Graham Harman is known for his original contributions to literary and philosophical criticism. He has now pushed his technique of “counter-factual criticism” to a new level by offering a model criticism of an abstract of a future lecture on the philosophy of François Laruelle by Anthony Paul Smith. In this lecture Smith intends to criticise the common cliché that associates Laruelle’s Non-Philosophy and Speculative Realism, and to highlight the differences between these two versions of philosophy.
In a previous article, Harman proposed the experiment of re-writing parts of MOBY DICK to see to what degree it remains the same object:
“why not try shortening it to various degrees in order to discover the point at which it ceases to sound like Moby-Dick? Why not imagine it lengthened even further, or told by a third-person narrator rather than by Ishmael, or involving a cruise in the opposite direction around the globe?” (The Well-Wrought Broken Hammer: Object Oriented Literary Criticism, New Literary History, 43, 2, 2012).
One could object that MOBY DICK is too easy an example as being such a massive book it takes a lot of counter-factual variation indeed to create the impression of a new object. Harman has now replied to such a possible criticism by taking on a very short text (123 words). To open our minds to the new practice of counter-factual criticism Harman first has to create an aura of “counterfactuality”. He does this with his seeming denegation “I’m not trying to pick a fight with Anthony Paul here”. Just one sentence and we are deep in Counterfactual Land. Then like the advocates of Intelligent Design he demands that APS “teach the controversy”: the controversy being the closeness or not of Non-Philosophy and Speculative Realism. Harman declares
“This is a highly controversial statement, and that controversy ought, in my opinion, to be inscribed in the lecture description itself”.
The “controversy” of course does not exist. There is in fact a widespread impression of family-resemblance between Non-Philosophy and Speculative Realism. Anthony Paul Smith does not propose to teach the controversy: a couple of ill-informed splenetic remarks do not constitute a controversy. If anything, Smith will be opening up a controversy, or its possibility, by showing that this resemblance is only a “seeming closeness”. But this is a mere “factual” objection to Harman’s counterfactualising. Having plunged us into his counterfactual cloud Harman is ready to rewrite Smith’s abstract to make it say the opposite of what it said in its raw factual form. Harman insists that the correct lecture description should defend precisely the thesis that Smith wishes to criticise and to mention himself and Meillassoux by name. So he proposes:
“Despite the vehement objections of Harman and Meillassoux to any claims of a link with Laruelle, Anthony Paul Smith will try to show in this lecture that there are important links nonetheless.”
He calls this counterfactual caricature a “more honest rewrite” of the original lecture description. He claims “it would educate the reader in less biased fashion”. Thus Harman wishes to show the pedagogical value of his method of criticism as a mainstay in what can only be called counterfactual education.
NB: Anthony Paul Smith replies here, but shows a distressing tendency to emphasise the facts, and so his response, like mine, is properly irrelevant to the New Counterfactuality.