'Filosofía pirata, edición libre', discussion with Perro Tuerto y Pucho (El Rancho Electrónico) y Gabriela Méndez Cota (Universidad Iberoamericana) for the Mexico city radio station Ibero, September 12, 2019.

Open Humanities Press – The Inhumanist Manifesto

Pirate Philosophy, This Is Not A Pipe Podcast

HyperCritical Theory

Übercapitalism and What Can Be Done About It

Recent publications

Masked Media (limited edition paper-only publication for The House That Heals The Soul exhibition, Tetley, Leeds, 2018) 

 The Inhumanist Manifesto: Extended Play (Techne Lab, 2017)

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Most of Gary's work is freely available to read and download either here in Media Gifts or in Coventry University's online repositories PURE here, and CURVE here 

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« Immediations, edited by Erin Manning and Brian Massumi | Main | Zombie materialism I: Derrida vs Deleuze? »

Zombie Materialism II: New Materialism

(The following is taken from a text called ‘What are the Digital Posthumanities?’. It forms the basis of a chapter of a book I am currently working on, the provisional title of which is Pirate Philosophy. Zombie Materialism I: Derrida vs Deleuze? is available here.)

To be fair, the kind of prejudice Braidotti displays in The Posthuman regarding theory has come to be accepted almost as a form of common sense in much of the humanities and social sciences. Thanks to a complacent adherence to this new orthodoxy, post-structuralism and deconstruction are regularly positioned by stands of critical thought associated with ‘new materialism’ as being precisely the kind of transcendent, language, writing and text-focused philosophies we need to move on from in order to concentrate on those aspects of material reality  our culture is increasingly regarded as being actually about (e.g. software, hardware, code, platforms, and of course their physical supports and material substrates: wires, chips, circuits, disks, drives, networks, airwaves, electrical charges, optical rays and so on).

Dennis Bruining relates such new materialist discourses to the way in which, in spite of both the poststructuralist critique of foundations, and their own awareness of the untenability of ideas of this kind (of biology-as-destiny, for example, in the case of theories of life, genetics and the body), ‘there still lingers the notion of, and a longing for, a present underlying foundation and/or truth in some political and theoretical movements and writings’. It is a longing for truth or foundation Bruining connects to the contemporary turn to science in the humanities. But as Clare Birchall and I demonstrated in our contribution to New Cultural Studies, attachments of this nature can also be linked to what Wendy Brown calls ‘anti-political moralism’. As we wrote there, this is a term Brown uses:

to refer to a certain ‘resistance’ to thinking through the conditions and assumptions of one’s own discipline; and, in particular, to the consequences for both leftists and liberals of not being able to give up their devotion to previously held notions of politics, progress, morality, sovereignty and so forth. Significantly, theory has been a regular target for moralists, Brown observes, frequently being chastised for its ‘failure’ to tell the left what to struggle for and how to act. Indeed, Brown asserts that 'moralism so loathes overt manifestations of power… that the moralist inevitably feels antipathy toward politics as a domain of open contestation for power and hegemony'; and that 'the identity of the moralist is', in fact, actually 'staked against intellectual questioning that might dismantle the foundations of its own premises; its survival is imperiled by the very practice of open-ended intellectual inquiry’.

Bruining likewise draws on Brown’s thinking on moralism (in his case under the influence of Joanna Zylinska’s chapter in New Cultural Studies on ethics). Bruining does so to show how, in the new materialist works he engages with (which include Susan Hekman's The Material of Knowledge, as well as the collections Material  Feminisms edited by Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman, and New Materialisms edited by Diana Coole and Samantha Frost),  the emphasis on the concept of materiality, which in such discourses comes to represent ‘that universal and indisputable good that must be preserved’, and criticism of post-structuralism and those modes of thought associated with it for not theorizing the material, is actually a form of reactionary ‘material foundationalism’.

(Constantina Papoulias and Felicity Callard identify a similar afoundational-foundationalism with regard to the empirical-experimental biological evidence that is used to underpin the materialist approach to the theory of affect, such as when:

Teresa Brennan asserts that ‘experiments confirm that the maternal environment and olfactory factors... . shape human affect’, and Brian Massumi reassures us that ‘the time-loop of experience has been experimentally verified’. Even as affect theory shows how a biology of afoundational foundations can be imagined, the language through which the findings of neuroscience are invoked by cultural theorists  is, paradoxically, often the language of evidence and verification, a language offering legitimation through the experimental method. It is through the old foundational language, in other words, that the afoundational biology is appropriated.)

But just as interesting to my mind is the way such moralizing – also evident in the calls Braidotti associates with theory-fatigued neo-communist intellectuals such as Badiou and Zizek to ‘return to concrete political action, even violent antagonism if necessary, rather than indulge in more theoretical speculations’ - often takes the place of and in fact substitutes itself for genuine critical interrogation. In line with this, Brown argues that:

Despite its righteous insistence on knowing what is True, Valuable, or Important, moralism as a hegemonic form of political expression, a dominant political sensibility, actually marks both analytic impotence and political aimlessness - a misrecognition of the political logics now organizing the world, a concomitant failure to discern any direction for action, and the loss of a clear object of political desire. In particular, the moralizing injunction to act, the contemporary academic formulation of political action as an imperative, might be read as a symptom of political paralysis in the face of radical political disorientation and as a kind of hysterical mask for the despair that attends such paralysis…. Indeed, paralysis of this sort leads to far more than an experience of mere frustration: it paradoxically evinces precisely the nihilism, the antilife bearing, that it moralizes against in its nemisis – whether that nemesis is called conservatism, the forces of reaction, racism, postmodernism, or theory.

Along with the emphasis on creative affirmation rather than negative critique, the anti-intellectualism of such moralism goes a long way toward explaining why new materialists so often indulge in the unthinking repetition of reductive clichés about post-structuralist theory in general and deconstruction in particular:

a) without feeling the need to provide a careful, rigorous reading (let alone ‘(re)reading’ or  ‘“rewriting”’)  of specific thinkers and texts. As I say, Braidotti does not read Derrida’s works in any detail in The Posthuman: after all if you already know what they say, you don’t need to. Instead, the issue of what deconstruction is is both simultaneously decided in advance and excluded from the analysis;

b) when an actual rigorous and responsible engagement with his texts would reveal that writing, for Derrida, is nothing at all if it is not a material practice,  even in the most obvious, received sense of the term. This is because, for it to be capable of being understood, a written mark must have a sense of permanence. This in turns means it must be possible for it to be materially or empirically inscribed. In short, the condition of writing’s very possibility is the material. This explains why the transcendental is always impure, according to Derrida. Textuality and materiality, transcendence and immanence, even deconstruction and software code, as Federica Frabetti has shown in her work (see here and here), cannot be set up in a dualistic relation in this respect, as language and (theoretical) writing are already material.

We can thus see that deconstruction is much less a part of  any supposed ‘linguistic turn’, and much more concerned with the material, than it is portrayed as being in what might be called zombie theories of materialism.

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