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 . . . )

~ by chris on June 8, 2010.

9 Responses to “Queering Speculative Realism?”

  1. Hi Chris,
    this series of posts has been fantastic, and I hope these questions are welcomed within the wider SR/OOO community. For me, SR has a certain amount of resonance with some of the feminist/queer theorists that got me started on philosophy (Foucault and Haraway, in particular…and in some ways, I guess Butler got me interested in materiality) even if the blogosphere tends to reject or ignore these as well as other feminist thinkers. I have detected similar veins of thought from Paul over at Pagan Metaphysics and Scu at Critical Animal, but I’ll let them speak for themselves.

  2. Great questions Chris.

    I think if Speculative Realism begins to get picked up by artists, radicals, and architects you will see a lot more diversity creep into the overall thrust.

    I personally like the label because it is broad enough that it is inclusive of all my leanings and projects – although I am not a philosopher and I don’t think it is productive fro anyone to seek to keep SR tucked nicely into institutional philosophy or academic circulation.

    The issue of queering and diversity is, for me, also more a problem with institutionalized intellectuality as such. Academia in general is still very much a white-boys club. And I don’t think we can expect SR to diversify and become overtly political if it remains entangled in the academic/blogging/philosophy assemblage. The issues of privilege, access and univocality – and even aesthetic-ideological preference and distinctions – are deep class issues at the heart of Western society and deeply embedded within our institutional education systems. In less words, we can’t expect SR to treat the symptom without its adherents (for lack of a better word) first, or also attacking root causes of a dis-ease at the heart of their disciplines. SR will simply perpetuate the problems existent within the institutions that SR thinkers and bloggers are entangled with. This is why diversity will come when SR is ‘contaminated’ from outside the academy and taken up by non-philosophical modes of intellectuality.

    One quick personal example: I will be using the term Speculative Realism in a presentation to technocrats on innovation in designing and implementing health clinics and programs in rural Canada. The presentation will be delivered in a room with about 90 people, half of whom are non-white and about 60% female.

    We could even go further and foreground linkages between the existence and emergence of SR and the techno-economic networks within which it arose. If global capitalism wasn’t what it is could those four horsemen of the philosophicus have traveled from their respective locations and positions of privilege to deliver their talks and increase the intensity of rapport and the networks of eager grad students?

    The whole system/network in which SR came into being and is perpetuated can be analyzed and questioned. Many dynamics at work here…

    Anyway, thanks for the opportunity to think about this stuff.


  3. As a non-academic (or a non-University-employee), I can’t speak about the academy from the inside (my time there was all undergrad and a while ago now…), but I do hope that S.R. might remain true to its groundswell from the blogosphere, which means, among other things, questioning the de facto centrality of the University. I certainly concur that philosophy as the examined life is an empty phrase unless it really makes me ask about how I live. I am a teacher (of grade school children), and I cannot help but notice the ‘privilege’ I experience as a grown-up among kids. This privilege is almost invisible because it is built into the very structure of the job– I’m paid to be the one in charge, the one who gets to say so– even though the moment you think about it is is painfully obvious. This has made me start to notice other privilege I systematically benefit from, and to notice as well how hard it is to eschew it. (I don’t mean, of course, to draw some easy equals-sign between heterosexism or racism and pedagogy; only to say that my thinking about privilege starts with what I do every day at work). In any case, you are absolutely right– philosophy has to raise these questions, or it isn’t love of wisdom, it’s ideology. However, I suspect you will find a fairly wide range of political and social positions in the SR camp.

  4. […] Leave a Comment  Over at Vitale’s blog Networkologies, I just noticed this post on SR and politics. Vitale writes: To what extent do we still need, or continually need, to queer philosophy? Let me […]

  5. Chris,
    As Kai notes, I’ve commented on the possible relations between SR, OOO and feminist/queer perspectives on my own blog a couple of times in the past, plus I’m in the midst of writing an article on this for Speculations or Hypatia at the moment. Initially, I’d thought about making the common Queer theoretical point that we are all queer anyway – i.e. all constructed by various sexual discourses, networks of power and not possessing a unified or uniform sexuality – but from your PPS it is clear that you are worrying about the terminology, so that response isn’t too useful. Personally, I think a good way forwards is simply communication, disseminate the SR and OOO ideas beyond their current community and try and form Latourian alliances with those working with feminist, queer, Marxist, womanist, Mujerista and countless other perspectives. To some extent this is already taking place with fruitful dialogues with Critical Animal Studies, Ecological Studies, Media Studies etc. I don’t think that we can ever realise a wholly non-oppressive, post-privileged position; all of these relations will be partial and to some extent awkward. However, we can aim for some degree of heightened reflexivity and this can be promoted by attending to and taking the various other positions seriously. For example, I’ve spent many years worrying and writing about the male scholar’s relationship to feminist theory and praxis. My conclusion: chronic reflexivity is precisely the state men who take feminism seriously should be in, although this shouldn’t be an excuse for inaction. One should act and try an draw those feminist (queer, other etc.) concepts and perspectives into one’s life as fully as possible.
    The danger for SR and OOO, however, is obessessing about human-world or human-human relations and collapsing back into correlationsism. Yes, we need to take politics, ethics, aesthetics etc. seriously, but the starting point for engaging with these concerns is very different. As you know, in OOO at least, the terrain is flattened and the population of the world radically democratised. One must equally worry about the politics of cofee cups, the queerness of quarks and the beauty of bacteria.

  6. […] is, of course, nothing personal there. This is also from the guy who wrote the following about speculative realism, accusing all of us associated with the movement with […]

  7. Hey Chris,

    This is the first post of yours I have read, and was delightfully surprised. I definitely fall into the category of white-hetero-middle class-philosophy bloggers which of course doesn’t mean that queer theory isn’t relavent to me- I think its relavent for everyone. I have been very enthusiastic about SR since I heard about it, but have also grown a little concerned that if SR is in part a response to a centuries of questions of ‘access’ and also remains somewhat antagonistic to postmodernism (lets just use the blanket term for brevity) that many advances made in the 20th century surrounding questions of gender dynamics, power relations, class privilege etc will get thrown out in favor of a ‘return to metaphysics.’ Donna Haraway commented at the Claremont Conference a few months ago that SR had her excited, but dismayed because it largely seems to be a ‘boys’ club. Having said that, Haraway and Stengers were the headliners at that particular conference, but citing that as evidence for strong nonmale participation is like saying that racism doesn’t exist because we now have a black president. Anyway, I know of at least one fellow friend and student is who does a lot of work on gender-identity studies and is also getting into the SR stuff…I think its a fruitful combination. I recognize the importance of what SR is doing, but I hope it doesn’t result in a lack of attention to the justice issues you are pointing too. Thanks for the words.

    • thanks for your thoughts on this. I could agree with you more. I think SR is a boys club, and that worries me. I think it’s a reengagement with science, but one needs to be careful in how this is done. I for one don’t want to give up philosophy OR science OR the critique of both in the name of history, gender, race, sexuality, etc. and I think I’m not alone in this. but I think a lot of people get intimidated by science and math, particularly if they’re not ‘trained’ in it, and historically, it’s boys who go into these fields because, well, they’re told their good at it from a young age. I think its really important to demistify science and math. so often it is made much more difficult than it is, and I think this supports certain types of power and hierarchy that have a lot to do with gender, race, and also the influence that the military-industrial complex have had, surreptitiously and otherwise, on the way math and science are researched and taught. then there’s influence of late modernism on these disciplines, a related fiasco . . .

  8. came across this book today – it’s of direct relevance to this brief and insightful blog post…cheers


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