What is Infratheory?

November 4, 2013 § 4 Comments

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[Image: Chad Wys]

This is a short excerpt from my essay-in-progress for the Metatheory anthology I am contributing to:

Certainly, we can call this tradition “speculative” in the etymological sense that we are concerned with capacities to contemplate, anticipate, or grapple with the subtle dimensions of reality; that is, those questions which concern being, time, space, causality, substance, change, process, identity, or difference. But the tenets of this fictional tradition, as we will see, do not so much connote a meta-physics, meta-theory, or meta-language so much as they do an infra-physics, infra-theory, and infra-language. If “meta-” connotes above and beyond, “infra-” connotes between and below. The argument I advance here is not a prohibition on going “meta-”, but rather an ontological account of what metatheories actually are. Metatheories, like all knowledges, are real beings that draw reality together from the inside — there is nothing uniquely “above” or “beyond” about them. They are sticky, virulent creatures whose vectors of transmission are the fragile, evolving structures of human psyches and their companion species and assemblages. Despite the connotation implied by their name, metatheories are entirely situated, earthbound creatures, and while they may have transcendental implications, these implications are true only insofar as there are other actual entities — humans, texts, microscopes, data centers, planets, solar systems, galaxies — that can be attached to one or more of these transcendental claims. Metatheories exist only on the inside of the beings they describe; the cosmos is itself the condition for the possibility of metatheory, and not the other way around. It is in this sense that metatheories are actually infratheories; they are endosymbionts and we their unwitting hosts, and this switch opens new possibilities for knowledge and practice.Infratheory helps to situate us in relation to a speculative account of knowledge as it circulates in a more than human world. This approach takes knowledge to be among the entities operating within the world, rather than simply an agent describing the world from on high. Knowledges draw beings together in particular ways—entangling, multiplying, and complicating them; they forge new connections between humans and nonhumans and break others. By describing the ontology of knowledge infratheory breaks the plastic bag of anthropocentrism that tightens around our necks, suffocating philosophy, preventing it from delivering a truly ecological and metaphysical theory of the real. In too many locales metaphysics is only given room to exist as a kind of parapraxis—an unconscious slip of the tongue, an error communicating a more sinister motive. Denying the possibility of metaphysics enacts a ghastly instance of the return of the repressed; the trauma of the real hacks away at our insides by means of the very critiques that were designed to rid of us the muddled-headed confusion wrought by metaphysics in the first place. Metaphysics needs more breathing room than this. By re-positioning metaphysics as a conversation happening on the inside of other beings—within an ecology of conceptual and non-conceptual events—we find a new kind of speculative philosophy that is neither a return to a mode of pre-critical thought, nor an avoidance of the constraints placed upon metaphysics by the powerful gravitational field of contemporary concerns (a priori structures of cognition, language, discourse, gender, race, class, sex, ecology, and power to name a few). In this sense, infratheory accepts that being is always ontologically prior to knowledge or experience of being, but still honors the truth that the one who tries to know being always starts amidst a unique ecology of constraints and possibilities. For this reason infratheory is not “post-” anything. It is not post-critical, post-modern, post-metaphysical, or post-human. Infratheory prefers to live in the muck of the present; it is an amphibious creature at once submerged in the writhing latex of a deep swamp, and at the same time lives in the florid spaciousness of dry land.

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