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A very interesting conversation between Quentin Meillassoux, Robin McKay and Florian Hecker is available in pdf on the Urbanomic website (where, among other things, an interesting-looking forthcoming book on the philosophy of mathematics is announced).

There is a lot of interesting material in it: many topics will sound familiar to those well acquainted with Meillassoux’s work, but the conversation format leads the discussion also towards some unexpected terrain. I really just read it very quickly, and I’ll have to come back to it, but there is a section (indeed, the concluding section) which rather pleased me. Here is a selection from it:

When all your signs are meaningful, you are in deconstruction. Now why can’t Derrida’s deconstruction say anything about mathematics, why can’t it deconstruct mathematics? Because Derrida needs a sort of meaningful repetition, a sign that is meaningful that, if you repeat it, you have differential effects, by the repetition itself.

But if you take mathematics, you have signs without meaning, and you just operate on these signs. So if there are signs without any meaning, all deconstruction, all hermeneutics, goes out the window. Because there is a hole of meaning – no meaning at all. If these signs have no meaning at all, they just iterate, and this iteration can create the possibility of what I call a reiteration: one sign, two signs, three, four, etc.

So mathematics for me are the continent of what deconstruction cannot deconstruct, because it is grounded on meaninglessness. It is grounded on a sign without meaning. Now how can a sign without meaning can be infinite, can be it be general, generally the same? Here, there is something that is eternal but not ideal. Idealism thinks that it’s always meaning or essence that is eternal. For me what is eternal is just that any sign is a fact. When you see the facticity before the reality of a fact, then you don’t look at this teapot as an object that is factual, but you look at it as being the support of its facticity; and the support of its facticity as facticity is the same for the teapot as for this cup or this table … So you can iterate infinitely, that’s why you can iterate it.

In fact, for me, the facticity, the object as a  support quelconque of facticity, you can iterate it, without any meaning. And that’s why you can operate with it, you can create a world without deconstruction and hermeneutics. And this is grounded on pure facticity of things, and also of thinking. It is not correlated. After that, you can take some pieces of what you can construct from iteration to construct mathematics, and abstractly apply that to some pieces of world, indifferent to thinking, that’s what I try to demonstrate.

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via Hyper tiling

An Interview with Jane Bennett

by Gulshan Khan

Jane Bennett is Professor of Political Theory and Chair of the Department of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA. In 1986 she received her doctorate in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts. In the following year her dissertation was published with New York University Press under the title Unthinking faith and enlightenment: nature and state in a post-Hegelian era. Her subsequent published books include Thoreau’s Nature: Ethics, Politics, and the Wild (Sage Publications, 1994) and The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics (Princeton University Press, 2001). Her new book, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, is forthcoming from Duke University Press. In 1988 Bennett became an Assistant Professor at Goucher College in Baltimore, where she also became the Elizabeth Todd Professor in the year 2000 until 2004 when she moved to John Hopkins. She has been a visiting fellow at universities in Britain and in Australia. Bennett is on the editorial and advisory board of a number of prestigious journals and book series ranging from Political Theory to Critical Horizons.

Bennett co-edited The Politics of Moralizing (Routledge, 2002) with Michael J. Shapiro and co-edited In the Nature of Things: Language, Politics and the Environment (University of Minnesota Press, 1993) with William Chaloupka. She and William E. Connolly are in the beginning stages of co-writing a political theory textbook, Friends of the Earth: Minor Voices in the History of Political Thought. These encounters have contributed to Bennett’s distinctive notion of ‘vital materiality’. Her intellectual trajectory is also indebted to aspects of the work of Lucretius (1995), Spinoza (1949), Diderot (1996), Nietzsche (1994), Deleuze and Guattari (1987), Henry Thoreau (1968) and Bruno Latour (1993). Her notion of ‘vital materiality’ also builds upon Michel Foucault’s notion of bio-power and Judith Butler’s early notion of ‘bodies that matter’. Conversely, the notion of agency that stems from Bennett’s work makes an important and substantive contribution, away from the politics of performativity associated with Butler and towards a politics of nonhuman matter and agency. She invokes a new and different political imaginary outside the Hegelian and psychoanalytic framework of the subject and object/other. In this sense her work shares a ‘subject matter’ as well an intellectual affinity with Elizabeth Grosz’s (1994) Deleuzian inspired works. Following a long tradition of thinkers who have sought to de-centre ‘the human’ (for example, Louis Althusser and Michel Foucault), Bennett’s emphasis on nonhuman matter challenges the ontological privileging of ‘the human’. However, her approach creatively affirms the necessity of human embodiment, understood as one site of agency within and across a multiplicity of other material bodies and formations. Her notion of agency also seeks to avoid reducing politics to morality, which has implications for the predominant analytical framework that is heavily underpinned by a Kantian conception of moral agency with its emphasis on intuitions, duties and obligations. Bennett’s contribution to political theory with its emphasis on nature, ethics, aesthetics, environmentalism and vitalism is inter-laced with a political interest in the literary writings of Kafka, Coetzee, Thoreau and Kundera, on whom she has published several articles and essays. Her work has clear implications for re-thinking our relations to and engagement with the vitality of nature. 

 GULSHAN KHAN: Jane, thanks for agreeing to this interview. I would like to begin by exploring some of the themes you are currently working on in your new book and issues raised by your paper presented at the ‘Stem Cell Identities, Governance and Ethics’ conference at Nottingham University in 2007.1  I will then move onto questions about your theory about the enchantment of modernity, nature and agency.

You are currently working on a book entitled Vibrant Matter: The Political Ecology of Things (2010), and I find myself drawn to your version of post-structuralism, which does not reduce life or matter to the play of language. Instead, you outline a layered notion of reality and in particular you delineate a conception of matter as a lively force present in all things. You seem to want to challenge our received notions of the distinction between nature and culture. For example, in your article ‘The force of things’ (2004) you confront Theodor Adorno’s (1990) point that we cannot make any positive claims about the ‘non-identity’ between the concept and the thing. By way of contrast, you offer an affirmative account of this non-identity understood as the play of lively animate forces. Can I press you to explain your notion of ‘things’ or ‘vital materiality’ and how it differs from contending versions?

JANE BENNETT: I’m trying to take ‘things’ more seriously than political theorists had been taking them. By ‘things’ I mean the materialities usually figured as inanimate objects, passive utilities, occasional interruptions or background context – figured, that is, in ways that give all the active, creative power to humans. I focus on five exemplary ‘things’ in the book: stem cells, fish oils, electricity, metal and trash. Our habit of parsing the world into passive matter (it) and vibrant life (us) is what Jacques Rancière (in another context) called a ‘partition of the sensible’. In other words, it limits what we are able to sense; it places below the threshold of note the active powers of material formations, such as the way landfills are, as we speak, generating lively streams of chemicals and volatile winds of methane, or the way omega-3 fatty acids can transform brain chemistry and mood, or the way the differential rates of cooling organize the unpredictable patterns of granite.

My experiment is this: What would the world look and feel like were the life/matter binary to fall into disuse, were it to be translated into differences in degree rather than kind? And how, in particular, would our political analyses of events change were they to acknowledge an elemental, material agency distributed across bodies, human and nonhuman? Who or what would count as a ‘stakeholder’? How would a ‘public’ be constituted? Would politics become less centred around the punitive project of finding individual human agents responsible for the public problems of, say, an electricity blackout or an epidemic of obesity, and more concerned with identifying how the complex human–nonhuman assemblage that’s churning out the negative effect holds itself together – how it endures or feeds itself? Until we do that, political attempts to remedy the problem are likely to be ineffective.

An ‘assemblage’ is an ad hoc grouping of an ontologically diverse range of actants, of vital materialities of various sorts. It is a vibrant, throbbing collective with an uneven topography: some of the points at which its diverse affects and bodies cross paths are more heavily trafficked than others, and thus power is not distributed equally across its surface. An assemblage has no sovereignty in the classical sense, for it is not governed by a central head: no one materiality or type of material has sufficient competence to determine consistently its trajectory or impact. The effects generated by an assemblage are, rather, emergent properties, emergent in that their ability to make something happen (a blackout, a hurricane, a war on terror) is distinct from the sum of the force of each materiality considered alone. An assemblage thus has both a distinctive history of formation and a finite life span.

To be clear: the agency of assemblages of which I speak is not the strong kind of agency traditionally attributed to humans or God. My contention, rather, is that if one looks closely enough, the productive impetus of change is always a congregation. As my friend Ben Corson helped me to see, not only is human agency always already distributed to ‘our’ tools, microbes, minerals and sounds. It only emerges as agentic via its distribution into the ‘foreign’ materialities we are all too eager to figure as mere objects.

It is, I think, the ‘responsibility’ of humans to pay attention to the effects of the assemblages in which we find ourselves participating, and then to work experimentally to alter the machine so as to minimize or compensate for the suffering it manufactures. Sometimes it may be necessary to try to extricate your body from that assemblage, to refuse to contribute more energy to it, and sometimes to work to tilt the existing assemblage in a different direction. In a world where agency is always distributed, a hesitant attitude towards assigning moral blame becomes a virtue. Outrage should not disappear completely, but a politics devoted too exclusively to moral condemnation and not enough to a cultivated discernment of the web of agentic capacities can do little good. A moralized politics of good and evil, of singular agents who must be made to pay for their sins – be they Osama bin Laden or George W. Bush – becomes immoral to the degree that it legitimates vengeance and elevates violence to the tool of first resort. A distributive understanding of agency, then, re-invokes the need to detach ethics from moralism… Read More

via Para_Doxa

via ideologic

 

  1. David Cronenberg – Introduction
  2. David Cronenberg – National Velvet, 1963 – Empire, 1964 – Andy Warhol by Robert Mapplethorpe, 1986
  3. David Cronenberg – Troy Diptych, 1962
  4. David Moss, David Cronenberg, Dennis Hopper, Amy Taubin, James Rosenquist – Couch, 1964
  5. David Cronenberg – Red Disaster, 1963
  6. David Cronenberg, Dennis Hopper, James Rosenquist, Amy Taubin – Screen Tests, Selected Participants, 1964-66
  7. David Cronenberg – Elvis I and II, 1963
  8. Elvis Presley – Flaming Star
  9. Dennis Hopper, David Cronenberg, James Rosenquist – Sleep, 1963
  10. David Cronenberg – Foot and Tire, 1963-64
  11. David Cronenberg – Sixteen Jackies, 1964
  12. David Cronenberg, Miriam Davidson – Miriam Davidson, 1965
  13. Mary-Lou Green – Haircut No. 1, late 1963
  14. David Cronenberg – Five Deaths, 1963
  15. David Cronenberg – Kiss, 1963 – Silver Disaster #6, 1963 – Blow Job, early 1964
  16. David Cronenberg – White, 1963
  17. David Cronenberg – Tunafish Disaster, 1963
  18. 18. David Cronenberg – Race Riot
  19. David Cronenberg – Most Wanted Men No. 2, John Victor G., 1964
  20. Amy Taubin, David Cronenberg – Silent Speed, Andy’s First Films
  21. David Cronenberg – Underground Filmmaking in the 60s

Recorded at The Art Gallery of Ontario
Friday, May 19. 2006

In July, he is curating an Andy Warhol exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. “Andy was making underground films when I was making underground films,” the director said. “And I was more inspired by him than by Hollywood. He created himself: He was an outsider, a Slovakian, Catholic, gay, an artist, poor; an outsider in his own family, a triple outsider like Kafka, with his nose pressed against the New York window. And, he became the ultimate insider, the center of his own world, and drew people to him. He became a huge example of the invention of an identity.” In fact, a Cronenberg character.

Conceived and narrated by renowned filmmaker David Cronenberg to accompany the exhibition Andy Warhol/Supernova:Stars Death and Disasters, 1962-1964. Commentary by David Cronenberg, Mary-Lou Green, Dennis Hopper, David Moos,James Rosenquist and Amy Taubin.

Director David Cronenberg explains the debt he owes to Andy Warhol’s bizarre and chillingly prophetic work

Monday September 11, 2006
The Guardian

Empire is the classic. It was outrageous – yet somehow it worked. An eight-hour shot of the Empire State Building, it was high concept, not in the Hollywood sense, but the art sense. It’s got potency, resonance. Andy even said the Empire State Building was a star. It’s so New York, which was the centre of the artistic universe at the time, the 1960s. That’s why I decided to begin the Andy Warhol show I am curating with Empire.

I can’t recall when I first saw a Warhol. I feel as though he was always in my consciousness. I started making films at the same time he did, and the New York underground scene is what influenced me – and that was Andy. He didn’t think you needed access to anything to do what he was doing – just grab a camera, do your own thing, and it’ll work.

Preparing this exhibition, I was initially planning to ignore the films. It seemed too obvious to bring a film-maker in and for him to choose the films. But I didn’t have to dig deep to realise it would be a major oversight. Andy started the silk screens, the film-making and the Death and Disaster series at the same time. Everything influenced everything.

By taking photos from Life magazine and newspapers, he was democratising art. He saw everything as having artistic potential. When he picked up a camera, he just shot what was there in front of him: the people he knew, the people who stumbled into his studio. So there was that link between his art and his film-making.

Andy saw a great connection between celebrity and death. Although he worshipped celebrities, he was aware that there were different kinds of celebrity, and that celebrity was somehow involved with death. Someone asked him what he was working on when he was doing his celebrity stuff, and he replied: “Death.” He only started to work on the Marilyn silk screens after she’d committed suicide.

Because of the newspapers, he saw that anyone could be plucked out of obscurity and become famous, but only for that day, for that 15 minutes. Death – some bizarre, strange, spectacular death – would do it. Hence his Tuna Fish Disaster: two women in a suburb of Detroit became front-page news because they had eaten tainted tuna fish sandwiches and died.

I’ve also included Elvis’s hit song Flaming Star in my show, to accompany Andy’s painting. I was going to sing it myself but we managed to get the rights, so we have Elvis’s version. If Andy were around, I would have asked him to sing it. Elvis was a flaming star. It’s naive to think Andy wasn’t aware of that, and of how dark the movie that featured the song was. It was a western, and westerns could be all kinds of things; every second movie was a western in those days. But Flaming Star is about racism, and everyone dies in it, including Elvis.

Andy was a celebraholic. He would go to all the movies and read all the tabloids. He wasn’t anti-Hollywood; he loved it. But he had created his own universe in New York and become its star. Being gay, Slovakian and an artist from Pittsburgh, he never felt he could storm Hollywood. So he created his own stars, called them superstars, made his own movies and had his own studio. That’s how he dealt with that desire he had to belong, to be immortalised. And there was nothing superficial about his work. It would be easy to dismiss the flowers or soup cans as flippant or ironic, but Andy was never ironic. He said he ate Campbell’s tomato soup every day as a child and an adult. It had huge significance for him.

Andy was very shy. He didn’t like to be touched. He liked to say he was completely asexual, although I don’t think that was true. He liked to be among people, but found it difficult. He said the reason he made his first film – Sleep, about a person who was asleep – was so that he didn’t have to talk or interact with him. It was his way of working with an inanimate object, because the actor was genuinely sleeping.

Andy was doubtless shocked by JFK’s death, but there’s no way he could have identified with Jack, who was too butch and macho. He would have been with Jackie. She becomes the centre of the anguish of the Kennedy assassination. Those works [the Jackie Kennedy silkscreens] are very emotional. Andy became Jackie in the end. He had a tremendous identification with the people he put in his art. He became Elvis, too, and the electric chair.

It’s fitting that this show will be running on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. I think Andy would have thought the attacks an obvious thing to do. The assault on symbols, the way they combined death and disaster – what could have been more Warholian? In his era, it would have been the Empire State Building. He would have understood the symbolism; he would have seen that much more than buildings were being attacked. The images of people jumping out of the buildings – he had already done paintings like that. It was a bizarre prophecy. He was very prophetic and accurate in his understanding of America, of commercialism, of capitalism, of its flaws and strengths.

Interview by Matthew Hays.

· Andy Warhol Supernova: Stars, Deaths and Disasters, 1962-64, curated by David Cronenberg, is at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, Canada, until October 22, 2006

RELATED RESOURCES:
Andy Warhol in UbuWeb Film

UbuWeb Sound | UbuWeb

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INTRODUCTION
by Alex Andrews

Mark Fisher’s book ‘Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?’ is a persuasive diagnosis of contemporary society, an analysis of its political impasses and a call for fresh organization and thought.
Capitalist Realism for Fisher describes the core of today’s ideological moment, particularly in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

Weekend-read short and written in a highly accessible style, Fisher’s work is “intellectual without being academic, popular without being populist” (in the words of Zer0 book series programmatic statement), attempting to bring the work of high theory and political economy to an informed citizenry, carving out a public space for debate that intends to have direct political impact in an ideological stagnant age.

From Spinoza to Deleuze to Wall-E, from Supernanny to post-autonomist theory, Fisher is not afraid to clash high theory with a well-known illustration to startling effect. An insightful blogger at k-punk, outside of this book Mark has been influential in bringing Derrida’s concept of hauntology to music criticism, working through Simon Reynold’s notorious hardcore continuum thesis regarding electronic music and, more recently, providing one of the most interesting commentaries on the World Cup Finals at the group blog Minus The Shooting.

Ceasefire talked to Mark Fisher about his book, education, the internet and the prospect of moving beyond capitalist realism.

The Interview

Can you define ‘capitalist realism’ for me?

Put simply, capitalist realism is the view that it is now impossible even to imagine an alternative to capitalism. Capitalism is the only ‘realistic’ political economic system, and, since this is the case, all we can do is accommodate ourselves to it. This leads to the imposition of what I have called ‘business ontology’ – a version of social reality in which every process is modeled on corporate practices.

Thus, we’ve seen the gradual incursion into public services of forms of bureaucratic self-surveillance (performance reviews, mission statements and so on) that have their origins in business. There is an aesthetic and cultural dimension to capitalist realism too. The concept of capitalist realism was meant to echo socialist realism, and, just as socialist realism was a retreat from the abstraction and experimentation of modernism into the familiar and the familial, so capitalist realism trades on a drab and reductive sense of what reality is. It’s no accident, for instance, that the most successful entertainment format over the last decade or so has been reality TV.

What would be a recent example of the phenomena of capitalist realism?

The bank bailouts are the most spectacular example of capitalist realism we’ve yet seen, and the cuts that are now being imposed come out of the same logic. The bank crisis of two years ago was a major shift from the high pomp of neoliberalism, when it was held that the so-called market would automatically provide the answer to any conceivable problem, to a new phase.

The justification for the bank bailouts was that it was unthinkable that banks should be allowed to collapse, as succinct a statement of capitalist realism as you could wish for. Capitalist realism hasn’t weakened since the bank crises; if anything it has intensified. But now that it has lost the sheath of market utopianism to protect it, capitalist realism appears in more raw and exposed form, which I expect to be massively contested over the next few months. In Britain, the new coalition government has enjoyed a period of phony peace. But I expect this to be interrupted very soon, once the anger that is simmering here finds outlets.

Read More via Ceasefire Magazine – Interview: Mark Fisher

Thrown in random order:

  • Ian Bogost
  • Jane Bennett
  • Graham Harman
  • Levi Bryant
  • Paul Ennis
  • via Spring 2010: Speculative Realism

    Karl Marx (1818 – 1883)

    Image via Wikipedia

    Negri: The problem of politics seems to have always been present in your intellectual life. Your involvement in various movements (prisoners, homosexuals, Italian autonomists, Palestinians), on the one hand, and the constant problematizing of institutions, on the other, follow on from one another and interact with one another in your work, from the book on Hume through to the one on Foucault. What are the roots of this sustained concern with the question of politics, and how has it remained so persistent within your developing work? Why is the rela­tion between movement and institution always problematic?

    Deleuze: What I’ve been interested in are collective creations rather than rep­resentations. There’s a whole order of movement in “institutions” that’s independent of both laws and contracts. What I found in Hume was a very creative conception of institutions and law. I was initially more interested in law than politics. Even with Masoch and Sade what I liked was the thoroughly twisted conception of contracts in Masoch, and of institutions in Sade, as these come out in relation to sexuality. And in the present day, I see Francois Ewald’s work to reestablish a phi­losophy of law as quite fundamental. What interests me isn’t the law or laws1 (the former being an empty notion, the latter uncritical notions), nor even law or rights, but jurisprudence. It’s jurisprudence, ultimately, that creates law, and we mustn’t go on leaving this to judges. Writers ought to read law reports rather than the Civil Code. People are already thinking about establishing a system of law for modern biology; but everything in modern biology and the new situations it creates, the new courses of events it makes possible, is a matter for jurisprudence. We don’t need an ethical committee of supposedly well-qualified wise men, but user-groups. This is where we move from law into politics. I, for my own part, made a sort of move into politics around May 68, as I came into contact with specific problems, through Guattari, through Foucault, through Elie Sambar. Anti-Oedipus was from beginning to end a book of political philosophy….  Read More

    via Negri in English

     The Brain: The Places in the Brain Where Space Lives | Mind & Brain | DISCOVER MagazineJames Williams teaches philosophy at the University of Dundee. He has written on French thinker Jean-François Lyotard, Lyotard: Towards a Postmodern Philosophy (Polity), Lyotard and the Political (Routledge) and with Keith Crome The Lyotard Reader and Guide (Edinburgh), on Gilles Deleuze, Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition: a Critical Introduction and Guide (Edinburgh) and The Transversal Thought of Gilles Deleuze (Clinamen) and a new defence of poststructuralism, Understanding Poststructuralism (Acumen).

     Mark Thwaite: You have written books on Lyotard, Deleuze and now you add three other poststructuralist thinkers (Derrida, Foucault and Kristeva) to your list – before we get into the detail of your books, what is it that draws you to these thinkers?

    James Williams: I was drawn to Lyotard’s ultra-realist political sensitivity, not in the grim conservative sense of realist, but in the sense of refusing any misplaced idealism about structures and systems. I like the way he seeks out gaps in those structures through their dependence on desire. His ability to connect those gaps to notions of justice is important to me. Deleuze is a vital metaphysician; in future years it will be commonplace to utter lines like “Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Marx, Deleuze …” He opens life on to a realm of conditions and potentials that resist modern day naturalism (the reduction of life to the findings of the natural sciences defined in a very limited way) whilst remaining free of dogmatic mysticism. Derrida is a wonderful teacher. He expands our capacity to read between and across lines and texts. I like Kristeva’s combination of literary and psychoanalytical thought. She shows that an engagement with the role of deep processes in the psyche allows us to understand the revolutionary power of literature. As for Foucault, I have a soft spot for the complexity and balance of his style, its measure and cadence; it adds pleasure to the necessity of his understanding of the power of interlaced historical processes in contemporary lives.

    MT: Your first book was on Jean-François Lyotard. Lyotard strikes me as a thinker often cited as the writer who defined postmodernism (in The Postmodern Condition), but not as a philosopher whose work has had a great impact beyond this. What is is that you see in Lyotard’s work that is so important?

    JW: Lyotard was one of the best essayists of his time. A modern day Diderot, rather than a pure professional philosopher. So his work on the postmodern must be seen as a brilliant idea among many. It must also be seen in its aesthetic and polemical settings. Lyotard’s works are creative provocations with deep philosophical, political and artistic backgrounds. His work on the postmodern is often misread as a defence of postmodernity (an epoch) when it fact it is a plea for postmodern works that defy epochs by retaining a disruptive extra-historical power. Postmodern works remind us of the limits of the rational or irrational consensus that emerges and defines a slice of history. They are therefore outside such time-slices and have a negative power, ‘here are the limits of reason’, and a positive power, ‘here is an event that we must find new ways of doing justice to’. The notion of impact is a suspicious one in this context and I prefer to think in terms of the untimely: ‘That is to say, for as long as that for which it is time, and which the present time has more need of than ever, continues to count as untimely – I mean: telling the truth’ (Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, 55). There are many current works inspired by Lyotard’s truths, for example, Margret Grebowicz’s Gender after Lyotard (SUNY, forthcoming), Geoffrey Bennington‘s Late Lyotard and Simon Malpas’s Lyotard (Routledge). Keith Crome and myself have a new critical edition of Lyotard’s works out this month! (The Lyotard Reader and Guide, EUP).

    MT: Your Understanding Poststructuralism will, inevitably, be sold as an introductory text to students, but I thought it much better than many introductory texts (important though I think many of these gateway books can be). One of your concerns would seem to be that some analytic/traditional philosophers have not bothered to rise to the challenge of poststructuralist thought, but have condemned it tout court and without care. Why do you think that is?

    JW: I like Bourdieu’s sociological methodology for answering this kind of question. For example, in his Homo Academicus, he traces the patterns of training and background for French academics. A similar work could be done for contemporary philosophers (where they trained, with which supervisors, their views of the importance of reason and common sense, whether they view themselves and thrive as specialists or generalists, their attitudes to science, religion and the arts). It would be scurrilous to offer answers independent of such a survey in addition to an extensive study of the statements made on continental philosophers. I am interested in raising critical questions that intersect with analytic ones in order to show that poststructuralist thinkers have some of the most original and powerful, in the sense of liberating, answers to traditional problems. Sometimes, the answer is that the problem is a false one. This can lead to some shock and misunderstanding, often based on the most sketchy reading and perhaps some concealed political and emotional motivations. I’d be happy to have shown that this need not be the case.

    MT: What do you make of the ethical/religious turn in thinkers like Derrida? Was it inevitable?

    JW: Nothing is inevitable, because even if things are causally determined, the meaning of what occurs exceeds facts or states of affairs. That’s why the same event is very different if we know it is to happen, rather than if it surprises us – hence the rich possibilities in literature for scenes where a death is foreseen (I often return to Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold, even if it was unsettling to read of its origin in true events in his recent beautiful memoirs Living to tell the tale). When we use the term ‘turn’ in philosophy it imparts meaning and weight to what is turned to, but this is always controversial, none more so than when it imposes linearity on to works with much more complex twists in time. For me, Derrida is primarily a great political interpreter of the philosophical tradition – and he never turned – for others, he is an ethical thinker. It is a mark of his importance that this will remain a rich source of debate.

    MT: A number of the big beasts of poststructuralism are dead now. Theory’s time has, perhaps, passed. Who in contemporary thought should we be watching out for: Agamben, Badiou, Negri, Virilio, Zizek!?

    JW: The philosophy I work on avoids these kind of predictions, except when they are uttered ironically. They encourage a nostalgic view that deflates the present. They also run counter to the view of events as shaped in retrospect and as always retaining an openness to future transformations (theory will return, but not as we know it). They also reflect the consumerist and fashion-led approach that turns us into onlookers rather than makers (see Guy Debord’s not-to-be-missed Comments on the Society of the Spectacle or his original Society of the Spectacle). Don’t look to others: What drives you and disgusts you? Work on them, but without fixing and representing them… Not easy, but definitely good for life.

    MT: Lyotard’s libidinal economics – like Deleuze & Guattari’s politics of desire – seem to me to have dated more heavily than other postmodernisms, perhaps because they seem so tied to the jouissance of ’68 … or am I being unfair?

    JW: There is a beautiful treatment of this kind of problem in Charles Péguy’s great book Clio. Péguy describes history as two intersecting cones: as we look into the future the cone widens and there are always more judges and actors, a bigger potential audience, but equally when they look back there are ever more worthy protagonists around us in the past. Our future audience turns out to have a choice among a much greater range of scenarios than we expected. So the interlocking cones of history grow wider backwards and forwards, and both cones expand through time. This leads to a set of interesting paradoxes. We care about future judgements, but we necessarily matter less and less in the future. Yet when we look back at needy actors just like us, we see them amongst many others. We crave significance, but remove it from others to make space for our own, as they do to us. One of the biggest problems is whether this should be cause for melancholy, or for a release from the burdens of destiny (Péguy’s moods alternate between despair and glory). If it is the latter – and, after all, it is up to us – then Lyotard’s desire will keep returning, but never as a dominating legacy.

    MT: In the critical responses to your books, have you learned anything that would make you want to reassess or finesse your arguments? Have you been happy with the responses to your work?

    JW: Readers’ responses to manuscripts, commissioned by academic presses, are the most important critical response to books and articles received by academics; they are almost never seen by others. A bad response means no publication, no publication can mean no job. Luckily, I have had many helpful responses that have much improved my books. It is luck because readers and reviewers can often be less well-qualified than the original author or have an opposed agenda (‘this book about guinea pigs should have been about elephants’. There is very little kudos in reading and reviewing, so they are done out of duty, enjoyment in judging others, lust for power, or necessity (junior academics find it hard to get early publications and hence often work through reviews; they are also in need of the tiny sums paid for reading: ‘we offer you £50 worth of our books for a 3 page report on this 400 page manuscript’). I like the way some modern reviewers are trying to re-invigorate the form by turning reviews into more creative pieces, where judgement and categorisation play less prominent roles. A good reviewer jumps off from a work, rather than jumps on it (obviously Nietzscheans do not have regrets, but were I to have any, one would be to have flattened rather than lifted works).

    MT: You have a new book about Deleuze coming from Clinamen in March (The Transversal Thought of Gilles Deleuze) – can you tell me a little about it? Will this be building on the arguments in your Gilles Deleuze’s “Difference and Repetition”: A Critical Introduction and Guide?

    JW: Clinamen is one of a dwindling number of independent specialist philosophical presses resisting the commercial logic of ‘many introductory primers and few, mainly historical, classics’. Bill Ross, the editor, pays genuine care to his authors and books. My book argues that Deleuze sought to construct a metaphysics, a world-view, with the greatest potential for openness, that is, with the fewest basic exclusions and identifications. A metaphysics that says that humans or nature or God, identified in a certain fixed way, are prior and best is terribly violent and narrow. However, even contemporary forms of empirical scientific naturalism can be narrow, due to the metaphysical presuppositions of their methods: forms of abstraction and generalisation, for instance. My book shows the detail of Deleuze’s arguments in relation to other key thinkers. I trace Deleuze’s work on transcendental conditions in Kant; his ethical thought based around expression, through Levinas; his engagement with science, through Bachelard; his work on reciprocal determination, in Whitehead; his distance from the possible, through Lewis; his radical opposition to the use of common sense, through Harman; and his revolutionary politics, in Negri and Lyotard. The book could have been called Deleuze, Life and Philosophy, but The Transversal Thought of Gilles Deleuze: Encounters and Influences is much less hubristic (the value of a good editor).

    MT: What are you working on now?

    JW: I’m working on another book-length reading of a work by Deleuze (The Logic of Sense). This book develops his idea of the radical connection of all things and people through the intense sensations that can run through them. He deduces a surface of sense connecting impersonal neutral events to individual singular actual ones, for example, in the way a single battle brings together many different actors, but from myriad perspectives and through multiple emotions and attachments. This notion of the event, as a connecting process prior and constitutive of fleeting identities, has very interesting ramifications for the ways we see life. So I am working on a long-term project of a new philosophy of the event inspired by Deleuze and by Whitehead.

    MT: What is the best book you have read recently? Who is your favourite writer/what is your favourite book?

    JW: I do not really have favourite writers and books. There are writers that accompany different moods and moments very well (Goytisolo, McEwan, Faulkner, Franquin, Goscinny, Uderzo, Chatwin, Sollers, Barthes, Greene, Borgès, Morris, Nietzsche, Foucault, Golding, Proulx, Waugh, Sempé) but which ones, when and where is unpredictable, sometimes they work, sometimes they do not. When they work they connect a moment to others by making them different; a single fixed and cherished favourite could not really do that – like a jester always telling the same joke to lesser effect. Off with his head.

    MT: Has the internet changed the way that you read and write?

    JW: I can’t remember a time before the internet. The latest surfing speeds and remote file and email access allow an academic to be almost anywhere in the world and ‘at work’. This ends the old dichotomy of, either, working on a single well-crafted piece next to a hot stove in slippers, or, sitting in a fusty university office teaching and administrating. My only worry with this passing is that it can increase a somewhat typical academic jealousy and paranoia (What are they doing? Why aren’t they reading me? Who is planning my downfall? Do I care?) Less in-the-flesh contact involves a loss of social skills and an increase in lonely self-analysis. It goes without saying that poststructuralists like me never ever suffer from this, and don’t you ever say the contrary, because I will find out.

    MT: Anything else you’d like to say?

    JW: Thanks for interviewing me. A serendipitous remedy for the above electronic social alienation lies in setting up a network of valued internet sites – something like an archipelago of cultured writing amidst a sea of dross. ReadySteadyBook (and its linked blogs) are pleasant and hospitable islands!

    MT: Thanks so much for your time James – all the very best.

    RSB-ROBOT
    Copyright © 2002-2010 http://www.readysteadybook.com.

    Mark Thwaite (13/02/2006)

     
    alice, white rabbit, the hole and many doors

     

    Mark Fisher has been writing an acclaimed blog as k-punk for some years now. Focussing on culture, especially music and literature, and politics. His writing also appears in the New Statesman, Frieze, The Wire, Sight and Sound and FACT. A founder member of the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit, he now teaches at Goldsmiths University and the City Literary Institute in London.

    In November last year he published his first book Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?, and also edited a collection of texts on the death of Michael Jackson, The Resistible Demise of Michael Jackson, both published with Zer0 Books.

    Rowan Wilson: Your blog, k-punk, is one of the leading blogs for cultural analysis. When did you first start writing it and why did you start?

    Mark Fisher: Thank you. I started it in 2003. At the time, I was working as a Philosophy lecturer in a Further Education college in Kent – I reflect on some of my experiences there in Capitalist Realism. I was then quite badly depressed – not because of teaching, which I enjoyed, but for a whole series of long-term reasons – and I started blogging as a way of getting back into writing after the traumatic experience of doing a PhD. PhD work bullies one into the idea that you can’t say anything about any subject until you’ve read every possible authority on it. But blogging seemed a more informal space, without that kind of pressure. Blogging was a way of tricking myself back into doing serious writing. I was able to con myself, thinking, “it doesn’t matter, it’s only a blog post, it’s not an academic paper”. But now I take the blog rather more seriously than writing academic papers. I was actually only aware of blogs for a short while before I started mine. But I could quite quickly see that the blog network around Simon Reynolds’ blog [see the RSB interview with Reynolds] – which was the first network I started to read – fulfilled many of the functions that the music press used to. But it wasn’t just replicating the old music press; there were also sorts of strange, idiosyncratic blogs which couldn’t have existed in any other medium. I saw that – contrary to all the clichés – blogs didn’t have to be online diaries: they were a blank space in which writers could pursue their own lines of interest (something that it‘s increasingly difficult for writers to do in print media, for a number of reasons).

    RW: You’re almost one of the elder statespeople of blogging now. How has it changed since you started?

    MF: Blogging networks shift all the time; new blogs enter the network, older ones fall away; new networks constitute themselves. One of the most significant developments was the introduction of comments; a largely unfortunate change in my view. In the early days of blogs, if you wanted to respond to a post, you had to reply on your own blog, and if you didn’t have a blog, you had to create one. Comments tend to reduce things to banal sociality, with all its many drawbacks.

    Yet blogs continue to do things that can’t be done anywhere else: look at the way that Speculative Realism has propagated through blogs. Originally coined as term of convenience for the work of the philosophers Ray Brassier, Graham Harman, Iain Hamilton Grant and Quentin Meillassoux, Speculative Realism now has an online unlife of its own. This isn’t just commentary on existing philosophical positions; it’s a philosophy that is actually happening on the web. Graham has his own blog, Object-Oriented Philosophy, but there are a whole range of Speculative Realism-related blogs, including Speculative Heresy and Planomenology. Reid Kane of Plamomenology has gone so far as to argue that Speculative Realism is “the first avatar of distributed cognition”, that, in other words, there is a natural fit between SR and the online medium.

    RW: You were one of the co-founders of the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU), described by Simon Reynolds as the academic equivalent of Apocalypse Now’s Colonel Kurtz. Who did you form it with and what was its purpose?

    MF: The main driving forces behind it were Sadie Plant and Nick Land. But Sadie Plant left quite quickly so the CCRU as it developed was much more shaped by Nick Land. Nick’s 1990s texts – which are to be issued in a collected edition this year, by Urbanomic, who publish the Collapse journal – are incredible. Far from the dry databasing of much academic writing or the pompous solemnity of so much continental philosophy, Nick’s texts were astonishing theory-fictions. They weren’t distanced readings of French theory so much as cybergothic remixes which put Deleuze and Guattari on the same plane as films such as Apocalypse Now and fictions such as Gibson’s Neuromancer.

    Jungle was crucial to the Ccru. What the Ccru was about was capturing, (and extrapolating) this specifically British take on cyberculture, in which music was central. Ccru was trying to do with writing what Jungle, with its samples from such as Predator, Terminator and Blade Runner, was doing in sound: “text at sample velocity”, as Kodwo Eshun put it.

    RW: The writing of the Ccru seems very different to your current style. Are you still involved with the Ccru – and indeed is it still operating?

    MF: It was never formally disbanded but then again it was never formally constituted. It’s odd because, it’s only a decade on that the stuff is starting to get published in book form. As I said, Nick’s texts are just about to be published. Steve Goodman (aka Kode9) has just had his book Sonic Warfarepublished on MIT Press. As for the change of style, I suppose a number of things happened. One was the slowing of the UK cyberculture that had inspired the Ccru throughout the 90s. Gradually, the exorbitant hypotheses of the Ccru seemed to have less purchase on a culture that increasingly seemed to correspond more with Jameson’s ideas of retrospection and pastiche. In the 90s, it was possible to oppose a vibrant cyberculture to the malaise which Jameson identified. But in the 00s, the blight of postmodernism spread everywhere.

    Also, I found that, as I started teaching regularly, and as I got used to writing for an audience – and there’s no form of writing that makes you as aware of having an audience as blogging; print publications just don’t compare – I rediscovered rhetoric, argument and engagement. The exhilaration of the Ccru-style was its uncompromising blizzard of jargon, text as a tattoo of intensities to which you just had to submit. But it’s hard to maintain that kind of speed-intensity for longer writing projects; and I found that I enjoyed producing writing that was expositorier and which tried to engage the reader rather than blitz them. I like Zizek’s line that the idiot he is trying to explain philosophy to is himself; I feel the same. Much of my writing now is me trying to explain things to/for myself.

    There were also political schisms. The Ccru defined itself against the sclerotic stranglehold that a certain moralizing Old Left had on the Humanities academy. There was a kind of exuberant anti-politics, a ‘technihilo’ celebration of the irrelevance of human agency, partly inspired by the pro-markets, anti-capitalism line developed by Manuel DeLanda out of Braudel, and from the section of Anti-Oedipus that talks about marketization as the “revolutionary path”. This was a version of what Alex Williams has called “accelerationism”, but it has never been properly articulated as a political position; the tendency is to fall back into a standard binary, with capitalism and libertarianism on one side and the state and centralization on the other.

    But working in the public sector in Blairite Britain made me see that neoliberal capitalism didn’t fit with the accelerationist model; on the contrary, pseudo-marketization was producing the pervasive, decentralized bureaucracy I describe in Capitalist Realism. My experiences as a teacher and as trade union activist combined with a belated encounter with Zizek – who was using some of the same conceptual materials as Ccru (the Freudian death drive; pulp culture, technology), but giving them a leftist spin – to push me towards a different political position. I guess what I’m interested in now is in synthesizing some of the interests and methods of the Ccru with a new leftism. Speculative Realism has returned to some of the areas that the Ccru was interested in. What I’m hoping will happen in the next decade is that a new kind of theory will develop that emerges from people who have been deep-cooked in post-Fordist capitalism, who take cyberspace for granted and who lack nostalgia for the exhausted paradigms of the old left.

    RW: One of the most exciting things to happen in publishing last year was the development of the Zer0 Books imprint. Can you explain how that came about and the purpose of the project?

    MF: The imprint was set up by the novelist Tariq Godard. He asked Nina Power and me if we’d like to do books, and we suggested a range of other people. What we wanted was to produce the kind of books we’d want to read ourselves, but which weren’t being published anywhere. In mainstream media, the space that had drawn Tariq and myself towards theory in the first place – the music press, areas of the broadcast media – had disappeared. Effectively, that kind of discourse had been driven into exile online. So part of what Zer0 was about was harvesting the work that has been developed on the blog networks. Zer0 is about establishing a para-space, between theory and popular culture, between cyberspace and the university. The Zer0 books are a reminder of what ought to be obvious, but which the imbecilic reductionism of neoliberal media would like us to forget: serious writing doesn’t have to be opaque and incomprehensible, and popular writing doesn’t have to be facile.

    RW: Your first book, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?, was published by Zer0 in November. Why do you think that capitalism, even in the wake of the financial crisis, has such a grip on our consciousness?

    MF: I’m not sure that it has a grip on our consciousness so much as on our unconscious. It shapes the limits of what we can imagine. It does so because it has enjoyed 20 years of unchallenged domination, blitzing our nervous systems with its intoxicants, paralysing thought. Put at its simplest, capitalist realism is the widespread idea that capitalism is the only “realistic” political economic system. The response to the financial crisis only reinforced this belief – it was (on every level) unthinkable that the banks could be allowed to crash. The problem is imagining an alternative that anyone believes could be actually attained. Which isn’t to say that an alternative can’t ever come about; in fact, after the financial crisis, we’re in the bizarre situation at the moment where everything – very much including the continuation of the status quo – looks impossible.  But this is already an improvement from how things seemed only two years ago. The financial crisis forced capitalist realism to change its form. The old neoliberal story was no longer viable. But Capital has not yet cobbled together much of a new narrative, or come up with any economic solution to the problems that led to the crash in the first place. It’s as if capitalism has suffered its own version of shock therapy.

    RW: How is your argument different from that put forward by Fredric Jameson in his work on the culture of postmodernism?

    MF: Well, as I say in the book, in many ways what I’m calling “capitalist realism” can be contained under the rubric of Jameson’s theorization of postmodernism. Yet the very persistence and ubiquity of the processes that Jameson identifies – the destruction of a sense of history, the supersession of novelty by pastiche – meant that they have changed in kind. Postmodernism is now no longer a tendency in culture; it has subsumed practically all culture. Capitalist realism, you might say, is what happens when postmodernism is naturalized. After all, we’ve now got a generation of young adults who have known nothing but global capitalism and who are accustomed to culture being pastiche and recapitulation.

    RW: In the book you move from describing the problems of capitalist society to how it is making us mentally ill. What do you think are the central lasting effects of neoliberalism on our psyches and, with its collapse, how do you see these unravelling?

    MF: Neoliberalism installs a perpetual anxiety – there is no security; your position and status are under constant review. It’s no wonder that, as Oliver James shows in The Selfish Capitalist, depression is so prevalent in neoliberalized countries. Widespread mental illness is one of the hidden costs of neoliberal capitalism; stress has been privatized. If you’re depressed because of overwork, that’s between you and your brain chemistry!

    I do think that the financial crisis killed neoliberalism as a political project – but it doesn’t need to be alive in order to continue to dominate our minds, work and culture. Even though neoliberalism now lacks any forward momentum, it still controls things by default. So, sadly, I don’t see the deleterious psychic effects of neoliberalism waning any time in the immediate future.

    RW:You identify the madness of managerial bureaucracy, the incessant and pointless ‘auditing culture’, in contemporary public services, specifically education. You discuss how this auditing culture is now, along with capitalism’s PR network, a new big Other, a replacement for God. It’s the ideological matrix that we all cynically dismiss (not just privately – this cynicism is now the accepted public language; see the Guardian’s G2 section for daily examples) but nonetheless remains the binding authority. Why are we not simply able to shrug it off?

    MF: PR is not limited any more to specific promotional activities – as I say in the book, under capitalism, all that is solid melts into PR. In so-called “immaterial” labour, the effect of auditing is not to improve actual performance but to generate a representation of better performance. It’s a familiar effect that anyone subject to New Labour’s targets will know all too well.

    Neoliberalism reproduces itself through cynicism, through people doing things they “don’t really believe”. It’s a question of power. People go along with auditing culture and what I call “business ontology” not necessarily because they agree with it, but because that is the ruling order, “that’s just how things are now, and we can’t do anything about it”. That kind of sentiment is what I mean by capitalist realism. And it isn’t merely queitsm; it’s true that almost no-one working in public services is likely to be sacked if they get a poor performance review (they will just be subject to endless retraining); but they might well be sacked if they start questioning the performance review system itself or refusing to co-operate with it.

    RW: So now we move from the critique to the positive proposals. In an interview with Matthew Fuller for Mute you tentatively suggest that the left needs to come up with a new big Other, one that is more representative of Rousseau’s ‘general will’. How is this to be distinguished from the capitalist big Other and how would it be prevented from becoming reified, a new system of mystical dominance?

    RW: Reification isn’t a problem per se; in fact, it’s something we should hope for. Evan Calder Williams, whose book Combined and Uneven Apocalypse is coming out on Zer0, talks of an “anti-capitalist reification”, and I think that’s what we need to develop. It’s capitalism that poses as being anti-reification; it’s capitalism that presents itself as having dissolved all illusions and exposed the underlying reality of things. Part of what I’m arguing in Capitalist Realism is that this is an ideological sleight of hand; it’s precisely neoliberal capitalism’s ostensible demystifications (its reduction of everything to the supposedly self-evident category of the free individual) that allow all kinds of strange, quasi-theological entities to rule our lives. But I don’t think the aim should be to replace capitalism’s fake anti-reification with a “real” anti-reification. Reification can’t be entirely eliminated. I take this to be one of the important lessons that Lacanian psychoanalysis has to teach. Being a speaking subject at all involves a minimal reification; the big Other is coterminous with language itself. But this is very far from being a problem for the left. It’s the left that needs to insist on the reality of something in excess of individuals, whether you call it the “general will”, the “public interest”, or something else. When Mrs Thatcher famously denied the existence of society, she was echoing Max Stirner’s claim that all such abstractions are “spooks”. But we can’t ever rid ourselves of these incorporeal entities – neoliberalism certainly hasn’t. As I argue in Capitalist Realism, neoliberalism hasn’t killed the big Other – for who is the consumer of PR (which no actual empirical individual believes) if not the big Other? The point now – and I would affirm this forcefully, not tentatively – is to invent a leftist big Other. This doesn’t mean reviving authoritarianism; there is no necessary relation between the big Other and a strong leader. On the contrary, in fact, authoritarianism happens when there is a confusion between the big Other (as virtuality) and an empirical individual. What we need are institutions and agents that will stand in for – but cannot be equated with – a leftist big Other.

    RW: You talk about the re-formatting of memory that is a symptom of capitalist realism, where history can be altered almost instantly (as in a Philip K. Dick novel) as we stand agog before the supposed ceaseless innovation of capitalism. You were also one of those to start using the concept ‘hauntology’, the idea that there was a cultural meme that acknowledged the collapse of a moment and picks through the remains for the lost futures buried within (it’s probably fair to say that Owen Hatherley’s Militant Modernism, the first Zer0 Book, is operating within this terrain). Similarly, we are in a political landscape littered with ‘ideological rubble’ (as you quote Alex Williams). My suspicion is that for you the ‘moment’ that has collapsed is the politics of ’68, one that was perhaps guilty of the re-formatting of history and memory in its own way, before many of its ideas were taken up by a post-Fordist capitalism. So what is the detritus that you are picking through? What of the discarded remnants of left politics would you dust off? And is it possible to give old ideas new momentum?

    MF: I would say that, in many ways, the politics of ’68 haven’t collapsed enough. ’68 is a spectre which still hangs over theory. Yet the forces which ’68 railed against no longer exist; there is no Stalinist Party or State that we need to blow apart with a Cultural Revolution. Which isn’t to say that we should want to return to Stalinist authoritarianism, or that it is possible to do so; the oscillation between these two options is the sign of a failure of political imagination. It’s necessary to go all the way through post-Fordism, to keep looking ahead, especially at times when there seems to be nothing ahead of us. Part of the importance of the concept of hauntology is the idea of lost futures, of things which never happened but which could have. On one level, late capitalism is indeed all about ceaseless reinvention, nothing is solid, everything is mutable; but on another level, it is about recapitulation, homogeneity, minimally different commodities. Some of Jameson’s best passages are about this strange antinomy. Deleuze and Guattari, too, emphasize the way in which capitalism is a bizarre mix of the ultra-modern and the archaic. The failure of the future haunts capitalism: after 1989, capitalism’s victory has not consisted in it confidently claiming the future, but in denying that the future is possible.  All we can expect, we have been led to believe, is more of the same – but on higher resolution screens with faster connections. Hauntology, I think, expresses dissatisfaction with this foreclosure of the future.

    So it’s not now a question of giving old ideas new momentum, it’s a matter of fighting over the meaning of the words “new” and “modern”. Neoliberalism has made it seem self-evident that “modernization” means managerialism, increased exploitation of workers, outsourcing etc. But of course this isn’t self-evident: the neoliberals fought a long campaign on many fronts in order to impose that definition. And now neoliberalism itself is a discredited relic – albeit, as I argued above, one that still dominates our lives, but only by default now. Part of the battle now will be to ensure that neoliberalism is perceived to be defunct. I think that’s already happening. There is a change in the cultural atmosphere, small at the moment, but it will increase. What Jim McGuigan calls “cool capitalism”, the culture of swaggering business and conspicuous consumption that dominated the last decade, already looks as if it belongs to a world that is dead and gone. After the financial crisis, all those television programmes about selling property and the like became out of date overnight. These things aren’t trivial; they have provided the background noise which capitalist realism needed in order to naturalise itself. The financial crisis has weakened the corporate elite – not materially so much as ideologically. And, by the same token, it has given confidence to those opposed to the ruling order. I’m sure that the university occupations are the signs of a growing militancy. We need to take advantage of this new mood. There’s nothing old fashioned about the idea of rational organisation of resources, or that public space is important. (The failure to rationally organise natural resources is now evident to everyone; and the consequences of letting the concept of public space decline are equally obvious to anyone living in Britain, with its violent crime and drunkenness, both of which are symptoms of a kind of despair that is as unacknowledged under capitalist realism as it is ubiquitous). Similarly, what is intrinsically “modern” about putting workers under intolerable stress? The pseudonymous postal worker Roy Mayall put this very well in his LRB blog:

    We used to be told that there were three elements to the postal trade: the business, the customers and the staff, and that all were equally important. These days we are clearly being told that only the business matters. So now the ‘modernisers’ are moving in. They are young, thrusting, in-your-face and they think they know all the answers. According to them, the future is the application of new technology within the discipline of the market. But the market doesn’t tell us what to do: people tell us what to do. The ‘market’ is essentially a ploy by which one group of people’s interests are imposed on the rest of us. The postal trade is at the front line of a battle between people’s needs and the demands of corporations to make ever increasing profits. That’s what they mean by ‘modernisation’, and it’s not ‘nostalgia’ to remind ourselves that things used to be different.

    But the fight will only be won when we can say with confidence, not only that things used to be different in the past, but that they can be different in the future too. I’m hoping that, before long, the neoliberal era will be seen for what it was: a barbarous anti-Enlightenment atavism, a temporary interruption of a process of egalitarian modernization.

    RW: At the end of last year you edited a collection of essays, The Resistible Demise of Michael Jackson, brought out almost at the speed of John Blake Publishing! What was so important about Michael Jackson’s death that made you put such energy into this project?

    MF: Yes, it’s rapid-response theory! There’s no doubt that Jackson’s death arrived at a punctual moment. A whole thirty year reality system had just collapsed with the bank bail-outs. Obama had been elected. There was no-one who personified that thirty year period more than Michael Jackson. In the few days after Jackson died, I found myself watching his videos over and over again. I surprised myself by moved from a position of detached cynicism to feeling increasingly sad. There was something in those videos – particularly the Off The Wall clips – which afterwards disappeared from Jackson personally and from the culture in general. So I listened to Off The Wall and “Billie Jean” obsessively. I probably listened to “Billie Jean” forty times, but it was like listening to it for the first time; there were depths to it I’d never got to before. I wrote a post on my blog which elicited some positive responses; and it struck me that the network around Zer0 – which includes many of the world’s music writers as well as theorists – was in an ideal position to produce a book that could deal with MJ as a symptom. Which isn’t to say that the book is some desiccated analysis that doesn’t engage with the sensuous qualities of Jackson’s music – there are some wonderful descriptions of the tracks and Jackson’s dancing. The book was put together very quickly, but I’m extremely pleased with the results. It was heartening to see what music writers can do when you give them space and let them pursue their interests. There are some pieces in the book – such as Chris Roberts’ and Ian Penman’s – that are so sui generis that it is difficult to imagine them appearing anywhere else.

    RW: You’ve had a busy year, what with the blog, teaching, finishing a stint as reviews editor at The Wire, conference papers, marriage, Zer0 and the publication of two books – is it time for a rest now or will 2010 be just as busy?

    MF: This is not the time for a rest. On a personal level, a rest is impossible. Most of what I do doesn’t make me much money, so I have to keep working at a furious rate to keep my head above water. On a wider cultural and political level, this is a highly exciting time, not a moment to be convalescing. This year, in addition to the teaching, blogging, freelancing and editing for Zer0, I will be putting out Ghosts Of My Life, which will bring together my writings on hauntology and lost futures; in some ways, it’s the other half of Capitalist Realism. There’s another big project that I’m involved with which I have high hopes for, but we’re not ready to go public on that yet.

    RW: And finally, I hope it’s not too late to ask what were your favourite books of last year?

    MF: Apart from the Zer0 books – and I’ve almost certainly forgotten something really important – they would be:

    Fredric Jameson, Valences Of The Dialectic. A genuinely monumental work that I expect to be referring to for many years.
    Graham Harman, Prince Of Networks. A stunning reinterpretation of Bruno Latour’s work that is also Graham’s most lucid account yet of his object-oriented philosophy
    Jodi Dean, Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics. Jodi’s sharp analysis of the impasses of the left is also a kind of requiem for much the 2.0 bluster of the last decade.
    Slavoj Zizek, First As Tragedy, Then As Farce. Much more focused than some of Zizek’s recent books, this was a reminder of his supreme relevance to the current conjuncture.

    RW: Thanks Mark.

    Rowan Wilson (22/02/2010)
    RSB-ROBOT
    Copyright © 2002-2010 http://www.readysteadybook.com.

    This interview was conducted by Bram Ieven to accompany the Dutch translation of Ray Brassier’s essay ‘Genre is Obsolete’. It was published in the printed edition of nY # 2, as part of a feature on Noise (2009). 

     Bram Ieven – Your work has a fairly unique position within the field of contemporary philosophy. On the one hand you are critical of much of recent philosophy, which you reproach for its hostility toward major developments in contemporary cognitive sciences that demonstrate how consciousness can be explained as a natural phenomenon triggered by neurological processes. In Alien Theory (2001) you describe this philosophical hostility to neurosciences as a form of ‘reactionary philosophical protectionism’ and you urge philosophy to ‘emphasize – rather than minimize – the corrosive power of scientific reductionism.’ (21) On the other hand, specifically in your more recent work, you are equally critical of certain forms of reductive naturalism. Such a naturalism you argue in Nihil Unbound (2007), risks being ‘impoverished metaphysics’ (25). Instead you propose a speculative realism that avoids both these pitfalls. Could you elaborate on this philosophical stance a bit? ✎ 0

    Ray Brassier – My stance is not particularly original: it’s indebted to the work of several more genuinely original philosophers. The confluence of their influence in my thinking represents my attempt to address what I see as the fundamental issue facing contemporary philosophy: how does human experience fit into the world described by science? Contemporary philosophers can be sorted into two basic camps: in the first, there are those who want to explain science in terms of human experience; in the second, there are those who want to explain human experience in terms of science. The former argue that science cannot explain human experience because there’s something about it that will always resist scientific explanation. The latter maintain that the explanation of experience will require us to revise both our understanding of it and our relationship to it. As I see it, this dispute about what ‘human experience’ is and our relationship to it lies at the heart of contemporary philosophy. I side with those in the second camp who insist that we can attain an objective perspective on our own subjectivity. Philosophers in the first camp dispute this on the grounds that to explain experience objectively would be a contradiction in terms which would only ‘explain consciousness away’ and ultimately alienate us from the subjective core of our own humanity. Some philosophers in the second camp try to defuse such worries by insisting that it’s perfectly possible for us to reconcile our humanity with science’s objectification of experience. My own view is that despite its fundamentally reactionary tenor, the objection above registers a genuine difficulty, and that it is unrealistic and a little panglossian to insist that we will remain ‘human’ much as we are now even after the explanatory ‘reduction’ of experience. My conviction is that the sources and structures of human experience can and will be understood scientifically, but this integration of experience into the scientific worldview will entail a profound transformation in our understanding of what it means to be human—one as difficult for us to comprehend from within the purview of our current experience as the latter would have been for our hominid ancestors. However, while I remain fundamentally committed to a naturalistic perspective which defers to science’s ultimate epistemic authority, I think it’s a mistake to hypostatize the entities and processes invoked by current science as though they were immutable metaphysical realities. We know that scientific theories constantly supplant and replace one another, and that if the history of science is anything to go by, even our best current theories will probably turn out to be fundamentally mistaken or deficient in some regard, much as their predecessors did. Some cite this as a reason not to invest science with any fundamental epistemic authority. I think this is an overreaction. The fact that our best current science will probably turn out be only partly true does not license the conclusion that it is all wrong and that it has no authority whatsoever. There is a world of difference between something’s being partly true and its being all wrong. (The fact that science has allowed crafty apes with opposable thumbs to grasp even a tiny part of the truth about reality is astonishing—indeed, the more we learn about ourselves from science, the more astonishing our capacity for science becomes.) As I see it, science is slowly and painstakingly excavating the deep structure of a reality whose fundamental features may turn out to bear little resemblance to the kinds of entities and processes with which we are currently familiar. Consequently, it would be a mistake to let current science dictate our account of the ultimate structure of reality. That’s why naturalism as a metaphysical doctrine which states that whatever is real must fall within the ambit of actually existing scientific theory strikes me as mistaken. I would like to maintain a commitment to science’s ultimate epistemic authority while resisting the dogmatic temptation to enthrone the entities, mechanisms and structures postulated by contemporary science as ultimate realities. ✎ 0 This is not to say that we cannot draw ontological consequences from science: on the contrary, we can and we should. But the relationship between science and metaphysics is complicated: science says nothing about how to tell the difference between what is and what is not ultimately ‘real’. It becomes difficult to let science dictate metaphysics once we acknowledge that what science says is real continues to undergo fundamental revisions. That’s why I endorse a ‘transcendental realism’ according to which science knows the real but the nature of this ‘real’ is not strictly speaking objectifiable. The basic idea is that we know the real through objects, but that the real itself is not an object. ✎ 0

    Bram – You were the driving force behind the Speculative Realism conference (London 2007), which brought together you, Graham Harman, Iain Hamilton Grant, and Quentin Meillassoux. The name ‘speculative realism’ was quickly picked up to designate a supposedly new wave in philosophy, but you quickly became more critical of it. Why is that? ✎ 0

    Ray – The term ‘speculative realism’ was only ever a useful umbrella term, chosen precisely because it was vague enough to encompass a variety of fundamentally heterogeneous philosophical research programmes. But people have started to pick up on it as though it was the name for a new philosophical doctrine or movement, like ‘logical positivism’, ‘existentialism’, ‘structuralism’, or ‘deconstruction’. In this context, the vagueness which was initially useful is beginning to generate more confusion than clarity. There is no ‘speculative realist’ doctrine common to the four of us: the only thing that unites us is antipathy to what Quentin Meillassoux calls ‘correlationism’—the doctrine, especially prevalent among ‘Continental’ philosophers, that humans and world cannot be conceived in isolation from one other—a ‘correlationist’ is any philosopher who insists that the human-world correlate is philosophy’s sole legitimate concern. Anti-correlationism is by no means a negligible unifying factor—but our alternatives to correlationism are fundamentally divergent and even incompatible in several regards. The first problem is that the word ‘speculative’ actually means something quite specific in the context of post-Kantian Idealism: it refers to a type of philosophy (of which Hegel is perhaps the supreme exemplar) that proceeds on the basis of the ‘speculative’ identification of thinking and being, or mind and reality, thereby repudiating both empiricist naturalism and Kant’s Critical philosophy. My naturalist proclivities make me quite uncomfortable with these associations, unlike Meillassoux or Grant, both of whom explicitly avow this post-Kantian speculative paradigm, even if only to lend it a singular ‘materialist’ twist. Harman’s stance is not strictly speaking ‘speculative’ either in this regard, fusing as it does the influences of phenomenology and Bruno Latour. Yet nor is it in any sense ‘materialist’, a tendency he abjures on the grounds that it entails privileging one allegedly fundamental stratum of reality over all others. ✎ 0 The term ‘realist’ is no less in need of disambiguation. We’re all realists about quite different things. Harman espouses a Latour-inspired ‘democracy of objects’ according to which science has no particular cognitive authority when it comes to discriminating between reality and appearance and no object can be said to be any more or less real than any other. Grant and Meillassoux retain versions of the appearance-reality distinction, but in very different philosophical contexts. For Grant it could be construed in terms of the difference between natura naturans and natura naturata, while for Meillassoux it is indexed by the difference between phenomenal and mathematical properties. I think it safe to say that neither Grant, nor Harman, nor Meillassoux shares my commitment to epistemological naturalism, or my sympathy for ‘reductionist’ accounts of subjective experience. I think they would view it as a mistake to begin philosophizing from the contrast between the ‘manifest’ and ‘scientific’ images of reality as I do, and as result their realism tends to be more catholic and ecumenical than mine, especially where subjective experience is concerned. By way of contrast, my sceptical stance towards phenomenology leads me to endorse a more austere, revisionary brand of realism that tends to undermine the reality of subjective experience, at least as ordinarily construed. Thus, given that we don’t agree that philosophy must be ‘speculative’ or about what ‘realism’ entails, the expression ‘speculative realism’ has become singularly unhelpful. ✎ 0

     Bram – What would you propose as an alternative? ✎ 0

    Ray – Nothing: the label has done its work in terms of signalling possible alternatives to correlationist orthodoxy. Grant, Harman, and Meillassoux have each coined terms to describe their respective projects. My own could be characterized in terms of a new compact between metaphysics and epistemology: transcendental realism in the former and revisionary naturalism in the latter. There is a reality that transcends the bounds of possible human experience set out by Kant, but we are learning that it is populated by ‘things’ about which it is proving increasingly difficult to say ‘what’ they are using the resources of sense currently available to us. We will have to forge new vocabularies to be able to say what these things are. Admittedly, this still has a ‘speculative’ ring, but I would like to insist that metaphysical speculation be constrained by scientific knowledge. ✎ 0

    Bram – The kind of realism that you defend, while certainly not hostile to reductionism, always insists on the fact that reality is far more complex than we surmise. An essential point you keep returning to when it comes to the deep structure of reality is ‘that there’s much more going on, and that it turns out to be more complicated’ (324), as you remarked during the Speculative Realism conference in London. You seem to be interested in a surplus of complexity. This also appears to be the main point in your essay on noise: instead of understanding noise as a lack of information or structure, you take noise to be a surplus of structure and complexity, as an ongoing superimposition of incompossibles. ✎ 0

    Ray – Yes: I agree that there is a link and what I find particularly interesting about ‘noise’ is its informational density. In this sense, I think it prefigures (in a sense yet to be determined) the sort of challenge to intelligibility which will accrue with the gradual objectification of experience. Just as noise makes you work to decipher information by overriding familiar cognitive-classificatory sluice-gates, the objectification of experience will force us to make sense of ourselves in a quite unfamiliar and even fundamentally foreign conceptual register. Basically, I think that people who accuse science of reducing and attenuating what they consider to be life’s richness and complexity are completely mistaken: it’s quite the opposite: our conception of reality has been immeasurably enriched by scientific understanding and it’s rather our subjective experience of the world that is reductive and impoverished in comparison. But the point is not just that science enriches and amplifies our understanding of reality, but that it uncovers the truth. Noise has no such epistemic valence—it does not yield the sort of cognitive information that provides the basis for true or false judgements; but there is something of fundamental epistemological interest about the way in which it interferes with default cognitive schemas and perceptual Gestalts—epistemological in the sense that it challenges the way in which we relate to experience, rather than operating at the level of the content of experience. ✎ 0

    Bram – In some of your essays (including ‘Genre is obsolete’) your ideas on philosophy and neurosciences are intricately related to the dynamics of contemporary capitalism. In an essay on subtractive ontology and capitalism you write: ‘Integrated global capitalism is constitutively dysfunctional: it works by breaking down. It is fuelled by random undecidabilities, excessive inconsistencies, aleatory interruptions, which it continuously reappropriates, axiomatizing empirical contingency. It turns catastrophe into a resource, ruin into an opportunity, harnessing the uncomputible.’ (57) It strikes me that this definition of capitalism is somehow connected to what you write on noise in your essay ‘Genre is obsolete.’ Do you see a similarity between capitalism’s stochastic dynamic and ‘noise’ – or would you rather say that noise and capitalism are each other’s opposites? What is the relation between noise and capitalism? ✎ 0

    Ray – This is a difficult question. The suggestion that capitalism is somehow ‘like’ noise could easily be construed as some sort of dubiously Romantic aestheticization: capitalism as sublime, unintelligible phenomenon, etc. The passage you cite is problematic because it lends itself to such an interpretation. Basically, I do not think it at all illuminating or useful to construe capitalism as some sort of sublimely turbulent natural phenomenon. It’s important to bear in mind how, for all its seemingly unfathomable, impersonal complexity, global capitalism continues to supervene on the banal personal and psychological traits of the dealers, brokers, traders, executives, managers, workers, and shoppers, who are not just its dispensable machine parts but its indispensable support system, without which it would simply not be able to function. ✎ 0 There’s a temptation to hypostatize capital as though it were an impersonal, wholly autonomous agent subsisting quite independently of the myriad of little human subjects who compose it. This strikes me as a mistake. Here I think a sober appreciation of the mechanical banality of the processes through which capital reproduces itself might obviate this tendency to mystification: this seemingly fantastic, supra-personal complexity is not due to some mysterious self-moving cause or superhuman agent but an effect generated by the myriads of micro-processes that compose it: it is neither more nor less mysterious in its operations than any other complex, multi-layered emergent phenomenon. This kind of emergence and complexity are banal and ubiquitous. ✎ 0 I think there is an important dis-analogy between noise and capitalism in that noise as I understand it is precisely not complex in the way in which capitalism is alleged to be: the sort of emergent complexity exemplified by self-organizing systems is relatively uninteresting. The fetishizing of complexity in the sense of self-organization, along with emergence and irreducibility, etc., is part and parcel of the neo-vitalist tendency to prefer mystification to explanation, so prevalent today. What I consider to be interesting about noise is its dis-organizing potency: the incompressibility of a signal interfering with the redundancy in the structure of the receiver. Not transduction but schizduction: noise scrambles the capacity for self-organization. ✎ 0

    Bram – What, if anything, could be the role of an aesthetics of noise in your work on neurosciences and capitalism? ✎ 

     Ray – I am very wary of ‘aesthetics’: the term is contaminated by notions of ‘experience’ that I find deeply problematic. I have no philosophy of art worth speaking of. This is not to dismiss art’s relevance for philosophy—far from it—but merely to express reservations about the kind of philosophical aestheticism which seems to want to hold up ‘aesthetic experience’ as a new sort of cognitive paradigm wherein the Modern (post-Cartesian) ‘rift’ between knowing and feeling would be overcome. In this regard, I would say that there can be no ‘aesthetics of noise’, because noise as I understand it would be the destitution of the aesthetic, specifically in its post-Kantian, transcendental register. Noise exacerbates the rift between knowing and feeling by splitting experience, forcing conception against sensation. Some recent philosophers have evinced an interest in subjectless experiences; I am rather more interested in experience-less subjects. Another name for this would be ‘nemocentrism’ (a term coined by neurophilosopher Thomas Metzinger): the objectification of experience would generate self-less subjects that understand themselves to be no-one and no-where. This casts an interesting new light on the possibility of a ‘communist’ subjectivity.

    References

    Ray Brassier, Alien Theory. The Decline of Materialism in the Name of Matter. 2001.

    Ray Brassier, “Nihil unbound: remarks on subtractive ontology and thinking capitalism.” In Peter Hallward (ed.). Think Again. Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy. Continuum: London 2004, 50-58.

    Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound. Enlightenment and Extinction. Palgrave Macmillan: London 2007.

    Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Graham Harman, Quentin Meillassoux, “Speculative Realism,” Collapse III. Urbanomic: Falmouth 2007, pp. 307-451.

    (c) http://www.ny-web.be/transitzone/against-aesthetics-noise.html

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