What is “true metaphysics” and why materialists should embrace it?


Whether one aspires to be a militant of revolutionary action or strives to be an artist committed to a radical aesthetic, one would do well, in a certain sense, to follow Foucault in giving up the Kant of Critique of Pure Reason, and its project of theoretical philosophy as analytic of finitude, and affirming the Kant of Critique of Practical reason and its project of practical philosophy as the ontology of the present.

However, instead of conducting this operation in the Foucauldian mode, which amounts to abandonment of the Kantian project of theoretical philosophy as analytic of finitude from the standpoint of Kantian project of practical reason (or ontology of the present), which is thereby rendered ethics a la care of the self, one would do well to adopt a different modality for setting aside the Kant of the First Critique and its project of theoretical philosophy. And that modality would be thinking the Kantian project of theoretical philosophy as analytic of finitude and the Kantian project of practical reason as ontology of the present together, but in their separateness — in a dialectically articulated separateness to be precise.

That would arguably be constitutive of what Alberto Caeiro (a heteronym of Fernando Pessoa) calls “true metaphysics”. This “true metaphysics” is, pace Badiou, thought as already always the presentation of its own void or the instantiation of its absent-cause (which is non-thought) in its limit. Hence, it’s not about thought as knowledge but thinking as that which exceeds thought as knowledge by subtracting from it. It’s thinking as excess of — or, more precisely, subtraction from — its own cogitative capture. In the words of the Marx of The Holy Family, it’s matter that thinks. Not what matter is in thought, but matter as its own immanent thought in action as disavowal of matter in thought.

Thus propositional knowledge is not, in the first instance, its own limit as knowledge. Rather, it is the limit of the presentation of the impossibility of knowledge (which is ontology of the present) that therefore then amounts to propositional knowledge being its own limit. Not metaphysics but metaontology. That in Caeiro’s words is “true metaphysics”.

So, Caeiro as “the keeper of the flocks” — a witness to the emerging of thought as the instantiation and interruption of the non-thought, whose importance as such a witness lies in his vigilance that prevents thought from valorising its limit and thus become metaphysics. Here is a poem by Caeiro that acutely demonstrates that even as his “true metaphysics” is thinking the void, it is not nihilism.

“If at times I say that flowers smile
And if I should say that rivers sing,
It’s not because I think there are smiles in flowers
And songs in rivers’ running…
It’s because that way I make deluded men better sense
The truly real existence of flowers and rivers.

“Because I write for them to read me I sacrifice myself at
Times
To their stupidity of feeling…
I don’t agree with myself yet I forgive myself
Because I’m solely that serious thing—an interpreter of
Nature—
Because there are men who don’t understand its language,
Being no language at all.”

True metaphysics, a la Caeiro, is a new order of affirmation that is not productive. Badiou’s in-existing as invention (his “nothing-as-something”) is, as far as one is concerned, what Caeiro’s true metaphysics amounts to. Not for nothing does Badiou insist, “Non-thought is rather, for him, the living wisdom of thought itself, and in particular of philosophy in its entirety.” The Swiss-German writer, Robert Walsermust also be mentioned here in that context. Walser’s prose fiction both declares and seeks to enact precisely that singularity of “living wisdom” — excess as ontological subtraction amounts to that — in its inimitably peculiar minoritarian register. Here is a small tale that comprises his ‘Six Little Stories’ in his A Schoolboy’s Diary and Other Stories: “Now I’ve just remembered that once upon a time there lived a poor poet, very oppressed by dark moods, who since he had seen his fill of God’s great world, decided to put only his imagination into his poems. He sat one evening, afternoon, or morning, at eight, twelve, or two o’clock, in the dark space of his room and he said to the wall the following: Wall, I’ve got you in my head. Don’t try to trick me with your strange and placid visage! From now on, you are the prisoner of my imagination. Thereupon he said the same thing to the window and to the gloomy view it offered him day after day. After which, spurred on by wanderlust, he undertook a walk that led him through fields, forests, meadows, villages, cities, and over rivers and lakes, always under the same beautiful sky. But to these fields, forests, meadows, villages and rivers he continually repeated: Guys, I’ve got you locked tight in my head. Don’t any of you think any longer that you make an impression on me. He went home, constantly laughing to himself: I have them all, I have them all in my head. And presumably he has them there still, and they can’t (however much I want to help them do so) get out again. Isn’t this story very full of imagination???”

Charlie Hebdo Attack: Who will criticise the critics?


What would criticism of heaven be without criticism of the earth? And what does one do when criticism of heaven fails to be a criticism of the earth and becomes complicit precisely in conserving and/or reproducing the earth as it stands? Is that not the question that comes to us via Marx’s critique of Bruno Bauer’s secularist criticism of Jewish religioisity, or Feurbach’s (liberal and partial) atheism? Shouldn’t, therefore, the criticism of heaven begin with criticism of the earth — a criticism that is as much a critique of heaven as a critique of those whose criticism of heaven serves, unwittingly or otherwise, to conserve and reproduce the earth as it stands?

To paraphrase and slightly modify comics-artist Alan Moore in Watchmen:who will criticise the critics? In other words, shouldn’t criticism of murderous fanaticism in the name of Islam, if such criticism has to be really effective, locate it in its condition of possibility that is capitalist modernity, even as it unsparingly condemns the concrete operations of such murderous fanaticism. In the event of criticism of murderous religious fanaticism failing to achieve such comprehensiveness, which would admittedly be a tortuous and complicated articulation, it becomes no more than liberal breast-beating. In the current instance of the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo, such liberal breast-beating and the attendant politics of condemnation from an Archimedian point participates in, whether it admits to itself or not, the prevailing climate of Islamophobia. However, the class culpability and complicity of such politics of liberal-secularist breast-beating, which smacks of utter political irresponsibility, is equally in play when such politics seeks to confront the mobs of lumpenised unwashed masses rallying out in favour of majoritarianisms of different kinds.

Such liberal, secularist politics, which is supposedly pacifist and for peace, is against the violence of fanatical mobs — whether minoritarian or majoritarian — not because such fanaticism is religious but because through opposition to such fanaticism this politics seeks to ensure that the utterly unequal and iniquitous class structure, and its inherent structural violence, is left undisturbed and in peace. Clearly, what bothers the purveyors of such politics most is how such violence openly manifests the violence and inequality always inherent in and foundational to the structure that makes possible their privileged peace. It’s precisely on account of the adoption of such secularist politics of dubious peace by even those who project themselves as champions of revolutionary leftist politics of social transformation that the eruption of structural violence into the open inevitably comes to have a mystified-fanatical direction, whether in a minoritarian or a majoritarian idiom.

In having adopted such liberal secularist politics of dubious peace in their fight against majoritarianism(s), our so-called revolutionary leftists have been rendered incapable of nurturing the violence internal to the iniquitous structure of capitalist-modernity against that structure. And that is at the root of their failure to mobilise and articulate the open eruption of structural violence in a revolutionary-messianic, structure-unravelling direction.

It’s, therefore, only to be expected that most such liberals in revolutionary-leftist garb should ambivalently oscillate between unwitting (if not deliberate) Islamophobia, and condemnation of majoritarianism(s). That many of those liberals in revolutionary-leftist clothing should, in the context of the Charlie Hebdo affair, be found making statements that are serving to strengthen the prevailing Islamophobic consensus, is thus not surprising at all. In fact, even those who are not exactly doing that are being driven to make weak, ambivalent statements such as we condemn the attack but we also condemn the fetihsation of secularism and so on and so forth. What more can a politics impelled and guided solely by the registration of condemnation of iniquities of modernity be expected to deliver? To say that such ambivalence, and ambidexterity of ‘on-the-one-hand-and-on-the-other’, is no good for forging an effectively concrete politics of anti-capitalism is a no-brainer. An effective anti-capitalist politics would be one that in the face of iniquitous multiplicity that is modernity targets capital as the structural condition of possibility of those historical iniquities in the process of targeting those iniquities in their empirical concreteness. The politics of condemnation as criticism, driven as it is by the tendency to horizontalise all iniquities wrought by the global and globalising system of modernity as the manifest operation of the capitalist structure of differential inclusion, can do precious little than reproduce precisely that structure and its iniquitous systemic operation in and through history.

So, yes condemn the murderous attack on the French satirical periodical by all means. Because the condemnation of all such vengeful acts of violence — which are immersed in ressentiment, reactivity and slave morality — is the first step of divine violence. But what is perhaps more important if we truly wish to begin abolishing such vengeful violence is to focus on making sense of such acts of violence in terms of elaborating their structural causality, which ought to also include the elaboration of how the western phenomenon of satire of Islam — and its liberal, supposedly anti-fundamentalist mediatic ideology — is a key enabler of that differentially inclusive structure of capital that as its realisation in and through history is the systemic iniquity of modernity. Without such elaboration divine violence gets hypostatised as its first step of condemnation to undergo an absolute reversal to become an integral dimension of the law-constituting and/or law-preserving violence that is as vengeful, if not more, as the overtly murderous violence it is meant to be a criticism of.

And yes, this is roughly how I would want to approach not only the recent massacre of children in Peshawar by the TTP but also, and more importantly, the global outrage and condemnation that followed.