Graham Harman and other proponents of object-oriented ontology (OOO) follow Whitehead in taking up the task of articulating a speculative metaphysics, which is a relatively untimely task, situated amidst multifarious post-Kantian prohibitions against metaphysics. In particular, OOO follows Whitehead’s “ontological principle,” affirming the irreducibility of actual entities. The relationship between OOO and Whitehead looks mutually beneficial. OOO benefits by getting support for its metaphysical orientation toward entities, things, i.e., “objects.” [Does it need to be reiterated that this is a general sense of object as entity, not the modern sense of object in opposition to (or participation with) subject?] Whitehead benefits by getting a boost in popularity, making Whitehead more relevant and interesting for contemporary thought. Despite this opportunity for mutual benefit, both partners aren’t totally into it. Harman refers to Whitehead regularly (including in his latest, Immaterialism), acknowledging Whitehead’s unique contributions to metaphysics. How do Whiteheadians respond? Let’s face it. It’s not the mutual admiration club. Guess what, OOO? Process philosophers just aren’t that into you. Continue reading
It looks like I’ve got my conference engagements lined up for the second half of the year. I’m only doing a few things, and they’re all in California, which isn’t entirely incidental, as I try to avoid travel scenarios that involve high financial and environmental costs.
First, I’m delighted to be presenting on a panel with two close companions, Kimberly Carfore and Adam Robbert. We’ll be at the IBHA (International Big History Association) conference in San Rafael, CA, August 6-10. Our panel is “Cosmopolitics and the Big Journey: Resolving Nature-Culture Dualisms.” The title of my paper: “Concepts for Collective History: Cosmopolitics and the Journey of the Universe.” I’ll give an overview of three distinct approaches to collective history (i.e., approaches that integrate human and natural histories), including the approach called Big History, the approach of “universe story” advocates like Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, and Mary Evelyn Tucker, and the approach of theorists associated with the “cosmopolitics” proposed by Isabelle Stengers (e.g., Gilles Deleuze, Bruno Latour, Donna Haraway). Adam has a summary of our panel available HERE.
Next, I’ll be in Los Angeles for the annual meeting of PACT (the Pacific Association for the Continental Tradition), October 2-4. I’ll address questions of narrative and image in relation to the work of Peter Sloterdijk, specifically his philosophical theory of globalization, which is an extension of his sphere theory. My argument is that his general spherology provides a context for understanding the planet Earth as the locus of a grand narrative that overcomes the hegemony of previous metanarratives and the intellectual defeatism of postmodern prohibitions against metanarratives. My paper title: “Earth: Spherological Imagination and the New Grand Narrative.”
Finally, I’ll be at the annual meeting of the AAR (American Academy of Religion) in San Diego, November 22-25. I’ll be involved in a couple events. I will be a panelist in a Roundtable discussion focusing on the excellent new book by George James, Ecology is Permanent Economy: The Activism and Environmental Philosophy of Sunderlal Bahuguna. I’ll also be presenting a paper in a panel on “New Materialism, Religion, and Climate Change.” I’m representing Tim Morton’s object-oriented perspective, specifically in light of his proposal for an updated version of animism. My paper title: “Feeling for Hyperobjects: Animistic Affects in the Anthropocene.” I posted a version of my paper proposal HERE.
This comes from Slavoj Žižek, “Some Bewildered Clarifications.” Žižek takes issue with Noam Chomsky’s thoughtless dismissal not only of Žižek’s work but of the entire continental tradition.
I think one can convincingly show that the continental tradition in philosophy, although often difficult to decode, and sometimes—I am the first to admit this—defiled by fancy jargon, remains in its core a mode of thinking which has its own rationality, inclusive of respect for empirical data. And I furthermore think that, in order to grasp the difficult predicament we are in today, to get an adequate cognitive mapping of our situation, one should not shirk the resorts of the continental tradition in all its guises, from the Hegelian dialectics to the French “deconstruction.” Chomsky obviously doesn’t agree with me here. So what if—just another fancy idea of mine—what if Chomsky cannot find anything in my work that goes “beyond the level of something you can explain in five minutes to a twelve-year-old because” because, when he deals with continental thought, it is his mind which functions as the mind of a twelve-year-old, the mind which is unable to distinguish serious philosophical reflection from empty posturing and playing with empty words?
Although I’m not a specialist in Buddhist studies, Buddhist discourses and practices are definitely included among my general research interests. One of the things I’ve been following for years now is the developing relationship between Buddhism and deconstruction (specifically Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction). The groundbreaking work to forge that relationship came in 1984 with the publication of Derrida on the Mend, by Robert Magliola. For Magliola, the Buddhism-deconstruction encounter is staged through a comparative analysis that shows a lot of affinities between Derrida and Nagarjuna (a “founder” of the Madhyamaka school of Buddhism, the path of the middle way). Subsequently, Magliola’s work has been a key reference point for further discussion.
Along with Magliola’s text, another important resource is Harold Coward’s Derrida and Indian Philosophy (1990), which situates Magliola’s Derrida-Nagarjuna comparison within the broader context of Indian philosophies. Coward focuses too much on speech (a typical problem for deconstructionists), but there are some good chapters connecting Derrida not only with Nagarjuna but also with nondual Vedanta of Shankara and the evolutionary spirituality of Aurobindo.
It is interesting to note that Magliola and Coward published their works before Derrida’s ethico-religious turn (before the messianic without a messianism, before the apocalypse sans apocalypse, before his allusive piece on religion for a conference on the island of Capri, before the regular reiteration of tout autre est tout autre). The writings from the last decade of Derrida’s life are much closer to Judaism than Buddhism, making him look more like a “young Jewish saint” (Cixous) than Nagarjuna, or in other terms, more like a mohel than Manjusri. This doesn’t mean that there is nothing left to say about Buddhism and deconstruction. Quite the opposite. Derrida’s religiously oriented writings provide even more points of Buddhodeconstructive contact. Along those lines, one of my ‘forthcoming’ books is titled The Mohel and Manjusri.
Much has been written in this century on Buddhism and deconstruction. Some of it still stays with language and semiotics, as in Youxuan Wang, Buddhism and Deconstruction: A Comparative Semiotics (2001). Other works focus more on ethics and religion, like the essays in Deconstruction and the Ethical in Asian Thought, edited by Youru Wang (2007). That anthology includes discussions of Derridean and Levinasian ethics in relation to ethics in Buddhism and other Asian religious traditions.
Another notable anthology that highlights ethico-religious dimensions of the Buddhism-deconstruction encounter is Buddhisms and Deconstructions, edited by Jin Y. Park (2006). That book includes an afterword by Magliola, reflecting on how the dialogue between Buddhism and deconstruction has developed in the decades since his groundbreaking work on the topic. Park has subsequently become the most prolific and influential writer on this topic, with the wide reception of Buddhisms and Deconstructions along with her articulation of a Buddhist postmodern ethics in Buddhism and Postmodernity (2008). As the latter title indicates, Park is extending the discussion beyond Buddhist connections to Derrida/deconstruction to the wider field of Buddhist connections to postmodern philosophy. This extension is further evident in her work with Gereon Kopf editing the anthology, Merleau-Ponty and Buddhism (2009).
In close proximity to this whole discussion of Buddhism and deconstruction is the Kyoto School of Japanese philosophy, which brought continental philosophy into contact with Buddhism starting in the early twentieth century with Kitaro Nishida. My own thinking has been deeply influenced by the Kyoto philosopher Keiji Nishitani, who studied under Heidegger for a short time before completing his PhD at Kyoto University (his dissertation is on Bergson and Schelling). I’m far from catching up on recent research regarding the Kyoto school, but I’m looking forward to checking out the anthology Japanese and Continental Philosophy: Conservations with the Kyoto School (2011), edited by Bret Davis, Brian Schroeder, and Jason Wirth. Quot libros quam breve tempus!
The Posthumanities book series at the University of Minnesota Press keeps releasing terrific books. I finally got around to reading Mick Smith’s book, Against Ecological Sovereignty: Ethics, Biopolitics, and Saving the Natural World (2011). Making important contributions to political ecology, environmental ethics, and continental philosophy, Smith presents an approach to radical ecology grounded in a thorough critique of the concept of sovereignty.
Smith focuses extensively on Agamben’s analysis of biopolitics and the reduction of humans to “bare life,” which Smith relates to Heidegger’s analysis of the reduction of nature to Bestand (“standing reserve” or “resource”). Arendt, Bataille, Benjamin, Latour, Levinas, and Nancy also make frequent appearances, as Smith draws on their works to support his critique of sovereignty and his ethicopolitical vision of an open, diverse, and posthumanist “intimate ecology of responsibility” (167). Furthermore, in a refreshing tone, he does not propose a solution to the environmental crisis.
In any case, unlike the majority of people writing on the environment, I do not have a recipe for saving the natural world, a set of rules to follow, a list of guiding principles, or a favorite ideology or institutional form to promote as a solution. For before all this, we need to ask what “saving the natural world” might mean. And this requires, as I have argued, sustaining ethics, and politics, and ecology over and against sovereign power—the exercise of which reduces people to bare life and the more-than-human world to standing reserve. […] What we need are plural ways to imagine a world without sovereign power, without human dominion. (220)
Saving nature, saving the planet, saving Earth. These are usually just more exercises of sovereignty. To the extent that we should “save” some beings in the natural world (e.g., save the whales!), saving must take on a meaning that is not encumbered by sovereign power.
To save the whales is to free them from all claims of human sovereignty, to release them into their singularity, their being such as it is—whatever it is—quodlibet ens, and into flows of evolutionary time, of natural history, just as they release themselves into the flows of the world’s oceans. This “saving” is an ethicopolitical action. (103)
Although Smith is focusing primarily on criticizing human sovereignty over nature, he is clear that this does not mean replacing human sovereignty with the sovereignty of nature.
It is not a call to recognize the sovereignty of nature over all human activities, including ethics and politics. […] It is a political and ecological critique of sovereignty per se, both natural and political. The breadth and depth of this critique is why radical ecology is potentially the most radical form of politics, why it offers the most fundamental challenge to the established order of things. (107)
One highlight of the book is that Smith brings together multiple philosophers without ignoring their differences, incompatibilities, and contradictions. His use of Agamben is a good example: Smith continually draws on Agamben’s concepts and analyses while simultaneously criticizing Agamben’s anthropocentric or “hyperhumanist” tendencies (116). Another example: Smith offers a critique of Latour that ends up bringing Latour and Levinas together in a productive way.
In short, there are a lot of gems in Smith’s book. It’s inspired me to look deeper into Arendt’s work, which I haven’t spent much time with in quite a while. Overall, Against Ecological Sovereignty makes me like radical ecology more than I did before I read it. Continental philosophy and radical ecology are good for one another.