Saturday, 5 April 2014

Upcoming Conferences 2014

Some upcoming conferences that I am speaking at:

1. Memories of the Future at Chelsea College of Arts in early May

My paper is titled: 'The Blackening of Epekeina Tes Ousias: The death of the sun and the death of philosophy.'


The very possibility of any future memory has recently been called into question by Ray Brassier and his speculative extension of the eventual death of the sun and extinction of the universe as articulating an “‘anterior posteriority’ which usurps the ‘future anteriority’ of human existence” (Nihil Unbound, p. 230). Tied up with this examination of extinction is a critique of the explicitly future oriented philosophy of phenomenology. Brassier makes this explicit in his use of what he calls the ‘hyperbolic’ phenomenology of Emmanuel Levinas. This paper will examine Brassier’s critique of the future anterior and his use of Levinas and contrast this with the discussion of Levinas by Jacques Derrida in ‘Violence and Metaphysics’. I will show show how Derrida addresses the issue of the death of the sun in terms of the blackening of epekeina tes ousias (the Platonic notion of ‘beyond being,’ expressed, importantly, by the sun in the allegory of the cave), which in turn reveals the stakes of the death or end of philosophy (as a discourse of the future) in terms of the danger of developing it in either a ‘superior’ or ‘apocalyptic’ tone. I will argue that Derrida’s parallel yet prior critique of the possibility of the future anterior set certain limits and reveals traps that Brassier’s speculative method and replacement ‘anterior posteriority’ are prone to fall prey to without proper care. In contrast, I will argue, Derrida attempts to provide an alternative model of the future, which itself is not entirely unproblematic.

2. Consequences of Realism at the MAXXI Museum in Rome also early May

My paper there is titled: 'Time-Determination and Hyper-Chaos: The Reformulation of the Principle of Sufficient Reason In Kant and Meillassoux.'


Recently the legacy and influence of Kant has come under attack in the work of Quentin Meillassoux, who in After Finitude develops a path of thought that avoids that taken by philosophy after Kant. In this paper I will argue that despite Meillassoux’s avowed antipathy to Kant there are in fact several close parallels between the works of these two philosophers. This is most obvious when comparing Meillassoux with Kant’s pre-critical writings, that is, the problems which Kant struggled with in his own ‘dogmatic slumber’ before the solution of transcendental idealism was developed in the Critique of Pure Reason, i.e., before, in Meillassoux’s polemical terms, his ‘catastrophic’ turn to correlationism. Focusing on the pre-critical Kant opens up a new point of comparison with Meillassoux, who almost exclusively considers Kant in terms of the Critique, as Kant’s pre-critical project, with its belief in the possibility of rational knowledge of the world, is much closer to Meillassoux’s own project. The parallels between these two thinkers are unsurprising as they are both attempting to solve the same problem: how is knowledge of the world possible after the rejection of dogmatic metaphysics in the form of the principle of sufficient reason? This formulation of the fundamental problem supplies the structure of the two stands of thought that makes up my comparison of the two philosophers. Firstly, the rejection of dogmatic metaphysics; and, secondly, the reformulation of the principle of sufficient reason that this prompts. This latter strand will reveal the most important point of comparison between Kant and Meillassoux: that both reformulate the principle of sufficient reason in terms of time; for Kant, as the possibility of transcendental time-determination, and for Meillassoux as the principle of unreason as the hyper-chaos of time. However, I will argue, this explicit focus on time is problematic, this is most evident in the problems that Kant runs into in the Transcendental Deduction, which ultimately is unable to provide a solution to the issue of time-determination. Recognizing these problems in Kant will, by virtue of the already established parallel, provide new means with which to interrogate Meillassoux’s own temporal principle of unreason.

3. Phenomena at the Margins at Sussex University in June

Paper title: 'Spatial Disruptions and Temporal Amplifications: The effect of Heidegger’s turn to place on his reading of Kant.'


This paper will explore the ways in which the later developments in Heidegger’s thought, in particular the growing emphasis on space and place, affect his earlier interpretations of Kant and the predominance of time and temporality within these interpretations. In turn, these examinations will reveal how space was already important to Kant himself and that while Heidegger’s overly temporal interpretation in many ways occluded this importance or pushed it to the margins, its existence within Kant’s system provided a disruptive element that played a part in Heidegger’s turn towards spatiality and the philosophy of place. While Heidegger follows this spatial turn in his own thought he never explicitly returns to his interpretation of Kant to explore the way in which the neglect of spatiality in his interpretation perhaps effected or is itself affected by this turn. Although, he certainly does recognize the possibility of such a task, noting in the 1973 Preface to the Fourth Edition of the Kantbook that his engagement with Kant lead to both the manner of questioning from Being and Time and also later gave another, unspecified meaning to this manner of questioning; leading him to admit that he has “attempted to retract the overinterpretation [of Kant] without at the same time writing a correspondingly new version of the Kant book itself.” This paper suggests that it is the role of space in Kant that provided the new meaning for the manner of questioning; and, using the aporias of time and space in both the Critique of Pure Reason and across Heidegger’s work, sets out and argues for what such a new version of the Kantbook might look like. This will allow me to speculate on what this might mean for the place or orientation of phenomenology, in every sense of those terms.

Message end.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Metaphysics of Messianic Time - University of Iceland 28th November

I will be giving a paper titled 'The Metaphysics of Messianic Time:  Benjamin, Derrida, McTaggart' at the University of Iceland on Wednesday the 28th of Novemeber at 1500 hours, room details to be announced.

Here is the abstract of the paper:

In his book Specters of Marx Jacques Derrida confronts the end of history and the problems of the future with a “strange concept of messianism without content, of the messianic without messianism” (p. 82).  This would seem to evoke or reference Walter Benjamin’s concept of messianic time that appears in his Theses on the Philosophy of History.  However, an analysis of this apparent connection is never fully explored in Specters of Marx, which leaves Derrida’s conception of the messianic curiously incomplete.  In this paper I will argue that instead of omission through oversight, Derrida in fact shies away from this confrontation in order to avoid the question of the connection between theology and philosophy.  This question is one that must be asked about Derrida’s work; and just as he may be criticised for not fully engaging with the theological, he can also be accused of being too engaged at the expense of scientific rationality.  To counter this latter accusation I will explore similarities between the accounts of messianic temporality developed by Benjamin and Derrida and that produced by the metaphysics of time as defined by the ‘analytic’ tradition - specifically in terms of McTaggart’s paradox.  Through this comparison I will sketch out some consequences for the philosophical concepts of space and time, and the rethinking of metaphysics that these consequences necessitate.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Nuclear Futurism Available Now

Although the offical publication date is not until the 28th of September, Nuclear Futurism from Zero Books is already in stock and available.

I recommend that you buy it from your local independent bookshop, but in the unlikely event it is
not available from them it can also be purchased from the following (people in institutions, please tell your library to get a copy as well).

In the UK:
Starting from the end of history, the end of art and the failure of the future set out by such ends, Nuclear Futurism reinvigorates art, literature and philosophy through the unlikely alliance of hauntology and the Italian futurists. Tracing the paradoxes of the possibilities of total nuclear destruction reveals the terminal condition of culture in the time of ends, where the logic of the apocalyptic without apocalypse holds sway. These paradoxes also open the path for a new vision of the future in the form of experimental art and literature. By re-examining the thought of both Derrida and Heidegger with regards to the history of art, the art of history and their responses to the most dangerous technology of nuclear weapons, the future is exposed as a progressive event, rather than the atrophied and apocalyptic to-come of the present world. It is happening now, opening up through the force of art and literature and charting a new path for a futural philosophy.

Friday, 31 August 2012

News and a link

Sorry it has been quiet recently, I have been moving back to London to take up a PhD position with the London Graduate School.  I will be working more on the links between Derrida's critique of phenomenology, the potential for a positive and possibly metaphysical element to deconstruction and more recent realist or materialist metaphysics.  I have also been busy trying to promote my forthcoming book 'Nuclear Futurism'.  As part of that I have a piece over on the Zero Books Blog, which will have to be a proxy for the lack of a real post here.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Against All Ends: Hauntology, aesthetics, ontology

There is an article of mine on the relationship between hauntology and aesthetics over at 3am magazine:

"Although it is already old, considering hauntology as either genre, aesthetic or zeitgeist is problematic; and is so for precisely all of the reasons that it claims to be each of these things. As nostalgia for lost futures or mourning for utopia, it falls into for the exact problems of utopianism that lead to its initial loss. It is also these problems that hauntology was developed to overcome, so its reduction precisely to them is somewhat ironic, if not cause for yet another mourning. Thus through exploring the way in which hauntology has been co-opted by the over-theoretisation of music, and indeed art more generally, in such a way that repeats these problems, I will also show the way for a return to hauntology as a solution to these problems and the affirmation of a more radical thinking for the future."

Read the whole thing here:

I find the uptake of hauntology as a genre or aesthetic a bit strange as it negates much of the strength of Derrida's original formulation.  But this is not the only time that art theory borrows something from philosophy and discards the foundational part of its thinking, or the wider consequences of a metaphysical framework.  But this is a line of thought that is in progress, hauntology is one one manifestation...

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Ends of Europe: Hegelstrasse - Einbahnstrasse

Some photographs and notes taken on my journey to trace the ends of Europe across the continent - enough reading European philosophy and history, it was time to live it.


I flee Australia searching for history, seeking my culture in that old world of Europe.  My first stop is Berlin, where history ended in 1989, where history entered my mind, my earliest memory of watching the news and thinking: “this is an event, this is me watching the world change.”  Little did I know I was watching the world disappear, watching, as desperate people hacked away at the grey concrete of the wall, as all that was solid melted into air, not by the force of their hammers, but by the force of what lay beyond, by the force of the destruction of the possibility of beyond.


A new tourist I mistakenly do that which will hide all history from me: a walking tour.  The guide tells us how he worked in Berlin for the British Secret Service, helping refugees from the East settle in the West.  Capitalism saw no borders within Germany, it had already broken down the Chinese Wall, it knew that this one too would fall.  My guide tells us that he had named his daughter Maureen, after ‘mauer,’ German for wall.  The word inscribed at intervals on the double line of cobbles that traces the path of the Wall.  Later I follow this line, East on my left, West to the right. 

Another guide (I have not abandoned them yet), a week later in Prague, tells me of how forty years previously he had come home to find a Soviet tand in the flower bed outside his house, inside his wife in a pool of blood.  He doesn’t tell me what the Soviet soldiers had done, only that his wife is still in a wheelchair.  This is why he works, 70 years old, a speaker of seven languages, once a great Czech opera singer, now he must repeat the history he only wants to forget.  I am the only one on the Communism walking tour.  “Why do you want to know these things?” he asks.  All he wants to do is forget, the loss of his state pension does not allow this, he must work, he is forced to remember.  “Why would you leave your perfect life in Australia to come and see these horrors?  Go home, forget Communist Czechoslovakia, live your life,” he tells me.

 But I want more than that life, I am searching for the beyond glimpsed backwards through those chinks in the Wall on television all those years ago.  Something else, something to believe in.  In Berlin I visit Hegel’s grave, just to make sure he is dead.  The great thinker of historicity, of the end of history.  In Jena I look up at the window out of which he watched Napoleon ride past in 1806: “Today I saw the spirit of the world,” he wrote to a friend.  What do I see gazing back up at that window looking and longing to be touched by history?  A tram rumbles past, there is a market in the square, I catch the train back to Weimar and my hostel.  His grave was small, there were bullet makes on the mausoleums in the cemetery, another war for another freedom.

The streets in Mostar are also full of bullet holes.  “This was the front line,” I am told, the war raged along this street, now all the houses are left in ruin, the monuments and public squares have not been rebuilt.  Is this because people want to remember, or want to forget?  When the war broke out the Bosnians and Croats joined forces to drive out the Serbs, that done they then turned on each other, bisecting the town. The bridge here once connected the world in a way that Napoleon never did, destroyed in the war but rebuilt, now the tourists come here in the summer to dive off: fifteen metres to the water below, they get a certificate afterwards.

A few days earlier, there are fewer bullet holes in Sarajevo, but the streets have the stars of falling shells.  I see the Holiday Inn, outside it sniper alley, in the distance the tops of the high rises where the snipers took aim as people ran through the open spaces.  I see the Latin Bridge, where Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, where the world descended into the maelstrom of mechanised war, where the twentieth century started.  Sarajevo captures that century - beginning and end - and its meaninglessness.  But here the people dance in the bars, the music is sung in Bosnian, like a reminder (remainder) of a world before globalisation.  Perhaps in excising the twentieth century from their memories the people have done away with the end of history.  I am never more foreign.

“My brother, he live Melbourne,” the taxi driver tells me.  The bus station is way outside the city.  Buses from Belgrade only go to the Serbian side of Sarajevo, old divisions lie deep.  In Australia football teams can no longer have ethnic names, it causes too much violence when the Serbs play the Croats.  “Idiots, we came here to leave that history behind, to forget all that,” a friend with Yugoslav heritage once told me.  But the opposite is true.  If the twentieth century is removed in Sarajevo, as history continues to progress, then in Australia the twentieth century is the only history they have.  Founded peacefully in 1901, Australia must create itself the myth of violence necessary for statehood.  It violent origin is an export import business:  export soldiers to die on a faraway peninsula, import a creation myth of violence.  State violence and power is legitimised through the enforcement of memory that everyone else would rather forget, history is fetishized. Franz Ferdinand and the importance of that narrow bridge in Sarajevo repeats itself across football stadiums and tennis courts, removed from historicity.  I continue to seek the ghost of Hegel.


I try to provoke him.  In Weimar I visit the Nietzsche archive, there is the chair he sat stilly in after his sister moved him here.  A madman, a mute idiot, perhaps the ubermensch?  His death mask looks sad, a certain pathos cast in the closed eyes, the long moustache.  Perhaps he knew that one day Hitler would visit his sister here in this archive – a maunsoleum, where he never wanted to come.  This madness was not the joyful wisdom he sought, the dancing star of chaos.  I travel from Weimar to Buchenwald.  Barbed wire traces through the green trees, the silence is still, the air clear, but in the forest are plain posts, the now marked graves of Soviet prisoners strangled in a small and dark basement, hung up on hooks that line the walls like a changing room.  I think of the violence of sports, the air is dank, I run back to the forest.



Prague has the death mask of Jan Palach, whose self-immolation is commemorated by a mound in the ground outside the national museum.  His cracked voice speaks, recorded as he lay dying of his burns.  I cannot understand it, but there is rage and resolution in those foreign words, hidden behind the determination of that scarred mask.  Once again a Soviet tank stands beside his memorial, it is the forty-year anniversary of the invasion.  Why would you want to see this?  Why would you want to forget, where would civilisation go then, what for poetry?

Auschwitz has fewer trees than Buchenwald, and more barbed wire.  More buildings, more bunks, more toilets and more tourists.  The size needed to contain it all amazes me.  Big numbers are always written small, but the vastness of the expanse of the camp astounds me, foundations are cast across the landscape like a geometry of terror, the order is the worst thing.  I watch nuns listening to the headphone of the guided tour; girls casually do cartwheels on an endless straight road, bored and out of the way.  I avoid the tours now, I no longer want some else’s experience, I have to find my own way.  Some doors are open and I am the only one walking along the rows of bunks (five people to each) and rows of latrines.  The train tracks end at the remains of the gas chambers, blown up by the Russians when they found them.  I am the only one to stare beyond, where would the tracks continue?

In Budapest the atrocities all roll into one.  The terror house documents the Fascists and the Communists, those adversaries who ended up starring across another boundary in Berlin.  From there I see the Body Worlds exhibit, the commoditisation of death, dressed up as science to remove the personality.  Now we only see the organs, without the barrier of skin and touch they are no longer bounded.  I am sickened, from one death factory to another.  But Budapest remains melancholy.  “Our country used to be so much bigger,” the hostel owner tells me.  He is unkempt, but wearing a suit, like a caricature of the bedraggled ex-academic.  Maybe he too was once an opera singer, or a philosopher who, like Lukács became a party member, before the fall of Communism condemned him to the purgatory of the tourist trade.  No wonder he is melancholy when he must mop up the vomit of drunken backpackers.  But the land that used to be Hungary, that he laments the loss of, I am also told be Romanians is theirs, by Moldavians, by Poles and Ukrainians.  It is the same land, just the countries shift, no wonder there are wars and death, and so many skeletons and ghosts, but so few remembrances of them.

Perhaps this is why the bones of the Sedlac Ossuary do not sicken me the way the plastic corpses in Budapest do.  These deaths are supposed to be remembered - the plagues, the wars, the invasions - memento mori.  They remember not only the end of this life, but that for the Catholics who keep them, that there is another beyond.  I find another barrier, past the skin and the organs is the limit of death itself, no wonder skulls smile, this memory extends back from my future, from my death to come, haunted in advance, I find the history I was seeking not in the past but in the future.


There should be more bodies in Timisoara, Romanina, but they are not there only their images, but perhaps that is all that was there in the first place.  The revolution against Romanian communism started in Timisoara, started with these bodies that are not there.  For the revolution death served a different memory, lived a second life.  The anti-communist revolution reflected perfectly Marx’s injunction to “let the dead bury the dead.”  Here the living made the dead live again.  Recently entombed corpses were exhumed and tortured for the sake of the news cameras, an atrocity was simulated to stimulate the revolution, the dead were resurrected and re-remembered for another reason.  The images of the cameras lied, just as the body could not be left to lie, television ended at its own hands, as its spectacular images legitimised themselves and the logic that propagated them.  There is nothing for me to photograph there, the whole town is already an image, I pass through quickly.

Marx himself is buried in London, but no bullet holes mark the mausoleums in Highgate Cemetery.  His grave is much bigger than Hegel’s, a challenge itself, just like the words inscribed upon it: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point however is to change it.”  The future intrudes again, Unlike Hegel, Marx’s ghost haunts Highgate not from the 19th century, but from beyond, further than the 21st.  I have been seeking the wrong histories.  Four years later I return to Berlin, this time I touch the Wall, up close, it is no longer an object and it matters all the more.  I no longer trace the path of the Wall, but this time those of the tunnels, dug by people trying to escape.  There is no longer somewhere to escape to, but perhaps it is time to start digging again.

Monday, 26 March 2012

The Challenge of Facticity and the Gaps of the Absolute: Speculative Realism 10 and conclusion

Part One: Slippages in the Universal

Part Two: Trauma and Transcendence

Part Three: The Sublime as Exogenic Trauma

Part Four: The Moral Law as Endogenic Trauma

Part Five: Reading Kant Backwards

Part Six: From Correlationism to Theology

Part Seven: Traces of Spectres

Part Eight: The Structure of the Trace-Écart as a New Form of Sensibility

Part Nine: The Spaces of the Absolute: Catren and écart

10. The Challenge of Facticity and the Gaps of the Absolute.

As has been shown the freedom of autonomy is a vital element of not only Kant’s moral philosophy but it also reinscribes itself back into his metaphysics and addresses the Humean problems of induction and causation. As a result it is also possible to approach the problems of freedom from the perspective of causation, which is exactly what Žižek does when he writes: “Freedom is not simply the opposite of deterministic causal necessity: as Kant knew. It means a specific mode of causality; the agent’s self-determination.”[1] The reading developed above through the place of autonomy in Kant’s moral philosophy goes even further and suggests that the very possibility of an understanding of causation (in whatever form) is made possible by the fundamental self-causation of autonomy. The question must then arise as to how self-causation and material causation relate? Žižek answers this with what he calls a second-order reflexive causality, whereby:

I am determined by causes (be it direct brute natural causes or motivations), and the space of freedom is not a magic gap in this first level causal chain but my ability to retroactively choose/determine which causes will determine me.[2]

This is very similar to the backwards reading of Kant developed above, which suggests that it is the autonomy of the subject to be causally self determined that the concept of causality can by extension also be applied to the world. Here the so-called ‘levels’ of causality are reversed, but perhaps the idea of freedom as a gap (écart) remains important to the relationships between subjectivity, objectivity, autonomy, causality and, as will become apparent, contingency in play here.

Brassier explicitly sets out this set of relations when he summarises Žižek’s position as: “the subject achieves its autonomy by retroactively positing/reintegrating its own contingent material determinants: freedom is the subjective necessity of objective contingency.”[3] This characterisation allows Brassier to criticise what he perceives as Žižek’s doctrine of the necessity of contingency. Where it is freedom that allows the subject to determine its own necessity within the contingent universe. The criticism that Brassier puts forward against Žižek extends from Meillassoux’s absolutisation of contingency, which then cuts across both so-called levels of causality. Just as this radical contingency destroys materialist determinism, it also attacks the idealist conception of subjective freedom as a sort of second order causality. As contingency reduces every choice to a state of equal arbitrariness the distinction between a forced and unforced, or free and un-free, decision disintegrates. As Brassier puts it:

Thus it becomes impossible to distinguish between objective compulsion and subjective reflexion, phenomenal heternomy and noumenal autonomy. The principle of factuality collapses the distinction between first and second order levels of determination, thereby undermining any attempt to distinguish between objective heteronomy and subjective autonomy.[4]

While this line of critique is effective against the sort of autonomy attributed to Žižek, i.e., as a second order self-reflexive causality, the reading of autonomy as an eruption of the absolute through the abyss at the base of Kant’s metaphysics does not rely upon this hierarchical set of ‘causalities’ and thus is not prey to this line of critique. Through the importance of this fundament insight into the heart of the Kantian abyss it is possible to retrieve autonomy from the threat of Meillassoux’s factuality and also to establish the metaphysical nature of the trace-écart structure.

Within Kant’s moral philosophy autonomy was postulated not as a second order freedom required for the possibility of morality in the face of a deterministic universe, but rather a necessary element of the moral law as a law of absolute necessity. However, in some sense the nature of this absolute necessity remains up for grabs. As the analysis of Kant’s moral philosophy showed it was autonomy that made possible necessity and the related idea of causality, freedom is fundamental to rationality and the synthetic a priori. Freedom does not appear in contrast to a causally determined world, but rather the world of causation is determined by freedom. In the language of Meillassoux or Brassier, the necessity of causality is contingent to the potentialities of autonomy.

In this analysis of Kant, freedom was characterised as an eruption of the absolute into the world that made reason and the synthetic a priori possible. This was due to the fact that freedom as autonomy reflected the absolute necessity of the moral law, but as was said above this absolute necessity remains open. Instead of thinking of it as that which is absolutely necessary, it is perhaps more useful to think of it as a form of necessity conditioned by the disruptive force of the absolute. It is here that the trace-écart structure becomes both useful and possible. The spacing of écart as a gap in the absolute or the yawning of the abyss of the absolute has been suggested through the readings of both Catren and Negarestani. However, in this Kantian reading it takes on a much more metaphysical aspect and connects back to the forms of space and time. The eruption of the absolute through autonomy opens up the space of the écart where necessity and causality become possible through the operation of the synthetic a priori. However, in making this gap apparent and in closing it off by the erecting of the systems of either causality or subjectivity over the top of this abyss it is also negated through a limitation. The difference between the abyssiality of the écart and the necessity of causality that it makes possible establishes the movement of the trace, which is itself part of the construction of causality in its explicitly temporal nature. Here is the primary form of the trace-écart structure as the becoming-time of space and the becoming-space of time.

The dual becoming of this structure mirrors the more explicitly Hegelian answer that Žižek gives to Brassier’s criticisms. By flipping the charge against him – that of the necessity of contingency – and focusing on the contingency of necessity Žižek can draw out the nature of contradiction in its particularly Hegelian form, which he defines as “not a direct motionless ‘coincidence of the opposites’ (A is non-A): it is identity itself, its assertion, which ‘destabilizes’ a thing, introducing the crack of an impossibility into its texture.”[5] The most fundamental contradiction is between Being and Nothing, and the outcome of the destabilization of this contradiction is the thoroughly contingent movement of Becoming Something(s).[6] Becoming as a sort of spacing is already here in the form of the ‘crack of impossibility’ through which the absolute begins to peek amidst the facticity of the chaos of the Something(s). It is this connection between facticity and the absolute that was the basis for Brassier’s criticism of Žižek, and thus it is worth examining this connection in more detail especially as it relates to the expanded structure of trace-écart.

Facticity is central to Meillassoux’s speculative project and his critique of corellationism, which resists the limitations of transcendental philosophy. He summarises the fundamental relationship in question as:

Facticity will be revealed to be a knowledge of the absolute because we are going to put back into the thing itself what we mistakenly mistook to be an incapacity in our thought. In other words, instead of construing the absence of reason inherent in everything as a limit that thought encounters in its search for the ultimate reason, we must understand that this absence of reason is, and can only be the ultimate property of the entity.[7]

It is through facticity that Meillassoux aims to retrieve the absolute from behind the impenetrable barrier of corellationism and reintegrate the thing itself with speculative philosophy. Reason is no longer the limit upon knowledge that restricts access to the thing itself, but is rather the very action of the absolute within the thing itself. The levelling force of facticity reduces the possibility or even the need for the second level causality that Žižek puts forward. However, this does not apply to the reading of Kant that postulates autonomy as the disruptive spacing of the absolute; indeed there are even similarities between these two positions. The absence of reason that Meillassoux invokes is very similar to the écart opened by the eruption of the absolute. This similarity is made obvious when Žižek compares the sort of access to the absolute suggested by Meillassoux to Brecht’s idea that:

the background of the stage should ideally be empty, white, signalling that, behind what we see and experience, there is no secret Origin or Ground. This in no way implies that reality is transparent to us, that we ‘know all’; of course there are infinite blanks, but the point is that these blanks are just that, blanks, things we simply do not know, not a substantial ‘deeper’ reality.[8]

The structure of trace-écart presents a slightly different reading of these blanks, whereby rather than being ‘just blanks’ they are active in their very blankness within the presence of the stage. They are abyssal in their infinite absence and yet at the same time are a constitutive element of the stage itself, opening up the space within which the action of the play is traced. This structure of the abyssal articulation of the trace-écart thus provides a way in which to engage with the absolute as a constitutive contingency of reality. As Žižek suggests:

If we can think our knowledge of reality (i.e., the way reality appears to us) as radically failed, as radically different from the Absolute, then this gap (between for-us and in-itself) must be part of the Absolute itself, so that the very feature that seemed forever to keep us away from the Absolute is the only feature which directly unites us with the Absolute.[9]

Again, as with Brecht’s blanks, the fully fundamental and absolute nature of this gap is not fully articulated, or rather and more crucially, is blocked off by the insistence upon the ‘we’ already (dis)connected from the absolute. Here Žižek repeats the same mistake as Kant and tends towards philosophical anthropology, this time hidden behind the figure of the subject.

The turn towards the subject pre-empts Žižek’s critique of speculative realism in general, that it still needs to articulate “a theory of the subject which is neither that of transcendental subjectivity nor that of reducing the subject to a part of objective reality.”[10] This evocation of the questions of the subject is the closest Žižek comes to refuting Brassier’s criticisms. He is much more interested in highlighting the similarities between Hegel and Meillassoux; and as such it seems almost incidental that in doing so he opens up this gap of the absolute within which freedom appears, only to revert to framing this question in terms of the subject: “For Hegel, true freedom has nothing to do with capricious choice; it means the priority of self-relating to relating-to-other”[11] The questions raised by Brassier of the distinction between autonomy and hetronomy and the place and possibility of causality as subsumed by the question of the relationality of the subject. However, in repeating the Kantian mistake of shying away from the abyss, Žižek has gone some way in opening the structure of the trace-écart and the possibility of an alternative reading of Kant, which bypasses the philosophical anthropology of the first critique and chases the transcendental imagination, unity of apperception and the possibility of the absolute through the autonomy and the sublime of the latter two critiques.


The common theme running through speculative realism is the aim to escape from the anthropocentrism of the correlationism stemming from the Kantian Copernican revolution. This takes many different forms: the open universe of Negarestani, the internal problems of apperception identified by Brassier, or the arche-fossil of Meillassoux. However, each of these critiques essentially is only attempting to repeat the Kantian project of setting out a guarantee of universal or absolute knowledge. To this end rather than using speculative realism to dismiss the achievements of Kant, it is possible to utilise the problems raised by these critiques to prompt an alternative reading of Kant, which emphasises the importance of the second and third critiques for the project of the first. This backwards reading also attempts to solve the issues which Kant himself identified and attempted to resolve in his rewriting of the first critique. Here, instead of relying upon the unity of apperception to underpin the possibility of the synthetic a priori this role is provided by the eruption of the absolute through the autonomy of the moral law and the sublime, or in Kant’s phrase, the wonder of the starry heavens above and the moral law within. Reformulating the Kantian project in this way reconnects the absolute to the world instead of confining it to a limited and limiting role as the barrier of the forms of perception and understanding. Consequently, it is also necessary to reformulate the forms of space and time to incorporate this power and abyssality of the absolute. To this end the Derridian structure of the trace-écart replaced the Kantian forms of time and space. While the importance of the trace has long been recognised, emphasising the importance of écart reveals the properly metaphysical element of this structure, as well as how the spacing of the gap plays an important role within speculative metaphysics as the space of the absolute.

[1] S. Žižek, The Parallax View. p. 203. Quoted in R. Brassier, Nihil Unbound. p. 247 n15.

[2] S. Žižek, The Parallax View. p. 203. Quoted in R. Brassier, Nihil Unbound. p. 247 n15.

[3] R. Brassier, Nihil Unbound. p. 247 n15.

[4] R. Brassier, Nihil Unbound. p. 247 n15.

[5] S. Žižek & B. Woodard, ‘Interview,’ in L. Bryant et al, The Speculative Turn. p. 411.

[6] S. Žižek & B. Woodard, ‘Interview.’ p. 411.

[7] Q. Meillassoux, After Finitude. p. 53.

[8] S. Žižek & B. Woodard, ‘Interview.’ p. 412.

[9] S. Žižek & B. Woodard, ‘Interview.’ p. 413.

[10] S. Žižek & B. Woodard, ‘Interview.’ p. 415.

[11] S. Žižek & B. Woodard, ‘Interview.’ p. 415.