Wednesday, 19 May 2010

From Literal Realism to Lateral Realism

A friend of mine was just telling me about an encounter she had with her PhD supervisor yesterday where the supervisor (a card carrying historical materialist) ranted at length about the iniquities of poststructuralism (my friend being a card carrying poststructuralist). Thinking about how I disagree with both positions I think I have found a pleasantly succinct way to articulate in broad strokes what I now believe:

What we should be doing is lateral realism rather than literal realism. The latter operates on the vertical axis - it seeks to rise up 'above' things (to get a bird's/God's eye view) or get down to the 'foundations' of things (to get an architect's view); the former operates on the horizontal axis - it seeks only to connect and trace; or, to separate and combine; to see the relations between specific things rather than the determining structure behind all things. (Lateral realism is thus a synonym for 'flat ontology.')

Literal realists seek to discern the literal from the 'merely' figurative; the true from the false; the phenomenal from the epiphenomenal. Lateral realists only seek to widen what is regarded as real; simply, the sensible is real (though this has panexperientialist caveats attached). To say 'x is not real' is self-evidently contradictory. The only useful question is 'how is x constructed' or 'how well is x constructed'. But, and this is the key point, non-humans construct reality as well as humans (this is something neither a historical materialist nor a poststructuralist could accept). To be real is to act. Humans, mountains, microbes and space dust are thus all real. We just have to ask 'how do these things act on each other'. It is a much simpler task!

This Orthodox Latourism requires some serious exegesis but I am happy with where it is presently.

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