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Remind me again: how is SR apolitical?

by on February 14, 2013

I was talking with Travis in the elevator, earlier today, about the interesting effect of reading Meillassoux after Graham Harman’s Quadruple Object – chronologically out of order, that is. One of the side effects of this reading order is that, as I have been reading through the first couple chapters of After Finitude, I have been filtering my SR-intake through Harman’s reading of Meillassoux – specifically, his characterization of Meillassoux as the only one of the original participants in the 2007 Goldsmiths conference on SR not to reject correlationism – a term he himself coined – altogether.

Meillassoux’s respect for the critical potency of correlationism (the force of which seems to enhance the seriousness of the problems posed by its non-metaphysical not-metaphysics) seems most apparent in his discussion of the correlationist critique of Cartesianism in the book’s second chapter, “Metaphysics, Fideism, and Speculation,” over the course of which he describes contemporary metaphysicians as, in many ways, still the “heirs of Kantianism” (I seem to have misplaced the page number for this phrase – my apologies to the high priests of the Modern Language Association). I can’t help but feel a little sorry for the long-dead Descartes, whose ontological proofs for the existence of God seem like a painfully-easy target for even the most “naïve” of thinkers, realist or otherwise. Despite his acknowledgement of the obsolescence of such a project (and this, in spite, of the strange way in which religion and questions of divinity manage to creep, in a different manner, into Meillassoux’s own metaphysics), Meillassoux is clearly sympathetic to the pre-critical yearning, as exemplified in Cartesian ontology, for “a Great Outdoors that is not a correlate of my thought” (29). Religiosity aside, I can certainly identify with the sentiment.

This all becomes somewhat more confusing, and decidedly more interesting, as the second chapter progresses, with Meillassoux (non)critique of the manner in which correlationism “provides no positive ground for any specific variety of religious belief, [but] undermines reason’s claim to be able to disqualify a belief on the grounds that its content is unthinkable” (41). Beyond rendering Meillassoux’s much-discussed discourse on divinity somewhat more confusing (for me, at least), the development of this line of thought throughout the second chapter does have the — in my view, quite compelling and intriguing — effect of pointing in the direction of a politically salient speculative realism, in apparent contradiction to Alex Galloway and other knee-jerk opponents of any ontology that lacks a sufficiently rigorous ideological flavor. Indeed, I struggle to see how such critiques can brush off the socio-political relevance of Meillassoux’s critique of the disappearance of the absolute from contemporary metaphysics which, to me, seems clear enough in passages such as the following, towards the end of the second chapter:

Having continuously upped the ante with scepticism and criticisms of the pretensions of metaphysics, we have ended up according all legitimacy in matters of veracity to professions of faith — and this no matter how extravagant their content. As a result, the struggle against what the Enlightenment called ‘fanaticism’ has been converted into a project of moralization: the condemnation of fanaticism is carried out solely in the name of its practical (ethico-political) consequences, never in the name of the ultimate falsity of its contents. On this point, the contemporary philosopher has completely capitulated to the man of faith. (47)

Certainly, Meillassoux here critiques correlationist critique of fanaticism that is carried out solely on the basis of the political — but he does not seem here to preclude such considerations altogether. Regardless, I fail to see how such a statement could arise from an apolitical metaphysics; and I tend to suspect that, nine times out of ten, the critic who says “apolitical” would really rather scream “false contents!” Which seems like something Meillassoux and Galloway can agree on, no?

One Comment
  1. 7sshare permalink

    I agree, there did seem to be a political agenda at work in the critique of correlationism, even if that agenda is only to reintroduce rationality into public discourse. But can we really fault Meillsaoux? Is an apolitical metaphysics even conceivable? Any kind of metaphysical schema is going to have ethical implications, even (or especially!) if it implies the lack of a ground for any conceivable ethics (because then you will be disagreeing with everybody). So if the speculative realist movement has declared itself to be apolitical, I think that’s quite impossible.

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