Katerina Kolozova on The Real in Contemporary Philosophy

The Real in Contemporary Philosophy

Katerina Kolozova

What Baudrillard called the perfect crime has become the malaise of the global(ized) intellectual of the beginning of the 21’st century. The “perfect crime” in question is the murder of the real, carried out in such way as to create the conviction it never existed and that the traces of its erased existence were mere symptom of its implacable originary absence. The era of postmodernism has been one of oversaturation with signification as a reality in its own right and also as the only possible reality. In 1995, with the publication of The Perfect Crime, Baudrillard declared full realization of the danger he warned against as early as in 1976 in his book The Symbolic Exchange and Death. The latter book centered on the plea to affirm reality in its form of negativity, i.e., as death and the trauma of interrupted life. And he did not write of some static idea of the “Negative,” of “the constitutive lack” or “absence” as conceived by postmodernism and epistemological poststructuralism. The fact that, within the poststructuralist theoretical tradition, the real has been treated as the “inaccessible” and “the unthinkable” has caused “freezing” of the category (of the real) as immutable, univocal and bracketed out of discursiveness as an unspoken axiom.

The romantic fascination with the possibility of self-invention, the dream of being the demiurge of oneself and one’s own reality, has been nesting in most postmodern readings of the idea of utter linguistic constructedness of the self and it’s jouissance. The theoretical trend of what I would call “cyber-optimism” of the 90’ was informed by the old European myth of transcending physical limitations by way of liberating desires from the body. Through prosthetic mediation, one would “emancipate” desire and re-create oneself as the product and the reality of pure signification. This is a theoretical trend mostly inspired by the work of Donna Haraway. However, in my view, one which has failed to see the terrifying void gaping behind that utter intentionality of the human mind that Donna Haraway’s Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (1991) and Primate Visions (1989) expose. She speaks of the Cyborg we all are, a creature of no origin, “the bastard of patriarchal militarism” as the revolutionary subject that should aim to destroy the narratives of hierarchy which humanism and its anthropocentric vision of nature produce. Haraway radically problematizes the dualistic hierarchy which subdues and exploits nature. The Cyborg, that “militant bastard” of humanism, faces the horror of auto-seclusion in its narcissistic and auto-referential universe of dreams and desires informed by the universe of his philosophical fathers.

The realization about the fundamentally discursively constructed humanity, including its entire history of idea, its universe and horizon of thinkability, creates the following aporia: the limits of construction reveal a certain “out-there” against which one is constructed. The “out-there” has been habitually relegated by the postmodernists to the realm of nonsense which deserves no theoretical consideration insofar as it could only assume the status of the unthinkable real. Nonetheless, Baudrillard appealed to think it as affirmed negativity, and the Lacanians attempted to think it as trauma or “constitutive lack.” In Bodies that Matter (1993), Butler assigned the status of the real to some of the laws of phantasmatic construction of the body and gender. These efforts of invoking the real within a theory which is marked as predominantly poststructuralist seem to have failed to offer a satisfactory response to the ever increasing theoretical and existential need to reclaim the real. Hence, the emergence in the second half of the first decade of the 21st century of strands of philosophical thought such as “speculative realism,” “object oriented ontology,” Badousian-Žižekian realist tendencies in political theory and, finally, François Laruelle’s non-standard philosophy or non-philosophy. There has been a notable tendency in the last couple of years to subsume all these lines of thinking under the single label of “speculative realism.” The notion of “speculative realism” has taken a life of its own against the fact that virtually all of the prominent representatives of the heterogeneous theoretical trends it pretends to refer to do not endorse or even reject the label (except for some representatives of object oriented ontology).

All these trends to which the identification of “speculative realism” is assigned to, in spite of their fundamental differences, have something in common: they identify limitations to thought or discursivity precisely in the alleged “limitlessness” of thought, proclaimed by most postmodernists. The main epistemic problem of postmodern philosophy identified by the “new realists” is what Quentin Meillassoux, in his book After Finitude (2008), called “correlationism.” At the heart of postmodern philosophy lies “correlationism,” a philosophical axiom based on the premise that thought can only “think itself,” that the real is inaccessible to knowledge and human subjectivity.

Laruelle’s non-philosophy radicalizes the problem by way of insisting that indeed all that thought can operate with is thinking itself, and that the hallucinatory world of representation is indeed the only means and topos for mediating the real, viz. for signifying it. Nonetheless, according to him and radically differently from any postmodernist stance, the real can be thought and ought to be thought. Laruelle argues one should produce thought in accordance with the syntax of the real, a thought affected by the real and which accounts for the effects of the real. The real is not a meaning, it is not a truth of anything and does not possess an epistemic structure since it is not mirrored by and does not mirror any accurate knowledge of its workings. Therefore, a thought established in accordance with the effects of the real is unilateral. In non-philosophy, this stance is called dualysis. Namely, the radically different status of the immanent (the real) and of the transcendental (thought) is affirmed, and by virtue of such affirmation the thinking subject attempts to describe some effects of sheer exteriority, i.e., the real. The interpretation of these effects makes use of “philosophical material,” but it does not succumb to philosophy but rather to the real as its authority in the last instance.

Such fundamentally heretical stance with respect to the history of philosophical ideas or to the idea of philosophy itself creates the possibility of being radically innovative as far as political possibilities are concerned, both in terms of theory and action. In The Cut of the Real, I attempt to explore the potentiality for radicalizing some core concepts of the legacy of feminist poststructuralist philosophy. By way of resorting to some of the methodological procedures proferred by the non-philosophy, but also by way of unraveling a radically realist heuristics in the thought of Judith Butler, Luce Irigaray and Drucilla Cornell, I attempt to create grounds for a language of politics “affected by immanence” (Laruelle).

SOURCE: http://www.cupblog.org/?p=9763


Katerina Kolozova, PhD. is the director of the Institute in Social Sciences and Humanities-Skopje and a professor of philosophy, sociological theory and gender studies at the University American College-Skopje. She is also visiting professor at several universities in Former Yugoslavia and Bulgaria (the State University of Skopje, University of Sarajevo, University of Belgrade and University of Sofia as well as at the Faculty of Media and Communications of Belgrade). In 2009, Kolozova was a visiting scholar at the Department of Rhetoric (Program of Critical Theory) at the University of California-Berkeley. Kolozova is the author of Cut of the Real: Subjectivity in Poststructuralist Philosophy (2014), The Lived Revolution: Solidarity with the Body in Pain As the New Political Universal (2010), The Real and “I”: On the Limit and the Self (2006), The Crisis of the Subject with Judith Butler and Zarko Trajanoski (2002), and The Death and the Greeks: On Tragic Concepts of Death from Antiquity to Modernity (2000).

8 responses to “Katerina Kolozova on The Real in Contemporary Philosophy

  1. I was still in and out of the academy during the highpoint of Derrida style pomo and it was barely spanked and taking its first breath when it was undertowed to death by the rising tide of identity politics and the fantasy that by shifting vocabularies they were shifting the Real. These people need to get out more…

  2. Reblogged this on Constructive Undoing and commented:
    Simply and best put: Reality is that which we deal with every day as every day things, even as an everyday thing may be to be a philosophical theorist the theory with which she deals everyday: hence the real corresponding rhetoric: conventional methodology.

    Kolozova evidences the real transformation of reality as reality is the occasion of experiencing real events.

  3. Dirk,

    I agree, but would caution us not to go too far in defense of the Real either. A great many things are “socially constructed”, especially intangible abstractions and narratives leading to certain regimes of attraction/ assemblages: fictions of various gradients holding relations together. And these phantasmic exchanges are reall in their effects. So vocabularies do matter in our relaity plays out (as Rorty reminded us). I think everything reallly real has substantial being, or affective power, by virtue of what it can do via its compositional potency. What is Real is what has the power to affect us and what we must cope-with. The flora and fauna and objects and flows creeping in the ‘dark’ along the flesh of Being. Thus an ontology of traumatic encounters.

    • hey M, I’m all for studying rhetoric/speech-acts/etc just don’t see who really was/is so limited by the very few academics who focused on some imagined Language/Grammar (as a prison-house or otherwise), reminds me of when some affiliated with OOO/new-materialisms/etc where announcing to the world that materials had active properties, wtf did they think fields like chemistry, physics, engineering and all have been doing all this time?

      • LOL. I suppose. Don’t pick on Jane bro she’s just trying to get our heads screwed on in a mythoPOETIC-poltical register. Hell, we still have people asking how “mind” can come from “dead matter” like its 1862…

      • oh sure as i said somewhere/time around here I’m certainly not opposed to experimental rhetorics (writ large) I’ve done my best to curate what I hope is a pretty good library of them (and or interviews with their creators about their processes) here but only hoping that we might focus on those we can employ (at least test) for non-academicish purposes.

      • Yeah, you HAVE done fantastic.

        Do you suggest a rhetoric of “the street”, or some common vernacular set of conceptual weapons? Or are you looking strictly for applied projects? You have done good collecting those too…

        What would you have “us” do (generally) with this forum along the lines of applied projects/interventions?

      • well I wouldn’t worry to much about establishing anything too general (tho I don’t think any of us have much time/interest in banging our heads against the cog-biases of those who can’t accept our basic anthropology of the contemporary). I think we should do some of it all, the “high” and the “low”, as long as we are addressing the real efforts and sufferings of flesh and blood people. So I’m looking forward to the book reading group and hoping that we can go from there to seeing what folks that come our way are facing in their lives and how we can all work together to try and be of some mutual aid. A.James for examples been twittering about some of his work struggles and there are obvious tie ins to Guattari’s work and maybe we could flesh out some alternatives to just bearing the full weight of that system into the rest of his life (not volunteering him just an example that is close to hand and already public.)
        that said wouldn’t rule out anything, later.

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