Tom Coles speculates realism AND Arika’s Manifesto Delivery

Thursday 4th November

7pm at 61 West Princes Street


Dear GOS.
I would like to make a proposal to you, and to ask whether you could help with something I am doing for INSTAL. 

I have to give 3 x 15 minute talk type events at INSTAL: (see here –  I’ve been thinking about a few things.

Self expression was only a separable issue for a very brief time in history, in the arts or anywhere else.  And that time is just about over.

To exemplify my conviction that nothing in art/ life is as expendable as the artist/ subject, I would like to arranged for some process of de-subjectification w/r/t my talk.

The symbolic order (Big Other) emerges from a gift, an offering, that marks its content as neutral in order to pose as a gift: when a gift is offered, what matters is not its content but the link between the giver and the receiver.  Everyone who is in love knows this: a present to the beloved, if it is to symbolise my love, should be useless, superfluous in its very abundance – only as such, with its use value suspended, can it symbolise my love. Roman Jakobson called this fundamental mystery of the properly human symbolic order ‘phatic communication’: human speech never merely transmits a message, it always also self-reflectively asserts the basic symbolic pact between the communicating subjects.

We shouldn’t forget to include the act of communication in the content of communication itself, since the meaning of each act of communication is also to reflexively assert that it is an act of communication.

I have been thinking about Douglas Heubler, and think I might like to appropriate one of his ideas: the piece involved Heubler taking portraits of Bernd Becher, while asking him to ‘look like a lover/ poet/ pirate/ bernd becher/ etc’.  He waited for two months, then sent Becher back the portraits, without telling him which was which, and asked Becher to try and guess. The piece consists of the images, captioned as Becher guessed, and text describing the process.

I’d like to do something similar for my 3 talks.

  • I would like to try and explain the ideas I want to put across to the INSTAL audience in a series of 3 talks, of the same duration (max 15 mins, but probably shorter – maybe 7 minutes, to give the remaining 7 minutes of the 15 over to discussion), to another audience (I’d like to first ask GOS, or individuals from GOS).
  • I would like to leave it a short amount of time (INSTAL is only 2 weeks away, so maybe we could say a couple of days rather than 2 months!), then record that audience/ individual trying to remember/ alter/ recount/ dispute/ augment each of the 3 short talks that I gave.
  • I’ll then play this recording back during the talk slots at INSTAL.  I think I will be in the room, and will try and respond to the audio in some way (or maybe invite others to do so also): perhaps trying to sketch out the ideas as they are raised, or make some kind of schematic…
  • I imagine it would be nice if this recorded audio was half the length of the talk slot (15 mins total) so as to allow for discussion…


Some ‘Useful’ Statements

‘Philosophy should be more than a sop to the pathetic twinge of human self-esteem.’

Nihil Unbound, p.xi

‘The disenchantment of the world deserves to be celebrated as an achievement of intellectual maturity, not bewailed as a debilitating impoverishment.’

Nihil Unbound, p.xi

But how exactly are we supposed to describe appearance strictly in its own terms, without smuggling in any extrinsic, objectifying factors?

Nihil Unbound, p.28


Some Outdated Journalism

Is ’realism’ the right term? And what is the relationship between ‘realism’ and ‘materialism’?

Materialism is a label which is almost universally claimed by a continental philosophy which also prides itself on its hostility to realism. Harman wanted to reverse this valuation, holding on to realism while rejecting materialism. The tendency in materialism, Harman claimed, is always to dissolve specific objects, reducing them either to smaller physical entities or, as in the case of Grant’s philosophy, seeing them as ephemeral products of an underlying monist hyper-nature. Brassier, by contrast, pointed out that in the philosophy of someone like Slavoj Žižek the material seems to connote only a blockage, the point where thought fails – by this definition, the material cannot be thought. The problem was to return to matter without assuming a pre-established harmony between our conceptual apparatus and the world. Brassier also questioned the equation of materialism with practice: why is praxis material?

Meillassoux could not attend the UWE event, but his replacement, Alberto Toscano*, raised the important issue of speculative realism’s relationship to politics, and to another sense of materialism – precisely the Marxist one that gives such a central role to practice. Using the work of the Marxist theorist Lucio Colletti, Toscano argued that Meillassoux’s refusal of anything outside of logic and mathematics is a form of philosophical idealism. Meillassoux seeks to combat what he sees as a resurgent fanaticism with mathematised reason. But the very point of Marx’s critique was to have shown that ideological distortions are not just errors of reason. Toscano referred to ‘Marx’s theory of real abstraction, to wit the idea that the excesses of speculation and the hypostases of idealism are not merely cognitive problems, but are deeply entangled with abstractions that have a real existence in what, following Hegel, Marx was wont to call an upside-down world. Thus the State, and its philosophical expression in Hegel, and Capital, and its theoretical capture in the political economy of Smith and Ricardo, are not simply thought-forms that could be dispelled by some enlightened emendation of the intellect, or a valiant combat against superstitions.’

The role that speculative realism might play in a new anti-capitalism has yet to be established; it is one of many exciting areas that this still-emerging, thrilling philosophical field has opened up.

from ‘Speculative Realism’ in Frieze:

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