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Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Fried and objects

Today in my Object-Oriented meeting (we're preparing for an exhibition in early June in Vyner Street, Bethnal Green/Hackney) we were discussing some Michael Fried theses (in Art and Objecthood, haven't read yet). One of them is that genuine art pieces are gallery independent (yes, Duchamp doesn't figure high in his hit parade). I was wondering what would it mean to have an ontological equivalent of the thesis: genuine objects are subject (or actor) independent. And, in the back of my mind: is this a thesis that Harman would be willing to endorse?

Fried wants to preserve the intrinsic quality of the art work. Objects are often taken to need some intrinsicality to them - stripped off their relational properties (including the purely dispositional ones) and maybe left as just substrata, bare particulars. Fried wants to make sure that the gallery doesn't have the power to bring about (to instaurer, in Souriau's terms) a work of art. The ontological Fried thesis would rather be that (genuine) objects are not brought about. A weaker but more plausible thesis would be that they are not brought about bu humans. This thesis would however make objects human-relative. On the other hand, the stronger version seems to entail that objects either cannot exist or are very different from the way we normally think about them (being essences or substrata). Maybe, as in the discussion to do with art pieces, to talk about subject-independence could be just the wrong starting point.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The speculative operation in Meillassoux's principle of factiality and in perspectivism

Meillassoux's argument for the absolute character of facticity is based on an operation that enables him to infer from the factuality of the correlation to a general factuality, the principle of unreason or of factiality. Again, this is an operation that resemble the move from the primacy of correlation to a generalized correlationism that takes reality to be made of correlations (like, everything is in a correlation of some sort with its surroundings, in a version of pan-dispositionalism or perspectivism - or über-realism). This generalized correlationism is maybe either deeply correlationist or a kind of subjective metaphysics (see the previous post). But it does make use of the same (speculative) operation: the correlation between thought and world is our way to experience something more general (either the absolute of correlations in the world or the absolute of facticity in the world).

What is the nature of that operation? Speculative induction? Are we the one example that would enable us to say that everything is in the mid of correlations or facticity? Maybe we shouldn't talk in terms of generalization but rather of the experience of correlation or facticity revealing a deeper (absolute) structure of the world. Some kind of (maybe revisable as Bonjour one day advocated) intellektuelle Anschauung. But notice that to say that we (whatever we means...) are the only item in the world to experience correlations (or facticity) would also require some kind of intellektuelle Anschauung. Something to tell us that we relate to lakes in a way that is different from the way mountains do...

Meillassoux, speculation and metaphysics: how my ideas fare

Enchanted by Meillassoux's distinction between what he calls the subjective metaphysician and what he calls the speculative philosophy. The former is somehow attached to the absolute character of the correlation (between thought and world), holding that the correlation itself is an absolute. Meillassoux mentions Hegel and insinuates that also Nietzsche and Deleuze would be part of this group. The latter finds the absolute not in the correlation but rather in its facticity (sort of instance of the generalized (and necessary) contingency of all things). The correlationist, in contrast, is the one who admits no absolute holding that the correlation has a primacy over any attempt to find something absolute while, at the same time, entertains a facticity. The speculative philosopher - but not the subjective metaphysician - takes these two correlationist claims on board. She is, then, the other, positive side of the correlationist criticism of the attempts to attain any sort of absolute.

The distinction is itself very interesting. I ask myself where each one of my following recent toy speculative (or metaphysical?) ideas would fare in the classification:
a) The anarché of the polemos: everything is available to desintegration through the intervention of the polemos - it makes everything up for grabs for everything else. This, I thought, would fare in the speculative side clearly and would be indeed very close to Meillassoux's idea that the contingent is necessary and there is no second order facticity. Necessity is always local and therefore at the hands of the multiple faces of the polemos. The polemos is not omniscient nor omnipresent, it is, though, omniabsent, an absence that let things (contingently) be for the moment. The polemos is the keeper of the vulnerability of things.
b) The ontology of doubt: the idea is that we can read the skeptical arguments not as entailing an epistemological indeterminacy facing an ontological determinacy but rather as establishing an ontological indeterminacy (and a respective epistemological determinacy). That is, that the world is itself made of doubts. There is no definite character of anything. So, anything can be something else. There are no truth makers but to statements concerning doubts about how things are. There are no facts or states of affairs, just doubts, just (ontological) indecision. This also seems close to Meillassoux's idea of the radical and absolute contingency of everything. And seems speculative enough - there is no appeal to the absoluteness of any correlation.
c) The metaphysics of some: the metaphysics of some holds that there are some things in the world, but nothing that can be pinpoint. The absolute is that something exists. Manuel and me toyed with this idea as a kind of metaphysical (or speculative) counterpart to what we take to be the thrust of Davidson's argument for the truth of some (in fact most) of our beliefs. This proximity could sound dangerous, we may be close to the subjective metaphysician line that correlations are absolute - say, the structure of our beliefs are absolute. But, again, as such, the metaphysics of some seems more speculative than metaphysics; indeed, Meillassoux interesting reply to Leibniz question about why there is something and not nothing is that there is something rather than something else (necessarily contingently). The absolute is not the correlation, but that there ought to be something (what is it is a matter of fact, of factuality, and maybe no speculative argument can establish).
d) Über-realism: this is where it gets a bit tricky. Über-realism has that there are perspectives and a cubist assemblage of all these perspectives in a non-underlying, non-coherent reality. Meillassoux holds that the claim that there are only relations in the world is itself correlationist (I think this is where the term may get a bit confusing). It ain't necessary for correlationism that the correlation is between thought and world. Or, maybe, Meillassoux would bite the bullet and say that any appeal to relations is an appeal to the relation between thought and world in embryo (think of Molnar claim that the intentional is the mark of the dispositional saying that there directedness towards something else is some sort of proto-thought, as the pan-psychist would have). In any case, if we accept that perspectives are relations (or prey on them) and Meillassoux's diagnosis that relations commit one to correlationism, I may be in the subjective metaphysician side here: correlations (perspectives) are somehow absolute - as they constitute über-reality. If it is so, über-realism is a sort of subjective metaphysics (and perspectivism, its sister, is maybe closer to correlationism). But I'm not happy with that. I think there is a way to show at least that, in Meillassoux's terms, über-realism is centrally committed to the facticity of all perspectives - even though perspectives are themselves necessary.

I think it is a very interesting geography to think things through.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Correlations against correlationism (part 2)

I reckon the post-humanist ways of thinking that where ushered in by structuralism and carried on through the efforts to explore the thought of difference have reshaped the correlationism question. It became clear that it is the burden of the correlationist to show that there is a unified (human) thought that is in the most central correlation with the world. Thought is spread in many directions and has to do with alliances and becomings that are build up from contact rather than from an underlying structure. Thought is fragmented - my thought has to do with my body, my gestures, my landscapes, my speeds, my habits. The image is more Nietzschean or, rather, inspired by a Nietzschean reading of Humean contingency.

Even if we grant that concepts have a grip on our thinking and therefore act as unifying force gathering together every instance of thought, we have not yet established that this centripetal force rules unchallenged. In fact, concepts are likely to be contaminated by all forms of specificities - they have, as I once wrote, accents. So, a concept in the head of a Willard, the rat man, is bound to have repercussions it wouldn't have in the head of a ballerina. There is no singular for correlations between thought and world. Further, all kinds of naturalistic efforts to bring thought closer to other engagements with things (and other devices that feed and promote relations) lead in the direction of showing that there is no privileged, unified us that instantiate thinking subject.

Maybe we want to grant the right of the correlationist to go one further in the Platonist scale. Note how easy it is for correlationism to go up those stairs, as Kant himself makes clear by relying on a distinction between empirical and transcendental subjects where the former are thought of an example, or as something that somehow is in metexis with the latter. Meillassoux himself makes clear that the correlationist becomes harder to deal with if a greater degree of Platonism is assumed. His ancestrality argument would be easily rebutted by correlationists that could help themselves to large portions of Platonism. Well, if we want to say that there is thought independently of any instance of thought and we just exemplify it, we would have troubles having a clear idea of what is this common denominator.

Correlationism, it looks like, is a scheme of a thought. Without a strong humanist metaphysics (of the subject), it may become very hard to flesh it up. More on this later.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Correlations against correlationism (part 1)

Been thinking about Meillassoux ancestrality versus correlationism argument. Not quite convinced but I'll post more as my thinking develops.
In contrast, I believe the problem with correlationism is that it is too attached to the idea that we think and as we think, we think qua humans. There is an us that is taken to be well-established and absolute - transcendental philosophy flirts with a metaphysics (as opposed to speculation in Meillassoux's terms) of the transcedental subject.
Artaud has a bit about the non-paganism of our obsession with the human, something I guess Paul RB would enjoy. He says something like 'what distinguishes the pagans from us is that their beliefs are based on an awful effort not to think as humans' (in Heliogabalus, chapter 2). We are not constrained by our humanity, no matter how strong concepts bind our thinking (have a grip on us, as Brandom would say).
If we strip correlationism off the us, then we have just a diversity of correlations (a diversity of mediations), and no special correlation at all - no fixed, pre-established one. We would have chairs for me as a tired bear, chairs for us the sheepish animals who would like to hide from anyone, chairs for us the dancers, chairs for us the office workers etc. Fill the world with correlations, instead of trying to see a way out of them, this could be the überrealist recipe against correlationism...
More on this soon.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

The existence of events: a Generalized Doppler Effect

An important thrust of Souriau's idea that ontology is centrally connected to the relation of bringing about (and not to that of finding out) is that what is brought about has consequences beyond those that strictly have to do with what brought them about. Consider tense perspectives. They bring about events, as a product of something that passes. Events are located in time, further they are located in tense: they are passing. It is what I call Generalized Doppler Effect. Just like in the common Doppler Effect that requires a still or a slower perceiver to hear the sound of a passing car, something needs to be held still or moving more slowly in order for the passing of the events to be noticed. In fact, it is only for what is still or slower that events happen – and therefore that something takes place. An event can only take place in contrast with surrounding states that remain the same (or change in a different pace). So we say that the river waters flow and we say that because the banks of the river stay put, it is only relative to the roughly fixed banks that the waters flow. It is the difference in speed, and ultimately the tense perspectives that give rise to passing events. Passing events are like the buzzing sound associated with the Doppler Effect: they can be heard only from a certain perspective. And yet, passing events, like passing cars, are as real as anything can be.

Image by Banksy