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Deictic Absolutes 2

A first bit of the book in a draft, on speculation and its problems. It contrasts Meillassoux's views with the doctrine recommended by the book - indexicalism, the view that sees deixis as the main components of what there is.
The section is called: After speculation

Meillassoux has his own way to overcome correlationism which is different from the other alternatives he mentions. He intends to seize what is beyond what is for-us. Rejecting any metaphysics of subjectivity, he rejects what is without-us in the sense of being for-the-others and settles for what is in-itself or for-nobody (or rather, for-nothing). It is not enough to embrace what is without-us by being for-someone-else (or for-something-else) – the absolute that is hidden behind any (factual) correlation is for-nothingness.

Meillassoux seeks this for-nothingness precisely in the relation between occultation and facticity. He claims that the absolute is what makes occultation possible, that is facticity. In other words, what is absolute is that reality eludes and therefore there could be anything behind the scenes; what is absolute is the contingent character of everything. If it is a bad (speculative) move to make correlation absolute, it is a recommended (speculative) step to find in the non-transparency of reality grounds to consider contingency itself absolute. The metaphysics of subjectivity in its many varieties find the absolute by taking as a premise what is the surest thing in the age of the correlate – the correlation itself. Given that the absolute cannot be contingent, Meillassoux then takes contingency as a premise to reach the absolute facticity of everything. The ubiquity of contingency is itself a problem for the claim that reality is transparent: everything could be very different from what it appears; it is as if contingency erodes any supposed absolute character of correlation if it entails the transparency of reality.

By confronting correlation and the absolute, Meillassoux contrasts the speculative procedure that starts from the known correlation to reach the pervasive nature of correlation with the speculative procedure that departs from the accepted idea that something is always hidden in a correlation to absolute facticity.

In both cases, the speculative method is in play. In both cases one begins with a well-known or accepted phenomenon and goes beyond it by taking it as an example of something broader. Speculation, like a flight from an airplane in the image Whitehead presents, goes from a certain taking off lane to a less certain and more general view from above beyond what is established.1 Whitehead is also adamant that the better the point of departure the broader the view one reaches. Speculation is a jump towards the unknown that can be corrected afterwards but has no reason to proceed with restrain.

Meillassoux speculative conclusion is that what is absolute and non-correlative (and not only non-human) is the principle that everything is contingent – except the principle, of course. It is the principle that is manifested in the misleading character of any appearance. Correlation itself is an example of the intrinsic link between facticity and reality; nothing is transparent, everything could be something else. Being absolute, the principle is neutral: it is independent of any perspective, standing location or situation, it is taken to be for-nothingness. Through the principle, something absolute can be thought (and known). According to the absolute (and neutral) principle, everything is under its scope; nothing escapes this hyper-chaos.2

This principle that enables a total view is for Meillassoux the right antidote for the predicaments of the age of the correlate. Breaking with the finitude issued by the correlation, one reaches beyond the pale towards a view that is neutral with respect to any subject and total in the sense that it sees everything from nowhere. Meillassoux thinks that the opposite of finitude is a total image of reality where everything is available to speculative eyes. It is as if once one is beyond the level of correlations, one finds a viewpoint without a point and spots things from the Great Outdoors. Such a view from nowhere is strictly speaking not a view from above or from outside, it is a view from the outside of the outside. (Things for-nothingness cannot be accessible but from a view from nowhere.) For such a view, there is no asymmetry left, no nearness; everything is equally exposed, like in a showcase where what matters in the general collection and not any item in particular. An absolute principle with total scope – that is about everything except itself – is the right way to avoid finitude according to Meillassoux. Once accepted the principle, one can say that everything is as contingent as our correlation. Through speculation, one projects the same on the unknown – reduces the Other to the Same, in Levinas' apt phrase.3 In fact, speculation proceeds through specular steps, by means of mirrors where what is already seen is projected in the unseen. There is an element of enumerative induction in speculation: it can reach a totality by means of a projection from a sample that act as a premise. In Meillassoux, there is nothing blocking his principle from having anything else in its scope. His speculative move leads him towards a totality, where a principle has everything else in its scope. The principle entails that any appearance is deceitful, and expose how things for-nothingness are – they are contingent and, in this case, one cannot be deceived. Being absolute, contingency is transparent – it is the transparency that makes sure everything is concealed by their appearances.

The speculative method, however, can be blind to the possibility that exteriority is a better antidote to finitude than totality. What confines us to a correlation is not the lack of a total, sideways-on view, but rather a neutralization of what is exterior. Such a neutralization amounts to a perceived indifference with respect to what is transcending, to what is outer or beyond. Finitude is an incapacity to realize that the Great Outdoors are already fully available in the very borders of our interiority.

From the point of view of the metaphysics of the other, it is precisely totality that prevents any access to the infinite which lies in what is beyond. The infinite is the unlimited, the unbound that borders an interiority from outside. It lies in the Great Outdoors that is the opposite of totality – totality is no more than finitude expanded where asymmetry is minimized to make room for specular relations. If a total view is available, there is no Other, there is no transcendence, there is no situatedness and, what is as unattractive as correlationism, there is no Great Outdoors. To avoid correlationism through an absolute that produces a view from nowhere is to move from a restricted finitude to a broader one – from limitation to full confinement. In contrast, the metaphysics of the others holds that access to the world is always limited not because of our finitude, but rather because the Great Outdoors cannot be anything but infinite.

Meillassoux is clear that not even a God could exorcise the principle of facticity.4 He escapes finitude to reach a totality where interiorities and the external world are equally confined. To be sure. totality is also committed to transparency – if everything can be placed in a showcase, than nothing can be concealed – as in Heidegger's image, everything is under persecution. In the case of the total scope of the principle of facticity, at least the contingency of everything is transparent (as much as their capacity to hide behind the appearances). The total image that supposedly replaces finitude is incapable to cope with the infinite of exteriority – and the occultation that follows suit. From the point of view of exteriority, Meillassoux's move is to surrender to a broader finitude by neutralizing the external world and placing the Great Outdoors inside an expanded version of our confinement.

Harman's object-oriented ontology, as Meillassoux's recommendation of the principle of facticity and the metaphysics of subjectivity, rely on speculation. His point of departure, as we saw above, is occultation – the withdrawal of all objects in a secret realm. His rejection of correlationism is closer to b) than to a) above as it emphasizes that concealment is not something our correlation promotes but rather a general feature of every relation between any two objects. His position also resembles the metaphysics of subjectivity because it makes a feature of correlation – occultation – the basis for a speculative jump towards a general account of objects that make room for hidden real objects. Here, the speculative move leads to a totality that is no showcase, it is rather a totality where there are hidden elements in every object. Like with indexicalism, reality is not transparent. As we saw above, however, exteriority plays a role here only in a totality of objects. Here again, speculation leads to a totality and the perceived lack of transparency of all objects for-us become a certain lack of transparency in the general structure of objects.

Indexicalism entails that whatever exists is entangled with deixis. It is a paradoxical claim because it is about how everything is and yet it makes trancendence-free totalities impossible. As a claim about what there is, it contrasts both with correlationism and with any attempt to overcome it through a mere exercise of speculation. If correlationism is to be avoided – and indexicalism avoids it as much as it is more than a simple criticism of metaphysics – it is due to its blindness to the outer side of a border. Correlationism is finitude because it cannot face the outer as infinite, as a beyond that can never properly be reached. The idea that it can be reached leads to the quest for a totality that proves to be the very mirror image – perhaps the specular image – of correlationism.

Indeed, the contrast between totality and exteriority spells a difficulty for speculation. Speculation proceeds through projecting more of the same, as if expanding something through its image in a mirror. It is somehow related to totality but also with transparency – the transparency of what is reflected in mirrors. Speculative transparency leads to totality if it is not corrected in its leaning towards an exorcism of the very idea of an exterior. Speculative realism puts forward the issue of how the secret – the concealed, the hidden – reflects itself in the mirror. It deals in a contrast between the transparency of speculation and the occultation that is postulated in reality. It is an issue concerning the specular itself: how is it possible that what is concealed has its image reflected everywhere. It is as if the specular procedure – and the transparency associated to it – could reflect the blind-spots that cannot be seen but leave traces in the mirrors. Reflected in a mirror, withdrawal becomes a procedure that is exposed in its attempt to conceal.

Both Meillassoux and Harman use the speculative method to reach total images from what is not transparent in reality. In both cases, there is a tendency towards substantives – the real object in one case, the hyper-chaos in the other.

In contrast, indexicalism postulates that there is something exterior to any conception of the world. It starts out with deictic operations leading to interiorities, units of transcendence. The outside, the outer, the Outdoors, the Other are components of reality that is more like a horizon than something that can be mapped. Reality is therefore not only incomplete but in-completable. As a consequence, indexicalism is realist about deixis and combines this with the realism found in the criticism of metaphysics. It is not a realism which proposes a totality to cope with what is occult but one which finds reality in the always transcending exterior that makes a total view impossible. It is the realism of an open reality.

As such, it can not resort to unabashed speculation. Indexicalist commitment to exteriority makes horizons a more important metaphor than mirrors. As a consequence, it reflects no blind-spot but only acknowledge them as what bounds the mirror from outside. Contrasting with speculative realism, indexicalism tries no accommodation of the occult in a total view of reality but places the blind-spot is outside the scope of the mirror. There is no reflected image of the secret; a mirror cannot reflect what is outside the field of vision even if this field is extended by the mirror. What is beyond the mirror looms in the horizon in the sense that it cannot be shown but still can be pointed as we point to the exterior from within.

Speculation has to be counterbalanced by an attention to exteriority. The effort to project the Same on the Other is not the last word in metaphysics. Levinas called this effort with the name of ontology, understood as the effort to bring everything to a common ground by removing alterity. The ontologist is in the business of surprising what exists in order to bring its strangeness to neutral shore of a concept.5 To turn the stranger into a concept is to attempt to accommodate what is outer in a substantive description. Levinas rejects the idea that ontology, understood this way, can be a first philosophy – it is not rather not much more than pure violence and it harbors truth in the realm of anonymity.6 Rather, as criticism should precede dogmatism, metaphysics should precede ontology.7 Metaphysics is, for Levinas, a study of transcendence – the metaphysician and the Other are separated and form no totality.8 The precedence of metaphysics is the priority of the Other as Other, not of a mirror image but rather as a figure of transcendence that shapes my borders. The idea of the priority of the others is informative here: speculation, like ontology, should be combined with a respect for exteriority and, further, it should be bound by it.

Indexicalism, and its metaphysics of the others, operates therefore in a post-speculation register. It proceeds in a speculative manner when it moves from my interiority – and my transcendence by the Other – to a broader image of deictic operations and an outer border open to the Great Outdoors. This speculative step, however, leads to no transcendence-free totality; indeed it yields a paradoxical totality that can only be shaped like the horizon – with a beyond that is included among the deictic operators that provide a paradoxical furniture to a paradoxical universe. The paradoxical here follows from a speculation bounded by its starting point – deixis – which already includes the elements of its transcendence.


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