt's post makes some interesting points and also references John Cobb on Whitehead with a nice video clip.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Cherry Valley

Now a nature preserve, I often come to walk here because it is so peaceful. The fall colors will be at their peak this coming week. Autumn is my favorite season in Pennsylvania.

Cogburn weighs in

On the SR is dead question. HERE.

I'll mostly plead the fifth, but I can state that I do read Cogburn's blog but also think that Wolfendale's book has got alot right.  I certainly think that there is more truth in Pete's book than what you'll find in Shaviro's or Gratton's books (I am reviewing the copy of Shaviro's book that UMP sent to me in addition to Pete's book).

We need more honesty in all of this and that's what Pete's book provides.  I think Jon wrote his post with sincerity as well, even though I am not sure I agree with him on this particular issue.  But I guess some disagreements can be productive, and so far alot of folks have been nudged to read Pete's book.  So good for him.  

Pete (Wolfendale) and Ray Brassier are two philosophers that I certainly respect and enjoy reading.  I think that they are right about things when it does come to the whole notion of a former "speculative realism" versus Speculative ®ealism™.  The original spirit has been snuffed out, and all that we're left with is cronyism and a trademarked brand.  But let me repeat, Cogburn is honest and doesn't pull punches.  So I can respect that as well.

I've weighed in before, HERE with a post simply called "Speculative ®ealism™" and HERE with a response to Robert Jackson. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Adam Robbert of the blog Knowledge Ecology responds to my recent post on ecological metaphysics

Adam Robbert from Knowledge Ecology blog has a nice post HERE up titled “Ecological Metaphysics” which is a response to my post “How Do Speculative Naturalism and Bleak Theology Relate to the New Metaphysics?” (HERE).  Incidentally there is a very good comment to his post in the comments sections by R. S. Bakker who is behind the blog Three Pound Brain .  I am very thankful for Adam’s post because it is written in the spirit of good old fashioned critique and thoughtful reflection, and then offers an answer to the things he finds problematic in my post.  It is very much in the spirit of the “old” blogging days when the speculativosphere had just been born and blogs and exchanges between them were sharp but cordial. 

[Update: Tom Sparrow of Plastic Bodies blog adds a post about my post as well, HERE.  Thanks to Tom for the acknowledgement.] 

Adam begins by stating how we both believe that ecology represents a future basis for philosophy, particularly metaphysics (or the "new metaphysics").  He cites how I list resources which best represent to my mind places to go to in order to develop an "ecological metaphysics."  I repeat those resources here as I’ve slightly edited the list:

Figures such as John Dewey or William James appear on the horizon, as do Charles Peirce, Charles Hartshorne, Justus Buchler, and Alfred North Whitehead.  We also may consider contemporary figures in the American tradition such as Nicholas Rescher and Robert Brandom, or on the theological side of things Robert S. Corrington and Catherine Keller.  This range of figures in the American tradition (and within contemporary American philosophy and theology) matches the figures that I find interesting and useful on the Continental side of things: Heidegger, Schelling, Schopenhauer, Deleuze, Hegel, Nietzsche, Bergson, Simondon, Ruyer, Hans Jonas.  A good deal of the history of philosophy can be useful for environmental thinking: the nature ontologies of the Presocratics, Plato, Leibniz, and much of German idealism.

 Contemporary Continental philosophers in their naturalism can be fruitfully antagonistic: the naturalisms of Ray Brassier and Adrian Johnston, for instance.  The nature philosophy and Deleuzo-Schellingeanism of Iain Hamilton Grant is certainly a top choice, as is the proto-theology of Quentin Meillassoux. I would add also a "new" crop of figures (many of them influenced by American pragmatism) to that list including Philippe Descola, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, and perhaps Bruno Latour. Recently I am learning more and more of Laruelle, whose thought isn't entirely unrelated to environmental philosophy and philosophical ecology (see HERE for Laruelle's "On the Speculative Ecology of Man, Animal, and Plant") as well as Mehdi Belhaj Kacem.  This mix of voices creates a hybrid of American-Continental thinking, a Euro-American approach to environmental philosophy.   

R.S. Bakker’s comment points to the need for Continental philosophy to appropriate a philosophy of nature or philosophical naturalism, something that the American tradition (pragmatism, process-relational philosophy, philosophical naturalism) seems to have always had to its benefit.  Adam points out early on in his post that even with these resources listed it is difficult to discern in my post precise criteria for an ecological metaphysics.  He asks, “Is philosophical ecology just naturalism updated?” "Is it just Nature 2.0?"
Adam points out that my thoughts do not provide a detailed or precise enough definition, then, of what constitutes an ecological metaphysics even though I see my own work, a "speculative" naturalism, as being ecological and carrying forward the spirit of contemporary metaphysical realism and materialism (i.e. the "new metaphysics").  This is fair to point out.  

 I should say however in my defense that the post was more or less a general musing (so nothing technical) and was meant to point out a certain line of thinking present in both the American and Continental traditions – a certain “flavor” if you will – that I pick up in my own work and then try to apply to contemporary metaphysical philosophy as an addition to the new metaphysics' realism and materialism.  That line of thinking is at once process-relational, naturalistic, and pragmatic.  It is also stronger (it seems) in the American tradition than it is in the Continental tradition.  Continental philosophy really hasn’t had a "philosophy of nature" other than the figures I tried to point out (the Presocratics, Plato or Aristotle, some of the moderns, much of German idealism, and then some specific contemporary figures such as Bergson or Merleau-Ponty and just a very few others). 

Adam then mentions how he and I find Whitehead extremely useful with regard to creating a contemporary philosophy of nature or ecological metaphysics.  He points out my omission of Isabelle Stengers, who, I admit, is someone I just haven’t had the chance to engage in any thorough way just yet (although I did review her massive book on Whitehead some time back).  I must admit that I find Latour somewhat difficult to engage and other than the basics of actor-network theory he becomes a cost-benefit issue: lots of labor put in trying to understand him versus what I can actually take away from struggling to read him.  Still, in Adam’s thinking I detect (what I know of ) Stengers, as well as Whitehead and some Latour.  Yet Adam and I seem to be very much on the same page when it comes to developing an ecological metaphysics with Whitehead as but one guide of a potential many.
Further on in the post Adam attempts to give the most basic definition of ecology he can muster: “Ecology is the breakdown between structure and content.”  The “structure” and “content” distinction, we are told, applies to a variety of concepts, or binaries or pairs of concepts in relationships that would form the crux of any ecological thinking : the relationship and what it conjoins.  In a more philosophical key he posits that the structure and content distinction could be re-pitched as the breakdown between the “transcendental and empirical.”  The aesthetic is crucial in looking to how the transcendental and empirical relate (or how structure and content relate).  Adam states that he has a recent paper on this, and so I’ll have to go looking for it because I am not sure where it is, and I’d like to read it. 

One quick point.  Adam cites me in stating that agencies are “within” a world.  This is a habit of speech, as in when I say “the” natural world  or one is “in” the outdoors.  I meant to say “the agencies that compose” the natural world.  But of course we get “the” again, as if the natural world is a "thing" and it is not.  So, just a figure of speech when I literally did not mean nature as container, etc.  It's probably a habit I have to be more careful about, especially when denying that "nature" is any one thing.  It is not.  (And see? The "it" pops up again!)

Adam’s post incites interest to read his paper.  I hope my initial post or response prompts readers to read my chapter “Ecology Re-Naturalized,” found in draft form HERE.  It is there where I begin to work out precisely what an ecological metaphysics would look like.  And it is there where I offer arguments and more laborious thinking and detail – detail that is largely absent from my blog post which essentially was me musing on what resources I have at my disposal and how I plan to apply those resources in the future as I develop my own work which I am calling “speculative naturalism,” which will be (I hope) an thorough-going ecological metaphysics.   

It seems that even if my post was a quick musement that it has produced some interest and confirmed my thought (and Adam’s) that contemporary metaphysics, or the “new metaphysics” in its realism and materialism ought to carry forward with an ecological metaphysical perspective.  That is to say, that the new metaphysics should appropriate the ecological if it is to productively carry forward in the future.  What exactly that ecological metaphysics will look like, precisely, is still very much up in the air as Adam, myself, and others continue to fashion our perspectives within contemporary metaphysical philosophy.