nikki moore

maybe William James in Williamsburg…

In what is philosophy? on November 30, 2009 at 10:43 pm

two modes of thought/action crossed paths for me this week:

i have lately been listening to william james’ Essays in Radical Empiricism, available here through Librivox and am increasingly struck by the prescience, timeliness of this work.  as levi bryant makes clear in this acknowledgement of James’ early influence, the feeling of ‘timeliness’ arises from well and carefully constructed ground.  ground that speculative realism, object oriented ontology and other recent and innovative philosophies are tilling, fertilizing and leveraging in productive ways.

at the same time billy, another friend of mine, posted a thoughtful analysis of the ‘farm fresh’ trends popping up in the boroughs of NYC and spreading elsewhere.

i’d like to think these things together.  together à la bruno latour.

which i’m proposing is really together à la james.

not that it matters… and then again…

we’ll start with james in the second chapter/essay of Essays in Radical Empiricism, entitled “A World of Pure Experience”…

It is difficult not to notice a curious unrest in the philosophic atmosphere of the time, a loosening of old landmarks, a softening of oppositions, a mutual borrowing from one another on the part of systems anciently closed, and an interest in new suggestions, however vague, as if the one thing sure were the inadequacy of the extant school-solutions.  The dissatisfaction with these seems due for the most part to a feeling that they are too abstract and academic.  Life is confused and superabundant, and what the younger generation appears to crave is more of the temperament of life in its philosophy, even though it were at some cost of logical rigor and of formal purity.  Transcendental idealism is inclining to let the world wag incomprehensibly, in spite of its Absolute Subject and his unity of purpose.   (p. 40)

idealist philosophies: too abstract.  too academic.  we could add too alienating without changing the implications.  whether we are talking about academic idealism as it appears in post-kantian philosophy or the state of the union on the streets of brooklyn, an ‘unrest’ and ‘dissatisfaction’ were at work in james’ time as they are in ours.  a feeling that wants to get our hands dirty, that wants more of ‘the temperament of life’ – confused and superabundant and closer to home than the huge financial and military/terrorist spans we’ve been disillusioned of… (once again.)

so whether looking at speculative realism – the move out and away from what has, since quentin meillasoux, been called correlationism, but otherwise known as Kantian idealism – or the kids on the streets of brooklyn, new york and elsewhere who are dreaming of moving to the country and farming their days away, moves are being made toward modes of thought and modes of life that reconnect what has so long been split: objects, people, bacteria, dirt, emotions, food, production, imagination… the list is, quite literally, endless.

and this is the whole point, if there is one.  and the point, which is always multiple:

since kant, since heidegger, since existentialism, since humanism, since… dualism, really… we’ve seated the world and its contents inside the human mind.  experience, in this frame, is mediated by mind, categories, labor, language… by any and all anthropomorphic lenses.   you know the culprits.  and i know them as i’ve spent my graduate years delighting in them.  and while this human-centric universe has brought about incredibly important moves, changes, liberations, recognitions, even aporias and humilities, it hasn’t done us any favors as concerns the ‘world out there’.  not that continental philosophy is solely responsible for global warming and the increased tsunami’s of late, but…

with james’ again:

…I seem to read the signs of a great unsettlement, as if the upheaval of more real conceptions and more fruitful methods were imminent, as if a true landscape might result, less clipped, straight-edged and artificial.  (p. 41)

with unsettlement clearly given across almost all sectors of public life, what might this ‘less clipped’ landscape look like?  well, as billy points out, it looks like

the rise of the so-called locavore, who out of both health and environmental interests makes locally-grown products an essential priority. Dovetailing in with locavore-ism is a broader trend towards craft and self-reliance – homemade, hand-constructed, DIY, the sorts of projects found in books like “The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living In the Heart of the City”

and yet, while billy will go on to locate the origins of this locavore-ianism in a loss of authority, i see, in addition, a (literally) grass roots movement going off-grid and inter-network. net-work of the kind latour points to in We Have Never Been Modern.  net-work of the type that stops thinking dualism and starts seeing actions and their always reciprocal inter-actions.  net-work that laces eaters to the animal, mineral & vegetable source of their food.  net-work that laces animals, plants and minerals to their environments.  net-work that laces environments back to and through all of the above as each continually inter-acts with the others, changing things each way, creating new circumstances from endless angles.

levi bryant’s very apt tagline for Object Oriented Ontology (“there is no difference that does not make a difference”), traced from james’ own statement of the sort, beautifully illustrates this movement.  as does james work in the Essays on Radical Empiricism, where he writes:

To be radical, an empiricism must neither admit into its constructions any element that is not directly experienced, nor exclude from them any element that is directly experienced.  For such a philosophy, the relations that connect experiences must themselves be experienced relations, and any kind of relation experienced must be accounted as ‘real’ as anything else in the system.  Elements may indeed be redistributed, the original placing of things getting corrected, but a real place must be found for every kind of thing experienced, whether term or relation, in the final philosophic arrangement.  (p. 42)

whether we use james and whiteheads’ words… relations.  relating.  relata.

or latour’s… actions.  acting.  actors.

or Williamsburg’s… (suggestions from the ground here welcomed, billy…)

the recognition of our inter-actions is occurring on more fronts that we can, and perhaps even should, count.  the best of which means that even this tidy little post has more going on within and without, acting and interacting in ways i’ve not (and perhaps need not be) logged into…

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  1. I like very much how you situate ecological-organic concerns in relation to speculative realism, you open up alot to work with in doing so. And as well the emphasis on networks and connectivity, which has a kind of Deluezian resonance, you’re right to point out the network that ‘laces’ eaters to the source of food. it’s a kind of rootsy, low-tech parallel to high-tech internet connectivity. I have a question though about your mention of Heidegger, when discussing the legacy of mind-oriented philosophy and its limitations. Can’t we say though that Dasein analysis is all about getting out of these limitations, situating the subject more as a product of its environment? I’m as well thinking of Wolfgang, how he wants to essentially frame Heidegger as an ecological thinker.

    • billy, this is such a good point about heidegger… i paused on it when typing his name in. rightfully noted, dasein re-situates the subject, moving away from descartes and toward a formulation of being-in-the-world via deseverence and de-distancing. still… as derrida points out, heidegger chooses the site of dasein as ‘that which is closest’, i.e, in the human… albeit a very different conception of human. in doing so, he starts and really moves so far into the work of de-anthropomorphism. but, finally, i think, he stops short and throws up a wall between that which can be known via that which is closest (i.e. the environment dasein is product of) and that which is other, where dasein is not and is fully ‘overtaken’. this other taking the shape, for heidegger, of das man/the they. i’m working on this precisely in my dissertation so it’s still in formation…
      the point about wolfgang’s work is good, too… i guess the stop gap for me is that in Dasein, Heidegger sets up and delimits a very particular and very mastered/masterable environment. and i’m thinking that there is so much left out of that environment, that ecology, that needs to be considered for Dasein to be more than just selectively ‘green’.

  2. It’s so interesting how we forget the very things we’ve written about. I’d entirely forgotten about this post and thought I was entirely drawing the principle of difference from Bateson. Thank you so much for reminding me of it and the nice associations that accompanied it for you!

    • multiplicity is what is so alive in all of this, isn’t it? if your principle of difference had come from one place and one source only, most likely it wouldn’t be as rich, productive and cross-pollinated as it is!

  3. Very nice and informative article!

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