Monthly Archives: August 2010

Latour giving the Giffords

Some great news (h/t to Harman): Bruno Latour will be giving the Gifford Lectures in Edinburgh sometime in the next couple of years. Not only is this quite a distinction for Latour (see the Giffords’ website for a list of the company he’ll be joining), but it will be very exciting to see the product – apparently it will relate to the book he’s completing right now. So many great publications have resulted from these lectures over the last 100+ years that I don’t even want to get start listing examples (without even looking at my bookshelf, 4 or 5 immediately come to mind).

A couple of years ago I read a book on the history of the Giffords, The Measure of God: Our Century-Long Struggle to Reconcile Science and Religion by Larry Witham. It’s fairly interesting, if not particularly fascinating, piece of intellectual history if I remember correctly. I’d recommend it to those who follow the religion/science “debate” (or who are generally fans of Gifford-related work, of course).

weighing in after the event

Being both someone who works with Derrida and regularly reads the blogs that I do, I picked a bad weekend to be out of town – or maybe a good one, depending on one’s reaction to all of this. (I can tell you that I was following along somewhat, and doing a lot of huffing and fidgeting.) Anyway, between my last short post and everything else that’s been said on and around Levi’s blog, I don’t think there’s anything for me to add (nor any real point in doing so). I will say, though, that I agree that “discussions” like this often get going more for tone-related reasons rather than substance-related reasons, and in my own experience the spark that lights the fuse is more often the dismissive-to-spiteful tone that detractors adopt toward Derrida than it is the hero worship on the other side. Of course, that’s not to say that reactionary defenses of Derrida can’t also get pretty spiteful…

But down at comment #86, which is where they are as of this moment, the spitefulness seems to be dying down, which is good.

UPDATE: This video pretty much sums it all up: if you think Derrida is an idiot who hates medium-sized objects, you need to correct your understanding before criticeezing him.

an other thing

I try to keep myself from playing the Derrida apologist too often, as I realize there are those who just aren’t going to go along with what he was up to (and that they have their perfectly valid reasons for it). But, I do want to offer just a quick response to this by Graham Harman:

… relationality between any two entities stumbles over the incommensurability between reality and representation. The stone in its own right can never be the stone as encountered by another stone. It has nothing to do with specifically human finitude, but is a paradox built into the difference between object and relation.

So no, you don’t get to say: “Derrida doesn’t reduce the world to a text, because he cares about the other of the text.” The question is: what the hell are texts doing in a basic ontological proposition to begin with? They don’t belong there any more than cotton balls or meteors do.

First of all, while I understand (without endorsing) the argument against Derrida’s treatment of the world in terms of the text, I don’t think it’s accurate to say that he “reduces the world to a text.” (I would instead say that Derrida expands the notion of textuality beyond the sphere of human language to include the world, thus obviating the distinction between human and world).

But Harman is certainly correct in saying that the defense he cites doesn’t work. This doesn’t mean, however, that Derrida wouldn’t endorse the first part of the quotation above, viz. that “relationality between any two entities stumbles over the incommensurability between reality and representation” and that this “has nothing to do with specifically human finitude.” In Positions (p. 81-2), for instance, he discusses the concept of spacing precisely as it operates outside the linguistic field, saying that its operation is ubiquitous but that it operates differently each time so that it can’t be used as “an explicating principle of all determined spaces.” The differences in the operations of spacing (which do preclude its inclusion in any “basic ontological proposition”) are not results of human finitude but of the differences in the fields in which it operates.

Does this make Derrida an “object-oriented thinkers avant la lettre”? No. But I continue to think it does make him a potentially useful resource for object-oriented thinking.

appealing to eco-theology

Spurred by a post by Peter Gratton and its ensuing interchange (see here), I’ve been preoccupied today by questions about Derrida’s relationship to (mostly Christian) theology, to atheism, and to science… and at the same time, about the relationships between religion, science, and especially (thanks to Tim Morton’s comments) ecology. I won’t repeat here what I already said on Gratton’s blog about my take on Derrida, theology, and especially those who want to save Derrida from theology (e.g., Martin Hägglund, whose reading of Derrida I will say again is right on except to the extent that Hägglund seems to want to disqualify any religious appropriation of him).

The relationship between theology and ecological thought, however, I think can be (indeed, already is) particularly fruitful within the context of a thinking of radical finitude. While I do think that there are many resources in Derrida for pursuing this line of thought, what came to my mind on this point is a paper by Latour from a couple of years ago (and I of course continue to insist that Derrida’s and Latour’s positions have several significant commonalities). In the paper, “Will Non-Humans Be Saved?” (available on his website), Latour argues for an ecological theology that would articulate a relation not between religion (again, confining ourselves to Christianity for the moment) and the “nature” of modernity but rather between religion and the entities (objects, actants) that relate to and interconnect with one another in order to endure and persist as real (or not). The punchline of his argument is that what best allows religion to productively interweave itself among the “creativity” and “reproduction” of entities – in other words to concern itself with immanence, although thinking about immanence changes much of its resonance if we abandon transcendence in the traditional sense – turns out to be Darwinian theory! So, if we follow Latour here, we might be able to read Darwin and St. Paul (and perhaps some early Greek theology) together after all.