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"For Zizek ...the true subject is nothing other than this nothingness itself, this void, absence, or "empty spot" remaining after the innerworldly visages of the ego have been stripped away."
     - Adrian Johnston
 

"Let us say in passing that since (philosophical) remedies are often worse than the malady, our age, in order to be cured of the Plato sickness, has swallowed such doses of a relativist, vaguely skeptical, lightly spiritualist and insipidly moralist medicine, that it is in the process of gently dying, in the small bed of its supposed democratic comfort."

     - Alain Badiou



Adrian Johnston in his essay Hume’s Revenge: À Dieu, Meillassoux? for the Speculative Turn tells us that a new enemy has appeared in our midst, one that through insipid and devious means is working not from the outside but deep within the inside of the materialist camp where at the intersection of Europe and Continental theory a monstrous creature has slipped in bringing with it "the enduring validity and indispensability of theological frameworks" (92). [1]  The grotesqueness of this state of affairs leads him to spume: "Marx and Engels must be rolling around in their graves. Despite the virulent theoretical and practical campaigns against religion carried out under the guidance of Marxist historical and dialectical materialisms, Marx’s ostensible heirs in Continental philosophy generally seem to be tolerantly treating the theologically inclined mingling amongst them as non-antagonistic rather than antagonistic others..." (93). Johnston even attacks the later Badiou for his "specious sort of ‘materialism’ suffused with metaphysical realism" and for being hostile to the empirical sciences, while appropriating fragments of Christian traditions into his works "with little to no significant modification" (93). 

 

Johnston then tells us that even such a student of Badiou, as Quentin Meillassoux, voices concerns in his master's latest turn toward religion. Meillassoux for whom fiedeism is an ultimate enemy supposedly bemoans the 'exacerbated return of the religious'. [2] And, yet, Johnston tells us Meillassoux in a recent article "strangely speculates that a God resembling the divinities of monotheistic religions, although he admits that such a deity has been and continues to be non-existent, could come to exist at any moment in the future" (94). Johnston tells us that Meillassoux sees a fine line between metaphysics and speculation: the first "defined as a philosophical position combining an epistemology of access to the asubjective absolute with an ontology in which some being thereby accessed is necessary in the sense of necessarily existent"; and, the later, is defined as non-metaphysical speculation that is "defined as a philosophical position accepting the epistemological part of (pre-Kantian) rationalist metaphysics while rejecting its ontological part " (94). Johnston in disgust at Meillassoux's toying with a virtual god that might even "perform such miraculous gestures as resurrecting the dead and righting the wrongs piled up over the course of a brutal, unjust human history" asks: "How could the author of After Finitude, with its polemics against the new fideism of ‘post-secular’ thought sheltering under the cover of post-Kantian epistemological skepticism regarding claims about the objective nature of being an sich... simultaneously indulge himself in musings about a virtual, spectral peut-être interminably holding out the promise, however uncertain or unlikely, of the ex nihilo genesis of a divinity fulfilling the expectations of the most fanatical of the faithful?" (94)

Johnston decides that instead of unpacking a full reading of Meillassoux and just how he came to such a philosophical position he will instead focus on Meillassoux's reading of Hume, which will allow us to touch based with both his speculative materialism and its "parallel peculiar divinology" (95). Against Meillassoux's project in which Hume's epistomology is ontologized, Johnston tells us we should instead turn Hume's empiricism against this ontologization "as a weapon on behalf of a real(ist) and atheist materialism worthy of the name" (95). This new materialism that Johnston proposes would return us to a full fledged praxis, grounded in empirical sciences, as well as realigning itself with a politics that knows the ideological and institutional stakes involved in such a praxis. He continues telling us that this form of praxis would inform itself of the Marxian power of Marx's 1845 'Theses on Feurbach', in which the parallax view of praxis enables both natural sciences and the Umwelt or surrounding circumstances to be revealed in all their political circumstance in the materialist praxis of the times.

Johnston tells us that others - most notably, Slavoj Zizek, have drawn parallels between Lenin's and Meillassoux's work, saying, as Zizek relates it: "‘After Finitude effectively can be read as ‘Materialism and Empirio-Criticism rewritten for the twenty-first century’.’ (96). Johnston argues that the difference between the two thinkers is not so much in their philosophical positions as it is in their stance toward idealist religiosity and spiritualism: on the one hand, Lenin through an aggressive and combative assault tries bravely to slam shut the door on such speculation, while Meillassoux, on the other hand, opens that door wide open allowing such theological frameworks to renter by way of the back door of speculative materialism. He tells us this happens by way of Meillassoux's key concept of 'hyper-Chaos', which allows him to "assert the existence of a specific ultimate real as underlying material reality" one that is based on a "temporal absolute of ground-zero contingency, as a necessarily contingent, non-factically factical groundless ground" (97). This is Meillassoux's 'hyper-Chaos'.

 Johnston reviews at length Meillassoux's critique of Hume's problem of induction "saddles him with the necessity of surmounting the problem of 'frequentialism': If material being an sich is contingent qua containing within itself no law-like necessary connections, then why isn’t reality and the experience of it a violently anarchic and frenetic flux? Asked differently, how come there are apparently stable causal orders and structures if absolute being actually is hyper-chaotic?" (103) Johnston goes on to tells us that neither of the other speculative realists, Ray Brassier and Graham Harman, "are satisfied with Meillassoux’s answers (or lack thereof) to this question, particularly as worded in the second fashion" (103).    

Johnston's essay goes into much more detail and examples that tease out the religious ideology underpinning Meillasoux's work in particular to his use of the concept of 'hyper-Chaos', but I will only add in this aspect of what he's discovered and what Meillassoux has made clear, that "hyper-Chaos permits reviving the originally religious notion of creation ex nihilo. It permits this insofar as, at each discretely isolated and contingent temporal instant ungoverned by sufficient reason or causal necessity, anything could emerge for no reason whatsoever and out of no prior precedent as a preceding potential (i.e., out of nothing)." (107). Johnston tells us with this one move Meillassoux is able to sweep away a problem that has faced some of the greatest philosophers and scientists of all ages: the 'hard problem' of "how sentient life, as consciousness, arises out of nonconscious matter isn’t a problem at all—this genesis is simply an instance of the ex nihilo made possible by the time of hyper-chaotic absolute contingency" (108). He marks out a critique by Hagglund, who in another essay in Speculative Turn, sees Meissalloux's concept as "scientifically suspect" (108). Then in an ironic equivocation Johnston himself says: "if emergence ex nihilo sparked by an omnipotent power isn’t a religious idea, then what is?" (108)

There is much more to Johnston's critique than can be reviewed here, but in regards to a materialist reading of Meillassoux Johnston summarizes his findings, saying, "the vaguely Heideggerian version of ontological difference operative in Meillassoux’s (and Badiou’s) philosophy is inadmissible and invalid for a properly materialist philosophy" and "the additional indictment is issued that Meillassoux nonetheless doesn’t invariably heed this stratified level-distinction between rational ontology and the reason(ableness) of ontic regions" (111). Being an absolutist rationalist of no absolute, and being averse to a Humaen skepticism Meillassoux seems to waver in a a Heraclitian flux world with his key concept of hyper-Chaos. Instead of a return to the natural sciences that Hume skepticism guarded, Meillassoux leads us toward a "God-to-come, about the infinitely much less than one-in-a-trillion possibility of the arrival of a divinity resembling that mused about by the most traditional monotheistic religions and their old prophecies" (113). Johnston against such a Meillassouxian reading asks: "Shouldn’t the de-totalizing of probabilistic chance in favor of trans-finite contingency make this even less worth pondering, forcing its likelihood asymptotically but rapidly to approach zero?" (113)

Against Meillassoux's anti-Zizekian tendencies in which "Žižek tries to smuggle atheism into Christianity via the immanent critique of a Hegelian dialectical interpretation of Christianity for the sake of a progressive radical leftist politics of Communism, Meillassoux, whether knowingly or unknowingly, smuggles idealist religiosity back into materialist atheism via a non-dialectical ‘materialism’" (113). Instead of an argument against religious ideologies Johnston tells us Meillassoux's After Finitude for whom "divinology and emergent life ex nihilo are rigorously consequent extensions of the speculative materialism" subtends it within a stringent rationalistic and speculative philosophy (113). In a final summation in which he praises Meillassoux for the many " striking virtues, especially in terms of its crystalline clarity and ingenious creativeness, and deserves credit for having played a role in inspiring some much-needed discussions in contemporary Continental philosophy", he dams the project of the book's core argument as being unduly religious in intent "at least for any atheist materialism concerned with various modes of scientific and political praxis" (113). And, in one final admonition Johnston states that "sober vigilance is called for against the danger of dozing off into a speculative, but no less dogmatic, slumber." (113).



1. The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek and Graham Harman (editors) (re.press 2011) 
2. Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier, (London, Continuum, 2008) 
3. Žižek’s Ontology: A Transcendental Materialist Theory of Subjectivity, (Evanston: Northwestern University Press 2008).





Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Jan. 27th, 2011 05:05 pm (UTC)
you quote the same passage twice to define two different terms:
"Johnston tells us that Meillassoux sees a fine line between metaphysics and speculation: the first "defined as a philosophical position combining an epistemology of access to the asubjective absolute with an ontology in which some being thereby accessed is necessary in the sense of necessarily existent"; and, the later, is defined "defined as a philosophical position combining an epistemology of access to the asubjective absolute with an ontology in which some being thereby accessed is necessary in the sense of necessarily existent" (94).

They cannot be the same thing, can they?
earth_wizard
Jan. 27th, 2011 06:23 pm (UTC)
Re: you quote the same passage twice to define two different terms:
Thanks for catching that... when I brought the essay over from my Word program into the form I must have recopied over the previous quote... LOL

thanks, again... will correct it shortly.

It should have read:

"Johnston tells us that Meillassoux sees a fine line between metaphysics and speculation: the first "defined as a philosophical position combining an epistemology of access to the asubjective absolute with an ontology in which some being thereby accessed is necessary in the sense of necessarily existent"; and, the later, is defined as non-metaphysical speculation that is "defined as a philosophical position accepting the epistemological part of (pre-Kantian) rationalist metaphysics while rejecting its ontological part " (94).

Edited at 2011-01-27 06:46 pm (UTC)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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earth_wizard
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