Monthly Archives: May 2013

“Whether There is Life or Not”: Dasein and the Vivacity of the Nonliving

 

The following is the abstract of my proposed paper for the “Radical Space” conference at the University of East London on 18 and 19 October, 2013. Considered in conjunction with the paper for the SEP conference (the previous post here), it gives a clear indication as to my current research interests (research which will ultimately result in a book, at present provisionally entitled Insect Lover of Jacques Derrida: Writings of the Posthuman):

This paper explores some of the far-reaching implications of a rigorous deconstruction of the living-nonliving binary. In proposing a radical materialist conception of the trace – understood as the becoming-time of space and becoming-space of time – I argue that this demands an equally radical reworking of the spaces of the body.

If we are to understand how a certain “post-Derridean” deconstruction constitutes a fully materialist, antihumanist and posthumanist philosophical praxis, the fundamental dichotomy that remains to be challenged is between the living and the nonliving, that is, between the animate and the inanimate. Derrida, by contrast, deconstructs only the living-dead binary, that is, between the living and no longer living, while leaving intact the barrier between the living and the never or not yet living.

Indeed, Derrida in fact installs an unbridgeable abyss between the living and the nonliving when, in Of Grammatology, he posits a first “coup” which allows that being as such only appears with the emergence of life, synonymous with the emergence of the trace, thus leaving deconstruction justifiably susceptible to the charge of correlationalism as posited by Quentin Meillassoux. Put simply, for Derrida there is being, but no being as such, without a living being. The trace, however, continues to function whether there is life or not, and this has serious consequences not only for deconstruction, but for political and ethical questions as well [1]. As will be shown in this paper, this becomes clear once Derrida’s understanding of the trace is placed in dialogue with Meillassoux’s notion of ancestrality – a dialogue constituting a genuine posthumanist encounter between deconstruction and “object-orientated ontology.”

In my reading, I argue (against Derrida) that Derrida’s oeuvre ultimately demands a love for the nonliving in general. This in turn corresponds with a non-vitalist, materialist position which, in contrast to the meaningless void of empty relativism, demands ever greater political and ethical vigilance towards potentially inventive spaces of community.

 

[1] On this, see the important work of Martin Hagglund, particularly Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Life (2008) and “Radical Atheist Materialism: A Critique of Meillassoux” (in The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism eds Bryant, Srnicek & Harman (2011)). Also in this context, see Joanna Hodge Derrida on Time (2007)

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As different as life from nonlife: Aristotle’s multiplicity and Heidegger’s directive

 

The following is the abstract of my paper to be presented at this year’s Society of European Philosophy (SEP) conference at Kingston as part of a panel which includes Professor Catherine Malabou:

 

Heidegger’s notion of es gibt posits both the triumph of indifference (in the form of “technological nihilism”) and its overcoming by way of a rare directive. Put simply, this “directive” gives rise to a “thoughtful speaking” that retrieves “humans from the intractability of nonbeings,” that is, from the status of mass-produced artifacts.[1] Nonetheless, claims Heidegger, “humanity” is “rushing headlong toward this goal of producing itself technologically,” a goal that would explode humanity’s “essence qua subjectivity” and move it into a “region” of absolute relativism synonymous with the nihilism of contemporary global capitalism. As such, “subjectivity” is “tranquilized” to the point of artifactual nonbeing, understood as “the most extreme nonessence in relation to φύσις-ούσία.”[2]

Heidegger thus posits two – and only two – ways of being: living being and the nonliving artifact. Similarly, he posits two – and only two – “beginnings”: metaphysics and the “other thinking.” Moreover, it is this latter which the saving directive – as event of transition – aims toward. Here, then, we have two opposed beginnings and two opposed directions: a down-going into “mere” objecthood and a transitional “over-coming” that ultimately frees humanity from the machinic nihilism definitive of global capital.

Transitional thinking, brought into play by the directive, thus “returns” humanity to its essential “tractability” understood as that which “naturally” separates the human from the nonliving artifact. To illustrate this, Heidegger turns to the notions of γενεσις and φύσις in Aristotle. According to Heidegger’s reading, “the various kinds” of generation are for Aristotle only two, that of technical objects and that of living beings (φύσις), of which only the latter “place themselves forth” and are thus “intrinsically twofold” insofar as they constitute “the presencing of an absencing.” However, according to Aristotle there in fact exist “multiple branches of Being,” of which φύσις is only “a particular (and in itself limited) region of beings.” Φύσις, in short, is one branch of being among others that together make up the many-branched tree of being(s). As such, Heidegger’s directive amounts to an erasure of indifference in favour of simple difference.

The central question of this paper is therefore: what if we maintain ourselves within this indifference? What if we undo this repression of multiple ways of being, each as different from every other as that of the living and the nonliving? Moreover, how might Heidegger himself help us with these questions? In a late amendment to Being and Time, for example, he states that, in contrast to Dasein, time necessarily spatialises itself quite differently for nonhuman animals. Further, I consider whether indifference, synonymous with “detachment without objectivity,” in fact must open itself to those multiple, radically other branches of being affirmed by Aristotle.


[1] Contributions to Philosophy (Of the Event).

[2] “On the Essence and Concept of Φύσις in Aristotle’s Physics B, 1.”