Transcendental Blues

Content Notes: Suicide (§0-1), Mental Health (§*), Neuroscience (§2, §4), Logic (§3.2), Computer Science (§4), Rhetoric (§*). PDF.

0. That Fucking Dog

When I found out Mark Fisher had finally been cornered by the black dog, I was standing at a bus stop on a chill morning in Ryhope. I could see the sea from where I was, and I could hear the pain in my friend’s voice, but I couldn’t connect with either of them. I couldn’t connect with anything. My life had unravelled around me. I’d recently admitted to myself and others that I couldn’t return to my postdoctoral position in South Africa. I couldn’t write or read. I couldn’t even understand my own work. I couldn’t enjoy anything. Not music. Not food. Not the morning sea. I could barely stand to be in the same room as people who cared about me. All because I was being chased by the same black fucking beast.

I was dragging myself out of bed every morning and walking a tooth grinding forty-five minutes to the nearest swimming pool in order to get the thirty minutes of exercise that was supposed to keep the beast at bay. The path follows the route of an old colliery railway line, over a bridge my great-grandfather helped build more than a century ago. Every day, once on the way there, and once on the way back, I’d think about throwing myself off of that bridge. It would never quite rise to the level of volition. I could consider the burdens I’d lift from others, the anxieties I’d finally be free of, even the bleak poetry of it. What I couldn’t do was ignore it. This was the first time this had ever happened to me.

I couldn’t process the significance of Mark’s death. I was too numb. Deep depression washes all the colour out of the world, turning the contrast down until you can’t tell the difference between real loss and mundane misery. It’s leaked in slowly, bit by bit over the last year, as I regained enough sensitivity to properly feel it, and enough understanding to properly mourn it. It’s the sort of thing you get periodically reminded of, discovering new layers of response each time, be it wistful sadness or blistering anger. I don’t think this process is finished, it won’t be for a while, but I hope that writing this post will help it along. Back then, there was one meaningful signal that cut through the depressive noise: this fucking thing shouldn’t have been allowed to take him from us, and I shouldn’t let it take me too.

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Towards Computational Kantianism

The video of my talk on Computational Kantianism from the #Accelerate General Intellect event organised by Tony Yanick and the New Centre for Research and Practice at the Pratt Institute in NYC is finally available. Unfortunately, chunks of video are missing, the sound quality is not great, and the first 10 minutes or so are absent entirely. Luckily, those first 10 minutes cover much the same ground as my talk at the Future of Mind Conference. Technical issues aside, I’m mostly happy with the content of this talk, though it covers work that is still in progress. The only qualifications I would make concern the more speculative remarks on mathematics towards the end, which I can see probably don’t have enough context for most people, especially without video of the diagrams I was using to illustrate the connections between my reading of Kant and computational trinitarianism. Moreover, I can now see that what I was saying about co-inductive types is not quite right, because it doesn’t adequately capture the speculative duality with homotopy type theory I’m circling around, even though I’m still convinced that there is a significant duality hereabouts. These are ideas I’m obviously going to have to elaborate in more detail elsewhere. Till then, this will have to do:

Figure/Ground Interview

This is a short post to announce that I’ve been interviewed by Laureano Ralon for Figure/Ground.  The questions I was asked cover a really wide range of topics and have forced me to revisit a number of things I haven’t talked about in a while. However, I’m not known for brevity, and so some of my answers are rather in depth. I hope people enjoy reading it!


Transmodern Philosophy

For those of you who don’t yet know, I have spent the last few months organising a Summer school at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin with Armen Avanessian and Reza Negarestani. The revised program for the Summer school with links to the recommended readings is now available (here). I can now also reveal that there will be a blog (Transmodern Philosophy) on the 60pages curation platform that is beginning today (Navigating the Philosophical Landscape), and which will provide some opening thoughts along with ongoing commentary on the various seminars over the course of the school.

UPDATE: I accidentally updated a draft version of the new programme rather than the finished one. The link has now been changed.

Berlin Summer School (Abstracts)

For anyone who hasn’t come across it yet, I have recently been involved in organising a Summer school in Berlin this July (1st to 12th): ‘Emancipation as Navigation: From the Space of Reasons to the Space of Freedoms’ (see here). I’m also due to discuss some of the themes of the school with Anthony Paul Smith this coming Thursday (see here). I’m afraid that applications for places at the Summer school have already closed, but there should be some outputs from it that I will be sure to flag up here as they appear. In the meantime, here are the abstracts for the two sessions I will be leading:

Freedom and Reason

This first session aims to outline the connection between the concepts of freedom and reason. We will begin by tracing the dialectic of the concept of freedom, beginning with Spinoza and Leibniz’s attempts to make free will compatible with the principle of sufficient reason, and showing how this debate is refracted through Kant’s account of rational agency. We will see how this refraction splits the Kantian tradition into an authentic Spinozan form (Hegel, Marx, Foucault, and Sellars) and a vulgar Leibnizian form (Schelling, Sartre, Badiou, and Žižek). We will then outline Sellars’ authentic reconstruction of Kant’s account of individual agency, and use this to delineate two strands of post-Kantian thought about collective agency (Hegel-Marx and Heidegger-Foucault), before integrating them with Brandom’s Hegelian extension of Sellars’ Kantianism.

Navigation and Representation

The second session aims to approach the connection between freedom and reason from the opposite direction, by providing an account of the specifically linguistic capacities that a rational agent must possess to count as a rational agent. We will begin by tracing the dialectic of the concept of language in the 20th century, focusing on the analytic tradition that grows out of the philosophy of logic at the end of the 19th century. We will do this by framing the development of this tradition in terms of Brandom’s logical expressivism – the idea that logic is the organon of semantic self-consciousness, or that the role of logical vocabulary is to make explicit what is otherwise implicit in what we do. This will allow us to see the various blockages in the tradition’s development as forms of semantic false-consciousness engendered by fixation upon a particular logical vocabulary at the expense of the more complex pragmatics of which it expresses a fragment. We will then attempt to show how Brandom’s inferentialism aims to explain representation in terms of the pragmatics of dialogical reasoning, and how this identifies the capacity for dialectical navigation as the crucial connection between freedom and reason.

Dialectical Insurgency

As anyone who has been reading this blog for any length of time knows, brevity is not one of my virtues. I’m quite pleased with the whole project of Deontologistics, and still plan to continue posting the sorts of long pieces that it’s known for (albeit less frequently than I used to). However, I’ve come to realise the benefit of having a space to express thoughts that are too long for twitter (@deontologistics) but too short or ill-formed for me to be comfortable posting them here. At the same time, although I have occasionally touched on topics that extend beyond pure philosophy, this blog is very much a philosophy blog, and I’m reluctant to use it to take positions on questions of politics, art, and other issues.

For these reasons, I’ve opened up a new tumblr blog, Dialectical Insurgency, with the aim of encouraging myself to share (and thus formulate) shorter and more in-progress ideas on a variety of topics.  I’ve just put up some thoughts on cognitive economics and stress that’ve been floating around in my brain for a while now. I hope some of you might find it interesting.

Freedom, Beauty, and Justice (via the Accelerationism Workshop)

As many of you will already know, there was a small workshop on the theme of accelerationism at Goldsmith’s earlier this month, at which myself and a few others spoke. Despite two out of five speakers having to pull out on short notice due to illness, the workshop went very well, and I was rather pleased with the talks and the discussion that ensued after them. However, given the absence of those speakers, we didn’t really come close to defining ‘accelerationism’, which is still a nebulous term, even if it connects many things that we were all interested in. For this and other reasons, not everyone was happy having the talks and discussion recorded and put online.

However, I’m quite happy to make my own talk available, as it does a good job of connecting various things I’ve discussed on this blog over the last couple years, most importantly my concerns with the concepts of Freedom, Beauty, and Justice, and the connections between them. The talk also contains some quick remarks on the critique of liberalism, but I didn’t have the time to develop these in the depth I’d like. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to work all this up into a more coherent and detailed piece at some point. For now, you’ll just have to listen to this.

The Art Kettle

This post is in many ways long overdue. I received a free copy of Sinead Murphy’s The Art Kettle last year, with the promise that I’d review it. The book made an instant impression on me, but for various reasons (personal and professional) the review went by the wayside. I returned to the book recently with the intention of finally finishing the review and submitting it to the British Postgraduate Journal of Aesthetics. However, I found it even richer than the first time I read it, and the piece quickly spiralled beyond the word limit of a short review (it was meant to be 2000 words, and is now around 6000). Re-reading the book and writing the review has helped me to focus and develop some of the ideas about aesthetics and beauty that I’ve been discussing for a while now, and which I discussed with a number of people at the recent Speculative Aesthetics event in London. It thus contains a brief, but reasonably thorough overview of my more mature thinking on these topics, and may be of interest to those who read this blog.

As such, I’m putting up the current draft for people to read: ‘The Ends of Beauty: Sinead Murphy’s The Art Kettle. This should get edited and adapted for publication soon (possibly in Pli, possibly elsewhere), and so comments are thoroughly welcomed. Finally, it should go without saying that I think you should all buy this book. If you’re interested in art-theory, and particularly if you’re fed up of the state of contemporary art, The Art Kettle will stimulate you and give you new theoretical tools to deal with it. Plus, it’s cheap, short, and well written. What’re you waiting for?

Direct to Video

Last year I posted up a paper I gave at MMU entitled ‘Ariadne’s Thread: Temporality, Modality, and Individuation in Deleuze’s Metaphysics’ (available in PDF here). The wonderful people at MMU have now put up the video of my talk (along with the other’s from the same workshop) as part of their brilliant Actual/Virtual series. The whole set can be seen here, but I couldn’t resist putting a direct link to the video on the blog. I’m hoping to turn this paper into a publication at some point soon, so any suggestions/comments are thoroughly welcomed.

Dr Pete Wolfendale from Helen Darby on Vimeo.

Now that I have a whole two videos online, I’ve created a new page to index them. Hopefully there’ll be some more of these put up at some point.