lunes, 3 de mayo de 2010

Ray Brassier's Alien Theory - Introduction

Francois Laruelle identifies philosophy with a structure he calls ‘Decision’; every philosophy repeats it with different variations. The general form of this structure will be laid out below. In turn, as an autonomous discipline which suspends philosophical Decision, non-philosophy can be simply equated with non-decision. The aim of this ‘close reading’ is simply to clarify the nature of non-philosophy, the structure of Decision, and the way it becomes reflected in the particular philosophical registers Brassier chooses to formulate his own thesis: non-materialism - constructing a ‘rigorously transcendental theory of matter’ by using some examples from philosophical materialism as its object of study.

This, of course, seems to already reveal something constitutive about non-philosophy and, consequently, about the non-materialist suspension of philosophical Decision: thought can somehow maintain a
relation to matter as explained in some form of transcendent structure, and as such, distributed in the bipolarity between a constituted and constituting term. It can be furthermore expected that this bipolarity be ultimately bidirectional in thought’s postulation; since that which is internal to mediation as transcendent coincides with that which is absolutely external to mediation immanently in thought. However, we will see that Laruelle’s coup against philosophical Decision consists precisely in rendering thought’s ideal relation to matter problematic, so that the transcendent duality between ideality and reality can be effected without the bilateral reciprocity which ultimately situates the real as co-relative to thought. For Laruelle, this bidirectional correlativity always falls short of granting to the immanent its due independence, transforming it into a phenomenon of transcendence always relative to ‘man’ and thereby enacting idealism over and over again. A non-materialist transcendental theory of matter is therefore to challenge philosophical Decision by mining the differential complicity of thought and the real, concept and matter, without thereby compromising their separation, insofar as even philosophical materialism ultimately devolves in the idealist trap:

”The materialist Decision to identify the real with matter is seen to retain a structural isomorphy with the phenomenological decision to identify the real with the phenomenon. Both decisions are shown to operate on the basis of a methodological idealism:- materialism on account of its confusion of matter and concept; phenomenology by virtue of its confusion of phenomenon and logos.” (AT: Pg, 5).

The idealism corresponding to the equation of phenomenon and the real is termed phenomenological, while the one corresponding to the isomorphic equation of matter and the real is termed materiological. Both share the intrusion of thought which results in the final hybridization of 1) concept-matter and 2) phenomenon-logos, in the failure to achieve their transcendental separation. So non-philosophy proposes to deploy a fleet of non-decisional concepts which do not reproduce a similar hybridization: ¬1) matter-without-concept and ¬2) phenomenon-without-logos, correspondingly.

As ¬1) A transcendental theory of matter, non-materialism breaks free from:

¬1a) empirical perception - (i.e. representation of the empirical object in the concept)
¬1b) phenomenological appropriation - (i.e. of intratemporal beings opened by ekstatic temporalization)

As ¬2) A transcendental theory of the phenomenon, it likewise breaks free of:

¬2a) eidetic intuition (i.e. of the noematic eidos intentionally directed to by consciousness)
¬2b) apophantic disclosure (i.e. of the discursive clearing of beings in the open against the backdrop of Dasein's being-in-the-world)

Here we hear intuitively the names of Kant, Husserl and Heidegger, but we will also cross the intricate paths of Henry and Deleuze. All be brought to court to reveal their complicity in the perpetration of Decision and thus of a philosophical wedding to indiscernibility to idealism or, as Brassier (2007) will later develop in continuity with Meillassoux (2006), to correlationism.

In his initial expository remarks, we can rescue some quick general clarifications about non-philosophy:

- Non-philosophy is not anti-philosophy; not is it a variant of deconstruction. It does not solicit an interruption of metaphysics in favor of thought’s undecideability.

- Non-philosophy is a theory for or about philosophy, and that once applied to philosophy reconfigures its material. Non-Decision does not interrupt Decision but broaden its possibilities. It allows one to escape the constraints Decision imposes on theoretical rigor, as well as their ontological, aesthetic and political implications.

- Thus, although it doesn’t produce philosophical theses of its own, non-philosophical theory can be used by philosophy: advancing a non-ontological Identity of ontology, non-ethical Identity of ethics, and the non-aesthetic Identity of aesthetics.

- Where philosophy introduces a bilateral philosophical envelopment between thought and its object, non-philosophy enacts the non-relational Identity and unilateral duality of ideal/real, theory and its object X, irreducible to bilateral correspondence.

- The materiological amphiboly of matter and logos (Henry) or phenomenon and hyle (Deleuze), enacts the indiscernibility between materialism and idealism. Non-materialism seeks to render matter as not encompassed by the concept, and which determines materialism in being-foreclosed to the concept. Non-materialism obtains when materialism requires its own annulment qua system of discursive statements about matter.

- Non-philosophy as non-materialism is capable of producing a non-synthetic/non-dialectical unified theory of ‘phenomenon’ and ‘matter’, phenomenality and materiality.

“Where materialism implicitly presupposes that matter remains commensurate with thought, non-materialism lifts the premise of commensurability in order to universalise the parameters of materialist theory on the basis of matter’s foreclosure to thought.” (Ibid: Pg. 4)

Here we can begin the actual argumentation, which Brassier begins by clarifying the choice for materialism. Why materialism?

Only materialism seems ‘respectable’ theoretically in the wake of Darwin, Copernicus and Einstein, as well as the comparatively minor revolutions of Freud, Nietzsche and Marx, insofar as they allow us to overcome anthropocentrism and do away with the epistemological privileges assigned to the human subject. Along with physics, evolutionary biology has advanced this cause through algorithmic modeling by dynamical systems theory and in the fields of Artificial Intelligence/Life through the complexity paradigm. These furnish the idea of a possibly unitary theory to encompass all kinds of phenomena; as in for example a generalized thermodynamics (Churchland, 1979, Pg. 151). Binding the physico-chemical with bio-organic realm in generalized thermodynamics promises something of a unified field theory for Neo-Darwinian synthesis, this promises to bind not only the natural-scientific registers but also to naturalize irreducibly complex socio cultural phenomena. In physics, the superstring paradigm reconciles quantum microcosm (subatomic quantum field theory) with the cosmological macrocosm (gravitational field theory) supplementing four-dimensional space-time with seven dimensions: the so called 11-dimensional hyperspace in which all physical phenomena and forces are articulated under a single geometrical framework. The division between the two fields can be thereby conceived as abstractions from the singular, 11-dimensional field, so that the distinction between neutrinos and galaxies results finally from four-dimensional abstraction univocally determinable (Green, 2000; Kaku, 1994). The human can no longer be thought of as the unobjectifiable ontological exception to grant privilege to the natural ‘empirical’ sciences’ grant on objective reality. But Brassier timidly reminds us in a footnote that this putative priority granted to subjectivity is usually gratuitously assumed as a pre-conditioning datum for philosophy by conceiving the phenomenon as that which is given to consciousness; the kernel of phenomenological intentionality, but also more broadly what Meillassoux (2006) and Brassier will later characterize as the correlationist dogma. So, Brassier also remarks how the abandonment of an explicit reference to ‘subjectivity’ or ‘consciousness’ in substituting for it ‘Dasein’ ‘Life’ or ‘Geist’ is any less guilty of the same noocentrism (all the way to Henry’s purported materialist phenomenology’s hylecentric appeal to a pre-intentional/representational Life as auto-affecting ipseity). Against this grain of phenomenological insistence on granting man this privilege, Brassier challenges with the possibility of a materiality void a priori from ekstatic phenomenality and subjective ipseity altogether (AT: Pg 14). It is precisely this ultimate unbinding from all such correlational kernels that Brassier identifies a site of resistance in contemporary philosophy. But the scientist is not as ill-equipped to answer the phenomenologist in need of an account of human sapience as the phenomenologist is when having to account for the variety and overarching unity of scientific phenomena broached above:

“Human sapience, like many other instances of negentropic energy capture, is a carbon based variety of information processing system17, and nothing besides. The philosopher of course will immediately protest that the response is ‘inadequate’ vis a vis the phenomenon in question because hopelessly reductive. But it is no more reductive than the claim that water is nothing but H2O; that temperature is nothing but mean molecular kinetic energy; or that the colour red is nothing but electromagnetic radiation with a determinate spiking frequency. All scientific truth is ‘reductive’ precisely insofar as it dissolves the veneer of phenomenological familiarity concomitant with the limited parameters of anthropomorphic perspective. The real question the philosopher has to ask him/herself is this: what is it exactly about the scientist’s banal but remarkably well-supported statement that he or she finds so intolerably ‘reductive’? Is not part of the philosopher’s unease concerning scientific ‘reduction’ directly attributable to the unavowed wish that, as far as man is concerned, there always be ‘something’ left over besides the material: some ineffable, unquantifiable meta-physical residue, some irreducible transcendental remainder?” (AT: Pg 15)

In them becomes prophesized the prescription that a unified theory of reality demands the suspension of the idea of the world derived from perceptual intuition, where phenomenology remains entrenched to an epistemological purchase insensitive to the unperceivable physical domain. In this sense, superstring theory could offer a rigorously materialist vindication of Plato’s myth of the cave, whose inhabitants were deluded by the illusions of the flickering shadows, mistaking them for things-in-themselves.

Here perhaps we should take a first pit stop to ask some intuitive questions. Pace Meillassoux’s trenchant attack on the correlationist appeal to a distinction between a transcendental/empirical level of description, one can nevertheless be more skeptical about the prospect of these presumed reduction of ‘social phenomena’ and their integration into a self-sufficient unified theory provided by the natural sciences (thermodynamics, superstring theory...) For it is tremendously unclear how anything like social dynamics, subjective decision, theoretical discrimination, political experimentation, or ethical guidelines, can be at all reduced or assuaged by such a unified field theory. How exactly is the prospect of a welcomed reductionism to enable the appropriate distinctions for human interaction in other fields of social life by itself? Should we assume the natural categories provided by science are utterly sufficient by themselves, or can we envisage the prospect of a higher-level register of description for social phenomena which, although reducible or grounded in this natural register, is nevertheless maintainable, and if so on what grounds - isomorphism to scientific description? Or does naturalism entail eliminativism, of the sort Churchland spouses and which you seem to explicitly reject later in agreeing that paradigms of evolutionary success must remain theory-neutral? Or is the maintenance of supplementary registers of description merely pragmatic in choice; an option which also seems discarded in Nihil Unbound (Chapter 1)?

That these criteria cannot be ontological follows from the thesis of ontological univocity entailed by the emerging paradigm of scientific unification; thus allowing no room for anything like a transcendental separation between scientific fact and social condition, or any other such permutation. That is, unless one wishes to reinsert some sort of irreducible set of phenomena on the side of Man, social-being or otherwise. That it cannot be pragmatic follows from the naturalistic anti-noocentric prescription which guarantees that nothing like a vaguely subjective notion of 'free decision' could ultimately ground the choice between theories, since the very notion of decision requires its accommodation to the intrinsic demands of a naturalized register in order to remain irreducible to some form of ontological mediation and reintroducing the correlation in doing so. As such, it remains entirely speculative to assume unproblematically a notion of human freedom amenable to the demands of articulating a sufficient concept of decision that does not compromise the vaunted materialism in the same gesture.

Finally, what criteria, if not ontological or pragmatic, can be ultimately used to support the possibility of a non-eliminativist development of social, cultural, ethical or political concepts which may be 'grounded', analogous or isomorphic to scientific concepts, but nevertheless distinguishable and autonomous from them? At the very least, the outline of non-materialism does not show how these intricacies could be eventually worked out in accordance to the principles of univocity and naturalism.

Brassier seems all too enthusiastic in assuming the complexity of ‘social phenomena’ to be addressed by the prospect of a generalized naturalism without giving any sort of satisfying philosophical legitimation of how it is supposed to proceed in its practice or segmentation. In any case, this might be a mere matter of argumentative strategy and time, since at this introductory stage it seems early to delve deeply into these issues. However, given the section was presumed to give some sort of justification for the wager in favor of materialism, one can’t find Brassier’s defense of a materialist power to address human phenomena without compromising anything crucial in the process to be satisfying, i.e. ergo the tacit defense of reduction and eliminativism seems suspect. But let's move on.

In Brassier's eyes, it is phenomenology’s appeal to ‘phenomenality’ which finally represents the paradigmatic example of the longing for some metaphysical dimension compromising the prospect of reductionism by describing a realm of unobjectifiable transcendence/immanence; the ‘how’ of the phenomenon’s appearing which remains irreducible to its ‘what’. This reeks of anthropological imperialism to Brassier, and goes on to challenge Heidegger’s vaunted concept of the phenomenon as ‘that-which-shows-itself-in-itself’ and a ‘self-showing’ by demanding two conditions:

“1. A rigorously theoretical, rather than intuitive, definition of individuation in order to explain what is to count as an individuated appearance, one which does not simply reinstate the metaphysical circularity implicit in Leibniz’s maxim according to which, ‘to be is to be one thing’.

2. A rigorously theoretical, rather than intuitive, account of ‘appearance’ or ‘manifestation’ which does not surreptitiously invoke the predominantly optical paradigm of sensory perception with which we are empirically familiar.”

Phenomenology fails to meet these two criteria insofar as it relies on a naïve optical paradigm of middle-sized objects, and insofar as it remains question begging by presupposing the necessity of a pre-theoretical dimension to explain the putative priority of phenomenological appearance with respect to natural objects: “Belief in this pseudo-originary, pre-theoretical dimension of experiential immediacy is the phenomenological superstition par excellence” (Pg, 16). If anything, it is the phenomenologist’s gross simplification of the variety of natural phenomena to the ontological conditions of intentionally directed eidetic consciousness (Husserl), Dasein’s ekstatic temporalization (Heidegger), the infinite responsibility against the absolute-Other (Levinas), or auto-affecting Life (Henry), which remain hopelessly reductive and install anthropological idealism. That a quark could be a mere object for a ‘regional ontology’, or the derivative machinic bleakness of the Vorhandenheit stripped from all life, reproduces the Hegelian idealist drive to reintroduce matter into its bilateral mediation through the subject. So the choice remains: Darwin or Husserl. The former leads to the possibility of a new speculative enterprise worthy of those revolutions celebrated by Brassier, while the latter leads into the ruin of philosophy as a veritable theoretical enterprise and into obscurantism. So there are two alternatives at this point:

1) Man is de jure irreducible to the phenomena of the ontological order of the natural sciences. This involves postulating that the essence of human being is transcendence, either in the form of subjective Life, Geist, Dasein, consciousness or, let it be said, in the fields of social being, cultural animal, symbolic construct, and the like. So when the natural sciences tell us man is ontologically derivative rather than transcendentally constitutive, they are not making a trivial statement but false.

2) Science is correct in that there is no ontological gap between man and the rest of natural phenomena and statements about man are true in the same way statements about carbon-based systems are true, and not just empirically/factually correct.

It seems that this basic layout seems nevertheless insensitive, at least intuitively, to the most extreme form of the post-Heideggerean deconstructionist doxa which stipulates that there is no fixed human essence of any sort, not even that of existence, just as there is no transcendent objective essence, and so that there is an ontological relativity which always affects all ontological domains, philosophical/scientific included. But it should become apparent that both for Brassier as for Laruelle even in the purported attempts to disassociate the mediation between discourse and reality into any fixed positivity in either the of the empirical or the transcendent it is the very bilateral mediation of the transcendental itself which guarantees that all transcendence is bound to a bilateral dependence between ideality/reality. This holds even in the alleged localization of transcendent immanence (the localization of immanence as that which is negatively located outside the relational field of mediation). It remains utterly incapable of thinking, as we will see, immanence absolutely, but only from the perspective of the relation between relation (ideal/real) and non-relation (the real as that which remains outside transcendent relation). So this twofold repetition of the transcendental, as one term inside the relation, and its negative exteriority or purported immanence, composes the structural edification of all idealist negative reintegration of the immanent to the relational field which separates it from transcendence. So the transcendent, as postulates outside the transcendentally regulated remains prone to idealization since it is negatively defined in relation as that which conceptually is co-constitutive to the immanent real; the ultimately ontological dual genesis of matter/concept in which they are bilaterally implicated, and the absolute primacy of the correlation. The obscurity of these observations will become clarified as we gallop along, but it is useful to use the jargon compulsively at this early stage to install a gradual familiarization with them.

In rejecting the ontological irreducibility of man we reduce man to be one commonplace phenomenon among others rather than an exception to the cosmos. This of course, makes the very status of philosophy vis ‘non-philosophy’ constant claim not to seek the interruption of Decision utterly enigmatic, since it is far from clear whether the Decision being suspended in favor of an eliminitavist account leaves a peculiar room for philosophical discursivity, or what exactly its position vis a vis the sciences is. But let’s leave this for later. Brassier can thus summarize his rejection of this seduction:

“Consequently, either the philosopher accepts the irrecusable pertinence of scientific truth, and a fortiori, the scientific truth about human being; or he rejects wholesale the notion that science is in any position to formulate truths about man, in which case he subordinates scientific truth to a higher authority: to wit, the putatively unobjectifiable transcendence of human being.” (Pg, 18)

Brassier immediately continues to define two crucial ontological theses advanced by his non-materialism.

1) Univocity – Brassier Reconciles two theses echoing Badiou so that ‘Being is said in the same sense of the untotaliseable multiplicity that it is’ (Ibid)
a) Ontological immanence - Being knows no difference in kind – There is no equivocal ontological transcendence.
b) Ontological multiplicity - Being is untotaliseable – There is no subordinating transcendental principle of unity; the One is not[1].

2) NaturalismThis thesis does not involve betraying univocity by reifying nature over culture, but seeks to affirm the interdependence of science and philosophy. There is no attempt of philosophy to provide a transcendental foundation for science, but science does effects a corrosive challenge to the phenomenological self-image, privileged-access and the first-person perspective. It is the stock of these myths supporting the permanence of subjectivity at the center of our philosophical and socio-cultural world which procreate the dream in sovereign individuals exercising their freedom to consume and that a free-market economy coincides with subjective freedom. Notice, however, that Brassier says nothing about what concrete relationship science bears with philosophy, or non-philosophy for that matter, and what will the ‘serious’ engagement with science provide that science cannot oppose by its own means. Is philosophy nothing but an ideological critique? In any case, Brassier sums up his case for naturalism with this assault on the by now abused phenomenological tenet:

“To sum up: philosophical naturalism, as far as we are concerned, entails taking the scientific world-view seriously, and accepting the profoundly anti-phenomenological consequences of that world-view insofar as it necessitates expunging all vestiges of folk psychological superstition and anthropocentric narcissism from philosophy. ‘Phenomenon’; ‘consciousness’; ‘intentionality’; ‘Ego’; ‘meaning’; ‘sense-bestowing act’: these are the folk psychological fictions which have provided the basis for an elaborately sophisticated, but disastrously misconceived theoretical edifice. Phenomenology is folk psychology transcendentalised. Belief in the phenomenological mysteries, in the transcendental sovereignty of intentional consciousness, or in the irreducible reality of such denizens of the intentional realm as ‘eidetic intuitions’ or ‘qualia’, are now the contemporary philosophical equivalents of faith in the immortality of the soul or confidence in the ubiquity of phlogiston. “Consciousness”, we might say paraphrasing Deleuze, “did not survive God” (Pg. 22)

Next, Brassier addresses why non-philosophy is needed transcendentally for materialism’s transformation. He doesn’t fear being called a ‘scientist’ is this means conviction in the truth of science and skepticism against the set of transcendental constraints by correlationist philosophies. Ultimately the goal is to circumvent naturalistic scientism and phenomenological idealism through a non-Decisional transmutation. What this does is a) withdrawing Man from the ontological while not making him an exception: Man qua radical immanence without essence is not in question because he is not in philosophy. He is given-without-givenness or Vision-in-One that it is devoid of all human attributes so it is unproblematiseable as such. As we know, Brassier (2007) will later criticize Laruelle for conserving the name ‘Man’ for this unobjectifiable immanence of the Real, since it threatens to vitiate the anti-noocentric prescription. Man is not man, the former has non-ontological Identity, the latter is ontologico-transcendent. Man is ontologically indifferent, it’s not inhuman or trans-human and thus equally indifferent to humanism/anti-humanism. It is Man’s or the Real’s foreclosure to Decision which minimally supports it and endows it with rigor and guarantee for consistency of materialist Decision:

“Accordingly, non-philosophy proceeds on the basis of the discovery that Man as the One-without-Being (l’Un-sans-l’Être) is not an exception to Being; nor a folding or a placeholder of Being; nor even a fissure or hole in being; but rather that radically immanent foreclosure which functions as the last-instance determining all thinking ‘of’ Being.” (Pg. 25)

This becomes urgent, since Decision does not allow materialism to operate without the reintroduction of idealism, so it must rethink its conditions to ensure consistency. This requires the change from the idea that Decision is an absolutely autonomous self-positing act to where it is relatively autonomous, non-synthetic unity of theory and practice (Ibid). To provide the theoretical scruple requires for consistency becomes the non-philosophical transcendental determination of Decision so that the latter is no longer autonomous or self-positing but relative. We will see how the Identity-without-synthesis and Duality-without-difference supplement all the mixtures/hybrids of philosophy and science.

[1] Yet Brassier is careful to point out that philosophies of the multiple have nevertheless ended up comprising the untotaliseable multiple instances of Being under a single immanent Being- ‘Matter’ qua anorganic Life for Deleuze, and the inconsistent void of ‘matter’ in the inconsistent void in Badiou.

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