Tag Archive: philosophy


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. View full article »

I enjoyed Astra Taylor’s film Examined Life when I first saw it a couple of years ago, and, having just watched it again, I’m glad to see that it bears re-viewing.

As one might expect, some segments are more lasting than others. Slavoj Zizek wearing an orange safety vest talking about ecology at a London trash heap (above) is the most brilliantly conceived segment, and one gets to hear the full (and in its own way brilliant) incoherence of his position on the topic. “The true ecological attitude is to hate the world: less love, more hatred,” as he puts it in the full interview (available in the book-of-the-film, p. 180).

View full article »

digital agora

Levi Bryant has an interesting post on how the internet is changing the way philosophy gets done. For Levi the web, despite its drawbacks, represents

“something of a dialectical synthesis between the Athenian agora and text. Any idiot gets to speak and participate in discussion, and audience is no longer an audience of fellow scholars within a discipline, but whoever comes along and has something interesting and intelligent (hopefully) to say. As a consequence, the sorts of dialogues that emerge in print are no longer determined by the gate-keepers of elite journals, conferences, or the pedigree of schools, but rather are the consequence of the formation of collectives that are borne of people that would like to talk a bit more with each other. Not only do we witness the emergence of electronic journals and presses devoted to rendering intellectual labor a dimension of “the common”, of that which is owned by no one, of that which is readily available to everyone who is able to click on a link, but all sorts of new possibilities emerge within this common as well. [...] It is now possible for graduate students to engage with established thinkers one on one whether through email or through blogs.”

And over time, I’m sure (it’s happening already), those among the established thinkers who engage with these electronic-pioneering graduate students — blogging philosophers and cultural theorists like Bryant himself, Harman, Leiter, Shaviro, Jodi Dean, Henry Jenkins, et al — will grow in influence, while those who don’t will gradually fade away.

I don’t think the open-access internet will ever become the sole venue, and probably not even the primary venue, for philosophical and critical thought. Specialized journals and elite societies with their gatekeepers and credentials-checkers will continue to play an important role, because they perform a useful function and because the academic profession requires that sort of thing. But the two will grow into a kind of symbiosis with each other. So tomorrow’s Socrates and Zeno will be debating in the electronic agora as much as they will be lecturing in the academy, and Epicurus and Plotinus will be blogging the daily regimen from their philosophical communes. Traffic will flow smoothly and steadily between the streets, the teahouses and libraries, and the deserts and monasteries to which the empire’s refugees have retreated. (Or ecosteries, rather, where the practicalities of sustainable living will be figured out as society redesigns itself for a post-carbon future. A sweet thought in a time when the gushing blackness of oil seems bottomless.)

Drilling-mud-escaping-fro-006.jpg

With all that in mind, it’s good to see Progressive Geographies, Archive Fire, Critical Animal, and others chipping in to the Vibrant Matter blogathon (which is becoming ever more spread out, including on this week’s host blog, Philosophy in a Time of Error).

And good, also, to see the continuing activity everywhere on the Middlesex crisis — which reminds us that without the academy the digital agora, at least its philosophical wing, risks losing its muscle, if not its raison d’être. Philosophy still needs the intensity of face-to-face discussion, debate, close mentoring, and the institutional grooming that goes along with it.

Still, it’s nice to dream of a world in which philosophy and the liberal arts aren’t seen as unprofitable appendages left over from an era of bloated welfare states (a neoliberal narrative that is deeply problematic), but where they are vital nodes within a culture of social and ecological transformation — not because philosophy feeds social change in some direct, instrumental way, but because of a shared recognition between philosophers and activists of how and why it is that we have come to live in a world of oil spills and economic crises, and how and why it could be all different.

Isis takes Hadot

Pierre Hadot died yesterday. An important influence on the later Foucault, a classicist whose readings of ancient Greco-Roman philosophers made them seem relevant once again, and an astute defender of the Orphic (as opposed to the Promethean) approach to Nature, Hadot’s influence was felt by many for whom philosophy is more than just a conceptual exercise. Fabio at hyper tiling has written a nice eulogy. I don’t see any obits yet in the Anglophone Google News, but this New York Times review of Philosophy as a Way of Life and this review of The Veil of Isis provide reasonable entry points to his thinking.

on politics & ontology

(For some reason, this didn’t go out over Google Reader, so I’m re-posting it…)

The Speculative Realist blogosphere has been abuzz over the relationship between ontology and politics. Nick Srnicek’s post at Speculative Heresy – and the many comments on it – provide a good entry point to this discussion. Nick has wisely redrawn his initial arguments in ways that represent the counter-arguments quite well, so that both (or all) sides seem smarter and more clear-headed coming out of the process than going into it — which is what good philosophizing should be about.

The key, as he presents it, is to define politics in a viable and useful way: is it just about relations between humans and other humans (as he first assumed), or is it about ‘the way of being-with amongst entities’, ‘the act of deciding exclusion and inclusion,’ ‘the space of the im/possible’ (a Derridean formulation that needs more clarification, so see Nick’s elaboration on it), or something else. Nick argues that “if we’re not careful, everything becomes politics, and nothing gets changed. Art becomes intrinsically political. Ineffective protests become political (rather than spectacle). Writing blog posts becomes political! Politics – if it is to mean anything, and if it is to escape the nihilism and apoliticism that Nina rightly criticizes – must have a narrower definition than these neutered conceptions of the political.

I agree with Nick that the definition of ‘politics’ should not be fully subsumed within the definition of ‘art’ (or ‘philosophy’ or religion’ or ‘science’ or ‘nature’ or anything else) — losing the distinctiveness of each of these terms renders the world less distinct and gives us a weaker grasp on things. But art, philosophy, etc. can still be political, and identifying overlaps between these categories can do important work for us.

Politics, to my mind, is about relationality — ‘the way of being-with amongst entities’, ‘the act of deciding exclusion and inclusion,’ etc. — but it doesn’t just describe that relationality; it affects it. Something becomes political to the extent that it effects change in relations, and specifically in power relations — that is, to the extent that it opens up, closes down, or somehow reorients or reconfigures capacities (one’s own and/or others’) for acting and for effecting change in the world.

This seems circular, but I’m trying to be consistent here with a process-relational ontology. To say that ‘politics’ is about ‘effecting change in the ways change can be effected’ is to render politics open in a world that is itself open. If voting cannot effect change, then it is not (any longer) political; or rather it is negatively political to the extent that it closes down the possibility for change, for instance, by creating the illusion that one is making change when one isn’t. Politics, by this definition, consists of those adjustments, negotiations, and struggles by which we reconfigure power in the world (where power is not just ‘power over’ but power-to, power-with, etc.). This can be done through art or philosophy, i.e. through the expression or conceptual formulation of new or different ways of relating, to the extent that these then affect actual relations in the world. But it is not identical with them.

And it can be not only between humans, since humans aren’t the only entities acting within a shared world. But humans have been pretty effective at changing others’ capacities for acting on their worlds, so politics – cosmopolitics, in Stengers’ terms – should today be about the nonhuman as well as the human .