Nonhuman Life: Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude

This post is part of a series of posts that I am writing in conjunction with an independent study I am taking that is based around the concept of nonhuman life. You can read more about it here.

Up front: After Finitude is one of the more difficult books I have ever read. Despite reading Kant before and having a decent background in Descartes, Hume, and Locke, I still struggled through AF. So, with that knowledge, the next little bit is what I ended up writing in my notebook after a meeting with my adviser. Is it brilliant? No. Does it demonstrate an exhaustive understanding of Miellassoux? Not at all. But I’m trying to understand After Finitude not only on its own terms, but in relation to my broader project of working through the concept of nonhuman life and what I have been increasingly calling the vital turn.

So the following is notes, is questions, is desire for something that I haven’t quite gotten my head around yet. It isn’t definitive; it might be wrong; I might betray myself over it in the future. But here it is.

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It isn’t about knowing. It is a respect of unknowing, of the possible infinite contingency of everything. The recognition of life outside of the human or the biological becomes a recognition of contingency, of the absolute non-specialness of the human in the world. In a universe where your atoms could implode at any moment we need the closeness of respect.

So we can have a nihilism or an ethics–we have a pretense to a closeness of the world already through the correlation–the world is deeply ingrained and indebted to us in the correlation. But that closeness is a kind of cage–the for-us of correlationism prevents a fidelity to the for-itself, and it needs to be interrupted and rethought.

So an ethics of the nonhuman precisely requires a rethinking of the correlation, of the world not being chained to humans; that ethics would require us to respect an opacity. Rethinking that relation through the concept of life could (maybe) generate an affective reaction. It is also a way of finding a middle ground between organic or faced [Levinasian] ethics and infinite obligations that are politically paralytic.

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2 Responses to Nonhuman Life: Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude

  1. Ben Abraham says:

    So this is pretty interesting to me b/c you’re obviously taking away very, very different things from me, and that’s neat. To me the most interesting stuff is not even really his anti-correlationism (though it’s important as it’s his foundation), which might better be described as radicalisation from within or something anyway, but his idea about nonreason/hyperchaos. It’s like seeing the pyramids of giza for the first time, but instead of them resting on their base, they’re completely inverted, resting on the tip of the point. There’s something occultish, something unreasonable and even playful about this idea, and it only gets weirder as he fleshes out the implications for humanity (and I guess inhumanity, too). There’s an aesthetic to it that is totally non-modern, totally, maybe even radically, open that I think is probably a good thing.

    • kunzelman says:

      That’s contingency at the core: that which is impossible could occur. I think there’s an immense amount of joy in that–what if humans disappeared tomorrow? What if I burned into nothing?

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