PLURALIST CRITIQUE OF CRITIQUE vs NAIVE LACANIANISM

There was a very interesting analysis of the notion of “critique in France in the wake of May 1968. Creative philosophers like Deleuze, Guattari, Lyotard, and Foucault analysed the critical position itself, its negativity ie its founding itself on notions of lack and negation and againstness, and its “derivativity” ie its basic dependence on the problematic of those it criticised. Marxist dialectics, Lacanian psychoanalysis, deconstruction were found to be fundamentally flawed approaches. The alternative that emerged was in each case a pluralism (of intensities, language games, epistemes, force relations, modes of existence, processes of subjectivation. There was no attempt to eliminate negativity and critique, (this would have been too evident a pragmatic contradiction in those long lost times before OOO replaced argument with impudent bluff and hypocritical denial of the obvious) but only to dissipate its primacy.

Laruelle went through a long phase of apparent “critique” in his philosophy I, but only a naive reader blinded by Lacanism could fail to see the Nietzschean and Heideggerian positive terrain that underlies these investigations. Laruelle himself came to criticise this phase, not because of its supposed negativity but because of its positivity. This positivity was still limited to the confines of the denegation of immanence constitutive of philosophy. Laruelle came to call this conformist conception of positivity “sufficiency”, and began to think outside of its confines.

Michel Serres during all that period of critique of the critique was doing epistemology, pluralist epistemology, and criticising the old images of thought and their transcriptions in physics. One must not read just a fragment of his work, eg his interviews with Bruno Latour where he gives a very one-sided summary of his views and of his evolution, omitting the context provided by such like-minded thinkers as Deleuze, Lyotard, Foucault, Bourdieu, and yes, already during the 70s, Laruelle. For Serres in his positive theory translation and interference, networks and creation out of noise, go in all directions, and there is no primacy of physics for example over philosophy. When he is being polemical (but against who? In each case one must ask oneself the question), he will declare that philosophy is parasitical on the sciences. But he also declares that philosophy can be anticipatory, something that Badiou denies.

When Serres criticises “critique” he is in fact criticising the pre-1968 theoretical postures of hermeneutic and structural critique, and aligning himself many years after the fact on similar pronouncements by Foucault. He converts these positions into more general conceptual personae that continue up to the present day, but one must be careful to see that this critique of critique is less sophisticated and less informed than those of his contemporaries, and cannot be extended without travesty to the poststructuralists (whatever Serres himself may think).

Similarly when Serres criticises “epistemology” he is not doing the sort of auto-critique that Laruelle has shown himself capable of. Nor is he criticising the great tradition of Anglophone epistemology, of which he knows next to nothing. He is thinking of the French sense of epistemology, which until recently denoted primarily regional epistemologies (of physics, of chemistry, of biology, of history, etc.). When he says that such epistemology is useless, merely a retranscription in epistemological jargon of the ontologies of these diverse domains, he is saying something fairly obvious, and of very limited application in the field of Anglophone epistemology. As I have argued on this blog this characterisation (sterile epistemological retranscription of ontological premises abstracted from the purported methodologies of different scientific domains, especially physics) is characteristic of Roy Bhaskar for example, and of the OOOxians who rely on his work.

Laruelle is a far less scientistic thinker than Serres, who has never gone beyond his scientistic premises. Laruelle’s name, during the decade of his Philosophy II, for the positivity beyond critique was science. He came to see that this primacy of science was yet another ruse of philosphical sufficiency and broke with what he himself calls his “scientism”. He now affirms that the non-philosophical pairing of philosophy and science is just one possible way of doing non-standard philosophy, and that other pairings, eg philosophy and photography, are equally possible. Serres on the other hand has repeatedly declared his adhesion to the primacy of the Grand Narrative of modern science as a way of rebutting post-structuralist pluralisations. Viewed in Laruelle’s terms Serres at best, on a charitable reading, is a curious mix of arguments and concepts from Philosophy II and Philosophy III styles of thought.

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24 Responses to PLURALIST CRITIQUE OF CRITIQUE vs NAIVE LACANIANISM

  1. noir-realism says:

    I almost want to say sometimes: “Will the real Laruelle stand up.” in the sense of the old comedy series To Tell The Truth? You have all these differing Laruelle’s sitting there behind door number 1,2,3 .. which one is the real guy; or, are they all masks (masques) masquereades of something monstrous that has yet to show itself. And, of late I find the gnostic Laurelle hiding even in Brassier’s use of his thought among others. I know I saw in Ioan P. Couliano the beginnings of a Gnosticism as an early form of “Game Theory” which was interesting… Bloom later on used it to underpin his own strange amalgam of influence theory, etc. What are your thoughts on such things?

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    • terenceblake says:

      As i explained in an earlier article Laruelle gives a very interesting account of his evolution at the beginning of PRINCIPLES OF PHILOSOPHY. This makes it quite clear that he cannot be reduced to the super-meta-critical stance that some try caricature him with. I find him most interesting in his Philosophy III and after.
      As to Gnosticism being an early form of game rheory, I think this is to phrase the similarities in scientistic terms. One could just as well say that game theory is a literalisation of Gnosticism.
      I think that Gnosticism and its prolongation in alchemy with its critique of the reality of the World is a subterranean influence on all sorts of nomad thinkers (including Blake, Emerson, Nietzsche). It is clear that there are aspects of Gnosticism in Deleuze for example, and in Zizek even if he denies it. Laruelle is not afraid to treat such themes explicitly, so I think he is in a very interesting phase of his development.

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      • noir-realism says:

        Yes, yes… In the two works I’ve been, of late, reading side by side, the one of Future Christ and the on own the Utopian thought etc. are using his notions of philo-fiction and gnosis-fiction almost in a Borgesian parody to good effect. Without using the hylic as against pneumatic human terminology he uses Person-in-the-man etc. (and of course not seeing the French original I’m sure that Anthony Smith et. al. translations get mistranslated as terms? not sure though).

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  2. Bill Benzon says:

    “Creative philosophers like Deleuze, Guattari, Lyotard, and Foucault analysed the critical position itself, its negativity ie its founding itself on notions of lack and negation and againstness, and its “derivativity” ie its basic dependence on the problematic of those it criticised.”

    Interesting. That’s certainly one of the things I had in mind when I abandoned philosophy four decades ago. But I didn’t abandon philosophy AS philosophy, I abandoned it as a tool kit for literary criticism. Literature is constructed of language, at least, and so I figured I needed to understand language in order to pursue my questions. The nascent cognitive sciences seemed a better bet than Continental philosophy, even philosophy of the so-called linguistic turn, which had a rather impoverished conception of language and of language and mind, a poverty that persists in the OOOists.

    Anglophone literary criticism, of course, went whole hog for critique. And in the process made what I will call, with some irony, Plato’s mistake. For Plato himself did not make the mistake. Rather, he warned against it.

    The mistake is to discourse on the world through a copy, the literary text, of a copy, the phenomenal world, of reality, the Forms. Except, alas, in the world of contemporary literary criticism, there are and were no Forms to prop the whole thing up.

    What is also interesting is the significance of figures like Lévi-Strauss, Latour, and Foucault. The first two are anthropologists, albeit rather different ones and of different generations, with a philosophical bent. I don’t know how you ‘slot’ Foucault. Call him an anthropologist of Western thought, but also, with a philosophical bent. Their philosophical work is grounded as much in their empirical work, qualitative, yes, but still empirical, as much as in other philosophy. A potent combination.

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  3. Bill Benzon says:

    “When he [Serres] is being polemical (but against who? In each case one must ask oneself the question), he will declare that philosophy is parasitical on the sciences. But he also declares that philosophy can be anticipatory, something that Badiou denies.”

    Also interesting. The question “Where is philosophy?” has been much on my mind, and again, my literary background is relevant. There was a time when literary critics called on philosophy to theorize literature itself (aesthetics, even poetics) and literary criticism, think of Murray Kreiger, Theory of Criticism (1976), E.D. Hirsch, Validity in Interpretation (1967), or John Ellis, The Theory of Literary Criticism (1974). During my student years, undergraduate and graduate (1965-1978) I watched the meaning of the phrase “literary theory” shift from designating theory of literature or of criticism to designating a theory of the world employed in determining the meaning of literary texts. It is though the conceptual apparatus of the time couldn’t sustain a four-way distinction between the world, a theory of the world, the literary text, and a theory about the text. So theory about the text was simply dropped. Hence, as I noted in my previous comment, Plato’s problem.

    But where does that leave philosophy? If you want to pull philosophy out of THAT, it seems to me you’re in danger of getting what Levi Bryant is attempting to do, philosophy as a theory of everything. Bryant has, in effect, simply dropped out the literary text and is going straight for the world. Consequently, he’s doing what Serres warns against, even as he quotes Serres’ warning against unnamed others.

    Still, where’s philosophy? It seems to me that, in doing ethics and aesthetics, philosophy is itself contributing directly to what it is to be human. How do you live a life? The answer to that question is certainly not written in the genes. It’s open to cultural elaboration and negotiation, and I see no end to that process. But philosophy DOESN’T and can’t play that constitutive role in the non-human world.

    And now we’re within shouting distance of the OOO ethics scandal.

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  4. Pingback: Flush Thoughts: On Laruelle’s Gnosticism « Kafka's Ruminations

  5. My comments are rather long. So I posted it in my blog. http://veraqivas.wordpress.com/2012/12/28/flush-thoughts-on-laruelles-gnosticism/. Keep on guys. This exchange is an interesting take on the sidelines of the speculative realism and OOO debate.

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    • Bill Benzon says:

      The thing is, Virgilio, OOO comes out of the Anglophone world. And that makes academic literary criticism relevant. Both Tim Morton and, I believe, Ian Bogost were trained as literary scholars. So was Steve Shaviro. And, as I believe it was Richard Rorty who remarked, post-structuralist etc. in the American academy literary theory has assumed something of the synthesizing role traditionally taken by philosophy. So when Harman claims that only philosophers can discourse about objects in all domains, and when Tim Morton goes reading biology, ecology, and physics and discoursing on them, and Bryant takes a whack at everything, that’s what they’re doing in various ways.

      And, of course, the grand synthesizing role is a necessary one. The question is, who’s going to do it and under what intellectual conditions? The question: What’s it all about? is urgent, and deeply human/humane. And the academy is not well equipped to provide answers. So where are they going to come from?

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      • Bill Benzon says:

        That should be: “…post-structuralist etc. in the American academy has assumed …”

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      • There is no question OOO is of Anglophone origin, and I partly agree that a synthesis must be in order. But the reason I can only partly agree with the role of synthesis is its historical repercussion, especially within the context of a post-colonial world. Undeniably, how the West will resolve its crisis has wide-ranging effects beyond its cultural and geographical borders. The West has in fact saturated the world that it is unimaginable for any existing nation today, even those resistant to Western influence, has ever managed to escape this saturation. Interestingly, Jean-Luc Marion has coined a phrase “saturated phenomena” to mean the field of knowledge that has already been saturated by concepts, by representations, such that, and I am extrapolating his idea henceforth, any meaningful intervention on knowledge, if it utilizes the conceptual tools and apparatuses responsible for the nihilism of reason is bound to repeat the same mistake. I am not a fan of Marion but he seems to be getting through the heart of the problem–the synthesizing role of concepts has been proven to be refractory to real working solutions. It may sound too idealist to assume that concepts have real effects on historical transformations, but I am a bit phenomenological here (arguing from Michel Henry) when I take concepts to be affective in their power to influence the world, limited as this world may be. But the West has also utilized concepts for extra-affective purposes, which have great historical repercussions (the concept of white supremacy, and other discriminatory concepts that stem from a naive preference for Difference-the biggest lethal concept the West has ever produced since Plato).

        But the West can be critical of its own history. Derrida’s critique of logocentrism is one good example of how the West is interrogated from within. Many in the academe would find Derrida, even today, to be too abstruse, arguably a typical continental habit. But Derrida’s deconstructive project has proven to be above the kind of affective reaction to his philosophy that has for many years isolated him from the analytic tradition, for instance. Derrida’s critique of logocentrism has arguably empowered post-colonial discourse that in the main contributes to the positive decline of the West on hegemonic terms. One way to look at this is the way deconstruction has forced Western philosophy to reach the limit of the subject. Laruelle is a case in point. I think the radical extent of Laruelle’s interrogation would be to illustrate that the West is not only arbitrary as a concept but as a power. Many have done this interrogation (Foucault is one) but Laruelle strikes at the heart of what makes the West think of itself as privileged, that is, its hallucinatory attachment to its decisional structure vis-a-vis the Real. And this hallucination is historically fatal. When President McKinley in his address to the US Congress rationalized why the US should invade the Phillippine Islands in the early 20th century he believed he had the strongest case for the US to do so–in his dream God whispered to him that America should bring the savages back to the fold of God. McKinley’s so-called Benevolent Act undoubtedly played a synthesizing role not only for the Americans but also for the West at large.

        You mentioned Richard Rorty. I can only point out that Rorty was an admirer of Derrida. Back to the main argument about OOO. My take is this: In few years time, assuming it becomes mainstream, OOO will definitely have a historical repercussion on the World, beyond the Anglophone borders. And yes, it is up to the Anglophone, according to how it will assess its historical merits, whether OOO is just another nihilism in the making.

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  6. Bill Benzon says:

    “…West is not only arbitrary as a concept…”

    As a geopolitical concept, it has its uses, but as a cultural one there are real problems. For example, the post-medieval West would have been impossible without a certain mathematics, namely, arithmetic with a null element (zero) and decimal notation. That mathematics came from China and India by way of the Moslem world. If the West would have been impossible, not merely different, but impossible, without Eastern mathematics, then in what sense is it the West?

    As for synthesis, as a practical matter there will be many synthesizing discourses. I’m not even sure that the Western academy is in a position to produce merely synthesizing discourses for the West. Whenever and however they are produced, they will simply enter into a grand negotiation with the various other synthesizing discourses. Whether or not their will ever be ONE grand synthesis, who knows? I’m not holding my breath.

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    • The concept of ‘Zero’ may have developed in India, but military technology developed in the West. Genghis Khan was able to acquire the territory belonging to more developed civilisations through application of superior military techniques. The “geopolitical” is not culturally insignificant, it produces cultural effects. The ideology of war, what I seem to be calling the ‘philosophy of coercion’, is not merely limited to the battlefield, but is quite possibly constitutive of the ‘human’ imaginary, the ‘human’ self-image. This constitution is constructed and maintained. And it is a cultural administration that so perpetually constructs and engages in such incessant maintenance. (http://visionfiction.theotechne.com/WordPress/?p=555)

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      • Bill Benzon says:

        The “geopolitical” is not culturally insignificant, it produces cultural effects.

        Sure. And everything produces cultural effects.

        What I object to is treating culture as a homogeneous substance that can be usefully designated by national labels or suprantional labels.

        In biology if you tell me that some unnamed animal is a reptile or a mammal I thereby know quite a bit about it. If you tell me that it is an Australian animal or a Belgian animal or a North American animal, that tells me next to nothing about it. Similarly, if I tell you that I’m thinking of an unnamed song and that it is Japanese, what does that tell you about the song? Not much I’m afraid. Nations have national mythologies that are peculiar to them. But much else goes in within nations and it’s not obvious to me how much of that is culturally specific to a given nation. In the modern world cultural parctices and formations of all kinds cross national borders rather freely.

        I’ve just taken up the question with respect to film culture:
        http://new-savanna.blogspot.com/2012/12/fantasia-and-transnational-film-culture.html

        What I think is that, for all our discourse about culture, our thinking about it is still rather rudimentary and unsatisfactory.

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  7. Pingback: – Culture and Coercion | Visions of Temporal Accumulation

  8. Pingback: GNOSIS AND ANAMNESIS: on the way to immanence | AGENT SWARM

  9. I agree with you, though I’m waiting for Bill to respond.

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  10. I had a little look at your comments and posts, here, and on your blog, and have bookmarked them. You have obviously thought very deeply on these topics. Because I have recently returned to philosophy, I feel that I am playing catch-up: Laruelle is new to me, I’ve started reading his “Philosophy of Difference” and am not quite sure what he is up to.
    As to what Bill Benzon calls the “geopolitical”, I feel that there is some potential there to rethink the ‘philosophical’, not necessarily as mere replays of ‘multicultural’ truisms or stereotypes, even though a delineation of such understandings might be necessary, but rather as a rethinking of the animating logic behind them.

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  11. terenceblake says:

    Bill, I see no conflict here. You are being directly “non-Western”, ie refusing to believe in the self-representation of the West as some separate and homogeneous entity. This is the basic anti-essentialist lesson that must be repeated over and over again, because for many people it is not basic but abstruse and obscure. I think there is something to be said for both approaches: the slow annd patient dismantling of presuppositions and the quick leap into something else.

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    • Bill Benzon says:

      Nor do I see any conflict.

      I’m implicitly invoking an old distinction, between society and culture. A society is a bunch of people living in a polity. It could be a hunter-gatherer band, or a city-state, or a modern nationstate. Culture, however, is not the people, but their attitudes, beliefs, and practices. Given that distinction, one society can be home to many different cultures or, perhaps, “cultural formations” might be a better term, if only because it tends to side-step the reflexive understanding of “a culture.” By the same token, a culture formation can take place in many different societies, e.g. physics, or baseball, or Cantonese cuisine.

      I’m fond of an anime series called Samurai Champloo, which plays cultural mix and match in Tokugawa Japan. There’s one episode about a baseball match between a shipload of American interlopers, including Abner Doubleday (who is often credited with inventing baseball), and a Japanese team including a ronin samurai, a vagabond son of two prisoners, a 15 year old girl looking for her father, her pet flying squirrel, a dog, an old village leader, and a spy. It’s delightful nonsense. However, anyone growing up in Japan after, say, 1900, was growing up in a country where baseball is played. And for anyone growing up in Japan after the mid-20th century, well, for all practical purposes, baseball has been played in Japan since forever.

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      • This responds to your earlier comment.

        I agree that “everything produces cultural effects”. I agree that “treating culture as a homogeneous substance” with an unproblematic correspondence to national designations can be reductive. But national designations are an index to all kinds of information: in biology, they can classify ancestral genetics and specify the geographics of the zoological. We know that the kangaroo is an “Australian animal”. We know that a song with Japanese lyrics is likely to be from Japan.
        The ideology of nation, in the most general sense, is itself a cultural complex: ancestry, language, customs, etc.. It draws upon this rhetoric of ‘rootedness’, as well as the various political and religious experiments that have occurred for millennia.
        Nationalistic configuration is not the only means of categorising human groupings, but it has been an extraordinarily powerful schematic. It is a cultural layer that is promoted incessantly. It would be rash to ignore its effects.

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      • Bill Benzon says:

        The ideology of nation, in the most general sense, is itself a cultural complex: ancestry, language, customs, etc..

        Yes, that’s what nationalism is, a cultural complex that includes a mixture of historical facts, legal documents, institutional practices, and outright fiction, which is often treated as fact. It’s a very powerful complex that we cannot take a face value. It presumes an essence, but it is by no means obvious that such an essence exists.

        Nationalistic configuration is not the only means of categorising human groupings, but it has been an extraordinarily powerful schematic.

        I have no problem with thinking of some “human groupings” as nations and even of thinking of those nations as historical actors. My problem is with treating those groupings as cultural groupings. They aren’t. They’re political groupings.

        For example, In Nations and Nationalism Since 1780 (p. 60), Eric Hawbsbaum points out that when the French Republic was declared only 50% population spoke any French at all and most of them spoke it badly. When Italy was unified, the percentage who routinely spoke Italian was much smaller. How could one be culturally French of Italian if one could not even speak the language?

        That’s the point I’m trying to make. I’m NOT saying that nations aren’t real or that they’re not important. I’m saying that their reality cannot be understood in terms of the CULTURE of the people in the nation, except, of course, for the core complex about national identity. But that’s only a small component of any one individual’s cultural equipage.

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  12. Pingback: – Culture and Coercion 2 | Visions of Temporal Accumulation

  13. Pingback: – Culture and Coercion 3 | Visions of Temporal Accumulation

  14. “It’s a very powerful complex that we cannot take at face value.”

    Yes, I agree. It’s not an unproblematic form of social organisation.
    If it is a development of the sovereign state, then it has to be considered as the product of warfare. Whether its constituents were commandeered through explicit conquests, or rallied to the banner of a prevailing force that could provide protection, the underlying impetus would’ve been the threat of war, and perhaps internal disorder.
    And it is this culture, of destructive contentions, that I am calling ‘coercion’.
    And, arguably, this ‘coercion’ permeates all modern cultures, nationalistic or otherwise, all the time…

    Continued at: http://visionfiction.theotechne.com/WordPress/?p=566

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