now writing

September 28, 2009

Now writing my “Response to Shaviro” for The Speculative Turn, and when that’s finished we’ll be just about ready to enter the final editing process, with only one other piece still missing (and we’re confident it will arrive soon).

The response to Shaviro will be slightly longer than planned, because I found that before dealing with his criticisms (which are perfectly interesting) I need to present a different model of what is now happening in continental philosophy than is implied by Shaviro. In particular (and he knows this) I think it’s a terrible mistake to pair Whitehead with Deleuze. There is a very basic and important problem when that is done.

Naturally, it’s always possible to pair just about any philosopher with just about any other. It all depends on what topic you choose. For instance, you could write something on “Abelard, Aquinas, Malebranche, and Derrida,” since they are all linked through residence in Paris. And maybe you could indeed come up with something interesting about the role of Paris in all of their writings, I don’t know. But when trying to present sweeping overviews of basic groups of philosophers, choosing exactly the right topic is crucial. And I just don’t see how both Whitehead and Deleuze belong together due to the topic of “process”. Whitehead is a philosopher of actual individuals, Deleuze really isn’t. Latour is a philosopher of actual individuals, Bergson, Simondon, and DeLanda really aren’t; in fact, the exact opposite is true.

Of course all of these people try to talk about process. Even I myself do, despite Shaviro’s belief that I only talk about stasis. Even Parmenides talks about process, he simply assigns it to the sphere of the senses. Change is a basic aspect of our world, and at least needs to be mentioned by every philosopher at some point. But there’s a big difference between saying that the world is made of actualities that produce time through their actions, and saying instead that concrete actual states are derivative of something else.

I’ve fought this battle mostly with Latourians so far. Many Latourians (and even Latour himself when in a combative mood) will say that I’ve caricatured his position, because of course he would never be so stupid as to say that individual states are frozen in their current conditions without pointing toward future states. The word “conatus” is usually invoked at this point. But you can’t invoke conatus as a vis dormitiva: “things change by means of a changing faculty.” You have to explain how the capacity for change is inscribed in the current actuality of a thing, or claim that the current actuality of a thing has something illusory about it, that it’s produced by consciousness as an abstraction due to practical needs, etc. You can’t do both. There’s a real problem here.

What is most characteristic of Latour and Whitehead as metaphysicians is their belief in the ontological principle: everything that happens has its reason in the constitution of some actual entity. And I don’t see how that could possibly be said about Deleuze, Bergson, or Simondon. And quite often, Latour does get the point and agree with me that my principle is true that “Latour is the anti-Bergson.” They are the polar opposites on virtually every issue of importance.

It follows as a corollary that trying to link Latour with Deleuze is also highly misleading, despite the admitted evidence of Anti-Oedipus on the early Latour. In fact, the early Latour was surely reading more Deleuze than he was Whitehead, but it turns out not to matter: the position Latour ends up
is a Whiteheadian position, not a Deleuzian one. Even Latour’s link of his own “plasma” with the Deleuzian virtual is ultimately unconvincing. Latour/Deleuze just doesn’t really work. Latour/Whitehead, however, clearly does. And that fact is very illuminating as to why Whitehead/Deleuze is a shaky union as well.

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