New Inhumanisms: Tom McCarthy and Speculative Realism

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The past few years have witnessed the fitful emergence of a phenomenon, the appearance of new `inhumanisms’, that might seem like a radical extension of that drive, its assumption of stark new forms, its transmutation within new parameters. The `inhumanisms’ are various; neither philosophy nor aesthetics has any particular privilege relative to them; and no particular politics is immediately attached to them, save perhaps a politics of the objectionability of presentism. This essay will put two of them together, both among the most encouraging productions of a generation twenty years younger than my own. My intention is partly to place them and root them in place, to provide supports for them, and to encourage them in explicating them, chiefly as sites of resistance to the prison-house of presentism. At the same time, however, I shall finally put myself at a certain distance from them, which may be partly generational, but is not just that. The first is the philosophical movement known as speculative realism. There are signs enough by now that this movement scarcely existed at all and is already coming apart. There was hardly likely to be a shared agenda that united a post-Badiouian speculative philosopher in the French tradition, Quentin Meillassoux, a radical and rigorous post-Nietszchean nihilist, Ray Brassier, a Deleuzean `cyber-vitalist’ ― if that is what he is; it is certainly not what is most important about his work ― Iain Hamilton Grant, and a punk Heideggerian, Graham Harman, for more than a short length of time. But to dwell on this, or on the critiques of speculative realism ― which have so far largely come from positions more conventional and familiar than the philosophers’ own ― is to miss their exact significance. The significance of speculative realism, or of the philosophers who briefly grouped themselves under the speculative realist umbrella, is their passion for an outside, their recognition of the imperative need in the present to think beyond the present, to think what is exterior to it. It may be that the chief importance of the speculative realist moment will turn out to be above all the line a new generation of thinkers draws under correlationism: some of the paths they follow out of their critique ― Harman’s Heideggerianism, Hamilton Grant’s Deleuzeanism and, if Adrian Johnston is right, Meillassoux’s quasi-theological turn ― bring worryingly familiar and even obvious problems along with them. Brassier’s determination to think the implications of modern science right down to the philosophical ground is likely to be a much more fertile alternative, but is fledgling as yet, and at the moment he seems unlikely to graft on to it what it surely requires, a politics ― and an aesthetics. Yet the materials for a post-correlationist aesthetics are emerging around us, the fiction of Tom McCarthy being I think a particularly notable example, above all C. If the materialisms of the speculative realists do not neatly coincide, nor does McCarthy neatly coincide with them, nor am I going to try and show that. What interests me above all is the conjuncture at which the hegemony of presentism has apparently come under threat, and a new experiment with anti-anthropomorphic materialisms ― with new inhumanisms ―becomes possible and even necessary, the importance of that experiment, and the importance of the McCarthy experiment within it.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTom McCarthy
Subtitle of host publicationCritical Essays
EditorsDennis Duncan
Place of PublicationCanterbury
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9978-1-78024-062-6
ISBN (Print)978-1-78024-060-2
Publication statusPublished - 12 Dec 2016

Publication series

NameContemporary Writers: Critical Essays


  • Tom McCarthy speculative realism presentism

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