Monday, January 12, 2009


I've been spending rather too much time recently trying to get at least a preliminary grip of so-called speculative realism. Apparently all the cool kids are into it these days.

However, a recent post by Nick at the accursed share points towards what troubles me about this movement.

As Nick puts it, "The turn towards objects, towards the absolute, and towards the real as indifferent, all imply that ontology must be independent of politics." Indeed (as I say in a comment there), is not speculative realism part of a fairly thorough-going depoliticization... and perhaps not simply a depoliticization of ontology.

Nick continues: "The relative absence of politics in [Brassier's] Nihil Unbound stems partly from the belief that we can study ontology without having to be concerned about its political effects. The results of such a study, as in Brassier’s work, can be rather disconcerting for politics – what if there is no such thing as agency?"

But doesn't this miss the point about the politics of ontology à la Deleuze et. al.: that it doesn't rely on a conception of agency? Indeed, throughout the rest of this post, Nick consistently talks about politics in terms of political projects. This would seem to be a rather drastic reduction of the political.

Indeed, surely Deleuze, Bourdieu, Negri, subalternism, and so on have very little time for political projects of any stripe whatsoever. And my point in Posthegemony is in fact that such projects, at least in the guise of hegemony, are if anything a distraction from the political.

Now, this may be a digression from a real interrogation of speculative realism and its implications for political theory, and I surely have plenty of reading still to do, but the reduction of politics to projects is perhaps symptomatic.

Meanwhile, Alex at Splintering Bone Ashes offers a rather different take, and one with which I have rather more sympathy:
In Speculative Realist terms, what is necessary is to think the in-itself of capitalism outside of any correlation to the human. Ray Brassier has already hinted at this in his original “Nihil Unbound” article on Badiou, Deleuze & Guattari and Capitalism. For surely what all analyses of capitalism have presumed to date is the capitalist ‘for-us’ (construed in positive or negative terms), whereas capital is ultimately a machine which has almost no relation to humanity whatsoever, it intersects with us, it has us as moving parts, but it ultimately is not of or for-us. Capital properly thought is a vast inhuman form, a genuinely alien life form (in that it is entirely non-organic) of which we know all-too-little. A new investigation of this form must proceed precisely as an anti-anthropomorphic cartography, a study in alien finance, a Xenoeconomics. Brassier himself has shied away in the last few years from a detailed discussion of capitalism, but I believe that the most interesting applications of speculative realist philosophy may well arrive with precisely a re-reading of both Marx’s and Deleuze & Guattari’s models of capitalism.
I need to look for the Brassier article mentioned here. (Presumably it's "Nihil Unbound: Remarks on Subtractive Ontology and Thinking Capital," from Peter Hallward's Think Again.) And Alex opens up the can of worms that is accelerationism. See also schoolboy errors here and here, as well as k-punk arguing inter alia that "Nick Land needs to be counted as a speculative realist theorist" and (back to speculative realism again) Speculative Heresy's Call for Debate on Speculative Realist Politics and Xenoeconomics.

Yet I'm still not convinced that "it is very much the issue of agency which is most crucial" or that "the pending question is the re-conceptualisation of agency that would destroy this Subject", by which Benjamin at No Useless Leniency means capital.

Hmm. At the same time, I'm happy enough for the theory of the multitude to redeem subjectivity from its own disrepute. But I don't see anything particularly humanist about that; quite the opposite.

More on this anon, I'm sure.

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