Black Hole Sun: On the Materialist Sublime

The first image of black hole has just been released today. This is a profound and important aesthetic moment from a new materialist perspective. The image is not beautiful because we enjoy a free play of our imagination as we try to figure out what we are looking at and how it fits with our existing conceptual framework. The image is also not sublime in the sense that a black hole is an infinitely dense singularity that defies all calculation by general relativity, and thus “blows our mind,” as we try to conceptualize the radically unconceptualizable. The black hole is itself a work of art. Nature, according to Kant, cannot be art because nature is passive and mechanistic. Art, for Kant, is radically free because it is a strictly human feeling of our own freedom.

The black hole is an excellent example of the materialist sublime. Nature and matter are not passive or deterministic. They are indeterminate material processes. They perform precisely the sublime that Kant restricts to humans alone. Black holes are not infinitely dense singularities. At the heart of a black hole is a specific (and very small) spatio-temporal region measured by the Planck scale and related to the size of the black hole (its Schwarzschild radius). However, and more importantly, below the Planck level of the black hole there are quantum processes that produce the spacetime of that region. These quantum processes below the Planck unit are fundamentally indeterminate—meaning that they are neither in one spacetime or another. They are the indeterminate material conditions for the emergence of spacetime itself (quantum gravity).

In other words, nature is not just the passive conditions for the human experience of its own aesthetic faculties of beauty or the sublime but itself performs the sublime activity of radical indeterminism without concrete form. Humans have the experience of sublimity only because nature is already performatively and materially sublime.



The Life of Plants: A Metaphysics of Mixture, Emanuele Coccia (2018)

This is a wonderful book. I highly recommend it for those interested in materialism, nature, plants, posthuman ecology.

We barely talk about them and seldom know their names. Philosophy has always overlooked them; even biology considers them as mere decoration on the tree of life. And yet plants give life to the Earth: they produce the atmosphere that surrounds us, they are the origin of the oxygen that animates us. Plants embody the most direct, elementary connection that life can establish with the world.

In this highly original book, Emanuele Coccia argues that, as the very creator of atmosphere, plants occupy the fundamental position from which we should analyze all elements of life. From this standpoint, we can no longer perceive the world as a simple collection of objects or as a universal space containing all things, but as the site of a veritable metaphysical mixture. Since our atmosphere is rendered possible through plants alone, life only perpetuates itself through the very circle of consumption undertaken by plants. In other words, life exists only insofar as it consumes other life, removing any moral or ethical considerations from the equation. In contrast to trends of thought that discuss nature and the cosmos in general terms, Coccia’s account brings the infinitely small together with the infinitely big, offering a radical redefinition of the place of humanity within the realm of life.

More here.

Posthuman Ecologies: Complexity and Process after Deleuze, Edited by Rosi Braidotti and Simone Bignall (2018)

Posthuman Ecologies

The devolved and dispersed character of human agency and moral responsibility in the contemporary condition appears linked with the deepening global trauma of ‘inhumanism’ as a paradox of the Anthropocene. Reclaiming human agency and accountability appears crucial for collective resistance to the unprecedented state of environmental and social collapse resulting from the inhumanity of contemporary capitalist geopolitics and biotechnologies of control. Understanding the potential for such resistance in the posthuman condition requires urgent new thinking about the nature of human influence in complex interactional systems, and about the nature of such systems when conceived in non-anthropocentric way. Through specific readings and uses of Deleuze’s conceptual apparatus, this volume examines the operation of human-actioned systems as complex and heterogeneous arenas of affection and accountability. This exciting collection extends non-humanist concepts for understanding reality, agency and interaction in dynamic ecologies of reciprocal determination and influence. The outcome is a vital new theorisation of human scope, responsibility and potential in the posthuman condition.

Table of Contents

1. Rosi Braidotti and Simone Bignall – Introduction: posthuman systems /

2. Iris Van der Tuin – Deleuze and diffraction /

3. Jussi Parikka – Cartographies of environmental arts /

4. Andrej Radman – Involutionary architecture: unyoking coherence from congruence /

5. Elizabeth de Freitas – Love of learning: amorous and fatal /

6. James Williams – Time and the posthuman /

7. Sean Bowden – ‘Becoming-equal to the act’: the temporal structure of action and agential responsibility /

8. Suzanne McCullagh – Heterogeneous collectivities and the capacity to act: conceptualising nonhumans in the political sphere /

9. Simone Bignall and Daryle Rigney – Indigeneity, posthumanism and nomad thought: transforming colonial ecologies /

10. Thomas Nail – Kinopolitics: borders in motion /

11. Gregory Flaxman – Out of control: from political economy to political ecology /

12. Jon Roffe – Economic systems and the problematic character of price /

13. Edward Mussawir – A modification in the subject of right: Deleuze, jurisprudence and the diagram of bees in Roman law /

14. Myra Hird and Kathryn Yusoff – Lines of shite: microbial-mineral chatter in the Anthropocene

You can buy the book here using the promo code RLIJAN19 for 30% off.



The Poetry of Georges Bataille, George Bataille, translated by Stuart Kendall (2018)

Just got my copy in the mail yesterday.

Presents a new window into the literary, philosophical, and theological concerns of this enigmatic thinker and writer.

Despite its relative rarity, and the condensed brevity of the poems themselves, poetry occupies a striking place in the literary and philosophical oeuvre of Georges Bataille. For Bataille, poetry had no meaning “except in the violence of revolt,” which it could attain “only by evoking the impossible.” Toward this end, he wrote poetry, as he says in Inner Experience, “with necessity—in accordance with my life.” Although poems appear in four of his major works, and others were published independently in a small collection and in magazines, much of Bataille’s poetry remained unpublished at the time of his death. This volume presents a nearly complete edition of the poems in chronological order. Stuart Kendall provides an extensive introduction and notes highlighting the literary, philosophical, and theological significance of Bataille’s poetry. He also explores the influence of Nietzsche, St. John of the Cross, Blake, Baudelaire, and other poètes maudits and situates the poems in relation to Bataille’s other writings and the period in which he wrote.

Georges Bataille (1897–1962), a medievalist librarian by training, founded the College of Sociology and the secret society Acéphale. He was equally famous for his contributions to French literature, art criticism, anthropology, philosophy, and theology. Bane of theologians, existentialists, and surrealists during his lifetime, he became an essential reference for the poststructuralist generation of French intellectuals, including Roland Barthes, Jean Baudrillard, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida.


The Incorporeal: Ontology, Ethics, and the Limits of Materialism, Elizabeth Grosz (2018) Paperback

Philosophy has inherited a powerful impulse to embrace either dualism or a reductive monism―either a radical separation of mind and body or the reduction of mind to body. But from its origins in the writings of the Stoics, the first thoroughgoing materialists, another view has acknowledged that no forms of materialism can be completely self-inclusive―space, time, the void, and sense are the incorporeal conditions of all that is corporeal or material. In The Incorporeal Elizabeth Grosz argues that the ideal is inherent in the material and the material in the ideal, and, by tracing its development over time, she makes the case that this same idea reasserts itself in different intellectual contexts.

Grosz shows that not only are idealism and materialism inextricably linked but that this “belonging together” of the entirety of ideality and the entirety of materiality is not mediated or created by human consciousness. Instead, it is an ontological condition for the development of human consciousness. Grosz draws from Spinoza’s material and ideal concept of substance, Nietzsche’s amor fati, Deleuze and Guattari’s plane of immanence, Simondon’s preindividual, and Raymond Ruyer’s self-survey or autoaffection to show that the world preexists the evolution of the human and that its material and incorporeal forces are the conditions for all forms of life, human and nonhuman alike. A masterwork by an eminent theoretician, The Incorporeal offers profound new insight into the mind-body problem.


Urban Political Ecology in the Anthropo-obscene: Interruptions and Possibilities (2018)

Urban Political Ecology in the Anthropo-obscene Interruptions and Possibilities book cover

Nice collection forthcoming in Dec 2018.

Urban Political Ecology in the Anthropo-obscene: Interruptions and Possibilities, Erik Swyngedouw & Henrik Ernstson, Eds., Routledge, 2018

This looks like a great paper on the importance of ecological value theory.

Excerpt from “Value, Nature & The Vortex Of Accumulation,” Jason Moore and Richard Walker

Why bother with value theory? When the classical political economists began to deploy a theory of value to understand the economy it was because the generalization of markets meant that commodity prices had come to be regulated by exchange. For the classicals, value was an objective foundation behind the vagaries of prices, and in a pre-industrial era of handicraft or “manufacture,” labour time was the obvious standard determining value. At the same time, however, they were engaged in fierce debates with opposing views of economy, state, and society. In these debates, the theory of value was mobilized as a weapon of social change, which is why it was called political economy (Varney 2012; Farber 2006).

Marx trod in the footsteps of his predecessors.The labour theory of value was the obvious starting point on a long analytic journey to uncover the workings of capital. For Marx, value was not just the basis of price determination, but the key to unlocking the source of profits, class struggle, and capital accumulation. Along the way, he made technical corrections to the classical theory of value to account for the greater complexity of nineteenth-century industrial capitalism (Marx 1977).1 Most of all, he made two great discoveries: how surplus value could arise in a system of equal exchange and how generalized value turned into capital accumulation.

Entangled Worlds (2017)

Historically speaking, theology can be said to operate “materiaphobically.” Protestant Christianity in particular has bestowed upon theology a privilege of the soul over the body and belief over practice, in line with the distinction between a disembodied God and the inanimate world “He” created. Like all other human, social, and natural sciences, religious studies imported these theological dualisms into a purportedly secular modernity, mapping them furthermore onto the distinction between a rational, “enlightened” Europe on the one hand and a variously emotional, “primitive,” and “animist” non-Europe on the other.

The “new materialisms” currently coursing through cultural, feminist, political, and queer theories seek to displace human privilege by attending to the agency of matter itself. Far from being passive or inert, they show us that matter acts, creates, destroys, and transforms—and, as such, is more of a process than a thing. Entangled Worlds examines the intersections of religion and new and old materialisms. Calling upon an interdisciplinary throng of scholars in science studies, religious studies, and theology, it assembles a multiplicity of experimental perspectives on materiality: What is matter, how does it materialize, and what sorts of worlds are enacted in its varied entanglements with divinity?

While both theology and religious studies have over the past few decades come to prioritize the material contexts and bodily ecologies of more-than-human life, Entangled Worlds sets forth the first multivocal conversation between religious studies, theology, and the body of “the new materialism.” Here disciplines and traditions touch, transgress, and contaminate one another across their several carefully specified contexts. And in the responsiveness of this mutual touching of science, religion, philosophy, and theology, the growing complexity of our entanglements takes on a consistent ethical texture of urgency.
— Read on