Thursday, April 23, 2009

How strongly and deeply Whitehead’s metaphysics resonates with that of Deleuze

Without Criteria
from The Pinocchio Theory by Steven Shaviro
MIT Press informs me that my new book, Without Criteria: Kant, Whitehead, Deleuze, and Aesthetics, has now been published and will shortly be available (I am supposed to receive my own copies in the next week or so). ( still lists the book as not being published until May 29, but you may be able to order it well before then elsewhere).

Basically, I am arguing that both Whitehead and Deleuze are “neo-Kantians” of a particular sort. Deleuze himself argues, in his early book on Nietzsche, that Nietzsche put Kant on his feet in a manner analogous to how Marx claimed to have put Hegel on his feet; and that, in so doing, Nietzsche radicalized Kant in the way that the official “neo-Kantians” had tried and failed to do. In my book, I extend this claim to both Deleuze himself and to Whitehead. I try to show how Whitehead and Deleuze take certain ambiguous moments in Kant and push them in new directions — thus opening up areas of thought that Kant pointed towards but ultimately withdrew from. Most notably, I argue that Whitehead and Deleuze work with certain problems that are broached in the Third Critique. In the first part of this volume, The Critique of Aesthetic Judgment, Kant explores the possibility of judgments that are singular and noncognitive, not adjudicable by objective criteria, norms or rules. In the second part, The Critique of Teleological Judgment, Kant tackles the problem of living organisms, or of what today we would more broadly call self-organizing systems (which include, but are not restricted to, living organisms), and argues for a kind of double causality, or for a “freedom” (or perhaps undecidability) that supervenes upon traditional linear and mechanistic causality, not being reducible to it, but also not contradicting it.

In Without Criteria, I argue that these two moments in Kant’s thought have the potential to lead us away from the normative and legislative burden of Kant’s thought overall; but also without lapsing into either eliminativist reductionism, or Hegelian dialectics. I see both Whitehead and Deleuze as returning to these strange and “aberrant” moments in Kant, and using them to forge a new direction in metaphysics. One consequence of this new direction is to fulfill the demands of the Speculative Realists for a rejection of what Meillassoux calls correlationism, or the privileging of the human or rational subject, and of the relation between thought and being. My claim is that Whitehead explicitly, and Deleuze implicitly, create an object-oriented philosophy, precisely by arguing that something like Kant’s Transcendental Aesthetic, in which the “forms of sensibility” govern how we respond to objects that we encounter, in fact applies to all interactions whatsoever between objects, and not just to the case of “minds” encountering “external objects.” Rather than either rejecting the very notion of “things in themselves,” as most neo-Kantians have done, or making the correlationist move of dismissing these “things in themselves” as irrelevant to any philosophical discourse, Whitehead transforms the Kantian notion into a recognition (of the sort Graham Harman, in particular, calls for) of the independence of objects from the conditions of our particualar perceptions of them. (I have previously discussed this point here).

Now, my reading of the Speculative Realists has led me to consider two problems with my overall argument, which I do not address in the book, and which therefore I will need to work on further. One of them has to do with my account of Kant’s Critique of Teleological Judgment. Both Toscano and Grant suggest, in different ways, that I haven’t read this part of Kant carefully enough. In particular, they both argue that what I am calling “double causality” — Kant’s contrast between mechanism and organicism — is much more problematic, and internally contradictory, than I have been willing to consider. They both read double causality as an intractable aporia or deadlock; their readings suggest that I can’t get away with simply adapting Kant’s duality to Whitehead’s dualities as cheerfully and unproblematically as I have done. Instead, Toscano describes how this problematic leaves its marks on a progression of thinkers leading through Nietzsche and Simondon, and on to Deleuze; while Grant sees this deadlock as being crucial to, and being displaced and rejected by, Schelling’s Naturephilosophy (together with post-Schelling philosophies of nature, again including that of Deleuze). At the moment, I am still right at the beginning of grappling with this problem; so I cannot be clearer about it than I have been so far.

The second problem has to do, more specifically, with Graham Harman’s reading of Whitehead. Harman indeed praises Whitehead for being object-oriented; that is to say, for refusing to privilege human consciousness, and for making a philosophy that “can range freely over the whole of the world” rather than “remain[ing] restricted to self-reflexive remarks about human language and cognition” (Guerrilla Metaphysics, p. 42). But Harman also criticizes Whitehead (as I mentioned in my previous post) for seeing reality as being entirely relational, rather than accepting the existence of substances, or of “primary qualities” that are irreducible to relational ones. Whitehead, Harman says, “fails to distinguish between objects and elements” (Guerrilla Metaphysics, p. 194), i.e. he fails to consider the “interiors” of objects that are irreducible to the qualities revealed in their relations with other objects. I wrote in my previous post that Harman fails to consider how what Whitehead calls the “prehension” of one object by another involves, not just passive reception, but “contructive functioning.” I will add, here, that Harman also fails to take into account how, for Whitehead, every act of prehension is selective, involving a “subjective aim” on the part of the prehending entity that is not given in advance, and that is not merely the object’s inheritance from other objects. The subjective aim is responsible for the novelty introduced into the world, in greater or lesser measure, by every new entity; it constutitues the “privacy” of the entity, as opposed to the “publicity” by virtue of which it is accessible to other entities in its own turn. My claim is that Whitehead does provide a sense of how an entity is more and other than the sum of its encounters with other entities, and does so precisely without having to resort, as Harman does, to notions of substance and primary qualities. Harman complains that “no relational theory such as Whitehead’s is able to give a sufficient explanation of change” (Guerrilla Metaphysics, p. 82); but to say this is to ignore, once again, the way that an entity’s prehension of other entities always includes more than was present or apprehensible in the other entities. None of this is addressed in the book; and it all needs to be worked out more fully and coherently than I have done here. I hope to do so soon. Stay tuned.

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