University of Warwick, 3 November 2020
K. Revue trans-européenne de philosophie et arts
Université de Lille, Laboratoire Cecille
Call for papers
YEAR IV 2021 (1), 6
LUCRETIUS: NATURE UNFOUNDED
Bench’io sappia che obblio
preme chi troppo all’età propria increbbe
K. proposes an issue dedicated to the figure and thought of Titus Lucretius Carus because thinking about nature appears to be an urgent philosophical and political task. To this end, it is undoubtedly compelling to recreate a genealogy capable of showing that it has never existed a perfect and uncorrupted nature which an ecological thought and practice could restore. It may be possible, instead, that nature has never existed except as an event of encounters between materials, bodies, thoughts. In order to safeguard that type of event, it is necessary to work on keeping open the chance of the event itself.
By choosing Lucretius as the core of our next issue, we would like to discuss the possibility that a physics, i.e. an investigation of the “nature of things”, does exist. Dating back to Democritus, Epicurus and then Lucretius, this type of investigation should contrast (both in the past and in the future) the “myth” of nature as a place of individual and collective reconciliation; as a space for the domestication of conflicts and of our human fears; the same fears that relegate us to the hands of power, to any form of power.
By narrating the history of humanity, Lucretius specifies that the disaster that man has reached (the plague description at the end of De rerum natura is a plastic image of this disaster) does not derive from his customs and traditions, from his inventions and from industriousness, but, as argued by Gilles Deleuze, from that side of the myth and from that evil infinity that has slipped into his feelings and his works.
Lucretian physics embodies a philosophy of affirmation because it clashes with the prestige of the negative, it destitutes every power of the negative, denies the spirit of the negative the right of speaking in the name of philosophy. In our opinion, ecology today needs this physics, i.e. this work of deconstructing myths, ecology does not need a generic naturalism. In this perspective, as Lucretius identifies and fights the myths of his time (“in crescendo during his age”, to quote Leopardi), for us it is a matter of identifying the myths of our age and oppose them through a physics, or, if you like, an ecology.
In his beautiful, dramatic, late writings, Louis Althusser warns us on this. Materialism, or rather: this “underground current of the materialism of the encounter”, the French philosopher writes about and of which Lucretius is one of the most significant expressions, has nothing to do with the rationalist tradition. That is, it does not seek any Reason, any Cause, any Sense of events because it knows that everything derives from a rain of atoms that occasionally deviate from their parallels to create and destroy worlds. The acclaimed “clinamen” operates in the infinite void. For us, trying to define a destituent position in the field of political gestures and critical thinking, it will be particularly interesting to discuss a philosophy of emptiness, through Lucretius. The vacuum, is indeed already there, even before the fall of the atoms. It can thus be argued, without any doubt, that Lucretian materialism originates from nothing, and from an infinitesimal and aleatory variation of nothing which is the deviation of the fall. Is there an equally powerful dismissal of the claim of philosophy to tell the truth?
We know that Epicureanism means to found an ethics on the physics. It is therefore legitimate to ask ourselves how it is possible to found a speculative reflection around the practical behaviour of man, especially when searching for the true good right here in the world, around the nothing, in an infinite empty space, under an endless rain of atoms. The hypothesis that we would like to put forward in this issue is the following: if physics, this materialist philosophy of Lucretius, presents itself as an investigation into nothingness, that is, if it destitutes every truth, every idea of the world, every sense of things, the ethics deriving from it is necessarily an ethics of liberation even from the idea of any ethics. In other words, Roman Epicureanism, unlike the Greek one, in the context of the crisis of the first century B.C. is presented as a conceptual backlash endowed with a strong revolutionary charge, with great dissolving faculties.
Can a kind of thought that intends to change the conditions of individual existence also become a “destituent power”? Does the destitution of the world by a philosophy of emptiness succeed in prefiguring a political rupture and innovation, what we define as a “destituent power”?
Our next issue on Lucretius may revolve around one of the following issues:
1) Lucretius is a thinker of the things of nature and of the catastrophe of history. We would like to verify if this way of seeing the world contributes to defining a toolbox for an unprecedented ecological thought.
2) In the infinite universe, things are born all the time and they end. Nature is an infinite sum whose elements do not add up to become a whole, they always remain singular beings. Nature is thus an affirmation of the multiple and of the different as a perpetual source of joy. The power of pluralism that we find in Lucretius’ work seems to be particularly productive in the field of the arts: in the visual arts (from the Renaissance to Enrico Baj), in literature (from Alberti and Montaigne to Leopardi, Calvino, Ponge), in theatre (Jean François Peyret, Maguy Marin, Virgilio Sieni, Calixto Bieito), in cinema (Malick, Godard, Straub).
3) If the universe is multiple and different, the writing of this universe must be equally varied, contemplating the possibility of the explosion of discourse and its codes. There is a common thread that links the formal choices of literary composition and the framework of a new cosmological model in Lucretius. Writing must not mimic reality, when Lucretius complains about the poverty of Latin compared to the original Greek, he is not trying to adapt words to things. Rather, the poet prefers creating an infinite game of combinations and intersections between words, whose purpose is not to repeat the rhythm of reality, but to recreate it. It is above all in the use of a new genre compared to the Epicurean tradition that Lucretius reveals his genius. It is poetry that allows him to re-make the world. Going back to the preplatonic tradition, Lucretius invents an everlasting model in the relationship between knowledge of the world and its story (Giordano Bruno, Leopardi, Calvino, Gadda).
4) Thinking about emptiness. In the wake of the late Althusser, we would like to question the materialist tradition starting from the dismissal of the object of the philosophy that it operates. Philosophy, with Epicurus, with Lucretius, is no longer the enunciation of Reason and the Origin of things, but the theory of their contingency. Starting from ancient materialism, we would like to trace the map of those thoughts, those gestures (political and aesthetic too) that dared to start from nothing, from nothingness, from emptiness. Studying Lucretius could allow to interrogate the modern political ontology in a different way, by tracing a path that could have a crucial epicenter in Nietzsche – a great reader of Lucretius – since the Nietzschean instance of the super-man (that is, those who make their impotence-groundlessness the reason for their actions-decisions, deciding for necessity and therefore breaking its implacability) moves precisely in the direction of Lucretius’ vision of the void conceived as an indeterminable chain of events.
5) The “destitutent power” can be a possible outcome of the philosophy of emptiness. An emancipatory ethic takes shape without problems for the followers of ancient materialism. From this perspective, the question of friendship, decisive in Epicureanism and other Hellenistic philosophical currents, can be studied. Perhaps it is also possible to move a further step. In other words, it will be necessary to verify whether this philosophy of emptiness is also capable of creating a new course for common life, that is, if it allows us to prefigure new institutions, if it is, in short, also a form of “destituent power”.
Deadline for submission of abstract: 7th December 2020 (max 2,500 characters)
Please specify if the abstract is for the “essays” or “readings” section.
Please send abstract to: email@example.com
Deadline for submission of papers: 11th April 2021.
Proposals may be submitted in English, Italian and French.
My book on Marx is now available for download at Audible.
- Marx in Motion
- A New Materialist Marxism
- By: Thomas Nail
- Narrated by: Paul Boehmer
- Length: 12 hrs
- Unabridged Audiobook
- Release date: 10-27-20
- Language: English
- Publisher: Tantor Audio
Karl Marx is the most historically foundational and systematic critic of capitalism to date, and the years since the 2008 financial crisis have witnessed a rebirth of his popular appeal. In a world of rising income inequality, right-wing nationalisms, and global climate change, people are again looking to the father of modern socialism for answers.
As this book argues, every era since Marx’s death has reinvented him to fit its needs. There is not one Marx forever and for all time. There are a thousand Marxes. As Thomas Nail contends, one of the most significant contributions of Marx’s work is that it treats theory itself as a historical practice. Reading Marx is not just an interpretative activity, but a creative one. As our historical conditions change, so do the kinds of questions we pose and the kinds of answers we find in Marx’s writing.
This book is a return to the writings of Karl Marx, including his underappreciated dissertation, through the lens of the pressing philosophical and political problems of our time: ecological crisis, gender inequality, colonialism, and global mobility. However, the aim of this book is not to make Marxism relevant by “applying” it to contemporary issues. Instead, Marx in Motion, the first new materialist interpretation of Marx’s work, treats Capital as if it were already a response to the present.©2020 Oxford University Press (P)2020 Tantor
More from the same
Why has something as simple as movement posed such enormous difficulties for philosophers and scientists? Why have the greatest minds of civilization dedicated their lives to discovering something genuinely immobile that would explain motion? Aristotle’s “unmoved mover,” Archimedes’ fixed “point,” Descartes’ “unmoveable” certainty, Newton’s divine clockmaker, and even Einstein’s idea of a block universe were part of this great effort. What motivated this important pursuit, and what are the consequences of it for us today? This is one of the critical questions my work tries to answer. This book takes readers on a journey through the first history of the philosophy of motion and offers a unique ontology of motion along the way.
As a five-year-old child, I vividly remember sitting outside on summer evenings in my grandmother’s front yard and watching the moonflowers bloom. Some bloomed in as quickly as two minutes. In that time, a typically hidden process, among other flowers, became visible to me for the first time. This experience was both exhilarating and disorienting. Was the world speeding up or was I slowing down, or both? It was a strange kind of vertigo. What usually appeared to be a static or stable bud or flower magically revealed itself to be a moving process if I just looked long enough. It suddenly became difficult to think of the moonflower in the same way. What if everything was like this but was hidden behind the thin veneer of apparently static objects? What new realities were out there if only I could wait long enough to see them?
I had a similar experience as a young adult when I first saw a time-lapse film. We have all seen a time-lapse video. A camera takes a photo every minute or an hour and runs the images together in a series. The result has always blown my mind. When I was seventeen, I saw the first-ever feature movie shot almost entirely with time-lapse photography. My eyes were glued to the screen, and my jaw remained dropped the entire time. I was afraid to blink or look away for fear of missing hours or days of action. There were no actors, no dialogue, just movements. The earth rippled and flowed like a river, clouds popped into and out of existence like phantoms, plants failed widely toward the sunshine, shadows walked the earth, city streets pumped red and white blood from car lights at night, and the stars whirled above.
This was the strangest and most beautiful film I had ever seen. This cult experimental film was Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance, directed by Godfrey Reggio in 1982 and set to music by Philip Glass. When asked in an interview why there was no dialogue in the film, Reggio replied mysteriously that our language “no longer describes the world in which we live.” That response baffled me for a long time, but now I think I understand. Perhaps what we need now is a new language.
This book introduces a time-lapse language for the present. It attempts to show the reader the moonflowers of the 21st century that reveal some of the hidden movements, patterns, and processes that define our world. Just as Godfrey Reggio took his viewers on a journey from the beginnings of earth to today’s concrete jungles, this book takes the reader on a journey through the history of motion. From the smallest to the largest scales of reality, the contemporary world is increasingly defined by movement and mobility. We used to refer to “glacial time” as an incomprehensibly long and almost immobile duration. Today because of climate change, we are watching glaciers move and recede like roaring rivers in a few minutes with the aid of time-lapse photography.
There is no doubt about it; the world’s processes are moving at an unstable rate. As such, there is an opportunity to discover some previously hidden processes of nature and a danger of complete confusion. This book aims to provide the reader with a history and philosophy of movement that avoids the dangers and reveals the processes.
My work on the philosophy of movement began in 2009 when I accepted a year-long Fulbright scholarship to work as a scholar-activist with the migrant justice movement No One is Illegal in Toronto. When I was completing my dissertation in political philosophy, I noticed an omission in the scholarship. Political philosophers past and present had almost nothing to say about migration and borders. They were seen as secondary and less important to the more central figure of the citizen and the authority of states and rights. But what about those without states and rights? The German philosopher Hannah Arendt had rightly identified stateless migrants as the fundamental paradox of the world nation-states. So I packed up and moved to Toronto to work with one of the most radical migrant justice movement in the world and see what political theory was missing.
The years 2009 to 2015 were busy years in which I read everything I could on migration and borders and started writing The Figure of the Migrant (2015) and Theory of the Border (2016). I aimed to take the priority of migrants and borders seriously. I wanted to invert the old political philosophies and start again with migrants and borders as society’s constitutive agents.
However, while I was writing these books, I encountered a problem. There was no apparent philosophical precedent for what I wanted to do. If I wanted to imagine a political philosophy of migration, I needed a new conceptual framework. I did not want to apply existing state-centric or critical models. This led me on a search for inspiration from the history of philosophy. I thought there would surely be some philosophers who had developed concepts based on the priority of movement that I might use for my purposes.
I quickly realized that I bit off more than I could chew. It turns out that almost every philosopher has an answer to the question, “what is motion?” I also discovered that no one had written a book covering the subject. I was on my own. So I began teaching myself as many teachers often do by teaching a class on the topic. I called the course “Philosophy of Movement.” The aim was to read as many different philosophers as possible and figure out which ones thought that movement was primary. To my surprise, most of the ones I expected to think so, like the process philosophers, didn’t, and several of the ones I had not expected did. It felt exciting to be genuinely surprised by the history of philosophy in this way. In the end, I took inspiration primarily from the Roman poet Lucretius and the German philosopher Karl Marx for my philosophical framework’s key concepts.
Instead of studying static objects, I wanted to study indeterminate flows and how they fold up into metastable states like eddies in a river. This was an idea I borrowed from Lucretius’ idea that things are woven like fluid threads of indeterminate swerves. Instead of studying structures, I wanted to study patterns of circulation. I borrowed this idea from Marx’s description of how the circulation of commodities transforms societies.
The real “ah-ha!” moment came when I was writing these early political books and discovered that the social patterns of motion that I was finding looked shockingly similar to how philosophers had defined motion. It seemed like more than a coincidence that ancient philosophers described being as a moving sphere with a static center and that ancient societies imagined themselves as walled centers of a spherical cosmos. The more I looked, the more I discovered a similar “centrifugal” pattern of motion across the ancient arts and sciences as well. Perhaps, I wondered, these patterns of motion are part of material history and play a constitutive role in all fields of knowledge. That was a big question and one I was desperately curious to answer.
My next step toward answering it was writing Being and Motion. This was where I first elaborated on the broader historical motivations and foundations of the philosophy of movement. This is where I first situated my philosophy and explicitly posed my kinetic hypothesis. I aimed to show that ontology was not the science of being qua being but a historical and material practice of inscription and description. Knowledge of reality is not representational but performative. Ontological practice has always been historical and shaped by the material technologies people have used to inscribe their thoughts. Like politics, art, and science, Ontology literally shapes and is shaped by the kinetic patterns of its time.
Being and Motion was an enormous project, but the bulk of the work remained after its completion. I was not even sure if I could do it or if it would produce the results I expected. Since it was a profoundly material and historical hypothesis, I had to do the “grey work of history” to find out. It took me a decade to do it, but I have now completed the two book-series,’ I set out to write.
The first series comprises six “core” books, each written with a similar organization on five significant areas of philosophy: ontology, politics, aesthetics, science, and nature. Each book provides a theory, history, and contemporary case study of the kinetic method. The purpose of each book is to redefine its subject area from a kinetic or process materialist perspective. The Figure of the Migrant (2015) and Theory of the Border (2016) develop a theory and history of what I call “kinopolitics” based on the study of patterns of social motion. Theory of the Image (2019) develops a “kinesthetics” of moving images in the arts. Theory of the Object (forthcoming) creates a “kinemetrics” of moving objects in the sciences. Theory of the Earth (forthcoming) develops a “geokinetics” of nature in motion, and Being and Motion (2018) develops an original historical ontology of motion.
The second series comprises several books, each written on a significant historical precursor to the philosophy motion. Each book offers a kinetic interpretation and close reading of one of these figures as philosophers who made motion their fundamental starting point. They include Lucretius I: An Ontology of Motion (2018), Lucretius II: An Ethics of Motion, 2020, Lucretius III: A History of Motion (under review), Marx in Motion: A New Materialist Marxism, 2020, and Woolf: Moments of Becoming (under review).
I have now begun working on a third book series that expands and applies the insights of the first two to various new areas. I hope the work will be useful to others within and outside philosophy.
|The Philosophy of Movement|
|I. Theory of Motion|
|I. The Figure of the Migrant||Kinopolitics|
|II. Theory of the Border||Kinopolitics|
|III. Being and Motion||Kinology|
|IV. Theory of the Image||Kinesthetics|
|V. Theory of the Object||Kinometrics|
|VI. Theory of the Earth||Geokinetics|
|II. Theorists of Motion|
|Lucretius I: An Ontology of Motion|
|Lucretius II: An Ethics of Motion|
|Lucretius III: A History of Motion|
|Marx in Motion: A New Materialist Marxism|
|Woolf: Moments of Becoming|
There is nothing in the mind that has not first been in the senses and nothing in the senses that has not already been in nature. This is the bold argument at the heart of Lucretius’ radical naturalism. The consequences of this simple idea are profound and have several ethical implications.
The argument of this chapter is that one of the main consequences of Lucretius’ naturalism is a materialist theory of the unconscious. This chapter unpacks this interesting theory through a close reading of lines 4.823–1057. The aim of the reading will be to show that when Lucretius flips ‘upside-down reasoning’ right-side up, it results in a completely transformed relationship between mind and nature. This is what I am calling the ‘material unconscious’.
More specifically, I would like to show the reader that this entails a unique theory of knowledge not exclusive to humans and a convincing rejection of utilitarian ethics. The main consequence of the material unconscious for ethics is that it redefines ethics as composed of practical and unconscious habits of motion – not conscious maxims, rational laws, virtues, or pleasure-seeking utilities.
If there is matter before there is mind (or body), historically speaking, then matter cannot be something useful to the mind. Rather, it means that the mind is already something material, natural, and thus ordered and reproduced in certain ways that shape the structure of utility, pleasure, and pain in ways that precede the mind’s desires (4.832–5).
The mind does not demand that the body act in useful ways, but rather the body already provides the immanent conditions of useful action in the first place. We could say the same of nature. Things do not emerge in nature to be useful to us, but rather nature creates its own uses – of which human uses are only a tiny subset. Nature uses itself through humans.
One of the reasons for our current ecological crisis is precisely the use of upside-down reasoning. Humans have treated their own bodies and nature as means to the ends of their minds – when the situation is precisely the inverse. If only we had taken Lucretius and pre-Western oral traditions seriously on this crucial point much earlier in the Western tradition, perhaps things might have turned out differently.
Seeing did not exist before light. Words did not exist before tongues. The body did not evolve for the sake of using its limbs, but rather the limbs and body are the material unconscious through which we exist in the first place (4.835–42). For example, food and water were not created to be useful for us. We only exist because there is food and water. Because food and water are structured the way they are, we, humans and animals, could come into existence in the first place.
It is completely inverted to place our desire for pleasure as a uniquely human or even ethical priority. Pleasure exists before humans. Humans only exist because there is pleasure in nature. We desire food and drink not despite entropy but precisely because of entropy. The very idea of food and drink is by definition dependent on entropic exhaustion, decay, and death, which precede us. We live not despite death but because there is already death. Only because other beings died can we live and desire food. Lucretius gives numerous examples that follow out the logic of this basic material priority (4.855–65).
One of the most ethically important products of this upside-down reasoning is the fear of death. However, far from being the end, death is actually the prior and immanent condition of being. We feel that death is a lack or an end only relative to a tiny portion of the universe. But our life is the result of death. Our desires exist only because of entropy and decay. What a strange thing to fear ourselves and our own moving mate- riality. Desire, by definition, cannot lack anything because the material conditions of our desire are already defined by an excessive movement of nature actively consuming itself.
When we think that things (our arms, for example) are ‘useful’ or ‘pleasurable’ for us, this is absolutely ridiculous, Lucretius says (4.855– 65). Our arms are already the biological conditions of our body from which ‘we’ are not distinct. To say something is pleasurable or useful is already to pretend that ‘we’ is some inner mental voice separate from the body, such that even our own arms are ‘useful to us’. Who is this ‘us’ that is not the arms? Who is this us that is not already nature?
This is a selection from Chapter 8 of Lucretius II: An Ethics of Motion on the material unconscious.
October 2, 2020
Congratulations on such an absolutely impressive array of scholarship, and of your dedication to philosophy and beyond in your career and teaching. In other words, for the time it takes to do the level of research, writing, ratiocinating, and creative flow, not to mention hard work, that you undertake. I’ve now read several of your essays and am currently working through Theory of the Image, which has awesome implications for several areas of learning, as does your work Being and Motion where you claim that we are in need of a new theory of ontology specific to motion, that motion has been neglected as ontological and I would agree. You write that movement is in all matters. But your work on Lucretius stands out as well. You have several other impressive books and articles. The back cover of Lucretius I reads: “The most original and shocking interpretation of Lucretius in the last forty years.”
Thank you for taking the time to read my work and to talk with me about it.
I’ll be working through it all for a while. I often have the insights and systems of Spinoza, Bergson, and Deleuze on my mind, and I have taught philosophy courses with success on the U.S. Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley, a place where, thankfully, pragmatism and many great artists and revolutionaries, as well as Mexican-American philosophers thrive and Mexican existentialism looms large.
It seems to me, you’re correct that the pairing of violence and the border have normalized in society, into everyday interactions, such as the problems of capitalism and unfair power structures. We are all now on the move, as you write, in multiple ways. As a white European American, my fears regarding anyone labeled foreigner should be suspect, but not the definition of terrorism. As a philosopher of race, I understand white terrorism. You’re a vocal champion of civil human rights and freedom of thought, as well, you write, “transformation of contemporary borders requires a shift in strategies of resistance: from bare life and the confrontations with sovereignty, as Agamben argues, to the concept of a radically inclusive solidarity beyond nations, states, and corporations.”
What role do you place your responsibility to public philosophy in this regard, what do you hope it can help accomplish both now and over time? I start here because it is such an important area to offer one’s insights and you have worked on these topics with great depth, such as in your work Theory of the Border or on the movement of the migrant. Where do we stand today?
In my case, all my work on movement began with a year-long project working with the migrant justice group No One is Illegal in Toronto. It was a transformative experience for me both practically and theoretically. It’s a much more radical and anarchist-inspired movement than most of what goes in in the US and pushes beyond liberal philosophies of citizenship and rights.
I am interested in migrant justice both as an important political (and perhaps even revolutionary) struggle beyond human rights as well as a theoretical project in which we find that the historical expulsion of migrants is one instance in a larger theoretical tradition of explaining motion by something else. Thus a find in the phenomenon of migration a new starting point for political theory.
I hope that my writing, teaching, and activism can play a small part in shifting the present way of thinking about migration away from the notion that it is some kind of political exception that Western countries get to decide on. If migration is understood to be instead, a major constitutive social force throughout history, I hope it means that migrant voices and agency will be included in the social processes they themselves help to build and reproduce. Those who contribute socially and are affected socially should have the right to determine how they are affected socially. Currently, we are living in a global apartheid in which millions of migrants who form the backbones of so many social and economic systems are treated as if they are nothing or as if they were “illegal.”
The classes I teach on migration are constant damage control against all the mythsthe students come in with and the nonsense Trump keeps saying every week. In the future, I have plans to take students to do activist work on the US/Mexico border.
Where do we stand today? In a terrible place. Any serious move forward needs to begin with the premise of equality, solidarity, and inclusion of all people regardless of status. Moving forward means everyone gets a voice, not just citizens coming up with solutions for “immigration reform.”
It’s horrific. I also do a lot of damage control on race and gender, class, about borders, theoretically and otherwise, in my university classes. A new starting point and perspective for political theory as the study of movement would be a new wave of philosophy. One that would be supportive and affirmative I hope. I really appreciate how you apply theory with practice. I’m reminded here of Albert Memmi’s notes on “cultural lethargy,” “solidarity of the vanquished,” and “the new world” in Decolonization and the Decolonized.
In your work on Lucretius, you write, “Just as the corpora create space and time through motion, so they also create weight by their motion” (190)? Can you elaborate a little on this? What is time for Lucretius in your reading and why are we, rightfully, returning to reading his theories? You also write, “Time, for Lucretius, is nothing apart from the relative motion, rest, and sensation of things…” (111) This page of your work reminds me of Spinoza’s Ethics. I understand the connection to some of your work on Being and Motion, and I have yet to unpack it, reading slowly, but it has serious overlaps with Spinoza’s dynamic epistemology and ontology of motion. They seem to be friends.
One of the things that is so interesting to me about Lucretius is that he is one of the few in the Western tradition that is willing to say, “matter moves” without needing any higher explanation for its motion. There is no trace of transcendence whatsoever in his work. For Lucretius, the indeterminate movement of matter does not occur in space and time (which would precede motion) but produces space and time itself. Movement is thus not movement from point A to point B (points in space traversed over time)—it is the process that produces the line and points AB in the first place. If this sounds Bergsonian it is because Lucretius’ was Bergson’s first intellectual love. Bergson’s first book was a line by line Greek and Latin commentary on Lucretius’ great poem De Rerum Natura(The Nature of Things). If Lucretius also sounds a bit like Spinoza it is because Spinoza got his materialism from De Rerum Natura. The first sections of book two of Spinoza’s Ethics are basically just a summary of Lucretius.
The difference, however, is that Bergson and Spinoza are vitalists: Bergson has an élan vital and Spinoza has his conatus—neither of which have any equivalent in Lucretius. For Lucretius, matter moves without any exterior cause or immanent life force, energy, or power. In Bergson and Spinoza you have a vitalist materialism that runs through to Deleuze and into contemporary vitalist new materialism. In Lucretius, however, you find a distinct kinetic materialism where nature is just matter in motion—thats it. So yes, they are all friends in a sense but with this important difference.
Neo-vitalists might say to this point: “yes, but force and vitality do not transcend matter as they do in early modern vitalism. They are immanent to matter. Movement is just another word for vital energy.” My reply would be: “if vital energy is strictly identical to movement than why did Spinoza, Bergson, Nietzsche, Deleuze, and others need to add vitalistic terms at all?” What work does “vitality” do for our materialism that was not already in Lucretius’ non-vitalistic materialism? At the very least vitalistic language adds nothing to immanent materialism in my opinion. At the most, however, it takes a metaphysically burdened and political problematic term like “life,” which is such a tiny fraction of the universe and has been used to justify so much violence against non-life and then uses it to give matter back its agency—as if matter needed “life” to have agency. The universe is not just vital and creative; it is also destructive and non-living (in fact it is mostly this). But then if you want a concept of vitality without tying it to life (and all its problems) and without any suggestion of being ontologically distinct from matter, then why even use this term in the first place? Most of the criticisms of new materialism have been aimed at this vitalist version of it. Its too bad. I hope we do not have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Vitalism is unnecessary and even potentially dangerous for new materialism and so I am on the side of Karen Barad and Mel Chen, who have explicitly (although usually in footnotes) rejected any form of vitalism in their versions of new materialism.
Time, like force, for me, is another historical instance of philosophers and scientists trying to explain why matter moves. Force was popular in the early modern period and time was popular in the 19th and 20th centuries. Most ontologies and theories of time treat time as the ultimate a priori of nature (or of human existence). Historically, this was supported by Einstein’s theory of general relativity in the 20th century, even though there were still exceptional “singularities” (in black holes for example) left unexplained by that theory. Matter, in general relaitivity, moves across a pre-existing curved spacetime. If quantum theory is correct, however, there should be a quantum theory of gravity (space and time) in which spacetime emerges from the laws of quantum mechanics. In particular, how energetic vibrations below the level of space and time produce space and time like ripples on the surface of a pond.
This is the present assumption of most contemporary theoretical physics—even if the formalisms of “quantum gravity” have yet to be experimentally verified. The race is on to prove them. Lucretius was already the precursor of this idea two thousand years ago: matter produces space and time through its indeterminate motion. In other words, I think we have finally come back to Lucretius. Philosophers need to keep up with what is happening in the sciences (and scientists should keep up with poetry, like Lucretius). My thought is of course that quantum gravity is possibility an indication that it is time to shift focus from ontologies of time to ontologies of motion. Its time to consider a new perspective. This is not because I think “being is motion” forever and all time, but that historically, this is our present limit of thought. I am not a dogmatist or metaphysician. If we discover something in the universe that is completely static, I am open to being wrong. This is what I mean by “historical ontology.” As things change we rework our ontologies of the present from within the present. Ontology is a performative practice—this is a key thesis in Being and Motion.
Op, I’ll have to beg to differ slightly on there being no “equivalent in Lucretius” to Spinoza, especially if both systems are motion and then motion once more, as Wim Klever wrote, but we can table that one for a later discussion, maybe at a SPEP conference.
I would agree with you that we need to shift to ontologies of motion and take on relevant new perspectives. As you’ll read in the other interviews in this series, the discussion of time remains current as it accompanies a changing world of quantum physics meets energy mechanics and more.
There are a lot of questions to ask you about, from the history of aesthetics you cover in Theory of the Image to more affirmative, productive ways to produces affects, especially the affects related to continued understanding, motion, shared communities. It’s fun to point out that I had Mike Witmore as a professor for Lucretius on the history of matter at CMU and Duquesne University, along with Dan Selcer, a decade ago. Witmore runs the Shakespeare archive in D.C. They co-taught their grads about several of these connections that you are also supporting in your otherwise very original work. I don’t mind dropping those names in this context. They made all their grads carry around that little red book every day. Excellent, creative teachers. We were fortunate…
More specifically, to follow-up with what you say above, what is time for you? Several trusted scholars have said your work on the ontology of motion is on the level and scope of Heidegger’s Being and Time. Additional accolades are in order here, so I pause only to ask how you feel your ontology of motion differs or is unique and how you think personally about time?
Time, for me, is the kinetic dissipation of matter. I will not say entropy, because entropy typically assumes random motion (which I disagree for reasons described in Being and Motion). Matter tends to move from more dense to less dense regions and this provides the arrow of time that we experience as regional beings. However, time is not ontologically chronological because if time is fully material then it does not go “away” outside the universe into some non-existent “past.” There is no evidence that there is any such outside to the universe. So, the past is still with us in the immanent material that we are and in the universe more broadly. The future too, is here in the matter that we (and nature) are. So time is, as Bergson said in his final lectures, Le pensée et le mouvant, nothing but movement: the transformation or redistribution of an open whole. At every moment the entire universe kinetically transforms its entire distribution of space and time. There simply is no static nature to which the present can refer to as “past nature.” The whole thing is continually different to itself—but tending regionally toward energetic dissipation.
In my reading, Lucretius was right about the primacy of movement instead of time. Deleuze, however, gets very close, but ends up favoring the vitalist tradition I just described. This keeps him from having a kinetic theory of time. For example, in Difference and Repetition he explicitly subordinates movement to time: “The [third] synthesis is necessarily static, since time is no longer subordinated to movement; time is the most radical form of change, but the form of change does not change” (DR, 89). In Logic of Sense, the subordination of movement and matter to time is explicit in his theory of “an empty form of time, independent of all matter” (LS, 62). Deleuze explicitly places time above matter and motion and I do not.
What is unique about Being and Motion is that it is the first history of the philosophy of motion and it is the first systematic ontology of motion. I owe a great debt to Lucretius, Marx, Bergson, Virginia Woolf, Paul Valéry, Deleuze, and others, but in the end my philosophy has its own method, concepts, and conclusions. Its too hard to summarize here but in place of reading the first few chapters of Being and Motion I think I might say that it is the first ontology of motion to take the material practice of ontology itself as the subject of historical inquiry.
Yes, cronos. There’s new work being done on time on Deleuze in philosophy and film studies currently. Another great discussion for some time in the future.
With your work as the first history of the philosophy of motion you have made a lasting contribution to the history of philosophy. Yes, Bergson writes that time is movement and must be conceived as both duration and simultaneity as well. Others in this series will agree with you that time is not ontologically chronological, but not necessarily that there’s no ‘outside’ of the universe. I understand, logically, that we cannot posit an ‘outside’ the universe, but we are forced to consider anomalies regardless of their fit with our logics of the times when we are faced with mounting evidence.
So, you don’t interpret the swerve in Lucretius as a random motion? No chance?
I am open to hearing evidence for an outside to the universe, but I have no idea what that would even look like. In part, because the universe is not a whole but an expanding and open process—just as Lucretius described in De Rerum Natura. I believe there is genuine novelty in the universe but we do not need to posit randomness to get that novelty. Lucretius says that matter is always in the habit [solerent] of swerving. There are at least two typical ideas of randomness neither of which Lucretius’ view could support. The first one is a radical randomness, or what Quentin Meillassoux calls “hyperchaos,” which is complete ex nihilo creation from nothing. Lucreitus is explicit that “nil posse creari de nihilo” [nothing can be created from nothing]. The second kind of randomness is the constrained definition randomness where there is a closed domain of objects and matter moves randomly within that. Again, Lucretius is explicit that nature is not a finite closed system—and so there cannot be randomness in this sense either. Something always comes from something relationally but creatively and non-deterministically.
In the Lucretius work you describe the “sensation of temporality…” I realize the sensation of temporality as an experience, especially in this advancing techno-logical and yet irrational world, differs from the motion of sensations as process and/or as concept, and how all of these categories can be read divergently, with differing logics, including the logic of sensation some might say… On this note, do you feel we have new forms of logic and deduction being produced because of the material conditions we are embedded within, such as your kinetic understanding of bio-politics and the migrant-in-motion? Understanding acutely that we are finite, but believing that we are also infinite, would you say our time is limited?
In one sense our lives as we experience them are absolutely finite and follow the dissipation of the universe more generally. In another sense, the matter that flows and dissipates through us will eventually be broken down by black holes at the end of the universe. None of it though will be destroyed. Not infinite in any metaphysical sense, but at least indefinite. Lucretius understood the first two laws of thermodynamics well before their modern formalization by Boltzmann.
Matter can dissipate faster or slower; we can try and speed it up or slow it down in our little region. Lucretius II is all about the ethics of going with this flow instead of trying to slow it down to avoid death and accumulate.
I worked a little on the second law of thermodynamics in my MA thesis. You’re right about Lucretius preceding Boltzmann, and Bergson also preceded some of Einstein. Another exciting element in Bergson, at the start of his The Creative Mind, is where he writes that there are two forms of possibility, of what is possible. One is what is possible based on the elements and ideas, materials, and movements between already in existence, and the other cannot be predicted because, as he says, we do not know what questions and interest(s) future generations will have or desire.
Yes, exactly! Great connection. Relational possibility without probability or ex nihilo emergence. Its all in Lucretius’ swerve.
Being Continentally trained, but interested in all philosophical and interdisciplinary methodologies and most if not all philosophers, as much as it would be fantastic to ask you about more of your earlier work, which has been described as scholarship that will be studied for decades: “Carefully argued, well informed, hugely ambitious, and analytically precise, it will become a standard reference for years to come.” How can new students approach your work on motion since it is related to some forms of time even if not all, or even if that relation is a flow by which various aggregates and encounters then unfold in time?
I would suggest to folks interested in my work to start with the area they are interested in and go from there. If you are interested in ontology read at least Book I of Being and Motion; if art and aesthetics, then start with Theory of the Image; if politics than The Figure of the Migrant and Theory of the Border; if science then Theory of the Object; if natural history, climate change, and the Anthropocene than Theory of the Earth; if Lucretius, Marx, or Woolf, then start with those books. Once all these books are out I would like to write a more general “Introduction to the Philosophy of Motion” at some point.
Two free copies of Theory of the Image showed up at my home in 2018 on Preservation Way last year from an unknown source! At the moment, as I also really crack open BM by audio book while moving, I’m enjoying thinking through the Greek idea that the concrete derives from the abstract, such as your comments on kinetic inversion, model, and mold. The work is also pragmatically incredibly useful for undergraduate courses.
In most of your professional career, you write on migration, borders, evolving definitions of community, and, more recently at the end of 2019, new materialism(s). You support ethics in these ways, putting forth new definitions or emphasizing those that already were there but did not create a more unifying theory about nature in motion. Would you mind elaborating on how the new materialisms essay that appeared recently in Angeliki, as you and your co-authors write that there is “no single definition of new materialism” and how this theory works in conjunction with your understanding of time and motion above?
At the University of Oregon I studied political philosophy, environmental philosophy, feminist philosophy, phenomenology, post-structuralism, and was a political activist. I wrote my dissertation on the theme of political revolution in Deleuze and Guattari and the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico. This research was the foundation of my first book, Returning to Revolution: Deleuze, Guattari, and Zapatismo, published in 2012.
After graduate school I worked on what I felt was politically important at that moment: the struggle of migrants under neoliberal capitalism—partly inspired by Alain Badiou’s activism and the some very rousing articles by Giorgio Agamben, Hannah Arendt, Etienne Balibar and Jacques Ranciére on the political importance of the sans papiers. Starting here but digging deeper into the history of migration confirmed for me that migrants have actually always been central figures. This led me to see broader connections between historical structures or patterns of movement and their relation to the structures of ontology, art, science, and nature during those times. But since not much was written about this history of motion or migration from my favorite French philosophers I had to create my own kind of method and take tools from where I could (Marx, Nietzsche, Foucault, etc). This was a time of creativity for me.
While I was writing these political books the first texts on new materialism were just coming out. Stacy Alaimo and Susan Heckman published the first collection of essays on feminist new materialism in 2010 and over the next five years, around the time I had completed writing the political books (c. 2015) more people were talking about “new materialism” and tracing its linage to Spinoza and Deleuze (two central figures from my graduate education). Donna Haraway and Rosi Braidotti’s feminism always inspired me and they started writing about new materialism, along with Manuel Delanda. It seemed like all the Deleuzians were suddenly talking about materialism but it was still extremely unclear what it was all about and if it was just a new name for what Deleuze had already been doing.
Around this time I also started taking long walks in the park at night every two weeks with my friends and colleagues Josh Hanan and Chris Gamble. Josh had come to new materialism from Foucault, Chris from Derrida, and me from Deleuze. Chris introduced me to Karen Barad’s work. Over a couple years, we read all the literature that was coming out, and talked about it, and concluded it was quite a mess to figure out all the similarities and differences between vitalist new materialism, object oriented ontology, speculative realism, old materialisms, and performative new materialism. Most articles out there conflate these really different approaches. So over the course of two years we tried hard to figure it all out in hopes of moving the conversation forward—specifically in favor of what we identify as performative new materialism. We gave several lectures at the University of Denver and eventually published our essay with Angelaki as “What is New Materialism?”.
During these years I also started to see that my previous research on patterns of motion was actually compatible with the version of new materialism we were moving toward. It was non-anthropocentric (due to the influence of Deleuze) but it was also pretty historical and materialist (due to the influence of Marx and Foucault). So, although I do not use the term “new materialist” in The Figure of the Migrant (2015) and Theory of the Border (2016), I do think they are fully consistent with my kinetic new materialism which I describe explicitly in Being and Motion (2018) and Lucretius I: An Ontology of Motion (2018). Everything I have published after 2016 explicitly identifies with the term “new materialist” and is consistent with my critique of vitalism (mentioned above).
The term “new materialism” remains contested with multiple definitions—each with a number difficulties that we discuss in the paper, but I think it is still worth preceding with, at least provisionally. The philosophy of movement and the kinetic theory of time developed in Being and Motion (and discussed a bit above) are a direct result of trying to develop a form of new materialism without vitalism or temporal reductions.
That’s a delightful story. John Kaag and others have been philosophizing a lot the past few years on walking, sauntering, and nature, something I don’t think is self-absorbed at all. I like the work of Balibar, his Spinoza influences, and Ranciere, especially, but also Haraway and Rosi Braidotti’s work. DeLanda has been a personal fav since early years of graduate school. I can understand why and how you would draw these connections and incorporate them into your life. I was around in the first years of Object Oriented Ontology and Graham Harman’s Guerilla Metaphysics. I traveled to the outskirts of England on a Sunday once to hang with Ray Brassier at a pub. We talked for over four hours. I think we can both agree that these movements the past two decades have created new areas of studying philosophy that are beneficial. It feels similarly the case in the philosophy of race, various feminisms and womanisms, and the explosion of areas like the philosophy of film. Together, these areas are contributing in many ways to how we all ‘do’ philosophy and on how we teach.
In the opening of H.G. Wells’ story The Time Machine, the time traveler reveals, in a philosophical discussion, that time is simply “only real for those in 3-D space…” that human consciousness needs time to flow the way we perceive or might think it does, need it to. What role do you assign to human consciousness, the hard problem as they say, as it (we) evolve, join in, if you will, with the future? Perhaps a comment or two about your work Being and Motion could help readers, as a “historical and regional ontology.”
I do not think that time is merely an effect of consciousness. I am a realist. I think time is real. I also think time (following Lucretius and Carlo Rovelli) is a product or effect of matter in motion—specifically the dissipation of motion that defines the universe. Time is just the name for the kinetic transformation of the entire universe as an open process.
I like that definition. Beyond the biological necessity, our experiences of daily space and time that we must pay attention to for survival, which is also based on gravity and walking upright, among other laws, aren’t there new questions about time with the discovery and proof of the Simulation Theory (more than just 0s & 1s), predictions about advanced AI (here to stay & will be more intelligent than humans), and related new ways in which we can go about space and time?
For example, you write that in a world of advancing digitization and images, all images are a part of electric flows. What if electricity or those electric flows, in some energetic way, reach beyond the speed of light? Then what do we do with our more linear logics? Hegel, DeLanda, Blanchot, come to mind here, and others who write on different kinds of logics.
Interesting line of thought here but the hypothesis that the universe is a computer simulation is science fiction and not really a testable hypothesis. Predictions about AI are similarly speculative. Electricity is made of photons and electrons. The photons travel at the speed of light and electrons move a bit more slowly through transistor gates to produce digital images. There is currently no evidence to suggest that anything in the universe can travel faster than the speed of light or that anything ever will. This is a key principle of general relativity, Planck’s constant, and the standard model of quantum mechanics. Any form of logic that assumes a priori the principle of non-contradiction needs to be revised in light of quantum indeterminacy. Category theory, for example, does not assume such a logic and is thus in some ways a better fit for quantum reality that other forms of logic and mathematics.
Well, I might not say “no evidence,” but I understand the paradigm we are in currently and that you are correct. Photons also carry information and there’s some interesting work being done currently on neutrinos. Quantum computing and advanced AI are creating teams of their own. Amir Husain is one AI researcher leading the way.
Thank you for supporting the conclusion, “Any form of logic that assumes a priori the principle of non-contradiction needs to be revised in light of quantum indeterminacy.” There is a reading of Spinoza that I disagree with that I worked on for the doctoral research that would, at least in part, support this conclusion. It causes some logical complications for theories of representation and Spinoza.
As philosophers of motion are always interested in philosophy of physics, some physicists now call dark matter “another type of matter,” and their newest discoveries are demonstrating we know less than we thought about the universe. In this context, what is an ‘idea’ about matter if matter can change in some of its natural properties? For example, 2011 Nobel Prize winning physicists deduced that our universe is ‘skattering,’ the energy of repulsion, going against the force of gravity, etc… and then our kind of material laws of nature pulling things back in through their own forces…apparently both are occurring, we are not only expanding. Logically, aren’t folds in nature, as well as its elasticity, more like involutions at times rather than expansions? We know that 5% are atoms, 23% dark matter, & 72% is dark energy and so forth…
Do we produce, while in motion in every way, an interaction with only 5% of the universe, for example, or are there better ways to think about this? Can we truly think about dark matter if, in a real sense, it is outside of time in its ever more far reaching metaphysics? Isn’t one of the only ways in here to conceive of certain encounters with human ideas as eternal in some sense, the infinite in the finite if you will? You write that our new discoveries in quantum gravity and cosmology are in need of more accurate paradigm, a “new historical ontology for the twenty-first century.” You seem to state clearly “humans are, after all, matter with the capacity for creating new ontological descriptions and inscriptions.” (65-66)
Yes, I think materialist philosophers should take physics and all the sciences seriously. This does not mean we should merely accept (or merely reject) interpretations and concepts that come from working scientists. We should follow the work as closely as we can and contribute our interpretations alongside theirs and participate in the development of knowledge. Knowing nothing about contemporary science and technology should not be a badge of humanist honor.
Dark energy, in my understanding of the literature, is not a new “type” of matter—but is simply the indeterminate fluctuation of quantum fields (which make up all matter) operating and exerting gravitational pull on very large scales in the universe [the so-called cosmological constant]. It is responsible for pulling the universe out in all directions (although obviously there are a lot of other gravitational movements at work as well, as you say). What remains puzzling is that there should be a lot more of it given the rate of cosmic expansion. In any case, dark matter and energy are not outside time but time is an immanent result of material quantum fluctuations (at least according to quantum gravity theory).
You are absolutely right that dark energy (i.e. quantum fluctuations) pose a challenge to ideas of matter as passive or mechanical. Karen Barad has written beautiful on this. Chris Gamble and I have an article coming out in Rhizomes called “Blackhole Materialism” that shows precisely where quantum gravity and “black hole indeterminacy” can support a new theory of indeterminate materialism.
I am not sure what you mean by eternal human ideas; I remain agnostic on metaphysical issues like eternity. I think we should keep our ontologies historical and positional—and not let them turn into grand theories of being forever and all time.
I’m not sure if I knew Barad’s work or not, but definitely appreciate all of these references and good to know. That’s some fun news too. I look forward to that essay with anticipation. When I think of the infinite I sometimes also think of eternity and various formulations of what dark matter or energy might actually be doing, but I don’t think of concepts of eternity as ‘forever,’ although I understand there is a universal conception like it in most religions, for better and worse. Not all theories of eternity are terrible, especially if someday we have more evidence for that which pushes the infinite into itself, makes it infinite infinitely if you will, etc. It’s ok, at least for me, to pay rational attention to the possibility (and probability) that there is both the historical and positional or the more metaphysical, if you will. They are connected, related, or involve each other at least, for me. If something can be proven to timeless then the concept of teleology is not relevant logically, as one example.
What if it is scientifically possible to time travel after-all, as Einstein believed he mathematically proved? You would need some seriously trusted math for this kind of machine, but we’ll have the quantum computing resources and the interest. Are you in? Would you sign up for a round trip? Well, it wouldn’t exactly be round, but you could go and come back if desired. You write that we miss the most important and fundamental element of our era if we do not pay closer attention to motion, and not to space and time. I believe your logic for a theory of motion is revolutionary, but I really want to know if you’ll get in that time machine?
In a real way, we are already in a time machine. We are made of burned out stars from billions of years ago. The past is fully active and immanent within us. The end of the universe will be made of the particles and quantum fields that once made up our bodies. The future too is already here in another arrangement. We are the past and the future.
Yes, yes! As Nietzsche would say. We are all star dust, star dust and energy. I love that there are logical ways to conceive of ourselves as already in a time machine. Bergson also says as much often, in his own ways, but what you add is dynamic, pragmatically relevant, a real tool we can all use to think and do.
Can you speak about revolution today in addition to your work on ontology, art, philosophy and science? I understand it’s a big topic, but I would also say that it’s a pressing one… As great art or philosophy take real time, as another example, and as we need better theories about how singularities organize and create more powerful affects, as you’ve noted, what are your impressions about the directions we will benefit from taking up other than the options of only war or dialogue?
Before we can say anything about revolution “is” we really need to make sure everyone affected is invited to participate in the meaning of this term today. Before we can talk about “benefit” for who we have to listen and help create the whole “we.” That in itself is a huge task—the ongoing immanent preconditions of inclusive revolution. This is particularly difficult today in the context of right wing xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment in many Western countries and in recent climate summits where indigenous voices are being ignored. The form revolutionary movements take depends on who is involved. This is one of the reasons why the struggle for migrant and indigenous political agency is so important. These are groups on the front lines of global primitive accumulation and climate change. Their voices need to be heard and supported. Theory cannot dictate or predict the emergence of new historical forms in art, politics, science, or ontology. Theorists, I think, should be there to help in their own way, alongside everyone else without any special access to what revolution is or will be. My political work is less as an unchanging theory of the being of revolution but a historical description of what it has looked like in certain places and what it is starting to look like today as a mixture of these previous historical formations. We can learn a lot from Zapatismo and the long history of migrant struggles in particular. But we still have to “make the road by walking,” or, as the Zapatistas say, “caminar preguntando” [Walking, we question].
Chris Rawls teaches philosophy full time at Roger Williams University. Chris received her Ph.D. in philosophy in 2015 from Duquesne University writing on Spinoza’s dynamic epistemology. Chris recently co-edited an interdisciplinary anthology Philosophy and Film: Bridging Divides with Routledge Press’s series Research on Aesthetics (an experiment for the ages!) with Diana Nieva and Steven Gouveia. Chris also studies/teaches within the Critical Philosophy of Race and Whiteness Studies since 2006 and helped co-found the Society for Women in Philosophy (SWIP) archive at the Pembroke Center for Feminist Theory, Brown University.
Thomas Nail is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Denver. He is the author of seven books; his most recent is Theory of the Image (Oxford University Press, 2019). https://www.du.edu/ahss/philosophy/faculty_staff/nail_thomas.html
Archim Szepanski from Non Copyriot has written a nice summary and review of my book, Being and Motion for German readers here.
“Sein Magnum Opus „Being and Motion“ beginnt Thomas Nail mit dem lapidaren Satz “Wir leben im Zeitalter der Bewegung.“ Als Anhaltspunkte dienen für Nail, dass wir unter sozialen Gesichtspunkten heute riesige migrantische Bewegungen haben, die Migranten selbst einen Umfang von einer Milliarde ausmachen, wobei insbesondere der Klimawandel diese Zahl in den nächsten 30 Jahren verdoppeln wird. Im gleichen Atemzug sind eine Reihe von Techniken entstanden, um neue Grenzziehungen zu etablieren, neue Deportationszentren, biometrische Datenerkennungen und so weiter und so fort.
Die Wissenschaften zeigen, dass wir in einer Welt der kontinuierlichen Bewegung leben, wobei auf der makroskopischen Ebene das Universum nicht nur in jede Richtung immer weiter expandiert, sondern das auch immer schneller. Wir leben in einem sich beschleunigenden Universum. Auf der mesoskopischen Ebene zeigt die Entwicklung der nicht-linearen Dynamik, dass selbst die Partikel der klassischen Physik irreversiblen kinetischen und thermodynamischen flows von Energie unterliegen. Und die Chaostheorie zeigt, dass flux, Turbulenz und Bewegung der Energie gegenüber der relativen Stabilität der Körper primär sind. Auf der mikroskopischen Ebene wiederum sind die elementaren Partikel Produkte nicht-lokaler, vibrierender Quantenfelder. Die Stringtheorie und die loop quantum-Theorie sind heute die Kandidaten, um die gravitationale Raumzeit (allgemeine Relativität) und die Theorie der Quantenfelder zu vereinigen. Einkunft besteht zumindest darüber, dass Raum und Zeit ontologisch nicht fundamental, sondern emergente Features von kontinuierlich fluktuierenden Feldern sind.”
Katve-Kaisa Kontturi, Milla Tiainen & Adrian Mróz have edited a special issue of The Journal of Polish Aesthetics titled, “New Materialism. The mattering of the arts, crafts, and aesthetics.” There are several interesting articles and book reviews of the first two monographs written on new materialist aesthetics: Ways of Following: Art, Materiality, Collaboration, by Katve-Kaisa Kontturi and my book Theory of the Image. I am thankful to Katherine Robert for her thoughtful review of Theory of the Image.
“Nail’s theorization and demonstration of kinesthetics is a stunning contribution for the growing interdisciplinary interest and application of new materialist theories … His knowledge of Western art history and contemporary art are extensive enough to supply his kinesthetic theory with visual examples that greatly aid in understanding, ranging from visual conceptual models to art, historical, and scientific images.”
The Blog of the APA is happy to announce “Time Will Tell,” a series of interviews about the philosophy of time. The interviews were conducted by Dr. Chris Rawls of Roger Williams University. To introduce the series, Rawls talked with the Blog about how her interest in temporality developed and where she would like studies of time to go in the future.
What is the purpose of this series, “Time Will Tell”? Describe how the series will work.
“Time Will Tell” is a series of professional interviews with scholars, both within and outside of philosophy and all with a social justice conscience, all academics who work on some aspect of time and/or temporality and human consciousness. Having worked on the concept for my Master’s thesis in 2004, I’m very interested in everything related to time. We all think about time. The four scholars who graciously agreed to the interviews are doing important and often utterly fascinating work on these topics.
How did you develop an interest in the concept of time?
As a young child, I had mini seizures occasionally. I had (and still have) a language difference/disability where I heard words backwards, but by syllable! It’s not that way today, of course, but the things my brain did to create what it needed in order to understand external language are unique. It is a form of Auditory Processing Disorder, but I’ve been calling it auditory dyslexia most of my life. The science on it only began in real depth about two decades ago. There is much disagreement still. I’ve recently learned of cutting edge neural mapping research that proves folks with APD have unique neuron development that is not like your average human brain development. This is both good and bad. It does not make me special. We all have individual, fluid brains (plasticity) because we all have individual, personal, emotional experiences. I’ve suffered and struggled because of the learning differences with language all my life, especially with communication. I’m being tested by specialists currently for the first time in my life. I also don’t think in images very easily most of my waking hours, but I dream vividly and often can recall my nightly dreams. This is known as partialAphantasia. Good health insurance and having the funds to get tested is needed for all this, which should give us pause. Both of these differences combined altered as I learned to read, write, speak, but they have always caused difficulties in reading, writing and communicating into adulthood, enough to cause a lot of unnecessary pain and struggle for myself and others. I wish I could have been tested decades ago.
It’s a small miracle I finished the doctorate in philosophy at all, and I didn’t do it alone. It was a really rough road and I would never have made it if my professors didn’t believe in me or find ways to hold me up, even if some worried about me circa 2009 when I lost a potential Fulbright scholarship and a scholar in residence position in Holland. This is important and related to consciousness for me personally not only because time will tell, but also because I survived horrific crime in Holland, an experience that caused not only time to stop for me but that caused others to question the validity of my actual conscious and bodily experiences. Duquesne University philosophy professors helped me stay in the PhD program. Sometimes I think only my former dissertation director, who I had worked with from 2004 to 2015 on and off, could understand my language. He used to translate for others what I was trying to say. I mention all this because the seizures in childhood, as well as what I went through in Holland, are what forced me to think about time and consciousness.
If we learn language and words by sound and image, and we then attach those sounds to meaning and memory, and if I had a brain difference related to both sound andimages, not to mention anxiety which can also effect memory, then it makes some real sense that I had to find novel ways to understand, interpret, memorize, read, write, and describe what I was learning. I often used my own symbolism, much based on sound and feeling or emotionally oriented experiences. It took five years to write, organize, and defend the dissertation on Spinoza. I had three editors for spelling, grammar, and organization in addition to the thesis committee. To this day I still struggle with spelling and grammar. APD Specialist Dr. Teri James Bellis writes: “But the distinction between ‘language-like’ and ‘auditory-like’ is extremely fuzzy and involves subtle judgements, not scientific distinctions.” Bellis is referencing the challenging testing and diagnosis process. The meanings I attach to vocabulary are, primarily, my own and not what culture has shaped necessarily.
The main point is that when the childhood seizures occurred I felt time as delayed. I visually saw things unfold in real time, but auditorily time was experienced as delayed. I heard sounds around me as if they were one connected whole on the wrong speed of a record player, like a sound image in slow motion that I was having an experience of while also functioning within clock time. This only lasted a few minutes. So, I was directly aware of two experiences of time simultaneously, but the seizures were uncomfortable and frightening. I couldn’t find the right words to describe them and we didn’t have any money for testing. It was always just chalked up to stress, something some still do today around me. I was forced to pay attention to the changes in my temporality specifically. The slowing down of time, and the intervals in-between, fascinated me even as a child. Studying, reading, writing, and teaching philosophy has helped my mind, brain and body make even more progress, but so many have accused or labeled my challenges as a mental health issue. Not knowing about my APD, and the challenges that caused, is the most difficult experience I have ever had next to attempting to write the doctorate.
I like to think about time, temporality, and consciousness together, especially as we all start taking more seriously such topics as advanced AI, quantum computing, or even the scientific studies on evidential mediumship, and there is legitimate science about the latter. William James knew. These topics can get wild when combined with the reality of what Antonio Damasio, the Spinozist that he is, calls “extended consciousness,” as opposed to “core consciousness.” Damasio has one of the most credible explanations on human consciousness of the past two decades. Briefly, Extended Consciousness is an individual autobiographical, rolling, flexible experience that cannot be coded as the same for any two humans. Sort of like, or possibly related to, having a soul some might say, metaphorically speaking or otherwise. The implications of such combinations are significant. Alternatively, the functions of Core Consciousness are what can be replicated by AI, but extended consciousness cannot. Recently, I started making podcasts for my students and for coping through Anchor. The international magazine New Philosopher tweeted one of my episodes on Kant about some of these new questions which was a silver lining in these challenging times.
We can read what top consciousness researchers or scholars say, such as bell hooks, Robert Lanza, Antonio Damasio, David Chalmers, Ernst Sosa, Tom Nagel, Patricia Churchland, Time Crane, Daniel Dennett, Patricia Hill Collins, Kelly Oliver or Judith Butler, as some important examples, but we can also legitimately consider the work of Jim Tucker at the University of Virginia, Dean Radin (massive, amazing history and scientific work), Gary Swartz, Lynn Buchanan of The Seventh Sense or study the results of those scientists who test individuals for what is sadly called ‘super-natural’ abilities, such as former Navy commander (and highest ranking female Navy officer in U.S. history) now turned evidential medium, Suzanne Geisemann. There’s always the work of Husserl, Heidegger, McTaggert, Sartre, etc. on human temporality that is also incredible, some of which I have studied, but it seems we might want to talk about other, more controversial theories too, those that apply to recent work in animal consciousness and intelligence, as another example, or current discoveries on the Observer Effect (OE) in quantum physics (thinking here of the work Biocentrism), the possibility of time travel that even Einstein took seriously, or more studies on human consciousness done by those who work specifically on near death or life after death phenomena (such as those who die on operating tables yet survive surgery only to somehow be able to report back to doctors exactly what occurred when they were otherwise reported as “brain dead”). The OE is a series of verified experiments in physics (to say nothing of the research of the PEARS experiments at Princeton U.) that have concluded ‘matter’ understood in a deterministic (physicalist) way is just not enough. It’s not that materialism or determinism is wholly wrong, not at all. We know it works and is real, but only that it’s not the whole explanation of actual reality and the experiences of human beings. Consciousness and the brain are separate, but work together, often for biological reasons, but not only for these reasons according to this kind of research. It’s incredible and a game changer for all fields of study if so. The annual IANDS conference, the International Association of Near Death Studies, this past year had its largest attendance to date of researchers, neurosurgeons, philosophers, psychologists, and more. I was there for some of it with my friend and fellow Spinoza philosopher, Neal Grossman, now retired, but who worked for decades alongside both Ed Curley and Charles Mills at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Neal has a new book that deals directly with the philosophical problems involved in these areas of interest and experience titled Conversations with Socrates and Plato.
How does time influence contemporary philosophical studies?
The past few centuries have seen intellectual and scientific revolutions on the nature of time, including especially in philosophy and physics, not to mention quantum computing currently. I’m thinking here of the systems of Leibniz, Newton, Kant, Bergson, Einstein, Husserl, Heidegger, or Deleuze on the time image. I’m an advocate of bridging the gaps between Continental and Analytic methods. Studies on time, temporality, and consciousness have already been used by several philosophers to bridge these types of methodological gaps, for example, in the philosophy of film or the film as philosophy (FAP) problem. Artists and film makers know how to think about time! So too do surgeons for that matter. Of course, St. Augustine and other philosophers knew a lot about time many centuries ago, a point some Western philosophers always seem to enjoy bringing up repeatedly when you mention someone new who we should know about on this topic. Some even say Plato was a mystic, in the Eternalist sense…and I’m starting to believe they’re correct. If so, he was both inside and outside of time! His work is timeless, no? I think he was a mystic.
What thinkers or methodologies have you found most useful in pursuing your studies of temporality?
Time vs. temporality, as we are well aware in philosophy, address very different problems. When you add in human consciousness….the challenging logic problems multiply. An example can be found in both Spinoza and Bergson, as well as W.E.B. Du Bois, Frantz Fanon, Ralph Ellison. The ‘argument against the man’ used in formal logic, as another example, is still valid in certain settings, but it doesn’t work at all as an objective rule (nor should it be used) when talking about and studying certain philosophical problems in the critical philosophy of race and whiteness studies or phenomenology, for example. As Ralph Ellison writes in The Invisible Man, “Did the word apply to an invisible man? Could they recognize choice in that which wasn’t seen…?” Which logic do you put first? Although, I wrote my doctoral thesis on Spinoza’s dynamic epistemology found in his Ethics, I am also a race theorist and studied and grew with and because of George Yancy’s mentorship. There’s so much to think about here yet.
In Spinoza, we learn that the laws of Nature for human beings are all we have access to, but that temporality and our experience of time is both in accordance with these laws of Nature as an experience of the partially imaginative sort, as well as a kind of necessary, partial negation (i.e. limited, individual sense data, a singular expression of partial knowledge of a mode of substance conceived through its two attributes respectively, etc.). Spinoza provided an exhaustively rigorous, systematic philosophical text on the logical possibilities and limitations of human knowledge and the Laws of Nature before some of what Leibniz and Kant would attempt next. At the end of the day, I am not a Spinozist in the modern materialist sense, no matter how much I love Lucretius and those who taught me Spinoza. I’m more of a misfit metaphysician, but I definitely understand today’s ingenious atomist arguments, and my mentors are great at understanding this kind of materialism in affectively creative ways. There’s an interview coming up in this series for the APA on some of these topics with Thomas Nail.
I’ve always felt and worked in the capacity of interdisciplinary interests regarding time, and ideas or research others ignore. I know some would say that I waste time (some track my time stamps), and I do, especially when overwhelmed, but it’s just that time, as a sort of metaphysical illusion in some respects, slows one down to consider it to begin with (just like my mini seizures did as a child), and if you are having certain kinds of rare experiences that do not have full explanations (still today!) that satisfy even the best of philosophers around you, then it seems there’s a lot left to discuss. Even Roger Penrose said in a recent interview this year that we do not have a sufficient explanation for consciousness yet, as he works on quantum consciousness and the microtubials of neuron cells. So more neuron mapping please!
Practices such as meditation, as another example, slow down our pre-frontal cortex’s need for speedy, linear temporality and future oriented goals or tasks. Our bodies benefit from meditative practices within and without our direct awareness (science now validates this). So, are we only future temporally driven? No. Human bodies, brains, and souls also respond to not being future oriented, which is why meditation works so well. It builds new gray matter scientists now know, and we become more present when we meditate. One is truly not thinking about what’s next, biologically or otherwise, unless forced to or when the meditation moment ends. I like this kind of experience. Always planning ahead has its benefits, obviously, but it’s not all we are or do or need. Not at all.
Some of these experiences change, nonetheless, if you live in a continuously threatening environment, for anyone. Yet, a person of color in America is forced to face death every single day one way or another, much more immanently than a white man. #justiceforgeorgefloyd. Think about who is dying the most, too, with Covid-19 and why. The research on and experience of time (and space), as well as of one’s temporality, has limits based on the current acceptable paradigms of thought in Western science, but one’s environment can also alter these experiences drastically, including altering one’s sense of space and time, literally altering one’s experience of what it is to live each day. Lacan’s categories of the Imaginary, Symbolic, and Real need re-thinking, mostly because of, at the least, the new metaphysics research in science and metaphysics.
Kelly Oliver has a new essay in Sophia on what she calls “social melancholy” and how it, as a real experience, drastically differs from the psychoanalyst version of melancholia. I think she’s on to something. One legitimate critique of psychoanalytic theories and practices regarding temporality and consciousness are the above experiences I have had in combination. How would folks of this theory account for meaning, symbolic or otherwise, when I had my own language, including problems with the usual social language and, give or take, always have? The thing about learning disabilities/differences is that they are, sadly, often filled with tremendous shame, loneliness and/or isolation. The learning differences are also not uniform across tasks. Just because I can read philosophy doesn’t mean I can read all philosophical texts, or that I can read and understand anything else as complex either just because philosophers rely on the use of intense and rigorous logic, much of which I can systematically unpack. My philosophy skills are limited and yet, at times, not limited. It’s hard to track fully.
I’m now ready, knowing the name of my diagnoses, such as APD, to grow, to expand, to add to understanding, and to work even harder within the use of the tools that I need or that help, such as audio books! I had to solve this puzzle alone. There is no shame in using audio books, especially if you need to, but it can get expensive. Learning of any kind (in almost any creative or healthy way) is good. Yet, imagine asking for even more help in a well-known PhD program in philosophy, that you need audio books, editors, and testing to accompany the reading of the usual and expected texts, not to mention to complete all your work to the best of your ability? There was no real funding or money (or public understanding) yet for all that and as I tried in any way I could to explain, my words just dragged on and on. It seems one might need to be able to have and use internal, mental images in order to develop their language skills and use? To this day I cannot internally produce or think in images regularly.
Where would you like studies of time, both in philosophy and other disciplines, to go in the future?
Everywhere, especially in environmental ethics or the philosophy of quantum physics, or our criminal justice system and its insane need for complete reform, including eradicating solitary confinement, something philosopher Lisa Gunther works so hard on. AI is an interesting and important place to look as we move into more of a technologically infused and rapidly advancing society. I often ask students on the first day of class where space goes or to put their ideas in my hand? They get the rational point immediately, in an instant, if you will. I ask them to think deeply about infinity and our ideas about such things as space, and then to pay attention to their existential and often biologically oriented anxieties that set in which can be observed in reflection when one realizes we don’t know where space ‘goes.’ Physics and philosophy have a lot in common, they always have. Any aspect of interdisciplinarity with an emphasis on creativity have profound effects in furthering understanding (or at least add to it), especially for our university students. And now that Covid-19 is here and all forms of education are transforming radically and immediately, we have new things to think about and need to come up with novel, creative ways to teach, both virtually and otherwise. We have a chance to improve centuries old binary methods that have not worked for so many different reasons.
I like how John McCumber once addressed the Continental-Analytic divide by asking each group to take up the study of time more fully. Analytic philosophers could benefit, he noted, from reading more continentals or pragmatists on time and temporality. Continental philosophers can benefit from looking into the new problems of time in theoretical physics or the philosophy of mathematics. There’s something to be said for theories of reverse causation in Hegel, for example, a topic I have written a paper on that I’m particularly proud of and was asked to present at an APA Eastern conference with the North American Society of Hegel Studies once. Perhaps, if we pay as much attention as we can to social justice and environmental ethics and ills (as in it’s way overdue), we could eradicate some of the diseases of the human species that involve extreme forms of cruelty, human suffering, and irrationality. We are capable of affirmative action and rational organization on large scales and with highly rational, compassionate groups of individuals, as long as we have the information correct and are loving in our ways. Look at the world-wide protests now for #BLM in the midst of a global pandemic! Incredible. We can change the course of time…and we can do it with heart. Something I wish I understood better in the past. However small the gesture, we have the ability (i.e. the motion, options, action) to become healthier, happier, and truly, qualitatively enlivened with safety and fun together. And we need this now more than ever, some might say, as we are all facing the perfect storm, economically and otherwise, that is Covid-19.
Who are you interviewing for the series and what do readers have to look forward to?
I’m thrilled about these interviews! They are with Prof. Kristie Miller, Co-Director at the Center for the Study of Time, School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry, University of Sydney, Prof. Thomas Nail from the University of Denver, and Prof. Boram Jeong, University of Colorado at Denver, who are all practicing philosophers. The series will end with a provocative interview with the biological anthropologist, Prof. Michael Masters, on human evolution, time, and aliens, a theory and recent book his Dean congratulated him for.
Prof. Miller is at the forefront of the study of the philosophy of time with the many different aspects of research that are being done at the University of Sydney. Her interview addresses some of the more traditional problems with the philosophy of time and temporality, but in novel ways. Prof. Nail’s work is ground breaking, especially Being and Motion, and his work on Lucretius, not to mention immigration. I have audio booked B&M, which I felt, sound wise, was a great way to get through it while literally being in motion (walking in the sunshine while thinking, while learning, instead of sitting reading as sitting still is a challenge ironically), and I have used various audio clips with permission in my Anchor podcasts. Many philosophers and artists, not to mention some scientists, will enjoy reading, hearing, and thinking about Nail’s important (and what will be) lasting contributions to the history of thought. Prof. Jeong’s interview and contributions are also relevant to our time. They are important contributions to very specific areas of philosophy, and, as she addresses the connections between time, money, freedom, Deleuze, race, and philosophy, we can all also benefit from her research and insights, and will be reading her philosophy about the future indefinitely I feel.
Prof. Masters has a new, interdisciplinary work on how humans might naturally evolve into a technologically advanced (alien) species. It’s wild, and awesome. His logic is valid and sound, and his research is currently being internationally recognized, including by philosophers and scientists alike. All interviews, including my own, are somewhat personal and about each scholar’s individual interpretations on time, temporality, and consciousness. I’m thrilled they agreed to do this series and I hope all will enjoy reading the interviews. I thank all the contributors for sharing their work.
Chris Rawls teaches philosophy full time at Roger Williams University. Chris received her Ph.D. in philosophy in 2015 from Duquesne University writing on Spinoza’s dynamic epistemology. Chris recently co-edited an interdisciplinary anthology Philosophy and Film: Bridging Divides with Routledge Press’s series Research on Aesthetics (an experiment for the ages!) with Diana Nieva and Steven Gouveia. Chris also studies/teaches within the Critical Philosophy of Race and Whiteness Studies since 2006 and helped co-found the Society for Women in Philosophy (SWIP) archive at the Pembroke Center for Feminist Theory, Brown University.
What is an object? One interesting way to avoid the problem of getting the subject and object back together to secure knoweldge is by not introducing the division in the first place. What if everything was only objects? We could then think of the subject as a highly composite type of object. Before proposing my own kinetic theory of the object I would like to consider the strengths and weaknesses of two major theories of the object. In these theories, instead of dividing the world up into subjects and objects, they divide it up into objects and their relations.
One version of this approach is called “relational ontology.” In this view, an object is nothing other than the set of all its relations with other objects. In one popular version of this theory called, “Actor Network Theory,” relationships are primary and objects emerge as nodes from pre-existing networks. Objects are what they do, or how they act through their distributed networks. In a relational ontology, there is no such thing as an object that is unrelated to other objects.
Furthermore, in this view, there is no pre-given hierarchy among objects. Relations can always shift around and become different. Objects have no static essences because it is the wider network that defines and differentiates them from one another. This is all true with or without humans. Objects are born and die, but network patterns, as such, do not because they precede and exceed all objects. What then is the source of change and novelty in the networks if it is not the objects themselves? How could networks change without objects that move?
One answer to this question comes from another kind of relational ontology called, “vitalist new materialism.”[i] In this view, relations are “vital,” “virtual,” “forces” that create “changes” in relations without any material movement in objects.[ii] Its proponants do not call this a “static” view of objects but it is still a view that erases motion or kinetic change in favor of virtual or relational change.[iii] The French philosopher and founder of Actor Network Theory, Bruno Latour, for example, rejects the “static” view of architecture, but instead proposes to replace it with a theory of “successive freeze-frames that could at last document the continuous flow that a building always is.”[iv] However, Graham Harman, who we will discus next, is correct to say that this “freeze-frame model of time simply multiplies the problem of stasis, then tries to solve it by the fiat of claiming that all of these standalone instantaneous moments are linked by something called a ‘trajectory.’”[v]
But before getting into the differences with my own approach, let’s look at one final non-movement-based theory of the object.
Object Oriented Ontology
In “Object Oriented Ontology,” everything is objects and relations. Similar to the relational view of objects, this view agrees that objects are connected together in networks of changing relations, with or without humans. However, for object oriented ontologists, objects are not reducible to their relations. Objects are “discrete,” “stable,” “unknowable,”[vi] “things-in-themselves” with “definite boundaries and cut-off points.”[vii] Each object is “vacuum-sealed” off from others and contains within it a secret or “withdrawn essence”[viii] that is “singular” to it alone.[ix] Graham Harman, a founder and proponent of this theory, describes it as a kind of Kantianism without a subject—everything is an unknowable object in-itself.[x]
Harman disagrees with the objectivists because he says they “undermine” objects by reducing them to what they are made of (matter and particles). He also rejects the constructivist and relational views because he says they “overmine” objects by reducing them to their network of relations. The typical explanation given by the sciences, he says, “duomines” objects by claiming that they are just components of larger objects, which also have their own components.
The worry of the object ontologist is that by defining the object purely by its relations with others, the object itself is explained away by something else. The “real essence” of the object in-itself would be lost behind the appearance of its fluctuating relations. Therefore, the only way to protect the essence and reality of objects, in this view, is to “vacuum-seal” an “unexpressed reservoir”[xi] of the object off from all its relations with others.[xii]
How does this theory account for changes in objects? Harman splits the object into two parts. One part changes along with its relations while the other part has “hidden volcanic energy that could … lead it to turn into something different.”[xiii] This is why Harman criticizes relational ontologies for not being able to account for change. “Unless the thing holds something in reserve behind its current relations, nothing would ever change,” Harman says.[xiv] In this view, the essence of objects is the source of all change and motion, but only every now and then. “Stability is the norm”[xv] because mostly objects are “aloof [and] do not act at all: they simply exist, too non-relational to engage in any activity whatsoever.”[xvi]
However, as much as Harman claims that the essences of objects do not have “an eternal character,”[xvii] and can even be “transient,”[xviii] and accuses relational theories of being “static,”[xix] he also ultimately admits that the hidden parts of objects “transcend” the world and do not engage in any activity whatsoever.[xx] Since movement, as I understand it, requires activity of some kind, object ontology’s eventual position is still one of immobility and stasis. So even though Harman says that change can come from something that has “no action whatsoever,” such a metaphysical belief amounts to a violation of every known law of physics.
What then is the philosophy of movement and how does it offer us a new way forward that overcomes the limits of the previous theories? The philosophy of movement is a kind of process philosophy. This means that instead of treating objects as static forms, it treats them as metastable processes. Some of movements are small and iterative and allow the object to remain relatively stable like a river eddy. Other movements are more dramatic and can either destroy or transform objects like a turbulent rain storm.
By contrast, the theories above define the object according to some kind of stasis. As such, they are unable to theorize the movement, novel transformation, and emergence of objects completely. Let’s look quickly at the limits of each of just two of these theories and then see how the philosophy of movement compares.
The problem with objectivism is that it treats objects as if they were unchanged by the conditions of their discovery and observation. This view ignores the history, relations, and agency of objects and treats them as entirely passive. But if they are merely passive how could they possibly emerge alongside others or affect observers?
On the other hand, the problem with constructivism is that if the object is nothing other than what humans think or say about it, it is also robbed of all its agency and activity to affect others. If objects are incapable of their own movement and novelty then how do they emerge and change? Constructivism is also forced to posit a radical difference between human subjects and natural objects that leaves it trapped in its own world.
At least relational theories of objects reject this division and acknowledge that objects act through their relations. The problem, however, is these relations by preceding and exceeding objects fully determine them. Where then is the agency and motion of the object? How can the object introduce novel and generative motions into such relations? For Latour, the relations that constitute objects are, by definition, completely determinate and mappable. Changes in relations do not originate from the movement of objects or their materiality but occur like a series of sudden “freeze-frames” in the networks.
Finally, although object oriented ontology tries not to reduce objects to unchanging essences, social constructions, or relations, it saves the object only by completely sacrificing it. In the end, we are told the essence of the object completely transcends the world and is cut off from any relation to it. The core contradiction of this theory is that the essence of objects is the source of all change and motion and yet does not act or move in any way. It is ultimately a philosophy of immobility and static change.[xxi]
These theories of the object could not be more different, and yet they all try and explain the movement of the object by something that does not move (an essence, a mental/social representation, a flat relationality, or a completely inactive essence). The problem here is that these theories start with some kind of division either between subject and object or between object and relation.
What is different about the philosophy of movement? The key difference is that instead of trying to explain movement by something else, it starts from the historical statement that “there is nothing in the universe that is not in motion.” This is a falsifiable claim. If it is experimentally proven wrong, I am prepared to concede my position and explore the philosophical consequences of the alternative.
From this perspective, I agree with Harman that objects are singular and irreducible to their determinate parts or relations. However, for me, this is because the movements of matter that comprise objects are not fundamentally determinate. Matter, or what physicists would more precisely call “energy,” at its smallest level is “indeterminate fluctuations.” These fluctuations are not particles, substances, or objects, and cannot be directly observed or known. Saying objects are “reducible” to indeterminate energy makes no sense. There is no determinate “something” that is at the heart of the reduction.
Movement, in this sense, is “indeterminate movement” and relations are “indeterminate relations.” The indeterminate movement of matter, in my view, has no higher or exterior causal explanation, or at least there is no experimentally verified one, or hint of one yet. That is not to say that there aren’t theories that try to interpret it away.[xxii] However, at the moment, I am putting my philosophical wager behind the real possibility that ongoing indeterminate movement is a fundamental feature of nature. When Lucretius put the indeterminate swerve of matter at the heart of his philosophy in the first century BCE commentators balked for centuries, but now its established science.
How might an object oriented ontologist respond to this alternative? Graham Harman has already responded to the idea of quantum indeterminacy in a recent article on the work of the physicist, Karen Barad. There he writes that “undermining treats individual objects as too shallow to be the truth and seeks to replace them either with a micro-army of tinier things or a primordial lump of indeterminate flux.”[xxiii] In response to this I would say two things. First of all, for Barad, and myself, objects are just as “true” as quantum fields and the idea of “replacement” makes no sense since objects are made of fields. Obviously field theory does not explain poverty, and no one thinks it does, so this too is an irrelevant point. Second, there could literally not be anything less like a “primordial lump” in the entire universe than indeterminate flux. One of the most important events in the history of science was the discovery that matter/energy is not a substance and has no fixed a priori properties. Lumps are undifferentiated, but indeterminate fluctuations are the processes of differentiation that create and sustain all differences. Harman, in my opinion, has misunderstood the meaning of quantum indeterminacy and fluctuation in a way that invalidates his objection to Barad and myself.
It may sound like a small shift in starting points to go from stasis to movement, but it makes a huge difference. The theories above have a method that follows uniquely from its starting point and so does a movement-oriented theory of objects. Therefore, if we want a theory of the object that can make sense of its movement, emergence, and novelty, these first options will not work. Instead of assuming from the outset that the world is either made of, or can be explained by, something immobile and unchanging and then trying to account for motion and process—the kinetic theory of the object inverts this logic. It begins from the historical discovery of quantum flux and then try and explain the emergence of scientific knowledge given this new starting principle.
The philosophy of movement offers a new kind of process philosophy distinct from older models of process based on vital forces, as in the philosophy of Henri Bergson, or on static strobe-like “occasions,” as described by Alfred North Whitehead.[xxiv] My term for this third kind of process philosophy is “process materialism” or “kinetic materialism.”[xxv]
If an object is not an essence, idea, or relation, then what it is, according to a process philosophy of movement? In the kinetic theory of the object we need look no further than the kinetic origins of the word “object,” from the Latin ob– (“against”) + iaciō (“I throw”). The object is a fundamentally kinetic process. It is something thrown into motion and turned against or looped around itself. It is a fold. Instead of a discrete, vacuum-sealed atom, objects are much more like continuous processes that folds back over themselves, making larger and more complicated knots. The object, as its Latin origins suggest, is not a discrete or static block in space and time a kinetic process.
[i] I have in mind here especially Jane Bennet, Vibrant Matter (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), and Thomas Lemke’s critique of her metaphysics of relations in, “An Alternative Model of Politics? Prospects and Problems of Jane Bennett’s Vital Materialism,”Theory, Culture & Society, May 17, 2018, 1–24. “To put it in an old-fashioned vocabulary: Bennett endorses an ‘idealist’ account of materialism.” “To put it bluntly: there is a lack of materiality in this vital materialism.” But also Manuel De Landa, Assemblage Theory(Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016) and Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005). Here is not the place to engage an entire literature review and critique of various relational positions, since I have already treated them elsewhere in Being and Motion, Chapter 3 and at length in Christopher N. Gamble, Joshua S. Hanan & Thomas Nail (2019) “What is New Materialism?,” Angelaki, 24:6, 111-134.
[ii] Here I also have in mind the work of other process philosophers like Henri Bergson, Gilles Deleuze, and Alfred North Whitehead whose work is of great interest and inspiration to me and
whose theories are perhaps closest to my own. However, my own “kinetic process philosophy” diverges from each of them on a number of important central points whose full explanation requires its own careful chapter-length treatment and review that would be redundant to reproduce here since it is already published as chapter three of Thomas Nail, Being and Motion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).
[iii] For a critique of the idea of change without motion see chapter three of Thomas Nail, Being and Motion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).
[iv] (La-tour, Yaneva, 2008: 81).ardeth#01_interni.indb 11628/08/17 14:12
[v] Buildings are not Processes: A Disagreement with Latour and Yaneva, 117
[vi] Graham Harman, Immaterialism (Polity Press, 2106), 13.
[vii] Graham Harman, Immaterialism (Polity Press, 2106), 15.
[viii] “Object-Oriented Ontology” (OOO)—a term coined by Graham Harman, and defines a theoretical commitment to thinking the real beyond the human experience. As such the reality of matter is never something anthropocentric, experienced or relational, but always something which “withdraws.” This leads Harman, like Badiou to affirm what they call “a new sort of ‘formalism.’” Timothy Morton similarly argues against “some kind of substrate, or some kind of unformed matter” in favor of infinitely withdrawn essential forms. Cited in Thomas Lemke, “Materialism Without Matter: the Recurrence of Subjectivism in Object-Oriented Ontology.” Distinktion. 18.2 (2017): 133-152. See also Carol A. Taylor, “Close Encounters of a Critical Kind: A Diffractive Musing In Between New Material Feminism and Object-Oriented Ontology,” Cultural Studies, (2016) 16(2), 201-212.
[ix] Graham Harman, Immaterialism (Polity Press, 2106), 16.
[x] Graham Harman, Immaterialism (Polity Press, 2106), 27-29.
[xii] Graham Harmon, “On Vicarious Causation,” in Collapse II, 211.
[xiv] (Harman 2009: 187) cited in lemke
[xv] Immaterialism pg. 16
[xvii] (Immaterialism 47)
[xviii] “everything has an autonomous essence, however transient it may be,”immaterialism, 16
[xx] Harman says “I would like to volunteer OOO to serve as a model of what they [Bruno Latour Albena Yaneva] and call static architecture.” Harman, “Buildings are not Processes: A Disagreement with Latour and Yaneva”
[xxi] Latour and Harman are “secular occasionalists” who believe that change occurs discontinuously without material movement. For Latour it is the networks that change discontinuously and for Harman it is the objects that change discontinuously. “In this way, Bruno Latour is the first secular occasionalist: the founder of what I have called vicarious causation.” prince of networks, pg 115
I am not the only one to describe Harman’s theory of change as static. See Shaviro, in speculative turn. “Harman accounts for change by appealing to the emergence of qualities that were previously submerged in the depths of objects; but he does not explain how those objects came to be, or how their hidden properties got there in the first place.” p.285 the speculative turn Shaviro’s piece. “Harman’s entities, in contrast, do not spontaneously act or decide; they simply are. For Harman, the qualities of an entity somehow already pre-exist; for Whitehead, these qualities are generated on the fly. Harman, as we have seen, discounts relations as inessential; his ontology is too static to make sense of them.” (287) spec. turn shaviro.
For a critique of OOO’s theory of change see also: Object-Oriented Ontology and Its Critics
C.J. Davies The Problem of Causality in Object-Oriented Ontology
See also Lemke, article materialism without matter.
I also thank Christopher N. Gamble for talking through OOO’s static ontology with me.
[xxii] See Sean Carroll’s latest book.
[xxiv] For a more detailed account of the differen
[xxv] See Being and motion