Preface: A Philosophical Fantasy – Steven Shaviro. 2009. in « Without Criteria: Kant, Whitehead, Deleuze, and Aesthetics » (MIT)
This book originated out of a philosophical fantasy. I imagine a world in which Whitehead takes the place of Heidegger. Think of how important Heidegger has been for thinking and critical reflection over the past sixty years. What if Whitehead, instead of Heidegger, had set the agenda for postmodern thought? What would philosophy be like today? What different questions might we be asking? What different perspectives might we be viewing the world from?
The parallels between Heidegger and Whitehead are striking. Being and Time was published in 1927, Process and Reality in 1929. Two enormous philosophy books, almost exact contemporaries. Both books respond magisterially to the situation (I’d rather not say the crisis) of modernity, the immensity of scientific and technological change, the dissolution of old certainties, the increasingly fast pace of life, the massive reorganizations that followed the horrors of World War I. Both books take for granted the inexistence of foundations, not even fixating on them as missing, but simply going on without concern over their absence. Both books are antiessentialist and antipositivist, both of them are actively engaged in working out new ways to think, new ways to do philosophy, new ways to exercise the faculty of wonder.
And yet how different these two books are: in concepts, in method, in affect, and in spirit. I’d like to go through a series of philosophical questions and make a series of (admittedly tendentious) comparisons, in order to spell out these differences as clearly as possible.
1. The question of beginning
Where does one start in philosophy? Heidegger asks the question of Being: “Why is there something, rather than nothing?” But Whitehead is splendidly indifferent to this question. He asks, instead: “How is it that there is always something new?” Whitehead doesn’t see any point in returning to our ultimate beginnings. He is interested in creation rather than rectification, Becoming rather than Being, the New rather than the immemorially old. I would suggest that, in a world where everything from music to DNA is continually being sampled and recombined, and where the shelf life of an idea, no less than of a fashion in clothing, can be measured in months if not weeks, Whitehead’s question is the truly urgent one. Heidegger flees the chaPost too long. Click here to view the full text.