After I posted my review of Graham Harman’s Immaterialism back in July, I got a reply with some truly insightful comments and questions from a reader, Eric T. Since I’m new to WordPress and am generally a dunce when it comes to tech, I had unknowingly disabled comments until earlier this month. But when I did find Eric’s comment, we began a thought-provoking, challenging, and mutually instructive correspondence in the comments section of that post. I recently asked Eric if I could publish that conversation as a separate post, and, happily, he agreed. The conversation began with Harman’s book and has somehow morphed into the metaphysics of participation in the Clarke-Leibniz debate. I think you’ll enjoy finding out how we got there.
(I’ve offset the comments in italics and non-italics for clarity.)
I recently came across Zizek’s (with apologies for the inappropriate orthography) post on The Philosophical Salon, in which he defends himself from tweeters and comment sectioners. I’m not terribly interested in the specifics of his rebuttal, except to say that it’s a fascinating state of affairs when the likes of Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift seem far better equipped to defend themselves than Slavoj Zizek. “The medium is the massage” and all that.
As always, though, Zizek has a way of turning the perfectly intuitive into something worth arguing. I’m referring to the following passage from Part Two of his defense:
The stance that sustains these tweet rejoinders is a mixture of self-righteous Political Correctness and brutal sarcasm: the moment anything that sounds problematic is perceived, a reply is automatically triggered—usually a PC commonplace. Although critics like to emphasize how they reject normativity (“the imposed heterosexual norm,” etc.), their stance itself is one of ruthless normativity, denouncing every minimal deviation from the PC dogma as “transphobia,” or “Fascism,” or whatever. Such a tweet culture, combining official tolerance and openness with extreme intolerance towards actually different views, simply renders critical thinking impossible.
Again, I have nothing to say about the specifics of this, as I have neither the expertise nor the ethos. But in general terms, he points to something I’ve been struggling with for a while: How does one separate an authentic political movement from just another iteration of populism? Although populism goes hand-in-hand with reactionary thinking and so mostly afflicts those who identify with the Right, that’s not always the case. Badiou has devoted much of his career to figuring how to draw the distinction between a properly transformative Event and a reactionary episode. However, Zizek points to something much simpler. Perhaps populism is just a multitude with an orthodoxy (which of course is a contradiction).
Or maybe I’m just looking to preserve my own ego, for instance, for having been a wheaty Bernie Sanders supporter without being a chaffy BernieBro.
I just finished a very nice little book by Douglas Edwards about the philosophy of properties, appropriately titled Properties. The arguments Edwards covers are entirely from the analytical side of the fence, most of which are from the past forty years or so. I was familiar with some of the arguments and unfamiliar with others. But even if you are well versed in this area, I’d still recommend the book because of the masterful way Edwards put the various approaches into conversation with one another. Properties is designed primarily as an introductory text, so it’s plenty accessible to the uninitiated too, and Edwards provides excellent definitions and examples for key concepts before discussing them in the context of existing arguments.
That’s as far as I want to go by way of a review. I really want to record some thoughts I had about properties and predicates as I was making my way through the book.
No, it’s not the one about absolute vs. relative space. In fact, the challenge Graham Harman takes up in his latest book, Immaterialism, wasn’t so much a challenge issued by Leibniz as a throwaway comment about real objects and the Dutch East India Company. Having rummaged through the dustbin of philosophical history, Harman found Leibniz’s comment, uncrinkled the paper, and stuck it to his refrigerator door. At least that’s how I imagine it.
There’s a part in The Being of Analogy where I claim I don’t really know what “scientism” is supposed to mean. That was a bit of disingenuous rhetorical flourish used to distance myself from the term, and I probably shouldn’t have said it. I know perfectly well what it means and why it exists, but I’m still uncomfortable with it. I’ve been uncomfortable with “scientism” ever since I made the transition in graduate school from physical anthropology to English studies, which is when I first encountered the term. I identified then as a lone scientist besieged by an army of deconstructionists, and, as such, “scientism” smacked of glib, kneejerk anti-intellectualism. It still feels pretty kneejerk to me, but I no longer see it as glib or anti-intellectual. My beef with it now is that it’s too ambiguous and it’s often a gateway to either hypocrisy or disengagement with science.