Despite his reactionary politics, I have a bit of a soft spot for Roger Scruton. This stems from taking an aesthetics course as an undergraduate, in which Scruton was the only analytic author who actually discussed aesthetics, who was interested in the sensory qualities of actual works of art. His genuine skill in explaining how the sensory qualities of music relate to its cognizable structure is, however, certainly used for evil in this viciously ignorant article on modern pop music. As Ian Mathers says, it’s a spectacular example of “erudition squandered on a man who refuses to actually engage with the things he wants to demonize; demonizing them because he doesn’t understand.” But it’s instructive to see Scruton going so wrong here, because it illustrates something interesting about aesthetics. Read more↴
We have all reason to rejoice that the things which environ us are appearances and not steadfast and independent existences; since in that case we should soon perish of hunger, both bodily and mental. (Hegel)
If aesthetics is first philosophy, perhaps we should replace the question “why is there something rather than nothing?” with “why does what is, appear?” This is the question that underlies my concerns with Harman’s withdrawn objects. Harman does think that objects do appear despite their withdrawal, and the relationship (tension?) between real objects and the sensuous objects, in which they appear and through which they interact, is central to his philosophy. Harman (or, I should say, Guerilla Metaphysics; doubtless he’s written more on this since) doesn’t address the question of how these sensuous objects appear, and I have difficulty seeing how his philosophy could explain that. If the object is wholly withdrawn, how could anything of the object appear? Indeed, in what way would the appearance of a wholly withdrawn object be the appearance of that object, rather than some other object? In this way, it seems to me that Harman’s theory actually risks destroying the objects it is supposed to be celebrating: if there is no way of understanding the connection between the table and the appearance of a table, in what sense is the thing genuinely a table, or a horse, or The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire? Read more↴
Recent posts at Object Oriented Philosophy and Larval Subjects made me think it’s worth disentangling a number of different ways in which objects could be thought to be “real.” First would be to maintain that objects cannot be reduced to their components, either physical or sensory (that is, there really is a chair over there, not just an aggregate of atoms or sense-perceptions). Second would be maintain that these objects exist independently of human minds, knowledge or perception. Third, this could be expanded to get away from a human/object binary, and so maintain that objects are independent of other objects: that in each interaction of an object with something else, there is something in that object over and above what is involved in that interaction. Fourth, one could universalize this position, saying that, not only is an object never completely involved in any particular relation, but that objects are withdrawn from all relations, that their core being is not involved in any relations at all.
Harman, I think, believes a theory must contain all these elements to genuinely count as a realism about objects; the reason I think it’s interesting to disentangle them is that I’m not immediately grabbed by the object-oriented part of object oriented philosophy. Read more↴
I’ve long been suspicious of anyone who attempts to give some kind of theoretical significance to a supposed distinction between “politics” and “the political.” Partly this is just linguistic; if you use “politics” as a noun you’re going want to use its adjectival form, “political,” at some point, and pretending that there’s a distinction between the two is just going to confuse you. But there is a more important problem with the purported distinction, which is that it obscures a genuine difficulty in the conception of politics. Drawing a distinction between, say, “politics” as a good practice and “the political” as a bad reification (or “politics” as a bad institutionalization and “the political” as a good ontological condition, or whatever other distinction you want to make; no-one agrees on what the actual distinction between the two terms is) is an attempt to fence-off some aspect of politics as unproblematic, to declare, by linguistic fiat, that the complexities in the concept of politics have been resolved.
In fact, however, the concept of politics is essentially problematic, and there is no aspect of it that can be protected from this difficulty. Read more↴
Poetic as it is, “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” is surely quite false, both as an empirical description of history and as a summary of Marx’s broader theory. For the same reason in both cases, in fact. It’s not true that, throughout history, “oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another,” because, as the Marx writes a few lines later, “in the earlier epochs of history, we find almost everywhere a complicated arrangement of society into various orders, a manifold gradation of social rank,” while “our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinct feature: it has simplified class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps.” The direct confrontation of oppressor and oppressed is not something actually visible in history, but an underlying tendency that has yet to be fully realized. And, indeed, the way in which class struggle is not simply visible is an important feature of Marx’s theory. Read more↴
It was very considerate of Nina Power to publish an article on Rancière, Feuerbach and the early Marx just when I’ve been trying to figure out this relationship, and so when I’m in a position to take advantage of her very clear discussion. One thing that’s not clear to me, though, is the relationship between universality, which was the central term for the Young Hegelians, and equality, which is the central term for Rancière. Nina seems to consider the two terms to be more-or-less interchangeable, but I think there’s a crucial difference between the two. The distinction is what Marx calls:
a question of the opposition of the universal as ‘form’, in the form of universality, and the universal as ‘content’.