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  • Knots:Notes for a Daemonic Naturalism
  • Levi R. Bryant (bio)

If materialism is anything, it is a naturalism. Naturalism has today become a dirty word in both theological and secular contexts, but perhaps now, more than ever, we need a renewal of naturalism, an unheard of naturalism, or a sort of “crossed-out” naturalism. Far from an ecology without nature,1 we require a nature that both retains the core of materialist thinking, while overcoming the sort of essentialism common to so many conceptions of nature. This naturalism would develop an account of nature that makes it look a little more like culture and a conception of culture that makes it a little more like nature. The two terms, nature and culture, would undergo a chiasmatic knotting that precipitates an exchange of properties. The strike-through of a crossed-out nature places the essentialism of traditional naturalisms—still very much operative in thought today as even the most cursory investigation of evolutionary psychology and genecentrism will reveal—under erasure, while retaining the core insight of naturalism: that we are embedded in material being and that there is no domain of the transcendent. The development of a crossed-out naturalism requires an account of the forces that led to the development of anti-realism, social, and linguistic constructivist accounts of being, how the inspiration behind those vectors of thought can be retained, and how they require supplementation by a materialist orientation of thought. If this naturalism deserves to be called a “daemonic naturalism”, then this is because the daemonic scrambles all codes and divisions; so much so that it even traverses the human and divine.

There are, of course, many significations of naturalism. In the present context, “naturalism” signifies that there is nothing “out of field”. There are no transcendent forms, no souls, nor is there any transcendent God or gods. Nor is there any culture outside of nature. Culture itself is a formation of nature. There is only the immanent field of nature in which all that exists is embedded. If, in the most general terms possible, we take stock of what exists, we will note that we are embodied subjects that regard the world, experience it, and act upon it, that we have a physical body through which [End Page 27] we do these things, and that there are discourses about the world and even about discourse itself. There are subjects, discourses, and things. Subjects and discourses are not something other than things, but are rather things among things. I am both an agent or subject that encounters the world and a thing that is encountered among other things in the world. I am of this world and cannot step out of it, even as I regard it and act upon it. We can thus diagram our ontological inventory of what is as follows:

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Diagram 1.

Diagram of Nature using borromean knot.

Diagram created by author.

In fidelity to the final period of Jacques Lacan’s work, I here adapt the figure of the borromean knot. A borromean knot is a knot in which no two rings are directly linked to one another. Consequently, if one link is severed, the other two become disconnected. In the present adaptation, the ring of the real or material (R) corresponds to things, the ring of the symbolic (S) corresponds to discourse and all things pertaining to discourse, and the ring of the agent corresponds to the subject (A).

No special familiarity with Lacanian theory is required to think or comprehend the three orders as I deploy them here. If the figure of the borromean knot is valuable, then this is because it allows us to begin thinking a post-correlationist ontology that nonetheless preserves the domains of the subject and discourse. As defined by Meillassoux who coined the term, correlationism is “...the idea according to which we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never either term considered apart from one another.”2 Correlationism is not the mild thesis that we must relate to beings in order to know them. It is obvious that this is the case. Rather correlationism...


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pp. 27-45
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