Keynote Abstracts

Adrian Johnston
“Points of Forced Freedom: Eleven (More) Theses on Materialism,”

This presentation delineates and explains the fundamental theses of the position I label “transcendental materialism.” This position is animated by the question: What sort of ontology of “first nature” (i.e., the one-and-only original reality of natural material substances) allows for the genesis of a “second nature” (i.e., autonomous subjects as epistemologically inexplicable and ontologically irreducible with reference to natural material substances alone)—a second nature immanently transcending first nature and requiring theorization in a manner that avoids the twin pitfalls of reductive/eliminative monisms and idealist/spiritualist dualisms? I seek to answer this question by combining inspirations from philosophy past and present with resources drawn from psychoanalysis and the sciences. Hegelianism and Marxism are the twin nineteenth-century inspirations for transcendental materialism. However, Lacan, Badiou, and Žižek are the most influential recent figures informing my labors along these lines. Herein, I elaborate the core axioms of transcendental materialism in relation to both the history of post-Kantian philosophy as well as contemporary theoretical discussions and debates.

Dorothea Olkowski
“The Secret Life of Continental Philosophy: Formalism, Materialism and Consciousness”

In my recent book, Postmodern Philosophy and the Scientific Turn, the phrase “the scientific turn” is used to characterize a philosophical paradigm widely utilized in 20th century Continental philosophy but which originated primarily in analytic philosophy as a turn toward the language of logic and toward discrete and formal computation in the philosophy of language and philosophy of mind. A number of significant postmodern philosophers and theorists embraced this turn, but among these theorists it is referred to as the linguistic turn. The linguistic turn, like its correlate in analytic philosophy, finds its theoretical roots in a methodology broadly construed as mathematical or logical formalism. This talk will briefly address the nature of formalism, and then focus on its relationship to materialism in order to ask if it is the case, as some newly emerging neo-materialist claims coming from Continental philosophy imply, that formal brain mechanisms and the matter of the brain, will ultimately suffice to explain all psychologically described phenomena. It is the goal of this talk to ask to how it is that postmodern philosophy seems to have given rise to materialism in contemporary Continental philosophy, and to undo its assault on consciousness.

Michael Naas
Reinventing the Wheel: Deconstruction and the Detour through the Real

This paper takes as its point of departure a few pages from Jacques Derrida’s final seminar, The Beast and the Sovereign, where what is at issue is Robinson Crusoe’s reinvention of the wheel in Daniel Defoe’s classic eighteenth century novel. In the course of his brief reading of this scene from the novel, Derrida argues that the movement of the wheel, the apparent return of the wheel to its point of departure, is the movement of all identity formation inasmuch as it describes the phantasmatic return of a self to itself before or beyond its detour through time and space, in short, before or beyond its circuit through the real. I argue in this paper that Derrida’s analysis of the reinvention of the wheel demonstrates that, for Derrida, identities are always constituted through such a detour through the world and, thus, in excess of any imagined interiority or subjectivity (whether human or some other). Indeed it is only by means of a passage or detour through the world—or through the real—that the fiction of self-identity can be created in the first place. I end by arguing that this same passage from The Beast and the Sovereign on the reinvention of the wheel describes the very movement or historicity of deconstruction itself, its necessary critique of all putatively natural or ahistorical identities and its ineluctable expropriation or translation into the language, space, and history of the other. If, as I conclude, deconstruction will have always been a deconstruction of the wheel—or rather of the circle by means of the wheel—then nothing could be more “real” than this translation.

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