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Levi Paul Bryant on Speculative Realism, New Materialism, and Deleuze


Here’s Levi Paul Bryant on Speculative Realism, New Materialism, and Deleuze via his blog Larval Subjects. Original post here.

When I first thought of putting together The Speculative Turn and contacted Nick Srnicek​ about such a project, it was conceived as a sort of Deleuzian rejoinder to speculative realism. It became something very different. Everywhere in the blogosphere I was hearing about these speculative realists and I kept thinking to myself that Deleuze had already been a realist well before any of this. Of course, the new materialists were well aware of this as can be seen in the work of theorists such as Alaimo, Barad, Bennett, Braidotti, DeLanda, Protevi, Stengers, etc. Not only was there profound engagement with Deleuze throughout all of this work, but it was dealing with a similar set of issues (though arguably in a far more profound way in my opinion). Similar things can be said about Donna Haraway. It comes as no surprise that there’s frustration at the paucity of substantial engagement with this work in the speculative realist literature. This is exacerbated by the gendered nature of the two streams of thought, SR being very much a boys club. I do not at all intend such remarks to be a vilification of SR. On the one hand, as I’ve written in the past regarding the politics of citation, it’s not enough to suggest that this is just a lack of awareness of this other work. Drawing on Ranciere, there’s a sort of “aesthetic” (in Kant’s sense of “forms of receptivity” or sensibility) unconscious at work here that seems to not to see a priori. On the other hand, I’m bothered by this missed encounter (and it’s not too late) because there’s so much to be learned from both of these camps. In my view, there’s a much richer political and ethical content to be found among the new materialists, as well as a profound realist thinking of matter.

h201Of course, in the debate that’s gone on between Harman and I since the beginning– between matter/materialism (me) and Harman’s Medieval scholasticism of substantial forms –I find inspiring vectors of thought for thinking the agency or active nature of matter among the new materialists. Where Harman proposes a “HOO” or Heidegger-Oriented Ontology, I propose a DOO or Deleuze-Oriented Ontology. Where Harman proposes a SFOO or “Substantial-Form-Oriented Ontology”, I’ve held that pattern or organization is always-already incipient in matter, always waiting to be activated in a variety of surprising and lively ways. I hasten to add, that I share Harman’s critique of “undermining“, but believe this is already the new materialist positions. If the new materialists have taught us anything, it’s that 1) matter has agency (which isn’t equivalent, I think, to defending vitalism), and 2) that under requisite conditions, new forms of pattern or organization emerge within matter that supervene on their parts and are not possible without them, but new powers emerge as a result of these assemblages. Oxygen alone and hydrogen alone are both very combustable and certainly do not have the power to wet, together they generate new powers. Everywhere the new materialists teach us of the liveliness of matter, of its creativity; but they also do this while taking into account situated epistemological conditions of knowledge production (Haraway, Barad), and the role that normative values and political context play in our investigations in the world. Above all, they show how we are always sheathed in the earth, in a world that exceeds us. As Bennett remarks, you can’t truly throw anything away.

I find that in these reflections I’ve lost my original train of thought. These days I find myself thinking of a return to that project on Deleuze. I have a number of projects in the works. One on Foucault as a forerunner to assemblage theory and the new materialists. Another on Luhmann, who I see as an under-appreciated thinker in the Anglo-American world of Continental theory. Yet another on the ontology of the fold and vortices I’ve been developing. Yet I feel the lure of that book on Deleuze: The Speculative Realism of Deleuze and Guattari. I wonder what such a book would look like. It would certainly not be a mere study. It would, above all, begin with univocity and immanence, and a critique of hylomorphism.

*Image of Deleuze via