Pam Nogales, “Book review: Universal Emancipation, by Nick Nesbitt”

IMAGE: A Romantic portrayal of Haitian
revolutionary leader Toussaint Louverture

Originally posted on Eleutheromania.  Though I’ve not read the book, Pam’s review gives me the distinct impression that Nesbitt is working within a Deleuzean frame, with a strong emphasis on “singularity” cribbed from Deleuze’s reading of Spinoza.  Thus, the notion of “radical enlightenment” adopted from Jonathan Israel’s well-known book championing Spinoza is shot through with a distinct Deleuzeanism.  Such are its theoretical underpinnings, anyway, for what it’s worth.

Universal Emancipation: The Haitian Revolution and the Radical Enlightenment. By Nick Nesbitt. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. 2008. Pp. viii, 261.

“The radical transformation of France after 1789 did not determine the appearance of the Haitian Revolution; instead, the Declaration of the Rights of Man was a key element in creating what David Scott has called the ‘conditions of possibility,’ the ontological ground that allowed for a local rebellion’s increasing articulation in terms of universal human rights.” (Nesbitt, 62)

Similar to historian Jeremy Popkin, although with a radically different conclusion, Nick Nesbitt also grapples with the question of whether or not the Revolution in Saint-Domingue was “ideologically predetermined” by the radical ideas of the French Revolution (Nesbitt, 128). While Popkin’s exposition argues that the Revolution was caused by a set of intricate contingencies and the blunders of human reason, Nesbitt’s argument prioritizes the legacy of the Enlightenment tradition as the grounds of possibility for the Revolution in Saint-Domingue. But this is only one side of the argument and it comes after an important clarification: Nesbitt challenges the understanding of the Enlightenment as a homogenous development, located in Europe and “accessible” only to privileged subjects. He argues that this perspective not only obfuscates the conditions under which the Revolution took place but blocks recognition of a critical contribution to the discourse of human rights.[1] By way of its “singularity,” writes Nesbitt, the slaves in Saint-Domingue went beyond the limitations of bourgeois revolutions but in order to learn from this historical rupture, we must recover the link between the Revolution and the tradition of Radical Enlightenment thought. Continue reading

On Hurt Feelings: The Case of Levi Bryant’s Missing Sense of Humor

Levi Bryant, humorless "onticologist"

I know that it’s usually in bad taste to publish a private e-mail correspondence with another individual over the internet, but in this case I feel it’s fairly harmless.  Over at Levi Bryant’s blog, Larval Subjects, I was engaging in an interesting discussion between Levi and Michael from Archive Fire.  You can see one of my comments on this thread, as well as Michael’s favorable citation of some of the points I make.  Anyway, sometime yesterday, I added another comment on the entry regarding the debate between Spinoza and Leibniz on actualism vs. possibilism (although Spinoza was dead when Leibniz’s major metaphysical writings began to appear).

After several hours, I saw that new comments had been updated for the post, and so I checked to see if Levi or Michael had responded to anything I’d written.  Much to my dismay, I discovered that my comment was nowhere to be found.  I tried leaving another one, asking what had happened, but this one likewise disappeared after a few minutes.  Concerned, I contacted Levi through e-mail:

[E-mails deleted out of respect for Levi Bryant’s privacy]

Basically, Levi told me that he felt insulted by a comment I’d left the day before, and that, coupled with my satyric post on SR/OOO, he’s decided to cease discussion with me.  My reply to him was that the sendup of SR/OOO was aimed at the movement in general, and that he shouldn’t take it as a personal affront.  I also encouraged him to develop a better sense of humor about things generally and himself in particular.

So far, I haven’t received any further response.  This isn’t the first time this has happened, either.  Back in the ides of April, I published a somewhat lengthier (though similarly fraught) exchange between Levi and me that had resulted from a heated debate on the subject of Marxism on his own blog.  He accused me at that point of “hate speech.”  After some further conversation through e-mail (following the correspondence posted in that entry), I explained myself more thoroughly.  Levi eventually came to his senses and invited me back to comment on his blog.

Now again, it’s his right to exclude certain individuals from posting or commenting on his blog if he wants to.  I just think it’s a shame that he allows his feelings to be so easily hurt, or that he takes an obviously satyrical manifesto directed at a general movement and interprets it as a personal attack.  It’s really too bad that he can’t have a little better sense of humor about this, and have a laugh along with everyone else.

By contrast, the responses I received from the author of the blog ktismatics and Joseph Weissman of Fractal Ontology were unambiguously supportive.  Even the e-mail I received, from Nick Srnicek of Speculative Heresy, was polite and largely understanding:

[A polite and good-natured e-mail deleted out of respect for Nick Srnicek’s privacy]

If this means an end to my participation on Larval Subjects, then so be it.  It’s just sort of sad that it had to be over such a petty matter.

From Kant’s Critiques to the “Spinoza Controversy”

Today I finished reading Kant’s Critique of Judgment.  This was my first reading of this work in its entirety; it has been my goal (now accomplished) in the last three weeks to read all three Critiques from start to finish, chronologically, interrupted only by reading his essays “What is Enlightenment?”, “Perpetual Peace,” and “Speculative Beginning of Human History.”  While all these works are excellent, the third Critique might be my favorite.  Kant didn’t even realize how good it is.

Now I plan to begin exploring in earnest the famous “Spinoza controversy” that involved Lessing, Mendelssohn, Jacobi and others in the 1780’s and, along with the presentation of Kant’s critical philosophy, dominated the philosophical scene therein.  As a preliminary measure, I’ve been brushing up on Spinoza’s Ethics.  From there, I hope to finally familiarize myself with Jacobi’s work from this period.

Quite happily, my reacquaintance with Spinoza might complement nicely the project that I have been asked to join with regard to Laruelle’s notion of “non-philosophy.”  In revisiting Spinoza’s concept of the One, I might better be able to understand Laruelle’s non-philosophical emendation pf it.

Francois Laruelle Non-Philosophy

Thoughts on François Laruelle’s Preface and Introduction to Principles of Non-Philosophy (as translated by Fractal Ontology’s Taylor Adkins)

Taylor Adkins, from Fractal Ontology, has graciously shared with me some advanced rough drafts of his continuing translations of François Laruelle’s work from French into English. This morning I read one of the more introductory, programmatic pieces he sent — the preface and introduction to Principles of Non-Philosophy. This outlines in broad strokes Laruelle’s notion of “non-philosophy,” which, from what I gather, is one of the central themes of his work. The work exhibits an uncommon originality in its interpretations of traditional philosophical (and extra-philosophical) problems, accompanied by a casual erudition which appeals to my tastes greatly. Personally, I do foresee problems (or at least significant obstacles) which will present themselves to Laruelle’s enterprise, which may be dealt with more or less adequacy. Given the competence and ingenuity he displays in this short piece, however, I have no doubt that he will make an honest go of it. It would be ridiculous, in any case, to demand an exhaustive treatment or solution to these problems from a work which he openly admits is propaedeutic in its function (i.e., it only aims to be “the most complete introduction to non-philosophy in the absence of its realization”).

What follows are my initial thoughts in response to this piece. I will refrain from idle speculation into those sections which exceed my topical familiarity at present, and focus mostly on some of the references and implications which I take to be most plainly evident in the text. In this way I might perform some small service of gratitude to Taylor for offering his work for discussion, contributing the occasional insights my background makes available for those who are interested. It is quite possible that my own take on what Laruelle is trying to say is mistaken; aware of this fact, I welcome criticism and correction from all sides.

Departing from the continental orientation toward questions of ontology (the logic of Being) and its differential corollary of alterity which has predominated in recent years, Laruelle grounds his exposition of “non-philosophy” in its (ontology’s) traditional rival, henology (the logic of the One). This classification is misleading, however. For Laruelle’s conception of the One is highly idiosyncratic. It differs in many respects from the object of the classical Platonic, Stoical, and Spinozistic henologies — the One(s) which philosophically ground(s) the order of appearances in their modal correspondence and community with one another.

On this point we may elaborate. Specifically, Laruelle seems to take issue with the place the One occupies within philosophies and mystical tradition, as something which is accomplished or realized through the relation of its subsidiary modes. This holds whether the One is reached by speculative/dialectical ascent (as in transcendental and Hegelian logic) or through revelation or religious vision (as in mysticism). This is why categorizing Laruelle’s thought as henological is potentially confused, because any “logic” which is thought to articulate the One cannot be conceived as literal. It can appear only in scare-quotes, since the One “is immanent (to) itself rather than to a form of thought, to a ‘logic.’”

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The absolution of Spirit: Hegel and the speculative infinite

How does one think infinity? The question seems at first to place an unreasonable demand for provisioning an answer; the structure of the human mind immediately appears finite, conditioned. Yet one soon discovers that it is reason itself which places this demand. Man is irrepressibly driven by his rational faculty to apprehend the infinitely unconditioned ground(s) upon which the finite phenomena of experience are grounded. Limitation is anathema to the most primordial desire of humanity. For nothing is more human than to reject the human — to reject finitude and become God.
The spiritual epic of man is thus guided by his cognitive romance with the Absolute, qua true infinity. In the course of its unfolding, philosophers have variously located the metaphysical domain of infinity as either belonging to the structure of the world or the mind. Classical (pre-Kantian) metaphysics naïvely sought infinity in the predicate structure of the world, a world it had imparted with universality by virtue of its deductions. In other words, infinity was for this metaphysics a mere predicate in its determinations, and bore no necessary relation to its subject apart from its copular attachment (God is infinitely powerful, infinitely knowledgeable, etc.). Rationalist ontology, pneumatology, cosmology, and theology were borne of its efforts. But cracks began to emerge in its objective edifice, and soon Hume arose to shatter the great deductive systems of philosophy. Only with Kant was universality rehabilitated, and even then only at a price. The phenomenal world was recognized for its objective finitude, but infinity was subjectively retained in the pure (a priori) faculties of the understanding. Within this categorical matrix, objectivity was granted to judgments which arranged the manifold of intuition under the twin categories of universality and necessity.[2] Objective laws could be hoped to have infinite application to finite phenomena. But even then this infinity was strictly formal, hence empty, having been methodologically stripped of empirical (a posteriori) content.[3] The philosophers of subjectivity (Kant, Jacobi, Fichte) had correctly diagnosed the dogmatism of the objective infinite, but the infinite they had replaced it with remained definite in its separation from the finite.

Both such conceptions of infinity (objective and subjective alike) ultimately fell short for Hegel. The objective infinity of being and the subjective infinity of thought each failed in its non-relation to finitude, i.e. its abstract isolation from infinity’s negative. The former thought the world all too gracious in its accommodation of the human mind; the latter, by contrast, “sen[t] man to feed upon husks and chaff.”[4] Always seeking some mediating ground between two dialectical opposites, Hegel hoped to recast abstract infinity and abstract finitude into the concrete unity of the speculative infinite, or the infinitum actu of Spinoza. The notion of the “true” or “good” infinity of speculation recurs throughout Hegel’s mature works, from his early collaboration with Schelling in Faith and Knowledge (1802) to the final edition of his Encyclopedia Logic (1831), his last published work. This is hardly a coincidence. For in Hegel’s estimation, “the true infinite is [my italics] the absolute Idea” — the grounding principle of all genuinely philosophical knowledge.[5] As such, a grasp of this immanent feature of Hegel’s thought is central to an appreciation of his philosophy. With reference to the pertinent texts that deal with this topic, its fine points might be thoroughly excogitated. As the concept takes shape, the speculative implications of its particulars will be briefly discussed, wherever appropriate.

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