Friday, September 26, 2014

Speculative ®ealism™ (a blog essay/opinion piece with some answers)

It seems there is some "confusion" regarding my take on the rumor that Speculative Realism is dead.

Adam Robbert (and indirectly Tom Sparrow) chime in about their confusion, as does Bryan (a good online friend of mine) from the blog Speculum Criticum Traditionis, HERE.

[Update: Robert Jackson chimes in as well and links this post on his blog.  My response to that post is HERE and is more recent than the below.]

My point in several of my last posts was to state what I think Bryan's post hints to but doesn't say outright. It is what I and others have been trying to say as clearly as possible but perhaps haven't been emphatic enough. So let's state it for the record:

"Speculative Realism" is dead, and what we are left with is Speculative ®ealism™.

Incidentally, Brassier's point seems to be the same in his "Speculative Autopsy."  The fact that Blake, Hills, Wolfendale, and myself have been saying this for years is only vindicated by that fact.  (And if you are wondering how I read the postscript, I am doing a review of Pete Wolfendale's book where the postscript appears.  His book won't be officially out there until October, but I've been honored an advance copy in order to write the review.)

Here's what's interesting.  I can't understand why I am lambasted for having an opinion that essentially confirms what others deeper in the stream are also saying.  Brassier for example brings up some terrific points.  In the postscript he asks for us to look at who is editing the supposedly "thriving" Speculative Realism book series.  Look at who is editing the PhilPapers "Speculative Realism" category.  And then finally look at who self-identifies with that label, i.e." "brand."  One person.  Brassier points out that not he himself; nor Meillassoux; nor Grant self-identify with that label nor even can they all be collected together in any coherent or meaningful way other than participating at a conference almost a decade ago (and Grant characteristically with good manners omits himself from being included in the Philosophy Today 2 page piece he wrote on the subject many years back).  Brassier then goes on then to challenge whether even citing a critique of "correlationism" would be an adequate way to situate together the four 2007 conference participants.  And his answer is "no."  (I've published a paper about two years ago arguing the opposite but he makes a compelling case.)

Now, here's where I come in as a commentator.  Why do I think, too, that "Speculative Realism" is dead and what we are left with is Speculative ®ealism™.  (And this is where the rumor comes in too.)  As Ben Woodward has described it, Speculative Realism is the "dead elephant in the room."  Or as Armen Avenessian put it: we are now "after" Speculative Realism.  We all know that the initial speculative thrust, the initial turn to realism and materialism in metaphysics, is something that Continental philosophy today is now by and large doing as a main stream of thought, opposed to, say, deconstruction or postmodernism.  And yes, that is a turn and general approach to philosophy that is alive and well today.  And, yes, to some degree that conference set into motion, or at least augmented that motion, - to some degree.  But Badiou, Kacem, Meillassoux, Malabou, Serres, Laruelle: those and others in Continental philosophy have appropriated for quite some time, even long before 2007, speculative and materialist philosophy. Meillassoux for example as far back as 1997; Laurelle and Badiou even further back.  "New materialism" as a related stream of inquiry; speculative philosophy as a new-found return to metaphysics; ontology drawing upon the sciences...these motions were prefigured before "Speculative Realism" - which at best "was" a tendency or spirit of philosophy.  But  Speculative ®ealism™ is not in any philosophy departments; few know what it is; few take it seriously (because of its online antics); and few actually publish about it.  It is mostly an online phenomena put out there by kooks yelling from the sidelines.  Those graduate classes on it?  Philosophy departments in Holland.  Those theses about it?  Written by M.A. students in Russia.  I do not believe there are any philosophy departments in Canada or the U.S. who have "specializations" and consistently offer graduate seminars on "Speculative Realism."  What would they talk about?  Who?  So those who say Speculative Realism is "thriving" and that the "existence" question is not a question are full of it.  Period.  Otherwise the now infamous "orgy of stupidity" phrase has been by and large true; it's been where most of Speculative ®ealism™'s activity has been happening.

Speculative Realism did initially take off on blogs insofar as a certain networking took place, where folks with like-minded interests met (as materialist, speculative, or realist metaphysics is concerned).  But that's a wide net for today's philosophy.  So "speculative" and "realist" philosophy?  Not just the 2007 conference then.  Is Hegel a "speculative realist?"  Yes.  Is Whitehead a "speculative realist?"  Yes.  Is Deleuze a "speculative realist?"  Yes.  Is C.S. Peirce a "speculative realist?"  Yes.  And Bryan's post does point out that largely in the history of Continental or Americanist metaphysics most figures are doing speculative philosophy with a certain sort of realism in mind.  Otherwise we are talking about some people online.

On the other hand, it is true that that 2007 conference did culturally let's say put an emphatic underscore on the "return" to metaphysics within the Continental tradition.  But we must consistently be reminded that this return was prefigured historically and is not such the new revolution one might think that it is.  See for example Andrew Reck's Speculative Philosophy - an older book but it makes the point.  As does Rosenthal's Speculative Pragmatism.  Both published long before the two - yes two books on "Speculative Realism" in the nearly decade that has passed.  These motions have more or less always been there, it's just that the online underscoring had brought them to prominence as contemporary figures (Kacem, Meillassoux, Laruelle, etc. etc.) were and are carrying them forward.

Finally: I think the idea that I am so quick to claim "Speculative Realism" is dead because somehow I have an ax to grind or that I am "personally" motivated is a non-issue.  Do I find Speculative ®ealism™ objectionable?  Yes.  Do I find the propagators of Speculative ®ealism™ objectionable?  Yes.  But their behavior doesn't necessarily always involve just me.  Why is it that Terry Blake's papers (many of them published: in Theoria, also in a prominent review of Mehdi Belhaj Kacem, etc. etc. etc.) aren't found on PhilPapers? Why is it that Galloway was harangued and ridiculed the way he was?  Why is it that Wolfendale's 70 page article was just, well, ignored?  Why is it that so many of the most well known commentators or figures who publish about it, let alone blog about it, are flat-out ignored?  And yes, apparently the criteria now is that you just not publish, it has to be that you publish books.  Yet, through blog posts we have most of the repartee on the other side of the trenches which essentially equals Speculative ®ealism™ propagators taking personal cheap shots and then running for cover.  Oh, and my blog posts are cited in the literature.  Hill's are.  Blake's are.  But all of us, and many, many more folks to boot, are ignored otherwise.  Intentionally blackballed.  And Sparrow knows and admits this.  He is pretty much the only one on "the other side" who mentions who and what needs to be mentioned.  But you don't find that sort of fairness with anyone else.  So the fact that Blake, Hills, Wolfendale, and on and on and on are ignored is blatantly obvious to everyone who even has an inkling of a clue.

Fun fact: Do you know that I submitted nearly all of my publications on "Speculative Realism" to PhilPapers and waited and waited and waited for them to appear on their listings, which they never did?  I emailed Chalmers, who is one of the main guys behind PhilPapers, and was told that the editor hadn't approved my submissions under the "professional author" category.  In fact almost all of them I believe weren't approved.  These are peer-reviewed journal publications I have done.  So I was blackballed.  Intentionally.

But is this really about me and me alone?  Do I really care that I, and so many others, aren't to be answered by Speculative ®ealism™?  No, not really, if push comes to shove.  Because that sort of running away is to be expected of cowards, cronies, and online thugs. That's where that graduate student, the one who has never met me before, never interacted with me online before, the one who doesn't know a thing about me comes in.  Yet there they are in the "online orgy of stupidity" running their mouth on Twitter, lambasting me stating that my point is, "Oh, Speculative Realism is soooo dead....because it hasn't written about me enough."  Right.  Because that's really my point; yep, you got me.  And you wonder why I said you need professional help?  Do you even know me?  Do you you even know anything about me?  Please.  Get a clue.

Blake has written thousands of pages on the topic; Hills thousands of words through his blog posts, many of which are stellar, clear, and publishable - and again, YES - blogs are cited in literature reviews.  Look at Wolfendale's 400 page gauntlet, let alone a 70 page article never looked at.  (Incidentally, during the half hour or so that I was writing this post I had just gotten an email from UMN Press offering to me a review copy of Shaviro's new book, which I have commented upon during my introductory lecture at this past year's Philadelphia Summer School in Continental Philosophy.  So yeah; I guess I'm soooo not relevant.)  Oh, and why is it that Robbert and Sparrow - Sparrow to his credit has given credit where credit is due - are confused that an "SR" commentator is still talking about Speculative Realism?  It's because not just me - but a whole litany of folks -are blackballed in a spot-clutching political power-brokering game with one internet wizard in regrettable control.  That's what killed "Speculative Realism," as in, to use Woodward's description, what was the spirit of "what could have been."

I don't think it is ironic that, as a blogger, or as someone talking about the subject one could say, oh, well, if it is dead why do you still talk about it?  Well, why do you still read it?  I'm the one who enjoys the philosophies of Brassier and Wolfendale, and  loves to read/engage Meillassoux and especially Iain Hamilton Grant; and loves many of the philosophers whom those figures read: e.g. Hegel, Schelling, Deleuze, Kant, Brandom, Sellars, Plato, etc. etc. etc. And that love, from time to time does equal a blog post or an article, a book review, or perhaps even, yes, a book!  But many of the same topics are those that I enjoy too: naturalism, philosophical pessimism, a "dark" vitalism, metaphysics and speculative philosophy, logic, pragmatism, philosophical ecology, German idealism, and a host of others.  There is no shame in blogging about speculative, Continental realist and materialist philosophy as much as I blog about philosophical ecology, philosophy of nature, or animal ethics.  Medhi Belhaj Kacem is a great philosopher.  Laurelle is great to read for the challenge.  Heck, even the ontological turn in anthropology and ecology has me excited: Latour, Descola, Vieveiros de Castro and so on.

But don't for a second make this about your label; your power-brokering; or your fantasyland "movement."  Now that everyone knows straight from the horse's mouth that there is no "movement" except for what you and your cronies try to make it be in your own selective awareness bubble, it may be best to let dead dogs lie.  Oh, and the objection that an "anti-brand" movement is a cheap way of an opposing side to, itself, be a movement?  No.  Philosophy isn't about brands, at all.  Give me arguments, not drippy rhetoric with a "brand" name that one simply says is real.  Saying so doesn't mean that it is so.

Bryan says let speculative realism live forever.  I agree.  But the spirit of that conference, the spirit of what "was to be"?  It's now dead and gone.  Online cronyism and politics killed that.  Long, long ago.  And it's not just about me folks.  Again, I'll defer again and again to those who were major players or commentators yet who have been straight up ignored...for years.  It's all right there in black and white.

So, yes, "Speculative Realism" is dead, and sadly, Speculative ®ealism™ remains.  And that's no exaggeration.