Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Medium of Contingency

“The medium of contingency”(shortly available in volume 22 of pli) clarifies many points that remained implicit in “The Blank Swan”, it particularly precises the divergence that exists between Elie Ayache’s (EA in the following) and Quentin Meillassoux’s (QM) thought. In that, it does answer my earlier comment, somehow confirming it, but also, strangely, I came to disagree with this one to the extent of now holding the contrary belief that EA’s and QM’s thought do merge into a seeming compatibility.


The following passage (on page 2) from “The medium of contingency” seems to assume a certain conception of thought, or at least of its placement in order to think speculatively, in QM’s sense:

“If a speculation like Meillassoux's must bring our thought flat against the matter of absolute contingency, with a flattening of the depth where we would have searched for the reason why things are what they are and not otherwise and with the flipping of ontology from the side on which things are to the side on which things can be and if, correlatively, contingency has to be thought independently of any division of underlying states in which the contingent thing possibly can be something or other, then the step back from contingency - for only by stepping back from its absolute strike are we able to make sense of it and unfold the expanse where it can be thought speculatively - should take place in a direction and through a medium that maintain the absence of reason and the absence of states.”

I am not sure there is any depth to be flattened in the way thought relates to any of its object, and in the way thought is really, since I can’t conceive of a thought severed from its object (in the way I can conceive of an objectless desire, for instance). On the contrary, I tend to believe that thought is flat, what does have depth is its manifestation via language, but thought is largely independent of it, and it is independent naturally “of any division of underlying states”, which are just tools used to express itself (i.e. its object).
As such, thought can easily criticize these divisions, these states, while it may lose itself in it every now and then, it always retains the capacity of freeing itself from their influence, of turning against them, of staring at them in an inquisitive manner. Language can even help thought in its rebellion against language, as any natural language contains its own meta-level. In that, thought can easily turn itself (and its object) upside down.
So I am not convinced that “a medium that maintain the absence of reason and the absence of states” is all that necessary, provided that states are not taken too seriously, too heavily so as to place us in “a world that is repelled by gravity”(The Blank Swan-p.152, Après la finitude-p.149). As long as the totalization of states in not given too much credit, the philosophical debt can easily, and instantly be repaid.
That being said, “a medium that maintain the absence of reason and the absence of states” may not be necessary, but it may be useful, but more on this later.

The condition for thought to stay in control of its fate, and thereby, be speculative, is doubt, which may just be the historical root of QM’s factuality, as just like facticity cannot be said to be factitious (Après la finitude-p.107), doubt itself cannot be submitted to doubt.
Doubt seems therefore to appear as the psychological form of facticity (see Après la finitude-p.101), or to go further, as the subjective face of it, and to extrapolate a bit more, one may wish to consider the equivalence between the necessity of facticity and the necessity of doubt, wherein the former does imply the object (principle of factuality) and the latter, the subject. I will not follow this line of thought now however, and I genuinely don’t know whether it leads anywhere.

Doubt is nonetheless dated, and often distorted beyond recognition by a mundane usage, whereas axiomatics propose a modern mathematical formalization of doubt. It may then be through axiomatics, and mathematics (and maybe indeed topology, to follow Jeff Malpas along with EA, The Medium of Contingency-p.18) that speculative thought can progress. Mathematics, in their axiomatized form, also present the great advantage to be a very flat language, containing its own meta-language, and providing an unmatched clarity to the extent of being tautological (as it is fully explicit).


While I don’t think the market is the only available medium for factual speculation to develop, I wholly follow EA’s analysis of the market as being a genuinely “contingent and immanent place”. As such, it is therefore useful, but not only because of what it has done, but more because of what it promises to do.
Looking at the market, not as the medium for factual speculation but as just one of many such media, we should expect all these media to communicate with each others, to exchange and nourish their respective speculation.
Clearly for instance, and some works may already have started on this matter, that I still have to get acquainted with, the derivatives market should be a fruitful domain for the factual speculation on probability axiomatics, which itself could lead to topological and therefore ontological results.
It may also be that a speculative resolution of Hume’s problem (as stated by QM in Après la Finitude-p.176) could draw some insights from the material un-totalization of contingent claims by the endless complexification of exotics contracts.

Furthermore, the market may not be the only one, but it appears, in some important regard, to be the purer, the most devoid of faux-semblants, it will therefore act as a useful reference for the other places of factual speculation. Not unique but central, it may play the role of a singularity, a repelling or an attracting one, it does not matter but it will be instrumental in the development of factual speculation, and it may even be more than that, as I believe it also has a political and ethical relevance which is not foreign to its immanence, but that is another matter.


numbersix said...

Hi Jean-Philippe,

Thank you for this thorough (and, as always, penetrating) reading of 'The Medium of Contingency'. I full agree with your comments.

I am thrilled to see that you take my point completely, concerning the market of financial contingent claims (unlike the former editor of the venerable journal of actuaries, The Actuary, who, in a recent review of my book, holds that causality must remain the basis of everything, including speculation:

I agree that the market is not the exclusive medium of factual speculation. According to me, writing is the general form how thought should be 'oriented' in order to gain full factual speculative speed. This is why, deep down, my book can be seen as an attempt to generalize the market of contingent claims to an 'arche-market' (as Meillassoux once told me I should call this other order of thought and its medium), or to a new metaphysics. Following this generalization, Pierre Menard doesn't think the Quixote, but truly writes it, or 'trades' it somehow.

It is in part III that my book is probably most speculative, in the sense of turning the 'Market' into a general metaphysics or arche-market, or a way of having thought and world relate to each other.

Jean-Philippe said...

Hi Elie,

Thanks for your kind and clarifying words.

No comment on The Actuary, those people leave me speechless.

As for writing, given the way you have extended this concept, if I understood you well, yes, I agree that it may be seen as the general form of speculative thought. And I completely agree with your analysis of Menard's case, even though I would have put it differently (but in an equivalent way as yours, I believe)
To me, Menard is the archetype of thinking the outside, as you explain, at the end of chapter 9 p.216:

"(...)that the thought of the outside is a necessity for thought, that thought is nothing but this exchange of itself against what it is not."

Reading these lines reminded me of a similar idea that is found in Nishida Kitaro's "About Descartes'philosophy":

"The self exists where it negates itself. It is not however a simple negation but an absolute one whereby the self becomes unified to what is absolutely other"

Menard is the typical example of a subject who came to existence as a self by negating itself, choosing to write another's book. He's giving incarnation to this athletic trajectory of thought you're talking about on p.214.

As for Part III, I indeed consider it the most speculative part of your work, and I intend to post a detailed comment about it, though it will take me some time to do that, as, on one hand, I need to read it a second time, and on the other, I don't have, right now, access to the books I would need to make relevant references and comparisons (such as Nishida's for instance).
Anyway, just reading again a few parts made me realize how much my understanding of it had evolved (in the right direction I hope), and I may attempt some partial comments about it in the near future.

numbersix said...

Hi Jean-Philippe,

Thank you for bringing to light this dark side of Pierre Menard, which I had not explicitly suspected, even though it is literally the other side of my thought of Menard, namely the side of self-negation or the outside being the absolute other.

In my reading of Menard, I have tended to focus on the objective side, i.e. the medium of writing in which Menard was 'lost' and immersed, and didn't necessarily turn the light, except tangentially, toward Menard himself as subject, or negation thereof.

It seems to me I have reserved this treatment for Barton Fink (in Part III), but surely Menard's character wasn't absent from my mind at that stage either, as Menard haunts my whole book and even work.

I have great news. 'The Medium of Contingency' was accepted for publication in Pli, The Warwick University Journal of Philosophy, for a Call for Papers around Meillassoux and the general theme of contingency ( For this reason, I thought better to remove the link to the paper from my website. I hope this won't frustrate readers of your blog who may be following that link. N°22 of Pli will be out in the Spring I guess.

All the best,

Jean-Philippe said...

Hi Elie,

Thanks for pointing out the link problem, I corrected the message, which now refers to Pli website.

All the best to you as well, hoping to further this discussion about your ideas in the near future.