Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Renewing Materialism: Gianni Vattimo and Santiago Zabala and the Hermeneutical Option for the Poor

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Renewing Materialism: Gianni Vattimo and Santiago Zabala and the Hermeneutical Option for the Poor

Article excerpt

It is well established how Gianni Vattimo's signature contribution to hermeneutical philosophy in "weak thought" is not simply post-metaphysical, but involves a repudiation of metaphysics, both for its historic linkage with violent regimes of power and more subtly for its violent, exclusionary discourse.1 As one of the principal philosophical theorists of postmodernism, he has championed the ways by which its characteristic "Babel-like pluralism" is more inclusionary, transparent, and open-ended, creating the cultural conditions for greater and more meaningful democratic participation.2 Even more, he has explicitly linked nihilism with emancipation.3 This liberationist motif within his work becomes even more pronounced in his late collaborative works with Santiago Zabala with an explicitness that makes him now not only a philosopher of emancipatory hermeneutics, but one who is making his own distinct contribution to liberation philosophy.4

Like the first generation of liberation theologians from South America, Vattimo comes to his work in liberation by way of a critical reappropriation of Karl Marx. This reappropriation of Marx will be developed more fully in the section that follows, but for now I want to begin this exploratory essay by raising a question regarding the legacy of Marx's dialectical materialism. As critical theory, Continental philosophy, and contemporary religious thought are undergoing what has been termed a "material turn," the so-called New Materialisms have sought to distance themselves from what has been considered the crude, reductionist scientific positivism and economic determinism of Marx's approach. In stark contrast to the old materialist depictions of nature that were atomistic and mechanical, the New Materialism draws on the insights of general relativity, quantum mechanics, complexity theory, astrophysics and neuroscience to suggest not only the indeterminancy, interdependence and open-endedness of nature, but also an expanded sense of agency beyond the human, a non-anthropological view of agency that speaks of what Karen Barad has called the "entanglement of matter and meaning" and what Jane Bennet has termed "vibrant matter"5

In addition, the New Materialisms have been integral to the political turn in contemporary theory. More to the point, a growing number of Continental thinkers have consolidated around the argument for how the post-metaphysical, deconstructive approach to politics is lacking in a sufficient concept of the political. This has contributed to the burgeoning discourse in political theology that critically engages the significance of Carl Schmitt's work as one of the first sustained and most far-ranging critiques of modern liberalism. But whereas Schmitt's concept of the political rests on the friend-enemy distinction that restores the centrality of sovereignty in accordance with the uniform logic of the one, and as such is seen by many as dangerously antagonistic and at odds with the insights and commitments that have emerged from the political philosophies in the deconstructive, post-metaphysical mode, the New Materialisms provide a basis for an alternative concept of the political.6 As Diane Coole and Samantha Frost write in their excellent introduction to the New Materialisms, this alternative conception of the political emerges from "the sense that the radicalism of the dominant discourses which have flourished under the cultural turn is now more or less exhausted."7 Exhausted, but not repudiated or disavowed, what the New Materialisms provide is a way to relink cultural studies with the natural sciences, and thereby develop a fundamental political ontology.

These important developments within the disparate voices of the New Materialisms raise certain questions for this exploration of Vattimo. For instance, we might ask whether Vattimo's liberationist philosophy belongs to the new or old materialism? Likewise, given the centrality the natural sciences have played not only in the development of a political ontology, but also in the development of a new materialist metaphysics, we might ask whether Vattimo's signature notion of the weakening of being might still be genuinely materialist at all? …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.