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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Prometheanism and Rationalism

Here is the video for my talk ‘Prometheanism and Rationalism’, which was given at Goldsmiths courtesy of Simon O’Sullivan and the Visual Cultures department in May. The same talk was given the previous week at the Dutch Art Institute’s Prometheanism 2.0 event, organised by Bassam El Baroni, alongside Patricia Reed, Yuk Hui, and Inigo Wilkins. The video for the DAI version is available here. However, as is often the case, I think the second version is better.

Here is the abstract:

The aim of this talk is to articulate and defend the connection between contemporary forms of prometheanism and rationalism. It will begin by defining prometheanism through its opposition to political liberalism and normative naturalism, as developed by the projects of left-accelerationism and xenofeminism. It will then show how the success of these oppositions is premised upon philosophical rationalism, insofar as it supplies the needed accounts of positive freedom and normative autonomy, and articulate the problems faced by alternatives to liberalism and naturalism that reject these conceptual resources. The remainder of the talk will be devoted to elaborating the account of rational agency through which these concepts should be understood. Positively, it will aim to explain what reason is, giving a minimalistic picture of the capacities its exercise involves. Negatively, it will aim to explain what reason is not, addressing some common objections to rationalism based on misunderstanding its relation to affect, embodiment, collectivity, and other issues.

I’m quite pleased with the talk overall. For those who would like to read the first half, it is available in written form here. If you’re having difficult reading the slides, they’re available here. It’s also worth pointing out that this makes a good companion to my paper ‘The Reformatting of Homo Sapiens’ (video), whose analysis of myth it borrows. Furthermore, the explanation of contemporary rationalism at the end has been developed substantially in my work on Computational Kantianism, which I’ll be sharing here eventually.

Finally, it’s worth noting that my positive thoughts on what is now more properly called Left-Accelerationism (L#A) haven’t been widely available till now. This is despite the fact that I organised the second Accelerationism Workshop at Goldsmiths, was involved in putting together #ACCELERATE: The Accelerationism Reader, and, weirdly, that my tumblr response to Malcom Harris’s confused review of the reader – ‘So, Accelerationism, what’s all that about?’ – which does it’s best to diagnose the usual errors in usage and explain the left/right distinction, is the first reference on the accelerationism wikipedia page. This talk doesn’t cover everything I have to say about the matter, and there’s still some controversy about whether the term is salvageable, given the aforementioned confusions, but it’s nice to have something people can refer to.

More Atheology on Deleuze

Atheology has just put up another post on my interpretation of Deleuze, this time based on my more recent paper ‘Ariadne’s Thread: Temporality, Modality, and Individuation in Deleuze’s Metaphysics’ (available here). It’s a very generous and thorough reading of the paper, in relation to the other things I’ve written about Deleuze on the blog. Though he expresses a certain dissatisfaction with the unfinished character of the essay (it was written for an hour length presentation, and alas, was inevitably consumed by preliminaries) in parallel with his dissatisfaction at the unfinished character of my posts on Deleuze and Sufficient Reason (available here), he also says:

This strikes me as an extremely promising angle of approach and one which could easily yield a book-length treatment, perhaps under the title Ariadne’s Thread: Deleuze and the Song of Sufficient Reason. For me this approach represents tangible progress in the study of Deleuze’s thought.

I can only feel humbled by such praise, and would love to write this book one of these days. Alas, I am stuck in the same position as many of my compatriots, unsure as to which aspects of my work will lead to stable employment, so it’ll have to wait for now. That being said, I do intend to extend the ‘Ariadne’s Thread’ paper for publication at some point, once a few other commitments are out of the way. As such, the comments in Atheology’s post are very helpful and useful. However, there are a number of possible misunderstandings and points that can be addressed quickly, and so I will endeavour to do so here. I’ll try to number the points to keep them brief and organised. Continue reading

Atheology on Deleuze and Sufficient Reason

This is a very quick post to point people at a new blog called Atheology (now linked in the side bar), which has just put up a post (see here) commenting on my ‘Song of Sufficient Reason’ series of posts on Deleuze and the PSR (see the Important Posts section). That series of posts never got finished for various reasons, the third instalment being lost somewhere along the way. However, a lot of the unresolved threads are picked up in my more recent ‘Ariadne’s Thread’ paper on the overall shape of Deleuze’s metaphysics (see the Other Work section, or the Video section). It’s wonderful to find someone commenting so perspicuously on work I thought everyone had forgotten about (myself included). I look forward to reading more from Atheology on these and other topics as it appears.

Freedom Renewed

I’m always at a loss on how to start a post when the blog has been on hiatus for a while, which is something that seems to happen periodically with Deontologistics. The most recent hiatus has been a very long one, but it seems there are people still out there reading what comes out of this cognitive outflow vent. I’ve just returned from London, where I attended the third Matter of Contradiction conference: War Against the Sun, and the Speculative Aesthetics roundtable organised by James Trafford. These were both fantastic events, at which there was a palpable sense that certain divergent theoretical orientations are beginning to coalesce into a coherent trajectory of thought (indexed by the words ‘rationalism’, ‘accelerationism’, and ‘prometheanism’). I won’t say anything more about the content of these events, as the videos and transcripts of them will no doubt be appearing at some point, but I will mention that I had the opportunity to meet several very interesting people who knew me from the work I’ve posted here. This was very heartening, and convinced me that I should probably start putting some thoughts up here again.

I don’t have a lot of new material to put up here right now, as I’m currently working on the second half of my paper on Graham Harman (the first half of which is available here). However, after having some very interesting discussions with people on the topic of freedom (which I’ve written about in various ways: here, here and here), I realised that I had some old material languishing in a blog comment somewhere that some people might find interesting. As such, here’s some thoughts on the topic and its misappropriation by voluntarism.

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Deleuzian Catharsis

I’ve probably written before about my history with Deleuze, but I can’t think where exactly. For those who don’t know, I began my PhD thesis with the intent of working on Deleuze’s metaphysics and its implications for the philosophy of language, with an eye to combining it with Wittgensteinian pragmatism. The story goes that I couldn’t find the methodology I needed to adequately explain (let alone justify) Deleuze’s metaphysics, and so took a detour into Heidegger to acquire it. This was supposed to last a month or so, and ended up consuming four years of research and my entire thesis. I was also converted to Brandom’s Hegelian pragmatism in that time, and that has monopolised a lot of my other research efforts in the meantime. I’ve written the odd thing about Deleuze on this blog, but I haven’t seriously touched the books (let alone kept up with the secondary literature) in a good few years.

However, courtesy of my good friend (and prominent Deleuze scholar) Henry Somers-Hall, I recently got invited to give a paper at Manchester Metropolitan University on Deleuze’s theory of time. This was part of a larger workshop on Deleuze that was very successful indeed. A great event all around. Lots of things kept me from writing my paper until far too close to the deadline (I was working on it right up until the last minute), but it was a cathartic experience from beginning to end. Three years or so of pent up Deleuzian ideas came out all at once, and it produced a paper that is very dense, but not for that matter unaccessible. Moreover, the paper served as a wonderful vindication of my methodological detour, insofar as it displays the power of the critical framework I’ve been developing here and elsewhere. I’ve sometimes been accused of getting stuck at the level of critique, and never getting to the actual metaphysics. I think this is a pretty performative refutation of those criticisms.

I’m enormously pleased with the paper, and I was enormously gratified by the positive reception it received from the people at the workshop. There were some excellent questions and some great discussions afterwards. I’m reliably informed that the video of the various talks will be going up online soon, including Q&As, but I’ve decided to make minor revisions to my paper and post it up on the blog (here) while it’s still at the forefront of my mind. It’ll no doubt get revised further and turned into a proper publication at some point, but for now, enjoy!

For the Love of Spinoza

Happy New Year everyone. Levi recently put up an interesting post about Spinoza’s account of the relation between causal knowledge and ethics (here). As some of you may know, I’m quite a big fan of Spinoza. Not just of his metaphysics, but also of his resistance to Aristotelian teleology and his resolve to think freedom in a way compatible with his completely deterministic metaphysics. As I’ve argued elsewhere (here), Spinoza reconciles freedom with the principle of sufficient reason in a much healthier manner than Leibniz, and a lot of contemporary debates on this issue can be interpreted as taking place between neo-Leibnizians and neo-Spinozists. I’m firmly in the neo-Spinozist camp, but this doesn’t mean that I agree with Spinoza completely. Levi’s post very clearly outlines one of the points where I have an important disagreement with him (and his heirs), so it’s useful to address it. It also gives me a good excuse to work through some of the ideas I’ve been having about ethics and politics over the past few months.

This post is another fairly long one (8,000 words or so), but it not only contains my thoughts on Spinoza, but also some thoughts on Kant, Foucault, Sellars, Hegel, and Plato, which it pulls together to provide the outline of a theory of Justice. That may sound a bit over the top, but I’m nothing if not ambitious. Anyway, on with the show…

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Comments on Capitalist Realism (Part 1)

I recently finished reading Mark Fisher‘s Capitalist Realism. I’m very sorry it took me so long. Now I’m at the end of my thesis I’m starting to finally do things I’ve been putting off for a long time. Mark really must be praised for writing such an accessible and yet eminently perceptive and persuasive book. It touches on a number of issues I’ve been thinking about myself for a long time, and gives names to several phenomena that have been on the edge of my intellectual awareness for even longer. I don’t agree with all of it, and I can see numerous points where the discussion needs to be taken further, but these are merely signs of how thought provoking and well-written the book is.

As I’ve said, now I’m at the end of the thesis, I’m starting to pick up things I’ve put off, and start new projects again. Politics is what originally got me into philosophy. Specifically, I was motivated to take up theoretical philosophy by precisely what demotivated me to engage in practical political action: the problem of how it is possible to change anything in the current environment (an environment Mark so perspicuously circumscribes). I remember attending the big anti-war march just before the beginning of the Iraq war in London, the biggest peace protest in history at the time (I think), and seeing how easily it was assimilated and dissipated by the media-democratic complex. It struck me that a smaller number of people (with a smaller amount of public support behind them) brought down the Vietnam war, and yet this did precisely nothing. I was 17 at the time, and hoping to go into politics. That event disrupted my perspective and made me want to understand why it did nothing, and how it would be possible to do something. I’ve spent the last 7 years or so on a journey into high theory, acquiring a number of abstract theoretical tools along the way, and I think I’m finally ready to make my descent back toward concrete political issues. Capitalist Realism has only reinforced my resolve on this front.

To this end, I’m in the early stages of starting a new blog to discuss more concrete political issues. Deontologistics has always been very much a blog about abstract issues, and although I’ve touched on the odd bit of political and ethical theory here and there, that’s never been its purpose. The arrangements for the new blog are still coming together though (it doesn’t even have a name yet), so watch this space. The one thing I can tell you is that if there is one phrase that sums up its modus operandi, it’s this: political rationalism. Given all this, I feel that it’s a good idea for me to write up my thoughts on Capitalist Realism (or CR), as a preliminary to the work I’m hoping to undertake. This will be less of a summary of the book’s core ideas than an exploration of the terrain it covers from within my own theoretical perspective. This means adding some theoretical supplements and using these to sketch the ways in which I think some of Mark’s ideas can be developed. The other qualification to add here is that I’m not as well versed in political theory as I’d like, and so it’s quite possible that I’ll reinvent some theoretical wheels as I’m going here (especially with regard to Marx and Habermas). I’m very happy to have this pointed out to me.

As should be no surprise to regular readers, this will be a long post (this part is 16,000, which I believe is a new record). It started out life as an email to Mark and became somewhat excessive. It’s gotten so long that I’ve actually had to split it up into parts (the second has yet to be completed). Here is the first part, which involves more theoretical supplementation than political musing. The second part should get more concrete, or at least, as concrete as I am known to get.

Anyway, here we go…

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Dundee Epilogue

I’ve now had a day or two to recover from Dundee, and I thought I ought to put my thoughts up on the blog. I would have had them up yesterday, but I got an unexpected offer to go see Earth play live in Newcastle yesterday, and I try not to turn down such offers. To sum up the 21st Century Idealism conference, I wasn’t sure it would be able to top last years Real Objects or Material Subjects conference, but it completely surpassed my expectations. The organisers did a fantastic job, not only of picking a truly excellent set of papers, but of creating the most congenial and downright fun atmosphere. The main organisers (and other Dundee students, who did their fair bit) deserve a serious pat on the back for organising one of the best (and perhaps the best) conference I’ve ever been to.

I think my own paper (‘The Greatest Mistake: A Case for the Failure of Hegel’s Idealism’) went pretty well, and it achieved it’s goal of agitating the Hegelians in the audience (who were a great bunch of people, and took my criticisms very well). However, I was working on it right up until the beginning of my panel, so it was missing a few slides, and the conclusion was not as sharp as I would have liked. I’ve taken the intervening few days to remedy these defects a bit, and it can now be found here (PDFPPT Slides) and on the ‘Other Work’ page of the blog. Even those who saw me deliver it might find it worthwhile taking a second look, as I’ve expanded the conclusion a bit to clear up some of the issues from the Q&A.

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Hijacking Correlationism

Graham recently put up an interesting post about the various positions within Meillassoux’s philosophical ‘spectrum’, and where OOP stands in relation to them (here, linked by Gratton here). This is most interesting, because it goes some way to confirming the diagnosis of OOP I made in my TR essay (here). Since most people don’t have the time to read the whole thing, I’ll recreate the basic elements of the argument here (with a certain amount of tweaking).

First of all, the core point of the essay is that the ‘spectrum’ of positions provided by Meillassoux is incomplete, and that there are at least two further important positions (not including OOP) that need to be added to it, which I call deflationary realism and transcendental realism. The revised range of possible positions should be something like: classical realism (Aristotle, Locke, etc.), classical idealism (Berkeley, Hegel, etc.), weak correlationism (Kant), strong correlationism (Wittgenstein, Heidegger, etc.), speculative materialism (Meillassoux), OOP (Graham, and perhaps related OOO variants), deflationary realism (Quine, McDowell, Brandom, etc.), and transcendental realism (me and potentially a few others). I won’t line these up in a spectrum, because I think there’s too many dimensions at work here.

The other relevant point that I made is that both Meillassoux and Graham justify their respective positions by hijacking the arguments for correlationism, albeit in different ways. This is very explicit in Meillassoux’s work, though has been somewhat more understated in Graham’s (although his post makes this explicit to some extent). On the basis of this, my argument was that if we undermine the arguments for correlationism directly, then we undermine the most powerful arguments in favour of both speculative materialism and OOP. This was then done by showing that despite the fact that correlationism is meant to be an epistemological position (or at least that we are supposed to be able to formulate it in purely epistemological terms), it depends upon certain implicit ontological (and thus metaphysical) assumptions. In effect, what Meillassoux and Graham do in hijacking correlationism is just to try and make these assumptions explicit, and work out their consequences. The problem is simply that once one recognises this, one sees that these are not metaphysical positions that are necessitated by non-metaphysical (epistemological or phenomenological) facts, but are just different ways to develop some existing metaphysical assumptions. Arguing against those assumptions thus undermines correlationism, speculative materialism, and OOP all at once.

This is a very schematic presentation of these ideas, which doesn’t show how the two sides link up. As such, I’m going to try and flesh it out a bit.

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