What is “speculative realism” and how is it a turning point for human thought?. Quentin Meillasoux’s essay “The Spectral Dilemma” serves as a perfect overture or starting point for all “speculative realism.” Meillasoux’s work is really the initiation of speculative realism and here he names it as such. He also shows to a certain degree how much his project depends upon and continues Badiou’s return to philosophy and his attempt to find an alternative to both the ancient dogmatism thankfully unseated by critical thinking and the impasse of skeptical relativism ushered in by it. This text is a condensed yet very readable form of this line of development which begins with the question of mourning and leads into Meillasoux’s next (and primary) question of the question of divinity in a very simple but unique way. Here is my reading of it – as well as the beginning of an answer to his final question about implications for a new “divinology” – or what I call theosophy.
In a sense I feel that the three parts of the “Spectral Dilemma” should be read backwards – or maybe forward and then backwards. The spectral dilemma is perhaps what initiated from the desire of Meillasoux to solve the problem of existence. What he calls “essential mourning” is an attempt to come to terms with the dead from the point of view of the living and to go beyond the false duality of religion and atheism by means of the possible. What this amounts to is retracing the three steps in the development of human thought which Badiou outlined as “meta-ontological” choices (and which I find to parallel Lacan’s four discourses as positions): from Transcendentalist “religious” (discourse of the master) to Constructivist “atheistic” (discourse of the university) to Generic “contingent” (engaging the discourse of hysteric and analyst).
Meillasoux demonstrates the “necessity of contingency,” showing that the history of all meta-physics is based on the unconscious decision to extrapolate from the local physics of seemingly stable laws of cause and effect and the principle of sufficient reason. Hume showed that the stability of local conditions of causality and reason was not guaranteed and rather than seeing that as a failure Meillasoux embraces it, just as Badiou embraces modern mathematics’ failure to pin down number as countable: being is infinitely infinite “hyperchaos,” containing all of the possible. While the manifestation of being-as-appearance in any given local world (or topos) appears with a structure of seemingly transcendental or logical conditions (axiomatically founded at the quilting point of the paradoxically local “transcendental” founding act) this does not imply that they are immutable. Both structural stability and morphogenesis are preserved. Objective things-in-themselves can be grasped scientifically beyond the correlationist dilemma of subjective relation – in different degrees along a continuum – while the subjective entanglement still persists as a constant challenge – AND yet the “objective” is not ontological Being-as-being but rather local manifestation or being-there. Paradoxically it is actually subjectivity that is closer to Being-as-being in that it contains the pure perceptual point of perspective and thought which is able to transcend objective laws of contingency and the embodied perceptual and sensational link through which we usually rely on knowing them. Thus Badiou and Meillasoux’sproject is a freeing of thought from its local conditions in order to think the real as it were. Speculative realism is thus thought freed from the limitations of metaphysics and yet immersed in the real beyond all ideas or ideals.
I believe this is in line with Rudolf Steiner’s project at the turn of the century where he reached the limit of metaphysics in Hegel, Schelling, and Nietzsche and broke through to the other side of thought – not as Heideggerian or Wittgensteinian anti-philosophy or postmodern rhetorical relativism but as “spiritual science.” Plato’s and Steiner’s Ideas, Forms, and Archetypes are not THE truth but rather truths – gathered through a subjective or spiritual science of the experiential “I” which we must now develop and this I is the organ of speculative realism. It is not necessary for us to piously “remain silent” or that “only a god can save us” unless that god is I – the generic overman of everyday life – the “god-man” or “christ-man” which strangely appears both in esoteric forms in the case of Steiner (albeit still too transcendental and pious) and exoteric forms in the case of Francois Laruelle’s “heretical future christ” (albeit still too atheistic and suspicious). Meillasoux poses the “divine inexistent” as the possible or contingent divinity. I call this a new “theosophy”: wisdom of divinity(s), knowing of god(s). It is related to the theosophical movements of the recent century initiated by Blavatsky, Steiner, and Crowley, but no longer “occult” in the sense of hidden laws. Rather it was occult in the sense of hidden powers, potencies, potentialities – yet no longer. Mysticism and magic are none other than processes and practices which are now available to us to think the objective, the subjective, the infinite, and the real. This is the mystery of the logos or word touched upon in Meillasoux’s “semiotic one,” Guattari’s “asignifying semiotics,” and Lacan’s “sinthome.” In the process of reaching this understanding, we will cross over an abyss of the mystery of life and death, good and evil relative to the question of man’s existence as individuated being.