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At the risk of coming across as a puppet, I have to simply echo the sentiments of Graham, Paul, and Nick regarding the conference this past weekend in Dundee. Not only were all the papers thoroughly enjoyable (minus that shit Sartre paper ;)) but for me the academic community was something that actually restored some much needed hope in the academic project as a whole. The conference was initially set up as a duel between two competing fields of thought: OOP v. Materialism. And while there were some very thoughtful papers that clearly drew dividing lines between opposing positions, it was done in a way that didn’t leave either side isolated and destitute as the punching bag of the weekend. Instead, it came across that both sides have much to learn from one another, and that through reasonable disputation each side would find itself challenged to continue to reexamine its own position.

Without giving a thorough account of the papers, I’ll simply give a brief overview of the four keynote addresses and suggest that readers take the time to listen to all the MP3s when they appear in the near future. I’ll definitely provide a link at that time – let’s just hope that we don’t get the copy where APS and Mike had a brief, vulgar exchange with one another, which happened to get picked up by the sensitive recording devices… ;)

Professor James Williams’ paper starting things off on Saturday morning by exploring the passive synthesis of Deleuze’s process philosophy of time. In this paper, he addressed certain readings of the panpsychist Deleuze that fault the thinker for being (1) too subject-oriented, (2) for returning to certain transcendences (through the One à la Badiou or through mysticism à la Hallward), and (3) for his transcendental tendencies (à la Bryant). Williams argued that these critiques (particularly Badiou’s) will likely not stand the test of time. By equating contemplation and soul Deleuze is not falling into a barbarism or mysticism. Rather, the “soul” of a thing is the way it contracts past and future in the living present that then allows for the thing in the living present, through habit, to draw out difference from repetition.

Dr. Graham Harman’s paper was entitled “I Am Also of the Opinion that Materialism Must Be Destroyed.” Stating clearly at the outset that this title is meant as a provocateur Harman developed a thorough critique of the “structural realism” of Ladyman and Ross. Their realism he claimed amounts to really nothing more than a materialism because they are guilty of reducing all objective reality into structures that “just are.” Thus, for them, there are no things only structures. Although they are trying to wave the realist flag, they are susceptible to the correlationist critique set forth by Meillassoux and thus in reality can’t themselves escape the correlationist circle. Then of course, after demonstrating what he sees as the bankruptcy of materialisms of any sort (the “structural realism” of Ladyman and Ross included) Harman went on the offensive and claimed that “materialism must collapse into [OOP],” for the former cannot accurately account for the connection between individual objects and the substratum that supposedly grounds existents. Only an OOP can adequately do so by understanding the world as filled with infinite objects, each ontologically distinct and real in themselves.

On the third day, Dr. Adrian Johnston took the stage to oppose Harman’s OOP and set forth his own Lacanian, Zizekian inspired transcendentalist materialist account of subjective existence. For Johnston, the world must be understood in terms of two dimensions: nature and culture. He faults Zizek for, at times, positing the existence of a third vector that gives rise the caesura in nature which then brings forth non-natural existence. This third vector is for Johnston unnecessary and guilty of falling into crude mysticism. Instead, Johnston wants to claim that Zizek, in certain manifestations, conceives of material existence as containing the necessary gaps for non-natural existence to arise without positing this “third vector”; and this is the Zizek that Johnston appeals to. The key question thus becomes for Johnston: What type of material allows for the break that gives rise to subjectivity? By appealing to Hegel, Lacan, Zizek, and recent developments in neuroscience, Johnston laid forth an argument that Engel’s dialectics of nature was simply ahead of its time, and that now science is actually confirming such to the case.

The final keynote paper was a practical response to the debate between OOP and philosophical materialism that delineated the stakes of the debate. Professor Peter Hallward’s paper took up a theme that has been prevalent in his recent body of work: the will of the people (which also happens to be the title of a paper he wrote for Radical Philosophy, issue 155). Hallward’s main goal in this paper was to present Marx as a voluntarist. Following Marx, although persons don’t create the world in which they find themselves, they are nevertheless capable and responsible for creating their own world out of such conditions. Thus, the key task for the Marxist is to understand the conditions in which the people find themselves in order to create steps to master the material order (and by matter, I don’t mean matter in-itself, but matter as worked-matter). The key questions thus become: (1) what are the conditions that will enable voluntary processes? (2) How do we prepare the ground to allow for political voluntarism? (3) and how do we organize an association of wills that will be prepared to face the resistance to such associations?

Besides the keynote addresses, the panel papers on the first day addressed themes from the possibility of mathematizing OOP vis-à-vis Badiouian ontology (Nathan Coombs), the necessary disconnect between being and thought and the difference between inflationary and deflationary metaphysics (Sid Littlefield), and an extremely difficult paper on Kantian transcendental philosophy (Mike Olson). Especially considering my weak grasp of Kant’s thought, this last paper is one in particular that I’ll have to revisit a couple times if I hope to really grasp what Olson was laying down. Nevertheless, all these papers were well-received and really provided great fodder for conversation at the pubs in the evening.

The panel papers on the second day addressed: (1) Sartre’s move from his early days as a radical individualist existentialist thinker to his later social organization in CDR (Me), (2) Lacanian materialism and the resistance of the Real (Tom Eyers), (3) Georgio Agamben’s musings on materialism and theological profanation (Colby Dickinson), (4) an overturning of the idea of the necessity of contingency in favor of “contingent necessity”, and (5)  Meillassoux’s conception of the ancestral as really as critique against phenomenology.

These overviews are extremely insufficient, but as I mentioned above, I’ll post a link to the audio files as soon as they are made available, so you can check them out for yourselves.

All in all, this weekend was a great time of discussion and I can’t help but feel thankful for being part of something very special on the cutting edge of philosophical enquiry. Special thanks to Michael Burns and Brian Smith at Dundee for taking the initiative to organize such a great weekend. Also, thanks to Reid for opening his house for a BBQ to cap off the weekend, filled with good people, good conversation, beer, burgers, homemade salsa, and tequila…