THE ALTERATION OF THE WORLD. FOR A RADICAL ÆSTHETICS
L’ALTÉRATION DU MONDE. POUR UNE ESTHÉTIQUE RADICALE
Paris, Éditions Lignes, 2009
Translated from the French by Yumiko Yokota and Shiko Ioka
Tokyo: Hosei University Press, 2020
A philosophical book, purely so. Yet again, a book guided by speed, by an affirming, almost brutal power – as little academic as possible.
With these words the French writer and philosopher Michel Surya presents the book The Alteration of the World (L’altération du monde) written by Boyan Manchev. Issued in 2009 by the famous Parisian publishing house Lignes, The Alteration of the World proclaims the idea of change as an immanent force of the world – an idea grounded in what the book elaborates as a program of radical aisthetic materialism. Its Japanese translation is made by the young Japanese philosopher Yumiko Yokota and comes as a result of nearly ten years of efforts. Boyan Manchev’s first book in Japanese is published by “Hosei” University Press in the most prestigious Japanese series on contemporary philosophy Universitas which also brought out the works of Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Paul Ricoeur, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Jürgen Habermas, Michel Serres etc.
As the world changes every day before our eyes, Boyan Manchev’s The Alteration of the World affirms the idea of change as the driving force of an alter-ontology which insists that the world be thought as a process of change, as this very change itself. (Announcement of the French edition)
„The ultimate philosophy is not the one that brings completion but the one that brings change.“ (Boyan Manchev)
Boyan Manchev in conversation with Amandine André and Emmanuel Moreira for Au bout de souffle :
The introductory part of Boyan Manchev’s foreword (written in 2017) to the Japanese edition of The Alteration of the World is available to read here.
The alteration of the world: on alter-ontology
To my Japanese friends
World horizons: metamorphoses
What is the fate of matter in a world where a quasi-organic substance domineers over the alienated, plundered, mutilated world that is becoming a negation of the world? Where with each passing day the monstrous shadow of an immaterial Leviathan advances upon a breathless earth? What remains of our bodily matter, our desire and thinking, of the world’s matter? What are the forms and modalities, by virtue of which the world’s matter always traverses us, operates within us, restricts and governs us, yet gives a body to the potentiality for resistance, for pleasure, for freedom? Is it still possible to have a materialist frame of mind in this seemingly immaterial world?
The question of materialism is the crucial question of today’s philosophy. Hence, this question is posed urgently and, as always, imperatively but under new, radically transformed conditions. Nowadays, we are forced to consider the possibility – a repulsive one, even if only in a hypothetical form – for a “transformation of the human being”, yet not so much in the sense of the new “transhumanisms”, as in the sense of the new political anthropotechniques: the life forms or, if we prefer so, the doubles, the daemons of life forms and their intrinsic plasticity presently become more and more seized and appropriated, so as to be substantialised – reduced to an yielding substance, to the matrix of a new form of standardised production.
But then again, what is this materialism in question? What kind of materialism and in relation to what matter?
On a transformational materialism
In order to offer a response to these questions, The Alteration of the World relies on a radical type of materialism. Published a decade ago, yet written in 2004-2005 (the manuscript rested in wait for the revival of the legendary publishing house Lignes, founded and headed by Michel Surya, the truest follower of George Bataille’s work), The Alteration of the World tried to resuscitate the question of materialism in today’s political and philosophical context and to outline the course of a modal ontology of existence: an alter-ontology. Its leading objective was to affirm – in the midst of the world’s transformation – the idea of the world as transformation itself: against change – the betrayal, if not the abolition – of the world, so as to affirm the world as change. Thus, the pioneering pledge of The Alteration of the World consisted in opening up the horizon for a new materialism and a new ontology to come, at a time when in the French and European contexts neither ontology, nor materialism existed as self-evident philosophical projects, irrespective of the powerful programs of Gilles Deleuze and later on Alain Badiou: it was not ontology, even less materialism, that was the battle-cry of the day.
After the publication of The Alteration of the World, in the course of the last decade we witnessed the emergence of a whole series of new “tendencies”, often well mediated by the new relational means of current cultural economies that endeavour to react or respond to this new condition: “new” empirical philosophies, materialisms, transhumanisms etc. that, although defined by the exigency of our altered situation, are often tacitly controlled and even subordinated by it insofar as the new cultural economies they belong to constitute their symptom. Transformational materialism therefore sets itself the goal to act within stark opposition to the relational and/or “social” turn of recent decades: the dynamic exigence of matter (and) things opposes the performative relations of the network age. The secret exigence of things, the exigence of forces and desires, the exigence of freedom and justice demandingly resists the everywhere dominant reality of performative capitalism. Instead of coping with a sterile fixation on “relationality” or the instrumental relations, today we must face the complex processes, the agents and the operations, the complicated techniques and forms of production and organisation whose understanding would be the only means of achieving the transformation of the initial conditions.
Here we may give the symptomatic example – the tendency obscurely defined as “object-oriented philosophy”, characterised by the attempt to oppose Kant’s alleged idea of the correlation between the objects of knowledge and human consciousness, hence – between essence and existence, so as to reverse it via the insistence on the ontological equivalence of the relations among the objects. Clearly and openly defying these new para-materialistic and quasi-materialistic obsessions even prior to their formulation, The Alteration of the World affirms the fact that the question of the world’s matter, of matter’s modes of expansion and transformational intensity, as well as the underlying question about the “objects” or “things”, is a question of crucial significance, inasmuch as it is a continuation and radicalisation of the question of subjectivity, i.e. of the agents and the forces. Furthermore, this question radicalises the political problem of decision, of discontinuance and of change. Instead of debating over “simple”, substantial or quasi-substantial things and relations (transformed into products), we must reformulate the question about the agents and the subjectivities, therefore the question about the conditions of change, of differing and ultimately – of decision (κρίσις).
Today we do not require a putative overcoming of Kant (who was blamed for the “correlationist” turn, even though Kant’s transcendental revolution is precisely an incision of any possible correlationism); on the contrary, today we face the necessity of formulating a new radically critical – surcritical – philosophy that would confront the things of the world not as phenomena of human consciousness but as subjective agents, as interspersing stellar nebulae of consciousnesses. We cannot exclude the forces, the dynamics and power of the chaos and the cosmos. Hence, our objective is to confront the things as agents of complex hetero-simultaneous processes, such that we ourselves compose through our activities. Transformational materialism establishes the preconditions for understanding of and experimenting with the poietic and the auto-poietic potentiality of things. There is no thing in stasis. Things are agents – acts, effecting a transformation of groups of conditions composed by certain forces.
Hence, the crucial questions of philosophy, science and modern politics are the following ones: What is subject, or more generally – what is agent? What is process? What is change? What remains unchanged? What is matter that persists in time and what is this matter in question? What is persistence? What is decision? What is the power of desire? What is the desire of things, the desire of matter itself?
This is why meteors must be understood as things of the world that traverse us, these metamorphic, dynamic, changeable, fluid bodies, disorganised, inert, quick, passing or persisting bodies that inhabit us, possess us, surpass us, stellar bodies that swarm within us, that are much too many, just like our brain cells, like the inorganic organs in our bodies, like the invisible prostheses that precede and exceed us as daemons of another age, of the other of time, as doubles of ourselves, secret, yet demanding, random, indispensable. The meteors, these celestial bodies or earthly stars that are no things or processes. Let us be possessed by them: they bring a different concept of matter that draws its force from the forces, the energy and the modalities that existed before the substance – by the accidental detour, clinamen – the intrinsic movement of meteors, (their) one and only substance, their dazzling matter.
The alteration of the world must not betray the world – it must change the world.
Translated from the French by Filip Stoilov