Total Pageviews

Monday, 14 August 2017

The ontology and the metaphysics of agency

Been thinking of a different, Levinasian way to present our five-fold alternatives concerning agency. The original one is something like this:
1. Ontology without agency (La Mettrie, Meillassoux, perhaps Spinoza)
2. Agency without agents (Simondon, Karen Barad, perhaps Deleuze)
3. Monadologies, agents are interdependent (Leibniz, Latour, Tarde, Whitehead)
4. Independent agents (Harman, perhaps Garcia)
5. Agents without ontology (Levinas, Benso, perhaps Celan)

See, for instance, these talks.

Here, 1 is opposed to 5, 2 to 4 and 3 stands in the middle under the pressure of both its sides.

I thought it can also be presented thus:
1. Ontology without metaphysics - without anything personal
2. Metaphysics based on an ontology of agency where nothing is personal but there is some agency around
3. Monadologies: a compromise between ontology and metaphysics
4. Ontology based on a metaphysics of units of agency
5. Metaphysics without ontology - everything is personal

L'intériorité est le congé de la totalité

Tomorrow I'm lecturing on some of the initial ingredients deployed by Levinas in the argument of Totality and Infinity. He believes Descartes provided two important contributions to the project of a non-ontologist metaphysics as sketched in Plato's Sophist by the Stranger. (The project of having the Other paired with Being - and Same, Rest, Motion - and not as a derivative of what there is.) First, Descartes brought about the notion of infinity that is a concept that is beyond itself and therefore beyond the thought of a totality - an infinity that, I believe, cannot be reduced to actual infinity. Second, Descartes brought about the notion of interiority and therefore the possibility of a time that is different from that of history in its objectivity. Interiority is what makes separation - between me and the Other - possible and therefore what makes pluralism possible. Further, it is the interruption in totality. The notion of interiority contrasts indeed with history and therefore with historical accounts of things that promote an idolatry of facts. The contrast is Levinas' version of a fallacy of misplaced concreteness: there is no account of a totality because there is transcendence and transcendence springs from interiority. His use of Descartes and his notion of interiority surely puts him close to monadologies. To be sure, monadologies tend to be impersonal and to emphasize symmetry and reversibility - but they start out with the reality of the interior, of the subjective and make room for pluralism through the reality of a subjective perspective. Interestingly, in "L'athéisme et la volonté" (1B), he criticizes Leibniz because his monads are not distinct due to their interiority but rather due to their predicates and further because monads form a totality in the head of God. The two misgivings, however, seem to be based on features exclusive to Leibniz's monadology. Concerning the latter, if action in the actual world is not determined in a previous time, there could be no room for a totality. As for the former, if predicates are an expression of interiority, as in Whitehead, what distinguished different units of action would be their interiority. Still my question persists: is it possible to conceive of a Levinasian monadology?

Friday, 7 July 2017

A note about strong correlationism and subjectalism

This is perhaps a follow-up from an old post from 2012.

Thinking about Meillassoux's alternatives, it seems like subjectalism (or what I call the metaphysics of the correlation) can only be countered once weak correlationism and nothing stronger is the point of departure. Strong correlationism, according to which we cannot even think anything beyond correlation, denies that all knowledge is finite and incapable of grasping reality in its own right because nothing beyond the finite can be thought. The thought of finitude is hostage to a weaker correlationism. Meillassoux understands subjectalism as a product of a speculative move starting from correlation itself: if I can know, think and conceptualize correlations and nothing else, there ought to be nothing but them. Our correlation becomes absolute – hence our concepts, our reasons and our knowledge is itself reaching beyond finitude. Correlation is itself absolute. Yet, Meillassoux is prepared to cluster here two different positions: one according to which there is nothing outside my correlation, it is absolute, and the other that speculatively projects my correlation on everything to say that everything is in a correlation. In the second position, the correlation is absolute, but it is not our (human) correlation that is absolute. In both cases, everything is a correlation. Meillassoux argues that such the two positions – in the subjectalist cluster – are inadequate answers to correlationism for it doesn't take into account that correlations are factual (contingent). For Meillassoux, this diagnosis is the starting point of his own speculative story according to which it is facticity itself that is absolute. Independently of his alternative, we can pause on his analysis of the facticity of correlation. To claim that the correlation is contingent is to claim either that

1. there could be no correlation or
2. there could be another correlation.

Now, if 1 is true, there ought to be something beyond any correlation that is at least thinkable (or conceivable). In that case, strong correlationism is wrong. If, on the other hand, 2 is true, we can step outside our own correlation and imagine another correlation altogether that would be equally possible. But here too strong correlationism looses its ground – and there is no reason to consider any correlation absolute. It seems like the claim that correlations are factual could only mean something if weak correlationism (and not strong correlationism) is adopted. In other words, only if the Kantian idea that something outside the correlation is thinkable.

If this is right and only on the basis of weak correlationism subjectalism in its both forms can be rejected, it would be interesting to explore the subjectalist (and speculative) scene from the point of view of a stronger correlationism. 1 and 2 above are very different. While 1 affirms that we could gain access to the world uncorrelated to our thoughts - there could be intuitions without concepts albeit as a matter of fact we are so constituted that intuitions cannot show or speak without concepts. It contains a claim, which is arguably Kantian, about the possibility of pure intuitions. The claim has been challenged by Hegel's analysis of mediation according to which there are no intuitions if there are no mediation. (Incidentally, McDowell is also convinced that intuitions present the world to us.) Now, 2 seems to point to a very different set of issues. If intuitions require being mediated, they don't require a particular mediation. One could then engage in a speculative flight where correlation itself is a point of departure. Strong correlationism will have to be proven false, but its connection between intuition and mediation would still be vindicated.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Silvia Benso and Levinas' Buberian hangover

The relation between Levinas and Buber is not straightforward. In an interview to François Poirié Levinas says that the asymmetry between me and the Other - for him I'm more responsible than anyone else for everything - is the big difference, or the small difference that makes a difference. What they do seem to coincide is in the impersonality of things - in fact, of the non-human in general. As Buber distinguished interlocutors in terms of whom can I have a personal relation, Levinas restricts the Other to a realm where no thing can enter. Silvia Benso - in her The face of things with which I'm quite infatuated right now - makes it very clear that Levinas things of the face of the Other not only in terms of a male face that can genuinely be unrelated to the extent as providing an interruption to the supposedly hetero-cis-sexual me, but also as something no thing could possess. He associated things with the paganism that he wants to quickly reject and that he connects with a trickery and a dangerous path. Heidegger's attempts of doing justice to the thing are not criticized, but put aside. It is curious that he wouldn't take his response-based account seriously enough when he rejects that anything could interrupt me and require a response. The restriction of the Other that can affect me slides in the risk of Butler's criticism: the human face is a concept that needs to be recognized before any encounter. Now, it seems to be that a proper Levinasian response would be to appeal to a phenomenology of the encounter with a face, but rather he concedes that the realm of things is deprived of ethics, confining his approach to what is human. Here I can't stop wondering whether this is some kind of Buberian hangover that would downgrade things in order to contrast them with the more elevated Thou that could afford to be taken personally.

Zionism as the Ulyssification of Abraham

Been discussing with Aharon about the images of Ulysses and Abraham that Levinas presents in "The Trace of the Other". The Abrahamic promised land is a land-to-come (as a Nietzschean Kinderland), nothing like an Ithaca, a return to the past, but a projection to the future. Of course the idea of a promised land appeals to a past promise and Aharon remarks that promises are always tied to the past. But there is no Ithaca in the Abrahamic story, it is about leaving, evading, going somewhere else - a bit like the Deleuzian portrayal of the Anglo-American voyage as opposed to that where a point of departure and return is set once and for all. There is a one-way-ness about Abraham, to the point where memories of the land left have to be exorcized as some sort of immemorable, as Silvia Benso puts in the opening pages of her beautiful The face of Things (SUNY Press, 2000). Just like Moses, perhaps again searching for a Kinderland, the land of departure has to be forgotten and provides no guide, no attraction force - origins are to be betrayed. Abraham, in a sense, is the anarchaic version of Ulysses as there is no Odyssey in his endeavors, the promised land, however understood, is something to come, a destination to be fulfilled and not the attraction of the past in the future.

It then seems like Zionism is the Ulyssification of the Abrahamic legend. The promised land becomes a Motherland (or rather a Grandfather-land); no longer a voyage of evasion but one of return. The association of the promised land with a geography is precisely the European rendition of the Abrahamic story - especially when the nations started having their Ulysses, their ones to bring something back. Zionism then sounds deeply European in the sense of purging of Abraham - of the one way travelers - among nationals with a (Ulysses-like) passport. The promised land is not a geographical land, and if it is it should be far more like Patagonia, Uganda or Antarctica. The transformation of it in the land of the past was probably brewed in Europe for millennia, but the final element was given by the suitable-for-Europeans solution for the (European) Jewish problem through Zionism

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Severino's strong permanentism

Severino's neo-parmenidism is a stronger form of what Williamson called permanentism: everything exists permanently. In Severino's stronger version, not only actual entities are permanent but relations, qualities, events and states of affairs are never created and never perish. Any transformation is the turn of something into nothingness or the reverse - at least of a state in the space of qualities and relations. He holds that time never interferes with being - just with appearance. Selective permanentism makes room for turning something into nothing in order for transformation to take place. Severino's anti-nihilism understands every existing thing as permanently existing - apart from what appears. Further, in his later system, he understands that appearances are themselves necessary. In any case, his strong permanentism seems to entail a form of necessitism that could be formulated as follows: if x exists, x exists necessarily permanently. The dispute between necessitism and contingentism (or around permanentism in general) could be adapted to that stronger scenario if we quantify over any existent. There is no contingency and therefore no alteration. Everything remains what it is, if it is. It could be presented in different forms - exposed in different forms - but it is permanently archived. These different forms of presentations are such that each is itself permanently archived, and presented in different forms of presentation.