Tag Archive: speculative realism


Pretty dark out there…

Says NASA:

“It turns out that roughly 70% of the Universe is dark energy. Dark matter makes up about 25%. The rest – everything on Earth, everything ever observed with all of our instruments, all normal matter – adds up to less than 5% of the Universe. Come to think of it, maybe it shouldn’t be called “normal” matter at all, since it is such a small fraction of the Universe.” [italics added]

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“Ultimately, the thinking of speculative pragmatism that is activist philosophy belongs to nature. Its aesthetico-politics compose a nature philosophy. The occurrent arts in which it exhibits itself are politics of nature.

“The one-word summary of its relational-qualitative goings on: ecology. Activist philosophy concerns the ecology of powers of existence. Becomings in the midst. Creative change taking place, self-enjoying, humanly or no, humanly and more.”

These two short paragraphs close the Introduction to Brian Massumi’s recent, and thoroughly Whiteheadian, book Semblance and Event. They serve as a good epigraph to what I’d like to discuss here, which is the “neo-Whiteheadian wave” I see arising in cultural theory and its connections to ecology and to “speculative realism” (which, in Massumi’s hands, becomes speculative pragmatism; the differences are worth exploring).

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The preliminary schedule is out for The Nonhuman Turn in 21st Century Studies.

The list of speakers reads like a “who’s who” of the neo-ontological, speculative-realist crowd in cultural and media theory: Steven Shaviro, Jane Bennett, Brian Massumi, Erin Manning, Mark Hansen, Ian Bogost, and Tim Morton are among the keynotes, while lesser mortals like myself, Mackenzie Wark (not so lesser last time I checked), and others known to the philoso-blogosphere (Woodard, Stanescu, Denson, et al.) are also scheduled to present.

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Democracy of Objects

Levi Bryant’s The Democracy of Objects is finally available and readable on-line, courtesy of a wonderfully innovative relationship between Open Humanities Press and the University of Michigan Library’s Scholarly Publishing Office. The book is part of OHP’s New Metaphysics Series, edited by Graham Harman and Bruno Latour.

As regular readers know, Levi has been a longtime philosophical companion and frequent sparring partner to this blog. On occasion that sparring has gotten enflamed, but the heat has always, in the end, generated much light — which is what philosophical sparring is all about. I’ve read parts of the book in an earlier version and strongly recommend it; it’s an important contribution to contemporary efforts to carve out a post-anthropocentric metaphysics.

The Speculative Realist blogosphere has recently been alight with debates over the role of religion, God, theism versus nihilism, the secular and the “post-secular,” and other such things. Since these are topics I’m naturally interested, and somewhat invested, in, I ought to participate, but time constraints have made that all but impossible for me recently.

(One of those constraints is a trip this week to the Rachel Carson Center in Munich for “Moving Environments: Affect, Emotion, and Ecocinema,” about which I intend to blog, and perhaps live-blog, while there. I leave tomorrow, so stay tuned for more on that.)

Adam’s post Knowledge Ecology provides a useful way into these discussions, but see also these posts at Footnotes to Plato (and this one), Plastic Bodies, Immanent Transcendence, Larval Subjects, and After Nature.

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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 »

conversions & convertibles

(I try not to edit things once they’re published, but I couldn’t resist adding a Chevy Impala to this blog.)

It may not quite be Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, as Graham Harman’s blog post title suggests, but Chris Vitale has clearly had a change of heart, a dropping of resistance that’s resulted in a much warmer embrace of object-oriented ontology. The latter has now become, for Chris, a “fellow-traveller,” a compatible and friendly sparring partner at the very least, and certainly no longer an opponent. The difference between OOO and the process-relational views Chris, Steve Shaviro, I, and others have espoused is not one of radical incommensurability but one of emphasis, language, and not much more (as I’ve said myself, for instance here.)

In a series of two posts, Chris announces that change of heart — in terms that remind me a little of Tim Morton’s actual conversion on the road to Damascus — and then fleshes out the main differences and how they are collapsing. What follow are my initial thoughts on Chris’s posts. I’ll be out of commission for the rest of the day and most of tomorrow, and these thoughts are written quickly and imperfectly.

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Process-relational theory primer

One of the tasks of this blog, since its inception in late 2008, has been to articulate a theoretical-philosophical perspective that I have come to call “process-relational.” This is a theoretical paradigm and an ontology that takes the basic nature of the world to be that of relational process: that is, it understands the basic constituents of the world to be events of encounter, acts or moments of experience that are woven together to constitute the processes by which all things occur, unfold, and evolve. Understanding ourselves and our relations with the world around us in this way, it is argued, can help us unwind ourselves from out of a set of dualisms that have ensnared modern thought over the last few centuries. In contrast to materialist, idealist, dualist, and other perspectives that have dominated modern western philosophy, a process-relational perspective more explicitly recognizes the dynamic, complex, systemic, and evolving nature of reality.

What follows is a brief summary of the process-relational perspective. It is followed by some bibliographic starting points and by a list of links to some of the more substantive posts on this blog that have dealt with process-relational theory.

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SR, Whitehead, etc.

I’m just catching up with this interesting exchange between Gary Williams (Minds and Brains), Graham Harman, and Tom Sparrow (Plastic Bodies). Williams takes issue with Harman’s and others’ portrayal of Speculative Realism as “revolutionary.” “The narrative of ‘finally’ moving beyond the ‘Kantian nightmare’”, he writes, “is tired and overplayed.” He argues that it’s not a big revelation that there is a world that’s independent of human minds. In reply, Harman and Sparrow defend the Speculative Realists’ originality and claim that Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger, and others did not sufficiently break with Kantian “correlationism.”

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The previously announced ‘Vibrant Matter’ reading group will take place across five blogs over five weeks, beginning May 23 and ending June 26. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things is the latest book by Johns Hopkins University political theorist Jane Bennett. Philosophy in a Time of Error has posted a very useful overview of the book, along with an interview with its author. Anyone interested in participating is invited to read these, and to order your copy of the book in time for the first session. (I’ve asked Duke University Press about a possible discount for participants, but not heard back from them. Here in the States, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Overstock.com offer the best deals at the moment.)

The reading schedule will be as follows:

May 23-29

Host blog: Philosophy in a Time of Error (Peter Gratton)

Under discussion: Preface & Chapter 1, “The Force of Things” (and overview/interview).

May 30-June 5

Host blog: Critical Animal (James Stanescu)

Under discussion: Chapters 2 and 3, “The Agency of Assemblages” and “Edible Matter.”

June 6-12

Host blog: Naught Thought (Ben Woodard)

Under discussion: Chapters 4 and 5, “A Life of Matter” and “Neither Vitalism nor Mechanism.”

June 13-19

Host blog: An und für sich (Anthony Paul Smith)

Under discussion: Chapters 6 and 7, “Stem Cells and the Culture of Life” and “Political Ecologies”

June 20-26

Host blog: Immanence (Adrian Ivakhiv)

Under discussion: Chapter 8, “Vitality and Self-interest,” and the book as a whole (final overview).

All welcome!