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The Lure of Whitehead

The Lure of Whitehead

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 496
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    The Lure of Whitehead
    Book Description:

    Once largely ignored, the speculative philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead has assumed a new prominence in contemporary theory across the humanities and social sciences. Philosophers and artists, literary critics and social theorists, anthropologists and computer scientists have all embraced Whitehead's thought, extending it through inquiries into the nature of life, the problem of consciousness, and the ontology of objects, as well as into experiments in education and digital media.

    The Lure of Whiteheadoffers readers not only a comprehensive introduction to Whitehead's philosophy but also a demonstration of how his work advances our emerging understanding of life in the posthuman epoch.

    Contributors: Jeffrey A. Bell, Southeastern Louisiana U; Nathan Brown, U of California, Davis; Peter Canning; Didier Debaise, Free U of Brussels; Roland Faber, Claremont Lincoln U; Michael Halewood, U of Essex; Graham Harman, American U in Cairo; Bruno Latour, Sciences Po Paris; Erin Manning, Concordia U, Montreal; Steven Meyer, Washington U; Luciana Parisi, U of London; Keith Robinson, U of Arkansas at Little Rock; Isabelle Stengers, Free U of Brussels; James Williams, U of Dundee.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4320-6
    Subjects: Philosophy, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. INTRODUCTION An Adventure of Thought
    (pp. 1-40)
    Nicholas Gaskill and A. J. Nocek

    Rarely have a philosopher’s fortunes changed so drastically—and in so short a time—as those of Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947). Not fifteen years ago, his speculative metaphysics stood at the margins of contemporary thought, dismissed as a baroque exercise in an outworn philosophical mode. But since the turn of the last century, his work has attracted the attention not only of a variety of philosophers but also of sociologists, new-media theorists, artists, and literary critics, all of whom have found it useful for addressing problems particular to their fields. As a result, one is now just as likely...


    • ONE A Constructivist Reading of Process and Reality
      (pp. 43-64)
      Isabelle Stengers

      The problem that I want to address in this essay is how to tackleProcess and Reality.This is a text whose obscurity has put off many readers, but one that I wish to defend against a particular way of being read.

      It is perfectly possible to suggest thatProcess and Realityoffers a new “conception of the world,” the master themes of which are complexity, emergence, self-organization, and so on. And, given that such themes form part of contemporary science and contribute to what is sometimes called the “postmodern” science of a creative universe, it may be further maintained...

    • TWO Scientism and the Modern World
      (pp. 65-91)
      Jeffrey A. Bell

      An important debate among contemporary philosophers concerns the very role of philosophy itself, and especially the nature of its relationship to science. James Ladyman and David Ross, for example, have recently argued that it is not philosophy but rather science, and more precisely physics, that best provides the answers philosophers have long asked about the nature of reality. The famous physicist Stephen Hawking states the point even more blithely in his latest book, concluding that “philosophy is dead.”¹ Ladyman and Ross may not go this far, but according to the “scientism” they endorse, they would indeed argue that philosophy’s only...

    • THREE What is the Style of Matters of Concern?
      (pp. 92-126)
      Bruno Latour

      In “A Theological Treatise,” Czesław Miłosz offers us a vivid image of what it is like to inhabit the “illusory experience” to which Whitehead says that orthodox philosophy introduces us. After linking the “notion of truth” with poetry, he presents the “behavior” of the latter as that of

      . . . a bird thrashing against the transparency

      Of a windowpane that testifies to the fact

      That we don’t know how to live in a phantasmagoria.

      Let reality return to our speech.¹

      And yet we seem to know very well how to live in a phantasmagoria, and it seems more and...

    • FOUR The Technics of Prehension: On the Photography of Nicholas Baier
      (pp. 127-154)
      Nathan Brown

      Nicolas Baier is a photographer, by which I mean: he digitizes the surfaces of antique mirrors and arrays lush black ink-jet prints of their distressed opacities over thirty feet of gallery space. Through a microscope, he meticulously photographs a postage-stamp-sized slice of meteorite over four thousand times and then assembles these thousands of photographs into a glossy six-by-eight-foot enlargement of impeccably precise resolution and immersive depth. When a computer crash saturates his monitor with a color field of densely pixilated red lines, receding toward an apparently distant horizon over a crimson sea beneath an incarnadine sky, he renders this image...


    • FIVE Whitehead’s Involution of an Outside Chance
      (pp. 157-186)
      Peter Canning

      Whitehead’s challenge to the age of science is, at its deepest stratum, where “it hath no bottom,” more clinical than critical. The claim to reduce the characteristic powers of life to an accidental result of the physical laws governing its elements is not simply an error; it is a symptom of thementalillness that affects human nature generally, but is florid in modernity with its “murder” of God. For God too is a symptom, but that symptom served to tie the knot whose unraveling exposes the brain to mental chaos and delirium when it tries to figure out what...

    • SIX Multiplicity and Mysticism: Toward a New Mystagogy of Becoming
      (pp. 187-206)
      Roland Faber

      Alfred N. Whitehead’s work exists, it seems, always anew, only in the form of its rediscovery. In fact, it is self-situated in between philosophy, science, and religion in such a form that it always arises in their interstices, today especially (as odd as it might seem) in the context of both poststructuralist philosophy and theology.¹ What at first glance looks dangerously inoperable and mutually exclusive has led me to think intensively about the rhizomatic connections between Whitehead and Deleuze, on the one hand, and points of contact “at the interstices” of poststructuralism and theology, on the other.²

      Given that these...

    • SEVEN The Event and the Occasion: Deleuze, Whitehead, and Creativity
      (pp. 207-230)
      Keith Robinson

      It is now recognized that the philosophical projects of the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and the British mathematical physicist and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead display remarkable affinities, despite the apparent dissimilarities in disciplinary backgrounds, styles, traditions, and influences. Both philosophers espouse a new metaphysics that is simultaneously a metaphysics of the new. The central category of this metaphysics of the new is “creativity,” and for each philosopher temporality is a condition of creativity. I want to explore the idea that Deleuze and Whitehead each emphasize and valorize different modalities of time in the structure of creativity, giving us two approaches...

    • EIGHT Whitehead and Schools X, Y, and Z
      (pp. 231-248)
      Graham Harman

      Alfred North Whitehead is generally described as a “process philosopher.” Little wonder, since his major book is entitledProcess and Reality,it inspired the so-called process theology movement, and kindred phrases such as “process studies” automatically suggest a Whiteheadian influence. The bond between Whitehead and the word “process” is obviously unbreakable, and I will waste no energy attempting to break it. Instead, I want to note an ambiguity in the term “process” that encourages a misleading assessment not only of Whitehead, but of the entire present-day landscape of Continental philosophy. Above all, Whitehead has been linked too closely in recent...

    • NINE Whitehead’s Curse?
      (pp. 249-266)
      James Williams

      I will call it Whitehead’s gift. In truth, I do not know who delivered it to the class. The contraption appeared one day in the science corner, perhaps another hare brained initiative by the overambitious deputy. But once the time machine began to operate, it became possible to teach according to Whitehead’s ideals. Each pupil chose a destination suited to his or her favorite lesson. We devised experiments to test during the voyage. The subsequent lesson lived from the excitement of what we discovered through those one-way windows in our invisibility-cloaked machine: a dinosaur succumbing to fumes in a deep...

    • TEN Cutting Away from Smooth Space: Alfred North Whitehead’s Extensive Continuum in Parametric Software
      (pp. 267-296)
      Luciana Parisi

      According to Alfred N. Whitehead, there are no numbers without group, no unity without process. But as the quotation above also serves to illustrate, Whitehead believed that there are processes of another kind that do not correspond to the world-process (the actual world). Whitehead is specifically addressing mathematical abstractions. This essay instead will address the mode of abstraction involved in the computational processing of data and in particular in the use of parametric software in architectural design. It will argue that the computational power of parametric software does not simply involve the design of space according to given sets or...


    • ELEVEN Possessive Subjects: A Speculative Interpretation of Nonhumans
      (pp. 299-311)
      Didier Debaise

      Whitehead’s philosophy can be renewed in the context of a reconstruction of the thought of the subject. This is the hypothesis to which I would like to give sense by starting with a proposition: “apart from the experiences of subjects there is nothing, nothing, nothing, bare nothingness” (PR,167).¹ If we make an immediate abstraction of the repetitive form that gives it a particular status, this proposition at first seems to smoothly extend some of the principal events of contemporary philosophy. Let us limit ourselves to one of the major references constituting the interior space from which Whitehead constructs his...

    • TWELVE Another Regard
      (pp. 312-331)
      Erin Manning

      In a piece entitled “The Silence Between,” Dawn Prince-Hughes writes of an encounter with a bonobo chimpanzee, Kanzi, which sets the stage for a rethinking of the deep “regard” Prince-Hughes shares with apes of all kinds. Having flown to Decatur, Georgia, at the invitation of primatologist and linguist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Prince-Hughes finds herself alone with Kanzi. She writes:

      Naturally, I fell into the gorilla language I knew, a language of body, mind, and spirit. Kanzi and I played chase up and down the fence line, both of us on all fours, smiling in a sea of fun and deep breaths....

    • THIRTEEN Of “Experiential Togetherness”: Toward a More Robust Empiricism
      (pp. 332-359)
      Steven Meyer

      Let me begin by invoking an occasion deep within the Whitehead archive, the publication of an article titled “E Pluribus Togetherness,” by one Hugh Rodney King, which appeared in the August 1957 issue ofHarper’s Magazine.¹ Whitehead was hardly unknown to the editors of the journal—Jacques Barzun, author of the wonderfulStroll with William Jamesa quarter century later and already a Columbia institution, supervised the book reviews, and the same issue contains an article by the management-guru-to-be Peter F.Drucker on “The New Philosophy Comes to Life,” touting a “new emphasis on process”—yet little has come down to...

    • FOURTEEN The Order of Nature and the Creation of Societies
      (pp. 360-378)
      Michael Halewood

      To state, as seems to be done in the title of this essay, that there is an order to nature that is distinct from an active social realm runs the risk of painting Whitehead as a somewhat traditional thinker. It is to situate him as an advocate of the abiding split between the hard natural sciences, which are concerned with the blind, mechanistic laws of the physical world, and those softer sociocultural analyses, which deal with the contingent patterns of human behavior. Even if it is agreed that the study of the social is indeed scientific, there are few who...

    • FIFTEEN Imaginative Chemistry: Synthetic Ecologies and the Construction of Life
      (pp. 379-414)
      A. J. Nocek

      Artificial Life is alive and well. Despite the perception, ALife was not simply a late-twentieth-century silicon-based fad, with over-ambitious goals of creating lifein silico.In fact, the discipline may be closer to synthesizing life from the bottom-up than it has ever been. In the twenty-first century, ALife has set its sites on the “holy grail,” the synthesis ofwetlife, from chemical building blocks to living systems. The protocell, or the minimal synthetic cell, seems to no longer be a question of if, but of when it exists.¹ This latter point is itself highly contentious, since there is no...

  9. Contributors
    (pp. 415-418)
  10. Index
    (pp. 419-430)