System Seminar 2: Quentin Meillassoux – Correlationism or Contingency.

In ‘Iteration, Reiteration, Repetition: A Speculative Analysis of the Meaningless Sign’ from earlier this year, Quentin Meillassoux refines his neomaterialism from its introduction in his book ‘After Finitude’ and refines the variations of correlative thought to the terms ‘correlationism’ and ‘subjecticalism’. Correlationism here is the de-absolutisation of thought, it incorporates all forms of philosophy that are anti-absolutist. For Meillassoux this is ‘the closure of thought upon itself’ evident in modern and postmodern thought from phenomenology to post-structuralism. Meillassoux’s arguments here are as they were in After Finitude, they pertain to the ‘correlationist circle’ and ‘correlational facticity’. Subjecticalism on the other hand is the production of an absolute in the form of thought through subjectivity. This includes all forms of idealism and extends along the spectrum of thought to forms of vitalism. This seems to encompass all philosophy other than certain forms of materialism. Thus, Meillassoux’s neomaterialism is defined by its attempt to escape all forms of correlationism and subjecticalism.

Meillassoux’s materialism is speculative not metaphysical, it is a philosophy that claims to attain the absolute, ‘every thought acceding to an absolute that is at once external to thought and in itself devoid of all subjectivity’. However it does not absolutize any material reality, Meillassoux claims that matter is as contingent as the laws that govern them, that which is, is wholly contingent (hyperchaos). For Meillassoux the inorganic real as non-sentient is infinitely more interesting than the subjectivised world.  This contains ex nihilo emergence of realities such as sensation, perception, affect etc. This is neatly summed up in the phrase ‘being is not thought, thought can think being and the being of every thing is its contingency’.

Meillassoux expands the possible attainment of the absolute by claiming the use of the formal language of mathematics. Specifically, this formal language sees the introduction of the meaningless sign, a sign that is given ultimately for itself and not as a signified meaning. This meaningless or empty sign has an arbitrariness that cannot be captured by the conceptual, and this for Meillassoux is the necessary contingency of his speculative project.

What does this mean for Systems?

It appears that Meillassoux creates a very broad remit into which we can situate the meaning of systems. In the first instance we can interpret systems as correlationist. System has become a spatial and temporal metaphor through which we conceive of our life-world. Systems have replaced god and humanism as the dominant mode of thought through which we attempt to untangle meaning. Opposing this point of view, system can also refer to the contingency of Meillassoux’s materialism, where all material reality, forces of historical production etc are only knowable through being completely arbitrary and radically contingent.

For me, both of these perspectives are frustrating. While clearly the dominance of linguistic / subjectivist philosophies are being eroded as dominate modes of thought, a materialism based in a radical contingency is a bit too expansive and seems to leave no space for the process of reterritorialisation. I prefer the neomaterialism of Manuel DeLanda, where instead of systems emerging from a dualism of either mind world correlates or as radically contingent, systems are assemblages with unique ‘individuated trajectories’ that emerge from the matter energy flows that emerge and are situated within geological non-organic life.


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