Arquivo da tag: Filosofia

A reader’s guide to the “ontological turn” – Parts 1 to 4 (Somatosphere)

January 15, 2014

A reader’s guide to the “ontological turn” – Part 1

Judith Farquhar

This article is part of the series: A reader’s guide to the “ontological turn”

Editor’s note: In the wake of the discussion about the ‘ontological turn’ at this year’s American Anthropological Association conference, we asked several scholars, “which texts or resources would you recommend to a student or colleague interested in the uses of ‘ontology’ as an analytical category in recent work in anthropology and science and technology studies?”  This was the reading list we received fromJudith Farquhar, Max Palevsky Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago.  Answers from a number of other scholars will appear as separate posts in the series.

In providing a reading list, I had lots of good “ontological” resources at hand, having just taught a seminar called “Ontological Politics.”  This list is pared down from the syllabus; and the syllabus itself was just a subset of the many useful philosophical, historical, and ethnographic readings that I had been devouring during the previous year, when I was on leave.

I really like all these pieces, though I don’t actually “follow” all of them.  This is a good thing, because the field — if it can be called that — tends to go in circles, with all the usual suspects citing all the usual suspects.  In the end, as we worked our way through the course, I found the ethnographic work more exciting than most of the more theoretically inclined writing.  At the other end of the spectrum, I feel quite transformed by having read Heidegger’s “The Thing” — but I’m not sure why!

Philosophical and methodological works in anthropology and beyond:

Philippe Descola, 2013, The Ecology of Others, Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.

William Connolly, 2005, Pluralism. Durham: Duke University Press. (Ch. 3, “Pluralism and the Universe” [on William James], pp. 68-92.)

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, 2004, “Perspectival Anthropology and the Method of Controlled Equivocation,” Tipiti 2 (1): 3-22.

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, 2012, “Immanence and Fear: Stranger events and subjects in Amazonia,” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 2 (1): 27-43.

Marisol de la Cadena, 2010, “Indigenous Cosmopolitics in the Andes: Conceptual reflections beyond ‘politics’,” Cultural Anthropology 25 (2): 334-370.

Bruno Latour, 2004, “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam? From matters of fact to matters of concern.Critical Inquiry 30 (2): 225-248.

A dialogue from Common Knowledge 2004 (3): Ulrich Beck: “The Truth of Others: A Cosmopolitan Approach” (pp. 430-449) and Bruno Latour: “Whose Cosmos, Which Cosmopolitics? Comments on the Peace Terms of Ulrich Beck” (pp. 450-462).

Graham Harman, 2009, Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics.  Melbourne: Re.Press.  (OA)

Isabelle Stengers, 2005, “The Cosmopolitical Proposal,” in Bruno Latour & Peter Weibel, eds., Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy.  Cambridge MA: MIT Press, pp. 994-1003.

Martin Heidegger, 1971, “The Thing,” in Poetry, Language, Thought (Tr. Albert Hofstadter).  New York: Harper & Row, pp. 163-180

Graham Harman, 2010, “Technology, Objects and Things in Heidegger,”Cambridge Journal of Economics 34: 17-25.

Jane Bennett and William Connolly, 2012, “The Crumpled Handkerchief,” in Bernd Herzogenrath, ed., Time and History in Deleuze and Serres. London & New York: Continuum, pp. 153-171.

Tim Ingold, 2004, “A Circumpolar Night’s Dream,” in John Clammer et al., eds., Figured Worlds: Ontological Obstacles in Intercultural Relations.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 25-57.

Annemarie Mol, 1999, “Ontological Politics: A Word and Some Questions,” in John Law, and J. Hassard, ed., Actor Network Theory and After.  Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 74-89.

Terrific ethnographic studies very concerned with ontologies:

Mario Blaser, 2010, Storytelling Globalization from the Chaco and Beyond.  Durham NC: Duke University Press.

Eduardo Kohn, 2013, How Forests Think: Toward an anthropology beyond the human. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Helen Verran, 2011, “On Assemblage: Indigenous Knowledge and Digital Media (2003-2006) and HMS Investigator (1800-1805).” In Tony Bennet & Chris Healey, eds.,  Assembling Culture.  London & New York: Routledge, pp. 163-176.

Morten Pedersen, 2011, Not Quite Shamans: Spirit worlds and Political Lives in Northern Mongolia. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

John Law & Marianne Lien, 2013, “Slippery: Field Notes in Empirical Ontology,” Social Studies of Science 43 (3): 363-378.

Stacey A. Langwick, 2011, Bodies, Politics, and African Healing: The Matter of Maladies in Tanzania.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Judith Farquhar is Max Palevsky Professor of Anthropology and Social Sciences at the University of Chicago. Her research concerns traditional medicine, popular culture, and everyday life in contemporary China. She is the author of Knowing Practice: The Clinical Encounter of Chinese Medicine (Westview 1996),Appetites: Food and Sex in Post-Socialist China (Duke 2002), and Ten Thousand Things: Nurturing Life in Contemporary Beijing (Zone 2012) (with Qicheng Zhang), and editor (with Margaret Lock) of Beyond the Body Proper: Reading the Anthropology of Material Life (Duke 2007).

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January 17, 2014

A reader’s guide to the “ontological turn” – Part 2

Javier Lezaun

This article is part of the series: A reader’s guide to the “ontological turn”

Editor’s note: In the wake of the discussion about the ‘ontological turn’ at this year’s American Anthropological Association conference, we asked several scholars, “which texts or resources would you recommend to a student or colleague interested in the uses of ‘ontology’ as an analytical category in recent work in anthropology and science and technology studies?”  This was the answer we received from Javier Lezaun, James Martin Lecturer in Science and Technology Governance at the University of Oxford. 

Those of us who have been brought up in the science and technology studies (STS) tradition look at claims of an ‘ontological turn’ with a strange sense of familiarity: it’s déjà vu all over again! For we can read the whole history of STS (cheekily and retroactively, of course) as a ‘turn to ontology’, albeit one that was rarely thematized as such.

A key text in forming STS and giving it a proto-ontological orientation (if such a term can be invented) is Ian Hacking’s Representing and Intervening (1983). On its surface the book is an introduction to central themes and keywords in the philosophy of science. In effect, it launches a programme of research that actively blurs the lines between depictions of the world and interventions into its composition. And it does so by bringing to the fore the constitutive role of experimental practices – a key leitmotiv of what would eventually become STS.

Hacking, of course, went on to develop a highly original form of pragmatic realism, particularly in relation to the emergence of psychiatric categories and new forms of personhood. His 2004 book, Historical Ontology, captures well the main thrust of his arguments, and lays out a useful contrast with the ‘meta-epistemology’ of much of the best contemporary writing in the history of science.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves and disrespecting our good old friend Chronology. The truth is that references to ontology are scarce in the foundational texts of STS (the term is not even indexed in Representing and Intervening, for instance). This is hardly surprising: alluding to the ontological implies a neat distinction between being and representing, precisely the dichotomy that STS scholars were trying to overcome – or, more accurately, ignore – at the time. The strategy was to enrich our notion of representation, not to turn away from it in favour of higher plane of being.

It is in the particular subfield of studies of particle physics that the discussion about ontology within STS developed, simply because matters of reality – and the reality of matter – featured much more prominently in the object of study. Andrew Pickering’s Constructing Quarks: A Sociological History of Particle Physics (1984) was one of the few texts that tackled ontological matters head on, and it shared with Hacking’s an emphasis on the role of experimental machineries in producing agreed-upon worlds. In his following book, The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency, and Science (1995), Pickering would develop this insight into a full-fledged theory of temporal emergence based on the dialectic of resistance and accommodation.

An interesting continuation and counterpoint in this tradition is Karen Barad’s book, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (2007). Barad’s thesis, particularly her theory of agential realism, is avowedly and explicitly ontological, but this does not imply a return to traditional metaphysical problem-definitions. In fact, Barad speaks of ‘onto-epistemology’, or even of ‘onto-ethico-epistemology’, to describe her approach. The result is an aggregation of planes of analysis, rather than a turn from one to the other.

Arguments about the nature of quarks, bubble chambers and quantum physics might seem very distant from the sort of anthropo-somatic questions that preoccupy readers of this blog, but it is worth noting that this rarefied discussion has been the terrain where key elements of the current STS interest in ontology – the idioms of performativity and materialism in particular – were first tested.

The work that best represents this current interest in matters of ontology within STS is that of Annemarie Mol and John Law. Their papers on topologies (e.g., ‘Regions, Networks and Fluids: Anaemia and Social Topology’ in 1994; ‘Situating technoscience:  an inquiry into spatialities’, 2001) broke new ground in making explicit the argument about the multiplicity of the world(s), and served to develop a first typology of alternative modes of reality. Mol’s ethnography of atherosclerosis, The Body Multiple: Ontology in Medical Practice (2003), is of course the (provisional?) culmination of this brand of ‘empirical philosophy’, and a text that offers a template for STS-inflected anthropology (and vice versa).

One distinct contribution of this body of work – and this is a point made by Malcolm Ashmore in his review of The Body Multiple – is to extend STS modes of inquiry beyond the study of new or controversial entities, and draw the same kind of analytical intensity to realities – like that (or those) of atherosclerosis – whose univocal reality we tend to take for granted. For better and worse, STS grew out of an effort to understand how new facts and artifacts enter our world, and the field remains attached to all that is (or appears to be) new – even if the end-result of the analysis is often to challenge those claims to novelty. The current ‘ontological turn’ in STS would then represent an effort to excavate mundane layers of reality, to draw attention to the performed or enacted nature of that that appears old, settled or uncontroversial. I suspect this manoeuvre carries less value in Anthropology, where the everyday and the taken-for-granted is often the very locus of inquiry.

The other value of the ‘ontological turn’ is, in my view, to recast the question of politics – as both an object of study and a mode of engagement with the world. This recasting can take at least two different forms. There are those who argue that attending to the ontological, i.e., to the reality of plural worlds and the unavoidable condition of multinaturalism, intensifies (and clarifies) the normative implications of our analyses (see for instance the genealogical argument put forward very forcefully by Dimitris Papadopoulos in his article ‘Alter-ontologies: towards a constituent politics in technoscience’). A slightly different course of action is to think of ontology as a way of addressing the intertwining of the technological and the political. Excellent recent examples of this approach are Noortje Marres’s Material Participation: Technology, the Environment, and everyday Publics (2012) and Andrew Barry’s Material Politics: Disputes Along the Pipeline (2013).

In sum, and to stake out my own position, I think STS is best seen as a fairly tight bundle of analytical sensibilities – sensibilities that are manifested in an evolving archipelago of case studies. It is not a theory of the world (let alone a theory of being), and it quickly becomes trite and somewhat ritualistic when it is transformed into a laundry list of statements about what the world is or should be like. In this sense, an ‘ontological turn’ would run counter to the STS tradition, as I see it, if it implies asserting a particular ontology of the world, regardless of whether the claim is that that ontology is plural, multiple, fluid, relational, etc. This sort of categorical, pre-empirical position smothers the critical instincts that energize the field and have driven its evolution over the last three decades. Steve Woolgar and I have formulated this view in a recent piece for Social Studies of Science (‘The wrong bin bag:  a turn to ontology in science and technology studies?’), and a similar argument been made often and persuasively by Michael Lynch (e.g., “Ontography: investigating the production of things, deflating ontology”).

Javier Lezaun is James Martin Lecturer in Science and Technology Governance and Deputy Director at the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society in the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography at the University of Oxford. His research focuses on the politics of scientific research and its governance. He directs the research programme BioProperty, funded by the European Research Council, which investigates the role of property rights and new forms of ownership in biomedical research. Javier is also currently participating in research projects on thegovernance of climate geoengineering, and new forms of consumer mobilization in food markets.

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February 12, 2014

A reader’s guide to the “ontological turn” – Part 3

Morten Axel Pedersen

This article is part of the series: A reader’s guide to the “ontological turn”

Editor’s note: In the wake of all the discussion about the ‘ontological turn’ at this year’s American Anthropological Association conference, we asked four scholars, “which texts or resources would you recommend to a student or colleague interested in the uses of ‘ontology’ as an analytical category in recent work in anthropology and science and technology studies?”  This was the reading list we received fromMorten Axel Pedersen, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen.

As someone who has, for a decade, participated in discussions about ‘ontology’ at various European anthropology venues and departments, I share the sense of déjà-vu noted by Lezaun in Part 2 of this Reader’s Guide. In fact, it is surprising just how much interest and enthusiasm, not to mention critique and aversion, has been generated by the recent introduction of this discussion into mainstream US anthropology. Arguably, the ontological turn now faces the risk of becoming the latest ‘new thing’, so critique is inevitable, necessary and welcome. Indeed, students and scholars from some of the same institutions that spearheaded anthropology’s turn to ontology are now questioning its most deeply held assumptions and cherished arguments. That, of course, is precisely how things should be. And hopefully, the part-repetition in the US of debates that are now losing steam in Latin America, Japan and Europe will provide a new framework for experimentally transforming and productively distorting anthropology’s engagement with ontology, and thus avoid the ever lurking danger of it becoming just another orthodoxy.

What follows here is a list of predominantly anthropological readings, which does not cover the creative interfaces between STS and anthropology explored by scholars in Copenhagen, Manchester, Osaka, and elsewhere. The list is not intended to be exclusive. Indeed, many scholars who figure on it may well not consider themselves part of the ontological turn and may be critical of part or all of it. The reason why they are nevertheless included is that they all have, in my view, played a role in making the ‘turn’ what it is today.


Blaser, Mario. 2010. Storytelling Globalization from the Chaco and Beyond.  Durham NC: Duke University Press.

Descola, Philippe. 2013. Beyond Nature and Culture. Trans. J. Lloyd. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Gell, Alfred. 1998. Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Holbraad, Martin. 2012. Truth in Motion: The Recursive Anthropology of Cuban Divination. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Kohn, Eduardo. 2012. How Forests Think: Toward an anthropology beyond the human. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Krøijer, Stine. Forthcoming. Figurations of the Future: Forms and Temporality of Left Radical Politics in Northern Europe. Oxford: Berghahn Books.

Maurer, Bill. 2005. Mutual Life, Limited. Islamic Banking, Alternative Currencies, Lateral Reason. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Miyazaki, Hirokazu. 2013. Arbitraging Japan: Dream of Capitalism at the End of Finance. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Rio, Knut Mikjel. 2007. The Power of Perspective. Social Ontology and Agency on Ambrym Island, Vanuatu. Oxford: Berghahn Books.

Scott, Michael W. 2007. The Severed Snake: Matrilineages, Making Place, and a Melanesian Christianity in Southeast Solomon Islands. Durham NC: Carolina Academic Press.

Stasch, Rupert. 2009. Society of Others. Kinship and Mourning in a West Papuan Place. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Strathern, Marilyn. 2004. Partial Connections (Updated Edition). Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira.

Swancutt, Katrhine, 2012. Fortune and the Cursed: The Sliding Scale of Time in Mongolian Divination. Oxford: Berghahn.

Wagner, Roy. 1975. The Invention of Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Willerslev, Rane. 2007. Soul Hunters: Hunting, Animism and Personhood amomg the Siberian Yukaghirs. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. 2009. Métaphysiques cannibales. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France

Edited volumes/sections

Jensen, C. B, M. A. Pedersen & B. R. Wintereik, eds. 2011. “Comparative Relativism”, special issue of Common Knowledge 17 (1).

Jensen, C. B. & A. Morita, eds. 2012. “Anthropology as critique of reality: A Japanese turn“. Forum in HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 2 (2): 358-405.

Candea, Matei & Lys Alcayna–Stevens, eds. 2012. “Internal Others: Ethnographies of Naturalism“, Special section in Cambridge Anthropology30(2): 36-146

Henare, A., M: Holbraad and S.Wastell, eds. 2007. Thinking Through Things: Theorising Artifacts Ethnographically. London: Routledge. (Here’s a pre-publication version of the Introduction).

Pedersen, M. A., R. Empson and C. Humphrey, eds. 2007. “Inner Asian Perspectivism,” special issue of Inner Asia 9 (2) (especially papers by da Col,Holbraad/Willerslev and Viveiros de Castro)

Articles engaging explicitly with “ontology”, also critically

Alberti, B., S. Fowles, M. Holbraad, Y. Marshall, C. Witmore. 2011. ‘Worlds otherwise’: Archaeology, Anthropology, and Ontological Difference forum.Current Anthropology 52(6): 896-912

Blaser, Mario. 2013. Ontological conflicts and the stories of peoples in spite of Europe: toward a conversation on political ontology. Current Anthropology54(5): 547-568.

Course, Magnus. 2010. Of Words and Fog. Linguistic relativity and Amerindian ontology. Anthropological Theory 10(3): 247–263.

De la Cadena, Marisol. 2010. Indigenous Cosmopolitics in the Andes: Conceptual Reflections beyond ‘Politics’. Cultural Anthropology 25 (2): 334-70.

Hage, Ghassan. 2012. Critical anthropological thought and the radical political imaginary today. Critique of Anthropology 32(3): 285–308

Heywood, Paolo. 2012. Anthropology and What There Is: Reflections on “Ontology”. Cambridge Anthropology 30 (1): 143-151.

Holbraad, Martin. 2009. Ontography and Alterity: Defining anthropological truth. Social Analysis 53 (2): 80-93.

Holbraad, Martin. 2011. Can the Thing Speak? OAP Press, Working Paper Series, Article # 7.

Laidlaw, James. 2012. Ontologically Challenged. Anthropology of This Century, vol. 4, London, May 2012.

Laidlaw, James and Paolo Heywood, 2013. One More Turn and You’re There.Anthropology of This Century, vol. 7, London, May 2013.

Nielsen, Morten. 2013. Analogic Asphalt: Suspended value conversions among young road workers in Southern Mozambique. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3 (2): 79-96.

Pedersen, Morten Axel. 2001. Totemism, animism and North Asian indigenous ontologies. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 7 (3): 411-427.

Pedersen, Morten Axel. 2012. Common nonsense. A review of certain recent reviews of the ‘ontological turn.’ Anthropology of This Century, 5.

Salmon, Amira. 2013. Transforming translations (part I):“The owner of these bones”. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3(3): 1-32.

Scott, Michael W. 2013. The Anthropology of Ontology (Religious Science?).Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 19 (4): 859–72.

Venkatesan, Soumhya et al. 2010. Ontology Is Just Another Word for Culture: Motion Tabled at the 2008 Meeting of the Group for Debates in Anthropological Theory, University of Manchester. Critique of Anthropology30 (2):152-200. (The papers can also be downloaded here).

Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. 2002. And. Manchester: Papers in Social Anthropology.

Viveiros de Castro, E. 2013 “The Relative Native” by HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3(3): 473-502.


Finally, there are some recent and ongoing dialogues in France between anthropologists and philosophers concerning issues of metaphysics and ontology, which may be of interest:

Morten Axel Pedersen is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen. His publications include Not Quite Shamans: Spirit Worlds and Political Lives in Northern Mongolia (2011). He is also co-editor, with Martin Holbraad, of Times of Security: Ethnographies of Fear, Protest, and the Future(2013). A new book co-authored with Lars Højer, Urban Hunters: Dealing and Dreaming in Times of Transition is forthcoming.

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March 19, 2014

A reader’s guide to the “ontological turn” – Part 4

Annemarie Mol

This article is part of the series: A reader’s guide to the “ontological turn”

Editor’s note: In the wake of all the discussion about the ‘ontological turn’ at this year’s American Anthropological Association conference, we asked four scholars, “which texts or resources would you recommend to a student or colleague interested in the uses of ‘ontology’ as an analytical category in recent work in anthropology and science and technology studies?”  This was the answer we received fromAnnemarie Mol, professor of Anthropology of the Body at the University of Amsterdam.  Answers from Judith Farquhar, Javier Lezaun, and Morten Axel Pedersen appear as separate posts in the series.

The point of the use of the word ‘ontology’ in STS was that it allowed us not just to talk about the methods that were used in the sciences, but (in relation to these) also address what the sciences made of their object. E.g. rather than asking whether or not some branch of science knows ‘women’ correctly, or instead with some kind of bias, we wanted to shift to the question: what are the topics, the concerns and the questions that knowledge practices insist on; how do they interfere in practices; what do they do to/with women; etc. At first this was cast in constructivist terms as ‘what do various scientific provinces make ofwomen’. But then we began to doubt whether ‘making’ was such a good metaphor, as it gives some ‘maker’ too much credit; as it suggests a time line with a before and an after; and materials out of which x or y might be made. So we shifted terminology and used words like perform, or do, or enact. Here we widened the idea of the staging of social realities (e.g. identities) to that of physical realities.

The idea was that there are not just many ways of knowing ‘an object’, but rather many ways of practising it. Each way of practising stages – performs, does, enacts – a different version of ‘the’ object. Hence, it is not ‘an object’, but more than one. An object multiple. That reality might be multiple goes head on against the Euroamerican tradition in which different people may each have their own perspective on reality, while there is only one reality – singular, coherent, elusive – to have ‘perspectives’ on.  To underline our break with this monorealist heritage of monotheism, we imported the old fashioned philosophical term of ontology and put it in the plural. Ontologies. That was – at the time – an unheard of oxymoron.

Crucial in all this was the work of Donna Haraway (even if she did not particularly use the word ontology). Read it all – or pick out what seems interesting to you. Here, now. But if you don’t quite know where to start, plunge into Primate Visions.

Crucial, too, was earlier STS work on methods that had recast these as techniques of staging a world (not just of objects, but also of tools, money, readers, investors, etc.). Here Bruno Latour, Michel Callon and John Law worked in ways that later fed into the ‘ontology’ stream. See for that particular history: Annemarie Mol, “Actor-Network Theory: Sensitive Terms and Enduring Tensions.”

The branches of STS from which studies into ontology grew, took themselves as shifting the anthropological gaze from ‘the others’ to the sciences, scienced that staged themselves as universal, but weren’t. They were variously situated techno-science practices and making them travel was hard work. “Show me a universal and I will ask how much it costs,” wrote Bruno Latour, (in Irréductions, the second part of The Pasteurisation of France) Hence, going out in the world to study ‘others’ while presuming ‘the West’ (or at least (its) science) was rational, coherent, naturalist, what have you – seemed a bad idea to us. The West could do with some thorough unmasking – and taking this to what many saw as pivotal to its alleged superiority, its truth machines, seemed a good idea (even if a lot later some of the techniques involved were highjacked by climate change deniers… ).

But there were also always specific relevant interventions to be made. For instance, if ontology is not singular and given, the question arises about whichreality to ‘do’. Ontology does not precede or escape politics, but has a politics of its own. Not a politics of who (who gets to speak; act; etc.) but a politics of what(what is the reality that takes shape and that various people come to live with?) See: A. Mol, “Ontological politics. A word and some questions,” (in Law & Hassard, Actor Network Theory and After).

For a longer and more extensive opening up of ontologies / realities (in the plural), well, there is my book The body multiple: Ontology in medical practice(Duke University Press 2003) – that lays it all out step by step… Including the difficult aspect of ontological multiplicity that while there is more reality than one, its different versions are variously entangled with one another, so that there are less than many. (As Donna Haraway put it; and as explored by Marilyn Strathern in Partial Connections)

For an earlier use of the term ontological that makes its relevance clear and lays out how realities being done may change over time: Cussins, Charis.“Ontological choreography: Agency through objectification in infertility clinics.” Social studies of science 26, no. 3 (1996): 575-610. Later reworked in Thompson Charis, Making Parents: The Ontological Choreography of Reproductive Technologies.

For an early attempt to differentiate the semiotics involved from the symbolic interactionist tradition and its perspectives see: Mol, Annemarie, and Jessica Mesman. “Neonatal food and the politics of theory: some questions of method.” Social Studies of Science 26, no. 2 (1996): 419-444.

The politics at stake come out very well in Ingunn Moser: “Making Alzheimer’s disease matter. Enacting, interfering and doing politics of nature.” Geoforum39, no. 1 (2008): 98-110.

And for the haunting question as to what/who acts and/or what/who is enacted, see: Mol, Annemarie, and John Law. “Embodied action, enacted bodies: the example of hypoglycaemia.” Body & Society 10, no. 2-3 (2004): 43-62.

If you like realities as they get tied up with techniques, this is an exciting one, as it multiplies what it is to give birth: Akrich, Madeleine, and Bernike Pasveer.“Multiplying obstetrics: techniques of surveillance and forms of coordination.”Theoretical medicine and bioethics 21, no. 1 (2000): 63-83.

Remember, the multiplicity of reality does not imply its plurality. Here is a great example of that, a study that traces the task of coordinating between different versions of reality in the course of an operation: Moreira, Tiago.“Heterogeneity and coordination of blood pressure in neurosurgery.” Social Studies of Science 36, no. 1 (2006): 69-97.

But if different versions of ‘an object’ may be enacted in practice, this is not to say that they are always fused at some point into ‘an object’ – they may never quite get to hang together. For a good case of that, see: Law, John, and Vicky Singleton. “Object lessons.” Organization 12, no. 3 (2005): 331-355.

And here an obligatory one for anthropologists, as the ‘object’ being studied – and multiplied – is a ‘population’ as defined by genetics in practice: M’charek, Amâde. “Technologies of population: Forensic DNA testing practices and the making of differences and similarities.” Configurations 8, no. 1 (2000): 121-158.

Oh, and I should not forget this troubling of ‘perspectives’ that went beyond realities to also include appreciations: Pols, Jeannette. “Enacting appreciations: beyond the patient perspective.” Health Care Analysis 13, no. 3 (2005): 203-221.

More recently, there was a special issue of Social Studies of Science to do with ontologies. It has a good introduction: Woolgar, Steve, and Javier Lezaun. “The wrong bin bag: A turn to ontology in science and technology studies?.”Social Studies of Science 43, no. 3 (2013): 321-340. In it, you may want to read: Law, John, and Marianne Elisabeth Lien. “Slippery: Field notes in empirical ontology.” Social Studies of Science 43, no. 3 (2013): 363-378.

And if you are still hungry for ontologies, then there is (with the example of eating and with norms explicitly added to ‘onto’): Mol, Annemarie. “Mind your plate! The ontonorms of Dutch dieting.” Social Studies of Science 43, no. 3 (2013): 379-396.

All of which is not to say that I would want to argue for such a thing as a ‘turn to ontology’ in anthropology or anywhere else. In the branch of the social studies of science, technology and medicine that I come from this term, ontology, has served quite specific purposes. It has helped to put some issues and questions on the agenda. But of course, like all terms, it has its limits. For it evokes ‘reality’ better than other things deserving our attention – norms, processes, spatialities, dangers, pleasures: what have you…


Annemarie Mol is professor of Anthropology of the Body at the University of Amsterdam. In her work she combines the ethnographic study of practices with the task of shifting our theoretical repertoires. She is author of  The body multiple: Ontology in medical practice and The Logic of Care: Health and the Problem of Patient Choice.

On Culture and Other Crimes: An Interview with Slavoj Zizek (Exchange)

Accessed October 28, 2014

By Kerry Chance
University of Chicago

Slavoj Zizek, psychoanalytic philosopher and cultural critic at the Institute of Sociology in Slovenia, has taught all over the world, most recently at the University of Chicago. His first public lecture at Chicago, entitled “The Ignorance of Chicken, or, Who Believes What Today”, looked every bit the rock show. Crowds stretched across the main campus quad, a ‘merch’ table featured his latest book The Parallax View, and as the lecture began with crowds still waiting outside, people climbed through the windows of the packed auditorium. While at Chicago, Zizek also taught a seminar as the Critical Inquiry Visiting Professor on topics ranging from Lacanian ethics, political correctness, habit in Hegel, the Big Other, Stalin, theology, politics and the role of the intellectual. Zizek has written innumerable articles and is the author of more than fifty books, including The Sublime Object of Ideology, The Ticklish Subject, Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?, On Belief andWelcome to the Desert of the RealÑto name just a few that have contributed to his widespread popularity in and outside the academy. Here, Zizek speaks to Exchange about culture, Lacan, cognitive science, neoliberalism and projects for contemporary anthropology.


Chance: In class and in your public lectures here at Chicago, you’ve frequently talked about culture and have done so in two ways: first, in terms of belief as you have theorized it in your earlier work, and secondly in terms of Hegel’s notion of habit. How are you thinking culture in Lacanian terms?

Zizek: Traditionally, Lacanians like to identify culture simply as the symbolic system, within which there is a linguistically limited horizon of meaning, but I think two things should be added.

First, what is for me the zero-sum of culture, if I improvise, is what to do about embarrassing excesses. When somebody does something embarrassing, burps after eating for example, culture is how you react to it in a polite way. To be very vulgar, all seduction rituals are the cultured way of dealing with the fact that people would like to copulate with each other. Now, someone will say, “wait a minute, to feel something as embarrassment, culture must already be there.” No, I don’t think so. Somehow, embarrassment is first. In other words, we have to presuppose an excess, again, embarrassment apropos of something disgusting, non-social, or an excess of obscenity or enjoyment.

So again, this would be the first specification: to put it in bombastic Lacanian terms, first the excess of the real, embarrassment, shock – and culture is how you deal with it. This is why Lacan in a nice, tasteless way put it that one measure of the passage from the animal to the human kingdom is what to do with shit. He always liked this example, that an animal by definition just shits wherever, for humans shit is always an embarrassment. It always amused me when I was a boy that, at circuses, you have animals, horses and especially elephants that take a big shit and usually you see people hidden behind them ready to make the shit quickly disappear. Animals don’t care. The problem with humans is what to do with this embarrassment.

The second thing that interests me, which is a much more concrete historical analysis, is why there is such an obsession with culture today. Why is it that today not only do we have culture studies but everything – and by everything I mean at least the humanities and for some people even the hard sciences – has become a subspecies of cultural studies? In the hard sciences, people will say following Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, their history is the history of culture, of paradigm shifts and so on. Everything becomes culture.

Chance: How is this linked to your notion of belief?

Zizek: Again, this is linked to my notion of belief, to the idea that something is changing in the status of belief. Today, the predominant form is a belief that culture is the name of a belief, which is no longer taken seriously. Culture means, for example, I am a Jew, and although I don’t think there was a stupid god coming down and shouting some stupid things to people on Mount Sinai, I nonetheless say out of respect for my lifestyle or whatever, I don’t eat pork. This is culture.

To complicate things even further, I think two traps should be avoided here. Among other things, I have tried to focus my work on one of these traps in the last few years. First, it is too simple to say, “does this mean once before people were taking culture seriously.” No. Not only conservatives, but even progressives like to criticize the present, evoking, “oh, but once it was different, things were more authentic.” No, it wasn’t. It is not that before people did believe. If anything, they believe more today. It’s just that the modality of distance was different. Before, it wasn’t a matter of belief. Rather, it was a feeling of being more attached to, and having more respect for, the power of appearance of ritual as such. Something changed today at that level, I think. So paradoxically these external signs of belief – “nobody takes anything seriously” – if anything, points to how it’s more difficult today for us to trust the symbolic ritual, the symbolic institution. But again, there is no time when people ‘really meant it.’

What I know from anthropology, I may be wrong, is that all the great errors started with a phenomenological evolutionary illusion. I think when researchers found a certain gap between reality and beliefs or between form and content, they always thought, “ah, we have a later descendent state of evolution, there must have been some point earlier when people meant it.” The dream is that there was an original moment when people really ‘meant it.’ An example I know from my Marxist past, in anthropology you must know him from the 19th century, Lewis Henry Morgan. I remember from my youth that Engels among other classical Marxists relied on him. Morgan found that in some tribes all the men in one tribe referred to the women of the other tribe as their ‘sister wives.’ From this he deduced, that this is the linguistic remainder of some primordial form of marriage. The incest prohibition already in place, you were not allowed to have sex with women in your tribe, but only with the women in another tribe. The women were exchanged in a block, collectively. It was basic incest, but regulated. The way I heard it, anthropologists later proved that there never was this nice regulated collective orgy. That is to say, the wrong conclusion was that from this name ‘sister wives’ you conclude that there was a point when it was really meant. No, the gap is here from the very beginning.

What fascinates me in this example also is the logic of institution. By institution, I mean how, in order for something to function as a belief, you cannot simply say, “okay, let’s pretend.” In my book, I think the Ticklish Subject (Verso, 1999), I have a wonderful anecdote, which for me again tells about what culture is as an institution. It is a crazy story about elections some fifteen years ago in my country, Slovenia. An ex-friend of mine, who was a candidate told me – okay, he had to do these democratic games like kissing the asses of local constituents – an old lady came to him and said if he wanted her vote he would have to do her a favor. She was obsessed with the idea that something was wrong with her house number (number 24, not even 13), that this number brings misfortune. There was a burglary twice, lightning struck the house, and she’s convinced that it’s because of the number. She said, can she arrange with the city authorities to change the number, to 23a or something, just not 24. He said to her, “But lady, why even go through all this mess? Why don’t you simply paint a new number and change it yourself?” She said, “No, it must be done properly.” Though it was only superstition, to be effective it must be done properly through the institution. The must be a minimum reification to take the game seriously.

Chance: Is this a project for anthropology?

Zizek: This returns to another aspect of your question. That is, another lesson of all these notions of culture is the irreducibility of alienation. We should abandon this old phenomenological – and for some people, Marxist motive – that every institutionalization means reification in two directions, the past and the future. For the past, it is the idea that we should try to reconstitute a moment when it was not alienated, when it was ‘meant seriously.’ For the future, it is to isolate the moment, to dream or to work toward the moment when this transparency and authenticity of meaning will be reinstalled. No, we should also see the liberating aspect of it.

To return here to what I know of anthropology, when anthropology about half a century ago shifted from “let’s observe the mating rituals in Southern Samoa or South Pacific” or whatever, to focusing on our daily life rituals. You remember Florida, the scandal elections and the first Bush victory. A guy somewhere from Africa wrote an article imitating that sort of journalistic report, you know, an enlightened Western journalist goes to Africa, where they allegedly have some election and he mocks the election, “ha, ha, what corruption.” Well, this guy wrote about Florida in the same way, saying there are votes disappearing, the brother of the candidate is the local government, you know, describing Florida as a provincial Banana Republic case of cheating. It was a wonderful result. It was anthropology at its best.

I think this is what interests me, the anthropology of our lives. Not only is this a politically correct procedure – in this exceptional case, I use the term ‘politically correct’ in a positive way – but also I find it always a subversive procedure. The starting point is always the implicit racism of the anthropologist: you look at a foreign culture, you study them with this detachment, “oh what strange rituals” and so on. The phenomenological humanist temptation would be to say, “No, in this engaged participating fieldwork, we should immerse ourselves, become one of them to really understand them.” This series of presuppositions we should reject. What does it mean that we should be one of them to understand them? They usually don’t understand themselves – isn’t it the basic experience that people as a rule follow rituals that are just a part of tradition, which they themselves don’t get? I think the anthropology of our lives is the true breakthrough from this implicitly racist attitude of studying the eccentricity of others, to adopt the same view of ourselves. It is much better as a double alienation.

This is connected to another central motive of my work, this obsession with not only rules but also habits, which tell you how to obey or disobey rules. Especially social prohibitions never mean what they appear to mean. This is an incredibly wealthy topic of ideology for contemporary anthropology. Why is it so important? Precisely because we live in an era of so-called post-ideology. I claim that at precisely this level, ideology has survived.

My interest in anthropology, what always fascinated me was people never mean what they say and in order to be a part of a culture you have to get this gap. There is an important role of obscenities here. Let me tell you a comic adventure. This weekend, I was with Fred Jameson at Duke and there Fred invited an old, very distinguished Argentine gentleman – I will not tell you the name it’s too embarrassing – because of my wife, who is also Argentinean. This gentleman, you would be afraid of using the f-word in front of him, so I said to myself, okay, can I make him say something dirty? And I did seduce him, you know how? The specificities of Argentine Spanish are very different from say Venezuelan Spanish or Mexican Spanish. So, I told him how I tried to learn Spanish, and then I made my first step into obscenity. I told him I knew the word ‘cojo,’ which in Spanish simply means ‘to catch’ something, like “how do I catch a taxi?” Now, this word will be important because I told him I heard somewhere in Argentina there is a series of jokes, where a stupid Spaniard comes to Argentina and asks, “Where do I catch a taxi?” In Argentinean Spanish, ‘catch’ here means the f-word. Then, the distinguished gentleman smiled briefly and I saw that he knew a really dirty example. And I like it how he broke down. After two or three minutes, he broke down and said, “It’s against my nature but I must tell you Argentines have an even more dirty joke…” which is that a Spanish guy says, “How do you catch a cab?,” which means to fuck a taxi, and the Argentine says, “Well, the only practical way I can imagine is the exhaust pipe.” I was so glad that this distinguished gentleman, that I made him say this joke. For me, this is culture. For me, it is not a violation, but the closest you can get to authentic communication.


Chance: I wanted to talk about Lacanian ethics and about Lacan’s injunction to be consistent with your desire –

Zizek: The thing about Lacan’s injunction is what if your desire is not consistent? In other words, the way I read Lacan is that more and more in his late work he devalues desire, desire itself as not an ethical category. The Lacan of the fifties and sixties, it is the ethics of desire to not compromise your desire. But later, more and more he emphasizes that desire is a priori something hypocritical, inconsistent. In this sense, desire mostly thinks with a secret code that you will not get, the whole economy is to avoid the realization of desire, which is why Lacan understood that fantasy is a realization of desire. He doesn’t mean realization of desire in the sense of getting what you desire, like I want to eat strawberry cakes and I in the fantasy imagine myself realizing it. For Lacan, it is to stage a scene where that desire as such emerges. What would be a nicer example, let’s say I have a desire to eat strawberries but as always with desires, you have this suspicion, what if I will be disappointed. A fantasy would be, for example, I am there sleeping and somebody brings me strawberries, then I taste one, then I stop and it goes on. This ‘going on’ – I never fully have the strawberries – is fantasy. You don’t realize desire – getting your dirty mouth full of strawberries – you just stage this scene on a pleasant, hopeful state of desire, on the verge of satisfaction but not yet there. There is a pleasant obstacle preventing it all the time. This is fantasy.

Chance: How does this ethical injunction, both in the early and late Lacan, play out in the political realm, specifically thinking about it in relation to the cartoon depictions of Mohammad, a debate that opposed unlimited freedom of the press to respect for the other?

Zizek: Do you see the piece I wrote – not in The New York Times, which was censored – but “Antinomies of Tolerant Reason”? (See HYPERLINK “”

You know, many leftists were mad at me there. They thought I made too many compromises with Western liberals, too much anti-Muslim compromise. But the reason I did it was that I got a little bit sick and tired with these politically correct Western liberals – didn’t you notice this hypocrisy? I noticed it was the same people, who in the West are so sensitive – like I look at you and it already can be harassment – and all of sudden, they say it is a different culture, blah, blah, blah. I hate that even some feminists now are turning to culture as one of the standard defenses of Islam. In the West, we at least have formal equality of women. I am very sorry but there, you have a culture, at least in the predominant mode that is so openly anti-feminine. My god, but they are openly doing what we here are trying to unearth as the anti-feminism beneath the emancipated feminine. My god, are we now even prohibited from stating the obvious?

Do you know this famous, eternal politically correct example of clitoridechtomy? This example is not Islam – it is a ritual independent of Islam. But I remember some Muslim women claiming: isn’t it that in the West in order to be attractive to men, women have to remain slim, seductive; isn’t this a global clitoridechtomy; isn’t it much worse? There, it’s only the clitoris, here, it’s as if your entire body is clitoridechtomized. I hate this – I remember when I was a youth what the facts were about the Gulag. People would say: but at least here, you are in or out of the Gulag; isn’t it that the whole United States is one ideological Gulag? You know, this cheap counter universalization. I don’t buy it – this is what I try to say in that text. The first thing is to admit a genuine deadlock and to stop this hypocrisy.

In that text, I hope it is obvious this fury I have at this logic of respect. Sometimes, respect is the most disrespectful category. Respect here is like telling a child false things so not to hurt him. Here, respect means not taking him seriously. I think a lot of the people who preach, “you should show restraint, show respect to Islam,” are enacting the worst sort of patronization. Paradoxically, violent critics of Islam, on the most elementary level, show more respect for Islam than those who, out of respect, do not attack it. I am not saying we should turn to this, but at least those critics take people seriously as believers.


Chance: What does it mean to return to big theory?

Zizek: You remember, years ago it was fashionable to say big theory overlooks its own historical, concrete, anthropological conditions and presuppositions. That it is na•ve. Foucault has this attitude in its utmost when he says, before asking what’s the meaning of the universe, you should ask in what historical context is it even possible to ask this question. So direct truth questions become questions about the concrete historical conditions in which one can raise such a question. I think this was a deadlock.

Today’s big theory is no longer a na•ve big theory. It’s not saying “let’s forget about historical context and again ask, does god exist, or are we free.” No, the point is that concrete theory – the idea that we cannot ask metaphysical questions, only historical questions – had a skeleton in the closet: it has its own big theory presuppositions. Usually, even some rather primitive historicist, relativist ideas, for example, everything depends on historical circumstances or interactions, there are no universalities, and so on. So for me, it’s about not forgetting from where one speaks. It’s about including into reflection, into historical reflection, the very historicism, which was unquestioned in this eternal, Foucauldian model. I find it so boring. It’s so boring to say, “no, you shouldn’t ask are we free, the only question is what does it mean in our society to ask the question are we free.”

Chance: The presence of cognitive science is increasingly felt in anthropology. What particular problems does cognitive science pose for social sciences?

Zizek: Big theory brings us nicely to cognitive science because what it so tickling about them is precisely this question of freedom – does it mean we are not free? It’s interesting that all the debates about cognitive sciences – the image of the human being emerging from all these interactions, from the brain sciences or more abstract mind sciences – is about are we free.

I don’t know about social sciences, but I know about my field, psychoanalysis. I dealt with cognitive sciences extensively in my last book (SeeThe Parallax View, MIT Press 2006). I think firstly, they should be taken seriously. They should not be dismissed as just another na•ve, naturalizing, positivist approach. The question should be seriously asked, how do they compel us to redefine the most basic notions of human dignity, freedom? That is to say, what we experience as dignity and freedom is it all just an illusion, as they put it in computer user terms, a user’s illusion. Meaning, for example, when you write a text on a computer, you have this user’s illusion scrolling up or down that there is text above or below. There is no text there. Is our freedom the same as a user’s illusion or is there a freedom?

The thing to do – and I’m not saying I did it, I’m saying I am trying to do it – is to take these sciences very seriously, and find a point in them where there is a need for an intervention of concepts developed by psychoanalysis. I think – I hope – that I isolated one such point. I noticed how, when they tried to account for consciousness, they all have to resort to almost always the same metaphor of this autopoesis, self-reflexive move, some kind of self-relating, self-referring closed circuit. They are only able to describe it metaphorically. What I claim is that this is what Freud meant by death drive and so on.

But it’s not that we psychoanalysts know it and can teach the idiots. I think this is also good for us – and by us I mean, my gang of psychoanalytically oriented people. It compels us also to formulate our terminology, to purify our technology as it were.


Chance: What, if anything, is neoliberalism?

Zizek: You must know, and it has often been noted, that the big shift in the study of the human mind from traditional approaches to modern cognitivism mirrors perfectly the shift from bureaucratic capitalism to neoliberal capitalism with its flexibility and plasticity. It’s so interesting to notice how many cognitivists that I’ve read even say this openly. They say that traditional science of mind was production oriented, organizing up and down, like traditional bureaucratic capitalism. Today, it’s like this digital, flexible capitalism – you don’t have one central deciding point, you have free interaction, nomadic plasticity and so on. I found this very interesting.

Catherine Malabou wrote a wonderful book called What to Do With the Human Brain. She develops, in a very nice way, that plasticity can have two meanings. One meaning is this neoliberal plasticity. Basically, it’s an accommodating plasticity: how to succeed on the market, how to adopt new identity. But there is a more radical plasticity, where the point is not just an adaptive plasticity. It’s a plasticity that not only adapts itself to existing circumstances but also tries to form a margin of freedom to intervene, to change the circumstances.

The same would go for me for neoliberalism. My point would be first, there obviously exists something like neoliberalism. That is to say, it is a fact that at the level of relations between the states, within singular economies new rules of capitalism are emerging today.

But my first doubt would be about the process of describing the fact that something new is emerging. I don’t think it is adequately described by the way neoliberalism describes itself. For example, saying “the rule is no longer state intervention, but free interaction, flexibility, the diminishing role of the state.” But wait a minute, is this really going on? I mean, take Reagan’s presidency and Bush’s presidency today. While bombasting against big spending Democrats – that is to say, big state – the state has never been as strong as it is today and there is an incredible explosion of state apparatuses. State control today is stronger than ever. That would be my automatic reaction: yes, there is something new but, when covered by the label neoliberalism, it is not adequately described. The self-perception of today’s era as neoliberal is a wrong self-perception.

Even leftist critics all too often accept this self-description on its own terms and then proceed to criticize it, saying, “no, we can’t leave everything to the market.” Wait a minute, who is leaving everything to the market? If we look at today’s American economy, how much support there is for American farmers, how much intervention, military contracts, where is there any free market? I mean, sorry, but I don’t see much free market here.

Just look at this paradox, which I think is the nicest icon of what goes on today. You know the problem of cotton in the state of Mali I think, which is the producer of cheap cotton far better than the United States’ cotton. The country is going to ruin because, as you know, the American cotton producers get more state support than the entire Gross Domestic Product of the state of Mali. And they say there, we don’t want American help, what we want is just when you preach about corrupt state intervention and the free market, you play by your own rules. You know, there’s so much cheating going on here.

So that would be the kind of anthropological study that’s needed: what neoliberalism really means. That’s what we have to do.

Zizek PicksMost important book published in the last six months: On Creaturely Life by Eric Santner

It will sound hypocritical but really, I would say On Creaturely Life. If you go further back to 2005, it would be The Persistence of Subjectivity by Robert Pippin.

Most important film released in the last six months: Manderlay directed by Lars Von Trier

My god, this is a tough question. My problem is, as much as I love even commercial Hollywood, I really don’t remember one in particular. It’s a weird film but I like it, the last Lars Von Trier, Manderlay. Need I add that I haven’t seen it, but a priori I don’t deal with empirical things.

Favorite obscure text: Sex and Character by Otto Weininger

Sex and Character. It’s obscure today but remember that this book was published in 1903 and was reprinted like fifty times. Then, it was a megabook. It’s vicious – radically anti-feminist, anti-Semitic, anti-whatever-you-want but I think it’s shattering.

Most underrated philosopher: Hegel

It will sound crazy because he is one of the most overrated philosophers, but I think, Hegel. Because for the last two hundred years, every philosopher defines himself as somehow wanting to go over Hegel. He’s this universal punching bag. Known as he is, he is still the most underrated.

Favorite politician of all time? Lenin and Cromwell

My answer is so boring. It’s boring, it’s stupid, it’s provocative, I’m ashamed to pronounce it: Lenin. You know, many na•ve leftists, who want to maintain their democratic credentials, would say some tragic victim like Allende. I think there is no perspective there. I have a cynical idea that Pinochet’s coup d’etat came at the right point. Imagine what would have happened if someone like Clinton and not that stupid Nixon-Kissinger gang were in power. Someone like Clinton would have gotten the formula: annoy him economically, wait for the true economic crisis to explode and then Allende would either have to opt for a three-way neoliberalism and play all those emancipatory welfare games. Or, he would have to turn Castro, get really tough and lose. Don’t you think they struck at the right point to redeem him? So I don’t respect this kind of person.

I would love to have somebody else – I have such traditional tastes. Okay, again, it’s traditional but if you go back further, Freud loved him: Oliver Cromwell. I like it the way he ruthlessly went from first using the Parliament to cut off the head of the king, to then disbanding Parliament.

What surprises me is this myth that Cromwell was this cruel Puritan. Not only did he have personal integrity, but contrary to royalist myth, he was not revengeful. To put it naively, he was even personally kind. It may also come as a surprise how religiously tolerant he was. This is a myth, you know, this pale-lips Puritan just killing all the Catholics and everybody else. No, he was striving very much, for his vision was a kind of secular plurality of religions. He was a genuine tragic, tragic figure, I think.

Suando no apocalipse (Folha de S.Paulo)

24/10/2014 02h00

Michel Laub

Num ensaio sobre “Júlio César”, filme de Joseph Mankiewicz baseado em Shakespeare, Roland Barthes vê na transpiração dos personagens um sinal de moralidade. “Todos suam porque debatem algo consigo mesmos”, escreve o pensador francês. Homens até então virtuosos, como Brutus, demonstram o “enorme trabalho fisiológico” que dá abandonar princípios para cometer um crime.

Se há uma moral no suor derramado em São Paulo, que teve dias de 37 graus em meio a uma crise hídrica sem precedentes, ela também deveria vir de uma espécie de culpa: a lembrança de que o clima excêntrico dos últimos anos nasce de uma responsabilidade coletiva, dos danos que nosso estilo de vida causa à natureza segundo a quase unanimidade dos cientistas.

É sobre a dificuldade de reconhecermos isso, entre outros temas, que trata uma entrevista recente do antropólogo Eduardo Viveiros de Castro e da filósofa Déborah Danowski à jornalista e escritora Eliane Brum. Se um utopista consegue imaginar coisas grandes e abstratas, como o tal do mundo melhor, mas não implementá-las na prática, hoje seríamos o contrário: tecnicamente capazes de fazer drones e bombas, mas não de conceber –ao menos em empatia– a hipótese concreta de seus efeitos.

Daí nasce a leviandade com que seguimos tratando florestas, rios e cidades, apesar dos múltiplos alertas. Na entrevista, publicada no site do “El País”, o cenário em que estamos prestes a entrar –uma megalópole sem água– é descrito como uma versão real da ficção maia do fim do mundo, uma narrativa sem redenção em que “nosso primeiro pé já encontrou o nada”.

A saída para amenizar o estrago seria a superação de um modelo baseado na “acumulação de lixo como principal produto”. Aqui entra o lado político de Viveiros de Castro, que desagrada petistas, tucanos e qualquer um que celebre a entrada de milhões de brasileiros no mercado consumidor. Na campanha que se encerra domingo, os argumentos do antropólogo foram compreensivelmente ignorados.

Segundo ele, a visão do pobre como um “nós de segunda classe”, alguém que deve ser melhorado para se tornar no futuro o que somos hoje –com nossas geladeiras, carros, comida transgênica barata e farta, Netflix sob o ar-condicionado silencioso–, é parte do problema. Não há recursos que deem conta de tanta demanda sem causar desmatamento, poluição, fluxos migratórios forçados e trágicos.

Um otimista à esquerda dirá que o caminho não é o crescimento sem limites, e sim uma distribuição radical da riqueza. Viveiros de Castro usa a expressão “superdesenvolvido” para nações como os Estados Unidos, onde o gasto individual é o equivalente ao de 32 pessoas do Quênia. Já um otimista à direita dirá que o capitalismo sempre criou tecnologias que o salvaram de impasses como o atual.

Tendo como parâmetro a história, na qual também há tragédias suficientes geradas pelo igualitarismo puro e duro (e que não é igualitarismo, vide a ex-URSS), o segundo cenário é mais possível. Difícil imaginar o Primeiro Mundo abrindo mão de sua riqueza voluntariamente e no prazo necessário. Ou países com imensas dívidas sociais –Brasil, Índia, China– desistindo de sua chance de desenvolvimento tardio.

O problema é que “possível” é diferente de “provável”. O otimismo gosta de se alimentar da falta de informação. Ou de uma ingenuidade teimosa em relação à boa fé e visão de longo prazo de quem nos dirige. A usina nuclear de Fukushima foi construída numa área sujeita a tsunamis. No circo negacionista da Sabesp, somos palhaços por motivos eleitorais.

Num outro ensaio de Barthes, igualmente sobre um tema a calhar aqui –o plástico–, o milagre é definido como uma “conversão brusca da natureza”. O mesmo daria para dizer de seu avesso, a catástrofe. Déborah Danowski acredita que a dúvida não é mais sobre se ela vai acontecer, e sim sobre sua dimensão –a diferença entre um aquecimento de dois, quatro ou seis graus na Terra, entre uma vida “difícil” e uma “hostil à espécie humana”.

Diante disso, acrescenta Viveiros de Castro, nos restará pouco além de aprender com aqueles que, sem sonhos produtivos e consumistas, são o oposto dos pobres: os índios. No Brasil, eles experimentam o apocalipse desde 1500. Se há algo que conhecem bem, é como tentar “viver melhor num mundo pior”, num presente/futuro que foi “roubado por nós mesmos de nós”

An Indigenous Feminist’s take on the Ontological Turn: ‘ontology’ is just another word for colonialism (Urbane Adventurer: Amiskwacî)

Personal paradigm shifts have a way of sneaking up on you. It started, innocently enough, with a trip to Edinburgh to see the great Latour discuss his latest work in February 2013. I was giddy with excitement: a talk by the Great Latour. Live and in colour! In his talk, on that February night, he discussed the climate as sentient. Funny, I thought, this sounds an awful lot like the little bit of Inuit cosmological thought I have been taught by Inuit friends. I waited, through the whole talk, to hear the Great Latour credit Indigenous thinkers for their millennia of engagement with sentient environments, with cosmologies that enmesh people into complex relationships between themselves and all relations. 

It never came. He did not mention Inuit. Or Anishinaabe. Or Nehiyawak. Or any Indigenous thinkers at all. In fact, he spent a great deal of time interlocuting with a Scottish thinker, long dead. And with Gaia.

I left the hall early, before the questions were finished. I was unimpressed. Again, I thought with a sinking feeling in my chest, it appeared that the so-called Ontological Turn was spinning itself on the backs of non-european thinkers. And, again, the ones we credited for these incredible insights into the ‘more-than-human’, and sentience and agency, were not the people who built and maintain the knowledge systems that european and north american anthropologists and philosophers have been studying for well over a hundred years, and predicating their current ‘aha’ ontological moment upon. No, here we were celebrating and worshipping a european thinker for ‘discovering’ what many an Indigenous thinker around the world could have told you for millennia. The climate is sentient!

So, again, I was just another inconvenient Indigenous body in a room full of people excited to hear a white guy talk around Indigenous thought without giving Indigenous people credit. Doesn’t this feel familiar, I thought.

As an Indigenous woman, I have tried, over the last few years, to find thinkers who engage with Indigenous thought respectfully. Who give full credit to Indigenous laws, stories and epistemologies. Who quote and cite Indigenous people rather than anthropologists who studied them 80 years ago. This is not always easy. I am so grateful to scholars like David Anderson, Julie Cruikshank and Ann Fienup-Riordan, among others, for giving me hope amidst the despair I’ve felt as the ‘Ontological Turn’ gains steam on both sides of the Atlantic. I am so grateful, too, for the Indigenous thinkers who wrestle with the academy, who have positioned themselves to speak back to Empire despite all of the polite/hidden racism, heteropatriarchy, and let’s face it–white supremacy–of the University.

The euro-western academy is colonial. It elevates people who talk about Indigenous people above people who speak with Indigenous people as equals, or who ARE Indigenous. (Just do a body count of the number of Indigenous scholars relative to non-Indigenous scholars in the euro academy, and you’ll see that over here there are far more people talking about Indigenous issues than Indigenous people talking about those issues themselves). As scholars of the euro-western tradition, we have a whole host of non-Indigenous thinkers we turn to, in knee-jerk fashion, when we want to discuss the ‘more-than-human’ or sentient environments, or experiential learning. There are many reasons for this. I think euro scholars would benefit from reading more about Critical Race theory, intersectionality, and studying the mounting number of rebukes against the privilege of european philosophy and thought and how this silences non-white voices within and outside the academy. This philosopher, Eugene Sun Park, wrote a scathing critique of the reticence of philosophy departments in the USA to consider non-european thought as ‘credible’. I would say many of the problems he identifies in euro-western philosophy are the same problems I have experienced in european anthropology, despite efforts to decolonise and re-direct the field during the ‘reflexive turn’ of the 1970s-onwards.

As an Indigenous feminist, I think it’s time we take the Ontological Turn, and the european academy more broadly, head on. To accomplish this, I want to direct you to Indigenous thinkers who have been writing about Indigenous legal theory, human-animal relations and multiple epistemologies/ontologies for decades. Consider the links at the end of this post as a ‘cite this, not that’ cheat-sheet for people who feel dissatisfied with the current euro (and white, and quite often, male) centric discourse taking place in our disciplines, departments, conferences and journals.

My experience, as a Métis woman from the prairies of Canada currently working in the UK, is of course limited to the little bit that I know. I can only direct you to the thinkers that I have met or listened to in person, whose writing and speaking I have fallen in love with, who have shifted paradigms for me as an Indigenous person navigating the hostile halls of the academy. I cannot, nor would I try, to speak for Indigenous thinkers in other parts of the world. But I guarantee that there are myriad voices in every continent being ignored in favour of the ‘GREAT WHITE HOPES’ we currently turn to when we discuss ontological matters (I speak here, of course, of ontology as an anthropologist, so hold your horses, philosophers, if you feel my analysis of ‘the ontological’ is weak. We can discuss THAT whole pickle another day).

So why does this all matter? Why am I so fired up at the realisation that (some) european thinkers are exploiting Indigenous thought, seemingly with no remorse? Well, it’s this little matter of colonialism, see. Whereas the european academy tends to discuss the ‘post-colonial’, in Canada I assure you that we are firmly still experiencing the colonial (see Pinkoski 2008 for a cogent discussion of this issue in Anthropology). In 2009, our Prime-Minister, Stephen Harper, famously claimed that Canada has ‘no history of colonialism’. And yet, we struggle with the fact that Indigenous women experience much higher rates of violence than non-Indigenous women (1200 Indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing in the last forty years alone, prompting cries from the UN and other bodies for our government to address this horrific reality). Canada’s first Prime-Minister, proud Scotsman John A. MacDonald (I refuse to apply the ‘Sir’), famously attempted to ‘kill the Indian in the Child’ with his residential schools. Canada is only now coming around to the realisation that through things like residential schools, and the deeply racist—and still legislated!–Indian Act, that it, as a nation, was built on genocide and dispossession. Given our strong British roots in Canada, you can imagine that it’s All Very Uncomfortable and creates a lot of hand-wringing and cognitive dissonance for those who have lived blissfully unaware of these violences. But ask any Indigenous person, and you will hear that nobody from an Indigenous Nation has ever laboured under the fantasy that Canada is post-colonial. Or benevolent. Nor would we pretend that the British Empire saddled us with solely happy, beautiful, loving legacies. For all its excessive politeness, the British colonial moment rent and tore apart sovereign Indigenous nations and peoples in what is now Canada, and though the sun has set on Queen Victoria’s Empire, British institutions (including the academy) still benefit from that colonial moment. We are enmeshed, across the Atlantic, in ongoing colonial legacies. And in order to dismantle those legacies, we must face our complicity head on.

Similarly, with the wave of the post-colonial wand, many european thinkers seem to have absolved themselves of any implication in ongoing colonial realities throughout the globe. And yet, each one of us is embedded in systems that uphold the exploitation and dispossession of Indigenous peoples. The academy plays a role in shaping the narratives that erase ongoing colonial violence. My experience in Britain has been incredibly eye-opening: as far as the majority of Brits are concerned, their responsibility for, and implication in, colonialism in North America ended with the War of Independence (in America) or the repatriation of the Canadian constitution (1982).

Is it so simple, though? To draw such arbitrary lines through intergenerational suffering and colonial trauma, to absolve the european academy and the european mind of any guilt in the genocide of Indigenous people (if and when european and north american actors are willing to admit it’s a genocide)? And then to turn around and use Indigenous cosmologies and knowledge systems in a so-called new intellectual ‘turn’, all the while ignoring the contemporary realities of Indigenous peoples vis-à-vis colonial nation-states, or the many Indigenous thinkers who are themselves writing about these issues? And is it intellectually or ethically responsible or honest to pretend that european bodies do not still oppress Indigenous ones throughout the world?

Zygmunt Bauman (1989) takes sociology to task for its role in narrating the Holocaust, and its role in erasing our collective guilt in the possibility for a future Holocaust to emerge. He argues that by framing the Holocaust as either a a) one-off atrocity never to be repeated (“a failure of modernity”) (5) or b) an inevitable outcome of modernity, sociology enables humanity to ignore its ongoing complicity in the conditions that created the horrors of the Holocaust. The rhetoric of the post-colonial is similarly complacent: it absolves the present generation of thinkers, politicians, lawyers, and policy wonks for their duty to acknowledge what came before, and, in keeping with Bauman’s insights, the possibility it could happen again — that within all societies lurk the ‘two faces’ of humanity that can either facilitate or quash systemic and calculated human suffering and exploitation. But the reality is, as Bauman asserts, that humanity is responsible. For all of these atrocities. And humanity must be willing to face itself, to acknowledge its role in these horrors, in order to ensure we never tread the path of such destruction again. 

I take Bauman’s words to heart, and ask my non-Indigenous peers to consider their roles in the ongoing colonial oppression of Indigenous peoples. The colonial moment has not passed. The conditions that fostered it have not suddenly disappeared. We talk of neo-colonialism, neo-Imperialism, but it is as if these are far away things (these days these accusations are often mounted with terse suspicion against the BRIC countries, as though the members of the G8 have not already colonized the globe through neo-liberal economic and political policies). The reality is that we are just an invasion or economic policy away from re-colonizing at any moment. So it is so important to think, deeply, about how the Ontological Turn–with its breathless ‘realisations’ that animals, the climate, water, ‘atmospheres’ and non-human presences like ancestors and spirits are sentient and possess agency, that ‘nature’ and ‘culture’, ‘human’ and ‘animal’ may not be so separate after all—is itself perpetuating the exploitation of Indigenous peoples. To paraphrase a colleague I deeply admire, Caleb Behn: first they came for the land, the water, the wood, the furs, bodies, the gold. Now, they come armed with consent forms and feeble promises of collaboration and take our laws, our stories, our philosophies. If they bother to pretend to care enough to do even that much—many simply ignore Indigenous people, laws, epistemologies altogether and re-invent the more-than-human without so much as a polite nod towards Indigenous bodies/Nations.

A point I am making in my dissertation, informed by the work of Indigenous legal theorists like John Borrows, Kahente Horn-Miller, Tracey Lindberg, and Val Napoleon, is that Indigenous thought is not just about social relations and philosophical anecdotes, as many an ethnography would suggest. These scholars have already shown that Indigenous epistemologies and ontologies represents legal orders, legal orders through which Indigenous peoples throughout the world are fighting for self-determination, sovereignty. The dispossession wrought by centuries of stop-start chaotic colonial invasion and imposition of european laws and languages is ongoing. It did not end with repatriation of constitutions or independence from colonial rule. Europe is still implicated in what it wrought through centuries of colonial exploitation. Whether it likes it or not.

My point here is that Indigenous peoples, throughout the world, are fighting for recognition. Fighting to assert their laws, philosophies and stories on their own terms. And when anthropologists and other assembled social scientists sashay in and start cherry-picking parts of Indigenous thought that appeal to them without engaging directly in (or unambiguously acknowledging) the political situation, agency and relationality of both Indigenous people and scholars, we immediately become complicit in colonial violence. When we cite european thinkers who discuss the ‘more-than-human’ but do not discuss their Indigenous contemporaries who are writing on the exact same topics, we perpetuate the white supremacy of the academy.

So, for every time you want to cite a Great Thinker who is on the public speaking circuit these days, consider digging around for others who are discussing the same topics in other ways. Decolonising the academy, both in europe and north america, means that we must consider our own prejudices, our own biases. Systems like peer-review and the subtle violence of european academies tend to privilege certain voices and silence others. Consider why, as of 2011, there were no black philosophy profs in all of the UK. Consider why it’s okay to discuss sentient climates in an Edinburgh lecture hall without a nod to Indigenous epistemologies and not have a single person openly question that. And then, familiarise yourself with the Indigenous thinkers (and more!) I am linking below and broaden the spectrum of who you cite, who you reaffirm as ‘knowledgeable’.


Zoe Todd (Métis) is a PhD Candidate in Social Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. She researches human-fish relations in the community of Paulatuuq in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Northwest Territories, Canada. She is a 2011 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar.

Guy Debord e a clandestinidade da vida privada. (Prólogo de “O Uso dos Corpos” de Giorgio Agamben) (Obeissance est morte)

Outubro 13, 2014

Foi este mês lançado em Itália “L’Uso dei Corpi” de Giorgio Agamben. Com este volume Agamben termina a sua série “Homo Sacer”, iniciada em 1995 com a publicação de “Homo Sacer: O Poder Soberano e a Vida Nua”. Deixamos aqui uma tradução apressada do seu prólogo, um olhar extremamente lúcido sobre a figura de Guy Debord. 


1. É curioso como em Guy Debord uma consciência lúcida da insuficiência da vida privada era acompanhada pela mais ou menos consciente convicção de que existia, na sua própria existência ou na dos seus amigos, algo de único e de exemplar, que exigia ser recordado e comunicado. Já em Critique de La séparation Debord evoca, enquanto algo de certo modo intransmissível, “essa clandestinidade da vida privada sobre a qual nunca temos mais do que documentos derisórios”; E todavia nos seus primeiros filmes e ainda em Panégyrique não cessam de desfilar os rostos dos seus amigos um após outro, o de Asger Jorn, o de Maurice Wyckaert, o de Ivan Chtcheglov, e finalmente a sua própria cara, junto às das mulheres que amou. E não só, em Panégyrique surgem também as casas que habitou, o nº 28 da via delle Caldeie em Florença, a casa de campo em Champot, o Square des missions étrangères em Paris (na verdade o nº 109 da rue du Bac, o seu último endereço parisiense, na sala do qual uma fotografia de 1984 o retrata sentado num divã de couro inglês que parecia agradar-lhe).

Dá-se aqui uma contradição central, que os situacionistas não conseguiram superar e, simultaneamente algo de precioso que exige ser retomado e desenvolvido: talvez a obscura e inconfessada consciência de que o elemento genuinamente político consiste exactamente nesta incomunicável e quase ridícula clandestinidade da vida privada. Já que mesmo essa – a vida clandestina, a nossa foma-de-vida – é tão intima e próxima, que se a tentamos capturar nos deixa nas mãos apenas a impenetrável e tediosa quotidianidade. E todavia talvez seja mesmo esta homónima, promíscua e sombria presença a custodiar o segredo da política. A outra face do arcanum imperii na qual naufraga toda a biografia e toda a revolução. E Guy, que era tão hábil e perspicaz quando tinha de analisar e descrever as formas alienadas da existência na sociedade espectacular, é então assim tão cândido e impotente quando tenta comunicar a forma da sua vida e quando tenta olhar na cara e explodir a clandestinidade com a qual partilhou a viagem até ao último momento.

2. In Girum imus nocte et consumimur igni (1978) abre com uma declaração de guerra contra o seu tempo e prossegue com uma análise inexorável das condições de vida que a sociedade mercantil no estádio supremo do seu desenvolvimento instaurou sobre a totalidade do planeta. Inesperadamente a meio do filme a descrição detalhada e impiedosa cessa para dar lugar à evocação melancólica e quase débil das memórias e eventos pessoais que antecipam a intenção declaradamente autobiográfica dePanégyrique. Guy recorda a Paris da sua juventude, que já não existe, em cujas ruas e cafés tinha partido com os seus amigos em obstinada busca desse “Graal nefasto, que ninguém deseja”. Embora o Graal em questão, “fugazmente vislumbrado”, mas nunca “encontrado”, tivesse indiscutivelmente um significado político, já que os que o procuravam “se encontraram capazes de compreender a vida falsa à luz da verdadeira”, o tom da comemoração, marcado por citações da Eclisiastes, de Omar Khayyan, de Shakespeare e de Bossuet, é no entanto indiscutivelmente nostálgico e sombrio: “a meio do caminho da verdadeira vida, fomos rodeados por uma melancolia escura, expressa por palavras tristes e de escárnio, no café da juventude perdida”. Desta juventude perdida, Guy recorda a desordem, os amigos e os amores (“como não recordar os bandidos charmosos e as prostitutas orgulhosas com quem habitei esses ambientes duvidosos”), enquanto no ecrã surgem imagens de Gil J. Wolman, de Ghislain de Marbaix, de Pinot-Gallizio, de Attila Kotanyi e de Donald Nicholson-Smith. Mas é no fim do filme que o impulso autobiográfico reaparece com mais força e a visão de Florença quando era livre se entrança com as imagens da vida privada de Guy e das mulheres com quem viveu nessa cidade na década de setenta. Veem-se depois passar rapidamente as casas onde Guy viveu, o Impasse de Clairvaux, a rue St Jacques, a rue St. Martin, uma igreja em Chianti, Champot e, mais uma vez, os rostos dos amigos, enquanto se escutam as palavras da canção de Gilles em Les Visiteurs du soir: “Tristes enfants perdus, nous errions dan la nuit…”. E, poucas sequências antes do final, os retratos de Guy aos 19, 25, 27, 31, e 45. O nefasto Graal, do qual os situacionistas partiram em busca, concerne não apenas a política, mas de certo modo também a clandestinidade da vida privada, da qual o filme não hesita em exibir, aparentemente sem pudor, os “documentos ridículos”.

3. A intenção autobiográfica estava, de resto, já presente no palíndromo que dá nome ao filme. Logo após invocar a sua juventude perdida, Guy acrescenta que nada expressa melhor o dispêndio do que esta “antiga frase construída letra após letra como um labirinto sem saída, de modo a recordar perfeitamente a forma e o conteúdo da perda: in girum imus nocte et consumimur igni ‘Andamos em circulo pela noite e somos devorados pelo fogo’”.

A frase, definida por vezes como o “verso do diabo”, provém, na verdade, segundo uma cursiva indicação de Heckscher, da literatura emblemática e refere-se às traças inexoravelmente atraídas pela chama da vela que as consumirá. Um emblema é composto por uma impresa – uma frase ou um mote – e por uma imagem; nos livros que pude consultar, a imagem da traça devorada pelo fogo surge frequentemente, nunca associada ao livro em questão mas sim a frases que se referem à paixão amorosa (“assim o prazer vivo conduz à morte”, “assim de bem amar porto tempestuoso”) ou, em casos mais raros, à imprudência na política ou na guerra (“non temere est cuiquam temptanda potentia regis”, “temere ac periculose”). Nos Amorum emblemata de Otto van Veen (1608), a contemplar as traças que se precipitam em direção à chama da vela está um amor alado e a impresa diz: brevis et damnosa voluptas.

É provável, então, que Guy, escolhendo o palíndromo enquanto título, paragonasse a si próprio e aos seus companheiros às traças, que amorosamente e temerariamente atraídas pela luz estão destinadas a perder-se e a consumir-se no fogo. Na Ideologia Alemã – uma obra que Guy conhecia perfeitamente – Marx evoca criticamente a mesma imagem: “e é assim que as borboletas noturnas, quando o sol do universal se põe, procuram a luz de lâmpada do particular”. Tanto mais singular é que, apesar desta advertência, Guy tenha continuado a seguir esta luz, a espiar obstinadamente a chama da existência singular e privada.

4. No final dos anos noventa, nas bancas de uma livraria parisiense, o segundo volume dePanégyrique, contendo a iconografia, estava exposto – por acaso ou por intenção irónica do livreiro – ao lado da autobiografia de Paul Ricouer. Nada é mais instrutivo do que comparar o uso das imagens em ambos os casos. Enquanto as fotografias do livro de Ricoeur retratam o filósofo exclusivamente no decurso de convénios académicos, como se ele não tivesse tido outra vida fora deles, as imagens de Panégyrique pretendiam um estatuto de verdade biográfica que observava a existência do autor em todos os seus aspectos. “A ilustração autêntica”, adverte a curta promessa, “ilumina o discurso verdadeiro… saberemos finalmente então qual a minha aparência em diferentes idades; e que tipo de rostos sempre me rodearam; e que lugares habitei…”. Uma vez mais, não obstante a evidente insuficiência e banalidade dos seus documentos, a vida – a vida clandestina – está em primeiro plano.

5. Uma noite, em Paris, Alice, quando lhe disse que muitos jovens em Itália continuavam interessados nos escritos de Guy e que esperavam dele uma palavra, repondeu: “Existimos, deveria ser-lhes suficiente”. Que queria dizer “existimos”? Nesses anos viviam isolados e sem telefone entre Paris e Champot, de certo modo com os olhos postos no passado, e a sua “existência” estava, por assim dizer, totalmente achatada na “clandestinidade da vida privada”.

No entanto, ainda um pouco antes do seu suicídio em novembro de 1994, o titulo do seu último filme preparado para o Canal Plus: Guy Debord, son art, son temps não parece – apesar do esse son art realmente inesperado – de todo irónico na sua intenção biográfica e, antes de se concentrar com extraordinária veemência no horror do “seu tempo”, esta espécie de testamento espiritual reitera com o mesmo candor e as mesmas velhas fotografias a evocação nostálgica da vida transcorrida.

O que significa então “existimos”? A existência – este conceito fundamental na primeira filosofia do ocidente – terá talvez constituitivamente a ver com a vida. “Ser”, escreve Aristóteles, “para os vivos significa viver”. E, alguns séculos depois, Nietzsche precisa: “ser: não temos outra representação que viver”. Trazer à luz – fora de qualquer vitalismo – o intimo cruzamente de ser e existir: esta é certamente hoje a tarefa do pensamento (e da política)

6. A Sociedade do Espectáculo abre com a palavra “vida” (“Toda a vida das sociedades nas quais reinam as condições modernas de produção se anuncia como uma imensa acumulação de espectáculos) e até ao último momento as análises do livro não cessam de pôr em causa a vida. O espectáculo, onde “tudo o que era directamente vivido se distancia numa representação”, é definido enquanto uma “inversão concreta da vida”. “Quanto mais a vida do homem se torna no seu produto, tanto mais ele é separado da sua vida”. A vida nas condições espectaculares é uma “falsa vida”, uma “sobrevivência” ou um “pseudo-uso da vida”. Contra esta vida alienada e separada, é postulado algo que Guy chama “vida histórica”, que surge logo no renascimento como uma “ruptura alegre com a eternidade”: “na vida exuberante das cidades italianas… a vida é conhecida enquanto um disfrute da passagem do tempo”. Anos antes, em Sur le passage de qualques personnes e em Critique de la séparation, Guy afirma de si e dos seus companheiros que “queriam reinventar tudo todos os dias, tornar-se patrões e donos da sua própria vida”, e que os seus encontros eram como “sinais provenientes de uma vida mais intensa, que nunca foi verdadeiramente encontrada”.

O que fosse esta vida “mais intensa”, o que era arruinado ou falsificado no espectáculo ou simplesmente o que deve ser entendido por “vida na sociedade” não é esclarecido em qualquer momento; e no entanto seria demasiado fácil censurar ao autor incoerência ou imprecisão terminológica. Guy não faz que repetir uma postura constante na nossa cultura, na qual a vida não é nunca definida enquanto tal, mas é recorrentemente dividida em Bios e Zoè, vida politicamente qualificada e vida nua, vida pública e vida privada, vida vegetativa e vida de relação, num modo em que nenhuma das partições é determinável senão na sua relação com a outra. E é talvez em última análise exactamente o indecidível da vida que faz com que ela seja sempre de novo decidida singular e politicamente. E a indecisão de Guy entre a clandestinidade da sua vida privada – que, com o passar do tempo, devia parecer-lhe mais fugidia e indocumentável – e a vida histórica, entre a sua vida individual e a época obscura e irrenunciável na qual ela esteve inscrita, traduz uma dificuldade que, pelo menos nas condições presentes, ninguém se pode iludir de ter resolvido de uma vez por todas. De qualquer modo, o Graal obstinadamente procurado, a vida que inutilmente se consome na chama, não era reduzível a nenhum dos termos opostos, nem à idiotez da vida privada nem ao incerto prestígio da vida pública, revogando assim a questão da própria possibilidade de as distinguir.

Ivan Illich observou que a noção corrente de vida (não “uma vida”, mas “a vida” em geral) é percecionada enquanto “facto científico”, que não tem já qualquer relação com a experiência do vivente singular. A vida é algo anónimo e genérico, que pode designar tanto um espermatozoide, uma pessoa, uma abelha, um urso ou um embrião. Deste “facto científico”, tão genérico que a ciência renunciou a procurar-lhe uma definição, a Igreja fez o último recetáculo do sagrado, e a bioética o termo chave da sua impotente absurdez.

Assim como nessa vida se insinuou um resíduo sacro, a outra, a clandestina, que Guy seguia, tornou-se ainda mais indescritível. A tentativa situacionista de restituir a vida à política esbarra com uma dificuldade posterior, mas não é por isso menos urgente.

O que significa que a vida privada nos acompanhe enquanto uma vida clandestina? Acima de tudo, que está separada de nós como está um clandestino, e do mesmo modo que é de nós inseparável no modo como, enquanto clandestino, partilha subrepticiamente a vida connosco. Esta cisão e inseparabilidade definem tenazmente o estatuto da vida na nossa cultura. A vida é algo que pode ser dividido – e no entanto sempre articulado e reunido numa máquina médica, filosófico-teológica ou biopolítica. Assim não é apenas a vida privada que nos acompanha enquanto clandestina na nossa breve ou longa viagem, mas a própria vida corpórea e tudo o que tradicionalmente se inscreve na esfera da chamada “intimidade”: a nutrição, a digestão, o urinar, o defecar, o sono, a sexualidade… E o peso desta companheira sem cara é tão forte que todos o procuramos partilhar com um outro – e todavia a estranheza e a clandestinidade nunca desaparecem e permanecem irresolúveis até na mais amorosa das convivências. A vida aqui é verdadeiramente como a raposa roubada que o rapaz esconde sob as suas roupas e não pode confessar ainda que lhe dilacere atrozmente a carne.

É como se cada um sentisse obscuramente que a própria opacidade da vida clandestina encerra em si um elemento genuinamente político, e como tal por excelência partilhável – e todavia, se o tentamos partilhar, foge obstinadamente à sua prisão e não deixa senão um resíduo ridículo e incomunicável. O castelo de Silling, no qual o poder político não tem outro objecto que a vida vegetativa dos corpos é neste sentido a figura da verdade e, do mesmo modo, o fracasso da política moderna – que é na verdade uma biopolítica. Ocorre mudar a vida, levar a política ao quotidiano – e no entanto, no quotidiano, o político não pode senão naufragar.

E quando, como sucede hoje, o eclipse da política e da esfera pública não deixa subsistir senão o privado e a vida nua, a vida clandestina, que se torna a única dona do campo, deve, enquanto privada, publicitar-se e tentar comunicar os seus próprios já não risíveis (e todavia ainda tais) documentos que coincidem agora imediatamente com ela, com as suas jornadas indistintas filmadas ao vivo e transmitidas pelos ecrãs aos outros, uma após a outra.

E, no entanto, apenas se o pensamento for capaz de encontrar o elemento político que se escondeu na clandestinidade da existência singular, apenas se para lá da cisão entre público e privado, política e biografia, zoè e bios, for possível delinear os contornos de uma forma de vida e de um uso comum dos corpos, a política poderá sair do seu mutismo e da biografia individual da sua idiotez.

Futures of the Past – The Appendix

Futures of the Past

“Futures of the Past” is an issue about how past generations have reckoned their collective futures. But it’s also about how the razor’s edge of the present comes up against the haziness of futurity, and what happens when that hazy future becomes inscribed, remembered, and—eventually—forgotten. We’re interested here in the work that the future does in shaping history—as a utopian dream, a set of collective anxieties, or simply as a story that we tell about where we come from and where we hope to end up.

Chapter 1: Bad Predictions

Chapter 2: Futures Past

Chapter 3: The Politics of the Future

Is ontology making us stupid? (Theoria)

By Terence Blake

MARS 8, 2013


(This is a translation and expansion of my paper given at Bernard Stiegler’s Summer Academy in August 2012. In it I consider the ontologies…

(This is a translation and expansion of my paper given at Bernard Stiegler’s Summer Academy in August 2012. In it I consider the ontologies of Louis Althusser, of Graham Harman, and of Paul Feyerabend).

Abstract: I begin by “deconstructing” the title and explaining that Feyerabend does not really use the word “ontology”, though he does sometimes call his position ontological realism. I explain that he talks about his position as indifferently a “general methodology” or a “general cosmology”, and that he seems to be be hostile to the very enterprise of ontology, as a separate discipline forming part of what Feyerabend critiques as “school philosophy”. I then go on to say that there is perhaps a concept of a different type of ontology, that I call a “diachronic ontology” that perhaps he would have accepted, and that is very different from ontology as ordinarily thought, which I claim to be synchronic ontology (having no room for the dialogue with Being, but just supposing that Being is already and always there without our contribution). I discuss Althusser and Graham Harman as exemplifying synchronic ontology, giving a reading of Harman’s recent book THE THIRD TABLE. I then discuss Feyerabend’s ideas as showing a different way, that of a diachronic ontology, in which there is no stable framework or fixed path. I end with Andrew Pickering whose essay NEW ONTOLOGIES makes a similar distinction to mine, expressing it in the imagistic terms of a De Kooningian (diachronic) versus a Mondrianesque (synchronic) approach.


The question posed in the title, is ontology making us stupid?, is in reference to Nicholas Carr’s book THE SHALLOWS, which is an elaboration of his earlier essy IS GOOGLE MAKING US STUPID?, and I will destroy the suspense by giving you the answer right away: Yes and No. Yes ontology can make us more stupid if it privileges the synchronic, and I will give two examples: (1) the «marxist» ontology of Louis Althusser and (2) the object-oriented ontology of Graham Harman. No, on the contrary, it can make us less stupid, if it privileges the diachronic, and here I will give the example of the pluralist ontology of Paul Feyerabend.

Normally, I should give a little definition of ontology: the study of being as being, or the study of the most fundamental categories of beings, or the general theory of objects and their relations. However, this paper ends with a presentation of the ideas of Paul Feyerabend, and it must be noted that Feyerabend himself does not use the word «ontology», preferring instead to talk, indifferently, of «general cosmology» or of «general methodology». Sometimes as well he talks of the underlying system of categories of a worldview. And towards the end of his life he began to talk of Being with a capital B, but he always emphasized that we should not get hung up on one particular word or approach because there is no «stable framework which encompasses everything», and that any name or argument or approach only «accompanies us on our journey without tying it to a fixed road» (Feyerabend’s Letter to the Reader, Against Method xvi, available here: Feyerabend explicitly indicated that his own «deconstructive» approach derived from his fidelity to this ambiguity and this fluidity. Thus ontology for Feyerabend implies a journey, ie a process of individuation, without a fixed road and without a stable framework.

As for «stupid», it refers to a process of «stupidification» or dumbing down, of dis-individuation, that tends to impose on us just such a fixed road and stable framework. The word «making» also calls for explanation. We are noetic creatures, and so the good news is that we can never be completely stupid, or completely disindividuated, except in case of brain death. The bad news is that we can always become stupider than we are today, just as we can always become more open, more fluid, more multiple, more differenciated, in short more individuated. Ontology is not a magic wand that can transform us into an animal or a god, but it can favorise one or the other fork of the bifurcation of paths.

ARGUMENT: My argument will be very simple:

    1. traditional ontologies are based on an approach to the real that privileges the synchronic dimension, where the paths are fixed and the framework is stable. Althusser and Harman are good examples of synchronic ontology.
    2. another type of ontology is possible, and it exists sporadically, which privileges the diachronic dimension, and thus the aspects of plurality and becoming, the paths are multiple and the framework is fluid. Feyerabend is a good example of diachronic ontology.

NB: For the sake of brevity, I talk of synchronic and of diachronic ontologies, but in fact each type of ontology contains elements of the other type, and it is simply a matter of the primacy given to the synchronic over the diachronic, or the inverse.

Philosophy is inseparable from a series of radical conversions where our comprehension of all that exists is transformed. In itself, such a capacity for conversion or paradigm change is rather positive. A problem arises when this conversion amounts to a reduction of our vision and to an impoverishment of our life, if it makes us stupid. My conversion to a diachronic ontology took place in 1972, when I read Feyerabend’s AGAINST METHOD (NB : this was the earlier essay version, with several interesting developments that were left out of the book)., where he gives an outline of a pluralist ontology and an epistemology. On reading it I was transported, transformed, converted ; unfortunately, at the same period my philosophy department converted to a very different philosophy – Althusserianism.


In fact, 1973 was a year that marked a turning point between the “diachronic tempest” of the 60s and the synchronic return to order desired by the Althusserians. I am deliberately using the expression that Bernard Stiegler uses to describe the invention of metaphysics as it was put to work in Plato’s REPUBLIC, in support of a project of synchronisation of minds and behaviours. I was the unwilling and unconsenting witness of an attempt at such a synchronisation on a small scale: my department, the Department of General Philosophy, sank into the dogmatic project, explicitly announced as such, of forming radical (ie Althusserian) intellectuals under the aegis of Althusserian Marxist Science. A small number of Althusserian militants took administrative and intellectual control of the department, and by all sorts of techniques of propaganda, intimidation, harassment and exclusion, forced all its members, or almost all, either to conform to the Althusserian party line or to leave.

Intellectually the Althusserians imposed an onto-epistemological meta-language in terms of which they affirmed the radical difference between science and ideology, and the scientificity of Marxism. It is customary to describe Althusserianism from the epistemological point of view, but it also had an ontological dimension, thanks to its distinction between real objects and theoretical objects: scientific practice produces, according to them, its own objects, theoretical objects, as a means of knowing the real objects. The objects of everyday life, the objects of common sense, and even perceptual objects, are not real objects, but ideological constructions, simulacra (as Harman will later claim, they are “utter shams”).

Faced with this negative conversion of an entire department, I tried to resist. Because I am “counter-suggestible” (as Feyerabend claimed to be) – in other words, because i am faithful to the process of individuation rather than to a party line – I devoted myself to a critique of Althusserianism. Its rudimentary ontology, the determination of Being in terms of real objects, corresponds to a transcendental point of view of first philosophy which acts as a hindrance to scientific practice, and pre-constrains the type of theoretical construction that it can elaborate. To maintain the diachronicity of the sciences one cannot retain the strict demarcation between real objects and theoretical objects, nor between science and ideology. The sciences thus risk being demoted to the same plane as any other ideological construction and having their objects demoted to the status of simulacra. This is a step that the Althusserians did not take, but that, as we shall see, Harman does, thus relieving the sciences of their privileged status.

NB: The set of interviews with Jacques Derrida, POLITICS AND FRIENDSHIP, describes the same phenomenon of intellectual pretention and intimidation supported by a theory having an aura of epistemologica and ontologicall sophistication but which was radically deficient. Derrida emphasises that the concepts of “object” and of “objectivity” were deployed without sufficient analysis of their pertinence nor of their theoretical and practical utility and groundedness.

After the period of Althusserian hegemony came a new period of “diachronic storm”, this time on the intellectual plane. Translations came out of works by Foucault and Derrida, but also of Lyotard and Deleuze. Althusserian dogmas were contested and deconstructed. But for me there still remained serious limitations on thought despite this new sophistication. There was an ontological dimension common to all these authors, and this ontological dimension was either neglected or ignored by the defenders of French Theory. Feyerabend himself seemed to be in need of an ontology to re-inforce his pluralism and to protect it against dogmatic incursions of the Althusserian type and against relativist dissolutions of the post-modern type. I obtained a scholarship to go and study in Paris, and I left Australia in 1980 to continue my ontological and epistemological research.

What I retain from this experience, over and above the need to maintain and to push forward the deconstruction by elaborating a new sort of ontology to accompany its advances, is the feeling of disappointment with the contradictory sophistication in Althusserian philosophy. I had the impression that it pluralised and diachronised with one hand what it reduced and synchronised with the other. Thus, despite its initial show of sophistication it made its acolytes stupid, disindividuated. Further, as an instrument of synchronisation on the large scale it was doomed to failure by its Marxism and its scientism, both of which made securing its general adoption an impossible mission. It would have been necessary to de-marxise and de-scientise its theory to make it acceptable to the greatest number. Further, its diffusion was limited to the academic microcosm, because at that time there was no internet. These limitations to the theory’s propagation (Marxism, scientism, academic confinement) have been deconstructed and overcome by a new philosophical movement, called OOO (object-oriented ontology) which has conquered a new sort of philosophical public. Lastly, I retain a distrust of any “movement” in philosophy, and of the power tactics (propaganda, intimidation, harassment, exclusion) that are inevitably implied. Oblivious to this sort of “wariness” with respect to the sociology of homo academicus, the OOOxians publicise themselves as a movement and attribute the rapid diffusion of their ideas to their mastery of digital social technologies.


In THE THIRD TABLE, Harman gives a brief summary of the principle themes of his object-oriented ontology. It is a little book, published this year in a bilingual (English-German) edition, and theEnglish text occupies a little over 11 pages (p4-15). The content is quite engaging as Harman accomplishes the exploit of presenting his principal ideas in the form of a response to Eddington’s famous “two tables” argument. This permits him toformulate his arguments in terms of a continuous polemic against reductionism in both its humanistic and scientistic forms. All that is fine, so far as it goes. However, problems arise when we examine his presentation of each of Eddington’s two tables, and even more so with his presentation of his own contribution to the discussion: a “third table”, the only real one in Harman’s eyes.

In the introduction to his book THE NATURE OF THE PHYSICAL WORLD (1928), Eddington begins with an apparent paradox: “I have just settled down to the task of writing these lectures and have drawn up my chairs to my two tables. Two tables! Yes; there are duplicates of every object about me two tables, two chairs, two pens” (xi). Eddington explains that there is the familiar object, the table as a substantial thing, solid and reliable,against which I can support myself. But, according to him, modern physics speaks of a quite different table: “My scientific table is mostly emptiness. Sparsely scattered in that emptiness are numerous electric charges rushing about with great speed” (xii). Eddington contrasts the substantiality of the familiar table (a solid thing, easy to visualise as such) and the abstraction of the scientific table (mostly empty space, a set of physical measures related by mathematical formulae). The familiar world of common sense is a world of illusions, whereas the the scientific worl, the only real world according to modern physics, is a world of shadows.

What is the relation between the two worlds? Eddington poses the question and dramatises the divergence between the two worlds, but contrary to what Harman seems to think, he gives no answer of his own. He declares that premature attempts to determine their relation are harmful, more of a hindrance than a help, to research. In fact, Eddington refuses to commit himself on the ontological question posed in his introduction because he is convinced that it is empirical research, mobilising psychology and physiology as well as physics, which must give the answer. It is clear that he would have regarded Althusserianism as just such a premature and harmful attempt. But what would he have thought of OOO? We shall return to this question in the last part of this talk.

In his little text Harman explains very succinctly the difference between the two tables. But in opposition to Eddington’s supposed scientism, Harman affirms that these two tables are “equally unreal” (p6), that they are just fakes or simulacra (“utter shams”, 6). Assigning each table to one side of the gap that separates the famous “two cultures” dear to C.P.Snow (the culture of the humanities on one side, that of the sciences on the other), he finds that both are products of reductionism, which negates the reality of the table.

“The scientist reduces the table downward to tiny particles invisible to the eye; the humanist reduces it upward to a series of effects on people and other things” (6).

Refusing reductionism and its simulacra, Harman poses the existence of a third table (the “only real” table, 10) which serves as an emblem for a third culture to come whose paradigm could be taken from the arts which attempt to “establish objects deeper than the features through which they are announced, or allude to objects that cannot quite be made present” (THE THIRD TABLE, 14). Philosophy itself is to abandon its scientific pretentions in order to speak at last of the real world and its objects.

In WORD AND OBJECT Quine proposes a technique called “semantic ascent” to resolve certain problems in philosophy. He invites us to formulate our philosophical problems no longer in material terms, as questions concerning the components of the world (“objects”) but rather in formal terms, as questions concerning the correct use and the correct analysis of our linguistic expressions (“words”). The idea was to find common ground to discuss impartially the pretentions of rival points of view. Unfortunately, this method turned out to be useless to resolve most problems, as the important disputes concern just as much the terms to employ and their interpretation as soon as we take up an interesting philosophical problem.

Inversely, Graham Harman with his new ontology proposes a veritable semantic descent (or we could call it an “objectal descent”), to reverse the linguistic turn, and to replace it with an ontological turn. According to him the fundamental problems of ontology must be reformulated in terms of objects and their qualities. These objects are not the objects of our familiar world, let us recall that Harman declares that the familiar table is unreal, a simulacrum, an “utter sham”. The real object is a philosophical object, which “withdraws behind all its external effects” (10). We cannot touch the harmanian table (for we can never touch any real object) nor even know it.

“The real is something that cannot be known, but only loved” (12).

Thus Harman operates a reduction of the world to objects and their qualities which is intended to be in the first instance ontological and not epistemological (here Harman is mistaken, and the epistemological dimension is omnipresent in his work, but as the object of a denegation). This objectal reduction is difficult to argue for, and sometimes it is presented as a self-evident truth accessible to every person of good will and good sense, and Harman’s philosophy is trumpeted as a return to naiveté and concreteness, triumphing over post-structuralist pseudo-sophistication and its abstractions. But we shall see that this is not the case.

This reduction of the world to objects and their qualities amounts to a conversion of our philosophical vision that is disguised as a return to the real world of concrete objects:

“Instead of beginning with radical doubt, we start from naiveté. What philosophy shares with the lives of scientists,  bankers, and animals is that all are concerned with objects” (THE QUADRUPLE OBJECT, 5).

“Once we begin from naiveté rather than doubt, objects immediately take center stage” (idem, 7)

This “self-evidence” of the point of view of naïveté is in fact meticulously constructed and highly philosophically motivated. We must recall that Harman’s “objects” are not at all the objects of common sense (we cannot know them nor touch them). So the “naiveté” that Harman invokes here is not some primitive openness to the world (that would only be a variant of the “bucket theory of mind” and of knowledge, denounced by Karl Popper). This “naiveté” is a determinate point of view, a very particular perspective (the “naive point of view”, as the French translation so aptly calls it). Under cover of this word “naiveté”, Harman talks to us of a “naïf”  point of view, that is nevertheless an “objectal” point of view., that is to say not naïf at all but partisan. Harman deploys all his rhetorical resources to provoke in the reader the adoption of the objectal point of view as if it were self-evident. This “objectal conversion” is necessary, according to him, to at last get out of the tyranny of epistemology and the linguistic turn, and edify a new ontology, new foundation for a metaphysics capable of speaking of all objects. We have seen that this “self-evident” beginning implies both a conversion and a reduction.

We see the parallels and differences of object-oriented ontology in relation to Althusserianism. Both relegate the familiar object and the perceptual object to the status of social constructions. OOO goes even further and assigns the scientific object to the same status of simulacrum (“utter sham”): only philosophy can tell us the truth about objects. Both propose a meta-language, but OOO’s meta-language is so de-qualified that it is susceptible of different instanciations, and in fact no two members of the movement have the same concrete ontology. Finally, OOO spreads in making abundant, liberal (and here the word has all its import) use of the means that the internet makes available: blogs, discussion groups, facebook exchanges, twitter, podcasts, streaming.

I have spoken here principally of Graham Harman’s OOO because I do not believe that OOO exists in general and I also think that its apparent unity is a deceitful façade. There is no substance to the movement, it is rather a matter of agreement on a shared meta-language, ie on a certain terminology and set of themes, under the aegis of which many different positions can find shelter. I have spoken here almost exclusively of THE THIRD TABLE because Harman’s formulations change from book to book, and I find that in this little brochure Harman offers us his meta-language in a pure state. In his other books Harman, without noticing, slides constantly between a meta-ontological sense of object and a sense which corresponds to one possible instanciation of this meta-language, thus producing much conceptual confusion.

My major objection to Harman’s OOO is that it is a school philosophy dealing in generalities and abstractions far from the concrete joys and struggles of real human beings (“The world is filled primarily not with electrons or human praxis, but with ghostly objects withdrawing from all human and inhuman access”, THE THIRD TABLE, 12). Despite its promises,  Harman’s OOO does not bring us closer to the richness and complexity of the real world but in fact replaces the multiplicitous and variegated world with a set of bloodless and lifeless abstractions – his unknowable and untouchable, “ghostly”, objects. Not only are objects unknowable, but even whether something is a real object or not is unknowable: “we can never know for sure what is a real object and what isn’t”.

Yet Harman has legislated that his object is the only real object (cf. THE THIRD TABLE, where Harman calls his table, as compared to the table of everyday life and the scientist’s table, “the only real one”, 10, and “the onlyreal table”, 11. As for the everyday table and the scientific table: “both areequally unreal“, both are “utter shams”, 6.  “Whatever we capture, whatever we sit at or destroy is not the real table”, 12. And he accuses others of “reductionism”!). To say that the real object is unknowable (“the real is something that cannot be known”, p12) is an epistemological thesis. As is the claim that the object we know, the everyday or the scientific object, is unreal.

How can this help us in our lives? It is a doctrine of resignation and passivity: we cannot know the real object, the object we know is unreal, an “utter sham”, we cannot know what is or isn’t a real object. Harman’s objects do not withdraw, they transcend. They transcend our perception and our knowledge, they transcend all relations and interactions. As Harman reiterates, objects are deep (“objects are deeper than their appearance to the human mind but also deeper than their relations to one another”, 4, “the real table is a genuine reality deeper than any theoretical or practical encounter with it…deeper than any relations in which it might become involved”, 9-10). This “depth” is a key part of Harman’s ontology, which is not flat at all and is the negation of immanence. Rather, it is centered on this vertical dimension of depth and transcendence.

Harman practices a form of ontological critique which contains both relativist elements and dogmatic elements. At the level of explicit content Harman is freer , less dogmatic than Althusser, as he does not make science the queen of knowledge. Harman situates himself insistantly “after” the linguistic turn, after the so-called “epistemologies of access”, after deconstruction and post-structuralism. He considers that the time for construction has come, that we must construct a new philosophy by means of a return to the things themselves of the world – objects. But is this the case?



Feyerabend stands in opposition to this demand for a new construction, and wholeheartedly espouses the continued necessity of deconstruction. He rejects the idea that we need a new system or theoretical framework, arguing that in many cases a unified theoretical framework is just not necessary or even useful:

“a theoretical framework may not be needed (do I need a theoretical framework to get along with my neighbor?). Even a domain that uses theories may not need a theoretical framework (in periods of revolution theories are not used as frameworks but are broken into pieces which are then arranged this way and that way until something interesting seems to arise)” (Philosophy and Methodology of Military Intelligence, 13).

Further, not only is a unified framework often unnecessary, it can be a hindrance to our research and to the conduct of our lives: “frameworks always put undue constraints on any interesting activity” (ibid, 13). He emphasises that our ideas must be sufficiently complex to fit in and to cope with the complexity of our practices (11). More important than a new theoretical construction which only serves “to confuse people instead of helping them” we need ideas that have the complexity and the fluidity that come from close connection with concrete practice and with its “fruitful imprecision” (11). Lacking this connection, we get only school philosophies that “deceive people but do not help them”. They deceive people by replacing the concrete world with their own abstract construction “that gives some general and very mislead (sic!) outlines but never descends to details”. The result is a simplistic set of slogans and stereotypes that “is taken seriously only by people who have no original ideas and think that [such a school philosophy] might help them getting ideas”.

Applied to the the ontological turn, this means that an ontological system is useless, a hindrance to thought and action, whereas an ontology which is not crystallised into a system and principles, but which limits itself to an open set of rules of thumb and of free study of concrete cases is both acceptable and desirable. The detour through ontology is useless, because according to Feyerabend a more open and less technical approach is possible. In effect, Feyerabend indicates what Eddington could have replied to Harman: just like Althusserianism OOO must be considered a premature and harmful failure because it specifies in an apriori and dogmatic fashion what the elements of the world are. This failure is intrinsic to its transcendental approach: it is premature because it prejudges the paths and results of empirical research, it is harmful because it tends to exclude possible avenues of research and to close people’s minds, making them stupid.

Eddington’s position is in fact very complex. He gives a dramatised description of what amounts to the incommensurability of the world of physics and the familiar world of experience. This is implicit in the whole theme of the necessary “aloofness” (xv) that scientific conceptions must maintain with respect to familiar conceptions. He then goes on to pose the question of the relation, or “linkage”, between the two. Sometimes he seems to give primacy to the familiar world eg: “the whole scientific inquiry starts from the familiar world and in the end it must return to the familiar world” (xiii), and “Science aims at constructing a world which shall be symbolic of the world of commonplace experience” (xiii). Sometimes he gives primacy to the world of physics, and seems to declare that the familiar world is illusory, eg: “In removing our illusions we have removed the substance, for indeed we have seen that substance is one of the greatest of our illusions” (xvi), though he does attenuate this by adding: “Later perhaps we may inquire whether in our zeal to cut out all that is unreal we may not have used the knife too ruthlessly”. On the question of the relation between physics and philosophy he is no mere scientistic chauvinist. Indeed, he gives a certain primacy to the philosopher: “the scientist … has good and sufficient reasons for pursuing his investigations in the world of shadows and is content to leave to the philosopher the determination of its exact status in regard to reality” (xiv). But he considers that neither common sense nor philosophy must interfere with physical science’s ” freedom for autonomous development” (xv). His conclusion is that reflection on modern physics leads to ” a feeling of open-mindedness towards a wider significance transcending scientific measurement” (xvi) and warns against a priori closure: “After the physicist has quite finished his worldbuilding a linkage or identification is allowed; but premature attempts at linkage have been found to be entirely mischievous”.

As we can see, Graham Harman ‘s discussion of this text in THE THIRD TABLE makes a mess of Eddington’s position, treating him as advocating the scientistic primacy of the world of physics. Harman can then propose his own “solution”: the objects of both common sense and physics are “utter shams”, the real object is that of (Harman’s) philosophy. This is why I think that Harman’s OOO is a contemporary example of what Eddington calls “premature attempts at linkage” and that he finds “mischievous”, ie both failed and harmful.


My thesis is that much of OOO is a badly flawed epistemology masquerading as an ontology. An interesting confirmation of this thesis is the touting of Roy Bhaskar’s A REALIST THEORY OF SCIENCE. For those too young to remember: this book came out initially in 1975, after the major epistemological works by Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos and Feyerabend. It was an ontologising re-appropriation of their epistemological discoveries. It was hailed as a great contribution by the Anglophone Althusserians (I kid you not!), as it gave substance to their distinction between the theoretical object, produced by the theoretical practices of the sciences) and the real object. The Althusserians used Bhaskar to legitimate their posing of Althusserian Marxism and Lacanian psychoanalysis as sciences. Their universal critique of any philosophical view that did not square with theirs was to disqualify it as demonstrably belonging, sometimes in very roundabout and tortuous ways to the “problematic of the subject”. Does this begin to sound familiar? real object vs theoretical object, problematic of the subject = correlationism. These themes are not new, but go back to the dogmatic reaction of the 70s!). It is amusing to see that Bhaskar, who is a prime example of someone who invented an ontological correlate to epistemological insights, is now being used as the proponent of a non-correlationist “realist” position, to condemn those who supposedly give primacy to epistemology over ontology. The whole procedure is circular. That is to say, far from really asking the transcendental question of what must the world be like for science to be possible? (this is an ideological cover-up for the real historical stakes of Bhaskar’s intervention) Bhaskar proceeds to an ontologisation of insights and advances in epistemology, and so constrains future research with an a posteriori ontology projected backwards as if it were an a priori “neutral” precondition of science. So Harman’s supposed primacy of ontology is in fact based on his continual denegation of his de facto dependence on results imported from epistemology and on the dogmatic freezing and imposition of what is at best only a particular historical stage of scientific research and of epistemological reflection.

One of my biggest objections to OOO concerns the question of primacy, which remains moot in contemporary philosophy. As we have seen, Harman’s ontological turn gives primacy to (transcendental, meta-level) philosophy. Feyerabend articulates an Eddingtonian position, one that gives primacy neither to philosophy nor to physics, but defends the open-mindedness of empirical (though not necessarily scientific) research. I think this can be clarified by examining Feyerabend’s defense of the “way of the scientist” as against the “way of the philosopher”. Feyerabend’s references to Mach (and to Pauli) show that this “way of the scientist” is transversal, not respecting the boundaries between scientific disciplines nor those between the sciences and the humanities and the arts. So it is more properly called the “way of research”. Eddington too seems to espouse this Machian way out of the pitfalls of primacy.

Ernst Mach is often seen as a precursor of the logical positivists, an exponent of the idea that “things” are logical constructions built up out of the sensory qualities that compose the world, mere bundles of sensations. He would thus be a key example of what Graham Harman in THE QUADRUPLE OBJECT calls “overmining”. Feyerabend has shown in a number of essays that this vision of Mach’s “philosophy” (the quotation marks are necessary, according to Feyerabend “because Mach refused to be regarded as the proponent of a new “philosophy””, SCIENCE IN A FREE SOCIETY, p192) is erroneous, based on a misreading by the logical positivists that confounds his general ontology with one specific ontological hypothesis that Mach was at pains to describe as a provisional and research-relative specification of his more general proposal.

Following Ernst Mach, Feyerabend expounds the rudiments of what he calls a general methodology or a general cosmology (this ambiguity is important: Feyerabend, on general grounds but also after a close scrutiny of several important episodes in the history of physics, is proceeds as if there is no clear and sharp demarcation between ontology and epistemology, whereas Harman, without the slightest case study, is convinced of the existence of such a dichotomy). Feyerabend’s discussion of Mach’s ontology can be found in SCIENCE IN A FREE SOCIETY (NLB, 1978, p196-203) and in many other places, making it clear that it is one of the enduring inspirations of his work. Mach’s ontology can be summarised, according to Feyerabend, in two points:

i) the world is composed of elements an their relations

ii) the nature of these elements and their relations is to be specified by empirical research

One may note a resemblance with Graham Harman’s ontology, summarised in his “brief SR/OOO tutorial“:

i) Individual entities of various different scales (not just tiny quarks and electrons) are the ultimate stuff of the cosmos.

ii) These entities are never exhausted by their relations. Objects withdraw from relation.

The difference is illuminating. Whereas Mach leaves the nature of these elements open, allowing for the exploration of several hypotheses, Harman transcendentally reduces these possibilities to one: elements are objects (NB: this reduction of the possibilities to one, enshrined in a transcendental principle, is one of the reasons for calling Harman’s OOO an objectal reduction). Further, by allowing empirical research to specify the relations, Mach does not give himself an a priori principle of withdrawal: here again “withdrawal” is just one possibility among many. Another advantage of this ontology of unspecified elements is that it allows us to do research across disciplinary boundaries, including that between science and philosophy. Feyerabend talks of Mach’s ontology’s “disregard for distinctions between areas of research. Any method, any type of knowledge could enter the discussion of a particular problem” (p197). in my terminology Mach’s ontology is diachronic, evolving with and as part of empirical research. Harman’s ontology is synchronic, dictating and fixing transcendentally the elements of the world.


Feyerabend uses most often a dialogical method, although he was led to complain that this was often a one-sided dialogue. This was because many of the his philosophical reviewers were what he called “illiterate”, what I am in this talk calling “stupid”, that is to say instances of a dogmatic and decontextualised image of thought conjugated with a disindividuated academic professionalism. Of these failed dialogues Feyerabend writes (in SCIENCE IN A FREE SOCIETY, 10):

I publish them…because even a one-sided debate is more instructive than an essay and because I want to inform the wider public of the astounding illiteracy of some “professionals”

Fortunately, not all his dialogues were so one-sided. In his encounters with interlocutors Feyerabend tends to function like a zen master, trying to get people to change their attitude, to get them to “sense chaos” where they perceive “an orderly arrangement of well behaved things and processes” (cf. his LAST LETTER). A very instructive example of this can be seen in hiscorrespondence on military intelligence networks with Isaac Ben-Israel, over a 2 year period stretching from  September 1988 to October 1990.

Though Feyerabend mainly refers to the philosophy of science, after all it was his domain of specialisation for many long years, he gives sporadic indications that his remarks apply to all philosophy, to all “school philosophies”, and not just to epistemology and the philosophy of sciences. So it is possible to see in a very general way what Feyerabend’s ideas on ontology are in this epistolary dialogue which begins with considerations of school philosophy as a useless detour, comparing it unfavourably to a more “naive” unacademic critical approach (Feyerabend’s first letter, L1: p5-6), goes on to consider in a little more detail what an unacademic critical philosophy would look like (L2: p11-14)  proceeds to plead for the “non-demarcation” of the sciences and the arts-humanities” and for the need to see epistemology and ontology as parts of politics (L3: p21-23),, and culminates in L4-5 (p31-33) with a sketch of Feyerabend’s own views on ontology. This is an amazing document, as the dialogue form takes Feyerabend into a domain that he has not discussed before (intelligence networks) and permits a concise yet progressive exposition of his later ideas and of their “fruitful imprecision”.

Feyerabend tells us that ontological critique, or the detour through ontology, is unnecessary, because a more open and less technical approach is possible. He gives various figurations of that unacademic approach: the educated layman, discoverers and generals, certain Kenyan tribes, a lawyer interrogating experts, the Homeric Greek worldview, his own minimalist ontology. The advantages he cites of such an unacademic approach are:

1) ability to “work in partly closed surroundings” where there is a “flow of information in some direction, not in others” (p5)

2) action that is sufficiently complex to “fit in” to the complexity of our practices (p11) and of the real world (p12)

3) ability to work without a fixed “theoretical framework”,  to “work outside well-defined frames” (p22), to break up frameworks and to rearrange the pieces as the circumstances demand, to not be limited by the “undue constraints” inherent to any particular framework (p13)

4) ability to work not just outside the traditional prejudices of a particular domain (p5) but outside the boundaries between domains, such as the putative boundary between the arts and the sciences (p21)

5) an awareness of the political origins and consequences of seemingly apolitical academic subjects: ontology “without politics is incomplete and arbitrary” (p22).

But one could object that Feyerabend is a relativist and so that “empirical research” for him could give whatever result we want, because in his systemanything goes. In fact the best gloss of this polemical slogan is “anything could work (but mostly doesn’t)”. Feyerabend’s epistemological realism is supported by an ontological realism: “reality (or Being) has no well-defined structure but reacts in different ways to different approaches”. This is one reason why he sometimes refuses the label of “relativist”, because according to him “Relativism presupposes a fixed framework”. For Feyerabend, the transversality of communication between people belonging to apparently incommensurable structures shows that the notion of a frame of reference that is fixed and impermeable has only a limited applicability:

“people with different ways of life and different conceptions of reality can learn to communicate with each other, often even without a gestalt-switch, which means, as far as I am concerned, that the concepts they use and the perceptions they have are not nailed down but are ambiguous”.

Nevertheless, he distinguishes between Being, as ultimate reality, which is unknowable, and the multiple manifest realities which are produced by our interaction with it, and which are themselves knowable. Approach Being in one way, across decades of scientific experiment, and it produces elementary particles, approach it in another way and it produces the Homeric gods:

“I now distinguish between an ultimate reality, or Being. Being cannot be known, ever (I have arguments for that). What we do know are the various manifest realities, like the world of the Greek gods, modern cosmology etc. These are the results of an interaction between Being and one of its relatively independent parts” (32).

The difference with relativism is that there is no guarantee that the approach will work, Being is independent of us and must respond positively, which is often not the case.

Feyerabend draws the conclusion that the determination of what is real and what is a simulacrum cannot be the prerogative of an abstract ontology, and thus of the intellectuals who promulgate it. There is no fixed framework, the manifest realities are multiple, and Being is unknowable. Thus the determination of what is real depends on our choice in favour of one form of life or another, ie on a political decision. This leads to Feyerabend’s conclusion: ontology “without politics is incomplete and arbitrary”.

Inversely, Harman has repeated many times that ontology has nothing to do with politics. Seen through Feyerabend’s eyes Harman’s OOO is thus bothincomplete, because it is apolitical, and arbitrary, because it is a priori and monist, we have already said that, but also because it attributes to a little tribe of intellectuals the right to tell us what is real (Harman’s “ghostly objects withdrawing from all human and inhuman access”, THE THIRD TABLE, 12) and what is unreal (the simulacra of common sense, of the humanities, and of the sciences). It is also harmful because it is based on ghostly bloodless merely intelligible real objects that transcend any of the régimes and practices that give us qualitatively differentiated objects in any recognisable sense. Objects withdraw from the diverse truth-régimes (the sciences, the humanities, common sense, but also from religion and politics), i.e. etymologically they abstract themselves: real objects are abstractions, indeed they are abstraction itself. This is not a revolutionary new “weird” realism, this is regressive transcendent realism, cynically packaged as its opposite. I consider Harman’s OOO as a purified and consensualised (i.e. demarxised depoliticised descientised) version of Althusser’s ontology of the real object and of his anti-humanism, and as exhibiting the same defects as any other synchronic ontology.


The structure of my argument is very classical, and very abstract, as it remains wholly in the domain of philosophy, and even worse of first philosophy. I think that a consequent philosophical pluralism has its own dynamic that leads from a pluralism inside philosophy (eg Feyerabend’s methodological pluralism), to a pluralising of philosophy itself as an ontological realm and a cognitive régime claiming completeness and universality (eg Feyerabend’s Machian “way of research” and his later ontological pluralism: the target of “philosophy as a discourse that covers everything … an all-encompassing synthetic view of the world and what it all means”. Here I think comes the move of putting philosophy in relation to a non-philosophical outside (non-philosophical not meaning a negation but a wider practice, as in non-Euclidean geometries). François Laruelle has written on this sort of thing at length, but I don’t think he can claim exclusive ownership (nor even chronological priority)of this idea, nor is he even necessarily the best exemplar of the practice of such a non-philosophy. But at least his work is a gesture in the right direction. So a non-laruellian non-philosophy is a reasonable prolongation of pluralism. Feyerabend’s work is a good example of such a non-laruellian non-philosophy.

To conclude I would like to give some indications to show that these questions are, or can be, very practical. In his article NEW ONTOLOGIES Andrew Pickering presents the two ontologies that I discuss in terms of the contrast between the painters De Kooning and Mondrian. Mondrian’s paintings are examples of a synchronic approach, where the subect distances itself from the world in order to dominate it, according to a transcendent plan which imposes its abstract representations on a passive material. The painter foresees and imposes his order on everything, there is no room for surprises that emerge during the process of painting. The canvas does nothing, it is receptive rather than agentive, there is no exchange between the painter and his canvas, no dialogue.

On the other hand, De Kooning’s canvases participate themselves in the elaboration of the work. There is a continual back-and-forth between the painter and his canvas, “between the perception of emergent effects and the attempt to intensify them”. The De Kooningian approach is diachronic, it involves an immanent, concrete, incarnated, open process of engagement  in the world, whereas the Mondrianesque approach is synchronic and implies a transcendent , abstract, disincarnated, closed process of distanciation from the world. The Mondrianesque approach corresponds, according to Pickering, to Heideggerian “enframing”, while the De Kooningian approach practices aletheia, unveiling.

Pickering’s hope is that the diachronic practices which are still marginal in our society can come together and overflow or dissolve the dominant synchronic enframing. Pickering gives several concrete examples of diachronic practices, not only in art (De Kooning) but also in civil engineering (the ecological and adaptative management of a river) and also in psychiatry (anti-psychiatric experiments like Kingsley Hall, institutional psychotherapy like La Borde, favourising symmetric and non-hierarchical relations). He also talks of mathematics, music and architecture, to show in each case the concrete effects of both approaches. Thus we should keep in mind that even if the discussion in this paper is situated on the conceptual plane, the differences and disputes over ontology are inseparable from our concrete daily existence.

A gaiatologia por vir (Partes sem um todo)

Publicado em 27 de agosto de 2014


Sobre Há mundo por vir? Ensaio sobre os medos e os fins, livro de Déborah Danwoski e Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

Segundo Bruno Latour, a catástrofe ambiental em curso faz com que “nos sintamos transportados de volta para o clima do século XVI. Uma outra Era do Descobrimento”: “nos encontramos exatamente em uma Era similar àquela de Colombo, quando sua viagem encontrou um continente inteiramente novo”. E como o “problema”, a “solução” também lhe parece semelhante: tratar-se-ia de estabelecer um novo “Nomos da Terra”, nome cunhado por Carl Schmitt para designar a ordem jurídica mundial estabelecida com a Conquista (o “descobrimento”), e que consistiria na divisão do mundo em duas zonas: a Europa, em que vigeriam as regras do direito de guerra, ou seja, o espaço de normalidade; e o mar e as zonas “livres” – o Novo e Novíssimo Mundo –, que podiam ser simplesmente apropriáveis pelas potências europeias e sua “superioridade espiritual”, espaço de excepcionalidade em que não haveria mitigação da guerra. Nesse sentido, se há algum Nomos da Terra que se avizinha, este parece ser a ordem (de pânico) que Isabelle Stengers visualiza no horizonte: a formação de uma espécie de governo de caráter global (espaço normal), legitimado a agir excepcionalmente (isto é, a intervir) sobre países e coletivos sob o imperativo da urgência da crise. É evidente que Latour toma o conceito do “tóxico” Schmitt com pinças, buscando uma outra idéia de Nomos, mas será que é possível fazê-lo, tendo como ponto de partida a analogia com o “descobrimento”? Será que é possível no cenário atual retomar a oposição amigo-inimigo schmittiana, oposição narcisista em que o inimigo é definido como “negação existencial” do amigo, isto é, seu mero negativo, sem consistência própria? Os Terranos (amigo?) de que fala tão belamente Latour seriam apenas a negação dos Humanos (inimigo?)?

A questão maior talvez seja a do ponto de vista: Nós quem, cara pálida?, parecem perguntar ao seu principal interlocutor, de modo sutil mas provocante ao longo desse ensaio, Déborah Danowski e Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, os quais, americanos não-atacados pela síndrome de Estocolmo como grande parte da esquerda, rejeitam a posição universalista que o Ocidente se adjudicou a si e insistem a todo momento em colocar o dedo na ferida: quem é esse nós (o “sujeito” que se vê novamente na Era do Descobrimento, o mesmo “sujeito” do Descobrimento), quem é o anthropos do Antropoceno? E quem são os outros, quem são esses “nós-outros” que estavam do lado de lá (de cá) do Descobrimento, para os quais este foi uma Conquista, um primeiro – de muitos – fim de mundo?Há mundo por vir? Ensaio sobre o medo e os fins, ao passar em revista algumas formulações – estéticas, filosóficas, etc. – da mitologia contemporânea em torno do fim do mundo, tornada realidade tangível (a “mitofísica” contemporânea, pra usar uma expressão genial dos autores), não adota a posição do demiurgo criador da ordem (Nomos), mas do deceptor que confunde as divisões (amigo-inimigo), que divide as divisões, que desobedece as hierarquias: um exercício de bricolagem em que se encontram os Singularitanos e os Maya, formulações de Meillassoux e um mito aikewara, Melancholia e Chiapas, Gaia e Pachamama. O encontro promovido pela “descoberta”, lembra Oswald de Andrade, não era apenas do europeu com um “continente inteiramente novo” a ser apropriado, mas com uma “humanidade inteiramente nova”, isto é, “uma humanidade diferente da que era então conhecida” pelos europeus – e a expressão máxima de tal encontro seriam as Utopias, resultado da percepção sensível da contingência das formações político-econômico-metafísicas ocidentais, isto é, a possibilidade de um outro mundo, de outros mundos possíveis, incluindo aí, uma outra concepção do homem. Se o Nomos representou uma “saída” (pra que tudo continuasse igual) do beco-sem-saída da mitigação da guerra, as Utopias significavam, por sua vez, uma linha de fuga. E são justamente linhas de fuga (e não identidades e oposições) que Danowski e Viveiros de Castro apresentam a partir desses encontros de fins de mundo: a possibilidade (e talvez a necessidade) de um “bom encontro” da nossa (?) mitologia com a ameríndia, para se contrapor ao “mau encontro” da Descoberta (o genocídio americano, mas também a polícia mundial que a nova Era pode trazer). Não se trata, porém, de um encontro pacífico, mas cheio de faíscas, beligerante, mas não de uma guerra narcísica, e sim de uma guerrilha de resistência, contra o Estado, contra a forma-Estado de pensamento. O que se questiona é a própria oposição binária (o princípio da não-contradição) das identificações: o que está em jogo é um exercício de descentramento, em que o “ser-enquanto-outro” do pensamento ameríndio permite repotencializar também aqueles momentos do pensamento ocidental em que o Ocidente difere de si mesmo (Deleuze e Guattari, a monadologia panpsiquista de Gabriel Tarde, a cosmologia de Peirce – e, eu acrescentaria, talvez mesmo a oikeiosis estóica, já que estamos falando de ecologia), em que a alteridade deixa vestígios erráticos que são roteiros de um mundo por vir. E um desses roteiros talvez seja a biografiade Thoreau – o qual dizia ser apenas “um hóspede da Natureza” –, sobre quem Virginia Wolff pergunta se sua “simplicidade é algo que vale por si mesmo” ou seria “antes um método de intensificação, um modo de pôr em liberdade a complicada e delicada máquina da alma, tornando-se assim seus resultados o contrário do simples?” Pergunta retórica, evidentemente: Thoreau, como poucos (ocidentais), soube limitar o limite, isto é, viver a partir do limite, mas no limite, isto é: convertendo o limite, de impedimento extensional, em via de acesso à intensidade. Para dizê-lo com uma expressão de Viveiros de Castro: soube viver/fazer a “poesia do mundo”. Nesse sentido, se “É difícil saber”, como afirma Wolff, “se devemos considerá-lo o último de uma linhagem mais antiga de homens, ou o primeiro de uma ainda por vir”, índio ou moderno, isso se deve ao fato de que o agenciamento, a composição de Thoreau inopera o binarismo: é um velho que devém jovem, um moderno que devém índio. Dito de outro modo: os Terranos de Danowski e Viveiros de Castro não são uma identidade ou uma essência ou uma substância, mas um devir: são aqueles que, segundo Juliana Fausto, dizem, com Bartleby, I would prefer not, e que devêm, eu arriscaria afirmar, nesse gesto e enquanto dura esse gesto, gaiatos. De fato, há mundo por vir parece apresentar como ciência por vir nesses tempos sombrios de homens sombrios isso que poderíamos chamar de “gaiatologia”, a feliz ciência não do homem, mas do gaiato, não dessa espécie envelhecida e que envelhece o planeta, mas daquele ainda por vir jovem habitante de Gaia, a ciência do bricoleur, da gambiarra (conceito tomado a partir de Fernanda Bruno, e que tem um lugar de destaque ao final do livro, enquanto técnica de agenciamento natural-cultural). O mundo está acabando, mas a alegria continua a ser a prova dos nove.

Wittgenstein’s forgotten lesson (Prospect Magazine)

Wittgenstein’s philosophy is at odds with the scientism which dominates our times. Ray Monk explains why his thought is still relevant.

by Ray Monk / July 20, 1999 / Leave a comment

Published in July 1999 issue of Prospect Magazine

Ludwig Wittgenstein is regarded by many, including myself, as the greatest philosopher of this century. His two great works, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921) and Philosophical Investigations (published posthumously in 1953) have done much to shape subsequent developments in philosophy, especially in the analytic tradition. His charismatic personality has fascinated artists, playwrights, poets, novelists, musicians and even movie-makers, so that his fame has spread far beyond the confines of academic life.

And yet in a sense Wittgenstein’s thought has made very little impression on the intellectual life of this century. As he himself realised, his style of thinking is at odds with the style that dominates our present era. His work is opposed, as he once put it, to “the spirit which informs the vast stream of European and American civilisation in which all of us stand.” Nearly 50 years after his death, we can see, more clearly than ever, that the feeling that he was swimming against the tide was justified. If we wanted a label to describe this tide, we might call it “scientism,” the view that every intelligible question has either a scientific solution or no solution at all. It is against this view that Wittgenstein set his face.

Scientism takes many forms. In the humanities, it takes the form of pretending that philosophy, literature, history, music and art can be studied as if they were sciences, with “researchers” compelled to spell out their “methodologies”—a pretence which has led to huge quantities of bad academic writing, characterised by bogus theorising, spurious specialisation and the development of pseudo-technical vocabularies. Wittgenstein would have looked upon these developments and wept.

There are many questions to which we do not have scientific answers, not because they are deep, impenetrable mysteries, but simply because they are not scientific questions. These include questions about love, art, history, culture, music-all questions, in fact, that relate to the attempt to understand ourselves better. There is a widespread feeling today that the great scandal of our times is that we lack a scientific theory of consciousness. And so there is a great interdisciplinary effort, involving physicists, computer scientists, cognitive psychologists and philosophers, to come up with tenable scientific answers to the questions: what is consciousness? What is the self? One of the leading competitors in this crowded field is the theory advanced by the mathematician Roger Penrose, that a stream of consciousness is an orchestrated sequence of quantum physical events taking place in the brain. Penrose’s theory is that a moment of consciousness is produced by a sub-protein in the brain called a tubulin. The theory is, on Penrose’s own admission, speculative, and it strikes many as being bizarrely implausible. But suppose we discovered that Penrose’s theory was correct, would we, as a result, understand ourselves any better? Is a scientific theory the only kind of understanding?

Well, you might ask, what other kind is there? Wittgenstein’s answer to that, I think, is his greatest, and most neglected, achievement. Although Wittgenstein’s thought underwent changes between his early and his later work, his opposition to scientism was constant. Philosophy, he writes, “is not a theory but an activity.” It strives, not after scientific truth, but after conceptual clarity. In the Tractatus, this clarity is achieved through a correct understanding of the logical form of language, which, once achieved, was destined to remain inexpressible, leading Wittgenstein to compare his own philosophical propositions with a ladder, which is thrown away once it has been used to climb up on.

In his later work, Wittgenstein abandoned the idea of logical form and with it the notion of ineffable truths. The difference between science and philosophy, he now believed, is between two distinct forms of understanding: the theoretical and the non-theoretical. Scientific understanding is given through the construction and testing of hypotheses and theories; philosophical understanding, on the other hand, is resolutely non-theoretical. What we are after in philosophy is “the understanding that consists in seeing connections.”

Non-theoretical understanding is the kind of understanding we have when we say that we understand a poem, a piece of music, a person or even a sentence. Take the case of a child learning her native language. When she begins to understand what is said to her, is it because she has formulated a theory? We can say that if we like—and many linguists and psychologists have said just that—but it is a misleading way of describing what is going on. The criterion we use for saying that a child understands what is said to her is that she behaves appropriately-she shows that she understands the phrase “put this piece of paper in the bin,” for example, by obeying the instruction.

Another example close to Wittgenstein’s heart is that of understanding music. How does one demonstrate an understanding of a piece of music? Well, perhaps by playing it expressively, or by using the right sort of metaphors to describe it. And how does one explain what “expressive playing” is? What is needed, Wittgenstein says, is “a culture”: “If someone is brought up in a particular culture-and then reacts to music in such-and-such a way, you can teach him the use of the phrase ‘expressive playing.’” What is required for this kind of understanding is a form of life, a set of communally shared practices, together with the ability to hear and see the connections made by the practitioners of this form of life.

What is true of music is also true of ordinary language. “Understanding a sentence,” Wittgenstein says in Philosophical Investigations, “is more akin to understanding a theme in music than one may think.” Understanding a sentence, too, requires participation in the form of life, the “language-game,” to which it belongs. The reason computers have no understanding of the sentences they process is not that they lack sufficient neuronal complexity, but that they are not, and cannot be, participants in the culture to which the sentences belong. A sentence does not acquire meaning through the correlation, one to one, of its words with objects in the world; it acquires meaning through the use that is made of it in the communal life of human beings.

All this may sound trivially true. Wittgenstein himself described his work as a “synopsis of trivialities.” But when we are thinking philosophically we are apt to forget these trivialities and thus end up in confusion, imagining, for example, that we will understand ourselves better if we study the quantum behaviour of the sub-atomic particles inside our brains, a belief analogous to the conviction that a study of acoustics will help us understand Beethoven’s music. Why do we need reminding of trivialities? Because we are bewitched into thinking that if we lack a scientific theory of something, we lack any understanding of it.

One of the crucial differences between the method of science and the non-theoretical understanding that is exemplified in music, art, philosophy and ordinary life, is that science aims at a level of generality which necessarily eludes these other forms of understanding. This is why the understanding of people can never be a science. To understand a person is to be able to tell, for example, whether he means what he says or not, whether his expressions of feeling are genuine or feigned. And how does one acquire this sort of understanding? Wittgenstein raises this question at the end of Philosophical Investigations. “Is there,” he asks, “such a thing as ‘expert judgment’ about the genuineness of expressions of feeling?” Yes, he answers, there is.

But the evidence upon which such expert judgments about people are based is “imponderable,” resistant to the general formulation characteristic of science. “Imponderable evidence,” Wittgenstein writes, “includes subtleties of glance, of gesture, of tone. I may recognise a genuine loving look, distinguish it from a pretended one… But I may be quite incapable of describing the difference… If I were a very talented painter I might conceivably represent the genuine and simulated glance in pictures.”

But the fact that we are dealing with imponderables should not mislead us into believing that all claims to understand people are spurious. When Wittgenstein was once discussing his favourite novel, The Brothers Karamazov, with Maurice Drury, Drury said that he found the character of Father Zossima impressive. Of Zossima, Dostoevsky writes: “It was said that… he had absorbed so many secrets, sorrows, and avowals into his soul that in the end he had acquired so fine a perception that he could tell at the first glance from the face of a stranger what he had come for, what he wanted and what kind of torment racked his conscience.” “Yes,” said Wittgenstein, “there really have been people like that, who could see directly into the souls of other people and advise them.”

“An inner process stands in need of outward criteria,” runs one of the most often quoted aphorisms of Philosophical Investigations. It is less often realised what emphasis Wittgenstein placed on the need for sensitive perception of those “outward criteria” in all their imponderability. And where does one find such acute sensitivity? Not, typically, in the works of psychologists, but in those of the great artists, musicians and novelists. “People nowadays,” Wittgenstein writes in Culture and Value, “think that scientists exist to instruct them, poets, musicians, etc. to give them pleasure. The idea that these have something to teach them-that does not occur to them.”

At a time like this, when the humanities are institutionally obliged to pretend to be sciences, we need more than ever the lessons about understanding that Wittgenstein—and the arts—have to teach us.

Unindo ciências humanas à neurociência (Faperj)


Vilma Homero

4O filósofo Carlos Eduardo Batista de Sousa: estudos sobre o pensamento humano

O homem é um animal puramente biológico ou um ser sociocultural? A pergunta vem dividindo especialistas das neurociências e das ciências humanas. Especialmente depois que estudos recentes visam identificar as bases neurais que possibilitam ou estão correlacionadas com o pensamento consciente. “A intencionalidade, o conteúdo do pensamento consciente, está associada às nossas ações. E este assunto se relaciona diretamente com o nosso contexto cultural e a nossa época, e com o entendimento sobre nós mesmos. O que significa dizer que a neurociência agora estuda um objeto típico das ciências humanas?”, pergunta o filósofo da ciência Carlos Eduardo Batista de Sousa, que contou com o apoio de um Auxílio à Pesquisa (APQ 1) para estudar as dimensões que compõem a humanidade em projeto intitulado “Intencionalidade e Comportamento: Definindo a Natureza Humana”. Como ele mesmo pondera, é possível formular uma resposta plausível, integrando o conhecimento das duas ciências.  

“Tento acomodar os estudos nesses dois campos, das humanidades e dasneurociências, vendo como a questão da intencionalidade está vinculada à neurobiologia humana e ao aspecto sociocultural”, acrescenta o pesquisador. Ele explica que o tipo de pensamento que o ser humano tem acontece também em virtude de nossa história evolutiva. Ou seja, tanto a nossa neurobiologia quanto as interações sociais, nosso contexto cultural e a época, devem ser considerados na tentativa de entender a natureza humana. Diferentemente dos animais, o ser humano conta com uma estrutura intencional específica: “Pensar implica pensar em alguma coisa, é preciso ter um objeto em mente, ter uma representação desse objeto no pensamento que é sobre algo. De modo bem direto, isso é o que os filósofos descobriram há certo tempo. Esse conteúdo intencional emerge da neurobiologia e da interação social, influenciando nosso comportamento.”

Descobertas recentes das neurociências indicam que o pensamento consciente está associado a certas regiões no cérebro, como o lobo  frontal, que se divide em córtex frontal e pré-frontal. A partir de tecnologias, como neuroimageamento e eletrofisiologia, que nos permitem identificar as áreas e mapear o que acontece durante o pensamento consciente, novos estudos estão se tornando possíveis de ser implementados, como por exemplo, investigar o cérebro em ação. “Mas ainda é prematuro dizer que partes do cérebro são responsáveis por cada coisa”, admite o pesquisador.

Para De Sousa, estudar a natureza humana também implica estudar sua natureza biológica e sociocultural, por meio do trabalho científico e do trabalho crítico de tentar unificar as duas vertentes. “Entender tanto a biologia quanto a cultura a partir do problema da intencionalidade pode unir essas duas áreas aparentemente opostas, e isso significa reconhecer que o pensamento consciente-intencional se baseia na neurobiologia e na interação social, dando origem às nossas ações.

Mas nosso cérebro precisa estar em condições favoráveis, sob a ação de certos hormônios, como a dopamina – relacionada, por exemplo, com à tomada de decisão, cálculo de riscos, etc. Caso haja alguma anomalia no cérebro, a ação será diferente. Isso significa que a biologia precisa ser reconhecida como condição primeira, porém ela não determina o conteúdo, isto é, como vou formar meus pensamentos…”, diz De Sousa.

Como De Sousa faz questão de frisar, apenas uma ciência, seja a neurociência ou a sociologia, não pode garantir explicações plausíveis sobre o comportamento humano. “Em vez de uma briga de conhecimento, como vem sendo vivenciado hoje, é preciso conciliar ciências humanas e neurociências num contexto mais amplo pela integração dos estudos”, destaca De Sousa, que tem formação em filosofia e doutorado na Universidade de Constança, Alemanha. “Em vez de fornecer respostas, a filosofia aponta problema e possíveis caminhos. Minha proposta consiste em acomodar ambas as explicações de forma a dar conta dos vários fatores e aspectos que influenciam o conteúdo do pensamento humano, as intenções que levam o sujeito a agir de determinado modo e não de outro.”

O próximo passo para De Sousa é dar continuidade a seu trabalho, procurando unificar os estudos sobre a natureza humana numa área transdisciplinar, já que o homem é um animal complexo. “Foi na Alemanha que dei início a essa pesquisa, durante o doutorado em neurofilosofia. Lá, esse tipo de pensamento integrador estava começando. Hoje, o assunto já avançou, permitindo um maior entendimento sobre o que nós somos a partir das neurociências e da perspectiva das ciências humanas que tem longa tradição de estudos na área. Sabendo como o cérebro aprende, se organiza e se deteriora, podemos entender por que agimos como agimos e encarar a realidade de outra forma, repensando inclusive o processo de educação. Assim, futuramente, poderemos até propor novas estratégias educacionais levando em consideração esse novo conhecimento. Com isso, poderemos também estabelecer uma nova visão de humanidade, mais completa, que inclua não apenas a neurobiologia, mas também a dimensão sociocultural”, conclui.

Heidegger and Geology (Public Seminar)

McKenzie Wark

June 26th, 2014

A small, handmade green book mysteriously appeared in my New School mail slot, with the intriguing title: The Anthropocene, or “The work is going well, but it looks like it might be the end of the world.” 

Its author is Woodbine, which turns out to be an address in Brooklyn where the texts in this small book were first presented. (The texts, and information about this interesting project, can also be found here and here). I have never been to Woodbine, but good things seem to be happening there.

I read the book on the way home to Queens from the New School, on the subway. As it turns out this was a fitting place to be reading these very interesting texts, passing through geological strata.

Whenever I raise the Anthropocene with humanities-trained people, their first instinct is to critique it as a concept. It’s hard to buck that liberal arts and grad school training, but it’s an impulse to resist. It’s time to rethink the whole project of ‘humanist culture’, to which even us card-carrying anti-humanists still actually belong.

The Woodbine text makes some useful advances in that direction. But for me I think the project now is not to apply the old grad school bag o’tricks to the Anthropocene, but rather to apply the Anthropocene to a root-and-branch rethinking of how we make knowledge outside the sciences and social sciences.

Woodbine: “The naming of the Anthropocene comes not to announce humankind’s triumph but rather its exhaustion.” (3) This disposes with the most idiotic criticism of the Anthropocene, that it is ‘hubris’ to raise up the human to such a power that it could name a geological age. The Anthropocene actually does something very different. Its not the old rhetoric of a Promethean triumph over nature, but rather poses the question: “How are we to live in a ruin?” (4)

The geologist Paul Crutzen has succinctly listed the signs of the Anthropocene: deforestation, urbanization, mass extinctions, ocean acidification, loss of biodiversity and climate change. He thinks collective human labor is starting to transform the very lithosphere itself. Woodbines modulates this a bit, calling this “the Anthropocene biopolitical epoch.” (15) But that’s where I think the radical import of the Anthropocene gets lost. Those trained in the humanities are besotted with the idea of politics, attributing all sorts of magical agency to it. But really, up against the lithosphere, politics may be as uselessly superstructural as fine art, or as imaginary as the Gods of the religions.

Woodbine engagingly calls Marx ‘Captain Anthropocene.’ He is perhaps one of our great witness-conceptualizers about the moment when the Anthropocene really accelerated: “Proletarianizing us, as Marx called it, didn’t just separate us from our conditions of existence: it literally recreated how we live, setting up walls against any other way of living.” (12) Collective social labor made a second nature, over and against nature, but in part also alienating the human from that which produced it.

As I have argued elsewhere, the historical response to this has been to erect a third nature, over and against second nature, to overcome its alienating effects – but in the process producing new ones. That’s where we are now, with the growing disenchantment with the internet and all that.

Crisis is a tricky concept, as my New School colleague Janet Roitman ably explains in her book Anti-Crisis. If there’s no crisis then how can the critical be made to work? The self interest of the latter requires the perception of the former. As somebody once said, to a critic with a hammer, everything looks like a thumb.

The Anthropocene might subtly modulate the old rhetoric of crisis. Woodbine: “with the Anthropocene, the catastrophe is here in the form of the age itself, meaning our entire civilization, and its requisite way of life, is already a ruin.” (18) Crisis is not a thing or event in the world, it is the world.

This would be the profound shock of Crutzen’s provocation, that crisis is not merely political or even economic, but geological. Woodbine: “It’s crazy, like we’re reading Heidegger in the annals of the geological societies!” (19) Actually, here is where I would want to dissent from the Woodbine text. It is not that one finds Heidegger in the geological annals, but the reverse. Heidegger is only of any interest to the extent that one finds the geological in his thought, unrecognized.

It is striking how much of the grad school canon lets us down when it comes to the Anthropocene. It’s disorienting. Things once safely left unaddressed cannot be depended on. Latour: “to live in the Anthropocene is to live in a declared state of war.” But one has to ask whether Latour’s recent discovery of the Anthropocene is really all that consistent with his past work, which seems to me to concede too much to the vanity of humanists. It was only ever about part- or quasi- objects. It never really made the leap of recognizing the weakness of its own methods. Latour was a half-way house, a holding operation. As Donna Haraway pointed out a long time ago, Latour still has a thing for stories about great men waging great conflicts.

For Woodbine, the Anthropocene is the scene of a “metaphysical war.” (21) But it might be more interesting to think this the other way around. What if metaphysics was nothing more than a displaced echo of the Anthropocene? Metaphysics is not an essential key to it. Metaphysics is rather one of the pollutants. Metaphysics is just the off-gassing of the Anthropocene.

Let’s pause, too, over the war metaphor, so beloved of the cold war decision sciences. We need a new imaginary of the relation.

Still, Woodbine does get some mileage out of the dust of the old concepts. There is surely a crisis of state at the moment. The link between rationality and governance can no longer be finessed, it is finally abandoned. Governments become ad hoc reaction machines. Its what I call the spectacle of disintegration, where the state can (1) no longer orient itself in an historical time, (2) is now deceiving itself, and not just its subjects, and (3) wears out and fragments all of the ideological detritus that once sustained at least the illusion that state and history were one.

This is where Woodbine is right to point to the rhetorical figure of ‘resilience’ as a salient one. It’s a rejection of the old mastery trope. No longer is the state the collective subject of history bending the objects of nature to a collective will. Rather, it’s a rhetoric of connecting what were once objects and subjects together in webs and nets in constant flux. Now it’s all feedback loops and recursive, adaptive systems. At least in theory. For now in actuality, power is just disintegrating. Its new militarization is a sign of its lack of confidence. The game is up.

Woodbine chooses here a local, New York example. MoMA organized a show, just after the housing bubble burst, called Rising Currents. The brief was for architects and planners to show how the city (actually mostly Manhattan and the cool bits of Brooklyn) could be more resilient. One project imagines a restoration of the old oyster beds that used to dot the foreshores, as a kind of eco- econo- climate resilience virtuous circle.

When I heard someone not unconnected to Woodbine present this part of the Woodbine text at the Historical Materialism conference, the oyster bed project was met with hoots of laughter. But to me this just shows how alienated humanities-trained people are from design and urban planning as kinds of practice. It’s so much harder to even imagine what one might build in the Anthropocene than to divine its concept. And particularly hard to even imagine what one could build that would scale, that would work for the seven billion.

“The Anthropocene provides the urgency to draw together previously unrelated knowledges, practices, and technologies into a network of relation….” (26-27) One might struggle for and against certain forms such networks might take, or even as to whether they are really going to be ‘networks’ (that word which in our time is both ideological and yet so real). Maybe we would rather be infuriating swarms or packs than networks.

Woodbine: “In the Anthropocene, the critical gesture is finished. New Land, new horizons. Everything is to be reinvented.” (28) One might not want to put it in too declarative a style, but yes indeed. Perhaps its time to get to work re-inventing what humanities knowledge might be, and with what it connects, and how it connects.

The actual culture may be way ahead of us. On the one hand, the Anthropocene is the cultural unconscious. Every movie and tv show is about it, whether it knows it or not. We are “living in this end without end, an exhausted civilization dreams its apocalypse anew each morning…” (32) But a certain paralysis results from this.

Woodbine has a good analysis of this. The apocalypse means to uncover, reveal. For the messianic sects that arose out of Rome in decline, apocalyptic time was unidirectional and teleological. Things are in a state of incompletion. The meaning of the fragments around about one lies in the anticipation of the revealing of their unit. “As a result of this anticipation of an eschatological event through which things and beings will be saved from their decrepitude, the whole of reality is derealized. The disenchantment of the world has closely followed this strange derealization of the real…” (39) This is the problem: the apocalypse disconnects us from the world. As for that matter does the communist horizon, that partly secularized version of the temporal logic of apocalypse.

In this perspective, empire is that which holds back the purifying apocalypse. But in our time, apocalypse has been desacralized. It no longer promises redemption. Resilience is government under conditions of constant apocalypse. It’s a temporality which disperses apocalypse, but also takes away its redeeming power. It is to be endured. There’s no revelation imminent. “If we can understand Rome as catechon, warding off a single catastrophe in space and time (Armageddon), resilience multiplies and diffuses this structure across the whole globe…” (49) Salvation is unthinkable, resilience is all about survival.

And yet, curiously, resilience “maintains the homogenous time of a government without end.” (50) Empire wants to think it is not that which impedes the apocalypse which reveals meaning in its totality, after time breaks. Empire today wants to think it can be rubbery enough to be ‘sustainable’, to pass through multiple crises, but keep a homogenous, spectacular time ticking over. Power gets it that the old subject as master of the object ontology has to go, but strangely still maintains a universal homogenous time of petty and baseless things and their wondrous ‘networks.’

That, I think, is a wonderfully distilled analysis. I read Woodbine as wanting to reanimate the messianic rather than abandoning this whole conceptual tar pit. Hence: “Inhabiting the messianic means no longer waiting for the end of the world.” (55) The project is one of transforming lived time. The messianic becomes a practice of the here and now, a practice that might restore a shattered world, that restore being: “we must inhabit the desert.” (57)

There’s a Deleuzian note here, from the cinema books, for example, about believing in the world. “To enter messianic time is to believe in the world, in its possibilities of movement and intensities, and to create worlds.” (58) But as Woodbine acknowledges, this is worse than collapse of Rome. If it’s a ‘crisis’ it is not one that happens in time, it is rather a crisis of time.

Perhaps the worn-out old names so endlessly recycled in grad school are not going to be of much help to us. Are we really expecting, that if time appears now in a very new way, that those who survived the old time and became those who marked its tempo are going to talk about a time not their own? What if Walter Benjamin, Martin Heidegger or Carl Schmitt had nothing to say about the Anthropocene? When did humanists become the arch-conservatives? Insisting on ever occasion that the answers are always in the same old books? And always the same answers, no matter what the question.

On the one hand, it might be more interesting to pay attention to the organic intellectuals emerging out of more or less consciously Anthropocene practices. Woodbine thinks these are in two categories. Firstly, there’s the insurrections and occupations. Secondly, there’s the cultures of hacking, prepping, modding, which are often not ‘political’ in any overt sense, but which tend to have a firm notion that we need new practices of engaging with the world.

Woodbine wants to think insurrection and occupation as having an almost spiritual dimension. But perhaps the driver of the dissolution of legitimate political form really is going to be the food riot, as it was so often in the past as well. Here I want a much more vulgar read on Marx than Woodbine. We’re going to have to get our hands at least conceptually dirty.

Thinking alongside the organic intellectuals who are hacking and modding the interfaces to the old infrastructure strikes me as a necessary project. I agree with Benjamin Bratton that the question of our time is (as I hear him phrase it, at least): can the infrastructure of the old world produce a qualitatively new infrastructure? But thinking that problem would require a much wider collaboration among forms of knowledge and practice than I think Woodbine is prepared to entertain. It is not the case that only the Gods can save us.

The discourse of the humanities revels in the qualitative, and wants to see only the good side of the qualitative and the bad side of quantitative knowledge, viz: “To be able to judge a situation, or a being, you must introduce some standard of measurement, and hence reduce a living, breathing fullness to an abstracted mass of equivalents. A subject or an object is thus the stripped bare life that can be replaced.” (74)

The problem with this is that it doesn’t follow. There’s no necessary link between measuring something and thinking it replaceable. Climate science, as quantitative knowledge, is counter-factual example enough. On the other hand, the qualitative, as that which makes distinctions, is perfectly capable of making distinctions between who or what matters and what doesn’t, and is replaceable. ‘Bare life’, after all, is a Roman legal category, which has nothing to do with quantification.

Hence I am not too convinced that salvation alone lies in reworking a kind of affirmative ontology: “Whatever singularity is simply the inhabiting, really inhabiting, of the being that we already are…” (75) Rather, the problem might be the very notion that a philosophy can have such magical properties, if only one gets the incantation right. If philosophy was ever going to save us, it would have done so by now.

Most of our theories, it seems now in the Anthropocene, are not keys or tools, but rather symptoms. They are more part of the problem than the solution. I see no difference between keeping the Heidegger industry going and keeping the coal-fired power industry going. Except that the former has even more tenacious apologists.

But I like the Woodbine texts. I salute their attention to what matters. Theory has to know what time it is. Its time is the Anthropocene.

Stengers on emergence (BioSocieties)

BioSocieties (2014) 9, 99–104. doi:10.1057/biosoc.2013.43

Isabelle Stengers. Cosmopolitics. Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press, 299 pp., US$25, £18.50, ISBN: 9780816656868; 9780816656875

Reviewed by Graham Harman

American University, Cairo, Egypt. E-mail:

Cosmopolitics, the major work of Belgian philosopher Isabelle Stengers, has been available in English since 2011 in a lucid two-volume translation by Robert Bononno. In the Anglophone world Stengers is already known as a formidable interpreter of Alfred North Whitehead, a thinker she has done so much to disseminate in the French-speaking world (Stengers, 2011). But in the present work we encounter Stengers’ own philosophical voice even more directly. Originally published in the 1990’s in seven slim French volumes, Cosmopolitics should be regarded as one of the most unique works of continental philosophy in the past several decades.

For many years, continental philosophy was attacked for its focus on purely literary and social science texts, far from the stunningly successful labors of the natural sciences. Cosmopolitics is one of several prominent recent works that have begun to reverse this trend. Karen Barad’s Meeting the Universe Halfway also comes to mind (Barad, 2007), as does Manuel DeLanda’s Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy(DeLanda, 2002), along with several books on neuroplasticity by Cathérine Malabou (2008) All of these works have had considerable influence, and they may look in retrospect like a collective turning point. Yet Cosmopolitics differs from the others in at least two respects. First, Stengers gives us a long historical narrative filled with a roster of heroes barely familiar to her philosophy readership: Lagrange, Carnot, Hamilton, Duhem, Poincaré, and de Donder among them. Second, Stengers writes as someone personally invested in this history, since she worked as a close associate of Ilya Prigogine, the celebrated Russian-born Belgian chemist. Despite receiving a Nobel Prize in 1977, Prigogine ended his career as a somewhat marginalized figure, accused of ‘delusions of grandeur’ for reasons described in haunting fashion by Stengers herself.1

What will become of Stengers’ detailed history of dynamics among her philosophically minded readers? Gilles Deleuze launched an unexpected fashion for the Stoics and Duns Scotus, to name just two of his ‘minor’ favorites. Alain Badiou has spurred a generation of young readers to learn set theory and idolize the madman-genius Cantor. Will Stengers’ Cosmopolitics provoke a comparable wave of enthusiasm for the history of dynamics? Or will it remain an intriguing dark horse of a book, left by the wayside as different paths are followed? As Stengers demonstrates in her approach to the history of physics, there is no way to predict which human works will become events that produce a tangible line of heirs. Just as Prigogine’s scientific breakthrough in 1972 could have rewritten the history of physics,2 Stengers’ lengthy treatise could lead to a new style of continental philosophy: steeped in Deleuze and Whitehead, while closely tracking the shift from Lagrangians to Hamiltonians to Niels Bohr’s model of the atom. While this may sound unlikely in view of the meager past relations between science and continental philosophy, who would have expected Cantor to become a favorite of young French philosophers? It is at least conceivable that Stengers has opened a door that other talented thinkers will enter, and this gives Cosmopolitics the refreshing air of a possible future, no matter what eventually becomes of the book.

What must now be asked is whether the elegance and historical thoroughness of Cosmopolitics go hand-in-hand with a compelling philosophical position. In her remarkably calm and even-tempered book, Stengers nonetheless shows considerable impatience with philosophers of the old style, who brandish their arrogant certainties about how the world really is. She argues instead for what she calls an “ecology of practices.” Yet this ecological program turns out to be an ontology in its own right, as open to counter-argument as any other. To zero in on Stengers’ ontology, I will focus on her concept of emergence. This is both a central philosophical theme of Cosmpolitics and a topic where she differentiates her views equally from the ‘reductionists’ and the ‘holists,’ who are presented as sharing the same basic flaw. Though it may seem difficult to extract isolated themes from such a densely interwoven work, the brief format of the present review requires that we make the attempt. Ignoring for now her critique of the notion of physical ‘states,’ and her important passing salute to Gilbert Simondon’s dismissal of fully formed individuals, we can find the core of Stengers’ concept of emergence in Chapters 13 and 14 of Cosmopolitics II. These chapters are entitled ‘The Question of Emergence’ and “The Practices of Emergence,”3 and together total just under thirty pages.

Before considering Stengers’ own views, we should place the question of emergence in philosophical context. How does something new emerge irreversibly from the old? This was a central concern of Henri Bergson a century ago, and Francophone thought since the 1960’s has often been nearly obsessed with the question of the new.4 Beyond this theme of the new arising from the old, emergence can also be framed as the question of how the large emerges from the small or the more composite from the more simple. If this never happens, if mid-sized entities are always mere aggregates of tinier authentic things, then we are left with a reductionist or even eliminativist approach to the world in which a privileged ultimate layer is treated as the sole authentic reality. Thinking would thereby become a permanent exercise isundermining: debunking illusory macroscopic beings in favor of underlying subcomponents or perhaps even a barely articulate, gelatinous mass (See Harman, 2011). Particle physics would become the chosen discipline of the gods; all others would have to accept a subordinate local status, ruled by the ultimate primacy of physics.5

Yet we must also beware of a kind of reduction that moves upwards rather than downwards – namely, the kind that I have called overmining. Instead of dissolving a thing into its constituents, we might dissolve it upward into appearances, effects, manifestations, or events, while mocking the ‘naïve realism’ that posits discrete individuals hiding behind their tangible manifestations. Or we might play the double game of doing both at once, duomining the world by appealing sometimes to ultimate particles or indeterminate flux as the bedrock of reality, and other times to an uppermost layer of the visible, the evental, or the determinate that float without a bedrock.6 What is lost through this two-faced process is the middle kingdom: the robust reality of specific things that are more than the inner relations of their parts, but less than their outer relations with their environment. Object-oriented philosophy insists on the rights of the middle kingdom, with objects protected from reduction in two directions rather than just one. From an object-oriented standpoint, how does Stengers look when it comes to the question of emergence? Is she an underminer, an overminer, a duominer, or an ally? Or does she somehow escape all of these categories, which through her act of escape would be exposed as artificial or at least non-exhaustive? Whatever the answer, this will not be an exercise in name-calling or empty labelling. Each of the terms just mentioned (undermining, overmining, duomining, object-oriented) has a precise meaning and definite philosophical consequences.

Stengers is aware that the problem of emergence has ancient metaphysical roots: “Aristotle’s disciples were already arguing about composite bodies endowed with new qualities that arose from the elements that composed them. How could these new qualitative properties be explained?” (p. 208) The standard reductive approach is exemplified by today’s most zealous materialists, who “signal a future in which, from psychology to the social sciences and therapeutic practices, all forms of knowledge concerning human behavior will be understood in terms of neuronal interactions.” (p. 209) Such materialists, of course, do not even treat neurons as the fundamental basis of the world, since they too can be explained through the workings of even tinier constituents. Neurons for them are simply a convenient, provisional, local supply base for reductive explanations of the human realm. Undermining is treated as the very business of thought, the sole legitimate method for assaulting all that is supposedly mysterious.

All resistance to such undermining must hold that something new emerges at levels higher than the physically ultimate. This approach need not come from outside the sciences. Stengers notes that the anti-mechanistic chemists of the eighteenth century “claimed there was a difference between composition, which was their problem, and the simple aggregation of physicists” (p. 209). The quarrel between reduction and anti-reduction thus became a disciplinary dispute between physicists and chemists. Here the chemists are joined by Leibniz, one of Aristotle’s greatest heirs, who “pointed out the foolishness of those who dreamed of explaining sensation, perception, and consciousness in terms of inert matter,” and in doing so “he seems to have been taking part in a quarrel that continues today with the unfortunately celebrated mind-body problem.” (p. 208) Of course, there are several different intellectual camps that might view the celebration of the mind-body problem as ‘unfortunate.’ One of these camps is that of the hardcore materialists mentioned in the previous paragraph. For them there is no mind-body problem simply because body is destined to win; mind will eventually cave in to advancing physical explanations of the brain. For a hardcore idealist such as Berkeley, by contrast, there can be no mind-body problem because mind has already won; to be is to be perceived, and there is no autonomous ‘body’ outside the configurations it displays for some human or divine mind. Against these two options, seekers in the realm of the mind-body problem at least mark a place of uncertainty, a temporary bastion against quick reductions in either direction. Given that Stengers views this bastion as ‘unfortunate’ (as I do, but for very different reasons) we will need to see how she hopes to outflank all three positions simultaneously.

A point of especial interest in Stengers’ story is the changing status of clocks, one of the most useful and earliest-perfected machines of the modern era. “The clock is a weapon against Aristotelian thought, for which matter is unintelligible as such but requires a form, with which are associated both the existence of individual beings, each of which is endowed with its own end, and the possibility of knowing them.” (p. 210) However, “in the case of the clock, matter and finality can be understood separately: consisting of inert parts, and as such subject to the laws of mechanics, it owes its clocklike existence to the genius of the maker, who has subjected those parts to their own ends, who has incorporated them into a coherent mechanism defined by a finality – telling time.” (p. 210) The question of emergence is thereby conflated with the question of purpose or final causation: “The question of finality designates the stronghold that must be defended or conquered.” (p. 210) This appeal to finality proves to be a bad move for the anti-mechanists, since Darwinian natural selection allows Richard Dawkins to replace the purposeful timekeeper with the “blind watchmaker” whose living creatures have no internal finality, but simply survive or fail to survive in the environment they happen to confront. (p. 210) By the same token, it allows Jacques Monod to dismiss final causes and say that living creatures are merely “teleonomic,” meaning that we can describe them on the basis of their aim of self-reproduction, but without metaphysical commitment to an actual finality inherent in these beings themselves. (p. 210)

And here we encounter Stengers’ impatience with both the reductionist and vitalist sides of the dispute. Locked in mutual polemic, each adopts self-defeating strategies that open up vulnerable paths to their mortal enemy. “What I want to emphasize here is that understanding the challenge to which the living being exposes the biologist is barred to the vitalist biologist just as it is to the believer in neo-Darwinism. In both cases, the polemical position is expressed by the production of an identity that is substituted for practical requirements and obligations the way a solution is substituted for a problem.” (p. 211) In other words, the neo-Darwinist defends inert mechanical matter and the vitalist defends non-mechanistic purposes, but these are both ‘identities’ that ought to give way to ‘practical requirements and obligations.’ This is the pragmatist gist of Stengers’ call for an “ecology of practices”: disputes over the nature of reality are pointless polemics that ought to be re-inscribed in the practical soil that enables the two opposite positions in the first place. We are led not to an ambiguous real world in which everything is both mechanistic and purposive, but to an ultimate human practical context in which things are neither mechanistic nor purposive, apart from the ‘requirements and obligations’ following from how the problem is posed at any given time.

Stengers cites the cases of Pasteur demonstrating the autonomy of the microorganism, Körner displaying the hexagonal structure of benzene, and Nirenberg using an artificial DNA molecule to synthesize a protein. (p. 213) Stengers’ ontological conclusions about these events might be called ‘deflationary,’ since they neither add real autonomous microorganisms, benzene molecules, and proteins to the world, nor do they shatter these things reductively into tinier components. As she puts it, “events of this kind mark the creation of new laboratory beings and the new laboratories that correspond to them. But they do not pose the problem of emergence and do not allow any reduction to occur. They mark the success of an operation of delegation.” (p. 213) The understated tone of the passage cannot mask its radical philosophical claim. For it is not just that Pasteur, Körner, and Nirnberg happened not to brush against the philosophical question of reduction and emergence. Instead, for Stengers, reduction and emergence are not legitimate philosophical problems at all. They are pseudo-problems that ought to be replaced by the true problem of how successful and unsuccessful ‘delegations’ are made. Instead of disputing over the criteria for what would or would not count as an ‘emergent’ being immune to mechanistic reduction, “it is much more interesting to point out how the operations of experimental delegation that have treated bacteria as targets or actors have been possible.” (p. 213) Is Stengers’ theory of delegation simply ‘much more interesting’ than ontological disputes over emergence, or are there more convincing grounds for dissolving those disputes into her own pragmatic theory? I for one do not share her lack of ‘interest’ in emergence, nor can I accept the concluding lesson of her Section 13: “all the confrontations that serve as ecology in the modern sciences converge around the question of emergence. Therefore, it is from this field of battle that we must escape… a practical, constructivist sense must be given to the issues covered by [the term ‘emergence’].” (p. 218; emphasis added)

We can now move to Stengers’ attempted coup de grâce in Section 14. “It is not often,” she reports, “that I have the opportunity to speak well of the work of philosophers of science.” (p. 219) Yet she now sees opportunity for praise when referring to the three-tiered model of emergence proclaimed by J.K. Feibleman. Though he starts with “a conventional definition of emergence, which associates the relation between a whole and its parts to the relation between ends and means,” (p. 219) he seems to add an extra layer to the problem. In Feibleman’s own words: “For an organization at any given level, its mechanism lies at the level below, and its purpose at the level above. This law states that for the analysis of any organization three levels are required: its own, the one below, and the one above.”7 For Stengers, the value of this model lies in its implication that “the purpose of an organization is not found in itself but is always seen from the point of view of something else.” (p. 219) This gives ammunition to her claim that the identities of whole and part must be determined in terms of “the practices that allowed those identities to be defined.” (p. 220) In the case of water, for instance, we can actually speak of two waters: “one of its identities corresponds to the chemist’s purpose in understanding it as a molecule that will interact with other molecules; the other corresponds to the purpose of understanding it as a solvent that is a liquid.” (p. 220; emphasis added) The purposes of the understanding are always what is central, hence my added italics in the passage. But even more surprising is Stengers’ brazen rewriting of “emergence” so that it dwells within the understanding itself. As she puts it, ‘ “water” had to emerge twice: as a molecule composed of ‘parts’ and as a liquid with specific properties, composed of molecules.’ (p. 220) The scare-quotes around ‘water’ and ‘parts’ in this passage should not distract us from what is happening to the non-scare-quoted “emergence.” For Stengers, the term “emergence” no longer pertains to levels of reality where something new happens independently of our understanding; instead, it is produced by that very understanding.

It certainly looks as though Stengers is simply replacing the part/whole dualism of classical disputes over emergence with a new and unimproved twofold in which a non-articulate or semi-articulate world is confronted by human scientists whose practical purposes serve to cut the world into neatly defined sections for the first time.8 Here, Stengers might answer that she does not advocate a two-leveled theory of emergence, but something more like Feibleman’s three-leveled model. Let’s consider how such a model might operate in the framework ofComsopolitics.

Stengers briefly develops her own three-level approach with the example of chemical elements. “Ever since Mendeleev,” she recounts, “the element has been a part of the chemical definition of molecules and reactions, but it presents no problem for emergence.” (p. 220) From there, Stengers goes on to describe an asymmetry between elements/molecules on the one hand and atoms on the other; I will treat ‘elements/molecules’ as a pair only because Stengers does not distinguish between them in this passage. As concerns elements/ molecules: “The chemical element, like matter in the Aristotelian sense, has no properties that could be used to define it ‘in itself.’ Its definition entails the definitions of simple and compound bodies and their reactions.” (p. 220) We will discuss this again shortly. But the case of the atom is apparently quite different: “On the other hand, the atom claims to explain the molecule the way the part explains the whole. It owes its scientific existence to practices of a very different kind, which do not address it as a chemical actor; therefore it can, unlike the element, claim a separable identity.” (p. 220) Along with elements/molecules and atoms, we also find the anticipated third level: “element and atom came to designate the same being only after a series of complicated negotiations in which data from various practices had been articulated and coadapted. And in this process of negotiation, the ‘purpose’ is found ‘above,’ on the level of the practice of negotiation itself.” (p. 220)

Though Stengers does not do all the work for us of mapping her threefold schema onto Feibleman’s triad, it is not difficult to see how she proposes to do so. Stengers’ Feiblemanian analysis runs as follows:

  1. We must consider the element/molecule on its own level. According to Stengers, this level is reminiscent of Aristotelian matter, having no properties in its own right but serving as a kind of amorphous receptacle that gains its qualities only from the levels below and above it. We should note in passing that this first level is both dubious and surprisingly innovative. It is dubious because it is by no means clear that the properties of a chemical element can be reduced either to the properties of its atoms or the uses one makes of the element. Indeed, this is one of the chief recurrent arguments of partisans of real emergence. Yet Stengers simply declares their argument irrelevant by her fiat of comparing chemical elements to ‘Aristotelian matter’ lacking intrinsic properties of their own. Yet in another sense her model is also quite innovative, since normally the defenders of matter-without-qualities place it at the very bottom of the cosmos, rather than at an intermediate level as Stengers does.
  2. Following Feibleman’s threefold method (which Stengers endorses), we must now consider the element/molecule at the level below it. In the present example, atoms are the level just below molecules. “Unlike the element,” Stengers already told us, atoms ‘[can] claim a separable identity.’ Obviously Stengers does not take this to be a permanent special feature of atoms, which (as the scientist Stengers knows even better than the chemical layman) can be analyzed downward into quarks and electrons just as easily as molecules can be analyzed into atoms. What she evidently means is that, given our momentary interest in the element/molecule as a chemical agent, and given the sub-chemical status of atoms, we can treat atoms for the moment as explanatory agents or ‘black boxes’ lacking internal articulations of their own. Certainly, we could always change our question and focus on the composition of atoms instead. But the ‘practices’ relevant to our current question allows us to treat the atom (for now) as an explainer that does not need to be explained in turn.
  3. Finally, we must consider the element/molecule at the level above it. For Stengers (there is no evidence that Feibleman would see it this way) this third level is the most important, since it is not just one among equals, but governs the very production of the difference between the other two. For as we saw, “element and atom came to designate the same being only after a series of complicated negotiations in which data from various practices had been articulated and coadapted. And in this process of negotiation, the ‘purpose’ is found ‘above,’ on the level of the practice of negotiation itself.” (p. 220) There may be three layers, but practice is the layer that rules them all.

In short, Stengers does not argue for a three-leveled theory at all, but for precisely the sort of twofold theory of which we were complaining a few pages ago. First, given that Stengers shows no traces of frank Berkeleyan idealism, she seems to concede that there is a world out there that resists our conceptions and allows for some negotiations to succeed and others to fail. That’s the first level: a world that is not just an image in our minds. And second, there is the dominant layer of praxis and negotiation that allows for the very articulation between parts and wholes in the first place. And what of the additional level that Feibleman requires – the consideration of the element/molecule (or anything else) ‘on its own level’? We recall Stengers’ rather noncommittal description of this level: “The chemical element, like matter in the Aristotelian sense, has no properties that could be used to define it ‘in itself.’ Its definition entails the definitions of simple and compound bodies and their reactions.” (p. 220) The upshot is that nothing has any qualities in its own right (here we are speaking of elements/molecules, but the same would hold for atoms, horses, balloons, persons, nations – for anything at all). A thing gains its properties either from the explanations provided by its own parts, or the ‘purposes’ that articulate it in one way rather than another.

In a word, from the standpoint of object-oriented philosophy, Stengers is a classic duominer who reduces entities simultaneously both to lower-level atoms and higher-level scientific purposes, while reserving for entities themselves nothing but the amorphous status of inarticulate Arisotelian matter, fit only to be shaped by our ‘ecology of practices.’ Reality becomes a hot potato, passed either downward to tiny pieces or upward to all-encompassing practices, but is never stationed wherever we happen to be searching for it. This is the philosophical pitfall of duomining, and I hope that the unfamiliarity of the term does not overshadow the seriousness with which I use it. For all her claims to surpass all the stale old dualistic polemics, Stengers simply shows us the most classic reflex of Western philosophy: a simultaneous reduction of the world in two separate directions rather than one, with each reduction providing an alibi for the other.


1 For Stengers’ treatment of Prigogine see Cosmopolitics II, Chapter V, Life and Artifice, pp. 105–204. For a more detailed earlier collaboration between the two, (see Prigogine and Stengers, 1984).

2 Stengers makes this claim about Prigogine in Cosmopolitics II, p. 151.

3 Stengers, Cosmopolitics II, pp. 207–233.

4 For an intriguing account of this phenomenon, see the treatment of Badiou and structuralism in Bryant (2011), p. 243 ff.

5 I have criticized this tendency in the work of James Ladyman and Ross, among others. See Harman (2010).

6 I borrow the term ‘duomining’ from the credit card industry, where it refers to the simultaneous use of data and text mining. See Harman (2013).

7 Stengers is quoting here from page 61 of Feibleman (1954).

8 The ‘human scientists’ part is slightly unfair, of course, since Stengers like Latour tries to reinterpret words such as ‘negotiate’ in non-anthropocentric terms (see her remarks on the body’s twofold treatment of water in Cosmopolitics II, p. 221). But the same ontological problems occur even if we allow non-humans to join humans in using their own purposes to carve a largely inarticulate world into pieces. See my remarks about how a global ‘relationism’ is only marginally better than a human-centered ‘correlationism’ in Harman (2009).


  1. Barad, K. (2007) Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  2. Bryant, L.R. (2011) The Democracy of Objects. Ann Arbor, MI: Open Humanities Press.
  3. DeLanda, M. (2002) Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy. London: Continuum.
  4. Feibleman, J.K. (1954) Theory of integrative levels. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 17: 59–66. | Article |
  5. Harman, G. (2009) Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics. Melbourne:
  6. Harman, G. (2010) I am also of the opinion that materialism must be destroyed. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 28(5): 772–790. | Article |
  7. Harman, G. (2011) On the undermining of objects: Grant, Bruno, and radical philosophy. In: L.R. Bryant, N. Srnicek and G. Harman (eds.)The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism. Melbourne:
  8. Harman, G. (2013) Undermining, overmining, and duomining: A critique. In: J. Sutela (ed.) ADD Metaphysics. Aalto Finland: Aalto University Design Research Laboratory, pp. 40–51.
  9. Malabou, C. (2008) What Should We Do With Our Brain? Trans. S. Rand. New York: Fordham Univ. Press.
  10. Prigogine, I. and Stengers, I. (1984) Order Out of Chaos. New York: Bantam.
  11. Stengers, I. (2011) Thinking with Whitehead: A Free and Wild Creation of Concepts. Trans. M. Chase. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

About the Author

Graham Harman is Distinguished University Professor at the American University in Cairo. He is the author of numerous books, most recently Bells and Whistles: More Speculative Realism (2013).

Trying to assemble an “Anthropocene Curriculum” (

Posted on Mar 16, 2014

This event is to be held
November 14-22, 2014
Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Berlin

The Anthropocene—or however you choose to name the current era of environmental transition on a planetary scale—is a more-than-real challenge for human civilization. A crucial aspect of this challenge is to ferret out and create new forms of collectives. First of all, there is a need for a wide array of habitual collectives to bring the technically empowered, and maybe out-of-control human agency into closer awareness of and care for this capacious non-site of immersion, formerly known as “Nature”. The Anthropocene discloses the immediate resonance between our actions—but also our omissions and failures—with the entire geosphere, so why not perceive them as one and the same collage, always changing and shifting in its pattern but staying true to their reciprocal dependency? Second, there is the challenge to re-create collectives in a more classical sense: assemblages of mutual attention and co-workmanship amongst the billions of different “anthropoi” who are and will be dwelling on this planet.

The project

This applies foremost to where critical knowledge is formed, shared and raised: the university. Within the confines of knowledge production and dissemination in higher education, the “Anthropocene Curriculum” project proposes an experiment to tackle this challenge and explore creative solutions in relation to it. Developed by the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG, both in Berlin, Germany) the “Anthropocene Curriculum” is a central, production-oriented element among a manifold of research-based exhibitions, experimental events, academic and curatorial workshops, as well as an ambitious publication project that comprise the output of the two-year “Anthropocene Project” led by HKW.

The “Anthropocene Curriculum” brings together university teachers from science, humanities, and art and design faculties from across the globe to collaboratively negotiate, develop, and supervise an exemplary curriculum on Anthropocene-relevant topics. Setting the curriculum as a practical goal the task is to creatively develop a mutual understanding of recursive themes and tropes within the confines of Anthropocene research, an emergent field that becomes more integrated and trans-disciplinary along the way. The curriculum itself will be implemented at the “Anthropocene Campus” taking place in November 2014 at HKW. Cast into the form of an autumn session helding a set of exemplary courses, a total of one hundred international young researchers from academia and civil society will get actively involved into the program, joining the effort by bringing in their own perspectives and expertise.

The immediate aim of this temporary co-learning space on the premises of a cultural institution and embedded within a more expansive situation in the HKW (exhibitions, screenings, artistic events), is to enter a productive discourse—free of university-curricular constraints—on knowledge design and dissemination, on skills and their trainings. As a result of the pre- and postwork of the 9-day event an “Anthropocene Coursebook” will be edited by the participants, ”instructors” and “students” alike. In the end, such cooperation seeks to adequately address the collaborative and educational skills needed to tackle the critical environmental challenges that the Anthropocene poses, challenges that immediately become social, technological, and epistemological on closer examination.

Hence, and on a more general note, the further goal of this ambitious project is to convey a wider grasp as well as epistemic sensibility for the spectra, interplays and metabolisms of elements taking place on and within a planet in transition. This includes efforts in prospectively conjoining the variegated systemic and anthropogenic exchange processes, from the biophysical and geochemical to the cultural, industrial, and virtual. Yet, it also critically reflects on social and aesthetic inputs and the effects that emanate from the general acceptance of a human-nature indivisibility. While this clearly speaks to the heart of the environmental humanities endeavour, such knowledge also implies the potency of design and actively pursues a readjustment of both “knowing” and “doing” within the broader geo-fabric. By incorporating diverse views and materials from different disciplines, by debating and combining them to form cross-disciplinary syllabi, a potent, earth-bound collective might be composed.

To be sure: the courses assembled within this project do not strive for a comprehensive, fully integrated tour d’horizon of the Anthropocene. Instead, they aim for a kaleidoscopic and resourceful approach that emerges from the glaring necessity to build a knowledge base simultaneously broad in its disciplinary perspectives, as well as out-of-the-box in its experimentation. An ideal curriculum informed by and calibrated for the Anthropocene does not teach disciplines, at least not as an end in itself. Working “in silos” certainly has its merits and so does rigorous disciplinary training. Nevertheless, the overall challenge to educate people for living up to the planetary scale of our pending crisis demands different approaches and methods.

Nor does an ideal “Anthropocene Curriculum” unify and equalize everything into a global view of nowhere. Instead, it composes out of localities, drawing connections between local concerns and local knowledge that carries it’s own historical contingencies. It mediates between different contemporary approaches and modes of scientific artistry. It prepares students for what will surely become turbulent times in the interdependency of science, culture, and a habitable planet. Its interdisciplinarity is genuine and rests on necessity. It provides methodical avenues for grappling with the scopes and scales of the Anthropocene predicament.

Moreover, the ever changing role of academia itself is hereby brought into the equation (or rather, multiple equations). Therefore, another central aim of this project is to accentuate the process of constructing and composing a curriculum and to bring this “becoming” to the foreground. Though building a curriculum with a panoramic view on topical, trans-disciplinary knowledge serves in and of itself as an end, the project’s desire is to also develop a self-reflexive discourse, as well as to highlight the uncertainties and humble limitations of scholarly engagement with the planet.

… and its procedures

As a result of general discussions and negotiations that took place since the start of the project in September 2013 on an internal online platform, and building on the presentations given at a midway meeting that took place January 23-24, 2014 at the MPIWG, the 27 participants of the project have now formed themselves into interdisciplinary groups of three or four. Within (but also across) these groups, the current task of each is to start elaborating their chosen topics and prepare materials for the seminars, excursions, exercises, and public lectures that will be presented during the “Anthropocene Campus” in November this year. Utilizing the online platform to mitigate communication procedures, the general discussion on goals and feasibilities of an Anthropocene-adequate knowledge base will continue.

Later this year the online platform will expand to include prospective students, while a public website presenting the compiled materials as well as videos of public presentations will be launched after the “Anthropocene Campus”. This will provide an accessible repository for further realizations of curricula that may be initiated at other places around the globe and added to the website later on. It is also planned to publish an open access edition of an “Anthropocene Coursebook”, consisting of the curriculum topics co-authored by the three tutors and their respective students.

All this is, no doubt, a bold and risky undertaking. Being a magnificent task in inter-disciplinary diplomacy, it challenges the academic folklore of often talking about collaboration but rarely putting it into practice. Here lies the virtue and open possibility of the Berlin “Anthropocene Project”: grounded within a cultural institution, it provides an extra-academic terrain to allow for another standard of exchange to happen. Strictly speaking, the “Anthropocene Curriculum” is a rare opportunity, namely one in which different perspectives may be debated in a frank and straightforward manner and controversial standpoints may be used in a productive way. The challenge here is to be a collective.

You can find more information on the project, the instructors, and the seminars at

Descolonização do pensamento (Ciência Hoje)

Em entrevista à CH, o antropólogo brasileiro Cláudio Pinheiro analisa a dominação cultural da Europa e dos Estados Unidos sobre os países menos desenvolvidos, como o Brasil, e aponta mudanças que podem levar a uma produção de ideias e conhecimentos multipolarizada.

Por: Henrique Kugler, Ciência Hoje/ RJ

Publicado em 20/03/2014 | Atualizado em 20/03/2014

Descolonização do pensamento

‘Table bay’, tela de Samuel Scott datada de 1730. Na esteira da colonização, países menos desenvolvidos, entre eles o Brasil, importam padrões culturais e estruturas políticas e intelectuais da Europa e dos Estados Unidos.

Sejamos honestos: nós, brasileiros, tornamo-nos praticantes passivos de alguma espécie de mimetismo pós-colonial. Imitamos padrões europeus e estadunidenses em quase tudo – desde detalhes aparentemente banais, como vestimentas que usamos ou músicas que ouvimos; até estruturas políticas ou intelectuais reproduzidas a partir de matrizes do Norte. E a academia não foge à regra. Os autores que lemos, afinal, são quase sempre os clássicos do Velho Mundo.

Nos ventos do século 21, porém, as periferias geopolíticas pedem um mundo multipolarizado – e, cada vez mais, esse movimento configura a nova realidade global. Ainda perdura, no entanto, a clivagem do cenário internacional em dicotomias datadas que reforçam a segregação do mundo em dois hemisférios simbólicos.

Sobre esse instigante tema, Ciência Hoje ouviu o historiador e antropólogo Cláudio Pinheiro, diretor da Sephis, agência holandesa dedicada à formação de quadros intelectuais de países do Sul, agora sediada no Fórum de Ciência e Cultura da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. Pinheiro denuncia o colonialismo tardio do qual apenas começamos a nos libertar. E, dono de um papo tão pertinente quanto sofisticado, aposta suas fichas nos países austrais como promissores espaços de enunciação política, cultural e intelectual.

É correto afirmar que no Brasil, como em muitos países em desenvolvimento, ainda somos intelectualmente colonizados?

Essa colonização intelectual e acadêmica que vivemos não é uma conversa nova. Sua denúncia sistemática vem dos anos 1960. Mas, agora, a ideia está sendo desenvolvida com muito mais substância e continuidade. Dois anos atrás, veio ao Brasil uma das grandes intelectuais que debate a ideia de Sul: a antropóloga australiana Raewyn Connell. Sabe o que ela disse? “No evento acadêmico do qual participei aqui, as bancas de livros vendiam o mesmo que eu encontraria em um evento acadêmico na Austrália: Pierre Bourdieu, Jürgen Habermas, enfim, os autores clássicos europeus. Mas eu gostaria de ler, na verdade, autores clássicos brasileiros! E também os africanos, os indianos…”

Se o debate já tem quatro décadas, por que essa colonização permanece?

As agendas de pensamento estão muito profundamente ancoradas em conjuntos de teorias, temas, categorias de análise e agendas de financiamento à produção científica que se referem a uma experiência histórica particular, que é a do Atlântico Norte – tanto europeia, quanto norte-americana. É nessas experiências que nós, da periferia, acabamos baseando nosso discurso intelectual sociológico, antropológico, político e historiográfico.

Um dos grandes autores a denunciar isso, nos anos 1990, foi o indiano Dipesh Chakrabarty, da Universidade de Chicago. Ele escreveu um livro, em 2000, chamado Provincializando a Europa [Provincializing Europe, editado pela Princeton University Press, sem tradução para o português]. O argumento básico está no título: a Europa é uma paróquia. Só que essa paróquia se mundializou, a partir de um longo processo histórico associado ao colonialismo. E passamos a acreditar que nela estaria alguma espécie de grande verdade.

Conhecemos mais detalhes sobre a queda da Bastilha do que sobre grandes revoluções africanas

Pense em um estudante de ensino médio. O que ele estuda em história? História europeia. Estudos sobre África entraram para o nosso currículo apenas recentemente, em 2003, por uma medida governamental. Certo: o estudante sabe então sobre Europa e África. O que falta? Falta tudo. Conhecemos mais detalhes sobre a queda da Bastilha do que sobre grandes revoluções africanas. Estas passam completamente ao largo de nosso conhecimento. Como estudar história mundial sem estudar a história da África? Como entender o impacto que teve a diáspora de africanos nas Américas e na própria África? Como isso interferiu, por gerações e séculos, na capacidade africana de recuperar sua economia? Nossa própria forma de datação do tempo é marcada pela experiência europeia. Compreendemos o mundo em termos de história antiga, medieval, moderna e contemporânea. E é nesse trem que nos localizamos: o Brasil passa a existir no mundo a partir da história moderna – durante a expansão europeia.

Com a emergência de novas forças geopolíticas, a exemplo dos BRICs (Brasil, Rússia, Índia, China e África do Sul), essas ‘categorias de análise’ podem ser remodeladas?

Não obstante países como os BRICs sejam mais e mais importantes no cenário político internacional, continuam não sendo donos do próprio arcabouço que define a maneira pela qual se conhece o conhecimento: a forma de datar o tempo, a forma de classificar sociedades, as categorias de compreensão do mundo. Exemplo: se falamos em ‘família’, um aluno do ensino médio pensa em pai, mãe, avós, tios, filhos, netos. Em muitas sociedades é assim. Mas em muitas outras, não. Para povos nativos brasileiros ou sociedades asiáticas, por exemplo, a noção de família engloba relações mais amplas, que podem incluir até animais.

O conceito ocidental baseado na experiência europeia não dá conta de toda a realidade

O conceito ocidental baseado na experiência europeia não dá conta de toda a realidade. Acontece que os demais modelos são invisibilizados por outros que nos fazem compreender o mundo de forma engessada. Isso vale não só para a ideia de família como também de Estado, política, democracia. Para alguns autores, não é o dinheiro que faz uma sociedade ser classificada como “periférica”. Mas sim o não domínio sobre as categorias que organizam o pensamento, a política e a sociedade.

Essa imitação subalterna é muito perceptível na academia…

Quase todo aluno de graduação no Brasil (desde enfermagem a agronomia, passando pela engenharia) estuda ciências sociais como disciplina obrigatória. Em muitos casos isso envolve a leitura dos ‘clássicos’: Karl Marx [1818-1883], Max Weber [1864-1920], Émile Durkheim [1858-1917]. Eles são interessantíssimos, não há dúvida. Mas parece uma igreja com seus santos principais. Cadê os santos da periferia? Que autores pensaram as sociedades que hoje são periféricas? É um desafio contemporâneo incluir outros clássicos no ensino e no debate. Muito se perde diante do fato de que as estruturas para conhecer o ‘outro’ estão marcadas pela experiência de uma província, de uma paróquia específica, que é a Europa. É preciso universalizar o vocabulário de categorias de análise de modo que o mundo seja mais polifônico.

Você leu apenas o início da entrevista publicada na CH 312. Clique no ícone a seguir para baixar a versão integral. PDF aberto (gif)

Can non-Europeans think? (Aljazeera)

What happens with thinkers who operate outside the European philosophical ‘pedigree’?

Last Modified: 15 Jan 2013 11:41

The works of French philosopher Michel Foucault is usually at the forefront of Eurocentric philosophy [AFP]

In a lovely little panegyric for the distinguished European philosopher Slavoj Zizek, published recently on Al Jazeera, we read:

There are many important and active philosophers today: Judith Butler in the United States, Simon Critchley in England, Victoria Camps in Spain, Jean-Luc Nancy in France, Chantal Mouffe in Belgium, Gianni Vattimo in Italy, Peter Sloterdijk in Germany and in Slovenia, Slavoj Zizek, not to mention others working in Brazil, Australia and China.

What immediately strikes the reader when seeing this opening paragraph is the unabashedly European character and disposition of the thing the author calls “philosophy today” – thus laying a claim on both the subject and time that is peculiar and in fact an exclusive property of Europe.

Even Judith Butler who is cited as an example from the United States is decidedly a product of European philosophical genealogy, thinking somewhere between Derrida and Foucault, brought to bear on our understanding of gender and sexuality.

To be sure, China and Brazil (and Australia, which is also a European extension) are cited as the location of other philosophers worthy of the designation, but none of them evidently merits a specific name to be sitting next to these eminent European philosophers.

The question of course is not the globality of philosophical visions that all these prominent European (and by extension certain American) philosophers indeed share and from which people from the deepest corners of Africa to the remotest villages of India, China, Latin America, and the Arab and Muslim world (“deep and far”, that is, from a fictive European centre) can indeed learn and better understand their lives.

That goes without saying, for without that confidence and self-consciousness these philosophers and the philosophical traditions they represent can scarce lay any universal claim on our epistemic credulities, nor would they be able to put pen to paper or finger to keyboard and write a sentence.

Thinkers outside Europe 

These are indeed not only eminent philosophers, but the philosophy they practice has the globality of certain degrees of self-conscious confidence without which no thinking can presume universality.

The question is rather something else: What about other thinkers who operate outside this European philosophical pedigree, whether they practice their thinking in the European languages they have colonially inherited or else in their own mother tongues – in Asia, in Africa, in Latin America, thinkers that have actually earned the dignity of a name, and perhaps even the pedigree of a “public intellectual” not too dissimilar to Hannah Arendt, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Michel Foucault that in this piece on Al Jazeera are offered as predecessors of Zizek?

“Why is European philosophy ‘philosophy’, but African philosophy ‘ethnophilosophy’?”

What about thinkers outside the purview of these European philosophers; how are we to name and designate and honour and learn from them with the epithet of “public intellectual” in the age of globalised media?

Do the constellation of thinkers from South Asia, exemplified by leading figures like Ashis Nandy, Partha Chatterjee, Gayatri Spivak, Ranajit Guha, Sudipta Kaviraj, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Homi Bhabha, or Akeel Bilgrami, come together to form a nucleus of thinking that is conscious of itself? Would that constellation perhaps merit the word “thinking” in a manner that would qualify one of them – as a South Asian – to the term “philosopher” or “public intellectuals”?

Are they “South Asian thinkers” or “thinkers”, the way these European thinkers are? Why is it that if Mozart sneezes it is “music” (and I am quite sure the great genius even sneezed melodiously) but the most sophisticated Indian music ragas are the subject of “ethnomusicology”?

Is that “ethnos” not also applicable to the philosophical thinking that Indian philosophers practice – so much so that their thinking is more the subject of Western European and North American anthropological fieldwork and investigation?

We can turn around and look at Africa. What about thinkers like Henry Odera Oruka, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Okot p’Bitek, Taban Lo Liyong, Achille Mbembe, Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, Souleymane Bachir Diagne, V.Y. Mudimbe: Would they qualify for the term “philosopher” or “public intellectuals” perhaps, or is that also “ethnophilosophy”?

Why is European philosophy “philosophy”, but African philosophy ethnophilosophy, the way Indian music is ethnomusic – an ethnographic logic that is based on the very same reasoning that if you were to go to the New York Museum of Natural History (popularised in Shawn Levy’s Night at the Museum [2006]), you only see animals and non-white peoples and their cultures featured inside glass cages, but no cage is in sight for white people and their cultures – they just get to stroll through the isles and enjoy the power and ability of looking at taxidermic Yaks, cave dwellers, elephants, Eskimos, buffalo, Native Americans, etc, all in a single winding row.

The same ethnographic gaze is evident in the encounter with the intellectual disposition of the Arab or Muslim world: Azmi Bishara, Sadeq Jalal Al-Azm, Fawwaz Traboulsi, Abdallah Laroui, Michel Kilo, Abdolkarim Soroush. The list of prominent thinkers and is endless.

In Japan, Kojin Karatani, in Cuba, Roberto Fernandez Retamar, or even in the United States people like Cornel West, whose thinking is not entirely in the European continental tradition – what about them? Where do they fit in? Can they think – is what they do also thinking, philosophical, pertinent, perhaps, or is that also suitable for ethnographic examinations?

The question of Eurocentricism is now entirely blase. Of course Europeans are Eurocentric and see the world from their vantage point, and why should they not? They are the inheritors of multiple (now defunct) empires and they still carry within them the phantom hubris of those empires and they think their particular philosophy is “philosophy” and their particular thinking is “thinking”, and everything else is – as the great European philosopher Immanuel Levinas was wont of saying – “dancing”.

The question is rather the manner in which non-European thinking can reach self-consciousness and evident universality, not at the cost of whatever European philosophers may think of themselves for the world at large, but for the purpose of offering alternative (complementary or contradictory) visions of reality more rooted in the lived experiences of people in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America – counties and climes once under the spell of the thing that calls itself “the West” but happily no more.

The trajectory of contemporary thinking around the globe is not spontaneously conditioned in our own immediate time and disparate locations, but has a much deeper and wider spectrum that goes back to earlier generations of thinkers ranging from José Marti to Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, to Aime Cesaire, W.E.B. DuBois, Liang Qichao, Frantz Fanon, Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, etc.

So the question remains why not the dignity of “philosophy” and whence the anthropological curiosity of “ethnophilosophy”?

Let’s seek the answer from Europe itself – but from the subaltern of Europe.

‘The Intellectuals as a Cosmopolitan Stratum’

In his Prison Notebooks, Antonio Gramsci has a short discussion about Kant’s famous phrase in Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) that is quite critical in our understanding of what it takes for a philosopher to become universally self-conscious, to think of himself as the measure and yardstick of globality. Gramsci’s stipulation is critical here – and here is how he begins:

Kant’s maxim “act in such a way that your conduct can become a norm for all men in similar conditions” is less simple and obvious than it appears at first sight. What is meant by ‘similar conditions’?

To be sure, and as Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (the editors and translators of the English translation of Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks) note, Gramsci here in fact misquotes Kant, and that “similar conditions” does not appear in the original text, where the German philosopher says: “I am never to act otherwise than so that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law.” This principle, called “the categorical imperative”, is in fact the very foundation of Kantian ethics.

So where Kant says “universal law”, Gramsci says, “a norm for all men”, and then he adds an additional “similar conditions”, which is not in the German original.

“The world at large, and the Arab and Muslim world in particular, is going through world historic changes – these changes have produced thinkers, poets, artists, and public intellectuals at the centre of their moral and politcial imagination.

That misquoting is quite critical here. Gramsci’s conclusion is that the reason Kant can say what he says and offer his own behaviour as measure of universal ethics is that “Kant’s maxim presupposes a single culture, a single religion, a ‘world-wide’ conformism… Kant’s maxim is connected with his time, with the cosmopolitan enlightenment and the critical conception of the author. In brief, it is linked to the philosophy of the intellectuals as a cosmopolitan stratum”.

What in effect Gramsci discovers, as a southern Italian suffering in the dungeons of European fascism, is what in Brooklyn we call chutzpah, to think yourself the centre of universe, a self-assuredness that gives the philosopher that certain panache and authority to think in absolutists and grand narrative terms.

Therefore the agent is the bearer of the “similar conditions” and indeed their creator. That is, he “must” act according to a “model” which he would like to see diffused among all mankind, according to a type of civilisation for whose coming he is working-or for whose preservation he is “resisting” the forces that threaten its disintegration.

It is precisely that self-confidence, that self-consciousness, that audacity to think yourself the agent of history that enables a thinker to think his particular thinking is “Thinking” in universal terms, and his philosophy “Philosophy” and his city square “The Public Space”, and thus he a globally recognised Public Intellectual.

There is thus a direct and unmitigated structural link between an empire, or an imperial frame of reference, and the presumed universality of a thinker thinking in the bosoms of that empire.

As all other people, Europeans are perfectly entitled to their own self-centrism.

The imperial hubris that once enabled that Eurocentricism and still produces the infomercials of the sort we read in Al Jazeera for Zizek are the phantom memories of the time that “the West” had assured confidence and a sense of its own universalism and globality, or as Gramsci put it, “to a type of civilisation for whose coming he is working”.

But that globality is no more – people from every clime and continent are up and about claiming their own cosmopolitan worldliness and with it their innate ability to think beyond the confinements of that Eurocentricism, which to be sure is still entitled to its phantom pleasures of thinking itself the centre of the universe. The Gramscian superimposed “similar conditions” are now emerging in multiple cites of the liberated humanity.

The world at large, and the Arab and Muslim world in particular, is going through world historic changes – these changes have produced thinkers, poets, artists, and public intellectuals at the centre of their moral and politcial imagination – all thinking and acting in terms at once domestic to their immediate geography and yet global in its consequences.

Compared to those liberating tsunamis now turning the world upside down, cliche-ridden assumption about Europe and its increasingly provincialised philosophical pedigree is a tempest in the cup. Reduced to its own fair share of the humanity at large, and like all other continents and climes, Europe has much to teach the world, but now on a far more leveled and democratic playing field, where its philosophy is European philosophy not “Philosophy”, its music European music not “Music”, and no infomercial would be necessary to sell its public intellectuals as “Public Intellectuals”.

Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York. Among his most recent books is The World of Persian Literary Humanism (2012).

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

A convergência da Arte e Ciência: Pistas do Passado (Revista Z Cultural)

de Martha Blassnigg – tradução Cleomar Rocha e Júlio César dos Santos
Revista Z Cultural

Este artigo faz uma breve excursão pela história européia da ciência e da tecnologia numa perspectiva antropológica, destacando os valores humanos nas diretrizes subjacentes, imaginação, e atividades relacionadas à mente, como a maioria fundamentalmente constitutiva de toda a colaboração inter-disciplinar e seu impacto sobre a avaliação atual do valor associado às trocas cada vez maiores entre as Artes e as Ciências.

A Conferência Científica Internacional “Rumo a uma terceira cultura. A coexistência da arte, ciência e tecnologia”, organizada pelo Centro Laznia de Arte Contemporânea e o Museu de História em Gdansk, 23 a 25 maio de 2011, começou a discutir como “Atingir a arte por tecnologias científicas desenvolvidas agora no contexto da visão de uma terceira cultura, postulada por John Brockman “. Em vista das críticas e equívocos da problemática “duas culturas” da C.P. Snow, a postulação de uma “terceira cultura” foi criticamente abordada pela agenda das discussões da conferência, em particular em torno de idéias sobre a ciência para a arte e arte para a ciência, o papel, o significado da abordagem colaborativa, revista e criticamente a partir de diferentes perspectivas. A dimensão da interação humana em seus aportes subjacentes, a imaginação e a atividades mentais relacionadas, foi um entre muitos outros assuntos discutidos, o que será destacado aqui como o mais significativo parceiro constitucional, em especial entre as artes e ciências. Este artigo, portanto, concentra-se nas intersecções históricas entre a arte e a ciência e o que isso pode nos dizer, se não sobre a mudança de paradigmas, pelo menos, sobre a mudança em relação aos valores humanos envolvidos na colaboração.

A partir de uma excursão na história da ciência e tecnologia dos últimos dois séculos, fica evidente que o final do século 18 via a Arte e a Ciência ainda intimamente relacionados, como é explicitado, por exemplo, pelo químico e inventor Sir Humphrey Davy (1778-1829), na sua comparação entre o filósofo natural e o estado mental do artista:

A contemplação das leis do universo está conectada a uma exaltação imediata a e tranqüila da mente e puro prazer mental. A percepção da verdade é quase tão simples quanto um sentimento, como a percepção da beleza … o amor da natureza é a mesma paixão, como o amor do magnífico, do sublime e do belo. (WRIGHT, 1980: 199)

Quando o filósofo e historiador da ciência William Whewell cunhou o termo cientista, em 1833, na Inglaterra, o termo foi publicado pela primeira vez, anonimamente, em 1834, na resenha de “On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences” de Mary Somerville, com um comentário satírico sobre a crescente tendência “de separação e desmembramento “das ciências, que excluía filosofia, a menos no que referia aos termos “natural” ou “experimental”1. Ele propôs o termo novamente, de modo mais sério e em seu próprio nome em 1840, em “The Philosophy of the Inductive Science”, dando um nome genérico compreendendo vários campos científicos, semelhante à maneira como ele concebeu o termo artista para se referir às áreas da música, pintura, poesia etc. O que é particularmente interessante sobre a intervenção de Whewell para o contexto atual é que ele concebeu que todo conhecimento tem um ideal, ou dimensão subjetiva; bem como uma dimensão objetiva. O que ele viu como uma antítese fundamental do conhecimento, revelou em todo ato de conhecimento há dois elementos opostos: idéias e percepções. Por contrariar os Idealistas Alemães, bem como os sensacionalistas por sua propensão exclusivista, ele alegou estar procurando uma “via intermediária” entre racionalismo puro e um empirismo extremo.

Whewell (1858, I, 91) denominou ideias fundamentais como sendo: “… não uma conseqüência da experiência, mas um resultado da constituição particular e atividade da mente, que é independente de toda a experiência em sua origem, embora constantemente combinadas com experiência no seu exercício “. Ele reconheceu que a mente não é um mero receptor passivo de dados sensoriais, mas um participante ativo na produção de conhecimento.

É notável que a filosofia da mente reflete na história da ciência no modo como vários processos de produção de conhecimento foram compreendidos e modificados nas metodologias e significados implicados. Embora tenha sido freqüentemente alertado que a condição humana tem de ser reconhecida na sua implicitude em qualquer ato de observação ou de análise (se não na coleção científica de dados em si, e ainda, na leitura e interpretação da informação recolhida), as implicações do papel ativo da mente humana, no entanto, tem sido freqüentemente subestimado. A longa tradição na separação dualista entre a racionalidade como um processo de ordem superior e os sentidos físicos e a mente do corpo como os processos menores relacionados ao instinto deixou seus traços e ainda prevalece. Consequentemente, o dualismo cartesiano serviu predominantemente de modelo para racionalizar a separação crescente entre as Artes e Ciências durante o século 19 com uma presunçosa oposição binária entre o racional e o irracional, o inteligível e o sensível, ou o dionisíaco e o apolíneo, que Friedrich Nietzche (1872) reinterpretou como as unidades da natureza artística, como oposição estética fundamental.

Ao olhar para a interseção entre Arte e Ciência em estudos de casos particularizados, no entanto, muitos dos limites freqüentemente discutidos parecem se dissolver no reconhecimento das tensões produtivas dentro de contradições, paradoxos e incoerências nas práticas cotidianas. A partir dos muitos exemplos que podem ser extraídos da história da ciência, um caso paradigmático pode ser encontrado no fisiologista francês Etienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904), cuja obra se coloca entre as tensões que transformaram a ciência do século XIX dentro do paradigma positivista do século XX. Enquanto um estudo de caso mais completo é desenvolvido em outros lugares (BLASSNIGG, 2009) deve-se notar aqui que os estudos sobre movimento de Marey estava entre a sua capacidade visionária e orientação motivadora que entendeu o movimento como força subjacente para além da atividade executada de corpos em movimento ou substâncias, e o método científico de análise que reduziu essa força de apreender momentos para estudar posições individuais e casos de intensidades.2 A sobreposição de fotografias em série em sua “composite chronophotographs” situaram as tensões entre a calibração instrumental e a expansão da percepção subjetiva por uma ligação rigorosa com uma imaginação visionária e uma consciência explícita das suas implicações perceptuais e epistemológicas. Através de sua combinação única de métodos gráficos e fotográficos, de tecnologias de análise e de síntese, Marey teve sucesso abordando intrinsecamente a ambos: o capturado (análise) e o percebido (em suas tensões entre o experienciado e o sintetizado), em contraste com o paradigma positivista, cada vez mais privado desta totalidade e dinamismo visionário3 enquanto método científico. Esses recursos são evidentes no trabalho inovador de Marey, em que a imaginação desempenhou um papel fundamental tanto quanto a estética, ambos aplicados como ferramentas intrínsecas para complementar o rigor científico e a precisão.

A discrepância entre a análise e a descrição (ou representação visual) do movimento e o dinamismo atual das forças subjacentes de corpos animados que se cristalizam como duas dimensões chaves no trabalho de Marey, que na época também foi discutido pelo filósofo Bergson Hneri (1859-1941), que foi quem identificou a confusão entre a medição do tempo quantificável e do tempo como experiência qualitativa, uma vez que permanece fundamental reconhecer as potencialidades intrínsecas da mente humana que se mantém envolvida. Ele procurou desenvolver uma abordagem pragmático filosófica para abordar a questão da mudança de paradigma anteriormente mencionado nas ciências; inicialmente escrito como uma crítica à posição extremada do idealismo de Kant dentro do idealismo alemão de uma filosofia transcendental, ele tentou se mover através da dicotomia matéria (corpo) e espírito (mente), evitando estabelecer um reino transcendental e sem ter que considerar a consciência como um epifenômeno do cérebro. Assim procedento, os esforços de Bergson resultaram na distinção de duas tendências da mente – intelecto e intuição (antigo instinto), em uma oposição esquemática, que de forma construtiva e colaborativa foram complementando-se mutuamente ao longo do processo evolutivo, como ele demonstra em particular o caso dos processos criativos da mente (BERGSON 1999, 1998). Ao invés de representar uma crítica polêmica ao método científico, ele refletiu sobre o entreleçamento implícito e de contingências entre esses dois pólos dinâmicos e as suas necessidades evolutivas como tendência integradora: “Há coisas que a inteligência sozinha é capaz de buscar, mas que, sozinha, nunca as vai encontrar. O instinto, por si só, poderia encontrar; mas nunca irá procurá-las ” (BERGSON, 1998, 151).

A partir da perspectiva de uma filosofia (ou antropologia) da ment,e Marey e Bergson reconhecem intuição e imaginação como constituintes intrínsecos de sua prática do conhecimento, e viram a arte como uma disciplina importante para manter o movimento em uma posição dinâmica e instável – o próprio princípio da vida como é experimentado e aspirado. Há paradigmáticos exemplos anteriores de tentativas similares para descobrir um acesso mais direto e holístico para os fenômenos observados, em particular nas suas comunicações interrelacionais e representações com e no espectador, como nas obras de Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832 ) e Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), que tanto tentaram mediar e comunicar a experiência de fenômenos de luz e escuridão em seu caráter unificado e alterações transitórias.4 Goethe, mais explicitamente, tinha manifestado a interação entre a intuição e o intelecto de uma forma semelhante a Bergson, pois ele compreendeu a percepção intuitiva (Anschauung) e a faculdade do pensamento (DENK-KRAFT) como duas forças complementares na conformação de qualquer ato criativo que objetiva alcançar uma maior atenção e análise mais completa (NAYDLER, 1996, 120). Não obstante que a resolução de Turner para estas tensões inerentes, como expresso em particular na sua pintura do Dilúvio, tem sido interpretada como uma imagem de desespero, a resolução de Goethe foi vivamente contestada e as intenções inerentes de Marey têm sido negligenciadas ou deliberadamente prejudicadas , suas obras tem sido orientadas por sensibilidades e preocupações interconectadas, embora em enquadramentos muito diferentes e através de metodologias divergentes. As tensões intrínsecas no tratamento do movimento dinâmico no seu trabalho e pensamento indicam a aparente incompatibilidade e paradoxo que Bergson e, semelhante aWhewell e Goethe, situou como tendências complementares da mente humana: o intelecto e a intuição.

A busca de Bergson, no entanto, não só reconhece alguns destes paradoxos irreconciliáveis, mas escava um caminho através do reconhecimento da agência imanente durante o processo perceptivo co-criativo como evento ontológico que interliga apreensão estética e intuição com rigor intelectual. O esforço em direção ao holismo, sem negligenciar a agência criativa e promulgada autodeterminação do participante (seja ele humano ou não humano), oferece-se como uma solução potencial para a dicotomia comumente assumida entre mente e matéria através de uma compreensão pragmática da intuição, que suplementa e, finalmente, contém o intelecto. A fim de manter em vista a constante renegociação dos valores humanos em qualquer prática do conhecimento (no pleno reconhecimento de agência e criatividade como forças motrizes), uma das principais preocupações pode ser identificada nos canais que facilitam a co-construção de conclusões específicas levantados deles mesmos. Estes “conjuntos” com as práticas e experiências do cotidiano através de participação(1) pro-ativa, co-criativa e consciente pode constituir uma verdadeira “ciência compartilhada”, em especial quando se trata de troca de conhecimento através da colaboração. Neste sentido, o binário arte-ciência genérico, talvez entre os muitos binários interdisciplinares, serve como um modelo para aludir ao potencial transformador da dinâmica da troca, como eles aspiram e que Sundar Sarukkai (2009) chamou de uma “ética da curiosidade” em ciência. Ao invés de contar os resultados em termos de diferença (1 + 1 = 2) ou de equalização em terra comum como uma espécie de amálgama (1 + 1 = 1), a equação mais valiosa da arte-ciência pode estar no recorte da dinâmica fusão: 1 + 1 = 3; não como uma terceira “cultura”, no entanto, mas como algo novo e diferente que pode acontecer em um meta-nível como princípio autotranscendente de qualquer colisão materializada. O restabelecimento do sublime como uma qualidade na efetiva atividade da mente humana, ao invés de um “dado” de natureza transcendental em termos de um “absoluto”, fornece uma reconciliação potencial da condição humana de viver entre binários, em um dualismo que não precisa ser necessariamente superado, mas que alimenta a fusão evidente que produz os deleites da mente promulgada por meio de uma responsabilidade de a conceber como um todo. Um dom ativo do amor que só pode ser apreciado na atividade concreta de estar com, no próprio ato co-criativo entre dois elementos, nas seções transversais de qualquer prática com o objetivo de produzir novos conhecimentos ou algo assim, com ou sem o auxílio da tecnologia, o movimento efetivamente criativo da mente que “mentaliza”. Como tal, a polaridade da arte-ciencia pode ser vista em uma gama muito maior de oposições binárias, onde questões semelhantes e dificuldades de comunicação podem ocorrer: nas colaborações interdisciplinares relacionadas a diálogos inter-culturais, a assuntos relacionados a gênero, a trocas inter-nacionais, a relações inter-geracionais etc.

A capacidade de apreciar e facilitar a transcendência disciplinar aparece como o fulcro de que podem inflamar no encontro ciência-arte, mas somente se os métodos envolvidos e as abordagens forem mantidos inteiros numa relação dialógica (ao invés de uma dialética ou uma convergência) que desafiem a unificação e abraçem a diferença na mutualidade (co-sendo). Deixar de lado modelos paradoxais como premissas, para dislumbrar novas visões podem provocar uma fusão onde as relações envolvidas estão sendo transformadas e discernimentos sendo transferidos através de uma troca de conhecimentos que não elimina, mas acomoda diferenças. Um encontro idealizado e produtivo que se orienta potencialmente em direção a uma auto-transcendência responsável, privilegiando o todo . Mentalidade aberta, tolerância, generosidade intelectual, curiosidade ética, modéstia – qualidades essenciais para qualquer encontro na fronteira entre as disciplinas, culturas, nações, ideologias, etc – indicam um papel-modelo que a ciência da arte da colaboração poderia representar no século XXI, para um reconsideração dos valores das Humanidades, que não se restringem aos seres humanos, mas estende seu parentesco a todas as formas de vida. Isto estava no cerne da visão de Henri Bergson de uma nova ciência que abraçava a metafísica por meio da filosofia, especialmente como expressa em sua abordagem para a compreensão da consciência além dos limites humanos em “L’Evolução Créatrice “(1907. Evolution, Creative, 1998) pelo que , pode-se sugerir retrospectivamente, ele talvez deveria ter ganhado o prêmio Nobel da Paz, além do que ele recebeu em 1929, de Literatura. Intuição, entendida como prática responsável auto-consciente e dom ativo do amor , mais que uma visão espontânea, pode servir como abordagem potencial em direção a uma atitude “humanitária” através da escolha auto-transcendente e agência individual para descobrir os domínios que são deliberadamente ou acidentalmente perdidos na tradução. Numa última análise, o principal desafio a ser identificado pode não ser a busca de uma linguagem comum, mas sim o desenvolvimento de competências e habilidades em relação ao entendimento da mente humana de modo a acomodar diferença e contingência em sintonia com os valores selecionados e advogados para orientar buscas futuras.



Bergson, Henri. An Introduction to Metaphysics (tr. T.E. Hulme). Indianapolis, Cambridge: Hackett Publishing. [1903. ‘Introduction à la Métaphysique’ in Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale, January].

______ 1998. Creative Evolution (tr. A. Mitchell). Mineola, New York: Dover Publications. [1907. L’Évolution Créatrice. Paris: Alcan].

Blassing, Martha. 2009. Time, Memory, Consciousness and the Cinema Experience: Revisiting Ideas on Matter and Spirit. Amsterdan: Rodopi.

Marey, Étienne-Jules. 1895. Movement: The Results and Possibilities of Photography (tr. E. Pritchard). London: William Heinemann. [French original: 1894. Le Mouvement. Paris: Masson].

Naydler, Jeremy (ed.) 1996. Goethe on Science. An Anthology of Goethe’s Scientific Writings. Trowbridge: Floris Books.

Nietzche, Friedrich. 1872. Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik (The Birth of Tragedy: Out of the Spirit of Music). Leipzig: E.W. Fritzsch.

Sarukkai, Sundhar. 2009. Science and the Ethics of Curiosity. Current Science 97 (6): 756-767.

Whewell, William. 1858. The History of Sientific Ideas. Two Volumes. London.

Wright, C.J. 1980. The ‘Spectre’ of Science. The Sutdy of Optical Phenomena and the Romantic Imagination. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 43.



1 Citação retirada da Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2006. Disponível em Acessado em 30/05/2011.

2 A Monografia de Marey: Movement (1895; Le Movement, 1894) é particularmente esclarecedora para compreender as intenções subjacentes em seus estudos do movimento.

3 O método científico é reducionista a certos valores e dimensões humanas como uma condição necessária da sua eficaz especialização e quantificação e isto não é considerado um problema – somente é problema se esta redução estiver ultrapassando a perspectiva do todo e, consequentemente, a especialização se mostra como a totalidade, o que não só ocorre nas Ciências mas também nas Artes e Humanidades.

4 A contextualização do trabalho de Marey e Bergson com as ideias de Goethe e Turner, da percepção da luz, é mais plenamente elaborada no artigo: The Delightful (1) Mind and a Case for Aesthetic Intuition: Marey and Bergson in the Company of Goehte’s and Turner’s Conceptions of Light. In: Light, Image, Imagination: The Spectrum Beyond Reality and Illusion. Blassing, M. (ed.) Amsterdan: Amsterdan University Press.

Martha Blassnigg
Universidade de Plymouth

Filósofo define elementos da “corrupção pós-moderna” (JC)

JC e-mail 4298, de 12 de Julho de 2011.

Renato Janine Ribeiro avalia as práticas políticas brasileiras e questiona: é possível governar com ética?

Uma das conferências da 63ª Reunião Anual da Sociedade Brasileira para o Progresso da Ciência (SBPC) realizada na manhã desta segunda-feira (11), foi proferida por Renato Janine Ribeiro, filósofo e professor da Universidade de São Paulo (USP). Na ocasião, ele falou sobre “a corrupção como ameaça à vida republicana”, avaliando as dificuldades da política contemporânea em lidar com a ética.

O professor foi apresentado por Aldo Malavasi, secretário geral da SBPC e seu companheiro de docência na USP. Malavasi iniciou os trabalhos elogiando a capacidade argumentativa de Janine Ribeiro: “você não hesita em suas falas”. O palestrante esmiuçou a etimologia de “corrupção”. O ponto de partida da palavra seria a filosofia natural do mundo antigo que, grosso modo, definia o termo como morte do corpo, degeneração das células. Por extensão, os antigos consideravam o espaço da política também como um corpo que poderia apodrecer e perder a vitalidade social; ou seja, perder as virtudes exigidas aos homens no espaço público.

Para os romanos, cuja forma de governança era a república, ou “governo para o bem comum”, a maior corrupção seria o retorno ao mundo privado ou o desvirtuamento da atenção dos homens para longe das decisões públicas. A segunda forma de definir a ação foi feita como referência à política moderna, cujos Estados são sustentados a custas de impostos e encargos da própria população e as decisões, ainda que políticas, são tomadas com base em um orçamento comum. De modo que a corrupção moderna, então, teria relação direta com o furto ao patrimônio público. “O corrupto moderno não estaria apenas prejudicando os cofres públicos, mas provocando problemas diretos aos indivíduos, danificando as ações de políticas públicas, o laço social. Assim a sociedade não se sustenta mais”, explicou o professor.

A terceira classificação atribuída pelo professor foi a “corrupção pós- moderna”, digna dos tempos “fluidos” da contemporaneidade. Segundo Janine Ribeiro, esta não envolve diretamente o furto e nem somente beneficia os atores com dinheiro ou valores. Ocorre, sim, troca de favores, de cargos, favorecimento em prestação de serviço, negociações internas, com a iniciativa privada ou até mesmo entre movimentos sociais, além da formação de caixas extras para os partidos políticos, teoricamente representantes diretos do mundo da governança. Assim, a essência de que “um favor paga outro” torna-se fundamental para a “corrupção pós-moderna”. “Às vezes os sujeitos são pessoalmente honestos, mas colaboram para a corrupção maior e a realizam em seu dia-a-dia”, completou.

Partido dos Trabalhadores – O exemplo dado e discutido pelo professor Janine Ribeiro e pelos participantes da conferência foi o da trajetória do Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) em seus quase nove anos de governo. “O PT, que sempre foi o partido ético brasileiro por excelência, no governo age diferente. Embora pouco tenha sido provado, existem fortes acusações sustentadas até mesmo pelo Supremo Tribunal Federal. O PT sempre fez comissões éticas internas, por que agora não faz mais?”, questionou.

O caso do “mensalão”, para o professor, é emblemático de como, para se manter no poder, determinado grupo político é capaz de ferir os próprios valores éticos. Ele alertou que, mesmo que se tenha simpatia por qualquer partido político ou até mesmo por gestões institucionais, não se deve ignorar as ações de corrupção. “A honestidade deveria ser um valor maior, não uma exceção”, avaliou. Por último, Janine Ribeiro lançou um questionamento ao público: “é possível governar sem corrupção?”
(Ascom da UFG)

Paul Virilio: “Minha língua estrangeira é a velocidade, é a aceleração do real” (L.M. DIPLOMATIQUE Brasil)

03 de Junho de 2011


“Minha língua estrangeira é a velocidade, é a aceleração do real”

por Guilherme Soares dos Santos

Uma das maiores personalidades da França atualmente, o filósofo e urbanista Paul Virilio ocupa um lugar de destaque na cena intelectual. Escritor prolífico, no seu currículo sucedem-se livros, exposições e artigos tais como Velocidade e política, Guerra e cinema, O espaço crítico, Máquina de visão e, recentemente, O grande acelerador [sem tradução ainda para o português] em que ele desenvolve uma cultura crítica, alguns dizem “catastrofista”, sobre as técnicas modernas, bem como seus efeitos de aceleração sobre nossos comportamentos e nossa percepção do mundo, no momento em que a economia mundial depende cada vez mais do investimento na tecnologia.

Paul Virilio recebe o filósofo brasileiro Guilherme Soares dos Santos em Paris, e fala com exclusividade ao Le Monde Diplomatique Brasil sobre suas teses, que tratam da corrida, da lógica da velocidade, ele que é visto por muitos como um reacionário ou um visionário, fala ytambém de sua biografia.

VIRILIO: Há uma coisa fundamental que explicará, talvez, o aspecto “catastrofista” do qual me acusam. Eu sou uma criança da guerra, um war baby, e é um elemento que não foi suficientemente compreendido, porque tentou-se fazer esquecer a guerra. Há dois momentos importantes na Segunda Guerra Mundial (eu a vivi, eu tinha 10 anos, eu nasci em 1932). Houve primeiramente a Guerra Relâmpago, a Blitzkrieg. Censurou-se esse aspecto, e alguns historiadores negam a blitz, isto é, o fato de que a velocidade esteve na base da grande ruína, primeiro da Polônia, e em seguida da França. E então essa Blitzkrieg se esgotou nos países do leste e na União Soviética, porque lá havia a profundidade de campo que permitia amortecer. Eu sou, portanto, uma criança da Blitzkrieg, eu diria mesmo que eu sou talvez o único, o único que desde então jamais cessou de ser marcado pelo poder da velocidade. Não é somente o poder dos transportes, os carros de assalto contra a cavalaria polonesa que desembainhava o sabre contra os panzers… Há também a guerra das ondas da qual eu sou o filho: “Pom, pom, pom, pom”… a rádio de Londres que eu escutava no escuro com o meu pai. Há dois momentos capitais: a Blitzkrieg e a deportação que vai, aliás, junto com o mesmo movimento de invasão. Se a guerra de 1914 foi uma guerra de posição em que os exércitos se exterminaram no mesmo lugar durante anos, com a deportação, conduziu-se à Shoah no curso da Segunda Guerra Mundial.

DIPLOMATIQUE: O senhor é muito sensibilizado pelas tragédias que ocorrem em nossa época. O senhor quis inclusive que fosse criado um “Museu dos Acidentes”, após a exposição feita sobre esse tema na Fundação Cartier para a Arte Contemporânea. O senhor já avançou essa ideia, mas por enquanto sem sucesso junto às instituições, e agora o senhor propõe a criação de uma “Universidade do Desastre”. De que se trata exatamente? Não se poderia pensar que a guerra terá sido, para o senhor, uma universidade do desastre?

VIRILIO: Com efeito. Quando eu falo de “Universidade do Desastre” não é de modo algum o desastre da universidade, é o contrário: eu quero dizer que “o pior provoca o melhor”. A universidade europeia apareceu em Bolonha e alhures aproximadamente em 1100, 1200, após o “grande medo” do ano 1000, em oposição à grande barbárie. E ela foi, essa universidade, um coletivo judeo-cristão, greco-latino e árabe. Alguns negam o grande medo do primeiro milênio, como alguns negam, hoje, a blitz. Há aí alguma coisa que, no meu entendimento, faz parte do segredo da velocidade. Se “o tempo é dinheiro”, a velocidade é poder. Eu lembro que para os banqueiros, para que haja mais-valia, é preciso que haja a velocidade de troca. A questão da velocidade é uma questão mascarada; não mascarada por um complô, mas mascarada por sua simplicidade. Riqueza e velocidade estão vinculadas. É conhecido o vínculo da riqueza e do poder como da lei do mais forte. Mas a lei do mais forte é a lei do mais rápido. A questão da “dromologia” é a questão da velocidade que, hoje, mudou de natureza. Na origem, a velocidade é o tesouro dos faraós; é a tesaurização, quer dizer, a acumulação e, então, muito rapidamente, tornar-se-á especulação. E aí o movimento de acumulação vai passar na aceleração. Os dois estão vinculados. Acumulação do tesouro que tornar-se-á tesouro público, em seguida especulação, e hoje financeirização com os sistemas de cotação automática em alta frequência que fazem explodir a bolsa de valores. Veja, estamos diante de algo extraordinário, é que nós não sabemos o que é a velocidade em nossos dias. As pessoas me dizem que é preciso uma economia política da velocidade, e, de fato, é preciso uma, mas é preciso primeiro uma dromologia, ou seja, revelar na vida política, no sentido amplo do poder, a natureza da velocidade em nosso tempo. Essa velocidade mudou de natureza. Essencialmente ela foi a revolução dos transportes. Até o século XX, até a blitz, vimos que a revolução das riquezas é uma revolução dos transportes: o cavalo, o navio, o trem, o avião, os sinais mecânicos.

DIPLOMATIQUE: No final do século XX, passa-se não mais à revolução dos transportes, mas à das transmissões instantâneas.

VIRILIO: Durante a guerra, ainda garotinho, eu participei da Resistência com os meus pais graças à guerra das ondas que já era uma guerra eletromagnética. Uma guerra da velocidade das ondas. Marconi e sua invenção era, também, uma revolução da velocidade. Começava-se a pôr em obra a velocidade das ondas eletromagnéticas, isto é, das ondas da velocidade da luz. E, claro, com a televisão, os computadores e a Internet, nós entramos numa fase que hoje atinge o seu limite; a velocidade da luz em que o tempo humano, o tempo da negociação, da especulação, em que a inteligência do homem, do especulador, dos cotadores é ultrapassada pelos automatismos. Aliás, quando a bolsa quebrou em 6 de maio do ano passado em Wall Street, em alguns milésimos de segundos houve 23.000 operações, o sistema entrou em pane e bilhões foram perdidos em dez minutos.

DIPLOMATIQUE: O que preocupa o senhor são os limites do tempo humano?

VIRILIO: Sim, é preciso trabalhar sobre a natureza do poder da velocidade atualmente, porque a velocidade da luz é um absoluto e é o limite do tempo humano. Nós estamos no “tempo-máquina”; o tempo humano é sacrificado como os escravos eram sacrificados no culto solar de antigamente. Eu o digo, nós estamos num novo Iluminismo em que a velocidade da luz é um culto. É um poder absoluto que se esconde atrás do progresso, e é por isso que eu afirmo que a velocidade é a propaganda do progresso. Eu não tenho nada contra o progresso. Quando eu digo que é preciso “ir mais devagar”, alguns zombam de mim. Pensam que eu condeno a revolução dos transportes, dos trens, dos carros, dos aviões, que eu sou contra os computadores e contra a Internet. Não é nesse nível que as coisas estão em jogo…

DIPLOMATIQUE: O que o senhor combate é a aceleração do real que põe em questão a percepção das aparências sensíveis e daquilo que a fenomenologia chama de “ser-no-mundo”?

VIRILLIO: Sim, o que a revolução dos transportes era para a aceleração da história e os movimentos migratórios, a revolução das transmissões instantâneas o é para a aceleração da realidade percebida. É um acontecimento alucinante, estupeficante. A velocidade é uma ebriedade. Uma embriaguez que pode ser “scópica” ou sonora – daí, aliás, a passagem do muro do som. Com as telecomunicações, utiliza-se a força de impacto da aceleração para fazer passar coisas que não estão na realidade pública, ou seja, no espaço real público, mas na realidade privada, ou antes transmitidas em tempo real por sociedades privadas. A tal ponto que a questão da imaginação, e aquela, filosófica, do “ser-no-mundo”, do aqui e do agora, tornam-se centrais. Nós estamos, assim, em plena crise da ciência, do que eu chamo de “acidente dos conhecimentos”, “acidente das substâncias” e “acidente das distâncias”. Essa questão da velocidade, desde Einstein, está no cerne da relatividade outrora especial, e hoje generalizada, que está em vias de se chocar contra um muro, o que eu chamo de “muro do tempo”. O que se passou em Wall Street me interessa muito porque as pessoas de Wall Street se chocaram contra o muro do tempo e o muro do dinheiro. É um fenômeno político maior no momento em que os algoritmos e os programas de computador dominam a vida econômica, e eu pretendo que a “relatividade especial” deveria ser um problema encarado pelo Estado. Se o século XX foi o século da conquista do ar e do espaço, eu penso que o século XXI deveria se questionar não somente sobre as nanotecnologias, mas, também, sobre as nanocronologias, isto é, sobre o tempo infinitesimal, sobre a conquista do “infinitamente pequeno do tempo”.

DIPLOMATIQUE: Parece-me que, nos textos do senhor, o estilo quer sempre ecoar o assunto estudado, e quando senhor pensa a velocidade, é a própria escrita que deve ir rápido.

VIRILIO: Absolutamente. E nesse sentido, como o mostra Proust, todo verdadeiro escritor escreve “numa espécie de língua estrangeira”. Minha língua estrangeira é a velocidade, é a aceleração do real. No que respeita à velocidade da minha escrita, trata-se da herança dos futuristas, e eu sinto a dromologia como uma musicologia. O problema não é nem de acelerar nem de desacelerar, mas de seguir uma linha melódica.

DIPLOMATIQUE: Há quem diga que o senhor pratica uma “escrita rapsódica”.

VIRILIO: Trata-se do ritmo. As sociedades antigas eram sociedades ritmológicas. Havia o calendário, a liturgia, as festas que estruturavam a linha melódica de tal ou qual sociedade. Os ritmos são muito importantes, você sabe, pois trata-se do sopro. Quando Bergson e Einstein se encontraram, eles não se compreenderam a esse respeito. O primeiro falava de “duração”, do vivo; o segundo, do vazio e do veloz. Saiba, no entanto, que será necessário conciliá-los, caso contrário o futuro do século XXI será um caos global pior que o nazismo ou o comunismo, que não tem nada a ver com a anarquia. Não, um caos global pior que tudo!

DIPLOMATIQUE: É por isso que o pensamento do senhor torna-se mais e mais dramático e religioso nos últimos tempos?

VIRILIO: Eu sou um católico que se converteu já adulto, isso é importante. Meu pai era comunista, e minha mãe, católica. Acontece que eu conheci o abade Pierre e padres operários. Mas eu permaneço sozinho sobre a minha senda.

DIPLOMATIQUE: Alguns criticam o senhor por descrever situações que seriam exagerações fantasistas, quando o senhor descreve este temor da solidão gerado pelas telecomunicações, notadamente pela Internet ou o celular. Não estaria o senhor realizando, talvez, uma especulação sobre “mundos possíveis”, seguindo uma espécie de método “transcendental” de investigação?

VIRILIO: Eu quero reunir o que foi separado, quero dizer, a filosofia e a física. Trata-se fundamentalmente de uma reinvenção filosófica para fazer frente a esta matematização do mundo, esta rapidez que ultrapassa a consciência. Eu me sinto no limiar de uma filosofia sem igual. Tal como Heráclito ou Parmênides, estamos aqui na origem – daí a Universidade do Desastre. Todo o trabalho desta seria um questionamento sobre o “desastre do êxito”. O que se acaba de descrever é o sucesso da tecnociência. Ora, é imperativo reconciliar e lançar a “filociência”. O que está aí em jogo é a vida ou a morte da humanidade. Se o homem não pode mais falar e se ele transfere o poder de enunciação a aparelhos, encontramo-nos, pois, diante de uma tirania sem igual. Físicos que são meus amigos estão conscientes disso, do que se perfila, um “acidente dos conhecimentos”. Isso nos conduz à árvore da vida que só tem referência na origem do Gênese, ou seja, o mito da vida… E aí eu o digo enquanto cristão e enquanto escritor: o acidente dos conhecimentos é o pecado original.

DIPLOMATIQUE: O que significa em nossa época “ser sábio”, quando nós somos forçados a uma especialização crescente e incessante, assim como à busca de uma “resposta automatizada” nos motores de pesquisa e nos bancos de dados que ultrapassam de longe o que a memória individual pode abarcar em uma vida? Como nós podemos cultivar nossa lucidez nesta maré enlouquecedora de informações?

VIRILIO: No que me toca mais diretamente, eu sou um urbanista, quer dizer que eu trabalho sobre o habitat. E o próprio de um urbanista é trabalhar sobre o habitar, o “ser-aqui”. O “ser-aqui-junto”. É isso o habitat: é o lugar de nossos hábitos. Os dois mantêm um vínculo muito estreito, isto é, a possibilidade de durar; o hábito é o que se reproduz. É o “ser-junto”. Não simplesmente o “ser-junto” do socius, mas o “ser-junto” da natureza no habitat comum com a nossa irmã, a chuva, e o nosso irmão, o sol, como diriam os franciscanos… É isso a arquitetura! É abrigar o vivente.

DIPLOMATIQUE: Perante o excesso contemporâneo de informações, e à velocidade sempre acelerada do desenrolar dos acontecimentos se desdobrando mundialmente nas imagens de nossas telas, não estamos testemunhando uma verdadeira desconstrução da cultura geral?

VIRILIO: Você utilizou na sua pergunta a palavra “desconstrução”. Eu creio que Derrida tinha razão para o fim do século XX. O início do século XX é a destruição pura e simplesmente através da ruína das cidades, através da ruína dos corpos. É a destruição; não se pode dizer que Auschiwtz ou Hiroshima sejam “desconstruções”… São puras destruições. Ora, eu creio – e eu o digo e o escrevo – que o século XXI será a desorientação, quer dizer, a perda de todas as referências – se a humanidade continuar desse jeito, e ela não continuará. Portanto, eu não creio de maneira alguma no fim do mundo. Mas o que eu quero dizer é a desorientação: não sabemos mais onde estamos nem no espaço nem no tempo. E aí, o geômetra que eu sou, o arquiteto que eu sou, sabe o que é a orientação. A arquitetura é primeira; ela é composição; ela é habitat comum entre os seres e as coisas. Pois ser é “ser-no-mundo”, e é o que eu digo: o problema não é de ser, mas de ser-no-mundo, em outras palavras, de ser-no-corpo-territorial. Isso não tem nada a ver com nacionalismo. Simplesmente não se pode ser sem “ser-no-mundo”. Em nossa época, todavia, o essencial se passa no vazio. Se você olhar hoje em dia, o poder não é mais geopolítico, religado ao solo, ele é aeropolítico: as ondas, os aviões e os foguetes traçam o porvir. A história se transferiu da terra ao céu, com toda a dimensão mística de adoração do cosmos, do grande vazio sideral, das ondas que se propagam etc. que isso supõe. As sociedades históricas eram sociedades geopolíticas, ou seja, inscritas nos lugares. O acontecimento, conforme com que eu digo, o acontecimento “tem lugar”; logo existe uma natureza do lugar que tange ao acontecimento. E essa relação com o “ter lugar” foi ocultada. É uma noção tão banal… Significa, portanto, que eu não posso ser sem ter lugar. Não é um problema de identidade – não, situado, orientado, in situ, hic et nunc, aqui e agora.

DIPLOMATIQUE: Uma última pergunta. O senhor pensa que o sistema econômico já está sendo transtornado pela ecologia?

VIRILIO: Doravante a economia e a ecologia devem fundir-se porque o mundo é finito, porque o mundo é demasiado pequeno para o progresso. Nós esgotamos a matéria do mundo, nós poluímos sua substância e nós poluímos suas distâncias. E nós estamos perante à fusão próxima da ecologia e da economia. Vê-se bem as dificuldades com o encontro do Grupo de Informação sobre o Clima em Copenhague. Vê-se bem a dificuldade que há em plena crise econômica, nos Estados Unidos e no mundo, a tomar medidas ecológicas. Portanto, inevitavelmente, o fato de que a Terra é muito pequena para a velocidade, para a velocidade do progresso, exige a fusão dos dois. Daí a importância de uma Universidade do Desastre e a reinvenção de um pensamento, de um intelectual coletivo, como o foi a universidade das origens. É indispensável. Até o momento ela não existe; nós estamos na origem de um novo mundo. E eu gostaria de ser mais jovem para poder viver esse Novo Mundo que vai nascer na dor do confronto. Mas que é indispensável. Nenhum homem, seja qual for a sua cor política, não está à altura desse acontecimento que se assemelha à Renascença italiana… E ao mesmo tempo é tão excitante! É maravilhoso! Como já dizia Karl Krauss: “que grande época”!

Guilherme Soares dos Santos – Filósofo, mestre em filosofia política e ética pela Universidade Paris Sorbonne e, atualmente, é doutorando em filosofia contemporânea pela Universidade Paris 8, onde estuda o pensamento de Gilles Deleuze.

Foto e tradução: Guilherme Soares dos Santos

Palavras chave: Paul Virilio, velocidade, transformação, corrida, cultura, teoria