Speculative Realism and Catastrophe

Aaron Pedinotti, Doctoral Candidate, MCC, NYU

The recent movement in continental philosophy known as “Speculative Realism” has taken a strong interest in the theme of collapse (a fact attested by the title of the philosophical journal with which it is most closely associated: Collapse). In its critique of the paradigmatic Kantian framework that posits being in terms of its correlation to human thought, SR advances speculative models of a world that antedates human beings and would continue in the event of their annihilation. Such models have granted the motifs of ecological catastrophe, socio-industrial meltdown, petro-apocalypse, extinction and generalized ruin a privileged place in the roster of speculative realist concerns.

In my paper, I discuss two sub-schools of Speculative Realism in terms of their pertinence to media scholarship and the affective and ideational dynamics of contemporary media-scapes. First, I examine Ray Brassier’s advocacy for a “transcendental nihilism,” which is premised on the current scientific theory that the universe is someday destined to die due to the collapse of gravitational bonds. After briefly unpacking the conceptual details of this argument, my focus shifts to the ways in which the attitudes it entails have informed neo-nihilist blogs that concern themselves with global crises of an arguably more pressing sort. Having diagnosed the (perhaps predictable) pessimism that typifies this blogospheric application of dark transcendental horizons to urgent contemporary problems, I turn to Object Oriented Ontology, another school of SR that posits a polyphony of being that resists any form of totalizing representation (be it scientific or otherwise). Examining a number of object-oriented blogs, artworks, and other cultural products, I discus their cautiously brighter take on the future, contrasting it with Brassier’s nihilism.

Back to Thinking through collapse (2012)