The death of the stars means I don't have to listen to you.

Posted by | Chris | 20.2.11 | 3 Comments

Hello world! I have the internet at home again so I'm back in the matrix. I've been in one of those moods recently where I'd read a bit and feel like I should read some more before I wrote anything; the writing is eternally deferred and my reading amounts to little more than "oh, that's interesting". I've not been very productive.

During this period I've reread Nihil Unbound and searched out a few essays by Brassier and his influences. I find equal parts of Brassier's philosophy exciting and repellent. His commitment to realism, his insightful critique of other philosophers, his engagement with science are all things to admire and learn from. What I find I cannot endorse however is a certain tone of writing, the stylistic match to his project of 'disenchantment'.

Clearly my distaste at a certain type of prose is not in any way a philosophical rejoinder to the project of disenchantment. Were I to present it as such I have no doubt that any lucid nihilist-scientist would destroy my position with ease, or more likely simply disregard it.

Many of Brassier's arguments are serious, sometimes savage, challenges to his opponents. But none of them destroy or eliminate their target. If you are committed to phenomenology then it is likely that you will simply ignore Brassier's arguments.

Brassier may be right about the meaninglessness of existence, the unilateral power of being and its "being nothing". In the nihilist atopian future we may all join in making ourselves equal to the nothing of being, joining in the will to know. But this somewhat facetious prediction contains the kernel of one of my central criticisms; Brassier, like his eliminativist allies, appears quite concerned to tell other people how things should be done and spends much of his time adding to the list of things which we should disregard as a meaningless waste of time. What remains appears to me to be a mean-spirited essentialism about knowledge and science.

None of this amounts to a proper argument against this type of philosophy. Indeed, I have a hard time disentangling what I agree with from what I would choice to challenge. But one final thing that really makes me feel unwell is the disdain sometimes reserved for other style's of philosophy when in fact a stylistic choice seems to inform some of the work of Brassier's and his counterparts. Brassier is biting about leaving phenomenology as literature, yet much of his own work is effective precisely because of his gloriously nihilist rhetoric.

Again, none of this disqualifies the arguments, but it adds to the impression of a type of philosophy unconcerned to engage its opponents, assured as it is of its own superiority it can simple present the facts and flip you the finger if you disagree.

Timothy Morton's been writing recently on scientism and I especially enjoyed this irreverent post.


3 Responses to “The death of the stars means I don't have to listen to you.”

  1. peter
    18/3/11 07:29

    i've just read the brassier interview and i found it delightful but i do take heed of your comments vis-a-vis the abberant language he used to describe opponents of his far-ranging project. however, i dont find them that problematic. it seems to me that a lot of debates range around people disagreeing virulently and i can only see this as a good thing which will prevent dead dogma. not everyone is going to agree with him and a lot of people will find his views alarming and this will lead to debates and the proliferation of better articulated positions - which in turn can potentially lead to a better understanding of nature and ourselves.
    (see feyerabend)

    im also interested in a combination of his nihilist position, iain's account of powers/process and a grounding for scientific realism.

    i found the following three quotes very interesting:

    1. “‘We understand nature better than we did, but this understanding no longer requires the postulate of an underlying meaning’”

    2. “The world has no author and there is no story enciphered in the structure of reality. No narrative is unfolding in nature”

    and any attempted revitalising of narrative/meaning is...

    3. “...doomed because it is the very category of narrative that has been rendered cognitively redundant by modern science. Science does not need to deny the significance of our evident psychological need for narrative; it just demotes it from its previously foundational metaphysical status to that of an epistemically derivative ‘useful fiction’.”

    i agree with these 3 quotes. however, In "Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature" Schelling argues that it is not a question of how there could be purpose outside of mind (quote 2 - which Brassier would dismiss) but the question of how it arises inside the mind, as "a useful epistemic fiction", that is the important question.

    This is not to say that the argument about meaning in nature-in-itself is not an intersting and important question (i agree with Brassier's nihilistic answer of no to this). but the question "How does purposiveness arise in me?", especially from a meaningless nature, (see pg 41 of the pdf i sent you) is of greater importance since it gets to the heart of what tobias would call "the naturalised production of the transcendental".

    i suggest a combination of Brassier and iain:
    nature, as the process of production, is meaningless but has contingently led to brains which generate useful narratives for the propagation of replication which has in turn evolved into an advanced memetic complex system – and again in turn we are now using elements of this contingent reason to de-mystify itself and its production (i.e. nature and thought as a natural product of nature).

    ...but then again since this a blog-format im sure brassier would be appalled by my bastardisation of some of his ideas in this speculative manner :P

  2. Chris
    20/3/11 12:34

    I'd agree with you that Iain's and Brassier's projects are amenable. See Ben Woodward at for instance.

    I'd also join you in agreeing with the three quotes you've picked. Although, as you rightly point out Brassier's project of disenchantment appears reductive since it dismisses the production of 'meaning', and considers that dismissial unproblematic, because:

    "a project is now underway to understand and explain human consciousness in terms that are compatible with the natural sciences, such that the meanings generated by consciousness can themselves be understood and explained as the products of purposeless but perfectly intelligible processes, which are at once neurobiological and sociohistorical."

    I've got no great disagreement with the general project, except that neuroscience is far from complete and in some philosophical difficulty if it's response to 'folk psychology' is to dismiss it as an uninteresting and false diversion.

    My problem with the nihilist-scientist project is it's similarity to Meillasoux's 'necessarily disappointing' response to the POSR - "for no reason". This doesn't explain anything and Brassier invocation of an indifferent and meaningless nature appears as an attempt to bulldozer legitimate and interesting areas of enquiry.

  3. peter
    21/3/11 16:06

    i do find the nihilist project saisfying, but i understand you're reseverations. im not sure that it shuts down all areas of enquiry into meaning - the gneration of meaning and beliefs become a source of great interest given the fact that nature, in itself or devoid of relation to thought, is intrinsically meaningless. especially as it seems to infer that human projects/beilefs occur ex nihilo - in that something (meaning) emerges from nothing (meaninglessness). i think that there is an evolutionary answer to this but it still doesnt quite cover the "legitimate and interesting areas of enquiry". the fact of purposiveness inside us is the intersting question and exploring it seems to be an agenda for schelling which is why im really enjoying this reading group with iain

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