The Matter of Contradiction

The Matter of Contradiction is a series of seminars and workshops organised by Sam Basu, Fabien Giraud, Ida Soulard and Tom Trevatt. Please find below the general statement for this ongoing project.  

In August 2012, the International Congress of Geology met in Brisbane to make official the entry of the Anthropocene concept in the measurement of geological time. Following on from the Holocene epoch that started at the end of the Ice Age, the Anthropocene conceives of the human as an equally geological force. Not only does it consider human activity and the drive for growth as a major contemporary factor in shaping continents and climate dynamics, but it opens our thought to its very contingency. In an inversion of our own dependency on nature, it brings us to the realization that the effects of our thoughts and actions are sufficient to transform the planet in terminally adverse ways.

As a consequence of such a shift, our place within the world has been altered irrevocably. The realm of things and the realm of thoughts can no longer sustain their claims for total separation. Modern categories of object and subject are being redefined. The human is embedded within an ecology of things, as one object amongst others, rather than as a prioritised and prioritising subject. To account for the recent ecological crisis the anthropocentrism of much of our inherited continental thought must be abandoned in favour of a flattening of the ontological field. Contrary to any nostalgic safeguard of nature’s supposed essence, the thought of ecology allows us to think beyond the human, it is a speculative opportunity to rethink realism.

The Speculative Realist approach, which has emerged in recent years as a major current in philosophy, can be considered in some ways an attempt at forging new tools to confront this crisis. The common thread of this “movement” stands in the rejection of philosophies of access, or as Quentin Meillassoux terms it, “correlationism”. These philosophies claim that we can only speak of the world from the perspective of human understanding and that we can have no conception of what a thing is in itself. Speculative Realism expresses the need for an exit from these anthropocentric and logo-centric perspectives. Instead it calls for a renewed engagement in the object counter to the idealism that places the human at its centre.

The Matter of Contradiction aims to account for these new conceptions. We contend that Art has a central position to play in exploring these new dynamics of knowledge, not as a mere implementation of theoretical thesis, but because it inhabits the very correlation at issue here. Art is capable of thinking the object beyond the human whilst also situating itself in a correlate space where objects are considered within a viewer’s realm of experience. The artwork is, then, the hinge used to think both intentionality and the mind independent world.

Aesthetics was the name philosophy gave to this category of thinking about art. This act of naming posited the field of art within a space that distances the art object from its receivers. It unfolded the space of critique as the territory for the movements of art practices and discourses. If we recognize that such a spatial distribution has now become obsolete, if we want to think beyond the correlate space in which art has been grounded, we need to escape from aesthetics as a philosophical category and find new tools and techniques to distort and stretch this very space of critique. Drawing from the new approaches in post- continental thinking, the discussion and the elaboration of such an escape plan is the object of these seminars and workshops. 

pdf version here