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The Universe of Things

The Universe of Things: On Speculative Realism

Series: Posthumanities
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    The Universe of Things
    Book Description:

    From the rediscovery of Alfred North Whitehead's work to the rise of new materialist thought, including object-oriented ontology, there has been a rapid turn toward speculation in philosophy as a way of moving beyond solely human perceptions of nature and existence. Now Steven Shaviro maps this quickly emerging speculative realism, which is already dramatically influencing how we interpret reality and our place in a universe in which humans are not the measure of all things.

    The Universe of Thingsexplores the common insistence of speculative realism on a noncorrelationist thought: that things or objects exist apart from how our own human minds relate to and comprehend them. Shaviro focuses on how Whitehead both anticipates and offers challenges to prevailing speculative realist thought, moving between Whitehead's own panpsychism, Harman's object-oriented ontology, and the reductionist eliminativism of Quentin Meillassoux and Ray Brassier.

    The stakes of this recent speculative realist thought-of the effort to develop new ways of grasping the world-are enormous as it becomes clear that our inherited assumptions are no longer adequate to describe, much less understand, the reality we experience around us. As Shaviro acknowledges, speculative realist thought has its dangers, but it also, like the best speculative fiction, holds the potential to liberate us from confining views of what is outside ourselves and, he believes, to reclaim aesthetics and beauty as a principle of life itself.

    Bringing together a wide array of contemporary thought, and evenhandedly assessing its current debates,The Universe of Thingsis an invaluable guide to the evolution of speculative realism and the provocation of Alfred North Whitehead's pathbreaking work.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4281-0
    Subjects: Philosophy, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. INTRODUCTION Whitehead and Speculative Realism
    (pp. 1-13)

    This book takes a new look at the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947) in the light of a number of recent developments in continental philosophy that can be grouped under the rubrics of “speculative realism” and (to a lesser extent) “new materialism.” I seek to relate the divergent programs and goals of these new strains in philosophical thought both positively and negatively to Whitehead’s own project. The biggest reason for looking at the resonances and connections between these two bodies of thought is this: Whitehead and the speculative realists alike question the anthropocentrism that has so long been...

    (pp. 14-26)

    In “Nature Alive,” the eighth chapter of his last book,Modes of Thought, Alfred North Whitehead writes that “the notion of life implies a certain absoluteness of self-enjoyment . . . the occasion of experience is absolute in respect to its immediate self-enjoyment” (MT, 150–51). In other words, life is a process of pure auto-affection. It involves a “self-enjoyment” that is both “immediate” and “absolute.” Self-enjoyment is “immediate” in that it happens prereflexively, in the moment itself. I enjoy my life as I am living it; my enjoyment of the very experience of living is precisely what it means...

    (pp. 27-44)

    Alfred North Whitehead writes that “a new idea introduces a new alternative; and we are not less indebted to a thinker when we adopt the alternative which he discarded. Philosophy never reverts to its old position after the shock of a new philosopher” (PR, 11). In the last several years, such a “new alternative” and such a “shock” have been provided by the rise of speculative realism. The speculative realist thinkers have dared to renew the enterprise of what Whitehead called speculative philosophy: “the endeavour to frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every...

    (pp. 45-64)

    The science fiction short story “The Universe of Things,” by British writer Gwyneth Jones (2011, 48–61), tells of an encounter between a human being and an alien. The story is part of Jones’s “Aleutian” cycle: a series of novels and tales set in a near-future earth that is visited, colonized, and ultimately abandoned by an alien humanoid race. The Aleutians (as these aliens are called) have technologies that are superior to ours. Also, they are of indeterminate gender; human beings tend to be discom-fited by this. If anything, the Aleutians seem to be vaguely more “feminine” than “masculine,” but...

    (pp. 65-84)

    Speculative realism is best addressed in the plural. There is not just one; rather, there are a number of speculative realisms. The four thinkers—Harman, Brassier, Grant, and Meillassoux—who spoke at the initial speculative realism conference at Goldsmiths College at the University of London in 2007 (Brassier, Grant, Harman, and Meillassoux 2007) in fact have vastly different positions and programs. And still more varieties of speculative realism have been enunciated since. What justifies uniting these diverse new modes of thought is that they have a common starting point. The four original speculative realists—Quentin Meillassoux, Ray Brassier, Graham Harman,...

    (pp. 85-107)

    What is it like to be a rock? Rudy Rucker’s science fiction short story “Panpsychism Proved” (2007) provides one possible answer. An engineer at Apple named Shirley invents a new “mindlink” technology, which allows people to “directly experience each other’s thoughts.” When two individuals swallow “microgram quantities of entangled pairs of carbon atoms,” they enter into direct telepathic contact. Shirley hopes to seduce her coworker Rick by melding their minds together. Unfortunately, he has other plans. She ingests a batch of entangled carbon particles, but Rick dumps his corresponding batch on a boulder. Instead of getting in touch with Rick,...

    (pp. 108-133)

    The status ofthoughtremains a vexing problem for speculative realism. The speculative realists all reject the familiar Kantian and phenomenological “image of thought” (to use the felicitous phrase from Deleuze 1994, 129–67) that assumes an essential bond between thinking and its object, “the primordial interplay of human and world” (Harman 2011b, 8). For Kant, of course, these poles can never be separated: “Thoughts without content are empty; intuitions without concepts are blind” (1998, 193, B75/A51). This means that concepts and intuitions (sensory impressions) must always go together; trying to have one without the other will only lead to...

    (pp. 134-156)

    All varieties of speculative realism, I have been arguing, must return to Kant in order to rework the terms of his settlement among conflicting philosophical claims. Only in this way is it possible for us to escape the correlational circle to which Kant would otherwise seem to have consigned us. Overall, Kant offers us a philosophy of finitude, which is to say one of limits that we can never get beyond. “Human reason” is confronted “with questions which it cannot dismiss . . . but which it also cannot answer, since they transcend every capacity of human reason” (Kant 1998,...

    (pp. 157-164)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 165-180)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 181-183)