Friday, July 3, 2009

10 questions for speculative realists (and a coda about my almost life as a speculative realist)

Graham Harman recently linked to this blog to talk about Greg's post on the midwest. Which reminded me of a blog post I had been meaning to make for about a month now.

Now, I recognize that many of the questions I ask would probably be answered if I read all your books and all your posts ever. But, that seems unlikely to happen right this second, and I am interested in things I have seen posted or in the books I have read, and hope that this will both clarify things and intensify my interests. If you want to link me to things where you feel some of these questions have already been answered, please feel free.

10 questions for speculative realists:

(1) For an intellectual movement that has such a strong internet presence, why do you all have such an unhelpful wikipedia entry?

(2) What are the major different currents of speculative realism? I just would not have thought to combine many of you together as part of a philosophical movement (school? gathering?). So, what holds you all together as an idea? What are the major different currents?

(3) I know not all of you have a beef with Foucault, but I have seen several vaguely dismissive comments from the object-oriented types about Foucault. So, what is the matter with Foucault?

(4) I have also seen responses from several of you against accusations that you don't have a politics. The responses have tended towards variations of "We have a politics, but we don't subvert our ontology to our politics." Which is fine, but for me raises far more questions than it answers: What are your politics? Are your politics separate from your ontology, or do you feel that your politics flow from your ontology?

(5) Question number four leads me to this question, which you might or might not want to group in with the last answer. Are you concerned with the question of first philosophy, or do you find such questions rather boring? Do you believe that you have to get your ontology right first in order to have a politics and/or an ethics, or do you feel that the domain of ontology has a certain separability from these other philosophical domains?

(6) Why did the speculative realist cross the road? Or, alternatively, how many speculative realists does it take to change a light bulb (please give number and reason for that number)?

(7) Can you suggest two books by Bruno Latour I should get around to reading sooner rather than later? I have read Science in Action, but that was several ago, and could be convinced to reread it.

(8) This is a blog dedicated, at least on some level, to critical animal studies. Obviously, speculative realism's anti-humanist and anti-anthropocentrist viewpoints are somewhat in line with the problematic of critical animal studies, however, what can you foresee as the relationship between speculative realism and critical animal studies, if any? Clearly, an ontology of generalized actors (whereby rocks and plants and machines are as much actors as humans and animals) might guarantee an non-anthropocentric ontology, but does not guarantee a non-anthropocentric ethics. Which is fine, but I am just pointing out that there seems to be no obvious connection between the two philosophical movements.

(9)Obviously there are some interesting questions about how speculative realism relates to the big branches of contemporary philosophy -- How does speculative realism relate to continental philosophy? How does speculative realism relate to analytic philosophy? -- but what I am really curious about is how does speculative realism relate to decolonial philosophy? I probably wouldn't even think about asking about this, except a recent post by k-punk that talked about how Badiou helped awaken him from a deleuzian slumber. For me, Badiou had nothing to do with my awakening from a Deleuzian slumber (if anything he only intensified my affection for Deleuze and Guattari, the same with Zizek), but decolonial philosophy and the philosophy of radical women of color completely changed my relationship with continental philosophy. Reza obviously has serious engagement with Iranian thought, but what about speculative philosophy in general?

(10) What is the difference between realism and materialism? Why are you speculative realists instead of speculative materialists?

A coda:

This part of the post might be rather self-indulgent, so feel free to stop reading. The thing that interests me about speculative realism is that I feel that I was well on my way to being a speculative realist when I was an undergrad. I was obsessed with Deleuze and Guattari (still am, really), and felt their work existed in tension with Heidegger and Derrida whom I was not particularly fond of (still anti-heidegger, but I have come to find Derrida very useful). Instead of Derrida and Heidegger, the language-oriented thinkers I found interesting were Bakhtin and Paul de Man. Bakhtin seemed committed to a strong materialism in his work, and I liked how de Man's view of inhuman grammar machines gave grammar its own agency outside of merely human agency. I had read Niklas Luhmann, and found him very helpful, as well as many essays by John Law. I read everything I could get my hands on by Delanda, and because of him read all three volumes of Braudel's Civilization and Capitalism. I read all of Grant's early essays, and also traded emails with Reza. My undergraduate thesis was on how Deleuze's notion of control was an assemblage that existed outside of an immediate human agency but instead was dependent upon a system of actors. So, my interest in speculative realism is because before it was a movement with a name was I very interested in it, and now it exists and it makes me realize how much things have changed for me (and how much they have stayed the same).