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Potentialities and Virtualities: Meillassoux on Mathematics, Literature, and Justice

Lecturer: Christian R. Gelder

Originally Taught: Summer School 2017

“I hope one day to be freed from this ‘double identity’ — this gap between what I do and what people think I do” - Meillassoux

Quentin Meillassoux’s philosophy has generated an enormous amount of intrigue and commentary. Alain Badiou writes that “Meillassoux is a very great philosopher, at once passionate and extraordinarily rigorous”. Peter Hallward states that “[n]ot since Derrida’s ‘Structure, Sign and Play’ has a French philosopher made such an immediate impact in sections of the Anglophone world… It’s easy to see why Meillassoux’s After Finitude has so quickly acquired something close to cult status among readers who share his lack of reverence for ‘the way things are’”. And, as Graham Harman unashamedly pronounces, Meillassoux’s work “will be remembered as the death blow to the mainstream continental philosophy that ran from 1900 (Husserl’s Logical Investigations) to 2005 (the year before After Finitude was published)”. 

In this course, we will introduce Meillassoux’s thought in its totality, focusing on his metaphysical speculations in After Finitude (2006), his recent work on mathematics and its relation to the world in-itself, his often neglected writings on science-fiction and poetry, as well as his work on justice, ethics, and the God yet to come. Devoting each lecture to a different theme, this course aims to understand Meillassoux’s place within the philosophical tradition – as well as judge the merits of his surprising success. 

Lecture 1: Metaphysics

In this lecture, we will reconstruct the structural basis of Meillassoux’s philosophy: his doctrine of contingency, with respect to related ideas concerning potentiality, virtuality, correlationism and the absolute. We will do this by close reading his first book, After Finitude, as well as a series of surrounding essays.
Readings: Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier (London/New York: Continuum, 2006), 1-111.

Quentin Meillassoux, “Potentiality and Virtuality,” Collapse, Vol. II (2007): 55-81.
Quentin Meillassoux, “The Contingency of the Laws of Nature,” Environment and Planning D: Soceity and Space, Vol. 30 (2012): 322-334.

Lecture 2: Mathematics

In this lecture, we will examine the crucial and counter-intuitive role Meillassoux accords to mathematics. Here, we read his intervention against debates concerning the Galilean mathematisation of nature, the role of set theory in contemporary Continental philosophy, and his work on mathematics and the world in-itself.

Readings:

  • Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier (London/New York: Continuum, 2006), 112-128.
  • Quentin Meillassoux, “Iteration, Reiteration, Repetition: A Speculative Analysis of the Sign Devoid of Meaning,” in Genealogies of Speculation: Materialism and Subjectivity Since Structuralism, eds. Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik, trans. Robin Mackay and Mortiz Gansen (London/New York: Bloomsbury, 2016), 117-198.

Lecture 3: Literature

In this lecture, we will rehearse one of the most ignored facets of Meillassoux’s thinking: his writings on literature. We begin by looking at an early paper on science-fiction, which has been recently translated, and end by discussing his work on the 19th century poet Stéphane Mallarmé. The aim of this lecture is to evaluate the relationship this work has to his philosophy proper.

Readings:

  • Quentin Meillassoux, The Number and the Siren: A Decipherment of Mallarmé’s Un Coup de dés, trans. Robin Mackay (Falmouth/New York: Urbanomic/Sequence, 2012).
  • Quentin Meillassoux, Science Fiction and Extro-Science Fiction, trans. Alyosha Edlebi (Univocal, 2015).

Lecture 4: Justice

In this lecture, we will examine Meillassoux’s partially published doctoral thesis L’inexistence divine, and related works concerning theology, justice, and the God yet to come.

Readings:

  • Quentin Meillassoux, “Appendix: Excerpts from L’Inexistence divine,” in Graham Harman, Quentin Meillassoux: Philosophy in the Making (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011), 175-238.
  • Quentin Meillassoux, “Spectral Dilemma,” Collapse IV, Vol. IV (2008): 261-275.
  • Quentin Meillassoux, “L’inexistence divine,” Failles, No. 3 (2014).

Lecture 5: Philosophy

In the final lecture, we will look at Meillassoux’s critiques of his philosophical contemporaries: Alain Badiou, Gilles Deleuze, and others. We will show how his unique philosophical system, and its relation to mathematics, literature and justice, helps provide a framework to intervene into the contemporary philosophical moment. We will also dedicate a portion of the final lecture to discussion.

Readings:

  • Quentin Meillassoux, “Subtraction and Contraction: Deleuze, Immanence, and Matter and Memory,” Collapse, Vol. III (2007): 63-107.
  • Quentin Meillassoux, “History and Event in Alain Badiou,” Parrhesia, No. 12 (2010): 1-11.
  • Quentin Meillassoux, “Badiou and Mallarmé: The Event and the Perhaps,” Parrhesia, No. 16 (2013): 35-47.