Interview with Hägglund

Martin Hägglund sent me this interview about the response to Radical Atheism and the future direction of his work, which engages with the question of desire, an aspect of his work that I am apparently not alone in finding somewhat problematic. (Readers with self-esteem problems may want to skip the final paragraph, dealing with what he’s working on currently.)

47 thoughts on “Interview with Hägglund

  1. “Unlike current versions of neo-realism or neo-materialism, however, the notion of
    arche-materiality does not authorize its relation to Darwinism by constructing an ontology or
    appealing to scientific realism but rather by articulating a logical infrastructure that is
    compatible with its findings. Following this logic, one can make explicit that the structure of the
    trace is implicit both in our understanding of the temporality of living processes and in our
    understanding of how time is recorded in the disintegration of inanimate matter. That is how I
    account for how the trace structure can be expressive not only of linguistic and
    phenomenological experience but also of the temporality of evolutionary processes and
    material structures. ”

    Paging Timothy Morton to this thread, paging Timothy Morton. This is the way I interpreted him – I didn’t think he sutured his fate to Darwinism and Tim and Mike maintain.

  2. I don’t see how it makes your critique more accurate — all you’re doing is claiming that his characterization of what he’s doing is wrong. In fact, I don’t see how you can claim that he’s assuming linear time, as he’s pretty clearly saying something different. BUT THAT’S JUST ME.

  3. It’s very simple. Do you believe in past, present and future? Then you believe in moments that succeed one another. There are three, at least: past, present, future.

    Likewise your use of Hagglund’s “linear” baffles me. Can you explain how your view of time is not linear. Or, more simply: what does “non-linear” mean?

    I begin to suspect that “linear” is one of those words like “naive” or “folk” used simply to scare the skittish.

  4. A couple problems seem to be at work here. First, you appear to have a very strong, unexamined notion of what time must be like. Second, you don’t seem to understand what Hagglund is saying. Finally, you seem to be moving much too quickly in your arguments, which makes them very difficult to understand either in themselves or as responses to Hagglund.

    Again, that may be just me, but as a result of all these factors, my desire to attempt to discuss Hagglund with you continues to decline. If anyone else wants to take up the cause of explaining how Hagglund is describing something that differs from the traditional concept of time, I invite them to step up now.

  5. I haven’t read Hägglund’s book, but just responding to Tim’s point, doesn’t Heidegger in Being and Time also posit “past, present, and future”? Except in his terms, these have nothing to do with “linear temporality,” but instead with specific modes of experience or comporting oneself towards the world? How would it even be possible to speak of time without by way of reference to those 3 categories? Your approach seems at once overly simplistic, and at the other time incomprehensibly confusing.

  6. Also, please note that I’m claiming that Tim’s argument doesn’t actually provide any useful information about Hagglund’s argument, nor about what I’m saying about Hagglund. So if you’re basing your objection to me on Tim’s objection, you’re building on sand.

  7. I’m not sure how that isn’t clear from the first sentence where I explicitly wrote “responding to Tim’s point,” but for what it’s worth the “your” refers to Tim. Also, I don’t see how Tim’s question–“It’s very simple. Do you believe in past, present and future? Then you believe in moments that succeed one another. There are three, at least: past, present, future”–is exclusively focused solely on Hägglund, nor does it seem as though one has to have read Hägglund’s work to criticize this line of argument. I would certainly have no basis to respond if what I was saying had anything to do specifically with Hägglund’s work, but it doesn’t.

  8. Even if you take past, present and future the way I take it Tim takes them (and so not, for example, the way Heidegger does), belief in them needn’t imply linearity, because you could believe in, say, a branching time, on which only a partial ordering would obtain. It would not be true, on such a conception, that for any pair of moments m and n either m = n, m succeeds n, or m is succeeded by n.

    While this is completely irrelevant to everything, I feel it is a point worth making.

  9. It’s Martin and you, Adam, who have that unexamined idea.

    The onus is on you to explain “non-linear.” Me, I’m not too unhappy with lines, and since we all know what they are (simplistic and all), I guess I don’t need to worry.

    “Linear bundles an instant attitude of superiority and smugness. We’re not one of those silly fools who believe in something as naive as lines. And if we do, why the lines we believe in, you probably couldn’t even draw them, man. They’re complicated!”

  10. Ben, branches are lines. Oh wow, now there are more lines to choose from! Lots more linearity! Cool!

    What’s more, they go from past to future. Now that’s what I call linearity!

  11. Every instant is divided in itself, pointing both backward and forward — that is, each instant is a trace rather than being a self-identical moment that is then succeeded by another self-identical moment. Going both forward and backward is not linear.

    You could have learned this from, for example, reading Hagglund’s book, or this interview.

  12. I have been meaning to ask this, and perhaps this is an incorrect thread for doing so, but aside from Hägglund’s book, where might one go to read more regarding the concept of trace-structure? I’m thinking more in terms of secondary literature, rather than Derrida himself, although any particular Derrida text recommendations would also be appreciated.

  13. Tim, a linear order is a total order, while a branching order is a partial order. Because “there are more lines to choose from”, the whole is not linear. In a linear order for all m and n either mn or nm; this is not the case for a partial order.

  14. I’m happy to concede that idea, Ben. Yet this is very far from what Martin and Adam mean by “non-linear.”
    Martin only means to provide a logical underpinning to Darwinism (his terms) and other forms of materialism. (Arche-materialism, ie the trace is material in some sense.)

    Adam: “Pointing both backward and forward” means that there is a “before” and an after. Okay, a cool and groovy one that isn’t “linear.” (Maybe.) Backward and forward, if they mean anything, mean “not (quite) now.” So we have moments: one of them you know if you point backward, the other you know if you point forward. No need to be snippy. You still haven’t explained what non-linear means and why it means I’m wrong.

    For instance, if strictly true, then I can influence the past. Now I can for sure endorse this kind of non-linearity! But it’s a big problem for you, because you are into survival, which means that you think things inevitably pass away. For you, the past is a done deal. Shame.

  15. The way you argue, it’s impossible to know how to answer. I explain something, and you act like I haven’t even tried to. I ask for clarification, and you dash off to a seemingly unrelated topic. You continue to attribute to me things I’m not saying, and you ignore what I do say. I mean: what the hell, man.

  16. I propose an addition to the OOO bestiary of “trolls”: the Charlie Sheen. In essence, the Charlie Sheen describes Morton’s “argumentative” “technique.” That is, rambling, counter-intuitive, non-sensical sentences tangentially related to the point at hand completed with incomprehensible non sequiturs ( e.g., “got it yet?” “groovy” “I’m on a drug and it is called Timothy Morton/OOO/lava lamp.”)

  17. Tim, One the one hand, I’m not sure I agree with Adam’s formulation that “Every instant is divided in itself, pointing both backward and forward — that is, each instant is a trace rather than being a self-identical moment that is then succeeded by another self-identical moment. Going both forward and backward is not linear.” On the other hand, I think you’re entirely wrong (and have been a dick). But perhaps I’m not being a generous reader when it comes to your claims. I’ll give the benefit of the doubt. For now, could you answer the following for me? (1) If you understand time to be a succession of instants (a discrete multiplicity), then what would you say is between each instant or point? (2) What is the catalyst or force that gives rise to the dynamism necessary for moving from point to point? In other words, for you, is time akin to a line of dominoes, each falling one after the other? (3) And I think this gets to the heart of the problem: why do you require that time be understand spatially?

  18. “Non-linear” doesn’t mean irreducibly undecidable. Global warming is non-linear. You can predict it–it’s just very hard. Non-linear systems are deterministic and mechanical. They simply require a higher than usual configuration space.

    Non-linear systems have a before and an after. Roughly, more comes out than you out in. There is a rigid temporal sequence.

    “Non-linear” doesn’t do what Adam wants it to do.

  19. Hate to say it, but I really don’t get what the specifics of the contention are here – I thought I did, but now I’m not sure. Can someone summarise it for me? Seems to be about the direction of time and whether time is linear or not in Hagglund. Adam says it is non-linear, but Tim maintains it is? Aside from discrete moments aspect?

  20. I’m honestly struggling to distinguish between (1) your understanding of what Hagglund is claiming, (2) your critique of Hagglund, and (3) your own view of time, which I take is somewhat related to (2) your criticism of Hagglund.

  21. Linear seems to imply an ordered succession of moments from past through present to future. Heidegger undermines this metaphysical view of time in Being and Time, as already mentioned. Linearity also seems to assume a Newtonian cosmology, where events take place in an absolute time that again moves from past to future. To say that time involves three components is not to say that they stand in linear relation. For me, it’s clear that time possesses non-linear qualities, in Einsteinian relativity for example. I can also see the persistence of linear qualities in what we call time. Some physicists like Julian Barbour posit the end of time, that at a fundamental level time does not exist and all you have is a configuration space. That does not seem linear to me.

    You could have a basically linear time (an arrow of time) with non-linear aspects, branchings, foldings, etc. Or time could be fundamentally non-linear (and then it may be questionable to call it time) with local linear qualities. I’m thinking about how we now think that Euclidean geometries are a local expression of a more universal, non-Euclidean geometry.

    For me, I think time is both directional, it has an arrow of sorts, but it is not simply linear, even if broadly so, and at the same time it is non-linear at least at Planck scales.

    Interesting interview, by the way, and I appreciate the still unresolved issues involving the trace and desire. And I’m looking forward to his critique of Deleuze. My hunch is that Deleuze and Derrida would be compatible on time, at least that’s how I read them, but fleshing this out would be a different story. You could have to see the trace more as a cut, and have a more nuanced understanding of what immanence means in Deleuze than most commentators.

  22. I shall weigh in again, but tomorrow. Today is the worst to have any kind of dispute, according to my religion (Tibetan Buddhism). All the wrong karma of the year resonates at 11 on the amplifier today. It’s dön season!

  23. Morton has to be the most incoherent blogger/poster I’ve ever read.

    As far as I can tell, he’s skimmed Hagglund’s essay in the Speculative Turn and has concluded that Hagglund is only interested in providing a philosophical justification for Darwinism.

    Additionally, he doesn’t seem to be able to articulate what he means by time, metaphysics, or epsitemology (admittedly, a fault shared by the entire OOO crowd).

    Conclusion: While working on something trendy might get you tenured in an English department, this says more about the limitations of English departments than the originality or rigor of your work.

    If Bryant and Harman are your philosophical heroes, then you have more to worry about than lactose intolerance.

  24. One more thing (less bitchy). The question of linearity doesn’t seem to be much of an issue for Hagglund.

    Time is successive (which isn’t to say that it works according to a succession of discrete moments), and it’s unidirectional (which is part of Hagglund’s criticism of Meillassoux). Temporalization involves past, present and future, but it never moves backward. If you want to call that “linear,” fine. It’s important to remember, though, that time isn’t thereby figured as points on a line.

    If you want to refute Hagglund–as Morton is (apparently) struggling to–then you need to show how Hagglund’s wrong about succession and the trace structure. You could also go after Derrida in “Ousia and Gramme,” since that’s the essay where D. probably presents this position most clearly. Or, rather, “clearly.”

  25. Bit harsh old bean. Can we maybe try and restrict the discussion to philosophical statements, not personal attacks or hate on OOO? I don’t think OOO is right either, but I’m not going to start casting aspersions on people’s scholarship, particularly when it is pretty bloody clear they are going to see it.

  26. Since I find Morton’s arguments extremely gnomic, I will attempt a defense that may not represent him well at all, but will at least be a parse-able claim. Would it not be plausible to claim that all ecstatic or riven accounts of time are parasitical on a linear and successive account, in that it is necessary to see the future as what comes next and the past as what came before in order to introduce them into the ‘present’ moment to begin with? In other words could we say that there is anything like a reference to the future in every moment if we don’t already have a notion of the future aside from thinking it as that which is referred to in every moment, and without that can it even be notionally distinguished from the past? If my terms are a little off I haven’t read Hagglund or looked at Derrida in while, but I’m just wondering if this is the implicit argument here and how it can be answered.

  27. Tim, I think I understand your critique better, but I still don’t understand where you’re getting how he reverts to a default scientism or naturalism (which seems to be the logical presupposition of your claims about how his view of time isn’t what he says it is).

    Perhaps you’re thinking of an article I haven’t read — if so, could you link? Or if you’re thinking of a specific passage from the book, could you give me a page number?

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