18 November 2012

The Absence of a Movement, Para-Academic Work

'Aesthetics After Finitude' is a project that aims to question the possibility of aesthetics, and to develop a new role for aesthetics, in terms of a body of work on new realisms and new materialisms that has surfaced internationally over the last decade. This body of work is united in terms of its development of a philosophy that exceeds the confines of Kantian correlationism, a term developed by Quentin Meillassoux in After Finitude. Each of these philosophers seeks to develop a new method or mode of thought that exceeds finitude, rather than being bounded by it. Nonetheless, any evocation of unity is extremely tenuous. A shift from the dominant paradigm of Kantian correlationism might seem to bespeak a united movement with fixed tenets or convictions. Such a broad shift, however, is belied by a much more fragmented body of texts.

The term 'Speculative Realism' originated at a conference at Goldsmiths University in London in 2007. The term was purportedly coined by Ray Brassier, one of the four speakers at the conference, who sought an umbrella title under which the new realisms might be united. This term echoes Meillassoux's particular stance that he opposes to correlationism, which he calls 'speculative materialism'. This conference gave a platform for four speakers: Meillassoux, Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant and Graham Harman. Each of these thinkers has a unique approach to realism and materialism: Brassier, for instance, has developed 'eliminative nihilism', whilst Harman, along with other philosophers like Levi Bryant, works within what he calls 'object oriented ontology'. The division between eliminative nihilism and 'OOO' is so great that – despite being gathered under the 'after finitude' umbrella, these philosophies are fundamentally incompatible.

Several key thinkers that are bound up in moves to develop a mode of thought after- or beyond- finitude emerged from a rogue philosophical institution attached to the University of Warwick, called the Cybernetic Culture Research Institute, or the CCRU. This institute was founded by Nick Land and Sadie Plant in the mid-90s and dissolved some years later; the description of the institute is as enigmatic as its research: 'CCRU retrochronically triggers itself from October 1995, where it uses Sadie Plant as a screen and Warwick University as a temporary habitat. [...] CCRU feeds on graduate students + malfunctioning academic (Nick Land) + independent researchers + [...]. At degree-0 CCRU is the name of a door in the Warwick University Philosophy Department. Here it is now officially said that CCRU "does not, has not, and will never exist".' The institute website now contains a series of articles related to occultism or hyperstition. Robin Mackay, the director of the UK arts and publishing institute Urbanomic which publishes the journal associated with speculative thought, Collapse, Ray Brassier, and Nick Land were all associated with the CCRU. The institute was also home to a series of blogs that are associated with the Iranian philosopher and novelist Reza Negarestani. This was a crucial site for the development of the experimental philosophy that would drive speculative work in the following decade. This 'site' might be said to continue virtually in the journal Collapse, which is published by Urbanomic, has been the germinal ground for much thought and writing that is associated with the after-finitude project and the speculative project more generally, even if it veers sharply from an adherence to the name 'speculative realism'.

Thus, in addition to speculative thought being a vigorously contested field, we find a second key feature of this amorphous and intensive thought practise: para-academic work. The CCRU and its members or associates existed (and largely continue to exist) on the margins of academia. This trend towards para-academic practise is strengthened on a conceptual level too: critical to much speculative thought is the possibility of subtractive and non-institutional thought, particularly that associated with Francois Laruelle, who has coined the term non-philosophy, and founded the Organisation Non-Philosophique Internationale.


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