Speculative Aesthetics reading group (Fall 2010)

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Mark Fisher, "Speculative Realism," Frieze, 12/05/2009 [[1]]

SEP article, "Realism" [[2]]

Brassier, Harmon, Grant, Meillassoux, "Speculative Realism"

Ray Brassier, Graham Harmon, Iain Hamilton Grant, Quentin Meillassoux, "Speculative Realism," Collapse: Philosophical Research and Development Vol. III (2007), pp. 307-21, 334-45, 367-88, 408-35.

This reading is a record of a conference/conversation between these four thinkers. Each discusses each other's work.


cites Iain Hamilton Grant, Philosophies of Nature After Schelling; Grant points out that Aristotle/Kant reduce materiality to somatic or corporeal reality -- Schelling, though, posits transcendental materialism "where the real material structures are the abstract differential dynamisms that generate and produce bodies, organisms, and spatio-temporal objects" (312)

"What is the status of dynamism in speculative physics? ... What is the relationship between the dynamic structure of the idea and the mathematical register deployed for its formalisation?" (314)

questions about "pure becoming", "duration", "pure process": what interrupts it, what introduces discontinuity into the flux of becoming? (315)

Graham Harman explains by nesting objects within objects: becomes egalitarian objective univocity, ontology of pure objectivity -- there are nothing but objects, only significant metaphysical challenge is explaining their interaction (316)

  • but in this flat ontology (OOO), what's the difference between say a hobbit and a quark? fictitious objects produce real events
  • "Is it possible to prosecute an ontology of objects without explaining how it is that we are able to do so, i.e., how we seem to have to know something about objects?" (318)

Quentin Meillassoux argues that mathematical ideation has a grasp of things-in-themselves, grasps the intelligible structure of reality; rehabilitating Cartesianism

  • but "can one concede that ideation [even sophisticated mathematical ideation] ... simply supervenes on a set of fundamental neurobiological processes?" (319)

key challenge for speculative realism: "Can one be a realist about the sorts of entities and processes postulated by the sciences without having to shore up that commitment to realism with some sort of pragmatism on the one hand, or transcendentalism on the other?" (320)


Shelling: "transition engine" between Fichte and Hegel (334); voluminous output; coins "speculative physics"

"idealism is realism about nature coupled with realism about an Idea" (338-9)

  • Idea is external to the thought that has it, that thought is external to the thinker, that thinker is external to the nature that produces the thinker, the thought and the Idea (339)
  • "There are a series of exteriorities between thinker, thought, Idea, the various strata of the nature necessary to produce that event" (339)
  • no longer any interiorities in which one can recognize oneself in one's own thought (340)

without nature, there is no thinking; nature is the prius of thinking (342)

speculation -- don't have the "comfort zones" of interiority (343-4)

"What is it that happens when we have thoughts about things? Two trings happen: there are things

and there are thoughts. What's the basis of their relation? Well, the thought that specifically occurs at that point is the means by which they are related, and that if there is no other body of reference, are we talking about a world? No. The world's talking. Now, the question therefore becomes: If the world talks, if the world is articulate, and if, that is, nature thinks ... then it follows that nature thinks just as nature 'mountains' or nature 'rivers' or nature 'planetises', or what have you. ... In other words, there are new products every time there are new thoughts, which creates the problem of ground." (344)

are there one or many grounds? prius, or a posterius? (344)


differences between the four panelists (368-9)

began with interest in Heidegger, which boils down to: "a constant, monotonous reversal between the hiddenness of things and their visible presence-at-hand" (369); tools remain invisible as long as you're using them, as long as they're functioning as tools (370)

praxis vs. theory -- not an either or; sitting on the chair doesn't exhaust it's practicality, staring at it doesn't exhaust its theory, but is layered

occassionalism (problem of causation between objects; answer that God causes all things directly); bleeds into Humean skepticism, problem of things being unable to relate directly (374)

Heidegger, Husserl, intentional objects; an object is "not a solid, hard thing, but a thing that has a unified reality that is not exhausted by any relation to it, so that the intention as a whole is one thing" (377)

  • summary of his argument: 377

difference with Grant: Grant's against "somatism" or "just objects" (in favor of flux, becoming), Harman is in favor of it (383); defends product over productivity/process, "because I think much of the process is lost when the product is created, and you don't need to know the process" (384)

"Why not just have objects all the way down? Why do we need to have a unified dynamic nature?" (384)


correlationism: any contemporary opponent of realism (408); "no object, no being, no event, or law which is not always-already correlated to a point of view, to a subjective access -- this is the thesis of any correlationism" (409); for correlationists, if you speak about something you speak about something that is given to you and posited by you (409)

  • ex.: Fichte

Dominic Fox, Cold World

Fox, Dominic. Cold World: The Aesthetics of Dejection and the Politics of Militant Dysphoria. Hants: O Books, 2009.

a world: meant "in roughly the sense in which one may speak of the world of a work of fiction; that is to say the way matters appear within the fiction, its image of the world" (1)

the cold world: "the world voided of both human warmth and metaphysical comfort"; "the world made strange" (4); being jiggled or jolted out of place in the world (12)

"Only at certain very rare moments, moments of profound disruption and severity, do mundane and quotidian calculations of interest, reckoning with the present world-order of values and appearances, give way to concrete decisions in the subjective path of a truth." (13)

not just fear of stasis, but "a terror the experience of which is stasis, the experience of being held fast in place, frozen in the real" (21-2)

cold world in Coleridge, Hopkins: determined by an absence of a transcendent power or vital principle; leaves world empty, incoherent (41)

"Dejection is a condition of self-inflicted aesthetic privation, a willed crisis of language." (41)

the militant is separated from the world; does not live in the same world as everyone else (43); "There is no common measure, whether just or inflated, that can connect the world of the militant with the world she has forsaken." (44)

depressive thinking, no difference between life and death; hyper-rational and lucid, but also blinkered thinking (48)

late black metal: re-aestheticizing of a radically anti-aesthetic movement (53)

is hatred of all humanity possible? "Total misanthropy forces a split in the human self: a self-projection into the realm of the inhuman, which is indiscernible from a projection from that realm into the human world." (56)

Ulrike Meinhof, protest (this doesn't suit me) vs. resistance (this that doesn't suit me shouldn't happen again)

cannot use bourgeois mentality in resistance fighting; political discourse of media sucks away revolutionary energy/potential