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Saturday, 31 May 2014

Ontological turning and (queer) gender bending

Been reading Jordana Rosenberg's essay on recent waves of molecularization of politics that deploys Marxism and queer theory against the ontological turn. It seems to me that the problems Jordana sees in turning ontological lie on the insistence that social mediation ought to be more pervasive than anything ontological. I rather think that it is ontology itself that needs to be queerized (as I defended in my recent Bodies in Clinamina).

As I was writing in facebook, Jordana's is a beautiful essay. But I think that there is a blind spot towards heavily politicized non-human elements of environment (that makes mediation be indifferent to ecological constrictions, pictures society as the ultimately withdrawing agent that is ultimately detached from the non-human, presents history as being imposed on a planet rather than negotiated with its layers). Queer is not only aleatory, but this ought to be an invitation to queerize the elements that have served to quench capitalist deterritorialization, including a non-rebellious nature. Beatriz Preciado is pointing in the right direction, I think: there are sub-political forces in chemistry, in the pharmacy. If we can't appeal to these molecular forces, they are going to be ontologically worked out by capital alone. It is not an issue of colonizing what is beyond the usual human political land, but rather to squat this territories so that trenchers are formed when the advancing world-making dominant powers come. I take the ontological turn - or what I find interesting in it - to be attempting to arrive diplomatically first and perform the ontological (gender) bend in the associations that capitalism is ready to enlist.

What is taken to be natural is not terra incognita not to be touched, but land to be reshaped, renegotiated, reinvented. The ontological turn has to be bending the ontological. So, for instance, I think the molecular wars are in bio-hacking against Monsanto as much as in deconstructing nutrition as a reproducing device. In several different ways, ontological efforts can provide ways of denaturalizing biology - and this is a two-edged razor because the non-molecular is further deconstructed once it is filled with queerized valences. Roughly, I tend to think that to queerize is rather a way to denaturalize. The struggle, as I take it, is to exorcize the straight molecules.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Mendieta's territories

Been to Mendieta's retrospective in the Der Moderne in Salzburg. The exhibition presents most of her phases and is successful in making her stuff dialogue with a collection of Viennese actionism in another floor. The contrast is interesting because while most of the actionist work (including the amazing stuff of Valie Export and Peter Weibel, and the inspiring stuff of Herman Nitsch) has a ring of body art that attempts to flee from bodily constraints, Mendieta's stuff seems to be always negotiating with the hidden territorial demands of the body. It is as if she is looking for a territory in the most veiled chambers of the body and the earth. It is a reterritorializing attempt, even if the underground of the territory has to be captured by excavating layers and layers of imaginals. Anarcheology, ananatomy, the hurry for origins, for the quale of groundedness. She is constantly looking down, and making up a territory that was not and could not be given. I think the contrast between her and other body artists show the opposition between looking at the carnality of geology while expecting to move away and embracing it even without knowing what the Earth thinks she is. Mendieta is not doing modern body art, she is looking for a way not to unbody but to recreate a body dust by dust. The contrast is perhaps the one between Latour's two verbs, "moderniser" and "ecologiser", if the last one is to be understood as a redesign, a redesign made by those who aim to stay.

Doubts and determinations

It was nice to visit Cris (Borgoni) and her new department at Graz. I gave a talk on the ontology of doubts as I am beginning to work on chapter 4 of my book which approaches contingency not to facticity but to the absence of facts (see slides in the last post). Mariam David has brought up precisely the issue of the two ways to understand the absence of fact: i. the Quine/Hartry Field sense in which there are no facts but the snow is white, the grass is green, 4 is the smallest non-prime etc and ii. my sense in which the quarrel is not really with the ontological status of things like snow is white, I'm happy to consider that they would be facts if they were true, but none of them are. To be sure, there are two strengths of ontology of doubts. The one that takes facts to be non-existent (hinge propositions could then be a façon de parler, or a useful fiction so that they don't have to be true to be good. This is the strong one, anti-realist about facts. It is, by contrast, realist about indeterminations (the non-determinate content-cum-attitude that I associate to doubts). The weaker version is realist about both doubts and facts, both determinations and indeterminations. Both versions can be formulated in terms of a possible ontological content to doubts - as beliefs are sometimes thought to have a possible ontological content as they can reach all the way to facts in the world, as identity theories of truth are prone to point out. Both versions are argued for using the traditional skeptic arguments and I take the tension between Aenesidemus and Sextus to be exemplary of the kind of dispute that takes place in the confrontation. The ontologist of doubt plagues on skeptical arguments. It is the counterpart of Neopyrronism, as of all related positions, in the same way that one could ascribe not only skepticism but also a metaphysics to Hume. The skeptic hits back claiming that such ontology is dogma. The ontologist of doubt counters that the skeptic has been dogmatic about the existence of determinations - or facts - in the world. Realism about determinations is a substantial thesis and, as such, it should command suspension of belief.

Some of the discussion turned around the way I characterize doubts (and determinations). I used the expression "attitude-cum-content" above and it is really flimsy. In the talk I had troubles committing to either the thesis that beliefs and doubts differ in attitude but can share the same content (a simple application of the idea of propositional attitude) and the contrasting one that contents differ. Almost surely, I can embrace the first less controversial thesis. However, I want to be able to draw on things like the identity theory of truth to say that doubts have the content of indeterminations in the world. My flimsy expression, "attitude-cum-content" means something like: a content (that could be the same of the one in a belief) that commands an attitude. That is, a content associated to some unsettled state that is out there. It is not simply an attitude for if it is realism about doubt could be understood merely as realism about the content of a doubt. I don't really know the way out. I rehearsed the idea that doubts have different contents because they at least implicitly deal in disjunction ("the snow is white or the snow is not white", say). This is a way to make clear that it is the indetermination that the ontologist of doubt is realist about , and not the determinate proposition one doubts.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Ontology of doubts in Graz last week

I'll comment on how the presentation went in a forthcoming post (if I get the chance to write it, tomorrow, or, otherwise, soon).
At the top of the page, my slides for Graz

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Social arts

Last week I was working on my sponsorship account of truth - an article submitted to Speculations VI, which I called "Immanence and Maintenance". Now I'm back to the book. Been working on a comparison between composing in a language and the monadology of fragments. In both cases, to use Quine's nice phrase, we deal with social arts. That reminded me of a talk I gave with Manuel years back in Nottingham, which had the apt title of "A linguistic turn of 360 degrees". I decided to make it more public here.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Talking about the güeros

Last week in Papantla and yesterday here in Xalapa I gave talks about the güeros. Well, it was a resource I found to talk about those who believe they are moderns. Find the presentations here. My güero here is Vanderlei Costa.

Who is the anthropologist of the moderns?

Yesterday I was in CIESAS-Golfo talking about what Latour intends to do in AIME. The context was interesting, a dialogue between the notions of Mode of Existence in Latour and Language Game in Wittgenstein. Differences are less remarkable as similarities: pluralism, indispensability of incommensurabilities, a normative character associated to each mode/game. In both cases, the descriptive is always external while an internal involvement - as much as an internal criticism - entails already a norm (and a judgement). In terms of Latour, a value. To describe practices (or modes of existence) in external terms is to be indifferent to the values that make them make sense. This is why Latour associates to the modes different a mini-transcendence, as much as a regime of norm. I pointed out that Latour has at his advantage the concept of construction and his elaboration of it through the book (“Parce que c’est bien construit, c’est peut-être bien vrai”). This gives him resources to bring in science studies, and a more detailed analysis of how more than one mode is involved in scientific tinkering. And, of course, Latour would have that Wittgestein's relativity could not traffic in hard cash (it stops short of conceiving how existence is).

My friend Witek, who was presenting Wittgenstein's views on religion, brought about the issue of who is the anthropologist of the modern, the character in Latour's book. I was saying that the different modes can be considered from the prepositional perspective, the one from the PRE mode of existence (see AIME, 265-269, French edition). The anthropologist is therefore one who can manage to see the different modes as different tonalities and who does assuming an ontology of actants, irreductions, constructions and most of the other ontological commitments of Latour (mostly shared with Simondon and Souriau). This is how she is not fooled by Res Ratiotinans and can diagnose the negotiations with non-humans involved in scientific practice. Well, ok, but is she modern? There is no much clue about that, although I guess at some point Latour hints that yes, she is (still, how modern is she, as those that believe in modernity come in different degrees, they are hybrids too). Further, from which mode of existence does she investigate the moderns? Well, I think the book is wise in presenting the anthropologist as someone unknown, much like most anthropologists when they are met by the natives. Natives - in this case, us, moderns - know very little about her and who is she coming from. And often, the clues the natives have are no more than what she assumes and concludes about them.