In a recent talk Timothy Morton (1) argues that Nature is a dangerous concept. From what I have gathered in his lecture, nonetheless, Nature is dangerous in its conceptual appeal to the universal which totalizes and is therefore reductive. Many would settle at least in an aesthetic intuition of Nature that seemingly avoids the totalizing direction of universalization as it comfortably settles in the particular, like a coral; least to say, in a quantic indetermination of bodies of Nature (I mean bodies in the sense of a disjunctive relation to a whole as an administrable assemblage). Nature is anthropocentric—I have no objection to this—and yet, when aesthetic is invoked to appeal to Nature as quantic indetermination, seemingly to escape the subjective or sovereign standpoint, we may lose sight of the fact that aesthetic remains a kind of intellectual intuition.
Intellectual intuition is a property of the subject, regardless whether it is questionable these days to appeal to a notion of sovereignty. Property does not equal to sovereignty. And yet when something such an inventory of reason (which Kant did) situates intellectual intuition within the history of the systems of thought in which aesthetics becomes a part of the narrative of how reason achieves a critical relation to itself intellectual intuition is made to serve something greater than itself, such as being productive of a prioris of time and space which alone could initiate a world-ing of world, which would then culminate in the anthropocentrism of the world-order, a highly probable cause of climate change, so we are told. But before this crisis, anthropocentrism has given us wars, economic exploitation, gender abuse, imperialism, etc. The list could go on. We can assume here that part of this familiar narrative of anthropocentrism and its crises is the plasticity of aesthetics (to use Malabou’s concept) made to serve something larger than intuitivity, that is, productivity (this time, Malabou’s plasticity falls short of its promise—insofar as every object is exchangeable for something, noting its lack of ontological ground, what could also be its lack of interest in itself, its readiness for co-optation, say with a dominant or sovereign ecology, is not unlikely).
So how are we to make sense of aesthetics, say, as first philosophy which, as in Harman’s position, must be thought outside of the dominance of subject orientation? Perhaps, we can reformulate the question into ‘how can we make sense of aesthetics as first philosophy without falling back on the inventory of reason that has been going on since Kant?’ Or, perhaps, Laruelle is right that philosophy has yet to realize that its business depends on endless criticism, or a critical inventory of the claims of reason.
Is there a way of doing aesthetics without treating it the way it has been hitherto treated, that is, as an inventoried passage of reason from pre-critical to its critical phase? Didn’t Nietzsche affirm otherwise the importance of tragic consciousness as an aesthetic contemplation but not as an inventoried category of reason, rather as an affirmation of life that will always return to itself?
And yet, we can also treat the problem as historical. Aesthetics may be rethought outside of the critical inventory of reason assuming we can hold a place outside of history within which alone aesthetics may be thought. Outside of history, we may assume aesthetics can be thought outside of reason. If reason claims total determination, then a kind of indetermination may offer an opportunity for rethinking aesthetics, assuming it is worth the while to rethink it. We believe it is. Here, ‘outside of history’ may mean the challenge of indetermination (we always devalue history in our own capacity as individuals) or the challenge of absolute negation. Nietzsche may not be ready for the latter, assuming we are correct in arguing that, although it is debatable that he harbors a position in favor of vitalism he at least is not open to the possibility of the extinction of history where life can no longer return its affirmative neutrality to the existence of the historical species, that is, what has become of us. We are speaking here of actual extinction of the species.
We cannot however agree with Derrida that it is death that always interrupts this return of life to itself. Where death is said to always interrupt, what returns is no longer life but something artificial, say, the signature of the author or his or her name. Derrida’s modus operandi is to historicize death (which is deconstructive enough) in order to interrupt life as bios (2) but where death is understood as the subject (who, as dead, returns, not life), Derrida affirms the subject in its dissimulated affirmation of life (that returns). Life is the undeclared model of the subject who returns. And yet, the subject is the rival of life. Even so, Derrida is not doing aesthetics outside of history. Without belaboring the point, he is deconstructing history, or rather, a progressive, more advanced form of the critical inventory of reason.
Lastly, we may ask: is thinking extinction the right way to do aesthetics outside of history? If history should go extinct, are we not speaking of the extinction of reason, of conception that makes history possible, in favor of the return to the unhistorical, the uncanny (perhaps, the third kind vis-à-vis the binary opposition of being and becoming in Plato’s Timaeus, known as chora), the avenger for what historical reason has repressed? Or, a return to myth (as in Deleuze), a second creation (as in Nietzsche, the rebirth of tragedy), a new humanity? It well to note here that Deleuze also thinks of second creation as a likely result of the “general distribution of continents, the states of the sea, and lines of navigation.” (3) Not far from an ecological apocalypse.
(3) Gilles Deleuze, Desert Islands and Other Texts (1953-1974), trans. Michael Taomina, ed. David Lapoujade (New York: Semiotext[e]), 2002, 73.