My review of Meillassoux’s The Number and the Siren

The New Inquiry has published my review of Meillassoux’s latest, under the title “Quentin Meillassoux and the Crackpot Sublime.” In it, I give an overview of the book’s argument and try to situate it in Meillassoux’s larger project (as far as we know about it). My take-away: the crazy stuff we saw from the excerpts in Harman’s book is very much here to stay!

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29 Responses to “My review of Meillassoux’s The Number and the Siren

  1. Jason Hills Says:

    Enjoy the vitriol as I duck and cover, the tried and true academic tactic.

  2. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I don’t intend my review to be vitriolic.

  3. dbarber Says:

    I haven’t read the book, but went to his reading on Sunday, which was so long (2.5 hrs) that it felt like maybe the whole book was read to me! There he mentioned, several times, that Mallarme’s goal was to reinvent the mass, once Christianity had passed. Or I suppose to reinvent Christianity? In any case, that seems to be Meillasoux’s aim as well, or his own aim attributed to Mallarme (as you brilliantly draw the Paul to Christ analogy). I suppose what strikes me is how, again and again, the European philosopher, even in his most avant-garde forms, keeps returning to Christianity. I find it astonishing how much Christianity is always being saved and redeemed from itself, even with those who are supposedly breaking new ground. (And to be clear, I don’t find this to be a good thing.)

  4. Jason Hills Says:

    You know, titling it “crackpot” and referring to “the crazy stuff,” does give one that impression. I didn’t see any vitriol in the review itself as you note, but we’ll see what happens. ;)

  5. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I can hardly object to crazy stuff, given what I’ve written.

  6. Jason Hills Says:

    Good point. I appear to have the arcane and obscure category handled well….

  7. beatrice marovich Says:

    yeah, dan, i had to leave his lecture after 2 hours and was shocked that he was still going. i was convinced that he’d read the ENTIRE book aloud. i kept waiting around for the *big reveal*, as there was kind of an air of suspense. but i half suspected that he’d already hit on the big points by the time i’d left anyhow… or did he pull the rabbit out of the hat, in the end?

  8. Leon Says:

    Adam,
    Linked you here: http://afterxnature.blogspot.com/2012/05/review-of-new-meillassoux-book-with.html

    Just a thought about your atheism comment, but otherwise fantastic review.

  9. Jason Hills Says:

    I went to one of Judith Butler’s talks at SPEP and she did that too. It was murder even if the poetics were great.

  10. Hill Says:

    “[Meillassoux] would be another person who ‘s a hero. The [philosophy] that he’s created—I don ‘t really [read] it—but the fact that he’s [writing] it? I respect that.”

  11. dbarber Says:

    Hill, ??

    Beatrice, not sure when exactly you left — but saw that you did, was going to come say hello when it ended — but there was never exactly an absolute reveal… though a series of rabbits. Such as: the engimatic number was 7, based on the number of words in the last line, and that fact the word sacre’ was the 707th word in the text, 7 being of course a key number and 0 being number of the void. There were a lot of developments around this! And so basically 707 becomes the number of the infinite, but there’s hesitation, as in *maybe* God, peut-etre, will be materialized. In the discussion he seemed very committed to the idea of a reconciliation, or convergence — or really the *possibility* of convergence — between Christian ideas and materialism.

  12. Hill Says:

    That’s a doctored quote from Zoolander. The original referents were Sting and his music. I felt that it poetically captured my feelings re: Meillassoux.

  13. Nathan Says:

    Good read. I, too, expected a harsher review, but based upon your previous discussions of speculative realism, not the title.

    Anyhow, my question (not directly related to Meillassoux) stems from this section:

    ‘Early Christian belief held that Jesus was only the first to be risen from the dead — he was the start of a sequence of events that would lead to the resurrection of everyone who had ever died, who would then come to populate the utopian Kingdom of God. Only later did Christians try to square this idea with the notion of the immortality of the soul, which originally came from Greek philosophers like Plato — the original vision of Christian redemption was not escape to escape from the body so that the soul could live in heaven, but to enjoy a renewed and immortal bodily existence.’

    I’m not well-versed in theology, but that sounds like intriguing stuff. Could you point me toward some books (scholarly or otherwise) related to the above topic?

  14. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I have an article in this journal issue that goes through the New Testament evidence. I’ll need to think about specific books.

  15. richdillon Says:

    During his reading sunday I was amused when I found the sum of all numbers given by a pair of dice (2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9+10+11+12) to be 77! I’m glad the RCC can still yields some “weird shit” in its wake. That bit about the Baptist and “Comme Si” or “as if” was neat given the “as if” nature of all wagers.

  16. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    It’s a brave new day when a post on meillassoux gets more interest here than Milbank. I am happy for it!

  17. Adam Kotsko Says:

    More people have commented here, but many, many, many more have looked at your post.

  18. MikeWC Says:

    I’m part of a discussion group full of non-academics, and our most recent topic was Divine Inexistence. I spent much of the two hours saying “No, he really means this. It isn’t a metaphor for something else.”

    I don’t get why someone would feel betrayed by the craziness of DI. Isn’t After Finitude crazy enough to begin with? Crackpot sublime, I love it. Can’t wait to read this.

  19. alberti Says:

    great review. I just want to mention that Meillassoux wants to think the absolute. When post-enlightenment-philosophy turned it’s back on Christianity (with good reasons) they also got rid of the absolute. The consequences: thinking began to limit itself (here are the secular questions there the religious). In After Finitude Meillassoux reintroduces his version of the absolute (against postmodern relativism). In The Number and the Siren Meillassoux unearthes how Mallarme recreates the divine (absolute) in modern terms.

  20. terenceblake Says:

    Agreed that Meillassoux re-instates the absolute and thus falls back into onto-theology. NO BORDERS METAPHYSICS has some interesting things to say about this, including a critique of his absolutisation of modality:

    http://anarchai.blogspot.fr/2012/05/dismantling-absolute-contingency.html

    I try to push the analysis a little further here:

    http://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2012/05/13/meillassouxs-onto-theology-of-contingency/

    and in summary form here:

    http://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2012/05/13/rorty-in-my-dreams-1-bogus-ontology-is-just-bad-epistemology/

  21. alberti Says:

    Thank you. I strongly disagree with the term onto-theology, its distorting his thought. Adorno with his negative dialectics is onto-theological. Meillassoux’ position is materialist and speculative but no where theological. Absolute contingency, that the “empirical laws” are not bound together by other laws (God), is just the Hume’ean insight that there is no reason that tomorrow the sun is rising. Non contradiction is important, because if A is existing and not existing at the same time than you fall back into the Spinozian absolute: God is all (a and not a) from this contradiction you can deduce then the whole world, since god will be everything. His reference to Christianity owes itself to the fact that in the heydays of Christianity the absolute was thought by philosophers as well as theologians (and when your thoughts went all the way to the absolute, you were most likely seen as an heretic anyway).

  22. terenceblake Says:

    If Meillassoux erects contingence into a transcendent principle, as Hilan Bensusan argues, then this is already onto-theology. The God who may come into existence is subordinate to contingence. Hume’s contingence is an epistemic contingence: there is no reason to believe that the sun will rise tomorrow. Meillassoux’s contingence is ontological. If one is discussing paraconsistent logics then you cannot just presuppose the old saw that from a contradiction everything follows (this is just begging the question), not even Meillassoux buys that (cf AFTER FINITUDE p78). His reference to Christianity is theological, but he makes his theology dependent on his ontological doctrine of contingence, which is thus again onto-theological.

  23. alberti Says:

    But this is the point. If you think Meillassoux’ Contingency as a “transcendent principle”, you throw the kid out with the bath water. Contingency would function as a new god. As I understand it, Meillassoux” tries to think the Contingency as a “real” outside of thought. It’s a paradox, to think something which is absolutely independent from thought. That’s his big conflict and task, which he takes on to think also against naive realism.

  24. Jason Hills Says:

    Alberti,

    That looks to be a good point. However, what about the position that there is no outside of thought, only outside of representation?

  25. alberti Says:

    Jason,
    If you assume that there is nothing outside of thought, you fall back into post-modernity. Humans are imprisoned into the correlational circle (If all humans suddenly die, the world disappears because no one thinks it) . The driving force of Meillassoux’ philosophy is just to fight these deabsolutizing theories. He says thinking is capable of thinking the outside (independent) of thought (Ancestral Argument). Representation does here not differ from thought. That the world existed prior to humans is a fact, neither thought nor representation are responsible for this, they only give access to this fact. (Meillassoux contests all constructivist theories which say that reality is a construction of thought and representation, even though they may be important for certain empirical researches as well as in our daily lives).

  26. Jason Hills Says:

    Alberti.

    I would counter that you are wrong, and that it seems that way to you only because of your presuppositions, which I do not likely share. However, my saying that “there is no outside thought” is saying something quite different than you might think. Nature thinks. Is there an outside nature? Why continually presume that humanity is not natural? Correlationism only seems a coherent problem to those who have yet to overcome Cartesianism. Finally, I’m not convinced that Meillassoux has anything new to say.

  27. alberti Says:

    You hit the nail on the head. Meillassoux is a radical Cartesian. He maintains that there is absolute dead matter, life came ex nihilo later. He thiinks radical differences. Your position, as well as Harman’s, Nietzsches’s, Deleuze’s he calls now Subjectist. One idea as: relation, will to power, vitality, is projected into reality and then generalized.
    Meillassoux is a philosopher, a rare one in our modern middle ages. All his thoughts are in the end about thinking, and he clarifies (the radical contingency strengthens in the end rationality)…no fast solution, no crazy inventions…what Do you expect?

  28. Jason Hills Says:

    I am so glad somebody has been reading my work. Whew … here I was worrying … but I’m still not sure how I compare to them. I’m not even in the same tradition.


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