Archive for December, 2010

The ir-re.press-ible speculative turn

28 December 2010

re.press has just released The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, edited by Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek and Graham Harman. It’s a 430-page compendium of the speculative realism movement and its associates, downloadable as a free PDF and also available in paper format.

The Speculative Turn

There are many reasons to be excited about this volume, besides it being 430 pages and free. With all the buzz  in the blogosphere about speculative realism and object-oriented ontology in recent years, newcomers to this emergent field had to rely on the wikipedia entries for an initial introduction. Chapter 1, “Towards a Speculative Philosophy” by Bryant, Srnicek and Harman does now provide a more thorough yet still very accessible introduction to this movement’s origins and main concerns.

The egalitarianism of the book is also admirable, as it contain contributions from academics at various stages in their academic career, from PhD students to academic celebrities. There are pieces here by all the original founders of speculative realism (Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Graham Harman, and Quentin Meillassoux), as well as some of the philosophers who inspired them (Alain Badiou, Manuel DeLanda, François Laruelle, Isabelle Stengers, Slavoj Žižek).

Naturally much of the book revolves around the debates between the main proponents of the movement – as well as with some of their attentive readers – which should contribute to a further crystallisation of the various competing positions. There are however also some interesting contributions by those aforementioned forerunners, for example Latour on modes of existence, DeLanda on emergence, Žižek on Hegel, and Stengers on materialism. Indeed, the excellent introduction provides a very helpful overview of the included essays.

Finally, let me just add that I love the cover image of the book, the debating bypass secateurs (at least I think they are debating), which seems very appropriate for this compendium. First of all, there is the reference to tools, which are so central to Harman’s Heideggerian argument (‘tool-being’ and all). These secateurs are broken tools in a sense, because they are made to be present-at-hand, by the very fact that they are presented on a book cover, in dramatic, anthropomorphic poses, as if they were engaging in a dispute. Then there is also the association to what these secateurs usually do, what they are used for: essentially cultivating and then harvesting things. And they do this through pruning,  by shaping trees and bushes, and here, arguments.

P.S. As the re:press site is down right now, here is an alternative download site.

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Reviews of Braver and Harman

27 December 2010

There was an interesting series of events this week, in the form of blog posts, comments, replies, and then more blog posts, more comments and more replies. Having followed it to the end, I came across this rather extensive and in-depth review [PDF] of Lee Braver’s  A Thing of This World: A History of Continental Anti-Realism (2007) and Graham Harman’s Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics (2009), by Ryan Vu, published in POLYGRAPH 22 (2010) special issue on Ecology & Ideology. Even our little Harman Review gets mentioned a couple of times.

Does Bruno Latour have a metaphysics? In an event at the London School of Economics recorded shortly before Prince of Networks was published, Latour responded to Harman’s analysis of his alleged ontology with a parable: as a sociologist, he said, his work has always been about following the prey, not catching it—not seeking to establish the “furniture of the universe”—and fleeing whenever the prey falls to the wolves, his charming term for professional philosophers.

Indeed, the transcript of the symposium is expected to come out in July 2011 under the title, The Prince and the Wolf: Latour and Harman at the LSE.

However, the above-mentioned series of blog posts is also worth following up. It kicked off with Levi Bryant on The Domestication of Humans, followed by some initial ridiculing then back-pedalling by Brian Leiter, then followed by Bryant’s reply, and rounded off by an exchange between Bryant and Gerry Canavan, on whose blog I found the aforementioned book review by Vu.

My Blackberry is Not Working

24 December 2010

We like technology here at ANTHEM,  so here’s is a technologically inspired comedy sketch by way of a Christmas present to our readers. Happy holidays and all the best in the New Year!

Small Society

23 December 2010

Statistic of the week:

Only 15 per cent of UK respondents thought they had a responsibility to improve the world by getting involved with worthy causes.

Although to be fair,

77 per cent of Britons said they had given to charity in the past 12 months. This was far higher than the other European countries and above the 71 per cent in the US.

Source: Blow to Cameron’s vision of ‘Big Society’, FT.com

Imagining Business 2

22 December 2010

Submission deadline extended to 15 January 2011 for the 2nd EIASM Workshop on Imagining Business, focusing on “VISUALS & PERFORMATIVITY: RESEARCHING BEYOND TEXT,” to take place in Segovia, Spain, 19-20 May 2011.

Following the success of the 1st Imagining Business Workshop in Oxford, 2008, this second event seeks to examine ideas and approaches which go beyond a focus upon text in order to explore the impact of images, pictures, signs, sounds and passions on the process of organizing. A process which also goes beyond traditional ideas of business and into many areas of our lives.

By bringing together academics from a wide range of disciplines and approaches (e.g. organizational theory, accounting, anthropology, geography, art, sociology, communication studies, architecture, philosophy, social studies of technology, etc…), this event will provide an arena in which to discuss and debate different ways of imagining the complex process of organizing.

Special Guest Speakers are:

  • Mario Biagioli – Harvard University – History of science
  • Jacques Fontanille – Université de Limoges – Semiotics
  • Nigel Thrift (TBC)- University of Warwick – Geography

The Organising Committee members are Paolo Quattrone – IE Business School, François-Régis Puyou – Audencia, Nantes School of Management and Chris Mclean – Manchester Business School.

Biosemiotics

20 December 2010

Donald Favareau’s 8-minute summary (scroll down to the bottom of the page for his segment) of biosemiotics on the BBC World Service did remind me of actor-network theory (Ivakhiv already picked up on this) and indeed of Harman’s object-oriented philosophy (although Favareau seems to exclude situations involving inanimate objects such as a hand hitting the table or fire encountering water). What was the most revealing however was the other participants’ reaction to Favareau’s proposition that let’s say an amoeba can interpret signs and perceive its food source as some form of meaning. The biologist thought that this was a projection of human categories onto animals, which she felt uncomfortable with, while the sociologist’s reaction was that philosophy is concerned with human sign systems, not with stimulus response. Favareau’s book looks interesting (though quite pricey).

Academic fashions

16 December 2010

Google’s Books Ngram Viewer seems like the ultimate tool for tracing academic fads and fashions. It charts how often a word or phrase has been mentioned in books over a time period (in the last 200 years). Here are some Ngrams just for fun, on ANT, Latour, Heidegger, Harman, Deleuze, Whitehead, Sloterdijk and others. More on Ngram Viewer at The Guardian.

From our war correspondent

9 December 2010

From the streets of London, students demonstrating for the idea of higher education as a social good. The vote is in an hour or so.

Student protests – live coverage

Tuition fee decision day

Gordon Brown on the student protests

4 December 2010

From an interview in The Guardian:

Brown has sympathy for the students protesting against the government’s decision to raise fees and cut maintenance allowances. “Of course I understand why they are doing it,” he says. “Educational opportunity is the key to the future, yet 2,000 people were turned away from my local college, despite having the qualifications, because grant support is being cut.”

As chancellor, he introduced educational maintenance allowances to provide financial help for those aged 16-18 in order to persuade them to stay on at school. These, to his anger, are now being cut. “I feel passionately that there should be no barrier to children staying on at school.”

Telegrams from Claremont

3 December 2010

These are the kind of cables I like to see leaked: Graham Harman reporting live in telegraphic style from the Metaphysics and Things conference in Claremont, among others on Isabelle Stengers, Donna Haraway and the debate that ensued. Keep it up, Graham!