December 31st, 2010

S.C. Hickman

The Poem of the Sea: Speculative Materialism and Realism - A Posthumanist Paradigm

"Art makes things. There are... no objects in nature, only the grueling erosion of natural force, flecking, dilapidating, grinding down, reducing all matter to fluid, the thick primal soup from which new forms, bob, gasping for life."
     - Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae

"The rupture with the idealist tradition in the field of philosophic study is of great necessity today."
     - Alain Badiou

"And this brings me to the great underlying problem: the status of the subject. Meillassoux’s claim is to achieve the breakthrough into independent ‘objective’ reality. For me as a Hegelian, there is a third option: the true problem that arises after we perform the basic speculative gesture of Meillassoux... is not so much what more can we say about reality-in-itself, but how does our subjective standpoint, and subjectivity itself, fit into reality. ... we need a theory of subject which is neither that of transcendental subjectivity nor that of reducing the subject to a part of objective reality. This theory is, as far as I can see, still lacking in speculative realism."
     - Slavoj Zizek

Timothy Morton on his blog Ecology without Nature mentioned the music of Sun0))) and Boris, which was weird because I was listening to their album Altar at the moment I saw his article on them... a Jungian synchronicity? - or, just another speculative event among like minded connoisseurs of the transcendent real. Anyway Alter is a performative music in which one enters an arena of the erotics of the technological subject, a subject that is no longer bound by our concepts of the human: or, as Slavoj Zizek has so eloquently put it - the "subject as the Void, the Nothingness of self-relating negativity". [1] 

As we enter the Age of the Real when the Dionysian fluidity of the chthonian, a radical contingency in which - as Quentin Meillasoux brilliantly states it: "...not only are there no laws which hold with necessity, every law is in itself contingent, it can be overturned at any moment" (ibid. 215), vies with the Apollonian formalism of science, we discover the terminal phase of postmodern culture in an electrical gaze between masks that forms a new object: an erotic, molten dance of sensual objects and thought out of which emerges the "notion of virtuality, supported by the rationality of the Cantorian decision of intotalising the thinkable, makes of irruption ex nihilo the central concept of an immanent, non-metaphysical rationality." [2]   

If this all sounds like mystical mumbo-jumbo, the wild ravings of a speculative mind bent on the impossible possibility of a new mode of being beyond the humanistic subject, then so be it: this is the path that our post-humanist age is taking us, one that is being explored by some of the best minds on planet earth. In The Speculative Turn a conflictual and problimatic philosophical dialogue within Continental Philosophy is beginning, bringing together such diverse and anomalous defenders of both materialism and, what is being termed - for lack of a better term, speculative realism (SR): - both new and old voices such as Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek, Graham Harman, Iain Hamilton Grant, Ray Brassier, Alberto Toscano, Adrian Johnston, Martin Hagglund, Peter Hallward, Nathan Brown, Nick Srinicek, Reza Negarestani, Quentin Meillassoux, François Laruelle, Levi R. Bryant, Steven Shaviro, Bruno Latour, Gabriel Catren, Isabell Stengers, Manuel DeLanda, John Protevi, and Ben Woodard. Each contributing essays that sparkle with wit and erudition, revealing more than concealing the inner workings of the philosophical tribes and their discourse surrounding both Continental Materialism and Realism.

Scott Bukatman has said of our postmodern terminal culture, with its "pervasive parallel population comprised of genetically engineered wetware wonders, electrically addicted buttonheads, fragmented posthuman enclaves, and terminal cyborgs," that a new subjectivity is arising in our midst embodying our "new, and inescapable, state of being." [3] Arthur Rimbaud in The Drunken Boat once sang:

"Sweeter than the flesh of sour apples to children,
The green water penetrated my pinewood hull
And washed me clean of the bluish wine-stains and the splashes of vomit,
Carrying away both rudder and anchor.

And from that time on I bathed in the Poem
Of the Sea, star-infused and churned into milk,
Devouring the green azures; where, entranced in pallid flotsam,
A dreaming drowned man sometimes goes down..."

The Poem of the Sea is a rupture out of an idealist vision of self/world and its correlational unity, and a new path into the deeps beyond the human where both materialism and realism, like combatants in a duel to the death, vie for the supremacy of a new philosophy of the cold void: in which ontology and epistemology coming at each other from differing traditions punch it out in hopes of developing a science that can once again be formulated within the boundaries of philosophical discourse; not as a supplement to the rigours of mathematical precision, but as a guide to that which lies beyond the limits of technological subjectivity. As Dr. Richard Roden tells us in his Manifesto of Speculative Posthumanism: "If it is possible for our technical activity to ultimately engender radically non-human forms of life we must confront the possibility that our ‘wide’ technological descendants will be so alien as to fall outside the public ethical frameworks employed by the majority of transhumanists and bioconservatives." He argues, saying,

"Among the intellectuals to have appreciated the ontological stakes are those poststructuralists and ‘critical posthumanists’ who claim that the trajectory of current technoscientific change ‘deconstructs’ the philosophical centrality of the human subject in epistemology and politics – by, for example, levelling differences between human subjects, non-human animals, or cybernetic systems. However, while critical posthumanism has yielded important insights it is hamstrung by a default anti-realism inherited from the dominant traditions in post-Kantian continental philosophy. The deconstruction of subjectivity is an ambivalent philosophical achievement at best; one that cedes ground to potent forms of humanism while failing to address the cosmic likelihood of a posthuman dispensation.

... Speculative Posthumanism claims that an augmentation history of this kind is metaphysically and technically possible. It does not imply that the posthuman would improve upon the human state or that there would exist a scale of values by which human and posthuman lives could be compared. If radically posthuman lives were very non-human indeed, we should not assume them to be prospectively evaluable using the ethical frameworks available to us. This does not indicate that the posthuman is ‘impossible’ or, like the God of negative theology, transcends our epistemic capacities. Rather this proposition indicates a problem that is still ‘ours’ insofar as the posthuman could result from an iteration of our current technical praxis." [4]


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