Sebastiano Timpanaro, On Materialism (1975), p.34
By materialism we understand above all acknowledgement of the priority of nature over 'mind', or if you like, of the physical level over the biological level, and of the biological level over the socio-economic and cultural level; both in the sense of chronological priority (the very long time which supervened before life appeared on earth, and between the origin of life and the origin of man), and in the sense of the conditioning which nature still exercises on man and will continue to exercise at least for the foreseeable future. Cognitively, therefore, the materialist maintains that experience cannot be reduced either to a production of reality by a subject (however such production is conceived) or to a reciprocal implication of subject and object. We cannot, in other words, deny or evade the element of passivity in experience: the external situation which we do not create but which imposes itself on us. Nor can we in any way reabsorb this external datum by making it a mere negative moment in the activity of the subject, or by making both the subject and the object mere moments, distinguishable only in abstraction, of a single effective reality constituted by experience.
- The anxiety that renaming his speculative materialism as speculative realism is a sign (admittedly minor) of de-politicisation. This is reinforced by the tendency to dissociate Meillassoux from Badiou.
- The uninhibited lumping in of all Marxism with correlationism. This was the point of my fortunately tiny intervention in the debate on Speculative Realism recorded in Collapse III. While Timpanaro was fighting against Hegelian and Platonic interpretations of Marxism, and his work is a minor and not unproblematic current (I especially have my doubts concerning his critique of Freud), he at the minimum signals difficulties with this maneuver.
- Certainly so-called materialisms can merely amount to inverted idealisms - erecting one type of matter above all others in the function of an ideal. This point was made long ago by Bataille and commented on here. When Graham Harman re-insists on the point it seems to me to veer dangerously close to excluding Marxist forms of materialism for problems which haunt many (even all?) materialisms.
- Meillassoux's article 'Spectral Dilemma' in Collapse IV compounds these issues. On a cursory reading, which I realise is not philosophically acceptable, the article seems to me to use his radicalised reading of contingency to rehabilitate ethics and theology ('inexistent God' yes, but...) towards a new irrationalism. Robin was kind enough to position my very poor article as a critical response despite it being written without awareness of Meillassoux's piece.
- To choose just one example from those lumped in as correlationists - the most deeply unfashionable - isn't Derrida's quasi-concept of the 'trace' resistant to simple characterisation as correlated to the human subject?