During on Speculative Aesthetics and Weird Co-existence

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From an insomniac moment re-reading my notes for Elie During‘s challenging and thought provoking keynote paper: “Weird Coexistence or What Speculative Aesthetics Could Be” [Hotel air conditioning in England has its not-so-speculative noise aesthetic btw] at the 10th SEP-FEP conference, Regents University, London.

Speculative Realism [SR] expresses a somewhat elusive taste for estrangement and the “weird”. Deleuze: philosophy is part detective novel part science fiction (a propos Hume). But this was intended as a preliminary step in a method rather than an end – that is defining new and more interesting problems regarding this world. Rather than raising the stakes in weirdness, During wants to bring the debate down to Earth by considering a prototype of weirdness – the Thing in Itself (TIS)

Between two TIS coexistence is not straightforward. Jacobi: “Without the TIS one cannot even penetrate Kant’s doctrine.” But once encountered we can escape from it.

Contention: The TIS in its Kantian formulation was weird enough.

The TIS is not an object. It is not even a thing.

The TIS entirely lacks individual unity (In this it is similar to space which is not a concept or a thing, but a form). The TIS is the empty form of externality, or the real. The function of the TIS for Kant is to act as a safeguard against subjective idealism a la Berkley. The real qua TIS is not a thing – it can be anything. This is why it is not a placeholder for substance. It is not individuated. For example, if there are two or more TIS they are already forming coming under the category of the understanding.

The problem that TIS underscores is that of the paradox of coexistence of everything (us included). The coexistence at issue is not phenomenological or about hidden, inaccessible realities. It is the co-existence of everything with everything else in a whole. The whole thus understood is no “superobject” but the medium of coexistence as such and not totality (ether as pure medium of coexistence in the Opus Postumum – a material expression of the inner reality of phenomenal co-presence, such as dynamic space-time). It is important that however characterised, this co-presence is not collapsed in an eternal four-dimensional structure. Co-existence the proper access to totality rather than totality being the entry point to co-existence (as in set-theory).

The co-existence at issue is as much temporal as spatial. In Bergson’s parlance it is a contemporaneous unfolding. It is not just a matter of collection or juxtaposition of things in space. In set theory the totality does not exist. However, before Russell, Badiou or Marcus, Kant already anticipated this. For surely, the set of all objects cannot exist as an object. The Kantian antinomies of the infinite already anticipate the idea of that the world conceived as a quantitative aggregation of objects is metaphysically useless. Co-existence is not temporal but spatio-temporal (Something Bergson missed due to his methodological privileging of time).

All this is already weird enough! The fact of co-existence that is not merely spatial. It is so weird that the sort of defamiliarisation sought by SR is already broached.

What the different strands of SR have in common is a concern with thinking of things apart from their relationship to us. Things in and by themselves. SR attempts to think of the way “things attend to their own business” by the sheer power of concepts. But this results in an an “uncomfortable phenomenology of the ungiven” [Thinks, is there any other kind]. If you take this seriously, then “you should reject any privilege of the human access to the world.” Hence the withdrawal of the object into itself.

In Immaterialism Harman says that the real problem with Kant is that TIS haunt humans alone so that a single species “shoulders the burden of finitude”. This is very different from the Kantian understanding of the TIS as form.

So what follows is an attempt to unfold the speculative potential of the Kantian TIS.

The traces of the TIS in different media:

What is the paradoxical mode of presence of the TIS on the phenomenological plane according to Kant? Co-existence takes the form of ubiquity or nonlocality. The TIS names the same reality as the phenomenon – it is the unappearing side of the phenomenon.

The second medium is in the plane of nature, space and time itself.

(Simultaneity incorporates an element of non-simultaneity). One of the key implications of Einstein is an enlargement of the notion of simultaneity. There are however non-standard forms of simultaneity – envelopes and sheathes of simultaneity (in the Twin Paradox).

Although there is no way of establishing simultaneity for the two twins, they remain co-present during their journey, an idea that can be captured by a topological sheath. In Heidegger’s discussion of the lizard in FCM, there is a subterranean problem of how one relates to being without relation to world (even if it has a relation to an environment or umwelt).

In SR the intuition is that what we need to make sense of is the interference effect between two perspectives (e.g. naturalist explanations in a Lovecraft and an ineffable non-perspective). This maps onto Todorov’s perspective on the fantastic, as the co-existence between these perspectives.

[Anthropological digression via Eduardo Viveiros de Castro – multinaturalism {cannibal metaphysics}. In Amerindian ontology everything has a perspective and there is a fundamental homogeneity between creatures (e.g. the jaguar is is as human as we). How does one connect the perspectives? There are different kinds of things but see the same things differently. De Castro: the rationale for this is that different kinds of being see different things in the same way (but how can we justify this claim?). What happens when two worlds or two points of view meets, there is a shamanic transformation of shifting perspectives (relates to the Amerindian concept of the world as a co-incidence of perspectives).}

Kant in the “Transcendental Aesthetic”: since space and time are continuous, a sensible quality or trait given to us by the TIS is always continuous. As a result of this, any sensible quality is diffused or scattered around and thus inherently related to the whole continuum. Entities in space and time are thus diffused or scattered rather than completely localise (See Merleau-Ponty on the sensuous qualities on the surface of a pool in Mind and World). MP – I do not see the water in space. I see it as inhabiting it, with the water visiting these other entities the field of cypresses. In Kant, by the same token, any sensible quantity is diffused across the space-time field. In Bachelard’s “Numenology”, science yields strange quasi-objects (particle/wave, etc.). He concludes that we should work with a concept of relational identity, with entities emerging from their reciprocal encounter.

The TIS then is a radical outside that manifests in the phenomenal world, not as a hidden substance supporting sensuous qualities, but a ubiquity behind the phenomenal world – Whitehead – everything is everywhere at any time. In Kant’s analogy of experience, Kant is attempting to account for the fact that things are not merely presented as a flow, but as simultaneous (category of “community”). He understands this in terms of a model of reciprocal causality. In Einstein, this idea of community is complicated with the insight that connection takes time – it does not happen instantly. There is a finite speed at which information or influence is imparted. This allows for events that could not be causally connected to one another (outside our light cone). Such events, according to Whitehead, can be said to be simultaneous even if they do not interact. To co-exist is to be able to be separate within contemporaneity. There must be disconnection within co-existence.

The impact of the TIS in contemporary physics is by renewing our conception of co-existence to take into account co-existence but also an idea of disconnection.

Interesting point about the space-time differentiation of physics as opposed to the trace in Derrida.

So what is that “speculative aesthetics”? what we need to make sense of an intersubjective community, centring not on the experience of beauty but of co-existence.

Made some half-hearted attempt to ask how rodents co-exist with public transport networks – but John Ó Maoilearca quite understandably missed my feeble gesture. Probably for the best, since need to think some more. Preliminary conclusion, This guy is good!

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3 thoughts on “During on Speculative Aesthetics and Weird Co-existence

  1. Hi Dirk, I suspect that they may be. The SEP have recorded keynotes before. but since the talk was only last night, it might be a bit soon for that. I’ll ask around. It was a great presentation, so it deserves its shot at digital immortality.

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