Tuesday, February 3, 2015

"Entanglement, Speculation & the Future of Relation" (blog post by Beatrice Marovich)

Beatrice reflects on Catherine Keller's Cloud of the Impossible, the process versus object debate, and the importance of relational ontology within speculative philosophy, HERE.  Some highlights then thoughts.
"Ultimately, my point is this: Catherine is a thinker of relation, of relations. Entanglement is the chief and primary metaphor for relation that she elaborates, ontologically, in Cloud of the Impossible. But there are others that are not quite the same (folds, for instance). I don’t want to suggest that entanglement is somehow ancillary to Catherine’s work on relations. But I want to set it to the side very briefly just to underscore the extent to which Catherine’s entire career—beyond this book—has been dedicated to speculatively exploring, with increasing nuance and complexity, the ontological possibilities for thinking relations. I’m describing her work, of course, using language that she doesn’t quite use to describe it herself (speculation, ontology, etc…) And it’s possible that she will resent me for doing so (though her fidelity to Whitehead—the metaphysician—really does make these connections more logical). But I think it’s important to stress the extent to which she is doing this kind of work—speculative work in relational ontology—because I think it’s important work that defies some of the theoretical trends that have been rising up from the deconstructive rubble* over the past several years. This is the adventure of ideas that Catherine’s work invites us to endeavor."
"What, at the end of the day, isn’t relational? I suppose, on some level, I am making a backhanded reference to some of these post-deconstructive versions of speculative thought that have emerged over the past half decade or so—many of which seem to want to pull ontology away from the relational. My own introduction to these new forms of speculative thought (“speculative realism” as it’s more frequently called) was at a 2010 conference, at Claremont, which ended up turning into a kind of objects vs. processes philosophical death match. I exaggerate. But, really, I left the conference struck by the extent to which many of the thinkers who were defending process thought were also, in part, defending the ontological value of relations (primarily, their potential irreducibility). Quentin Meillasoux’s critique of correlationism seemed—on some level—to make the relational itself problematic in new ways. The Object Oriented Ontologists (perhaps primarily Graham Harman) defended the object’s withdrawal, and process thought did seem to take on a kind of coercive cast or character, in its blatant denial of this negation of relation as such. Despite a kind of intuitive mistrust I had for the notion of withdrawal (I suppose, on some level, it sounded a bit too much like a philosophical pull-out method) I found all of this intriguing, and spent way too much time in the months after this conference following blog posts that rehashed this debate between objects and relations. I think the take away, for me, came from a comment in a blog post (and I wish I could remember where I read it!) that basically took a semi-conciliatory position between objects and relations. The gist, as I recall it, was something like this: relations aren’t inherently bad or problematic, but process thought does have the tendency to simplify relationality by an often hasty reduction of everything down to relations as such. My agreement morphed into a kind of semi-formulated position of its own: if relational thought has the capacity to make constructive interventions into developing forms of speculative thought, then relational ontology has to become more complex, nuanced, specific. It’s possible that speculation is already over, and no one wants to do it anymore. But anyone who’s interested in advancing a philosophical position is always already speculating. I’d like to see what would happen if relational ontology became a thing that people actually admitted that they did."
"I do think that Cloud of the Impossible is many things. It is a complex book. But one of its projects, as I see it, is ontological. It does work to make relational ontology more complex, nuanced, specific. Catherine is exploding (or perhaps imploding) the staid metaphysics of the God-World relation. What she illuminates is a relation that refuses to validate one single thread of this relation, or refuses to let this relation be confined to one thread. Rather, she’s insisting on illuminating the web of relations that build what was once simply a God-World connection. This is a web that is so complex, it doesn’t even look like a web. It looks much cloudier. But it’s not intangible, it’s not without matter or substance. She’s describing this relation under the sign of entanglement. And I think the questions about the suitability of entanglement to this descriptive task can be productive. But I hope that this text can serve as an injunction into similarly nuanced and intricately wrought reflections on forms, shapes, and patterns of connection, rather than a point of recoil or withdrawal."
I met Beatrice once, briefly, at Drew University during a conference.  She seemed nice - we didn't have much time to talk as I was rushing off somewhere in between sessions.  She works in theology and animal studies (from what I can tell) and we both have a connection to process thought through Drew - her through Keller and me through Corrington. Which is interesting because neither of us were schooled in process thought through Claremont, which most folks who do process thought are!  I thought her post was interesting for a number of reasons, mostly because she appears to support process-relational ontology within the scheme of contemporary speculative philosophy by stating that relational ontology ought to be nuanced sufficiently and made complex enough to support the claims that it makes (and I wholeheartedly agree). She alludes to the challenge from process thought made to one Quentin Meillassoux that "correlationism" is not necessarily relationalism, at least as it is conceived by process philosophers.  And she also alludes (subtly) to the notion that withdrawal or "recoil" ought to be jettisoned for "patterns of connection" or "intricately wrought reflections on forms, shapes, and patterns of connection."  This all makes sense to me so thought to post.

On this blog I posted many times answering the challenges brought to process-relational philosophy by others in the camp of contemporary speculative metaphysics.  But, process thought is another position within the camp of contemporary speculative metaphysics afterall, and that is a good thing, I believe.

For more see:
  1. "Ecology Re-naturalized" HERE.
  2. "Why a Relationless Universe Cannot Be" HERE.
  3. "The Human and 'Mesomining'" HERE.
  4. "Massumi on Relations and Relationalism" HERE.
  5. "Are All Relations Internal?" HERE.
  6. "More on Internal and External Relations" HERE.
  7. "In Defense of Relations" HERE.
  8. "The Deep Transcendence of Objects" HERE.
  9. "Irreducible Relationality" HERE.
  10. "Simondon's Transindividual and Nonreductive Relationalism" HERE.
  11. "Latour on Simondon's Mode of Existence" HERE.
  12. "Who's Afraid of Realism? (Part 1) HERE.
  13. "Who's Afraid of Realism" (Part 5) HERE.
  14. "Probing the Idea of Nature" HERE.
  15. "Transcendentalism and Correlationism" HERE.