Queering Speculative Realism?
To what extent do we still need, or continually need, to queer philosophy? Let me be clear on what I mean by this. To what extent do we still need, or continually need, to work against the normative tendency of philosophy to be a predominantly white, male, heterosexual, middle-to-upper middle class discipline [for more on the term ‘queer’ in this sense, see the PPS below]? Why is or has this been the case? What are the implications, and even philosophical implications, of this?
Let’s even look at the Speculative Realist movement, or the bloggers associated with it. Am I the only one who is ‘gay’ or ‘queer’ (more on my use of these terms below)? Is there anyone who doesn’t get white privilege on a regular basis? Even though I’m Sicilian-American, I get white privilege on a continual basis. Are there any women who regularly blog on philosophy, speculative realism (I can only think of Nina Powers, and yet she doesn’t really deal with issues related to speculative realism that much . . .)? And let me be clear about this: I don’t think its a sin to be born a man, or to be hetero, or to have whitish skin. But I do think its important that if you get a certain type of social privilege, you fight against it. And that means, I think, trying to dissect the way this produces epistemological privilege of various sorts. So, I do think that if the speculative realist movement is predominantly white, male, hetero, we need to not only ask ourselves why this might be, but how it impacts our thought, and what we can do about this.
There was a time in which it seemed, however, that changes were afoot, though I’m not sure that’s as much the case now as it was then. But there was a moment within continental thought when Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva blasted open Lacan from within, and particularly Irigaray took the history of Western philosophy to task on the manner in which its androcentrism was part of the core of what it was about. And certainly these days, Franz Fanon is now taught as one of the most powerful and important thinkers of the twentieth century, in the manner in which he showed how race, psychoanalysis, postcolonialism, and radical politics can be matched. Judith Butler, Gayatri Spivak, Homi Bhabha, Paulo Freire (who is really an unsung theorist amongst philosophers, but I think he’s a rather brilliant post-Hegelian if you read him closely!), these are folks who really read the philosophical canon against its grain, with some truly revolutionary results.
Speculative Realism, for whatever we think of this name, is mostly a movement which works to brings speculation and science into a greater rapprochement (I’m greatly simplifying here for purposes of space). But what are the political implications of what we’re doing? And by political, I mean, how does this all apply to the deconstruction of philosophy as a white, hetero, male game, as so deftly shown by theorists from Bhaba to Butler to Spivak to Irigaray? Where do ‘we’ stand on these issues?
In my forthcoming work Networkologies – A Manifesto, I deal with these issues at some length in the section on ‘network ethics’. My goal is to have the manuscript done, and ready to solicit to publishers, by the time I leave the country in early July. So far I’m on schedule (woohoo!), and I’m working day and night, which is why I haven’t been blogging much. But I think these issues are really, really important, and need to be, for speculative realism to really be a philosophy that speaks to the needs of our current age. Isn’t that what philosophy is supposed to do? I really do believe Nietzsche when he argues that the philosopher is or should be a cultural physician, and that philosophy is “a culture’s collective struggle against depression.” Of course, it is more than just these things. But I believe it must also be these things.
And I know that many, many people working in this movement have strong political convictions, are very anti-capitalist in a variety of ways, etc. I don’t doubt that, because it seems evident by other things we post. But is this in any way integrated in our philosophical thought? Should it be? Must it be?
Epistemology and ontology, the current focus of speculative realism, aren’t enough. We need a politics and an ethics from this movement, yes? Does SR have something to say about race, gender, sexuality, or global capitalism? Something that comes from a particularly SR approach to the world? It’s my sense that unless philosophy develops all these sides of itself, it isn’t complete. Must philosophy be complete this way? My sense is that it should be. I’m not sure if my own work does this, but I think it is a challenge to myself that I need to make sure I at least work to fulfill.
For those of us who get privileges – race, gender, sexual – we need to constantly remind ourselves of this fact, and the ways in which this continually makes it easy for us to not have to deal with certain things. It is very easy for me to forget about racial discrimination as a philosopher because I don’t have to deal with it every day. Part of writing a post like this is to remind myself not to forget.
But back to where we are now. What are the political (in the widest sense of this term) ramifications of speculative realist thought in its many varieties? I’m someone who firmly believes that all philosophy has a political social dimension, and that if it doesn’t believe it does, it is lying to itself. And I also fully believe that a truly complete philosophy needs address these issues (for more, see my post here). Marx/Hegel, Nietzsche, and Freud taught us that all philosophy comes from a location, and this location says something often otherwise unsaid about that philosophy, what it takes for granted, its obverse, so to speak. And that obverse is part of that philosophy, explicitly or otherwise.
My approach to philosophy has always been that if its not engaged with the wider world, its dead. And that means the life-world, but also the horrible injustices in our world. And it does seem to me that all the folks working within speculative realism are firmly committed to social justice in a wide variety of ways. So this is not an attack. I too am fascinated by the scientific aspects of the movement. But part of it does seem a seduction, perhaps too far away from the pressing needs of our world today. I often do feel a bit guilty writing about things like artificial neural networks when the world is so messed up.
And so I ask, does it seem that we, and I include myself in this, are underplaying the politico-social sides of philosophy in the speculative realist movement as it stands now? Why is this? Is it just that in giving birth to this movement from episemological-ontological questions, it has yet to focus on the ethico-political? Certainly some philosophers start at one end and work to the other (ie: Kant starts with epistemology, Heidegger with ontology, Levinas with ethics, but they each eventually get to the others, if from their own perspective). Might this happen with SR?
Or is there something about philosophy as a discipline, perhaps, that continually makes us in ‘love with the concept’, so to speak, too tied to the universal to see difference? Has Deleuze helped us unwork that, or is this only in theory? Why don’t more people who are not white, hetero, men go into philosophy? What about the ways in which first Althusser and now Badiou are being read as revolutionary texts in various parts of the world? Can philosophy change the world again, or was the Marxist experiment in this too dangerous?
I’m curious what others think.
(PS – This post started off as a reply to Peter Gratton’s excellent observations here, but veered into another direction. So I’ve split my reply into several posts, each with a slightly different focus. But for those interested on why I’m asking these questions now, please see the preceding posts.)
(PPS – using ‘queering’ as a term for deconstructing the normative heteronormativity in a structure is a great concept. But does it address race, capitalism? I’ve yet to see a term which can be used as effectively as ‘queering’ can be in relation to gender and sex that can encompass these notions as well in a way that doesn’t erase race and class. Racing? Classing? Doesn’t quite work. I find the title here less than perfect in this respect, but I don’t think ‘deconstructing’ really gets it either. This is why I like the terms ‘anti-oppressive’ or ‘anti-paranoid’. But I’m still not sure what’s the best title for this post, or a better term to use in situations like this in general . . . )