Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Reharmonizations of ancient metaphysics and philosophical contributions in a fortified form

By incorporating Gadamer’s metaphysics and ontology into his account of epistemai and mutable historical a prioris, Foucault would have access to non-constructed shared structures, which because of their web-like interconnections and flexible boundaries, would be both amenable to his episteme-specific conditioning rules and would provide the present-yet-absent background “space” needed to fill the gaps between epistemai. In other words, these interconnected metaphysical structures, given their identity-range and ongoing concealment-unconcealment dialectic, would give Foucault a way to explain the transitional movements between epistemai and how elements from past epistemaican be taken up in subsequent historical periods, be reconfigured and yet still recognizable as echoes of something else, and come to play a completely different role in the new episteme. These common structural yet non-identical overlaps across epistemai, in which former discursive elements, concepts, and practices are reharmonized in a new episteme and inhabit an organization “place” along a continuum of central and peripheral roles, support and strengthen a view of epistemai with porous and permeable rather than rigidly fixed boundaries and internal rules.
Just as Foucault is reticent to speak of historical a prioris as metaphysical principles, he is also reticent to make explicit claims regarding transcultural structures or capacities possessed by all human beings—even though his account presupposes such structures. We have also seen that Foucault’s expansion of his methodology to an archaeology-plus-genealogy and his affirmation in later writings of our inability to step outside of the conditioning of our own episteme allow him to overcome deficiencies of his earlier formulations. Foucault’s methodological amendment and the accompanying implication that the archaeologist too is historically conditioned share family resemblances with Gadamer’s notion of our socio-cultural and linguistically shaped hermeneutical horizons. Because they both affirm the contingency of these socially-formed conditioning factors, neither thinker advocates a social determinism locking us into a particular horizon or prohibiting us access to other historical periods.
Like Foucault, Gadamer, as Taylor points out in his essay, presupposes some kind of common human nature or shared transhistorical metaphysical structures.[12] Unlike Foucault, Gadamer acknowledges and makes explicit his appropriations and reharmonizations of ancient metaphysics to support a historically-friendly view of shared human structures.  In light of the fact that Foucault’s notion of power relations, resistance possibilities, and his analyses of active subjects and self-transformative technologies presuppose common volitional and rational capacities among humans, he has much to gain from joining hands with Gadamer and making these metaphysical assumptions explicit. Given Foucault’s expanded archaeology and his affirmation of our finitude and interpretative constraints, my proposed archaeologico-hermeneutical fusion would, if my account is correct, allow him to retain his innovative insights and philosophical contributions in a fortified form. Not only would his account become more coherent, but the emancipatory aspects of his analyses would be redoubled and their viability amplified and available for application to current socio-political issues.

I suspect that OOO is more analogous to negative theology than to deconstruction, insofar as the object is supposed to have some kind of content. In fact, in conversation with Levi he has said that the “withdrawn” object includes unrealized potentiality, which then serves as the ground of the possibility of change. I still maintain that we don’t need any hidden content to make change possible. You can get change through negativity or inherent ontological incompleteness, and indeed I would argue that the change achieved in that model is more “real” than the change Levi was promoting in that conversation, because the unrealized potential of the object is “always already there” even if it doesn’t manifest at any given moment. (This isn’t the main point of the post, however, and I may be wrong about what Levi meant.)
What’s more, everything I’ve read from Harman and Levi indicates that the object is the self-identical “ground zero” of reality — so that the withdrawal of the object from all relationships (including and especially its relationship to human cognition) serves to reinforce its base-level self-identity.
So overall, it seems to me that OOO’s approach to the object is similar to negative theology’s approach to God. Am I getting anything horribly wrong here? (Just to be clear, I don’t mean to say that OOO is “secretly religious” or anything of the sort — I’m only talking about the formal similarity between OOO and negative theology.)

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Philosophical despair & post-secular spirituality

Two of the major figures I would like to refer to in this regard are both Americans.  One is Richard N Bucke, who wrote a book called Cosmic Consciousness in 1901. The book was inspired by an experience, on  which he wrote in the third person due to a sense of impersonality that had entered his consciousness.  […]
1901-1902 is also the year of the publication of a major work, one may say, the foundational text of world religions, of comparative mysticism, and of one might call the subjective science of the future.  This is William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience.  In this work, James characterizes all mystical experiences by four features. It’s interesting that James  first characteristic of mystic experience is stated in terms that may almost be taken out of the description of his experience by Richard Bucke Bucke says of his experience that he had an exaltation “followed by an intellectual illumination quite impossible to describe.”  
István Mészáros.  Social Structure and Forms of Consciousness, Volume I: The Social Determination of Method.  Monthly Review Press, 2010.  463 pp.
The book in effect presents a number of case studies on particular thinkers.  One example is the discussion of Hannah Arendt in the chapter on the 'Rise and Fall of Historical Temporality'.  While Arendt was a critical writer, Mészáros shows that she accepted certain premises which trapped her thinking within the bounds of bourgeois thought.  The horizon of the possible becomes limited to capitalism.
Thus the possibility of democratic control of production is ruled out of consideration before her analysis begins.  Arendt is further taken to task for a relativistic argument concerning the meaning of history, leading to pessimism about knowledge itself, and is shown to be caricaturing Marx's understanding of the manner in which humanity makes its own history (pp. 123-5).  The decay of bourgeois thought is exemplified here in Arendt's treatment of Descartes, which for Mészáros is as distorted as her treatment of Marx. Descartes' principle of doubt was a point of departure 'which in its explicitly stated positive aspirations aims at the constitution of secure knowledge' (p.122).  
The problem is not just at the level of epistemology and history.  Philosophical despair at the possibility of knowledge becomes practical despair at the possibility of changing the world. Arendt stands here therefore as an exemplum of a whole range of twentieth-century schools of thought.