What I’m Working On: A Placeholder

The paper I am currently working on is putting me in a foul mood. I went with a technique I would not recommend to others – pick some books you’ve wanted to read for awhile, read them, find some connecting thread, exploit! For me this took the form of a bit of Schelling, Merleau-Ponty, Henry, Solovyev, and Bulgakov. I’ve read seven books so far and have about ten left to go. Some of these are relatively short (anywhere from 80-350 pages) so that isn’t as insane as it sounds. Still, I had enough familiarity with these thinkers to know what I would like to write about – invariant vitalism. I’m pretty sure I’ve coined that term and I think it is pretty accurate description of what is underlying these thinkers. In varying degrees of hostility each has a critique of scientism and rationalism and, despite their critiques, sympathies with socialism and Marxism. But, what is most interesting to me, is that all of this comes down to a commitment to nature. Nature is all for these thinkers, but an all somehow incomplete. This is a really interesting notion and, I think, has quite a bit to add to philosophical vitalism. For one it isn’t a rejection of materialism at all. For each thinker the material is necessary (though in Henry this is somewhat obscured by his phenomenological notion of material) just as the spiritual is necessary. It is a strange thing to meet people who are shocked that when you open the skull you simply find a piece of meat, as if meat was something low. These thinkers challenge the very idea that material is degraded.

Part of the desire to write this paper is reactionary. Reading Ray Brassier’s latest piece in Collapse brought a lot of problems I have with current Continental philosophy to the surface. It’s a very interesting article, but it ties itself so securely to science that it seems to forget that science itself is nothing pure in its search for truth. In other words, there is a queen of the sciences and it is capital.

This concludes a very boring post.

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23 Responses to “What I’m Working On: A Placeholder”

  1. Dan Morehead Says:

    Yes, I’ve tried that approach as well. Great for getting books off the shelf, quite annoying when the writing begins.

  2. Dominic Fox Says:

    In other words, there is a queen of the sciences and it is capital.

    Isn’t it a defining feature of science that it would still be science even if practiced by Martians living in some inconceivable heterotopia? Isn’t any putative science of which this is not true therefore by definition not science?

    In other words, does science really exist? Or do we have a whole lot of stuff that, according to science’s normative definition of itself, just isn’t science?

  3. Dominic Fox Says:

    I mean, I definitely believe that science exists, and that its normative definition of itself is true to just the extent that it actually regulates what gets to be called science. There are cases where this regulation fails, where bad (motivated) science slips through; but a regulatory ideal remains a regulatory ideal even when occasionally flouted in practice.

  4. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I was unaware that science itself had given itself a definition or that there was a regulatory ideal within science. I’m also not so sure that ‘bad (motivated) science’ just ‘slips through’, and wonder if it is not actually the norm.

    I also don’t quite get what you’re trying to tell me.

  5. Dominic Fox Says:

    The regulatory ideal is reproducibility across all possible contexts. You fail to meet it if your experimental results happen to depend on who is conducting the experiments, or who is paying them to do so. You don’t fail to meet it if your actual experiments happen to have been carried out in some particular context, or paid for by some particularly interested party: it applies to reproducibility, not initial conditions of production.

    It sounds as if you think that science doesn’t really exist, that “science” is a euphemistic name given to un-science in a bid for authority.

  6. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    But reproducibility often depends on securing the money to do so. Why do you think it is only now, decades after the fact, that we’re finally starting to get large groups of scientists screaming about climate change? Is it really a coincidence that big business is also looking to ‘become green’? Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t think that all science is bunk because it is compromised by capital or that all science is compromised by capital.

    I don’t know where you get the idea that I think science doesn’t really exist when I just say I don’t feel comfortable tying philosophical arguments to the authority of science. It’s often times obscusifatory.

  7. Dominic Fox Says:

    But reproducibility often depends on securing the money to do so

    The ability to test reproducibility depends on this. It also depends on the finite resources of the material world in myriad other ways. The regulatory ideal simply states that anything that fails this test, on any occasion when it happens to be carried out, thereby fails to be science; and anything that in principle cannot be tested in this way also fails to be science.

    I don’t think the idea with Brassier & co is that philosophical arguments are tied to scientific authority; it’s rather that science is a useful tool for fucking up idealism. Meillassoux isn’t saying that the only good cosmology is a scientific cosmology, but that science presents data which only an obscurantist cosmology can ignore, and which fuck up idealism in various interesting ways…

  8. Dominic Fox Says:

    I guess “reproducibility” is a bit like “iterability” – a quasi-transcendental condition. (Iterability also depends on the resources of the material universe…)

  9. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Dominic, how can you separate the test from reproducibility? And, again, I’m not saying that this regulative ideal isn’t actual, I’m saying that it is actually a bit idealistic to pretend that it is not tied to the social and the political spheres.

    Brassier’s argument isn’t just against idealism, it is against ‘correalationism’ which includes everyone from Nietzsche to Herman Cohen. It’s also betrays a not very good view of Husserlian phenomenology. I really liked Brassier’s article and I’m very interested in his work, but I am sensitive to scientistic leanings.

    I don’t think I’ve actually presented a position though, none of what I’m saying falls into what I percieve as the Badiouian either/or. I like science, maybe more than most other Continental philosophers who don’t seem to really have scentist friends, but I don’t like the ideology-of-science that sometimes determines in unhelpful ways philosophical conversations. I’m trying to be sensible.

  10. AB Says:

    Anthony,
    This is completely unrelated to your post, so please accept my apologies. A while ago, you mentioned you had written a review of Hallward’s recent book. I’m trying to get a little more up on this debate, and I don’t know if you would mind, but I would be interested in reading your review. Is it on-line? Thanks!

  11. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    It will be in the newest edition of Angelaki. If you’re a student you should be able to get an electronic version sometime in May. If you’re not let me know and I’ll email you a copy. There have been quite a few written about the book though, some far superior to my own (others only moderately superior). Do you mind if I ask who you are?

  12. What I'm Working On « Je Est Un Autre Says:

    [...] Continental, Theology, Academia, Philosophy — Alex @ 6:12 pm This is a tribute to Anthony Paul Smith’s post of the same name. I might also be titled “Why I have become even more of a bore who can’t talk about [...]

  13. AB Says:

    Anthony,
    My name is Anupa Batra. I’m located in Illinois (the southern tip.) I’m writing a dissertation on Deleuze, on his relation to Kant. I’m trying to argue that his notion of experience arises through his transformation of Kant’s critical philosophy.

    Can you tell me who else has written reviews and where to find them? Thanks!

  14. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    If you head over to Larval Subjects and search for “Hallward” that should pull up all of them (LS has linked to all the ones I’ve seen). And there is a short one in the newest Radical Philosophy (March/April).

    By dissertation I take it you’re a PhD student?

  15. AB Says:

    Thanks! Yes, I’m PhD. I’m curious to hear where you’re interests are taking you, with the Deleuze and Goodchild’s reading. Are you wanting to go in the direction of ethics?

  16. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    No, I’m actually doing my MA on nature and religion in Bergson and Deleuze and then my PhD is going to be a ontology of nature and religion. You can read what my basic project is here.

  17. cynic librarian Says:

    While you’re at it why not drag in Berdyaev and Shestov–that’d be something of quadrafecta or something.

  18. old Says:

    Intrigued in several ways by this post and was disappointed that the 17 comments were almost all on science and an unrelated point. Invariant Vitalism – hope you’ll post the paper or send it along to my e-mail when its finished.

  19. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Old,

    Yes, of course, either way I’ll get you a copy. Not sure how it is going to work out yet. I’ve been having trouble narrowing it down to something reasonable for 5000 words. Even just laying out the idea of invariant vitalism, which is really my own and not something coined by these thinkers, is maybe not the best thing for a graded paper. We’ll see though.

  20. Dominic Says:

    I don’t think I understand fully the “invariant” bit. Because I have a very piffling amateur interest in Bulgakov, I’d be very interested to see a post on “Bulgakov as invariant vitalist”, simply as a short essay in the usage of the term.

    Now, this is intriguing: “an All somehow incomplete”. This is different from Badiou’s assertion that “the One is not”, because it suggests a modality of being – being-incomplete – that Badiou’s ontology simply doesn’t recognise. (The count-as-one completes the count of everything it counts as one: there’s no incompleteness or inconsistency in anything that Badiou’s ontology recognises as a being as such; every being is consistent and well-founded).

    Now, one way to have an incomplete being is to have a being whose ontological norm is not fully realised at any single point in its becoming (science, with its regulatory ideal that would detach it from every specific context of knowledge-production and -consumption, would be just such a normed becoming…). An ontological norm is something like an entelechy: not a transcendent telos or norm-from-above, but a self-image generated by some being in its becoming, through its own immanent force of desire. Here is a point – albeit an imaginary point – of fixity in the flux of becoming; it is fixed precisely because it isn’t a realized attribute of any existing being…

  21. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Yes, all of that is what I’m getting at exactly. I’ve posted some preliminary thoughts above. I’ll try and post something on Bulgakov and Solovyev soon.

  22. discard Says:

    Dominic, i like the “an All somehow incomplete,” and i’d suggest that’s exactly what Deleuze’s ontology is, with regard to the crack, the interstice of difference. Though i think it would be less an “incomplete,” if that indicates a lack, or a suspension b/w what is (incomplete), and that which would complete it; and more a positivity of differnce, of the crack.

  23. Alex Says:

    I’ve just realised that I’ve done the same as you for this essay – read some random stuff and tried desperately to shove it all together into something about something theological.


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