Monday, 7 December 2009

Speculative Materialism Reading Group - Further Reflections

Meillassoux: The Ubiquity of Nothing
With regard to our Speculative Realism reading group, this week’s topic, Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude , proved to be a very thought provoking affair. Meillassoux’ dynamic little text offers some very interesting notions and insights. It is one of those texts which is hard to leave go; there is something about it, or there is something in there seems immensely valuable. What this something might be is another matter. I will thus restrict this blog post to the aspects that I find most attractive and the some of the problems that I think are inherent to the text. What I find attractive about Meillassoux’s text is the clarity and unity of exposition. There is something refreshing about reading a text that is concise whilst simultaneously, indeed ruthlessly staking out a new philosophical frontier. Philosophically, and we discussed this in the group, the notion of utter contingency, or the contingency all entities is a very alluring position. Meillassoux presents a type of Leibnizianism without God minus the pre-established harmony of the best of all possible worlds, Meillassoux presents us with an ontology of multiple worlds as radically contingent. Every world, all that is thinkable is contingent. This is the condition of anything happening or being-there at all. In a sense this is axiomatic. We do not need the ‘correlationism’ of a subject, in order for reality to be there. It is thinkable in itself as utterly contingent. It is for this reason I entitled this post ‘The Ubiquity of Nothing;’ since all identities are in themselves conditional they must also be open to negation. If this was not the case then they would absolute beings; something akin to Leibniz’s monads. As Neil put it well yesterday, there is something ‘gleefully nihilistic’ about After Finitude. Hence, the ubiquity of nothing; the actuality of nihilation in everything. It is for this reason that Meillassoux can assert that all things are possible, even impossibility itself. In other contexts, he talks about ‘redeeming the dead’ and the ‘existence of God’, indeed the existence of an absolute God that could transgress the bounds of all possibility. As I mentioned I find this idea of contingency quite attractive. Presenting it in a new way, as a thinking of Being qua Being to use Alain Badiou’s term. Where I am less clear, is how the leap is made from the contingency of identities to the infinity of being. I can see how a notion of infinite contingency could be read into Meillassoux, where all identities come to nothing perpetually and therefore infinitely; but to presuppose contingency would surely demand activity, demarcation and delimitation. Such concepts are not absolute. If there is some kind of activity which makes entities or objects contingent, then this presupposes that some part of Being qua Being is not absolute or infinite. We thus need to hear Meillassoux’s response to the old problem of the one and the many.
One other aspect that struck me about the idea of radical contingency which Meillassoux endorses, is its essential absurdity, absurdity at least in the existential sense. Indeed, one might even wager that it is a type of absurdity that far surpasses the absurdity of existentialism. If all things are possible, then all manner of identities can come into being. No object is exclusive from becoming any other object. Since any possible mutation of any identity is always possible therefore all types of mixture may come into being. Again I think this rests on the question of finitude. A finite being is limited and demarcated to what it is, the point is, that finitude is coextensive with contingency. Therefore an identity can be contingent and finite yet relatively appropriate and stable; it can be stable to such an extent that it cannot create unions with anything whatsoever. It is relatively appropriate to its singular identity. There are no absolute transformations of its being even if there might be minimal ones. With the thought of radical possibility and radical contingency this rules out the possibility of appropriate identity. If all things were possible then we could have all types of mixtures and abominations!!! Meillassoux brings a vision of a depiction of reality as utterly monstrous, torrid and grotesque; he presents a reality that has the capacity to be a carnival of deformed identities, aborted possibilities and deformed entities. After Finitude still seems fixed in the throes of subterranean romanticism rather than that of a refined rationalism.
Patrick O’Connor

1 comment:

  1. Regarding Meillassoux's brief discussion in AF regarding the possible existence of God and resurrection of the dead, you might want to check out his now infamous essay in the journal Collapse Vol. II entitled, "Spectral Dilemma". It is a fascinating primer for his doctoral dissertation, "The Divine Inexistence". From a theologian's perspective (who isn't always fond of tradition), this is really intriguing stuff!