Branding thought

whatitsaysonthetin

A new speculative realist  journal is about to begin and has issued a cfp, details over here.  The new journal seems to be only an online journal, although I’m not entirely sure about that.  No details of a print version are mentioned.  Unfortunately it’s not very imaginatively titled, simply called ‘Speculations’, although I suppose this is kind of a ‘it does exactly what it says on the tin‘ name.

The new speccy movement has a large number of virtues no doubt, although I’ve never been that comfortable with the whole ‘branding’ attitude.  Mark Fisher reports Graham Harman talking about branding in a positive light, claiming that it is a ‘universally recognised method of of conveying information while cutting through information clutter.   The claim is, as seems quite common, both provocative, far-reaching and seemingly ‘against the orthodoxy’, although I’m afraid I don’t quite buy it.  Easily able to be hidden inside the ‘conveying information’ phrase is a major assumption, namely that information is neutral.  This would then miss the point of those who might criticise branding as a problematic device, something that is deployed to manipulate information flows rather than merely convey. It connects, however, with something I read Harman saying on another website, which is that he specifically envisages the creation of a philosophical movement as a project.   There is something intensely interesting here in the way the speccies, with the force of Harman at their centre, create a series of alliances, devices and connections.  Just as in the case of the pasteurisation of France, a kind of alliance of associations is underway, with the explicit ‘naming’ (branding) of the movement as a form of ‘fulcrum point’.  Harman has, no doubt, learnt the lessons of Latour.  Under this assumption I take it that the point of speculative realism is to create an asymetrical moment, to win a battle and shift the terrain of forces.

Obviously this idea of  asymmetry, a form of ‘breaking history in two’, has some resonance with Nietzschean attitudes to forces, though there is something uniquely ‘human’ in the way the speccies are going about the job.  Rather than the thinker engaging in time, valiantly trying to carry out the heroic task of untimeliness (some latent transcendent existentialism no doubt), the speccies offer up a movement.   Now sometimes this is not quite so obvious.  I get the sense that speculative realists are often taken to be offering a new argument.  For example, Steven Shaviro comments that  ‘what’s so energizing about Harman’s “object-oriented philosophy,” or about “speculative realism” more generally, is that it refuses to subordinate its arguments about the nature of the world (or about anything, really) to (second-order) arguments about how we can know whether such (first-order) arguments are correct.’  Now, of course, there are always new arguments and all of the speccies, in one form or another, bring forward new arguments.  The ‘new’ here is not yet the New (whatever that would be, if indeed it is at all).  The idea, for example, that philosophy should make first-order arguments about the world is not that uncommon.  The point, presumably, is that it’s uncommon in our current philosophical conjuncture.  It is not so much, I feel, the arguments that are crucial (not that they’re unimportant by any means) since they seem to be unable to be discussed without being located within the movement that is speculative realism.

The slight problem I have, however, is that this notion of a movement that attempts to re-invigorate philosophical first-order arguments under the banner of ‘speculative philosophy’ seems aimed specifically at philosophy.  The content, of course, still comes forward as first order arguments, but the structure or dynamic of the movement looks on this account to be second-order (a kind of ‘metaphilosophical’ movement).  That may or may not be a positive thing, I’m not sure, although I’m certainly uncertain.  What is clear, however, is that a new fashion is on the rise and at the centre of it is a brand name rather than a ‘proper name’.    Despite any misgivings – and a terribly old-fashioned dislike of fashions on my part – it will be interesting to see how this movement continues to develop and what possibilities for thought it opens up.

Speculations journal details over here

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philosopher and filmmaker from brighton, currently teaching philosophy at the Free University of Brighton

One Response

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  1. Matt Astill
    Matt Astill at |

    Hello Matt. Hope you are keeping well.
    I’ve been reading a couple of OOOist websites and found this interesting at Ian Bogost’s blog: http://www.bogost.com/blog/what_is_objectoriented_ontolog.shtml
    It might be interesting to inform your suspicions as, to my mind at least, what this desire to express OOO is is just the desire of the academic/theorist to have his cake and eat it too. I have commented to that effect, but my knee-jerk reactions aside, there is a whole lot of other material that I found fascinating about these guys in their discussion that seems to reveal an awful lot, and indeed an awful lot more to your trained eyes than my watery, newty ones.

    This therefore stood out at me in what you wrote above: “The slight problem I have, however, is that this notion of a movement that attempts to re-invigorate philosophical first-order arguments under the banner of ’speculative philosophy’ seems aimed specifically at philosophy. The content, of course, still comes forward as first order arguments, but the structure or dynamic of the movement looks on this account to be second-order (a kind of ‘metaphilosophical’ movement). That may or may not be a positive thing, I’m not sure, although I’m certainly uncertain. What is clear, however, is that a new fashion is on the rise and at the centre of it is a brand name rather than a ‘proper name’.”

    Something that is intriguing me, and which I have been writing about for the past few months (as a way of summing up a general direction for myself in philosophy), is Deleuze’s wish for a ‘pop philosophy’. Do you think that there is an almost standard deficiency today in the way that philosophers/academics/theorists seem to conceive their role, for the simple fact that they have this desire to cash their ideas out practically? (Or, at least, know that they cannot maintain consistently enough these days the ‘purity’ of their position as knowers, since this has to mean some sort of social derivation, and not an essential link between knowledge and status like a century or so ago.) With Deleuze, in brief, I think the idea of pop philosophy tends to attract the most vain prejudices of commentators, and their belief in their role as ‘explainers’ seems to go hand in hand with a kind of ‘cojolling-of-the-masses to behave like a bourgeois’ procedure. Yes, single mothers + penchant for neat analysis = happiness. Apparently. What do you think?

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