Sunday, October 30, 2011

Caputo on Meillassoux Reading Group - Post 4

Continuing on with AF after a week's break, this time picking up with Chapter 3: The Principle of Factiality. Audio lecture is HERE.

In addition to the shorter excerpt of a translated interview below, I am posting another Meillassoux interview in its entirety, in full (in English) HERE.  This one is from Urbanomic.

translation of Meillassoux’s ‘Contingence et Absolutisation de l’Un’ (posted for reading group)

Again, another document for our reading group - to correspond with AF's Chapter 3: The Principle of Factiality.

Translation of Meillassoux’s "Contingence et Absolutisationde l’Un" (excerpt)
(credit hyper tiling)

interview with Meillassoux (posted for reading group)


Interview with Meillassoux

There's an interesting new movement in French philosophy termed “speculative realism” which attempts to recover a chastened confidence in reason. There's an interview with one of its leading proponents, Quentin Meillassoux, over at Idée@Jour. Since, however, it's in French, here's a translation:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

cfp Schelling Society of North America



The SSNA is open to anyone who conducts research on Schelling and Schellingian philosophy in the English language. The SSNA mission is to (1) further research in English, both historical and systematic, on Schelling and related figures (eg., Boehme, Oetinger, Baader, Fichte, Novalis, Hölderlin, Schubert, early Hegel, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Oken, Fechner, Coleridge, Bradley, Peirce); (2) organize a stand-alone Schelling conference every other year at a North American University, with proceedings published online, and the best papers published every four years with an academic press; (3) gather data concerning current graduate research in English on Schelling; (4) coordinate translation projects of Schelling into English.
PLEASE SEND ABSTRACTS (500 WORDS) TO JASON WIRTH (wirthj@seattleu.edu) AND SEAN McGRATH (sjoseph.mcgrath@gmail.com) by 15 JANUARY 2012.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

do animals grieve?

"Do animals grieve?" is the title of THIS NPR article.  In critical animal studies, the concept of "deanthropocentrism" seems only to be guilty of elevating nonhuman animals' importance to an equal level with that of the human.  Here the "nonhuman" includes nonhuman animals who communicate their own perspectives in ways semiotically and prehensively grasped by the human, thus establishing communication of their own inner experiences of value (presumably this is communicated by other agents as well).  The experience communicated by nonhumans includes grief, according to the NPR article.

The standard charge against deanthropocentrism is to simply call it a nihilism in that is seeks to to depreciate humans and will humanity's eradication in favor of what is nonhuman
.  In other words, those who question the idea of deanthropocentrism (as it is found in critical animal studies for example) say that deanthropocentrists really think that humans, and what they value, are nothing special.  Following a slippery slope, then, humans are just "objects" and thus human goals, purposes, and meanings that humans have in the end are disposable, like most objects or "random" things of the universe are.


The best response to this is to state that deanthropocentrism means to embrace the full reality (that is, both the what and the way) of *all* objects or things of the world (and not just the human, although the human is included).  That is, there is an ontological parity in the value of items of the universe as such (a univocal realism of value, as I understand it).  No one thing can be discounted and disposed of prima facie, and everything in the world, ecologically speaking, has some value.

Stating that humans are things in the sense that they are "actors" or "agents" (another way of talking about the items of the universe) among others entities of the universe is really is a reality check, meaning that, identifying humans as inhabiting the same plane of other nonhuman agents in the universe means decentering the human from the center of the cosmos.  This has the potential to produce a more enriched nodal network and system of actors and relations with each agent in the "network" of agents getting their *value due*.  Previously in that network, humans were taken to be at the center (with all other agents brushed to the side).  Now each agent, each actor as it were, has its own center and its own place of unique importance.

I don't see deanthropocentrizing the human as a "leveling" out or "bringing down" the human to the level of things but rather as the opposite: bringing all agents up to an equal level of value and importance, a place that the human *used* to occupy alone.  Again, this is what I take to be a realism about univocal value concerning all of the world.  Rocks or pens may *matter less* in context, but fundamentally, the fact that anything is, rather than is not, means that "is" has a value in and of itself when it comes to what has been posited in the world.  Thus, following Latour, this is how I see a "universe of objects," as agents or actors in a vast network.

Following Whitehead and Hartshorne, agents in a universe of "ontological parity" (Buchler's term for the idea that nothing is more or less real than anything else, influential for philosophers such as Whitehead and Hartshorne) can be anything: pencils, pens, rocks, distant stars, etc.  Yet, various scales are at work, and each agent has the power to enter into a novel relation and thus enter into another or be entered by another.  Agents relating to each other via agential relations also means being encompassed by another or encompassing another in another relation (see Buchler's Metaphysics of Natural Complexes).  

Yet even given these relations, the "withdrawal" of these agents seems to be a predominate factor; that is, the sense that what is essential in the self-determination and inner experience of value by these agents always seems to elude direct conceptual representation of any inner nature.  It means that in their own being-an-agent, inner experience and the communication of the experience of value "flees" from all access to it, despite being related.  But agent and relation will always be on equal footing: for as much as agency withdraws and flees inward, it is nevertheless related to the process of its own undetermined or as of yet to be determined nature (thus a relation to itself in the future if there is to be such a thing as change).  If an agent is to be related to anything else then there must be some communicative "abundance" as well, in addition to an elusive semiotic interior.  With autonomy comes creativity, and, balancing the withdrawal of an agent, one gets outward. abundant expression.

Ethically, the comprehensibility, the knowing or totalizing of each agent's own distinct value forever eludes us - it can never be fully represented to anything other (although, as I argue elsewhere, I think aesthetic feeling and empathy are crucial here).  Stating that agents can be fully known, that their inner essence can be grasped indubitably, or that the interior life of a thing can be totalized - that on the other hand is nihilism, for it reduces an inner experience to a "0" - to a number quantified determinately.

An "autonomous zone" of the agent is the springboard of *its own* agentially determined essence, its own, for all intents and purposes, "subjectivity" or better, its own "perspective" (Whitehead).  Thus the unique "center point" of agents belongs not only to a universe of univocal value and importance, but to a panpsychistic universe.  Philosophers such as Whitehead, Hartshorne, Buchler, and Leibniz were among those who, in defending a sort of deanthropocentrism, were actually standing against nihilisms in their panpsychisms, defending against views that placed the human at the center and rthus educed everything else to a determinate "0" of experience.

Some theorists have an aesthetic theory of relations to describe the interaction of agents despite this withdrawal, this "fleeing" of a communicating essential center-point of experience.  Still others have attempted to maintain an ethics *without* an aesthetic theory of relations in order to account for an agent's power to interact with others (sheer interiority, sheer independence and autonomy - this in an attempt to deny process and relationality at all costs).  But, here I would claim that if we have granted ontological parity, of equal value given to an agent by simply being an agent, then each agent has its own uniqueness and interiority that is of an "infinite depth" in value - paradoxically, all has value to an infinite degree and such value is found within all things. 

If this is true, the care and ethical framework that we would formerly have taken to apply only to the human must now in some sense apply to all of nature, to all things with respect to their infinite value.  Hence a truly ecological ethic which honors all perspectives or centers of things, each center dropping infinitely into an abyss of value-experience, importance, and perspective.  Despite aesthetics, this value remains distinct and to some degree untouchable, sensed and perhaps at best felt.

How does this view relate to ethics, to nonhuman animals?  To other agents within the world?  Determining an aesthetic capable of understanding these inner experiences of value is crucial, especially before an ethics or politics can be developed regarding agents.  Readers of Peirce would certainly be in agreement with this as Firstness, the quality and realm of sensation or feeling as well as the domain of the aesthetic, presupposes Secondness (the realm of interaction and ethics), and Thirdness (the realm of logic and law).  Clearly Peirce, but others such as Deleuze, Bergson, Whitehead, and Hartshorne, must be starting points.

Enter the article linked above ("Do Animals Grieve?")   I think that being decentered means that realizing that animals, too, are objects of importance, similar agents, beings who have an important interior life. (And here would I ask: other than to shy from former conceptions of "subjectivity," why not for that unique importance use "subjects" or at the very least "perspectives" - granting that we are not implying subjectivity per se, but "a perspective point which is in withdrawal from all else" that is also an abundance of expression.) 

It seems to me that an animal's own nonhuman form of aesthetic communication (and for me this is both semiotic and phenomenological, to be prehended fundamentally as *feeling*) should count just as much as any other persistent semiotic communicative agent in the universe.  In other words, in matters of context, animals, then, would count equally to humans.  Their manners of communication could (and perhaps should) be taken into consideration when caring for the network - that is, for objects-felt-as-subjects, unique and distinctive center points of feeling with an infinite worth and value of their own.  

As I've stated, above all else, when it comes to aesthetic communication, empathy is crucial in feeling out a "Jamesian speculative exploration of a nonhuman consciousness" (HT Steven Shaviro).  Perhaps the next step for those who find deanthropocentrism attractive for their metaphysics would be an exploration of how empathy figures into the speculative exploration of other non-human agents and their inner experiences.  To that line of thought James' 'On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings' speaks copiously. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Caputo on Meillassoux Reading Group: Post 3

We are finishing Chapt 2: Metaphysics, Speculation, Fideism with the final bit of lecture posted as an audio file HERE.  Caputo teases the question of God and then discusses Meillassoux on Leibniz, Kant, and Descartes.


"The authentic tradition of immanence resides in the Platonic divine, and in the gods of Spinoza and Hegel, not in the 'philosophical atheism' of Heidegger."

Quentin Meillassoux - The Divine Inexistence

"The God neither speaks nor conceals..."

Such a beautiful post, I have to copy it in its entirety here.  I am in agreement with the author's sentiments.  

I am re-posting this because a childhood  friend of mine - that is, a friend for well over 15 years I should add - died of pancreatic cancer two years ago.  I am still dealing with that, and I still visit his grave.  Frequently.  

With my own health issues I often think about the fragility of life, being reminded often by the bouts of pain that I deal with every day, the pain which has gotten worse and hasn't allowed me to sleep for about three months now.

In any case, here is the post in full below.

(credit: Speculum Criticus Traditionis) . . .

A friend writes me concerning the funeral of a friend:

The day after she died somebody close to her dreamed that she flew off with iridescent dragonfly wings (I got the email about this dream the day after her death). Yesterday at the funeral (under a big tent outdoors), one enormous, singular dragonfly flew around, and perched above the podium for the entire event.
It is hard to know "what to do" with stories like this, and this very incapacity is why they are invaluable. Not because they demonstrate irrefutably the bankruptcy of "the materialist world view;" and not because they show how desperately we narrativize and pattern-seek to gain a shadow of 'meaning' at any cost. Rather, because their experiential force is such that we cannot dismiss them, and yet they just won't slip easily into any preordained category. If we seize on them as "evidence" of something, we slip into superstition. But if we blow them off, we do violence to ourselves. (Many are indeed prepared to bite the bullet and do this, but the cost of this is the chemical gelding of their souls. What they see as tough-mindedness I see as the intellect on steroids--and courting analogous side-effects). The only rational and human (I will even say "faithful") stance is one that sees in them as what Heraclitus said: "The God whose oracle is at Delphi neither speaks nor conceals, but gives a sign." This sign is not glossable (if it were, it would be "speaking"). It points us beyond this world, but not at the world's expense.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

life after people

(PHOTO: image of Venus' surface)
To the left is an image of the surface of Venus taken by a Soviet spacecraft.  The blog side effects has an interesting post about Mars.  No human has ever stepped foot on Mars or Venus, yet we "know" something of the unknown.  Through images, through instruments - we capture places remote in space and time.  The Life After People series is also fantastic with respect to this idea - that of bearing witness to the unrepresented, the unknown, the unthought.  




Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Caputo on Meillassoux Reading Group: Post 2

We have moved on to reading After Finitude, Chapter 2: Metaphysics, Speculation, Fideism.  Note as well the correlation between that chapter title and Meillassoux's article in the most recent issue of PLI.  Reading pack is still available for download (see previous post below).  Listen to the second half of Caputo's lecture in this audio file, HERE.

Monday, October 10, 2011

back to Pennsylvania

(Cherry Valley, autumn 2004 - PHOTO: After Nature)
Autumn is my favorite season, followed by winter.  October is my favorite month, followed by November.  I enjoy especially Halloween and Thanksgiving, as well as the colors of the leaves as they change.  Following autumn I enjoy the winter months of December and January.  Believe it or not, I do enjoy the snow!  Of course the holidays are nice as well.

These reflections begin because I am fortunate to have a few days off for fall break, where I'll be able to go back to Pennsylvania.  I'll be visiting Cherry Valley (where I grew up); visit my parents; and finally, the ultimate fall Poconos adventure: the Sciota Corn Maze.  This is now a yearly ritual for me: getting lost for hours in that darn maze.  It is a challenge, but alot of fun.  I also plan to enjoy the mountains as well as take alot of photos of the changing leaves (my favorite part of the Poconos during this season). 

Journeying back to the Poconos is always very romantic - and to add to my visit, I have the iPhone loaded up with '80s synthwave & early '90s college radio alternative: the Cure, Neds Atomic Dustbin, the Candy Skins, Posies, Pixies, Blur, James, Springhouse, Morrissey, and so on.  I can also recommend some newer music (note "newer" means probably at least a decade old): Third Eye Blind, Sun Kil Moon, Red House Painters, Chapterhouse, and Ride.  As well, I'd probably throw in some WXPN2 (Philly local indy, modern, and alternative - with lots of '80s alternative thrown in).  I think my favorite autumn band from these lists has to be, the Cure. 


Saturday, October 8, 2011

hiking today

article on Whitehead and music

"A Whiteheadian Aesthetic and a Musical Paradigm" 

by Richard Elfyn Jones 


A Whiteheadian Aesthetic and a Musical Paradigm" attempts to explore the influence of Alfred North Whitehead’s process philosophy in the context of a fragment of music by J.S.Bach. The paper then proceeds, at a more abstract metaphysical level, to relate the aesthetic and artistic implications of the musical analysis to ultimate considerations, involving God.



Sunday, October 2, 2011

Wisconsin mountain lion sightings

The Northwoods is more remote than I thought.  Traveling to Wassau and surrounding area, and then further north, I was quickly immersed in vast - and I mean *vast* expanses of wilderness.  What immediately struck me was how heavily forested the area happens to be after a good bit of it (mostly near Lake Superior, but also where I was) had been logged out during the late 1800s.  

During the turn of the century after the loggers had left, Woodrow Wilson granted that much of the land be turned into state forests and parks and restored (Wilson was also instrumental in conservation efforts with Maine state parks as well).  Now, 100 some years later, the forests have grown back in full force.  Save for hunting camps, a wilderness bar & grill, I was astonished to drive through hours of small mountains, wooded areas, and swamps.  I was pleased to see white spruce, red cedar, balsam fir, black ash, maple, oak, and birch.  It was a strange combination of Maine and Pennsylvania - but with smaller hills and lower "mountains" (more like very, very steep hills that stretch upwards for miles before descending again).  Hopefully my photo in the post below communicates the nature of these huge hills that seem to stretch endlessly.

Another surprising thing I encountered was the warnings about wolves.  Supposedly some of the access roads go pretty far back into the forest, and if one isn't armed, or if one is alone, you would question your intelligence to venture into the wilderness of the Northwoods.  As well, recently there have been more and more mountain lion sightings.  These are not escaped pets.  They are wild animals looking for food.  Again I was quickly reminded that we often "sugar coat" the great face of nature, when in fact, it is quite indifferent to the human.

(PHOTO: WDNR)