Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Oblivious Philosophers; Enlightenment and Extinction, Part 3


In the last post we saw Brassier commending the work of Paul Churchland's Eliminative Materialism while at the same time criticizing the fact that Churchland ascribed pragmatic virtues to both the brains function (generally speaking) and a circumscribed theory of the brain based on this same ideal of pragmatism. This paved the way for the concept of anti-correlationism where Brassier wants to rigorously dismantle conceptual thought from Philosophy, and any sort of being in general. Later on, he gives a much more concrete example of this anti-correlationist gesture in the concept of the arche-fossil first prescribed by Quentin Meillassoux. What is an arche-fossil? "An 'arche-fossil' is a material indicating traces of 'ancestral' phenomena anterior even to the emergence of life." This description already functions to separate "life" from an anterior phenomena. This anterior phenomena is understood by philosophers as a potential to manifest into an us. Beyond this, philosophers in the post-Kantian style will ascribe "transcendental" properties to this anteriority by admitting that while they can't know anything that happens prior to being, they can know that certain things always had to be the case independent of our existence. It's where we find Husserl saying that Euclid's geometrical theorems would exist independent of anyone existing. The basic idea in this example is that the geometrical universe would operate the same way regardless of it being seen as having laws for us. But this can't be said for Brassier. We can't freely ascribe our laws to something that was never a matter of lawfulness. At the heart of Brassier's argument is the simple distinction between existing and not existing, and if consciousness (the nervous system) did not exist, then nothing can be said of it. What natural science discovers as existing independent of us is surely vast, and it's this vastness that philosophers are oblivious to because they think everything is in relation to them (the manifest image). We will let Brassier speak for the vastness of what natural science discovers and in doing so, we will come to understand how what has been discovered by science is minimal to the philosopher par excellence. This lack of understanding by the philosopher will further establish the nature of man to attribute everything outside of himself to himself (anthropomorphism) that we even saw in the scientific thought of Paul Churchland's placement of values upon consciousness. This anthropomorphic gesture is much more conspicuous in the philosopher than the scientist. Brassier will find it most strictly in what's understood as post-Kantian philosophy.

Science wants to understand what happens outside of human existence. This arch-fossile gesture "provides the material basis for experiments yielding estimates of ancestral phenomena- - such as the radioactive isotope whose rate of decay provides an index of the age of distant stars. Natural science produces ancestral statements, such as that the universe is roughly 13.7 billion years old, that the earth formed roughly 4.5 billion years ago, that life developed on earth approximately 3.5 billion years ago, and that the earliest ancestors of the genus Homo emerged about 2 million years ago." Brassier privileges natural science here in being able to index an arche-history where nothing can be said of it except factual observations where we happen to be included in an approximation of our historical duration (2 million years). These statements aren't based on pure reason. We can't sit around and speculate to the fact that the genus Homo emerged approximately 2 million years ago. We can come to know this through scientific discovery, in this case the dating of a variety of fossils. Not only can we know what happened prior to human existence, but we can know protentive facts like the earth being incinerated in approximately 4 billion years, and that "eventually, one trillion, trillion, trillion years from now, all matter in the cosmos will disintegrate into unbound elementary particles." This is interesting stuff for Brassier and wonders why philosophers aren't more interested in these scientific discovery's (why don't philosophers watch Carl Sagan's Cosmos seriously?) "Philosophers should be more astonished by such statements than they seem to be, for they present a serious problem for post-Kantian philosophy. Yet strangely, the latter seems to remain entirely oblivious to it." Generally speaking, philosophy understood through Kant wants to understand the conceptual intelligibility of existence, but how can conceptual intelligibility account for something that wasn't conceptual? On top of this, why do these scientific discoveries not press on the philosopher to understand himself independent of himself at the "places" of the arche-fossil? "For all their various differences, post-Kantian philosophers can be said to share one fundamental conviction: that the idea of a world-in-itself, subsisting independently of our relation to it, is an absurdity." Again, Brassier labels Kant and philosophy that has followed Kant as the philosophy of the manifest image, and rightly so. It's Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason who sets out to understand the possibility of experience by ascribing transcendental categories to consciousness. For Kant, the transcendental aesthetic isn't space and time understood independent of us, the observers, but it's understood precisely as the cognitive preconditions for experience at all. In other words, space and time exist in so far as we experience a world as space and time. Kant doesn't say that space and time exist independent of us, and in this sense he's faithful to what he can and cannot say, but his intention on the other hand is just that, an intention. More specifically, it's an intention to privilege human consciousness as something that must be understood if we are to understand experience. What we infer from Kant's project is that he's concerned with how he can know, and not merely with how things happen independent of the fact that he can know. Kant isn't settled with the fact that he is a knower, but further wants to prop the knowledge status to a transcendental level by understanding how knowledge is possible in the first place by laying down preconditions for his knowing. In modernity (20th and 21st century "continental" philosophy), these transcendental categories become aggrandized into much more absolute and less specific categories as our "pre-theoretical relation to the world, whether characterized as Dasein or 'Life', which provides the ontological precondition for the intelligibility of the scientific claims listed above." The project of Ontology in general doesn't become one of understanding phenomena in general, but of our being in general. It's these pre-theoretical relations to the world that make it possible for theory to be possible in the first place. It's not difficult to understand Heidegger as a mystical/secular-religious thinker with his emphasis on Dasein that takes on a transcendental connotation of its own by signifying something that can't be put into words, yet is put into one word that signifies that it can't signify (this is a religious gesture). It's this attitude that makes Brassier incensed. "No wonder, then, that post-Kantian philosophers routinely patronize these and other scientific assertions about the world as impoverished abstractions whose meaning supervenes on this more fundamental sub-representational or pre-theoretical relation to phenomena." One obvious example of this is when Heidegger refers to scientific time as a "vulgar" conception of time. Instead, Heidegger wants to see time as referring to our finitude. Time is specifically our finitude. It doesn't exist outside of us. In this sense, he is squarely in the spot of post-Kantian philosophy. More specifically, Heidegger religiousizes death over life in order to make "Life" more mythological since it is finite. This is only possible through our time. Throughout all this, the focus is always on the idea that we die, that we are alive, that time is here for us to die. If Heidegger's nostalagizing instincts were to be truly faithful, it would have nostalagized not thinking about being towards death (the negation of the thought), but an alterity to our existence isn't in the purview of mawkish instincts. For Brassier, this post-Kantian attitude that we have just described through Heidegger can be found in what Meillassoux calls "correlationism." "Correlationism affirms the indissoluble primacy of the relation between thought and its correlation over the metaphysical hypostatization or representationalist reification of either term of the relation." In other words, we have "Life-World" and "thought." Neither of these terms are to be privileged over one another. We live in a reciprocal "co-propriation" where thinking and being exist together. It's here where we have the cosmopolitan sloganeering of "living alongside the world" that has become the money-marketers bread for green-technology. Correlationism affirms the absolute connection between us and everything else that can possibly be outside of us. Out of all the infinite contingent possibilities that can happen in the universe, they have to be in reference to us. It's this idea that Brassier will take to task in the name of anti-correlationism in the following pages of Enlightenment and Extinction. For now though, we get a sense that the philosopher (generally speaking) is scared of what's other than himself not being relative to himself. For however much this "pre-theoretical" realm would like to dazzle the reader with a sense of something larger than himself that he will never be able to understand, this bedazzlement may have a much more vulnerable center than what is initially understood. This secularized belief of "the world being larger than me" easily makes the subject satisfied as much as the evangelical who can forever forgive their sins. If anything, it's much easier to be satisfied in the transcendental concept of Dasein than the evangelical belief system because one has to do nothing except feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves. The religious believer had to go to church. The secular believer just has to think that he's smarter than religious believers. In this sense, the secular believer extends the sphere of pride 10 fold.

These final thoughts though were made on a sociological basis which is getting away from the strict thought that Brassier is conveying. Brassier stays within the limitations of the empirico-reality when critiquing post-Kantian philosophy. For him, "we cannot extend the chain of possible perceptions back prior to the emergence of nervous systems, which provide the material conditions for the possibility of perceptual experience." In other words, we can't perceive what was before the nervous system. Scientific discourse then operates not in reference to ourselves, but reference to itself, a philosophy that is not a philosophy if you will. It can borrow terminology it makes up for itself and apply it to its own studies without having to ask where this terminology "first came from." Spontaneous creation and and study happen all the time and is applicable to something that has nothing to do with us and no one is feeling guilty for the fact that we don't first have an understanding of consciousness because no one cares that we are thinking beings. We use what comes to us spontaneously to witness the arche-fossil in scientific terms. The axioms need no axioms. No descriptive science is first needed to "work from the bottom in order to get to the top." "Getting to the bottom of things" doesn't matter. To take place anywhere at anytime is the experience of science. It's the experience that anti-correlationism will hope to establish by decentering something called "the subject" of consciousness not in order to establish it's contradictory alterity, but to do what it does, independent of the hardened philosophical dialectic that have solidified contradiction as the absolute. Where Hegel combines contradiction into the absolute, anti-correlationism will show how contradiction is not an absolute because it's not possible in the first place because the predicate of alterity is already assumed in the concept of contradiction (making an opposite not something that is "other" than what is "now"). This nuanced logic of Meillassoux we will go into in the next post. For the time being, Carl Sagan is calling with that badass German ambient music as the background theme to the Cosmos. For the self-identified philosophers, there's hot tea to be sipped on and life experiences to be discussed amongst each other where no one actually listens and everyone simply talks.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Being Quirky and Being Smart

This is what happens when you score less than an 1100 on your GRE's. You become Zooey Deschanel.

As a one off to the analysis of Brassier's Enlightenment and Extinction, I felt a compulsion to distinguish between the quirky disposition and an intelligent person (notice I felt no need to refer to the intelligent person as the "intelligent disposition"). As the surrounding socio-cultural spectrum accepts the new year, an observation needs to be made distinguishing the quirky person from the intelligent person. To put it simply, when someone is not as smart as they think they are, they tend to rely on images of themselves where they appear smart. This confusion is irritating. The scientist and the engineer for example (generally speaking) live out their lives and appearance with a lack of recognition for either. The chemist for example mixes chemicals to create a solvent which is used to clean printing plates. They go back home and don't think of themselves. They may be sparked with a passing interest in a field independent of themselves but there's a sense of limitation of what they don't know (this we can call intelligence). A passive interest is just that compared to what they do all day. These intelligent people we can say fall under the category of "interest in some trades, master of one." On the other hand, the self-consciously quirky personality makes large efforts to appear intelligent by looking peculiar into cameras. Because someone looks weird, doesn't make them intelligent. It just makes them look dumb and unaware of their own limitations. While we are using Zooey Deschanel as an example of this phenomena, we can look at Scarlett Johansson as the opposite of Deschanel. From watching the films that Johansson has starred in, it's fairly obvious she's not the sharpest tool in the shed nor a great actress (she does what she does in her limited roles and limited lines given to her). All that being said, there's a feeling that Johansson knows her limitations by the fact that she hasn't allowed herself to be commercialized as the "weird intelligent" type. The images of Johansson are straight up sexy, albeit lacking in the subtle intelligent appearance that belongs to Sharon Stone for example (who's not afraid to give a wide open soft smile). The salient point I'm trying to make is very simply that "appearances can be deceiving," and in this case, the appearance of looking intelligent can be very deceiving. In the future, for anyone who would like to be around people where trusting what they say is a premium (not simply on factual grounds, but on ethical grounds), then staying clear of these quirky looking, odd dressing, attention seeking image seekers is a place to start. Of course this is a generalization, and you can never judge a book by its cover. But maybe you can. Maybe this ideal of "not judging a book by its cover" needs to be examined more closely. Maybe the line between physical appearance and mental aptitude is more thin than once thought. Ultimately though, this isn't a call to making everyone "intelligent," 1. because the idea of "intelligence" is fairly relative (someone who can build a house from scratch is certainly as intelligent as someone who can publish a book) and 2. there maybe some people who are quite fine in their intellectual limitations. It's here in the second point where the idea of intelligence can manifest a somewhat universal concept; know your limitations. And those who don't know their limitations may end up looking like Zooey Deschanel allowing cameras to make her appear smart, not be smart. Of course, it's not just the cameras; it's what she shows to the camera.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Loving love being talked about

Les gens n'aurait jamais tomber dans l'amour s'ils n'avait pas entendu l'amour a parle. - La Rochefoucauld

People would never fall in love
if they had not heard love being talked about.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Virtues of Neuroscience; Enlightenment and Extinction, Part 2

The Virtuous Brain (always working for the benefit of itself?)

In the beginning of Enlightenment and Extinction, Brassier weighs neuroscience against the manifest image. Brassier finds the manifest image as a subtle theoretical construct that we can understand as our original pre-scientific understanding of the world always and already. We can understand the manifest image more specifically in the Heideggerian concept of Being, and Derrida's insistence of asking what the question of the question is. Both of these gestures are theoretical constructs that put the ontological question in the hands of a sphere that can't be accounted for. We rely on our original "seeing of the world" when trying to understand this pre-scientific sphere. In phenomenology, we rely on our first-person perspective to understand the world independent of the scientific understanding of the world that this manifest image would like to discredit for not understanding an ostensible wholly other that always and already happens to being. Brassier follows the argument of Paul Churchland that attempts to annex the manifest image to the scientific image. Instead of seeing the pre-scientific world as something that precedes science's understanding of the world, the pre-scientific world can be accounted for in the 3rd person by the observational disposition of scientific work. Both Brassier and Churchland are critical of the mysterious realm that post-Kantian philosophy would like to ascribe to this experience. Instead they find a less mystical, and more specific understanding of being before being in the neurocomputational alternative where we observe the kinematics of cognition through brain activation patterns and the synaptic structure that permits neurons to pass on electrical signals to other cells or neurons. In the last post we discussed Brassier relying on and privileging this "hard science" over the mystical proclivities of philosophers. While Brassier commends Churchland's work of eliminative materialism for showing that our common sense conception of psychological phenomena is wrong and naive (folk psychology), he finds problems with the metaphysical descriptions (virtues) he gives to brain patterns that were to annex the manifest image of consciousness. Brassier commends the reductionist gestures of eliminative materialism for showing that folk psychology is incapable of understanding "meaning" and "pre-scientific intuitions," but wonders if these ideas of "meaning" and "meaningfulness" are concepts that need to be called into question in the first place. Where Churchland will find cognitive science as being able to answer these questions, Brassier wonders if these are questions to even ask in the first places because they're at an absolute distance from knowledge. With Churchland's enthusiasm for the vector activation understanding (PVA) of consciousness comes an idealism. Churchland ascribes virtues to the brain and how it functions ostensibly independent of our linguistic formulations about ourselves as beings of consciousness without realizing that he's borrowing the terminology of folk psychology to make these claims. Brassier will take him to task for this in order to humble the hypostatic gesture of neuroscience that doesn't realize its borrowing gestures. Brassier wants to take Churchland's eliminative materialism further than Churchland took it to de-representationalize the neurocomputational model away from this hypostasis, or metaphysics of consciousness if you will. The virtues of the brain that Churchland thinks represent brain processes aren't virtues, but something below the linguistic and representative realm. To "understand" this, we first need to understand what the brain is not doing; being a virtuous substance.

"Churchland is perfectly explicit in explaining why he considers the PVA paradigm of cognition to be 'better' than its folk-psychological rivals, and he proposes a precise formula for gauging theoretical excellence. Global excellence of theory is measured by straightforwardly pragmatic virtues: maximal explanatory cohesiveness vis-a-vis maximal empirical heterogeneity purchased via minimal conceptual expenditure." For Churchland, there is a "better" way for understanding consciousness than others, specifically the PVA neurocomputational model instead of the manifest image which we talked about in regards to Kantian and post-Kantian philosophy. Churchland asks us to move in the direction of pragmatism instead of trying to look for some universal truth in cognitive activity. In other words, he wants us to use a pragmatic theoretical model when explaining the brain. The put it more simply, the brain for Churchland is to be explained via the basic principle of Occam's razor; pragmatism's venerable grandchild. Now, what are these pragmatic virtues that are found in Occam's razor that define the ambitions of neuroscience (broadly speaking of course)? "In what sense precisely are theoretical virtues such as simplicity, unity, and coherence necessarily concomitant at the neurological level with an organism's reproductively advantageous behavior? Churchland simply stipulates that the aforementioned virtues are already a constitutive feature of the brain's functional architecture without offering anything in the way of argument regarding how and why it is that neural network's learned configuration in synaptic weight space is necessarily constrained by the imperative of unity, cohesion, and simplicity." The pragmatic virtues we are referring to then are "simplicity, unity, and coherence." To be as straightforward as possible, the brain is simple, coherent and unified because its behavior is in the service of advantageous reproduction. We will see later on that the idea of consciousness as reproductively advantageous is problematic. This will crumble the idea of the structure of consciousness being pragmatic because we will see it having no end, making our imputations of virtues upon its phenomena null. Churchland simply asks us to follow a pragmatic model with the idea in mind that this is more "beneficial" towards understanding consciousness. Essentially it's more beneficial to see consciousness as beneficial. But where do these beneficial pro-reproductive concepts come from? If they don't come from folk-psychology alone, they belong to a history of metaphysics that would like to see things simply and in a unified manner. But is this not a predilection of the ontology of literature? This is what Brassier takes Churchland to task on. "In order to make a case for the neurocomputational necessity of superempirical virtues, Churchland would need to demonstrate that the latter are indeed strictly information theoretic constraints intrinsic to the vector coding process, as opposed to extrinsic regulatory considerations contingently imposed on the network in the course of its ongoing interaction with the environment." How's it possible to say that the superempirical virtues of pragmatism operate in the brain without having a lexicon of pragmatic concepts to be able to execute this description? This lexicon of pragmatic concepts are the luxury of a historical world already developed. If Churchland were to play Hegel and find these specific pragmatic virtues as the development of the world into the recognition of itself (as a pragmatic one), then he would somehow have to contend with the fact that folk-psychological concepts for instance are more prevalent than pragmatic ones which he finds inferior to the nuerocomputational explanation. The problem is not in the neurocomputational explanation of consciousness itself. The problem is in attaching virtues to this model. The problem is really in saying "this model is better than this model," not because the neurocomputational model may be a superior model for understanding consciousness, but because many different descriptions and methods are available to an explanation of consciousness regardless of which model's enthusiasts think their model is "true." Brassier will want to lead science into not saying that it's a better model than a folk-psychological model of consciousness for example. It doesn't matter for the science of consciousness that there are other approaches towards the understanding of consciousness. Once it feels that it's in competition with something it ought to already knows it's not in competition with, then it will apply virtues to its method in order the strengthen its legitimacy. This justification of course ought not to be in the mind of the pure observational scientist. The question of this ever being possible needs to be asked (Derrida would be an obvious reference as someone who would say this is absolutely not possible). The more we move on in this text, the more we will gain a sense in which Brassier can or cannot operate as a pure observer. For now, "The trouble then is that in arguing that simplicity, unity, and coherence are constitutive functional features of the brain's neuroanatomy, Churchland is but one slippery step away from claiming that brains represent the world correctly as a matter of evolutionary necessity, i.e. that they necessarily have 'true' representations. Unfortunately, this is precisely the sort of claim that Churchland had swore to abjure: 'Natural selection does not care whether a brain has or tends towards true beliefs, so long as the organism reliably exhibits reproductively advantageous behavior.'" The problem again is in finding the brain as a "reproductively advantageous" organ. This is a true belief. What Churchland is erroneously saying is that natural selection does not care if a brain has true beliefs, as long as it has one true belief in being reproductively advantageous. So then, natural selection does care towards the belief in reproduction. There will be ample time in the next post to show how this is not the case (the belief in "Nature" being "reproductively advantageous"). The problem now is imputing belief to an organism that doesn't operate in beliefs a contrario to the human being who has developed beliefs in the manifest image in order to describe phenomena on its own terms. As we stated in the past post though, Brassier will need to explain how consciousness is able to come up with something like the manifest image instead of consciousness operating under the auspices of the neurocomputational model. In other words, how does the figurative explanation of phenomena (via lingustic formation through western philosophy through German idealism) happen by way of observation of the neurocomputational model? Is this a question that can be answered by the neurocomputational model? Is this a question to be answered at all? To be clear though, Brassier isn't saying that it's not possible to give a linguistic formulation pertaining to neuro-phenomenal experience. "That successful networks do indeed tend to exhibit these superempirical characteristics as a matter of empirical fact is uncontroversial, but it is a fact about cognitive ethology..." For us, we understand the microbiological structure of the brain in terms of superempirical characteristics which is to say it "makes sense only within the macrophysical purview of evolutionary biology." In other words, what happens in the brain is at an absolute independence from what we casually observe to be happening in the brain based on our macro-beliefs in evolution. " seems that the the superempirical virtues Churchland invokes in order to discriminate between theories must remain extra-neurological characteristics, characteristics which reveal themselves only in the course of an ethological analysis of the organism's cognitive behavior within the world, rather than via a neurological analysis of the brain's microstructure." In other words, our analysis through language of other organisms using our own lexicon of beliefs are beyond what happens on a neurological level. How the neurological level is to be understood at all remains to be seen, but applying pragmatic and evolutionary adjectives to its function is reasoning on the side of extrinsic considerations, those extrinsic considerations plainly being what's good for us (being).

The problem with phenomenology was always its own premise; philosophy as a descriptive science. The problem with this is a sense that there was a lack of rigor in understanding phenomena in our own terms. There was always the fact of having to borrow concepts from a developed language to try to describe something that happened independent of this historically developed language. If phenomenology exhausted one thing, it was the idea of how much linguistic description could be made of phenomena. Husserl's work is an archive of figurative descriptions of phenomena. Regardless of how extensive Husserl's work was though, there was the sense that linguistic expression couldn't "show" the micophysiology of consciousness. As we stated in the last post though, Husserl was without the luxury of modern cognitive technology, and so relied on pure reason as the method for science. As cognitive science develops though, it would help to have a reading of these basic readings to see how extensive the descriptive sphere could be exhausted when pertaining to consciousness. This would help in the fact that thinkers would be much less apt to apply "superempirical" terminology to something that was happening independent of it. While phenomenology acted as a descriptive science, it made sure not to act as a teleological science and Husserl took great pains to introduce much of his work with a Cartesian reduction so the reader could operate without the reader wanting to apply presuppositions to the work at hand, regardless of how innocuous these presuppositions may have been (pragmatic presuppositions). This much neuroscience could learn from phenomenology. It's this much that Brassier understands and how he is able to work within the extensive space of Heidegger and Churchland. He's able to see the benefits of a "pure science" when observing phenomena but also able to criticize a scientific method if it isn't aware of itself as relying on metaphor or applying a naive teleological presupposition to its work. His work on Paul Churchland thus far has proven Brassier as a faithful thinker in this regard. The question will be how he will be able to understand consciousness scientifically independent of metaphor, i.e language, or whether this is even possible. If not, the understanding of something called "consciousness" will have to be obviated when "seeing" anything in general pertaining to an "understanding of consciousness." It's here where a nuanced, subtle, but clear nihilistic disposition will pave the way for some very interesting thoughts. How to reconcile this nihilistic disposition with any "understanding" in general will be very interesting. As a preliminary question, what is the relation between nihilism and science?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Introduction to Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction

These captions under pictures are getting really boring.

At the end of D&G's Anti-Oedipus, we learn about the idea of "rupturing causality." We see causality manifesting itself from an interested party (an interested personality). "So this then that" is the semantical operation of being. Something happens, therefore it means this. In the last post I discussed wanting to move into the anti-correlationist theory of speculative realism to get a deeper understanding of this possibility of obviating causality. The first text to take on regarding this possibility is Ray Brassier's Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction. While this is the first text we will take on, Ray Brassier doesn't start this anti-correlationist thought. If it finds its "historical place," it's in a discussion between Francios Laruelle and Derrida in 1988 (This discussion can be read here: This discussion I will want to do a close read on in at least 2 parts after the analysis of Enlightenment and Extinction. The reason for choosing Enlightenment and Extinction first is from an instinct of it being a good general overview of the basics of speculative realism. As it was published in 2007, it's relatively recent. It will be the first text I do a close analysis of from an author who isn't dead yet. This is also exciting. How many times does one read an author and think to themselves, "man, I wish they were still alive to see what they think today?" In this sense, the reading of the history of philosophy is a constant catching up to writers who aren't dead yet. You will be able to address them while they're alive and you have the basic grounds of western conceptual thought under your belt to understand the concepts and verbiage from their text (if one has done somewhat of a detailed reading of western philosophy). For better or worse, without historical perspective, neither I, nor Brassier can refer to the proper name of "Hegel" without a reading of "Hegel." I say "for better or worse" because the impulse to obviate the historical perspective from experience in speculative realism is so obvious that a mere skimming over the basic texts scream this at you. This impulse of course is not new and doesn't become vogue with the "officiality" of speculative realism. The critique of the historical perspective defining experience comes in its "formal form" as early as Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition as far as the 20th century is concerned. This will be a topic to be addressed throughout our acquaintance with speculative realism; the usage of the historical perspective when trying to become a non-historical perspective. It's this idea that the Derrida-Laruelle discussion illuminates very well. With Ray Brassier though, we hope to gain a general overview of speculative realism in order to go deeper into its other authors and other works by Brassier himself. This post then will be a very basic introduction to what Enlightenment and Extinction is trying to explain. When we get further and deeper into the text we will uncover the substance behind the preface and the introduction (as always with a book of this conceptual magnitude). We will see from the beginning that Brassier is not simply speaking on behalf of anti-correlationsism, but nihilism. The connection between the two will become obvious through the reading of this text. To start off though, lets try to understand the basics of the title of the text and let Brassier speak for himself.

Firstly, lets take a close look at the title of this book. Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction. Nihil is latin for "nothing." "Unbound" is not being bound. From this we can understand Nihil Unbound conceptually as a nothingness that is not bound. We gain the sense that the nothingness being conveyed by Brassier is not going to have a meaning. It's not going to be bound by meaning. Its nothingness is boundless. Enlightenment and Extinction. Enlightenment is reason's understanding of an experience that happened previous to "itself." One becomes enlightened when a thought comes to one's head. Classically understood, enlightenment happens from a realization from a past experience. This realization gives meaning to "something that happened." The meaning is an extra of something that always happens. Enlightenment in this title is connected to Extinction. Extinction of course is death and an end. We can infer from this part of the title that there is something combining realization and death. When we realize something, we die. The amount of ways of reading this is too vast to try to elaborate on now. This will speak for itself throughout the text. For now though, we have a nothingness that is not bound that is tied to a realization that brings about death. At the very least, we can infer that when one realizes themselves, they are supposed to die into a nothingness that has no meaning a contrario to the Hegelian supposition of the nothing that is still something. At the very least we can infer that man (being) sees himself in a relationship to something outside of himself and defines himself as such, rather than understanding the fact that what is outside of itself is not a matter of understanding. Whether these characterizations of inference will be brought out through this text remains to be seen. A general guess at the title is a good start to throwing oneself into the text though. Now that we have taken our guesses at the text, lets let Brassier speak for himself from the very beginning. "This term 'nihilism' has a hackneyed quality. Too much has been written on the topic , and any sense of urgency that the word might once has communicated has been dulled by overexposure. The result is a vocable tainted by dreary over-familiarity and nebulous indeterminacy. Nevertheless, few other topics of philosophical debate exert such an immediate grip on people with little or no interest in the problems of philosophy as the claim of nihilism in its most 'naive' acceptation: existence is worthless." From this we understand that Brassier takes nihilism seriously. Anybody who is passionate about anything in experience will be frustrated by the over-popularization of what's considered an important concept by that thinker. Brassier sees no sense of urgency in the term. He sees no one having a grasp of nihilism beyond its hackneyed connotation of "existence is worthless." Brassier asks us not to jump out of our seats at this hackneyed meaning. Brassier's compulsion is to take nihilism seriously as an opportunity, not as a system of personal identification which would be its absolute worst function and form. He admits this to himself at the beginning of of Enlightenment and Extinction. "This book was spurred by the conviction that this apparently banal assertion harbors hidden depths which have yet to be sounded by philosophers..." For Brassier, there are hidden depths beyond nihilism's popularized connotations of "existence is meaningless." These depths we will explore through this text. To start off, it would be good to say what nihilism is not. This negative impulse will serve us in understanding its affirmative and opportunistic function. "First and foremost, it does not treat nihilism as a disease, requiring diagnosis and the recommendation of an antidote. But neither does it extol the pathos of finitude as a bulwark against metaphysical hubris..." At the very least, the concept of nihilism is not to be understood as a problem. This nihilistic concept is an explanation and an opportunity, not a psychological disease that needs to be "cured." On the other hand, this concept is not to be understood as a social call to experiential relativism regardless of how much the latter may be observed in the concept when it's fleshed out. There's a sense that Brassier is aiming at general Heideggerianism when he sees nihilism not as something to be understood in terms of privileging finitude against classical metaphysics. We can sense that finitude becomes a transcendental concept for Brassier and hence lacks the substance of nihilism's "quality" by this transcendence, regardless of how secular the concept of "finitude" may be. A transcendental concept need not be simply religious to give the thinker a sense of well-being. Giving myself the luxury of generalization, I would say that right now (culturally speaking) is a heightened time of situating secularized idols, whether this be passive pantheism (E.G. tarot cards) or hyper-aware environmentalism. As we learn from Nietzsche, the Christian God can be dead while God(s) still remain (literally, Nietzsche's impulse to call his text Twilight of the Idols). Brassier wants to warn the reader from nostalagizing finitude in hopes of curtailing the self-satisfied nature that being in general takes. It's this self-satisfied quality to being that will make being not understand the depths of nihilism, and instead where shirts with skulls on the front as a grand finale to ones identity finding. As was stated above, this would be the opposite of nihilism's impulse, and really any thinking that could be called philosophical. In general, the protection of a concept from a stabilized identity is a conspicuous philosophical gesture. This loyalty is large with Brassier's desire of understanding nihilism. Nihilism is neither a problem nor a solution. Death as God is not a solution when there's no problem to begin with. Instead of seeing nihilism as a problem or a transcendental solution, Brassier sees nihilism as "an achievement of intellectual maturity." As we watch the Twilight of the Idols, we are growing up. Also, what nihilism is not, is "a pathological exacerbation of subjectivism, which annuls the world and reduces reality to a correlate of the absolute ego, but on the contrary is the unavoidable corollary of the realist conviction that there is a mind-independent reality, which, despite the presumptions of human narcissism, is indifferent to our existence and oblivious to the 'values' and 'meanings' which we would drape over it in order to make it more hospitable. Nature is not our or anyone's 'home,' nor a particularly beneficent progenitor. Philosophers would do well to desist from issuing any further injunctions about the need to re-establish the meaningfulness of existence, the purposefulness of life, or mend the shattered concord between man and nature. Philosophy should be more than a sop to the pathetic twinge of human self-esteem." I let Brassier speak here beyond the point I wanted to intend to give the reader a more direct gateway to Brassier's impulse. Certainly, seeing the possibility of Philosophy as a "pathetic twinge of human self-esteem" speaks loudly. Much like Husserl, Brassier sees Philosophy as a mature opportunity for being, not a subjective identification of topical "meaningfulness." If the mind tells us anything for the realist, it's that this mind-reality happens regardless of our presupposition of "human freedom." The mind happens regardless of what we think of as "valuable" and "meaningful" which for Brassier are expressions to make what we call "nature" more hospitable. It will be interesting to understand how Brassier explains this phenomena of the "belief in human freedom." It will be interesting to see how Brassier explains "belief" in general. But to our point, the mind independent reality for the realist is a mind that happens without the figurative explanations of language. With this in mind, we can understand Brassier as relying on cognitive science and "hard science." If the "hard science" of the mind should rely on metaphors itself, it will be closer to the realist conception that offers no end to its investigations. Scientific metaphor will be more faithful to philosophical inquiry than freedom speak, so to speak. With a closer look at the scientific nature of "Nature," we will see that "Nature" is not our home nor a particularly beneficent progenitor. "Nature" is not here to help us out. "Nature" can certainly harm us and this can be seen not only in natural disasters but more specific and interesting examples like the self-cannibalism of leaf-insects which Brassier goes into later in the text. It's with this in mind that Philosophy should not provide itself an end and meaning ahead of time in its investigations if its to be a rigorous science that acts "despite the presumptions of human narcissism." Again, it will be interesting to understand the nihilistic-realist understanding of the "presumptions of human narcissism" that Brassier realizes exists.

For Brassier, "nihilism is not an existential quandary but a speculative opportunity." "Thinking has interests that do not coincide with those of living; indeed, they can and have been pitted against the latter." It's with this in mind that as readers we need to be thinkers first and foremost rather than "living beings" with this text if we are to read it faithfully. We can't see nihilism as a "problem" that needs to be solved, and even a "problem that can't be solved" as we eternally sulk in despair at the obvious connotation belonging to nihilism. We are to take the concept of nihilism as something much deeper than "happy being sad." It is neither an existential problem nor a psychological problem which basically mean the same things. We have an intellectual opportunity to see things exactly how they are without seeing them "as is," and "for us." This thinking will not know whether it coincides with the benefit of man. It will not know whether it coincides with anything. This thinking starts very much in the same place as the phenomenological epoch but flows into different places than phenomenology, mainly I think because Brassier's nihilism has the luxury of technology on his side (cognitive and ethological technology and discovery). To Brassier's credit though, he has no problem not having a problem with technology. He takes Adorno and Horkheimer to task for nostalogizing a pre-industrial world much like he took Heideggerian finitude to task for nostalogizing a secularized idol of death which we spoke on above. It will be important to understand Brassier's criticism of Adorno and Horkheimer coming up in this text to fully grasp the realist attitude in not mythologizing anything. As readers of D&G's Anti-Oedipus we already have a strong start to de-mythologizing existence. We hope that Brassier will take us further. His criticism of Adorno and Horheimer's purist proclivities will show Brassier as someone faithful to realism. At this very preliminary stage, we can understand Brassier as someone not only faithful to realism and nihilism, but to the task of Philosophy itself.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Final Quotes from Anti-Oedipus

"You weren't born Oedipus, you caused it to grow in yourself; and you aim to get out of it through fantasy, through castration, but this in turn you have caused to grow in Oedipus - namely, in yourself: the horrible circle. Shit on your whole mortifying, imaginary, and symbolic theater. What does schizoanalysis ask? Nothing more than a bit of a relation to the outside, a little real reality. And we claim the right to a radical laxity, a radical incompetence - the right to enter the analyst's office and say it smells bad there. It reeks of the great death and the little ego."

"To confess, to whine, to complain, to commiserate, always demands a toll. To sing it doesn't cost you a penny."

"To those who say that escaping is not courageous, we answer: ...Courage consists, however, in agreeing to flee rather than live tranquilly and hypocritically in false refuges. Values, morals, homelands, religions, and these private certitudes that our vanity and our complacency bestow generously on us, have as many deceptive sojourns as the world arranges for those who think they are stranding straight and at ease, among stable things. They know nothing of the immense flight that transports them, ignorant of themselves, in the monotonous buzzing of their ever quickening steps that lead them impersonally in a great immobile movement. Consider the example of one who having had the revelation of the mysterious drift, is no longer able to stand living in the false pretenses of residence."

"Let us consider for a moment the motivations that lead someone to be psychoanalyzed: it involves a situation of economic dependence that has become unbearable for desire, or full of conflicts for the investment of desire. The psychoanalyst, who says so many things about the necessity for money in the cure, remains supremely indifferent to the questions of who is footing the bill. For example, the analysis reveals the unconscious conflicts of a woman with her husband, but the husband is paying for his wife's analysis."

"For the unconscious of schizoanalysis is unaware of persons, aggregates, and laws, and of images, structures, and symbols. It is an orphan...It is not an orphan in the sense that the father's name would designate an absence, but in the sense that the unconscious reproduces itself wherever the names of history designate present intensities ('the sea of proper names'). The unconscious is not figurative, since its figural is abstract, the figure-schiz. It is not structural, nor is it symbolic, for its reality is that of the Real in its very production, in its very inorganization. It is not representative, but solely machinic, and productive."

"What makes the schizophrenic ill, since the cause of the illness is not schizophrenia as a process? What transforms the breakthrough into a breakdown? It is the constrained arrest of the process, or its continuation in the void, or the way in which it is forced to take itself as a goal."

"Psychoanalysis ought to be a song of live, or else be worth nothing at all. It ought, practically, to teach us to sing life. And see how the most defeated, sad song of emanates from it: eiapopeia."

"...the product of analysis should be a free and joyous person, a carrier of the life flows, capable of carrying them all the way into the desert and decoding them - even if this idea necessarily took on the appearance of a crazy idea, given what had become of analysis."

"There is no need to tell all over how psychoanalysis culminates in a theory of culture that takes up again the age-old task of the ascetic ideal, Nirvana, the cultural extract, judging life, belittling life, measuring life against death, and only retaining from life what the death of death wants very much to leave us with - a sublime resignation. As Reich says, when psychoanalysis began to speak of Eros, the whole world breathed a sign of relief: one knew what this meant, and that everything was going to unfold within a mortified life, since Thanatos was now the partner of Eros, for worse but also for better."

"No 'gay liberation movement' is possible as long as homosexuality is caught up in a relation of exclusive disjunction with heterosexuality, a relation that ascribes both to a common Oedipal and castrating stock, charged with ensuring only their differentiation in two non-communicating series, instead of bringing to light their reciprocal inclusion and their transverse communication in the decoded flows of desire."