Nothing has ever been alive.

In The Speculative Turn: Continental Realism and Materialism, Martin Hägglund writes an essay, Radical Atheist Materialism: A Critique of Meillassoux, in which he addresses Meillassoux’s articulation of a ‘virtual power’ of time that allows for the possibility of resurrection of the dead:

‘Contingency presupposes succession and there is no succession without destruction.  If the moment were not destroyed in being succeeded by another moment, their relation would not be one of succession but of co-existence.  Thus, to assert the necessity of contingency is to assert the necessity of destruction’

Following this argument, which eliminates the possibility of the ontological redemption of the dead, Hägglund invokes a form of philosophical Darwinism to devitalize life, rather than vitalizing matter.  Here, he differentiates between survival and being ‘alive,’ ‘for example, the isotope that has a radioactive decay across billions of years is surviving – since it remains and disintegrates over time but it is not alive.’

We would, of course, want to know, then, what is the difference between surviving and being alive?  For Hägglund, that difference consists of care-for-survival, “A living being, on the other hand, cannot be indifferent to its own survival.”

What this suggests is that living and dead are categories under which lies a continuum, or gradient, of varying degrees of care-for-survival.  A human cares for its survival in more ways than a fly, which cares for its survival in more ways than a radioactive isotope.

The problem of life is then exposed as presupposing some vital life-factor which must emerge in evolutionary development.  What we have, instead, is a development of increasing degrees of self-relation, increasing degrees of care-for survival.

Nothing has ever been alive.

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4 Responses to Nothing has ever been alive.

  1. S.C. Hickman says:

    Nice post… thanks for following… I did notice a misspelling in Martin Hägglund’s name you might correct… what’s interesting in Martin Hägglund’s reading is that it’s actually more how Ray Brassier sees things than Meillassoux. I think Meillassoux tries to radicalize Kant and work through the Transcendental subject in the object as a pure contingency. Matter is not dead… it never was alive. There is no such thing as matter: it is all forces, energy and valence. The type of materialism for Meillassoux is a pure mathematical construct of both set and category theory… more toward a new synthesis. This notion that we have never been alive… we have never truly even been… Being is another fiction… the notion of substance, of form must change… this is what Meillassoux is against… the types of substantive formalism which Graham Harman in OOO is about. And, of course Harman himself says as much in his commentary on what little he translated of M’s work.

    Anyway great little post…. I’ll read your other essays when I get time!

    • “Matter is not dead… it never was alive. There is no such thing as matter: it is all forces, energy and valence. The type of materialism for Meillassoux is a pure mathematical construct of both set and category theory.”

      Did you mean to write ‘this type of materialism?’ If so, that is interesting. It seems to me to be more of an arche-mathematical insinuation. A gesture which explodes mathematics, jerking our necks in attention to the sense in which mathematics, as our relating-patterns-together, and thus relating-patterns-to-us, is somehow always posterior to the relating-to-ourselves, the reflexivity which makes mathematics possible. I’ll have to think more about that.

      Thanks for the follow. Always looking for thoughtful exchange.

  2. “we have never been alive… we have never truly even been… Being is another fiction… the notion of substance, of form must change… this is what Meillassoux is against”

    Mmm….I would have to think about the move from “nothing has ever been alive” to “we have never been alive” and I wouldn’t make the one from the former to “we have never truly even been…Being is another fiction.”

    We ARE. You are there reading and commenting on my posts, I am here liking and following your posts. Being IS, and it isn’t. But that is a question for another post.

    The question of Life, of aliveness, is a different one. I think we need an ontological critique of Life, of our conception of what it means to be alive, and how this notion of Life has permeated our culture and politics. This is a question of vitalism – of de-vitalizing life.

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