Speculative Philosophy and the Specter of Religion

Reflecting on an upcoming conference, Thinking the Absolute, Levi Bryant posted some thought-provoking remarks on the implications of the speculative turn in philosophy for thinking religion.  The topic reminds me of the anthology edited by Anthony Paul Smith and Daniel Whistler, After the Postsecular and the Postmodern: New Essays in Continental Philosophy of Religion (2010). 

Bryant’s concluding remarks are right on.  “[I]f the speculative project of philosophy is only complete in thinking both existence and being and their relation, this entails that there is a paradox at the heart of metaphysics. For in striving to think existence, philosophy must think that which is anterior to all thought, that which cannot be represented, and that which evades all conceptual determination. If the speculative project of philosophy is to be completed philosophy must think that which cannot be thought or the unthinkable. Such is the move beyond correlationism and the condition under which it might be possible to exorcise the endlessly returning specter of religion. How this might be done, I don’t know, but such seems to be the projecting [sic] uniting all variants of speculative realism.”

How might this be done?  I don’t know either.  It is no small task: to think the unthinkable and thereby move beyond correlationism and empower the exorcism of the endlessly returning specter of religion.  The task of exorcism is not unlike what Deleuze describes in Nietzsche and Philosophy [Columbia UP, 1986] as philosophy’s “enterprise of demystification,” which demystifies religion, morality, the State, and, of course, philosophy’s own mystifications.  Thinking the unthinkable is active and affirmative, but its demystification is also profoundly sad.  “A philosophy that saddens no one, that annoys no one, is not a philosophy” (p. 106).

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5 responses to “Speculative Philosophy and the Specter of Religion

  • larvalsubjects

    Wow, thanks for the reminder of the Deleuze quote! I’d forgotten that! Rather than “exorcism” and “demystification” however, I’m leaning a bit more towards fulfillment.

    • sam

      Fulfillment sounds good to me. It has much more positive connotations than exorcism or demystification. I’m looking forward to seeing how you develop these thoughts further.

  • larvalsubjects

    I’m honestly not sure where to go from here. It seems that I’m able to pose the problem and identify the mechanism that invites religion as a supplement, but it’s difficult to see how I can resolve that mechanism in a way where it becomes possible to think existence. Perhaps it’s enough to simply formulate the problem, though that seems like a cop-out.

    • sam

      Formulating the problem is at least a good start. Something about actors or objects seems crucial for resolving the mechanism and thinking existence. With attention to things, we can get rid of the notion that the unthinkable is some event in illo tempore that religion is well-suited to represent. We can start thinking the unthinkable by attending to the complexity of the things themselves. Still, I feel like that’s just a matter of formulating the problem.

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