Is the discursive material? (fwd)

Spoon Collective spoons at jefferson.village.Virginia.EDU
Sat Jul 15 16:33:15 MDT 1995

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sat, 15 Jul 1995 12:27:40 -0700
From: mjackson.DOMAIN1 <mjackson.DOMAIN1.oramail at>
To: owner-marxism at jefferson.village.Virginia.EDU
Subject: Re: Is the discursive material?

In-Reply-To: ORUNIX:owner-marxism at's message of 07-15-95 09:11

One point I want to interject here (I promise).  Everybody seems to be
in agreement about the idea that there is a reality "independent of
human discourse and perception"--the tree's there whether we talk
about it or not.  In our everyday lives, this is a nice, practical
assumption--it works pretty well to act on the basis of the assumption
of a human-independent reality.  But note that this realist
ontological position *is* an assumption.  It is ontotheological faith.
For we can never use our knowledge production techniques to demonstrate
that there is a reality independent of our knowledge or discourse
about the world.  In order to carry out the demonstration, we need
direct access to Reality on one hand and our Knowledge on the other,
and then we need some sort of meta-knowledge practices to compare
the content of these two domains and show that Reality is unperturbed
by discourse and human representations.  My point is simple: this
demonstration is impossible, for we have no direct apprehension
of extra-discursive Reality.  People do not believe in this realist
assumption because they have carried out a rational, empirical

So when people say "There is a reality independent of human discourse
and perception", I always wonder: by what magical means have you
gained non-perceptual, non-discursive apprehension of reality so that
you can support this claim?  Bluntly: You haven't.  Realism is a
question of faith, analogous to the faith in deities.

I should clarify that this is not an attack on the realist position.
I use realist assumptions every day, and they're quite useful.  *But
utility is not proof of ontological validity.*  All I'm trying to
point out is that the belief in independent reality is just that,
a human belief.  And ironically, how is this belief promulgated?
Via *discourse* such as in this thread, where everyone upholds and
demonstrates their allegiance to this belief.  --That is: it is via
mundane, everyday discursive acts that realism becomes the dominant
ontotheological faith in a given social context.

To sum up: the realist position is common sense, it is useful, we
use it all the time.  But there is no way to rationally demonstrate
its ontological adequacy or inadequacy.  I agree with Wittgenstein
that these sorts of ontological questions are pointless, and that
there are definitely more crucial and more tractable things to
think and write about.

Miles Jackson
cqmv at
mjackson at

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