Ivakhiv’s latest

September 29, 2009

Sorry, I still don’t have enough time on my hands to get into a point-by-point discussion with ADRIAN IVAKHIV’S LATEST POST. However, I have to say that I find less convincing material in this post than in perhaps any of his others. Just to mention a few points:

*”This seems to be classifying each thinker according to the way they present space — as made up of actual individuals (Whitehead) or objects (Latour) versus something more amorphous in Deleuze — rather than how they present time. In contrast to the philosophical mainstream, which each of them opposes or critiques in some way, all three present time as emergent, open, and in a process of creative becoming.”

For Whitehead as for Latour, time is made of occasions. Actual entities last only for an instant. Then they are gone. They have perished. By contrast, I don’t see how the concept of “instant” makes any more sense for Deleuze than it does for Heidegger. In short, Whitehead and Deleuze are as opposed on time as they are on space, so it cuts no ice when Ivakhiv claims I’m trapped in some sort of spatializing of the problem.

And as for this: “all three present time as emergent, open, and in a process of creative becoming.” Almost anyone’s theory of time could meet this standard. I don’t see that this makes for much of an alliance.

*”In Latour this is less clear, but he says so little about objects and so much about processes of network-building, i.e. relational processes, that I think it’s fair to include him in this category.”

Latour doesn’t speak about “objects” because he uses terms like “actors” or “actants” instead. And actors and actants appear on virtually every page of his writings. Hence, it’s not at all true that he speaks “so little about objects,” except in the trivially literal sense that “objects” is my term and not Latour’s.

Also, Latour talks about relations, not relational processes. Latour talks about actors in one state of relations, then talks about how things change so that actors are later in another state of relations. This is by no means the same thing as claiming that process, change, becoming, or flux are prior to stasis.

I think what has happened is really pretty simple. People have decided that traditional philosophy focused too much on stasis and substance. Instead of this, they hold, we should champion process, becoming, and creativity. And for this reason, they want to read every philosopher they happen to like as champions of process, becoming, and creativity.

*”I also think that both [Latour] and Delanda are discussing the same sort of thing — processes of network-building or assemblage (as a verb)”

Latour and DeLanda is a fairly tough alliance to build. DeLanda like Roy Bhaskar ridicules “actualism,” the notion that things are reducible to their current actuality, which is why DeLanda is more interested in attractors and the like than in concrete entities in specific states. By contrast, Latour is probably the great actualist of all living philosophers. An actor for Latour is never anything more than it is here and now. Potentiality is impossible, etc.

*”It’s true that for Whitehead, ‘everything that happens has its reason in the constitution of some actual entity,’ but that’s only the case if we take that ‘constitution’ as including the relations that make it up (including the “lure” of God, if we use his theological language, that brings out the creativity of every actual occasion/entity).”

To my mind, this merely confuses what is really a very simple issue.

Whitehead makes it very clear that “actual entities” are the root of his entire philosophy, just as Latour makes it clear that “actors” are the root of his.

Try the following sentences, and see how they sound.

*”For Whitehead, everything that happens has its reason in the constitution of some actual entity.” True. In fact, merely basic.

*”For Latour, everything that happens has its reason in the constitution of some actual entity.” Another true statement.

But now try these…

“For Bergson, everything that happens has its reason in the constitution of some actual entity.” Doesn’t pass the straight face test.

“For Simondon, everything that happens has its reason in the constitution of some actual entity.” Has it so backwards that it’s time to start from scratch.

“For Deleuze, everything that happens has its reason in the constitution of some actual entity.” Give me a break.

“For DeLanda, everything that happens has its reason in the constitution of some actual entity.” Completely false.

I’m not even sure what more I can do to argue the point. If people want to lump a whole bunch of “creative philosophers of process” together in one sack, I can’t stop them, but I don’t see the merit of this. It’s certainly true that both Whitehead and Deleuze are critics of the traditional theory of static substance. But they criticize it in completely different ways (Deleuze undermines it: substance is too specific; Whitehead overmines it: substance is not specific enough). And moreover, they are hardly alone in criticizing static substance. Kant does too, but for completely different reasons. Heidegger does too, but for completely different reasons. Nietzsche does too, but for completely different reasons.

In short, there are so many possible utterly different reasons for rejecting traditional substance that to group all such rejecters together is about as helpful as putting all right-handed philosophers in a group. I exaggerate only slightly.

But this is one of those arguments that often feels hopeless to me, because I think I’ve already argued the point as well as one can, and yet people still want to act as though “process” is a relevant term for gigantic swathes of recent philosophy that are often exact opposites on the most basic philosophical questions. It simply isn’t very philosophically illuminating to say that both Deleuze and Whitehead like change.

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