“Nothing will have taken place…”: Meillassoux and the Repetition of Failure

X-posted at AUFS.

“RIEN N’AURA EU LIEU QUE LE LIEU EXCEPTÉ PEUT-ÊTRE UNE CONSTELLATION/NOTHING WILL HAVE TAKEN PLACE BUT THE PLACE EXCEPT PERHAPS A CONSTELLATION” – Stéphane Mallarmé

Quentin Meillassoux’s The Number and the Siren: A Decipherment of Mallarmé’s Coup de dés is a complex work of literary criticism undertaken by a philosopher that often verges on the fantastic. In this review, which I am circumventing the grinding processes of an academic journal and posting to the blogs in the spirit of supporting the work of Urbanomic/Sequence Press, I want to reflect mainly on the the experience of strangeness reading the book and what potentially this project of philosophically-attuned literary criticism may have to offer to continuing discussions in philosophy of religion and political theology. Now, many readers will already be familiar with Adam’s review of the book and so I will do my best not to replicate what he has already written, but find that my own consideration of the text somewhat differ from Adam’s tongue-in-cheek theory that Meillassoux’s project constitutes an ‘independent discovery of Christianity’. Setting this relatively minor disagreement until later, as it is a disagreement in part regarding the value of this project (if one can really call it a disagreement as such), I will only say now that in addition to an independent discovery of Christianity Meillassoux’s reading of Mallarmé also independently discovers the post-Christian secularism of civil religion and the twin failures of both Christianity and Western secularism. But out of this failure, this shipwreck, perhaps Meillassoux and others may perhaps find points, perhaps forming a constellation, about what sort of things philosophy, poetry, and humanity may build after the death of God.

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Meillassoux in New York

Quentin Meillassoux will be giving a lecture this Sunday in New York entitled “The Coup de dés, or the Materialist Divinization of the Hypothesis” to celebrate the launch of the English translation of The Number and the Siren. The location of the lecture is 88 Eldridge Street, 4th floor (just below Grand Street) and begins, again, this Sunday, May 6 at 7pm. Download the flyer [PDF] for more information. The book, translated by Robin Mackay is now available to be purchased from Urbanomic/Sequence Press. I’ll be posting a review of the text here within the next few weeks, but can already tell you the book will be of great interest to those who were challenged by After Finitude as well as those who have perhaps mourned the passing of philosophical engagement in the avant garde.

Caputo on Meillassoux

What follows is an outline of Caputo’s lectures on the future of continental philosophy (both religious and not) that he is currently engaged in at Syracuse University with a few comments of my own. Mostly I want to outline some of the claims he makes and have a discussion about his views on Meillassoux, Brassier, and Laruelle. As of now only the lectures on Meillassoux are online but as Brassier and Laruelle will be coming up soon.

1rst Lecture

Caputo begins by asserting that Meillassoux proceeds like a Descartes sans god, setting forth mediations on correlationism instead  of the cogito. After outlining Leibniz and Descartes’ relation to the Principle of Sufficient Reason, Caputo addresses Kant and the nullification of the ontological proof of God since God, for both Leibniz and Descartes, guaranteed rationalism. Despite Kant’s demolition though Caputo notes that he set aside room for faith in order to allow for moral law, practical reason etc. This formal distinction yet saving of the noumenal forms the basis of weak correlationism.

Given the explosion of doubt we have the Hegelian retort that the noumenal/phenomenal distinction itself gives intuition into the noumenal and hence mind becomes substance, doubt becomes knowledge as Hegel absolutizes the correlation. Hegel’s post critical metaphysics gives the absolute necessity as spirit hence all things must be contingent but the totality must not be. Here Captuo suggests a disagreement between Zizek’s Hegel and Malabou’s. For Caputo, Hegel saves God as non-existent  but infinite womb of all being.

Caputo argues that Meillassoux ignores Kant’s claim that all metaphysics fail because they do not appreciate the limited applicability of the a priori categories.

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Badiou on Speculative Realism

Badiou was kind enough to have 30min one-on-one sessions with students who requested them. I decided to conduct a short interview of sorts following from his celebratory comments regarding Speculative Realism and some of the themes presented in the course thus far which has centered on the theme of negation.

Q: In class the other day you positively mentioned what you called the new Speculative Philosophy. How do you see your work in relation to the work of the Speculative Realists (Quentin Meillassoux, Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant and Graham Harman). Meillassoux sees himself as a materialist and not a realist, is this distinction pivotal for the future of metaphysics and affirmation as you see it?

A: The work of Speculative Realists, from the beginning is very interesting for me, and they refer to me sometimes too. The rupture with the idealist tradition in the field of philosophic study is of great necessity today. We return to the question of realism and materialism later. Its a very complex question.  The Speculative Realist position is the position where the point of departure of philosophy is not the relationship between the subject and object or the subject and the world and so on or what Quentin Meillassoux names correlationism. I have known Quentin Meillassoux for a long time I was in his doctoral dissertation and so on and from the very beginning Ive thought this description of correlationism and the critique of correlationism is a very important point. Its not the classical distinction between realism and materialism like in the Marxist tradition like with Althusser and so on. It was something else. It is very interesting to see that the point of departure of Meillassoux is finally the relationship between Hume and Kant. The idea of Quentin Meillassoux is practically that all philosophical tradition is in the space of Kant, the sense that correlationism is the only clear answer to the question of Hume. The idea of Quentin Meillassoux is that there is another possibility. We are not committed to the choice between Kant and Hume.

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The Semantic Apocalypse

Last week, I was privileged to be a respondent to a lecture entitled “The End of the World As We Know It: Neuroscience and the Semantic Apocalypse”. (Held at Canada’s premier interdisciplinary department: The University of Western Ontario’s Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism.) Thanks to the lecturer, Scott Bakker, and the other respondent, Ali McMillan, I’m happy to post the entire lecture here as well as the responses.

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Scott’s lecture aimed to provoke high-minded critical theorists out of their self-contentment, arguing that the results of neuroscience have far more radical implications for philosophy, the subject, and meaning than any poststructuralist critique. As the author of a recent fictional psychothriller (Neuropath) – about which Metzinger has said, “This book has emotionally hurt and disturbed me in a way none have done in many years. You should think twice before reading this – there could be some scientific and philosophical possibilities you don’t want to know!” – Scott is well equipped to explore the apocalyptic implications of neuroscience.

My own response came next and should be somewhat familiar to readers of this blog. It was based on an earlier post of mine, and aimed (unsurprisingly) to resist some of dire conclusions Scott draws. It also, secondarily, acted as an intro to speculative realism for the uninitiated – including brief summaries of Brassier and Meillassoux’s projects. Lastly, I tried to broach the question of the political implications of neuroscience – but squeezed for time, only managed to briefly touch upon it.

Ali’s response came last, and used insights from analytic philosophy to try and counter Scott’s lecture. He argued for a compatibilist vision of free will, and used some of Benjamin Libet’s famous experiments as evidence for his point. More optimistic about philosophy’s chances than either Scott or myself, Ali tried to revive some traditional philosophical concepts, while still acknowledging the significance of neuroscience.

I believe all three lectures together present an interesting starting point for thinking about the relation between neuroscience and philosophy. And while none of the questions between our respective positions were really resolved in the debates afterwards (even after a few beers), it was clear that we all agreed neuroscience needs to be taken seriously by philosophy. If we can minimally agree that we’re not disembodied abstract beings, then the fundamental constraints of our material selves are of the utmost importance for philosophy.

Since the lectures are rather lengthy, they’ve been posted below the fold…

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On After Finitude: A Response to Peter Hallward

Courtesy of Nathan Brown’s generosity, we’re pleased to offer his detailed response to Peter Hallward’s recent critical review of After Finitude (published in Radical Philosophy 152). The response ranges over the metaphysical, mathematical and socio-political aspects of Meillassoux’s work and comes highly recommended!

Undoubtedly one of the great benefits of Meillassoux’s clarity of prose and his rigorous thought is precisely its ability to spur debates such as this one (although perhaps that’s my naive faith in reason showing…). Too often continental philosophy has avoided direct debates like this (unlike analytic philosophy), but here’s hoping it continues into the future.

A PDF of the response is available here.

[UPDATE:]

One courteous reader has scanned and uploaded Hallward’s review for those who are interested. You can download it here.

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Speculative Realism and the Im/possibility of the Divine [UPDATED]

Aptly following upon the last post, we’ve been notified of a conference entitled “The Grandeur of Reason: Religion, Tradition and Universalism” to be held in Rome in September. One of the panels (“Speculative Realism and the Im/possibility of the Divine”) will feature Quentin Meillassoux, Iain Hamilton Grant, and Dustin McWherter (Middlesex) presenting, with John Milbank as a respondent. The conference also includes Slavoj Zizek and Giorgio Agamben (who’s not necessarily a speculative realist, but is certainly a notable speaker!), among many others. All the information for it can be found at this website: The Grandeur of Reason.

[UPDATE:] Apparently, Francois Laruelle will also be making a presentation at the conference, judging by the new conference poster! (h/t: Daily Humiliation) For those (i.e. most of us) who can’t make it, there will also reportedly be video and audio made of the conference – which we’ll be sure to post here once we receive it.

(Conference Flyer: click for larger image)

(via Michael)