(Thanks to Chris Gamble for this find)
Hiram Crespo has written a nice series of blog posts reviewing Lucretius I at societyofepicurus.com. They were written last year (2018) and I am happy to have found them. He highlights some nice connections to Epicurus.
You can read the review posts here.
Thomas Nail, Being and Motion. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018; 544 pages. ISBN: 978-0190908911.
Reviewed by Michael J. Bennett, University of King’s College.
Thomas Nail’s ambitious philosophical project starts with the diagnosis that today we live in the “Age of Motion.” Politics, aesthetics and science have entered a “whole new kinetic paradigm,” (5) and this is true even of ontology, however reluctant ontologists are to accept it.
Though its scope is staggering, this book is yet a part of a larger whole. Nail proposes to treat the other topics in separate books, some of which remain unpublished, even as Being and Motion references them frequently. In Being and Motion, Nail aims to accomplish two things. His first task is to produce a timely “conceptual and ontological framework for describing the being of motion,” upon which the companion volumes can draw, thus also providing a “unique insight into a certain hidden or occluded dimension of Western ontology.” (11) Philosophers have rarely endorsed the ontological “primacy of motion,” Nail observes, and have usually subordinated it to a more fundamental principle. Three historical exceptions—Lucretius, Marx, and Bergson—who take motion as seriously as Nail does, receive brief treatment (32–35), and fuller analyses are promised elsewhere. But because Nail portrays Being and Motionas providing insight into what has hitherto been obscured behind other “names of being,” his book makes a critical intervention today. Contemporary philosophers who fail to appreciate the primacy of motion must be out of step with the times, actively participating in the suppression of this dimension of ontology, or oblivious to the real material-kinetic presuppositions of their practice (144). These are the errors that Nail scrupulously avoids.
The second task of Being and Motion is to “turn this kinetic perspective back on the practice of ontology itself.” Nail’s theory of motion is not “fundamental” ontology, he says, but “historical.” (19) It advances a “minimal” (but still “transcendental”) claim about the history of past being, about what “previous reality” must have been like in order to produce our present. Thus it makes no assertions about the future and even leaves open the possibility that other names of being will eclipse “motion.” Moreover, in addition to examining historical descriptions of being—primarily, but not exclusively, texts from the history of Western philosophy—with a view to redescribing them in kinetic terms, Nail also pays meticulous attention to the types of inscription or graphism that materially condition the content of those descriptions: speech, writing, the codex, and the keyboard.
Nail’s thesis is that in four distinct periods of Western history, both ontological description and inscription followed the same “regime of motion.” That is, they described and inscribed a real “pattern of being’s motion,” which existed at the time (24) and made it possible for being to appear as something other than what it is—other than motion. This is not to say that historical ontologists were simply wrong to name being “space,” “eternity,” “force,” or “time.” “Reality actually moved differently in each period” (139), and this is what such descriptions referred to. In the Neolithic period (10000–5000 BCE), a centripetal pattern of motion dominated, while in the Ancient world (5000 BCE–500 CE), it was a centrifugal pattern. The long Middle Ages, including the Early Modern period (500–1800 CE), were characterized by a “tensional” regime of motion, and in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, motion became increasingly “elastic.” These kinetic patterns organize Being and Motion itself, particularly the second half, and demonstrating their existence and dominance in their respective historical eras lies at the heart of the project.
One of the challenges inherent in Nail’s project arises from his reasoned commitment to describing the patterns without explaining them. Nail rejects the pretense of causal explanation involved in both “idealist” reductionism, according to which inscriptions about being are completely explained by the thoughts they contain, and its obverse, which makes ontological descriptions the simple products of “technological, material, or media” conditions. (20–21) Since talking about “causes” is always a non-explanatory “short-cut” for longer accounts of matter in motion (103), Nail prefers terms like “coordination, or synchronization” (21), “historical coemergence and constant conjunction” (23), and “kinetic resonance” (140) to capture the relation between description and inscription. And though he does not explain it, Nail increases the scope of this “resonance” with dominant patterns of motion: it also characterizes the relations between ontology, politics, aesthetics, and science. (140)
Despite the centrality of kinetic forms or “patterns” to his argument, Nail classifies the ontology of motion as a kind of materialism. He defines his “process materialism” in contrast to what Marx called the “crude materialism” of the empiricists and the “contemplative materialism” of the idealists, which makes of matter a “concept or logical category.” (47–8) To avoid that misstep, Nail aims to ensure that the term remains as undefined as possible: “Matter is the historical name for what is in motion, but what matter is is in process and thus must remain ontologically indeterminate.” (46) Again, instead of explaining, Nail prefers to describe: “The best way to describe what it is is by what it does, or how it moves.” (49) To this end, he devotes the rest of Book I: The Ontology of Motion.
This theory of motion constitutes the “kinetic deduction” Nail promised of historical being’s minimal features and a kinetic redescription of inherited ontological concepts. For example, Nail calls the intersection of a continuous flow with itself a “fold” (83). The cycle or periodic motion that follows from folding makes it possible for motion to achieve a state of relative stability that Nail uses to conceptualize identity, unity, existence, necessity, sensation, quality, quantity, and thinghood. (85–99)
The dominant “patterns of motion” that characterize the history of ontology and give rise to being’s main names are not folds but “fields.” The difference is that a field does not intersect with itself, yet “binds together and organizes a regional distribution of flows.” (109) One question this raises is how a field does so, if indeed it doesn’t move the way a fold does—that is, if it has no period, cycle, and so on, and by extension no identity, qualities or thinghood of its own. Nail might deny that fields explain the folds they organize and resist answering such a “how” question, but even so, the concept of the kinetic field is less well-developed than that of the fold—which is a shame, considering how important a role fields play in the historical analyses of Book II.
Book II: The Motion of Ontology is by some margin the longer section of Being and Motion. It is divided into four subsections, each devoted to a period of ontological history and that period’s associated concept of being. Each of these parts is, in turn, subdivided into three “resonating” analyses—of the dominant pattern of motion (kinos), the content of ontological descriptions (logos), and the ways in which ontology was inscribed (graphos). Book II is the product of massive synthetic ambition, and Nail brings together an impressive amount of material under his conceptual framework. In this review, I cannot do justice to it all, so I neglect his intriguing discussions of inscription entirely, as well the prehistoric centripetal and ancient centrifugal periods, in order to focus on what he says about modern European philosophy.
Probably the most unusual feature of Nail’s history of Western ontology is the length of the period he calls “medieval,” dominated by the “tensional” pattern of motion. It spans from about the traditional date of the fall of Rome to the publication of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason in 1781. Although this regime remains dominant well into scientific modernity, it originates, Nail says, as a response to the kinetic problems introduced by the transcendence of God at the centre of the prior, centrifugal regime. (274–75) Such problems are particularly acute in the Christian traditions because of the necessity of accounting for the incarnation, as a result of which God is both an absolutely separate creator and a particular human being. (320–21) Thus Nail defines “tensional” motion as involving at least two fields, connected by a mediating flow or “rigid link [that] keeps them both together and apart.” (274) Medieval theologians, philosophers and scientists theorize the link between God and created nature in various ways—for example, in terms of the Trinity, aether, impetus, and conatus—but Nail perceives an underlying continuity, because being tends to be defined predominantly as transferable force. In this context, Spinoza develops the regime’s timeliest ontological description with his unapologetic ontology of power. (314)
The transition from the tensional regime and the ontology of force to its successor, Nail continues, occurs “in the face of a brutal empiricist critique” (368)—namely, the critique of metaphysics inaugurated by Berkeley and Hume. (318–19; 280–81) One recognizes the conventional story Kant himself tells of being awoken from dogmatic slumbers, which inaugurates a philosophical revolution. Nail identifies post-Kantian phenomenology as the dominant form of modern ontology and “elastic” motion as the regime it kinetically presupposes. “Elasticity” here describes a field in which between any two ordered folds, there is an indefinite number of subfolds. (370; 373) The field can thus expand and contract in a way that has been described predominantly in terms of temporality and subjectivity—for example, the retention of the past, the anticipation of the future, and the expansiveness of the lived present. Nail interprets Kant’s transcendental subject as an elastic circulation conditioning all appearances whose form of inner sense is time, and he makes Husserl, Heidegger, and Derrida the regime’s other descriptive touchstones, since they each elaborate on the association between temporality and subjectivity, consciousness, or being-there.
With the claim that modern phenomenology and the ontology of time become “dominant” in the recent past, Nail must face up to a structural or methodological challenge. He admits that fields of motion not only change over the course of history but become increasingly hybrid or mixed as they approach the present. (26; 453 n.14) The attempt to isolate the dominant patterns or to consider patterns separately must therefore become progressively less adequate to the reality of the fields themselves.
Nail’s core argument climaxes with the suggestion that the phenomenology of time has brought ontology to a tipping-point. He concedes that it closely resembles the view he advocates, as “the whole of being seems to be caught up in a more primary flux or flow of time,” but in another sense ontological elasticity “could not be more different from the real flux and continuum of motion.” (369) That’s because “the structure of time presupposes that being is primordially divided, intervalic [sic], fragmentary, and thus static.” (420) It is divided into three tenses: past, present, and future (367), and, finally, into the differences or “intervals” that Derrida shows to be the condition for the givenness of time. (416–17) In other words, the flow (of time) is not a continuous flow at all. Since the most contemporary ontologies are so close yet so far from a truly kinetic one, Nail aims to seize the moment, come down on one side of the issue, and tip the balance away from the legacy of phenomenology one finds in Heidegger, Derrida, and their acolytes (420)—but also in Deleuze.
Deleuze and the Deleuzians appear prominently in Being and Motion as “related contenders” to Nail’s process materialism and ontology of motion (32) and as the clearest targets of his criticism, the thrust of which is that their descriptions of being are ontological throwbacks, out of step with the times. According to Nail, Deleuze not only (like Derrida), “models his theory of difference [in Difference and Repetition] on time, following the phenomenological tradition” (419), but he is also a neo-Spinozist ontologist of force. (43; 37–38; 48–49) In other words, Deleuze’s descriptions of being presuppose either the elastic regime of motion, which Nail encourages us to move beyond, or the tensional regime that has not been dominant for centuries. Deleuze’s claims are “historically limited in certain ways [he] could not see beyond.” (41)
Nail also attributes to Deleuze—in contrast to his own kinetic materialist monism—an “inclusive and pluralistic ontology in which all the great names for being are said equally and univocally of the same being,” identified with becoming or differential process. (36) From this perspective, Nail’s complaint is that Deleuze failed to live up to his promise of pluralism and inclusiveness by treating some of the supposedly equal names of being (like “force”) as more equal than others. (37–38) Still, if the present-day fields of motion, by Nail’s own admission, are the most complex and hybrid, then perhaps a consistent pluralism that undertakes to be equally so would also be a candidate for the ontology of the present.
Being and Motion is a singular achievement, but it ends by recognizing its limitations. The need to isolate dominant patterns in hybrid flows, for example, represents the “mixological” limitation of the work. Nail also acknowledges its “geographical narrowness” as the price to be paid for “historical breadth” (445), and he looks forward to future research expanding the kinetic analysis to non-Western and colonized contexts, where motion may be differently periodized and resonate in other patterns. (446–47) Nail’s compelling book might indeed move others to build on its groundwork or, equally, provoke vigorous debate. It is a substantial contribution to contemporary philosophy, which I expect to make a wide-ranging impact.
We live in an age of the mobile image. The world today is absolutely saturated with images of all kinds circulating around the world at an incredible rate. The movement of the image has never been more extraordinary than it is today. This recent kinetic revolution of the image has enormous consequences not only for the way we think about contemporary art and aesthetics but also for art history as well.
Responding to this historical moment, Theory of the Image offers a fresh new theory and history of art from the perspective of this epoch-defining mobility. The image has been understood in many ways, but it is rarely understood to be fundamentally in motion. The original and materialist approach is what defines Theory of the Image and what allows it to offer the first kinetic history of the Western art tradition. In this book, Thomas Nail further develops his larger philosophy of movement into a comprehensive “kinesthetic” of the moving image from prehistory to the present. The book concludes with a vivid analysis of the contemporary digital image and its hybridity, ultimately outlining new territory for research and exploration across aesthetics, art history, cultural theory, and media studies.
“This is an engaging book with a fascinating argument. Thomas Nail stakes out new territory, building a theory from the group up of the image as kinetic” — David Morgan , Duke University
“Thomas Nail’s Theory of the Image is an ambitious and original attempt to re-theorize the material and cognitive dynamics of the image. In this respect, his model is kinetic as opposed to representational, mimetic, or hermeneutical. The book is eminently suitable for use on a range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses, in particular, philosophy, cultural theory, and art history.” — John Roberts , University of Wolverhampton
Read the introduction here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 www.fordhampress.com/9780823276226/entangled-worlds/
P Rekret – Theory, Culture & Society, 2018
This article seeks to examine the political connotations of a recent ‘material turn’ in social and political theory and its implications for theorizations of political agency. ‘New materialist’ theories are premised upon transcending the limits which social constructivism places upon thought, viewed as a reification of the division of subject and object and so a hubristic anthropocentrism which places human beings at the centre of social existence. Yet new materialist theories have tended to locate the conditions of the separation of mind and world they seek to overcome upon the terrain of epistemic or ethical error. By taking the work of Quentin Meillassoux, Jane Bennett and Karen Barad as exemplary, this article contends that new materialist theories not only fall short of their own materialist pretensions insofar as they do not interrogate the material conditions of the separation of the mental and material, but that the failure to do so has profound repercussions for the success of their accounts of political agency. This essay seeks to offer a counter-narrative to new materialist theories by situating the hierarchy between thought and world as a structural feature of capitalist social relations.
S Iovino – 2018
Inspired by the theoretical debates about distributed fields of agency and of meaning, the so-called “material turn” sheds its effects also on ecocriticism. Its main conceptual tenet, the agency of matter, has in fact vast implications on the ideas of narrativity and text. If matter is agentic, and endowed with meanings, every material configuration, from bodies to their contexts of living, is “telling,” and therefore can be the object of a critical analysis aimed at discovering its stories, its material and discursive interplays, its place in a “cho- reography of becoming.” In this article I will explore this new dimension of ecocriticism looking at the example of some meaningful narratives about the intermingling of living bodies, social forms, and what, following Bruno Latour, we can call “actants”: “things” or assemblages of things that, in various forms and patterns, interact and interfere with human life, interlacing with the emerging meanings and agencies. In particular, I will concentrate on visual media and literary “embodied” narratives that show how the “material self” is a crossroads of multiple agencies.