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Performative Contradictions in Levi Bryant's Naturalism

Performative Contradictions in Levi Bryant's Naturalism

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Published by Terence Blake

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Published by: Terence Blake on Mar 16, 2014
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There are a number of interesting performative contradictions to be found in Levi Bryant's work. The first I will consider concerns the contradiction between Bryant's desire to inherit and carry further certain progressive post-structuralist themes and his allegiange to the regressive schemas of object-oriented ontology. espite espousing non-foundationalism and conceptual e!perimentation Levi Bryant does have a foundational level and vocabulary" that of ###" which his appeal to the $withdrawal$ thesis illustrates. This is not a semantic contradiction" as Levi is careful to distinguish
 epistemology and ontology. Bryant's concepts" while rather unstable" are still foundational due to his having borrowed the form of its metaphysical heuristics from obect oriented ontology" which poses an ontological foundation with its withdrawing objects. Bryant has now %for the time  being& distanced himself from ### and the strong withdrawal thesis" preferring to talk in terms of units %instantiated recently by machines and some form of weak withdrawal" a naturalisation of (arman's strong metaphysical withdrawal %which has the disadvantage of subtracting objects from the play of material causality.espite his appeals to science Levi Bryant is still responsible before the )uestion *(ow do you know+" not in the narrow sense of any particular knowledge claim but in the global sense of *(ow do you know your fundamental ontology is true, and is it revisable,$ The )uestion amounts to  is your machine-oriented ontology just a useful heuristic that can guide and e!plicate philosophical and scientific research" or is it a new foundation" unrevisable in its basic structure,rom a Latourian view everything is heuristic" but Bryant does not and cannot espouse this non-foundationalism with respect to science. /hat Bryant is doing is metaphysics than science" and bad metaphysics at that. (e is proposing a metaphysical interpretative synthesis based on an e!trapolation of the sciences as he imagines them" and thus he is shielding himself both from scientific testability" and from serious engagement with the philosophical views he wishes to refute or to sidestep. Bryant is speaking from his own personal no man0s land" neither inside science nor inside philosophy.The )uestion *(ow do you know,+ addressed to Bryant does not ask about observable facts nor even about scientific generalisations" but about his ontological foundation. Bryant has occasionally cited Latour0s 12I3423 I4 52TI#4" but the answer that Bryant needs is not forthcoming in that  book . The )uestion crops up for any fundamental ontology and cannot be evacuated by semantic word-magic how do you s)uare your ontological foundation with your epistemological non-foundationalism,3ach time the )uestion is posed Bryant displaces the general )uestion *(ow do you know your foundational ontology is true+ onto specific )uestions such as medication versus e!orcism in the case of epilepsy. urther" all Latour0s work on different r6gimes of truth is thrown to the wind" condemned as $relativism$ without being e!plored or even understood./hat remains" in Bryant's case" is a scientistic re-doubling of his non-empirical ontology" as if the one could palliate the deficiencies of the other. The problem posed for Bryant's defence of naturalism is that of the recourse to a non-empirical ontology. I think it is plain for all to see that Levi0s answer to the )uestion *(ow do you know,+ is *I don0t+" and the rest is misdirection.
Levi Bryant claims to build on his $work on masculine se!uation$ and to contribute to an analysis of the pervasiveness of theistic structures of thought" e!tending to cases where the e!plicit content
is atheistic. 7nfortunately" there is no such $work$ providing a solid base on which to build. There is only a naive credulous hermeneutic of Lacan's graph of se!uation ju!taposed with an uncritical espousal of $naturalism$ and $materialism$. /hen Bryant intervenes in the pluralism debate" and condemns people 's positions as implying the e!istence of immaterial beings and forces he gives theimpression of a stern realist in touch with modern science. 8et in other articles he manifests his adherence to Lacanian psychoanalysis with no attempt to reconcile the two incompatible allegiances.reud is an outstanding e!ample of mytho-poetic thought" and should be read as such outside his rationalist reductions and disguises. #ne of these monist reductions is his own monomyth of the #edipus comple!. Lacan takes some steps towards de-theologising reud but stops halfway. Levi Bryant0s attempted naturalisation of Lacan is a theological move that neutralises the productive unconscious" placing all productivity on the posited side of a theological notion of *matter+" whose referent is deliberately vague and changing" as are the epithets used to name its components %objects" machines" assemblages" units" etc..Bryant0s problem should be political" not epistemological. It is in the institutionalisation of the mytho-poetic function and the hegemonic coding of its psycho-genic networks that the problem lies. This is of course the problem that eleu9e and :uattari considered under the names of $fabulation$ and *desire+" against the contamination of thought by psychanalysm.This fabulation is described by eleu9e in the cinema books" which are noteworthy for making virtually no reference to psychoanalysis and its hermeneutics. Bryant actively espouses Lacanian hermeneutics" with which he uses doublethink to maintain it alongside his naive *naturalist+ hermeneutic of science. Bryant0s pronouncements are religious in the sense of selective synchronic snapshots of the productions of the diachronic mytho-poetic unconscious %cf. eleu9e and :uattari0s diagnosis of psychoanalysis as based on *photos+ of desiring production. Bryant's *religious+ %in the traditional sense interlocutors can only be fundamentalists in his eyes" as that is all his critical hermeneutic is capable of handling.(ence Bryant must e!aggerate with not a shred of evidence the proportions of 2hristians who are naive literal-minded believers" as he himself is a naive literal-minded believer in such Lacanian nonsense as his graph of se!uation and his mathemes" and in an old-school positivism relooked withmore modern jargon %Luhmann" Badiou" Bhaskar. Bryant gives us the an ama9ing spectacle of someone eager to condemn $credulous$ 2hristians and to pose hard-headed no-nonsense )uestions about e!orcists and voodoo priests" denouncing the irreality of their ontological presuppositions" while declaring his belief in the reudian and Lacanian unconscious. The Lacanian psychoanalyst isone of the closest things we have to a voodoo priest inhabiting our society" at least according to eleu9e and :uattari" but also to many others.Bryant sees no such resemblance" no incoherence. Looking at Lacan's mystifications he sees only scientific naturalism.
5 useful rule of thumb with Bryant is that whenever he refers to reud or Lacan he is pulling a fast one" there is no intellectual content there" and he knows it. 5 second rule of thumb is that whenever Bryant does not mention reud and Lacan" as in the pluralism posts and comments" he is pulling a fast one too. (e is glossing over his anti-naturalist commitments. 5 third rule of thumb is that whenever Bryant mentions both Lacan and naturalism he is presupposing coherence where it does not e!ist" and hoping you won't notice. 5lso" one must not forget that oucault is an idealist in Levi Bryant0s book" but Lacan is a naturalist&Bryant has given up the criti)ue of correlationism" preferring to criti)ue anthropocentrism" which gets to be a synonym for idealist. (e then proceeds to give this new bogus concept such an all-encompassing e!tension that it can include almost all continental philosophy. The corollary is that
he can declare anybody he chooses %e.g. oucault" Latour to be idealist" and anybody he chooses %including Lacan to be non-anthropocentric and so naturalist.Bryant's naturalism is on any ordinary reading virtually contentless. 3ven if given content by a very charitable reading" it is very much a promise rather than a result of the present state of research" andrests on a hori9on of the unity of science %the unity of physics" chemistry" biology and astronomy ;  but he needs psychology and sociology as well ; hence the empty call for a naturalist Lacanism. This putative $unity$ does not describe the sciences as there e!ist incommensurable paradigms  between each of these disciplines and inside each one even *physics+ is not a unified corpus. This unity even supposing that it is conceivable as a future state of our knowledge is typically thought to  be achievable by some sort of reductionism %usually physicalist. Bryant has repeatedly denounced reductionism but propounds a reductionist metaphysical research programme.
Levi Bryant0s *naturalism+ is an empty abstraction that is conceptually dependent on his affective choices. In his eyes reud and Lacan are naturalists whereas <ar! and oucault are anthropocentricidealists. 4o analysis is given and confrontation with rival views is steadfastly avoided. Instead he  proposes a arenheit =>? fantasy of demarcation and e!clusion.Bryant claims that naturalism e!presses the synthesis of arwin and Lacan" and considers it to be *non-reductionist+" and calls this incoherent hodgepodge an *open-ended project+" i.e. a pious wish for a future theory. The Theory-that-may-come.(is naturalism re)uires the transformation of our understanding of nature so as to be able to accountfor culture" so Lacan is graffed on as a naturalist supplement. The whole thing is embarrasing in its incompleteness and its incoherence" but Bryant happily divides his time between criti)uing any  position he feels threatened by" calling it idealist" and describing in the conditional mood what a satisfactory theory $would$ have to be like. This is concept-blindness in a big way&
Levi Bryant0s *naturalist hypothesis+ is neither naturalist %it includes Lacan but not <ar!" nor a hypothesis %it is asserted dogmatically as a condition of dialogue+The truth of the matter" however; and I won0t even bother to make arguments here ; is that naturalism and materialism are the only credible philosophical positions today+. Bryant asserts that 4ature is nothing less than *the ground of being+ %ontotheology and that all other orientations deserve to be *committed to flames+ %naive demarcationism.I have nothing against naturalism as such. /hat I do object to is a vast and empty affective *naturalist hypothesis+ on the analogy with Badiou0s *communist hypothesis+" which can assemble and include in its framework whatever one may wish to approve of and with e)ual plausibility e!clude whatever one wishes to reject. Inclusion into the metaphysical naturalist framework comes at the price of an evacuation of conceptual content and the principle of demarcation becomes one of affective adhesion.ar from being a naturalist" reud abandoned naturalist e!planation when he took over the concept of the unconscious. %4B This is not the case with reud's source" 4iet9sche" whose use of the unconscious remains naturalist. /e witness incoherent amalgams such as *Lacanian the naturalist+"and a travesty not just of the history of philosophy %remember most recent 2ontinental @hilosophy is anti-naturalist for Bryant" e!cept for Lacan" but also of the history of science and mathematics. 2antor is an e!cellent e!ample. 3ven if one can give a naturalist account of transfinite arithmetic" and I am certainly in favour of such an account" 2antor0s motivations and inspiring force were theological. 5nd this sort of theological motivation is no isolated case in the history of science.<ore generally" Bryant0s vision of the history of science is false. Theological motives have  propelled researchers from the very beginnings of science" and still do. 3ven today a very secularised and immanentised religiosity concerning seeing the thoughts in the mind of :od

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