Greetings from the Southern hemisphere! I have now arrived in South Africa to take up a position as a postdoctoral research fellow in the Philosophy Department at the University of Johannesburg. I haven’t met most of my colleagues yet, and I’m off to New York for some speaking events next week (see below), but I’m very much looking forward to being part of an academic community again. I’ve spent far too long in the wilderness. There is a lot I want to do in the year (or more) that I’m going to be here: from just generally getting my life in order and building up some positive habits, to teaching myself some more abstract mathematics and concrete applications thereof. However, my main focus is to convert as much of the unpublished work I’ve done over the last decade into things that can be published in journals and thereby converted into academic experience points. For better or worse, I’m on the professional equivalent of a dungeon crawl. At least I’ve got some fellow adventurers to come researching with me, and who is to say there won’t be some interesting loot to find along the way?
<insert usual apologies about lack of substantial posts>
Now that that’s out the way I can update you all about a few important developments.
Good: After several years of unsuccessful applications, I’ve landed a postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of Johannesburg. In the long term, this should mean more writing (hopefully some of it here on the blog), but in the short term it means I’m busying myself with the ins and outs of moving to South Africa. There will be a chance to catch me giving a few talks before I leave Europe though:
- I’ll be speaking at Prometheanism 2.0 at the Dutch Art Institute in Arnhem on the 1st of May.
- For UK people, I’ll be giving the same paper a few days later in the Visual Cultures department at Goldsmiths on the 5th of May.
- I’ll also be speaking at the Continental and Analytic Kantianism conference organised by Fabio Gironi on the 15th-17th of June.
Bad: I have regrettably had to cancel my New Centre Course on Art and Value. I was looking forward to the course, and I’m sad I won’t have the chance to work through material with the wonderful students of the NCRP. Hopefully I’ll still get a chance to work out some of these ideas at some point in the future.
Ugly: BRAINWASHED DUBSTEP RATIONALIST MIND-SLAVES (we know who we are).
I don’t think I’ve said much about the book or its reception on here since the incident with Jon Cogburn a while back. Urbanomic recently put up a transcript of an interview I did at the book launch, which explains some of my thoughts on it. I’m still pleased with the book overall, both as a polemic and as a commentary on various issues in metaphysics and philosophy more generally. However, some might wonder whether I’m still happy with the tone of the book, given the seeming importance such considerations had in previous blog debates, and Jon’s visceral reaction to my use of the word ‘pathological’ in the preface.
One of the most interesting things about Jon’s reaction was his reference (in the comments) to “Brassier’s people”and their insidious influence upon me (presumably through the medium of dubstep). This shadowy organisation surrounding Ray Brassier has been around for a while, variously called ‘the neurology death cult’, ‘retroactive bootlicks of scientific work’, and most recently “sneering “dark” rationalists who are really only dark in the sense that a Grim Reaper Halloween costume is dark.” They also go by various permutations of ‘scientism’, ‘nihilism’, ‘eliminativism’, ‘pessimism’, in combination with sundry negative adjectives and faux-renegade imagery. Their modus operandi is to destroy all that is wholesome and good in Continental philosophy, through a combination of perfidious science worship and mellifluous brainwashing of impressionable grad students. Fortunately, Graham Harman has done his best to bring the tenebrous antics of this hidden cabal to light over the years, bravely divulging its secret names in various blog posts, and carefully warning students of its dubstep mind control…
…and that’s about as much sarcasm as I can manage for the moment. As the above link indicates, respectful tone has never really been as high on Harman’s list of priorities as he suggests. My book contains some fairly acerbic remarks, but at least they emerge from a serious philosophical engagement.
If you are really interested in insidious philosophical influence, I suggest looking into OOO’s ongoing penetration of the artworld (e.g., this recent overview and this recent piece by Tim Morton). If you want to see my most caustic comments on where this influence might lead, Urbanomic have generously made available the hyperbolic reading of OOP at the end of my book.
It’s been too long since I’ve written something substantial here on deontologistics, and I’ve promised myself I’m going to try and remedy that this year. However, for now you’re going to have to be satisfied with an advertisement for my next course with the New Centre for Research and Practice. I’ve been threatening to run a course on aesthetics since I started working with them, and the time has finally come. However, unlike my past few seminars, this will be a full 8 weeks, and will involve a more focused reading and discussion of some important texts in art theory and the history of aesthetics. I’ll quote the course outline here for those who are interested, but full details are available over at the NCRP website:
What is art? Contemporary art is haunted by this question, sometimes obsessed by and sometimes outright hostile to it, but never truly free from it. This constant tension is sublimated by those philosophies of art that developed during the transition from modern to contemporary art, which resolve the conflicts between traditional aesthetics and contemporary practices by dissolving them, indexing art to its institutional reality and the historical context of the artworld. That this dissolution is no solution is apparent in the continued strife between aesthetics and philosophy of art, which fluctuate between superposed identity and resolute distinctness, as much as the constitutive crisis of self-identity that determines contemporary art as such. Nevertheless, if we aim to provide a genuine solution, we must remain sensitive to the historical process of self-definition driving the institutional evolution of art. We must trace the various moments of its self-imposed split from craft: as propaganda, decoration, or entertainment; examine the gradual reinforcement then sudden collapse of the barriers between mediums: the dialectic of concrete figure and abstract form in painting and sculpture, the subsequent rise of performance and installation, and the eventual emergence of the exhibition as its own medium; and explore its tumultuous relationship with literature, music, drama, cinema, and other institutionalised practices that covet the title of arts.
But we must go deeper still if we wish to free contemporary art from this question. The only way to define art that accounts for its continuity with and distinctness from other ‘aesthetic’ domains and practices is to transmute the question: what is the value of art? Since the end of the 20th century, there has been a concerted effort to rehabilitate the aesthetic dimension of art, beginning with the question of sensation, engaging with the status of pleasure, and ultimately returning to the classical concern with beauty. However, this development essentially ignores the issue from which classical aesthetics emerged, namely, the status of beauty as a value comparable to (and for some, identical to) truth and goodness. It was the slow reduction of beauty to a specific sensible quality in the aesthetic tradition that enabled the artistic rejection of beauty in the first place, catalysing the crisis of definition that has lead us here. The rehabilitation of the ‘aesthetic value’ of this quality thus invites the deeper question of what such value consists in, and, if it extends beyond the domain of art, what is peculiar about the form it takes in that domain? These questions demand that we return to the philosophical roots of aesthetics, and determine whether there is a place for a more expansive concept of beauty qua value: encompassing perfection, sublimity, and fascination as well as harmony and simple prettiness, and sufficient to articulate the relations between natural wonders, crafts, arts, and ‘art’ simpliciter.
The goal of this seminar is thus to answer one question – ‘What is art?’ – by addressing more foundational questions about the nature of value. This strategy is thoroughly rationalist in spirit, but our pursuit of it will be equally rationalist in practice: it will involve exploring rationalist themes in the aesthetic tradition from Plato to Hegel, and leveraging ideas about reason, freedom, and normativity from contemporary rationalist thought. However, it remains a research seminar. The relevant questions must be broken down further, and what would constitute adequate answers remains to be seen.
Hello again. Myself and Ben Woodard will be teaching another online course for the New Centre for Research and Practice titled ‘Philosophy as System: An Introduction to German Idealism’ beginning on October 27th. I’ll be taking the lead teaching Kant and Hegel, and Ben will be taking the lead teaching Fichte and Schelling, and I’m looking forward to it immensely. The blurb for the course is as follows:
German Idealism has been slandered as that school of thought which ‘ran through the door that Kant only wished to peak through’ thereby appearing as a crude return to dogmatic or pre-critical metaphysics. However, the speculativeambition of the German Idealists was far from opposed to Kant’s critical restraint, but rather, their characteristic systematic impulse was derived as much from Kant’s methodological concerns as his transcendental idealism. The aim of the present course is thus to thoroughly demolish this stubborn caricature of German Idealism. Beginning with the architectonic of Kant’s system, we will show how he and his successors created new forms of systematic philosophy which risked accusations of subjective idealism in order to grasp not only the fundamental structures of thought, but how thinking itself alters, and is embedded in, the world. In addition to providing a historical overview of four major thinkers (Kant, Fichte, Hegel, and Schelling) and contextualizing their philosophical contributions, we will aim to connect concepts drawn from their work to contemporary philosophical and extra-philosophical concerns.
If you’re interested, more information about the course and how to register can be found here.
I recently gave a talk at the Inhuman Symposium at the Fridericianum in Kassel, titled ‘The Reformatting of Homo Sapiens‘. The video of the event has just been released, so I’m sharing it here for those who are interested. The paper itself is slightly truncated, and really needs a further section discussing desire, and outlining a positive conception of agency, selfhood, and value on that basis. However, such are the perils of time limits.
Here is my talk:
And here is the panel discussion, in which I have quite a lively back and forth with Rosi Braidotti:
I highly recommend watching the other talks, which are also available here.
New Year’s greetings to everyone. Sorry there hasn’t been much up here in a while. For those of you who don’t know, I’m teaching an online course for the New Centre for Research and Practice titled ‘Reintroduction to Metaphysics’. The first half of the module, ‘The Speculative Return’, which dealt with the history of metaphysics, its 20th century decline, and its return to popularity within the Continental tradition, took place last year. The second half, ‘Method and Practice’, which will attempt to say something positive about the methodology of metaphysics and tackle a few specific metaphysical topics, is starting next week, and there’s still time to sign up to take it or audit it if you’re interested. For those who are curious, the syllabus is available here.
For those of you who may not be aware, myself and Armen Avanessian organised a Summer school on ‘Emancipation as Navigation‘ at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in July. This involved seminars given by Reza Negarestani, Armen, myself, Anke Hennig, James Trafford, Deneb Kozikoski, Nick Srnicek, Lucca Fraser, Benedict Singleton, Helen Hester, and Ray Brassier, and a bunch of fantastic participants.
Some of these participants (most notably Benjamin Tippin) have now set up a blog to host the available audio of the event, and have started with the audio of my seminars. Unfortunately, not everyone wants their seminars made publicly available, but given some more audio magic (courtesy of Lendl Barcelos) there should be more audio made available soon, and maybe even some thoughts from the other participants.