Métaphysique d’un bord de mer

Entretien avec Géraldine Mosna-Savoye, autour de la métaphysique d’un bord de mer, pour Les nouveaux chemins de la connaissance, France Culture, 1er juillet 2016.

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In the Penal (Neuro-) Colony

ISEA 2016 (Keynote), May 21st, 2016, Hong-Kong 



Kafka’s short story, « In the Penal Colony », is centered on a complicate and rather mysterious machine. The inspector, and the reader, will never completely understand its function. But we know that it writes, it engraves the sentence on the body of the man convicted in characters that are in themselves undecipherable. The convict does not know his sentence until after it has been carved on his body, at the very end in fact, just before he dies.

The machines of neuroscience are complicate and mysterious to us. Some of them are meant to spy our thoughts in our brains, or report our lies or recognize and read our biases (are we aggressive, psychopaths, racists, pedophiles?). We may not be conscious of these biases but the machine would spot them nevertheless. It seems that we have written on our body (in our brain in fact) in characters that we cannot read ourselves something fundamental about our person. Is it similar to chiromancy? For the believer, the lines of our hands meant something which was decisive for our future but which only an expert could read. Of course, chiromancy was a children tale, whereas neuroscience is science. Another difference may be that we have lines in our hands whether we try to read them or not. What about the neuro-traces of our biases? These strangely shaped red zones that appear on the colorful map of the criminal brain, did they exist before the machine was set into action? Or did the machine somehow impose them in the brain of the subject? Do we live in a penal (neuro)-colony?

It is the question,I will investigate using several art works referring to the brain: a machine for reading thoughts that the Belgian writer Jean-Philippe Toussaint put up at the Louvre in 2012, several pieces from Gregory Chantonsky, and a recent film by Gwenola Wagon and Stephane Degoutin.

At stake is the relationship between the subject and a new form of power conferred to technology. There is embodied in the machines of neuroscience a new kind of biopolitics that does not concern life in general but the specific existence of brain. To what extent does the subject of the (neural)-penal colony remain human? Or has become (s)he a telepathic rat? How could (s)he escape? Do these works, writings, installation, films, concerning neuroscience enable us to confront the neuro-power or do they contribute to fascinate us and re-establish the (neural)-penal colony

Correlationism and Postmodern Stories

Correlationism and postmodern stories

Loloya Marimount University, Los Angeles, April 8th 2016



This paper discusses Q. Meillassoux’ arguments in Après la finitude in relation to fiction. My main example is the story that Lyotard tells at the beginning of his article “Une fable postmoderne”. This story produces “ancestral statements” but these appear in a story rather than in science, whereas Meillassoux only refers to “ancestral statements”, coming from, or apparently coming from science. To what extent can fiction make ancestral statements? What is the speculative value of ancestral statements in fiction?

I make two claims.

First, I argue that the importance that Meillassoux gives to science in his book comes from the fact that he considers all science to be reducible to one theory referring unequivocally to a single universe, which is doubtful with regards to contemporary science.

Second, I argue that Meillassoux ‘s criticism of correlationism and his own attempt to get out of correlationism depend on what I call the “principle of the present” according to which only the present can be immediately given, or in Meillassoux’ words “the given is contemporaneous to the givenness”. That is, I can not have an immediate access to, have an intuition of, be given, the past nor the future, but only the present. This principle occurs in two keys arguments in Meillassoux’ book. Bergson’s theory of memory would seem to support the view that this principle of the present is false. Moreover, if one can consider fiction as a kind of givenness, a form of intuition as it were, then it clearly does not verify the principle of the present, since I can tell now a story about the past or the future. Thus I conclude that fiction considered as a form of intuition may produce ancestral statements while remaining in a correlationist background. In fact, if one refuses the principle of the present, the alternative between correlationism and speculation that Meillassoux puts in place falls: one can speculate, make ancestral statements, while still being a correlationist.

See the slides

Métaphysique d’un bord de mer

Métaphysique d’un bord de mer, Paris, Editions du Cerf, 2016

Comment s’est inventé le bord de mer ? Avec quelles figures historiques, quels rituels sociaux, quelle littérature ? Quel est le sens de cette construction ? Et comment la décrire ? Car les concepts usuels de la métaphysique sont essentiellement terrestres et sont inadéquats pour traduire le mouvant, le fluctuant, le sans sol. Il faut les y faire jouer à contre-emploi ou les détourner pour les rattacher à ce milieu particulier qu’est la plage. Aussi le bord de mer semble appeler une autre métaphysique, qui reste à élaborer. Un livre polyphonique, construit par fragments, où chacun peut entrer comme il veut, à la saison de son choix, en fonction de son humeur ou de ses goûts, comme on peut passer un week-end à la mer en hiver, ou y rester tout un mois l’été.

S’entrecroisent des récits, des scènes de plage, des souvenirs d’enfance ou le portrait de personnages singuliers, avec l’analyse de textes littéraires et des réflexions proprement philosophiques sur les concepts et le statut de la métaphysique.
Ces fragments s’organisent en une chronique retraçant une année au bord de la mer. Une histoire des bords de mer, ou comment un territoire du vide est devenu un petit paradis. Une autre manière de faire de la philosophie.

Entretien à propos de ce livre

Entretien à propos de ce livre





Une histoire de machines, de vampires et de fous


Une histoire de machines, de vampires et fous, Paris, Vrin, 2007


Deux façons de présenter cet essai.

Une parodie contemporaine des Méditations métaphysiques de Descartes dans laquelle le Malin Génie est devenu un vampire, le corps un robot et l’esprit, une image, un être de peinture qui passe par toutes sortes d’aventure et rencontre Russell aussi que Borges.

Ou bien une analyse de l’imaginaire intérieure à l’imaginaire. La thèse en est que l’imaginaire contemporain, qui parcourt la littérature comme les sciences, met en scène, parmi d’autres oppositions, un face-à-face particulier entre les deux figures de la machine et du vampire. Il s’agit de jouer sur les images, d’utiliser leurs ressorts propres, dans la fiction par conséquent, pour mettre en lumière leur structure.





Imagine the Earth without humans !

Copie de IMG_0128 (2)

Performing Arts Forum, Ste Erme, 05/03/2016



Can we (and if so how) imagine the Earth without humans ?


Imagine, in a literal sense, produce an image, a sort of picture, a description: a desolate beach, gray sand, threatening waves, inhabited  by monsters like in H. G. Wells, The Time Machine. But then there is a human, the time traveler. A usual argument would say that we can’t imagine the Earth without humans because by so doing we would reintroduce something human on the Earth. This is still true in various versions of speculative realism. Neither in Q. Meillassoux’ nor in G. Harman’s perspectives, can we imagine the Earth without humans. For G. Harman, we can only proceed by “allusions”. A description like H. G. Wells only concerns apparent objects which are defined by the relations between us and real objects: the Earth that we can describe, picture, is always humanized and must be distinguished from the realm of real objects which we can not properly speaking describe. For Q. Meillassoux, all we can do is prove that the universe is mathematical and hope that our science will finally come close to the true mathematics of the universe. A description like Wells’ is flawed for two reasons: not only it implies secondary qualities which only make sense when referred human perception but, as we will see, it also implies a kind of time paradox.


In a nutshell, a description like Wells’ seem to bear many features that refer to humans (colors, waves, sunset), so how could it give a picture of an Earth without humans?


My aim, in this discussion, is to convince you that this way of formulating the problem is wrong. I will argue that it relies on several implicit assumptions. One of them is a principle of co-presence which denies any temporal difference between “given” and “givenness”. Another one is the model of the “thing”, which refers to a certain form of life which is not exclusive (non human life does not necessarily cut up things out of the continuum of perception, Bergson) and which, even from a human point of view, is inadequate on a desolate beach (how many things do you see? Almost none. The sea, the sand, are not things but elements in Bachelard’s and Merleau-Ponty’ sense).  

I claim it is perfectly possible to imagine the Earth without humans. In fact, we do it all the time. One should give a speculative function to fictions such as Wells’. But this requires both to reformulate the opposition between correlationism and speculation, and to discuss again the distinction between appearance and reality.


Part I. On Q. Meillassoux, After finitude

Both Q. Meillassoux’ attack on “correlationism” (on the topic of ancestral statements) and his own way out of correlationism (by reference to our possible annihilation) rely on a “presentism” according to which “the given cannot be anterior [nor posterior] to the givenness”. Bergson’s theory of memory offers a counterexample to this principle. I argue that there is no reason to accept this principle of co-presence between the given and the givenness and that, in particular, considering fiction as a form of givenness enables one to introduce a temporal difference between given and givenness. This in turn undermine Q. Meillassoux’ opposition between correlationism and the speculative perspective.   

It is then possible to outline a theory of fictions giving a speculative function to fictions while remaining inside correlationism.


Part II. Metaphysics of the seaside

I will start with various descriptions of the sea-side by an XVIIIe century geographer, Claude Masse. In a sort of thought experiment, I will then try to imagine the life of a being indigenous to this landscape: a husserlian subjectivity, if you wish, who instead of waking up on the Earth, with various things that (s)he can touch, would only know waves of water and waves of sand: what kind of body would (s)he feel to have, what kind of space and time would (s)he live in?

My point is that our usual metaphysics, the examples we take as philosophers (touching a thing instead of feeling the wind on our skin, walking instead of swimming) is related to a certain environment. The sea-side as described by Masse would call for a completely different metaphysics.  


Part III. On G. Harman and T. Morton’s theory of objects and hyper-objects.

In a way, T. Morton has introduced the notion of hyperobjects to qualify beings such as the sea, climate change, nuclear waste) which cannot be considered as objects properly speaking. I will compare Morton’s hyper-objects with Merleau-Ponty’s elements. They have many aspects in common. Both admit that the  object of perception bears a kind of surplus but, for T. Morton, as for the OOO, this surplus distinguishes the real object from its phenomena, whereas, for Merleau-Ponty, it is the phenomenal object which bears an indefinite surplus.

The question is: which of them, hyper-objects or elements, will enable us to imagine the Earth without humans?




Les démons de Gödel. Logique et folie

Les démons de Gödel. Logique et folie, Paris, Seuil, “Points-Seuil”, 2012 (1ere édition 2007).

Kurt Gödel (1906-1978) fut l’un des plus grands logiciens de l’histoire. Son théorème d’incomplétude, publié en 1931, est peut-être la proposition mathématique la plus significative du XXe siècle. Il a bouleversé les fondements des mathématiques et fait l’objet de commentaires philosophiques sans fin et d’exploitations abusives sans nombre. Gödel ne publiera que peu pendant la cinquantaine d’années qui suivront. Mais il laissera des milliers de pages de notes philosophiques inédites.

On connaissait déjà les excentricités de la vie de Gödel, qui, craignant d’être empoisonné, mourra quasiment d’inanition. Ses notes, décryptées et étudiées ici pour la première fois en français, révèlent une pensée encore plus surprenante. Elles montrent que Gödel croyait aux anges comme au diable ? parmi bien d’autres étrangetés. Il tente au cours des années de constituer ces idées bizarres en système logiquement cohérent, dont l’analyse éclaire d’un jour nouveau ses découvertes mathématiques.

Cette apparente « folie » d’un esprit génial pose de redoutables questions sur la nature même de la pensée logique. L’auteur de cet essai les aborde sans hésiter à y impliquer sa propre subjectivité, sous forme de courtes fictions fantasmées. Un livre aussi inquiétant que stimulant.

Cet ouvrage a reçu le prix de la Société de l’Evolution Psychiatrique en 2007.