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Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Quick remark on Levinas', Meillassoux's and Whitehead's God

The last centuries might have produced interesting mid-house alternatives to the debate between the believer pole (either in the religious, theist, deist or a variation thereafter) and the atheist pole. These alternatives explore the mid-way between positions that carried a great deal of emotional content. The issue then will be what kind of emotional content could be carried by these alternatives.

God is often conceived at least as existent, having an essence and having a substance (in the sense of being self-standing). God exists because otherwise there could be no difference God could make on the course of things (apart from differences in our thoughts, as somehow explored by Pacal´s wager). God has an essence for it is this essence that is in question when we wonder whether God exists(necessarily or contingently) or not. God is self-standing because otherwise it would be to dependent to be either omniscient or omnipotent. God is therefore taken to be at least an existing self-standing essence (and therefore could have all sort of special or infinite powers).

Levinas, Meillassoux and Whitehead challenge this common assumptions about God. Levinas has that God as the Other, cannot be taken as an essence, God doesn´t appear to us except as infinity in the sense of an openness.Whitehead challenges that God is self-standing: it depends on what happens in the world - the world writes up its nature - and would be an impossible vacuous actuality - God is an actual entity and not a substance of any kind - if there were no world. Finally, Meillassoux challenges God existence:God doesn´t have to exist to play divine roles - God´s contingent inexistence is enough, that is it is enough for God to be able to exist in the future. Incidentally, these alternatives open new views to the problem of evil. Meillassoux simply does away with it, as the existence of God doesn´t co-exist, as a matter of fact, with any evil. Whitehead takes self-correction as part of the novelty which is a feature of God: the world is always building new things into God. Finally, Levinas connects God with a call, an infinite call, a call beyond any violence.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

The absolute other of Meillassoux

Been discussing Violence et Métaphysique in the anarchai research group these weeks, I've been growingly convinced that Levinas major (and radical) break with Husserl's phenomenology is somehow recapitulated in Meillassoux's twin rejection of correlationism and subjectalism. Derrida is hard on Levinas when he brings in the notion of alter ego such as it appears in the fifth Cartesian Meditation. Now, that is particularly interesting for me because the fifth Meditation is the official address of Husserl's monadology. He there presents subjects as monads intentionally connected in a way that each monad reaches the others and brings them in while maintaining them away - they are heard because they are egos, they are away because they are alter. An intentional act brings the intended other in by making it possible for the subject to register in thinking the presence of the other. The monadological relation makes up for a structure of intersubjectivity - the other appears to me as an other which is intelligible to me as another me. Then Derrida goes: this is the best one can possibly require from a structure of intersubjectivity - the other as another me; nothing could possibly be less violent than that and yet making sure that intelligibility is made of the other (and the philosophical discourse on the other is not cracked open). Yet, Levinas is deeply unhappy with Husserl's alter ego - as he would be, as it were, with any monadological approach whatsoever. He thinks that considering the other as another me is already closing oneself up to the other - and making an ontological claim that cannot bring in anything but a violent staring point. It is a way to make my intelligibility rule over what should come first, the alterarchy - the command coming from the other. The Husserlian alter ego is just not enough to bring in an opening to an absolute other - it is, in a sense, tainted with a correlation, with my own matrix of intelligibility. Derrida sees the drama: it is not enough and yet it has to be enough. By insisting on the first part, Levinas cracks open the philosophical discourse on the other. Derrida makes it even clearer: without something like a Husserlian monadology, violence against the other has no victim, as the other is not clearly an ego that can be victim of violence (or alternatively, violence has no perpetrator, from the point of view of the other). Cracking open the philosophical discourse on the other is therefore incoherent and arguably dangerously close of being unintelligible, Derrida diagnoses, and yet, he registers, Levinas goes precisely this way. And in this he is radical: intelligibility is not something one should sacrifice ethics for. He breaks therefore with the correlation intelligibility (and with the subjectalism of Husserl) by insisting on an infinite, on an absolute opening, on an absolute other.

Now, Meillassoux seems to be doing a similar move. It is not sufficient to make my intelligibility (or any one's intelligibility) the measure of all things - mediation, or correlation, cannot be made absolute because the price to pay is to taint the absolute character of the other. If correlation is absolute, the other can no longer be presented in its absolute character. To break with subjectalism could be to crack open philosophical discourse about the world, but this is the radical move: get away from any promise to make the world intelligible so that its character of absolute other can appear. Philosophical discourse is, in both cases, the eventual casualty.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Porchat's Festschrift out

The Festschrift for the 80 years of Oswaldo Porchat is now out. Porchat is a very inspiring philosopher who knows how to agree and disagree in the same welcoming tonality. The book is organized by Plinio Smith and carries an essay of mine on Neopyrrhonism and the ontology of doubts.

Em direção a um animismo político

Em breve, em Porto Alegre, na Universidade Explosiva Desescolarizada, começaremos um movimento de animismo político. O convite é de Guisch Sch e Manoela Cavalinho Branco a partir desta minha postagem de ontem no facebook:

To na pilha de fazer uma série de videos expondo a ideia de um animismo político. Quero recomendar um animismo/perspectivismo contemporâneo e político, inspirado pelo animismo de algumas comunidades não-modernas mas adequado a alguns propósitos e valores modernos (com o mesmo tipo de atenção aos modernos que oferece Latour na Enquête (Sur les modes d'existence). No caminho, refletir sobre as conexões entre crise ecológica e os conceitos teológico-políticos de humanidade e de natureza, sobre as dificuldades de construir agendas políticas verde-e-vermelhas, sobre as demandas de uma política do não-humano, sobre alteridade como comunidade, sobre diplomacia, política e técnica contra o estado, sobre sociedades em geral, sobre monadologias contemporâneas, sobre interioridade e apelo do outro, sobre a noção de agência, sobre o outro como humano e sobre a intrusão de Gaia nas valas que separam as ciências das demais artes. Quem mais pilha de fazer isso comigo e começar um movimento?

A propósito, sai em breve na Stoa (México) minha troca de cartas com Adriana Menassé. Ali há algumas ideias que eu gostaria de retomar.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Metaphysics without neutrality (and animism)

In my dialogues with Adriana Menassé (soon out in Stoa) I sketched a view that brings together some elements of animism with a Levinasian ethical outlook. Involved with the discussion of Derrida's Violence et Métaphysique it strikes me as if in fact a Levinasian take could inform a contemporary form of animism. Levinas stresses the need for a second parricide: the inclusion of alterity and multiplicity in the kernel of things beyond being and non-being in their strive for unity. Levinas insists against the operation of neutralization that, according to Derrida, is the very Greek element common to Parmenides and Plato (and his Stranger), and also echoing in new Greeks like Husserl and Heidegger. Neutralization is to consider the other as, in its arché, not a new command (or a new commencement) but rather more of the same, conceived as a neutral element. There is a common stuff to all beings (seiende), whatever exists is in its ultimate stance something common, call it being (Sein). Neutralization is the abolition of differences (a bit like the operations ascribed to Aristotle, Leibniz and Hegel by Deleuze in Différence et Répétition). What replaces the neutral is the face, the visage which points towards infinity and appears irreducibly in the meeting, in the encounter one has with the other. The face is never neutral for it resists being part of anything, it is an irreducible particular (or singular) that neither is part nor participates. It cannot be summoned by an anamnesis. It cannot be known, it can only be met. It is, as I would say in my Excessos e Exceções (Sâo Paulo: Ideias e Letras, 2008), a purely non-cognitive acquaintance. It inaugurates a metaphysical gaze, as opposed to an ontological one because the call of a face is fully non-theoretical, one doesn´t talk about a face, one talks to a face. The face also resists all forms of formality (one of the criticisms to Buber´s I-Thou that Derrida ascribes to Levinas, in a footnote in page 156 of L´écriture et la difference, Seuil 1967). The face is meant to be the pure countenance of the other.

Now, one can read this in animist terms. According to Viveiros de Castro´s perspectivism, the Amerindian sees the jaguar as the other while aware that she is a human and sees a fellow human as a human as much as a jaguar sees a fellow jaguar as a human. Everything is about meeting the other (and meeting the same). It is about how something appears in a meeting, whether as the other or as the same. According to Descola´s view on animism, the non-human admits of no general knowledge before each meeting - apart from the knowledge of a common agency, a common interiority that is what enables the Amerindian to negotiate with the jaguar from agency to agency. Animism contrasts with naturalism that holds the idea of nature as something that can be known and is common to everything I can meet (and is neutral). Nature can be known before any meeting and in a sense subsumes the meeting - there is something neutral preventing the other to bring genuine (and complete) novelty. It is ontological in this sense, while animism can be constructed as being metaphysical in Levinas sense: the other appears as the other, and the only common element is the face that relates to me, in an ethical relation (that is mediated by the diplomacy of violence). Such a diplomacy contrasts with the empire of violence that ontological (naturalit) views would promote. Derrida (footnote, p. 136, op. cit.) has a description of such diplomacy in terms of an economy of violence: ..."toute philosophie de la non-violence ne peut jamais, dans l´histoire, [...] que choisir le moindre violence en une economie de la violence". The animist negotiates with what is present - it is not about the general plan, it is about who one happens to meet - and meeting is gazing an agency in a world of iletés that somehow are capable to summon.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Immigrating to philosophy

Rereading Derrida's Violence et Métaphysique I'm stuck in his opening remarks that are meant to introduce the crucially non-Greek (and therefore foreigner) thinking character of Levinas. Derrida stresses from the beginning this Greek character of philosophy. He goes: "il ne s'agit pas, on le sait, d'occidentalisme ou d'historicisme. Simplement les concepts foundadeurs de la philosophie sont d'abord grecs et il ne serait pas possible de philosopher ou de prononcer la philosophie hors de leur élément". And yet, this is only to show how Levinas works out an undertone that makes Greek thought incommensurable in his thinking, a genuine foreign substance. The foreign (Hebrew) undertone shows up in the discomfort with the maneuvers of Husserl and Heidegger - these Greeks, says Derrida - all the way to face Parmenides as a double stranger who has to undertake a second parricide so that the absolute solitude of what engages in being can be properly highlighted. To be sure, the episode of a non-Greek (also Hebrew) intrusion in philosophy could be perhaps exemplified by Rosenzweig - so present in Levinas thought - and his struggle to deal and distort Hegel's conceptual vocabulary. This is where Derrida appears in his best: making explicit the foreign accent doing philosophy. It is as if there could be a way to sense the gap between what is expressed in philosophy and the tonality of thought - a way to hear the accent of those engaged in philosophical thought. It is not that philosophy is polyglot - although it can be, but only to some extent, that is only if its languages are etymologically tied -, it is rather that it admits of multiple accents. It admits because it resists them. But accents change the lexicon - and change the syntax. In particular, they change what Derrida calls the very syntax of the question.

The foreigner often doesn't find the right word in the language - as such it reveals the foreign character of thought. Levinas, described by Derrida, thinks in terms of "neither this... nor that" (neither Husserl, nor Heidegger...). He doesn't feel philosophy makes justice to the ways his thought goes - philosophy traps them either through the web of theory or through the pitfalls of implicit unities. He provides what Derrida labels "a non-marxist critique of philosophy as ideology": philosophy is committed to a logos that endorses a drive towards totality. He provides the critique of a stranger coming to town - and willing to play the game, at least to show its blind-spots. The Levinas operation, observed from this translator-viewpoint and in metaphilosophical terms, appears as one of forcing the philosophy talk to be able to say what his thoughts urge.

It is interesting to consider other immigrations into philosophy. In particular, I'm involved in the discussion concerning Afican philosophy and I'm convinced that animism (or perspectivism) for one is genuine philosophy or rather a genuine way to speak philosophy. Here again, maybe it is not the question of different philosophy in themselves, but rather of different ways to come to it. We have to make these different thoughts speak philosophy to hear their accent. Once we do that, we realize that they feel another kind of discomfort thinking within the borders of philosophy - but also a new kind of hospitality unsuspected by Greek ears. Immigrating is not only a way to show how native are the natives, but also a way to spell out contrasts. Derrida's image of philosophy is not one of a congregation of nations, it is rather one an urban conglomerate full of newcomers.

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Saturday, 28 March 2015

Resources: the proletarianization of the non-human

Been discussing the latest book of Deborah Danowski and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro ("Há mundo por vir, Rio: Cultura e Barbárie, 2014) in my course on the philosophy of the anthropocene. This week we covered both the chapter on the us after the world - on accelerationism, singularity and the Breakthrough Institute - and the following one on us before the world - on the pre-cosmological era in amerinidian thought. According to such idea, animals, plants, sky, sun, moon etc - together with metereological or geological events - were people as we are the ancestors of all beings. It seems like we are the arché, both in the sense of origin and in the sense of ultimate physis of all things. Hence, while we see jaguars and wild pigs as non-humans - and we must do it in order to do some important interactions with them, including hunting and eating them - we know that at heart they are humans. There is nothing but humans around, no world. Cosmography is no more than a superficial - yet important to avoid literal cannibalism - cover to an underlying anthropography. The world is therefore an assemblage of humans eating themselves but it is organized in a way that makes a group see themselves as humans while seeing other groups as non-humans in a sort of a masquerade. Because they now that jaguars are jaguars-for-us and yet humans-in-themselves, Amerindian humans would act towards jaguars like we act towards characters while we're (say) on stage. We would have to believe that it is Romeo and not Lawrence Olivier in front of us, so that we can act our part as Juliet. Yet, if there is something challenging the health of Lawrence - say, a badly positioned dagger - we would interrupt the play altogether because it should not affect the integrity of Lawrence (although it may affect the integrity of Romeo). This animist (or perspectivist) take on things make non-humans ultimately similar to all sort of human others, even though we may play with them different economic and ecological plots - predation, trade or gift-giving, for example. It also makes clear the difference of waging a war and running a farm. Amerindian groups would treat non-humans diplomatically (and war is diplomacy) - and therefore as part of their political constitutions.

This makes me think of the (modern) idea of natural resource - in contrast. It is like depriving non-humans of anything but their labor; i.e. their service for our purpose. The modern notion of nature is a device to proletarianize non-humans, they are treated as reduced to the service they can provide and they have to leave off it. The maneuver sounds like one that strips off any diplomacy capability from them - they are useful just for a service, just for their labor. Ultimately, in their arché, non-humans are just a source of labor and their life is reduced to their service to humans. There is nothing else they can do economically and ecologically but to present their services. To be sure, sometimes they are engaged in all sorts of hybrid negotiations that could seem like being sheer diplomacy among humans. But then again, human proletarians also carry on acting beyond their labor life.