Ptolemy’s Revenge II: The Balls of Serres

Meillassoux suggests that Kant’s Copernican revolution was not actually Copernican at all.  Kant (and so many post-Kantians) improperly inverted Copernicus, returning to a pre-Copernican anthropocentrism (see “Ptolemy’s Revenge” in After Finitude).  Kant is obviously anthropocentric, but is that really an inversion of the Copernican turn?  Or…might we be able to speak about the birth of the Copernican revolution out of the spirit of anthropocentrism?  If Meillassoux wants to get past Kantian idealism, he might need Ptolemy more than he knows.

Kant didn’t invert Copernicus as much as explicate Copernicus.  The Copernican revolution is anthropocentric.  Its decentering of geocentric cosmology was based on the idea that the appearance of the world is shaped by our subjective perception (e.g., the sun does not “actually” rise).  True knowledge of the objective world thus requires that we withdraw our subjective illusions; the world must be instrumentalized (trust a telescope, not your eyes!): objectified, deprived of any agency, reduced to a slave.

Ptolemaic geocentrism is spatially anthropocentric.  However, if we’re thinking ontologically or ethically, Ptolemy’s world seems less humanistically confined than the post-Copernican world, as it does not articulate the world as a menagerie of objects standing over against the human subjectivity.  Ptolemy’s world still had agency, an Aristotelian psyche in particular, not to mention the fact that Ptolemy’s work includes astronomy as well as astrology.

Instead of considering the real to be an objectified, mathematicized world, why not consider the real to be a world of actors?  Not simply objects but hybrid quasi-objects and quasi-subjects.  A world of decisive, value-emitting agents: not a mathematical universe as much as an ethico-aesthetic universe.

I suggest that we invert Meillassoux’s reading of Copernicanism with the help of Michel Serres.  Consider this passage in Parasite:

Ball isn’t played alone. Those who do, those who hog the ball, are bad players and are soon excluded from the game. They are said to be selfish. The collective game doesn’t need persons, people out for themselves. Let us consider the one who holds it. If he makes it move around him, he is awkward, a bad player. The ball isn’t there for the body; the exact contrary is true: the body is the object of the ball; the subject moves around this sun. Skill with the ball is recognized in the player who follows the ball and serves it instead of making it follow him and using it. It is the subject of the body, subject of bodies, and like a subject of subjects. Playing is nothing else but making oneself the attribute of the ball as a substance. The laws are written for it, defined relative to it, and we bend to these laws. Skill with the ball supposes a Ptolemaic revolution of which few theoreticians are capable, since they are accustomed to being subjects in a Copernican world where objects are slaves. (225)


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