Harman and Shaviro: Between Philosophers, Processes and Things

Phil Sheffield, 2009
Shaviro just can’t help himself. It looks like the coming Metaphysics and Things conference will occasion more debate between philosophers Steven Shaviro and Graham Harman on the relative merits of their respective positions. As well it should be.

Much to the dismay of many I have always believed that without serious and sustained debate philosophy becomes nothing more than the meandering speculations of an educated elite class. Engaging in ‘public’ dialogue and critical analysis is the only way interested parties can gain a deeper appreciation of the merits of differing ‘logics’ and worldviews. And philosophy as wisdom-philia belongs to all of us or it belongs to none of us. The culture of gentlemanly [sic] agreements to disagree thus only serves those professional discourse producers who want to be left alone to build edifices for their own sake, contributing consciously or otherwise to the superfluous proliferation of systems, frameworks and theory in the ecology of thought.

But every healthy ecology has inherent limits, boundaries and zones of organization. And within every healthy ecology we witness natural selection. So too it should be within the ecology of ideas (philosophy being one sub-niche among others). Without limiting forces, competition and the struggle for attention between concepts and frameworks what we begin to get is a wildly overreaching and pathologically abundant realm where more ‘fit’ (clearer and affective) ideas are indistinguishable from the superfluous and redundant mutant variations.

Thinking critically is not just about patting each other on the backs for each other’s accomplishments, while maintaining sometimes directly opposing views (although respect and appreciation are key), but about logical clarification and important matters of emphasis. In short, if theorists agree not to ‘struggle’ (for personal and/or professional reasons) with each other’s worldview then, ultimately, it is the rest of us – those left to make their way within various niches of thinking – who end up losing. So please, fellas, tell us what you really think!

That said, I think there are very significant insights to be gleaned from both Shaviro's and Harman’s ontology – as evidenced in the two brilliant posts (here and here) these comments are based on. They are both fantastic thinkers and particularly talented writers. I agree with Harman that things “withdraw” (but I suggest only partially, and never entirely), and also with Shaviro that process is the only supportable way of learning how things come to be and cease to be. In this respect, Harman and Shaviro each have important things to teach us - and their continued philosophical dialogue (‘struggle’) will only help us all think a little clearer.

Below are a few morsels from their recent posts, in their own words. First from Steven Shaviro:
The parts of OOO that I reject are the claims 1) that objects are “substances,” and that they are somehow “withdrawn,” and 2) that (in Graham’s version, if not in Levi’s) causality is problematic, and can only be conceived “vacariously,” through a version of occasionalism.

Another way to put this is to say that what I find valuable and inspiring about OOO are the questions it asks, which I think are necessary and important ones; rather than its particular answers to these questions, which I don’t accept…

Of course terms are never entirely defined by their relations; and terms can disentangle themselves from some relations, and enter into others instead. But at the same time (and here I explicitly disagree with Graham) no term can ever disentangle itself from all relations. That is simply impossible.
Read the entire post, which provides much more detail, here.

And from Graham Harman:
If realities themselves are imperfectly translatable into knowledge, they are imperfectly translatable into relations of any sort. This is why vicarious causation is needed. Moreover, this is a battle I will eventually win, because strange though the idea sounds, it is absolutely compelling once you see the problem clearly; I think I’ve simply failed to make a game-ending presentation of the point so far, and as a result have only convinced a certain number of people. This is due to my own limitations, but to some extent it is possible to outgrow one’s limitations…

“But at the same time (and here I explicitly disagree with Graham) no term can ever disentangle itself from all relations. That is simply impossible.”


And furthermore: “rather, I think we should follow William James and Deleuze in seeing a continual florescence of external relations, and of seeing these relations as in themselves perfectly real, as being just as real as the terms they connect are real.”

But I also see them as perfectly real. They simply don’t affect their terms (at least not automatically).

For example, the external relations among parts of a bicycle are perfectly real for me. They form an object: a bicycle.

But the point is that the new entity known as the bicycle need not affect the internal constitution of its parts. In fact it often does, but this is a special case that needs to be explained, not an automatic influence.
Read Graham's entire post here. On the question of “why” it is impossible to consider entities totally withdrawn from their relations, I think Steven continues to be quite clear here [and here]:
Deprive me of my relation to oxygen and I die; but my body persists as a thing, and interacts with bacteria that dissolve and eat it. Send my dead body into outer space so that it escapes the bacteria, and it will still be altered by cosmic radiation and other phenomena of interstellar space. Every change in relations turns the term into something different.
Regardless of what I believe re: these specific issues, I think it is safe to say that having these two thinkers mix it up a little is a welcome and much needed development for speculative realists of all kinds. Go read both posts ASAP.

In addition, and just because I enjoy his work so much, here is a small sample of Jeffrey Bell’s recent riff on Deleuze beyond vitalism - generated in relation to both Shaviro and Harman’s posts (discussed above):
Philosophy itself is defined by Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari as the creation of concepts, and concepts are not, in sharp contrast to Bergson, intuitions whereby one seizes, as Bergson put it, the ‘one reality…from within.’ To the contrary, concepts are for Deleuze assemblages that are at best to be understood as filtered selected assemblages that stave off an excess that would be the undoing of concepts, and this excess is not to be confused with a ‘pure vitality,’ a Bergsonian flux. I am led to this conclusion from my reading of the closing lines of A Thousand Plateaus:
Every abstract machine is linked to other abstract machines, not only because they are inseparably political, economic, scientific, artistic, ecological, cosmic–perceptive, affective, active, thinking, physical, and semiotic–but because their various types are as intertwined as their operation are convergent. Mechanosphere.
Rather than a pure flux, there is a ‘mechanosphere,’ an assemblage of abstract machines that forever risk being undermined by relations that exceed them (since the relations are external to their terms), and it is this excess or exteriority of relations that would be the undoing of concepts and assemblages rather than a pure Bergsonian flux. For Deleuze, then, rather than a mystical intuition that grasps the one reality, we have the effort to create an assemblage of heterogeneous elements, or a composition to use Latour’s terms, and this effort is an experimental effort that is not guaranteed of success.
You gotta love Big Theory.


Dark Days Ahead?

When you combine the news that 2010 was the hottest year recorded since humans started recording, that carbon emissions continue to rise globally, that pubic "skepticism" of global warming is on the rise, and that there has been a 40% decline of phytoplankton (the core of the global food chain) in the world's ocean since 1950, to cite just a few recent developments, it is hard not to completely give up hope.

At this point I have no doubt that our species is creating a future world where tremendous suffering will be our everyday reality. Is it now time to start focusing exclusively on survival after the collapse? Is it time to start thinking and acting post-apocalyptically? Let's be honest people.

this story was swiped from Tim Morton's blog:
The Next Crash Will Be Ecological - and Nature Doesn't Do Bailouts

Why are the world's governments bothering? Why are they jetting to Cancun next week to discuss what to do now about global warming? The vogue has passed. The fad has faded. Global warming is yesterday's apocalypse. Didn't somebody leak an email that showed it was all made up? Doesn't it sometimes snow in the winter? Didn't Al Gore get fat, or molest a masseur, or something?

Alas, the biosphere doesn't read Vogue. Nobody thought to tell it that global warming is so 2007. All it knows is three facts. 2010 is globally the hottest year since records began [source]. 2010 is the year humanity's emissions of planet-warming gases reached its highest level ever [source]. And exactly as the climate scientists predicted, we are seeing a rapid increase in catastrophic weather events, from the choking of Moscow by gigantic unprecedented forest fires to the drowning of one quarter of Pakistan.

Before the Great Crash of 2008, the people who warned about the injection of huge destabilizing risk into our financial system seemed like arcane, anal bores. Now we all sit in the rubble and wish we had listened. The great ecological crash will be worse, because nature doesn't do bailouts.

That's what Cancun should be about -- surveying the startling scientific evidence, and developing an urgent plan to change course. The Antarctic -- which locks of 90 percent of the world's ice -- has now seen eight of its ice shelves fully or partially collapse [source]. The world's most distinguished climate scientists, after recordings like this, say we will face a three to six feet rise in sea level this century [source] . That means the drowning of London, Bangkok, Venice, Cairo and Shanghai, and entire countries like Bangladesh and the Maldives...

Perhaps the most startling news story of the year passed almost unnoticed [source]. Plant plankton (phytoplankton) are tiny creatures that live in the oceans and carry out a job you and I depend on to stay alive. They produce half the world's oxygen, and suck up planet-warming carbon dioxide. Yet this year, one of the world's most distinguished scientific journals, Nature, revealed that 40 percent of them have been killed by the warming of the oceans since 1950. Professor Boris Worm, who co-authored the study, said in shock: "I've been trying to think of a biological change that's bigger than this and I can't think of one." That has been the result of less than one degree of warming. Now we are on course for at least three degrees this century.
Read More @ The Huffington Post


Ahmed Rashid: Descent into Chaos

I just finished Rashid's 2008 book Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. It was a detailed account of the tragedies and developments in Central Asia by someone who was there 'on the ground' when the misguided military interventions in that region began. It was a fascinating read.

The Amazon description:
Ahmed Rashid is the voice of reason amid the chaos of Central Asia today. His unique knowledge of this complex, war-torn region gives him a panoramic vision and grasp of nuance that no Western writer can emulate. In Descent Into Chaos, Rashid reviews the regional conditions since 9/11 and the catastrophic aftermath of America’s failed war on terror. The underlying theme is clear, devastating and deeply critical of current U.S. foreign policy. Iraq is essentially a sideshow. Pakistan and Afghanistan are where the war really began. Pakistan remains the crucial resource and key player, and Afghanistan is where the fight against Islamic insurgency is eventually going to be played out.
Ahmed Rashid احمد رشید (b. 1948) is a former Pakistani revolutionary, a journalist and best-selling author of several books about Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia.

Below are two interviews with Rashid (conducted in 2001 and 2008) and a link to an talk he gave at the World Affairs Council in Washington DC in 2009:

December 19, 2001:

June 10, 2008:

Ahmed Rashid: Descent into Chaos (2009)


Class Wars Rage On

From Forbes Magazine: 261 Millionaires in US Congress
Jam the Consumer Culture
Saying that money and politics go hand in hand would be stating the obvious, but a study released by the Center for Responsive Politics takes it further. In 2009, nearly half of Congress, 261 to be exact, are millionaires, 55 of them boast personal fortunes of more than $10 million, and 8 of them pass the $100 million mark. Only 1% of all Americans have the pleasure of a bank account with more than $1 million.[source]    
H/T to Adrian Ivakhiv for the article.
Members of Congress are enjoying their own financial stimulus. Despite a stubbornly sour national economy congressional members’ personal wealth collectively increased by more than 16 percent between 2008 and 2009, according to a new study by the Center for Responsive Politics of federal financial disclosures released earlier this year. [source]
And in case you missed it:

“…executives at a handful of finance firms will be paid a record $144 billion, according to a new survey by the Wall Street Journal.”
When will you rebel?


Merleau-Ponty, Agency and Embodied Cognition

In many of his writings philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961) identifies two opposing notions of consciousness that characterize our thinking: one construes consciousness as radically different from the world - epitomized by both the concepts of a Cartesian soul and the Kantian transcendental ego. The other view identifies consciousness with some lump of physical matter such as the brain, nervous system, or body. It holds that the doings of consciousness can be fully explained by appealing to causal laws. This conception is found in 'scientific' thinking about subjectivity. Merleau-Ponty however rejects both notions.

Merleau-Ponty suggests that what we ordinarily think of as mental states and activities are constituted by bodily engagement with the world. The subject of these states and activities is thus essentially embodied. But to understand this form of bodily subjectivity, we need to reject the traditional idea of the body as a mere object, a piece of biological mechanism, which somehow contains consciousness within it. Instead, Merleau-Ponty argues, we need to recognize that the body is a form of consciousness - a living sentient enitity. And, since it is the body's interactions with the world that generate our mental states and activities, consciousness is not separate from its environment. It is essentially embedded within it.

Moreover, Merleau-Ponty argues that the two flawed conceptions of consciousness go hand-in-hand with two notions of 'the world'. One takes the world to be constituted by the subject. Merleau-Ponty sees the transcendental idealism of Kant and the early Husserl as exemplifying this position. The other construes the world as existing independently of consciousness, which is just one of many things within it. This view is supposedly endorsed by the natural sciences. Merleau-Ponty rejects both of these conceptions as well.

Below is a draft of a paper to be delivered to The Aristotelian Society on November 22, 2010 by Komarine Romdenh-Romluc in which she explores Merleau-Ponty's alternative conception of embodied human agency and consciouness rooted in a dynamic interaction with the environment. Enjoy:
Agency and Embodied Cognition
By Komarine Romdenh-Romluc

The dominant account of agency takes actions to be brought about and guided by intentions that represent the agent’s performance of the action. Merleau-Ponty offers an alternative view that denies intentions are essential for action. He holds instead that the agent’s activity is brought about by her apprehension of her environment, without the need for any intervening thoughts that represent her performance of it. I argue that two considerations advanced in favour of the thesis that human cognition is embodied are in tension with the dominant account of agency, and speak in favour of Merleau-Ponty’s view.
Read More (PDF) @ The Aristotelian Society


Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change

Nunavut-based director Zacharias Kunuk (Atanarjuat The Fast Runner) and researcher and filmmaker Dr. Ian Mauro (Seeds of Change) have teamed up with Inuit communities to document their knowledge and experience regarding climate change. This new documentary, the world’s first Inuktitut language film on the topic, takes the viewer “on the land” with elders and hunters to explore the social and ecological impacts of a warming Arctic:

Learn More @ Isuma.Tv


Protevi: Mind in Life, Mind in Process

Mind in Life, Mind in Process: Towards a New Transcendental Aesthetic and a New Question of Panpsychism

By John Protevi

"The essay examines the idea of “biological space and time” found in Evan Thompson‘s Mind in Life and Gilles Deleuze‘s Difference and Repetition. Tracking down this “new Transcendental Aesthetic” intersects new work done on panpsychism. Both Deleuze and Thompson can be fairly said to be biological panpsychists. That‘s what "Mind in Life" means: mind and life are coextensive; life is a sufficient condition for mind. Deleuze is not just a biological panpsychist, however, so we‘ll have to confront full-fledged panpsychism. At the end of the essay we‘ll be able to pose the question whether or not we can supplement Thompson‘s “Mind in Life” position with a “Mind in Process” position and if so, what that supplement means both for his work and for panpsychism."

Read More (PDF) @ Protevi.Com

Life is a sufficient condition for 'mind' but not visa versa. I remain unconvinced by appeals to "pure experience" (William James) or "prehension" (A.N Whitehead). Instead I would like theorists to drop such silly speculative projections in a move towards a less conflating thinking of the raw potency of things. Moreover, we have to show the genesis of real experience and its complexities (e.g., the difference between perception and conception) from within experience itself (cf. Gleaning the Mesh). What the world needs now is an imaginary that intersects the bold realizations of materialism, ecology and existenz in more intelligent ways. Without a doubt I will have much more to say on this point in the future.


Deleuze and Societies of Control

The only info I have on the video below is here:
Liquid Theory TV is a collaboration between Clare Birchall, Gary Hall and Peter Woodbridge designed to develop a series of IPTV programmes. (IPTV, in its broadest sense, stands for all those technologies which use computer networks to deliver audio-visual programming.) The idea behind the Liquid Theory TV project is to experiment with IPTVs potential for providing new ways of communicating intellectual ideas, easily and cheaply, both inside and outside of the university. We want to do so not so much in an effort to have an impact outside of the academy, be it economic, social or cultural; nor to connect with an increasingly media-literate audience that books supposedly cannot, or can no longer, reach. Rather we want to experiment with IPTV in order to explore the potential for different effectivities that different forms of communication have - to the extent of perhaps even leading us to conceive of what we do as academics, writers, artists, media theorists and philosophers differently (see Wise, 2006: 241).
I don’t know about you, but I have 22 minutes to watch an exploration of Deleuze and the future of social control:

Deleuze’s Postscript on the Societies of Control

Read the original essay (PDF) here:


The New Ecology of War

"Global epidemics and global terrorism are two problems that principally emanated from the slums. When one talks about 'failed states' one often means 'failed cities', such as Gaza, Sadr City or the slums of Port-au-Prince." - Mike Davis
Urban theorist Mike Davis talks in interview about the evolution of the neoliberal city. From Eurozine:
The New Ecology of War: An Interview with Mike Davis

Los Angeles is a patchwork of different worlds. This is not a melting pot – rather a map of the global power order, divided up according to the same ethnic divisions. On the way from my hotel in Santa Monica to meet Davis, I exit the highway and drive through the Watts district. The poverty is so palpable that I am taken by surprise. This black part of town appears to be entirely disconnected from the rest of the world. Hardly any shops at all. No restaurants. Just old houses in various stages of ruin. This is the third world immersed in the first, a sprawl with thousands of inhabitants plagued by unemployment, gang crime and a shortage of public resources. There are only two options for this district of Los Angeles, I think: implosion or explosion, ruin or revolt.

If one reads the statistics, the road to ruin seems already determined. In districts such as Watts, a veritable civil war has been going on since the 1980s. The youth are killing each other to such an extent that war is the only applicable word.

Some hours later, I ask Davis precisely this: implosion or explosion? His answer is clear: both. "Los Angeles will in all likelihood experience new disruptions. If the economy keeps falling at the current rate, it is just a matter of time before the city explodes in new riots. At the same time, it is obvious that districts such as Watts and Compton are in the process of destroying themselves. Even if gang violence has decreased somewhat over the past couple of years, it is still at a level as to be compared to war."
Read More @ Eurozine


The Story of Electronics

From The Story of Stuff Project (released today!):
The Story of Electronics, releasing Tuesday, NOVEMBER 9, employs the Story of Stuff style to explore the high-tech revolution's collateral damage—25 million tons of e-waste and counting, poisoned workers and a public left holding the bill. Host Annie Leonard takes viewers from the mines and factories where our gadgets begin to the horrific backyard recycling shops in China where many end up. The film concludes with a call for a green 'race to the top' where designers compete to make long-lasting, toxic-free products that are fully and easily recyclable.

Our production partner on the electronics film is the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, which promotes green design and responsible recycling in the electronics industry.


Designing the Political

Built-form and designed dwelling are as much about ecology and politics as toxic oilsands and illegal corporate dumping. If we are going to create a more ethical, sane and sustainable world we are going to have to take 'infrastructure' much more seriously (and creatively) than we have in the past. What kind of world do you what to live in?

from e-flux:
Design for a Post-Neoliberal City

By Jesko Fezer

Our cities have become key arenas in a primarily market-driven globalization process, a process that primarily unfolds in circumstances and at the mercy of protagonists with little or nothing to do with planning and design. The sweeping decisions of multinational companies, individual consumer preferences, ecological disasters, international politics, cultural differences, and other phenomena associated with globalization render very unrealistic the idea that collective action or even design might be able to steer urban development. Cities are widely regarded as “non-planable” entities that can be observed but only barely influenced, let alone designed. Both an urban politics perspective and design as an intentional and political practice are menaced not only by neoliberal and neoconservative forces but also by the “post-planning” approach taken by progressive planners and urban researchers. In such an approach, criticism of urban inequalities or injustice is interpreted as the failure to grasp the complexity of contemporary urban landscapes—an argument supporting the current de-politicization of the city by private companies and neoliberal government policies.

The law of supply and demand has become the primary force in urban development, blocking any urban policy. Particularly in the urban context, this leads to a post-political situation, in which spaces of democratic engagement are swallowed up by an ongoing radical economization and de-politicization of social space—a process that does not seem to have been interrupted by the current global economic crisis. Even though it is still unclear whether the crisis serves to accelerate or modify these tendencies, it is necessary to discuss how the crisis of neoliberal ideology may simultaneously be an opportunity to imagine urban concepts that challenge the primacy of economic maneuvers.

From being strategic sites for the implementation of neoliberal policy, cities may possibly become a new political arena for experiments in democracy—and thus require a new design. Designers continue to hold back with criticism and proposals, but the time has come to redefine the role of design in a social city—and to take action. Design in the context of cities could redefine itself as a search for an alternative urban practice, beyond the techniques and the ideology of crisis-ridden, late-capitalist urbanism. For it is precisely in the field of design, which has hitherto seen only a cautious approach to urban issues, that one finds unexplored potential for an intentional (re)design of space.
Read More @ E-FLUX


Puppets, Puppet Masters and Closet Liberations

From State of Nature:
Puppets, Puppet Masters and Closet Liberations

By Jorge Majfud

"In a planetary order dominated by superficiality and meaningless narcissism perhaps Lady Gaga really is one of the most influential people in the world."
On April 5, 2010, a survey by the globally influential Time magazine revealed that for its readers Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, also known as Lady Gaga, was the most influential person in the world. According to journalist Robert Paul Reyes, the singer without a doubt "perfectly captures the times."

On April 21, 2010, the investment bank Goldman Sachs reported in a triumphal tone a net profit of more than three billion dollars in the previous quarter.

On April 22, in a speech at Cooper Union, near Wall Street and with the purpose of convincing the public about his regulatory proposals for the financial system, president Barack Obama attempted to defend himself from the emerging groups on the extreme right who accuse him of being a Marxist, asserted that he still believes in the positive power of the market. Nevertheless, "a free market was never meant to be a free license to take whatever you can get, however you can get it." Appealing to his populist discourse, according to the followers of Sarah Palin, Obama charged that "some on Wall Street forgot that behind every dollar traded or leveraged there's a family looking to buy a house, or pay for an education, open a business, save for retirement."

On Friday April 23, a Securities and Exchange Commission inspector general's memo drafted for the United States Senate and reported by ABC News, charged that during the great financial crisis of the United States which left more than eight million people jobless in 2008, several SEC inspectors who should have been controlling Wall Street were investing their labor time instead in downloading and looking at pornography. One of them achieved the record by spending eight hours a day in this activity. While only a minority of employees dedicated their work hours to pornography, more than a dozen of them were senior staffers with important responsibilities.

Meanwhile, in Gotham City, according to a United States Senate commission, the managers of the investment megabank Goldman Sachs were betting on the collapse of the real estate sector that left thousand of families homeless.

According to the Reuters news agency, the New York Times and every one of the major daily newspapers in the United States, some managers of the Goldman Sachs Group saw a chance to make some good money in the midst of the credit crisis and shortly before the mortgage collapse.

"Sounds like we will make some serious money," Donald Mullen, one of Goldman's executives, wrote in an email. Another executive, Lloyd Blankfein, faced with accusations of fraud brought by the government in a hostile reform-minded context, claimed that the company had lost money during the crisis. In September of 2008 the company received $25 billion dollars of taxpayers' money in the form of a financial bailout.
Read More @ State of Nature


Rushkoff on Technology and Collective Life


In relation to Douglas Rushkoff's new book Program or be Programmed: Ten Commands for the Digital Age, shareable.net asked their community of contributors to engage the author through a series of questions and answers. The result is an interesting exploration of technology, culture and individuality from one of today’s leading public thinkers.

Here are a few choice excerpts:

There is almost certainly an evolutionary drive toward increasing complexity in the face of entropy. That’s practically a definition of life. Technology is so powerful and attractive to us because it holds the promise of greater complexity and greater connectedness. Atoms to molecules to cells to organelles to organisms. What’s next? No one knows for sure, but it sure ain’t Facebook.

I have been saying from the beginning—the early ’90s anyway—that we are looking at collective organism. But unlike some kind of fascist Borg, we don’t have to lose our individuality. It is actually enhanced as more people become aware of everyone else. Not a hive, but more of a coral reef.

Making money, or earning a living, is not anathema to freedom and democracy. They are the same thing. That's what democracy came out of: people fighting for the right to make a living instead of having to work for the feudal lords.
Further into it:
If any economy is really just a ledger to prevent freeloading, then we can't expect it to reflect the deeper values and relationships and place. You're talking about an ecology of interactions and transmissions. That ecology—at least right now—is much more complex and multifaceted when it occurs in real life, among people who know each other as creatures and not just usernames. But there are ways in which we need to interact as a species on greater scales, and the net allows for a lot of this. We simply can't forget that such engagements are necessarily simplified. They aren't bad, they're just limited.
Check out the whole interview and article @ Shareable.Net – it is well worth the read.

Ivakhiv on Process-Relational Theory

Adrian Ivakhiv has a fantastic new post up providing a preliminary sketch of his “process-relational” perspective. I tend to agree with much of what Adrian writes and would suggest that anyone who is not familiar with his blog or his views go check him out asap. Ivakhiv is an eco-theorist, philosopher, scholar and professor of environmental studies at the University of Vermont. Enjoy:
One of the tasks of this blog, since its inception in late 2008, has been to articulate a theoretical-philosophical perspective that I have come to call “process-relational.” This is a theoretical paradigm and an ontology that takes the basic nature of the world to be that of relational process: that is, it understands the basic constituents of the world to be events of encounter, acts or moments of experience that are woven together to constitute the processes by which all things occur, unfold, and evolve. Understanding ourselves and our relations with the world around us in this way, it is argued, can help us unwind ourselves from out of a set of dualisms that have ensnared modern thought over the last few centuries. In contrast to materialist, idealist, dualist, and other perspectives that have dominated modern western philosophy, a process-relational perspective more explicitly recognizes the dynamic, complex, systemic, and evolving nature of reality.

What follows is a brief summary of the process-relational perspective. It is followed by some bibliographic starting points and by a list of links to some of the more substantive posts on this blog that have dealt with process-relational theory.
Read More @ Immanence


Malick’s ‘The Tree of Life’

click to enlarge
I’m a huge fan of Terrence Malick’s films; they have incredible depth and move me in a way that few other films have. Yet it wasn’t always that way. When I was younger I really didn’t understand what his films were trying to do. I thought his work was boring. Only after I had started to develop a more acute phenomenological sensibility (thank you Descartes and Husserl!) did I slowly begin to open up to the raw experience of the films as I found them. I read a bit more and then started (again slowly) to understand the formal elements and composition of his work. After a while not only was I able to open to the experience of his work, but I finally began to ‘get it'.

What this suggested, to me, is that aesthetic experience and intellectual subtlety are never truly opposed – but are complementary aspects of broader cognitive capacities. Likewise, human experiences are neither purely emotional or rational, but always unfold as complex admixtures of ideation and emotive reaction. And, ultimately, for me, the best way to experience a Malick film is to relax into the kaleidoscopic nature human experience and simply let them be what they are: a world coming into view.

Malick’s stylings and ideas come from a rich philosophical background. Malick studied philosophy under Stanley Cavell at Harvard University, graduating summa cum laude in 1965. He then went on to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, but after a disagreement with his adviser, Gilbert Ryle, over his thesis on the concept of ‘the world’ in Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein, Malick left Oxford without a doctorate degree. Moving back to the United States, Malick taught philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology while freelancing as a journalist, writing for Newsweek, The New Yorker and Life, among others. In 1969, Northwestern University Press published Malick's translation of Heidegger's Vom Wesen des Grundes as The Essence of Reasons.

Following a lead posted at Enowning I stumbled upon a photo taken of a poster (at top right) released only  yesterday for Malick’s latest offering, The Tree of Life, due to be released May 27, 2011. Until now little has been known about this project, but this week at the American Film Market Fox Searchlight released the following synopsis of the film, in Malick’s own words: 
We trace the evolution of an eleven-year-old boy in the Midwest, JACK, one of three brothers. At first all seems marvelous to the child. He sees as his mother does with the eyes of his soul. She represents the way of love and mercy, where the father [Brad Pitt] tries to teach his son the world’s way of putting oneself first. Each parent contends for his allegiance, and Jack must reconcile their claims. The picture darkens as he has his first glimpses of sickness, suffering and death. The world, once a thing of glory, becomes a labyrinth.

From this story is that of adult Jack [Sean Penn], a lost soul in a modern world, seeking to discover amid the changing scenes of time that which does not change: the eternal scheme of which we are a part. When he sees all that has gone into our world’s preparation, each thing appears a miracle—precious, incomparable. Jack, with his new understanding, is able to forgive his father and take his first steps on the path of life.

The story ends in hope, acknowledging the beauty and joy in all things, in the everyday and above all in the family—our first school—the only place that most of us learn the truth about the world and ourselves, or discover life’s single most important lesson, of unselfish love.
The film looks to be another splendid example of Malick’s talent portraying the dynamics of being and becoming in the life of particular people in very particular settings. I look forward to taking another Malik crafted journey in May.


Bennett on Agency, Nature and Emergent Properties

From Para_Doxa:
Agency, Nature and Emergent Properties: An Interview with Jane Bennett

by Gulshan Khan

Jane Bennett is Professor of Political Theory and Chair of the Department of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA. In 1986 she received her doctorate in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts. In the following year her dissertation was published with New York University Press under the title Unthinking faith and enlightenment: nature and state in a post-Hegelian era. Her subsequent published books include Thoreau’s Nature: Ethics, Politics, and the Wild (Sage Publications, 1994) and The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics (Princeton University Press, 2001). Her new book is Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (2009). In 1988 Bennett became an Assistant Professor at Goucher College in Baltimore, where she also became the Elizabeth Todd Professor in the year 2000 until 2004 when she moved to John Hopkins. She has been a visiting fellow at universities in Britain and in Australia. Bennett is on the editorial and advisory board of a number of prestigious journals and book series ranging from Political Theory to Critical Horizons.
Read More: Here

Para_Doxa is a weblog project that seeks to collect and present the most thought-provoking and critical interviews available on the internet – regardless of copyright. I have always been fascinated by interviews, and with several magazines and journals ending publication many of the most stimulating and important interviews by leading artists, theorists and public figures seem to be vanishing from public view. As a result, Para_Doxa is intended to become a place where those important dialogues remain accessible to anyone interested. If you want to contribute, have suggestions for interviews to feature, or resources to share please email me here.


Signs From the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

Satire and political humor has it's time and place. That time is now - that place is here. (actually it's stolen from here, but you get the gist)

Funniest Signs From Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's 'Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear':

On Immanent Criteria

“There is not the slightest reason for thinking that modes of existence need transcendent values by which they could be compared, selected, judged relative to one another. On the contrary, there are only immanent criteria. A possibility of life is evaluated through itself in the movements it lays out and the intensities it creates on a plane of immanence: what is not laid out or created is rejected. A mode of existence is good or bad, noble or vulgar, complete or empty, independently of Good and Evil or any transcendent values: There are never any criteria other than the tenor of existence, the intensification of life”.
- Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy?, p.74


Hardt at Yale: ‘militant truth-telling’

Reporter Nick Levine of Yale Daily News weighs-in on political theorist Michael Hardt’s recent visit to Yale to talk about Foucault and the relevance of academic critique here:
Hardt at Yale, 2010
Hardt said critique has been a prominent project for students of philosophy, literature and sociology since the 1960s. But he added that many scholars now think critique — which was intended to “reveal hierarchies of power in what was presumed to be neutral and natural” to society — has failed to improve society; however, during his talk, Hardt said he could not provide examples of how Foucault’s theory of “militant” social change would work in the real world.

Hardt began his talk by stating his ambivalence toward the mandate for academics to claim their work as political, which started in the 1980s. He used Foucault’s last lectures at the Collège de France before his death in 1984 as an example of politicized theory. Hardt said Foucault’s final works outline “a form of philosophical and political militancy beyond critique” that could be used to reach political autonomy. Foucault, in turn, used the work of German philosopher Immanuel Kant as a jumping-off point and used ancient Greek history to narrate the interplay between truth-telling and democracy.

Hardt concluded with Foucault’s depiction of the Greek Cynic philosophers, whose stubborn, uncompromising way of life offended their peers but pleased Hardt’s crowd.

The Cynics rejected wealth and social codes, Hardt said before drawing laughter from the audience with stories of the Cynics’ racy public antics, which included public defecation. The group tried to spread their own version of truth “to humanity, in order to change humanity,” Hardt said, and serve as a model for a new approach to political activism. “Militant truth-telling,” Hardt said, could overthrow the existing order where academic critique just sought to minimize harm from power structures.
Check out the entire piece here. (h/t to Stuart Elden)

What I found particularly alarming was that “[t]hree of four graduate students declined to comment about the talk. Two said they could not comment because they did not want to harm their job prospects.” Is this what ‘higher’ education has come to? These students (or maybe their advisors?) should be embarrassed. If academia becomes ONLY about getting a nifty job in a discourse factory then maybe such institutions are indeed no longer legitimate?
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