It’s nice to see Speculative Realism capturing the attention of SF writer and all-round idea impresario Bruce Sterling – see his Speculative Realism as “philosophy fiction.” As a long-time SF lover, the idea of “philosophy fiction” has always appealed to me. Some of the best writing in the genre has been profoundly metaphysical, which is to say speculatively realist.
One little point: Process-relational philosophies have long been speculative and realist. And many of these (along with a lot of ecophilosophy of the last 25 years) reject the centrality of the human-world “correlation,” just as Quentin Meillassoux did in his 2006 book that has been so influential for the Speculative Realists (caps intended).* Whitehead’s Process and Reality is perhaps the most obvious modern example of a speculative metaphysic that is realist through and through, but there have been plenty of others.
Perhaps what we need is for sociologists of philosophy (like Randall Collins) to tell us why the idea of “speculative realism” hasn’t taken off until now… and why it seems to be doing that now. But the actual practice of it — speculative realism in lower-case — isn’t that new or that unpopular: witness Whitehead’s popularity in theological circles, Deleuze and Guattari’s in artistic and political circles (though it’s not always the realism that gets picked up), ecophilosophy’s among environmentalists, and scientific speculative realism’s popularity all over the place (from Bohm and Prigogine and Hawking to the pop-science literature on string theory, chaos, and the “tao of physics”). Philosophy of a sort (organized, academic) is catching up to all of that, which is nice.
As an aside: The other kind of philosophy that has been taking off for a while now, as any browser of bookstores knows, is pop-philosophy along the lines of “X… and Philosophy,” where the “X” is The Simpsons, The Matrix, Star Trek, Star Wars, Steven Spielberg, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, South Park, Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, The Atkins Diet (no kidding), or whatever else. A few more titles I’d like to see in this vein: “Captain Beefheart and Philosophy,” “Lady Gaga and Philosophy,” “Gong and Philosophy” (that’s the Franco-British psychedelic rock band), or at least “The Soft Machine and Philosophy” (1960s-70s bands are in now, aren’t they?)… If I had anything useful to award, I would give it to the reader who came up with the most original idea here…
Fortunately, the older style of philosophy-as-way-of-life books (I’m thinking of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and others in that vein) hasn’t faded out completely either, as the initial responses to James Miller’s (The Passion of Michel Foucault) new Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche might suggest. The proof of philosophy is always in the living, but whether the living results from the philosophy or the philosopher is always a little difficult to determine.
Which brings me to my main point: Process-relational themes lend themselves extremely well to philosophy-as-life; it’s one of their key ideas. Does that mean that a quick glance at the philosophies of, say, Peirce or James or Whitehead will reveal to us their political commitments or their social activism (or lack thereof)? It’s not that clear. Add Deleuze, Spinoza, and the Buddhists to the picture and it’s probably even less clear.
But it’s worth asking: what, if anything, is the common denominator, when it comes to living one’s philosophy, among the long list of names that fit into the process-relational tradition?
My first guess would be that some combination of the following two traits, or shared intuitions, would be fairly common: (1) a trust in life process, or as Deleuze calls it, a “belief in this world,” and (2) a willingness to experiment — an openness and even eagerness to engage in things decisively so as to see where they will go, and a willingness to change directions when it becomes evident that they aren’t going where they ought to be (or to go along gleefully for the experience, if it’s a good one). (Buddhists don’t necessarily follow the first, which is why it’s useful to distinguish between life-affirming and life-escaping strains of that tradition.)
The second point sounds a little like what one might expect from Speculative Realism, and from “philosophy fiction” — except that process-relationalism insists on not just speculating, or fictionalizing, but living it. If we enter into our relations fully, then those relations count. There’s no safe haven to which our deepest essence can withdraw. Actions cannot be taken back. The doing changes the array of potentialities for the next set of possible doings.
Those two intuitions, incidentally, parallel the two key ideas I expressed in this earlier post, between which process-relational philosophies dance like a high-wire walker:
(1) Dependent origination, i.e., an ontology of interdependence: Nothing exists on its own, everything passes into something else. This is the Nagarjunian, Heraclitean point […]
(2) This-momentness: The core of our being is the ethical call in this very moment to engage with that which we find ourselves interacting with, and to do it in a way that recognizes our responsibility for what emerges from it. This is the Whiteheadian point, and the Deleuzian (and Bergsonian) one: we are, in this moment, becoming, actualizing; we draw out and in, folding over from one enfoldment to the next. The same is true for all things.
Call these the anti-essentialist and the existentialist halves of the process-relational walnut. The first without the second would result in the kind of relationalist wash the OOO-ists have critiqued. The second without the first is existentialism without the bearings of the universe, Sartrean nausée without any sense for doing anything, Nietzschean will to power without the eternal return of the same.
The first is what tells us who we are (where we come from, what we’re indebted and related to, and what’s worth keeping from that legacy). The second is what makes us play for keeps.
*Note: The date originally given was a mistake. Après la finitude: Essai sur la nécessité de la contingence was released in French in 2006, and in Ray Brassier’s English translation in 2008.