Leon Niemoczynski’s new book SPECULATIVE REALISM: AN EPITOME is an important contribution to the task of gaining a real understanding of the recent developments in Continental Philosophy on the subject of Speculative Realism. The book examines the nature of the movement, its history, and its principal theses and arguments, outside the partisan publicity and bellicose lobbying that have so often dominated in its reception.
Given its emphasis on the inspirational power of the thinkers, perspectives and concepts that are habitually grouped together under this rubric Niemoczynski’s book could easily have been subtitled The Rebirth of Continental Philosophy out of the Spirit of Speculation.
The book is a model of objectivity and of pedagogical exposition. Niemoczynski’s tone is sympathetic, dispassionate and non-partisan. Ideas count, and noisy posturing is left far behind.
By putting the overblown claims and narcissistic publicity in brackets Niemoczynski is able to concentrate on the essential philosophers and their principal ideas, claims and arguments, and to give us a clear and lucid account both of “Speculative Realism” and of its demise. For Niemoczynski’s book is not just an epitome of Speculative Realism but also its epitaph, heralding a return to speculation over and above its attempted captation and enclosure within a movement.
I personally do not give much shrift to the three philosophers (Brassier, Hamilton Grant, Meillassoux) that Niemoczynski discusses. To his credit, Niemoczynski himself does not subscribe to the details of one or the other’s philosophy. He does not write as a disciple nor does he try to convert.
Niemoczynski treats these philosophers as inspirational in their speculative spirit and in the questions that they allow to emerge. He incites us to make use of their concepts and arguments to edify our own speculative philosophy, beyond the boundaries that pseudo-speculative dogmatists set up.
In the writing of his book Niemoczynski exemplifies the very virtues of impartiality and speculation guided by curiosity, dialogue and argument that he regards as the necessary horizon of fruitful philosophical discussion.
Laruelle has classified Deleuze’s thought within the category of the “philosophies of difference” and has further criticised it as remaining within the confines of the principle of philosophical sufficiency. This claim may be plausible applied to DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION, but it certainly is falsified by Deleuze’s succeeeding books, starting with LOGIC OF SENSE.
Given that Laruelle makes far-reaching claims about his “non-philosophy” and about its purported “scientific” use of philosophical material, it is interesting to see that he shows no sign of taking such falsifying instances seriously, and prefers to remain in the element of sweeping generalities. More generally Laruelle is constantly analysing and evaluating rival philosophical positions in terms of criteria and standards that he himself makes no effort to satisfy.
It has been the constant thesis of this blog that the sorts of criticisms that Laruelle makes of his contemporaries are not original nor are they of any actual relevance. Rather, they are long-winded out-dated parasitic re-formulations of self-criticisms made by these thinkers many years before Laruelle began publishing his “non-philosophical” works.
An interesting example of this constant process of creative self-criticism can be seen in Deleuze’s passage from a philosophy of difference in DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION to a philosophy-fiction in LOGIC OF SENSE. While DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION (1968) is a work of philosophy of classical facture, still presenting a diversity of concepts under the umbrella of a totalising concept, that of “difference”, LOGIC OF SENSE (1969) breaks with that model from the beginning.
Indeed in this book from 1969 Deleuze anticipates not only Laruelle’s “non-philosophy”, by working in terms of the marriage of philosophy with an outside, but also its later evolution into “non-standard philosophy”. On page one of the preface Deleuze tells us:
This book is an attempt to develop a logical and psychoanalytical novel.
This is no doubt one of the unavowed sources of inspiration for Laruelle’s own notion of “philo-fiction”, expounded forty years later, when Laruelle tardively showed signs of at last breaking with his antiquated scientism.
Laruelle’s work, wittingly or unwittingly, forms part of a more general movement to re-write the history of Continental Philosophy of the last fifty years by replacing subtle and complexly creative research programs such as Deleuze’s (and also those of Foucault, Althusser, Bourdieu, Derrida, and Lyotard) with simplistic stereotypes that are designed to provide a flattering contrast for our current “nouveaux philosophes”.
Despite his obscurantist prose Laruelle’s vision of philosophy is no exception to this movement of simplification of thought by falsification of the historical record. His “non-philosophy” is from this point of view merely a neo-philosophy.
This sketchy analysis of the pivotal role of LOGIC OF SENSE in Deleuze’s path of research is borne out by his remarks in the “Author’s Note for the Italian Edition of Logic of Sense“, published in the collection of essays, Two Regimes of Madness. Deleuze explicitly draws attention to the change in style inaugurated with this book, and affirms that it is part and parcel of a more encompassing conceptual change:
“I like this Logic of Sense because for me it continues to mark a rupture: it was the first time I tried to search for a form other than that of traditional philosophy” (my translation).
Laruelle is blind to such heuristic ruptures, seeing only a continuous reign of “sufficient” philosophy until his own attempts at something different.
One particular instance of this blindness lies in Laruelle’s contribution to the continuing vision of Deleuze as a philosopher of “difference”. Deleuze himself emphasises that all his concepts take on new roles in LOGIC OF SENSE, as they are reorganised according to the new dimension of the surface. He claims that the concepts remain the same but that their sense is transformed. Interestingly, his list of concepts (multiplicities, singularities, intensities, events, infinity, problems, paradoxes and proportions) makes no mention of “difference”, supposedly the key concept of his philosophy.
Another major blind spot of Laruelle’s is the transformation of the image of thought that Deleuze analyses in terms of a changing geography and topology of thought. Deleuze tells us of the movement along a vertical axis from Pre-Socratic depths to Platonic heights to the return to Pre-Socratic depths, etc. This displacement back and forth from heights to depths defines classical philosophy for Deleuze as movement within a vertical axis, that we may well call the axis of sufficiency.
For Deleuze the non-philosophical step outside sufficiency does not come with the return to the depths (Boehme, Schelling, Schopenhauer, ealy Nietzsche) but with the exploration of a new axis of thought, the horizontal axis of the surface of immanence (Nietzsche after the break with Wagner).
In contrast, there is still too much of the “depths” in Laruelle’s movements. His concept of the “One-in-One” is vertically abyssal rather than superficial, and his determination in the last instance reinstates the verticality of a determination that plays with the surface of multiple causalities (overdetermination) only to collapse them all vertically in the “final” instance.
In LOGIC OF SENSE Deleuze breaks with this vertical axis:
Even if I myself was no longer satisfied with the history of philosophy, my book DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION still aspired to a sort of classical height and even to an archaic depth (my translation).
A key transformation coming with that break with the vertical axis is in the concept of intensity, which is reassigned to the surface. On the role of intensity in DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION Deleuze affirms
My sketching out of a theory of intensity was marked by depth, whether true or false: intensity was presented as surging up from the depths.
This whole tradition of the vertical axis, which is Deleuze’s equivalent of Laruelle’s axis of sufficiency, is analysed and left behind in the course of, and in the terms of, Deleuze’s own self-analysis. This move accounts for the striking difference in the style of the two books.
Deleuze reassigns intensity from the depths to the surface and tells us that his very use of language changed. He wanted the language to be ever-more intensive, and for it to move along a path of various flows and gusts.
Note: the translation talks of “spurts”, but this is more reminiscent of a puny water pistol. “Gusts” would be a better translation. Gusts of wind, as in a storm, not spurts, or squirts.
All these changes work in the sense of moving away from sufficiency. However, Deleuze does not think that the book is fully successful in that attempt. He argues that his book is marred by remnants of complacency and connivance with respect to psychoanalysis:
Obviously, it still manifests a naive and culpable complaisance towards psychoanalysis. My only excuse would be that I was nevertheless, albeit very timidly, trying to render psychoanalysis inoffensive, by presenting it as an art of surfaces.
In his defence, Deleuze argues here that he was trying to divest psychoanalysis of its own principle of sufficiency as “depth” psychology and to align it with the immanence of the surface and its series.
Lest we conclude overhastily that surface and series have become the totalising concepts of a new instance of philosophical sufficiency Deleuze finishes this short note informing us that the next book ANTI-OEDIPUS is no longer authored by a classical subject, Deleuze the sufficient philosopher, but by a collaborative subject (Deleuze and Guattari).
The style changes, becoming more intensive, and the key concepts disappear:
ANTI-OEDIPUS no longer has either height or depth, or surface…A rhizome instead of series, says Guattari. ANTI-OEDIPUS is a good start, provided we break with series.
The practice of heuristic rupture is one of the ways in which Deleuze breaks with the risk of sufficiency in LOGIC OF SENSE and in the succeeding works.
Laruelle’s method proceeds by stipulation and supplementation, rather than by dialogue demonstration. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as one is willing to admit that the propositions proferred are heuristic suggestions for further research rather than worked out positions.
Another technique is the extended metaphor treated as if it were a concept. Laruelle’s talk of “fractality” is silly and dated, it reads like a bad imitation of Baudrillard. The quantum metaphor is potentially more fruitful, but it does not do much work, except for valorising some rather vague qualities.
The “quantum” thought of Laruelle is the embodiment of his attempt to become not only non-philosophical, but also non-Laruellean. Unfortunately scientism cannot be overcome by even more scientism.
Any living conceptual creation coming out of the non-philosophical impetus would have to be non-Laruellean. Sadly, neither Laruelle himself nor the Laruelleans have welcomed or encouraged this development.
Laruelle’s own attempt at becoming non-Laruellean by the quantum is a failure, a form of surplus scientism intended to combat his primary scientism.The problem with Laruellean scientism is de-philosophisation, concept-blindness, intellectual vice (“suffisance”) disguised as its opposite, the reduction of noetic (spiritual, conceptual and imaginative) possibilities under the pretence of their expansion.
I still believe in the dream of non-philosophy, in the noetic expansion of philosophy and in an expanded and freer use of its materials. I just think that philosophers such as Deleuze, Badiou, Stiegler, Latour accomplish that expansion much more fully than Laruelle himself.
I was into Lacan from 1975 to 1979 and then became disgusted with the dogmatic exclusive use of his thought, to the point that I moved from Sydney to Paris in 1980 to get away from that form of provincial Lacanianism. We all have to live in some province or other, or even in several. But the province where we live should not be declared to be the world.
My attitude to Lacan is the same as to any other thinker. As heuristic he is potentially useful, as dogmatic he is dangerous.Lacan had a heuristic relation to his own thought, he constantly transformed his ideas, and his analytic practice was something else, probably even more transformative.
This is why I will accept no dogma of the three or the four. Latour’s 16 is a useful heuristic reminder that stopping short is simply a temporary expedient, a provional halting point, and not a definitive discovery.
Lacan was an experimenter, but he was also a school builder as his choice of Miller over Guattari exemplifies quite well. He may have dissolved his own school, He did not dissolve Miller’s ministry, nor the money it brought him.
There is no way around it. Every analysis is a falsification, not a verification. If you are in the verification game you are not doing analysis or philosophy. My philosophers are my traumas, that I am trying to cure myself from unsuccessfully. I dismiss noone!
However, I do dismiss arguments. And Lacan on the four is dismissable as theology if it is advanced as an argument and not as a heuristic suggestion.
Lacan is totally wrong in his views on the imaginary, as the dual relation is not universal, it is a dualistic overcoding of the imaginative functioning. One must not reify this model.
“The” is a marker of monist reification, so any time I see “theImaginary”, etc I am suspicious. I do not accept the idea of “the Symbolic” as I see no reason to posit an originary monism. This is a later simplification, both theoretical and psychic.
The imagination is not natively binary but pluralist. Images are not inherently dual. James Hillman, the post-Jungian analyst, is a good antidote to Lacan here. There is no reason to believe that images are always and everywhere reducible to dual relations.
If one claims that “the Symbolic” in Lacan is not reified but is merely rhetorical (in my terms heuristic) then I am happy. But then one must be careful not to re-validate the monism potentially contained in the expression. The existence of signs are not enough to establish a separate instance totalisable under the term “the Symbolic”. This is the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.
There is no reason to believe that all images are reducible to dual relations.There are many regimes of images, and the dual is just one regime among many others. If we had to play the head-shrinking game of speaking in terms of the imaginary and the symbolic, I’d say that the dual regime is a contamination of the imaginary by the symbolic.
If one wants an example of images that are not necessarily subject to dualist relations one has only to take any dream where you do not impose by force a dualist grid on it.
Any insistence that such a dualism necessarily exists in the duality of consciousness of an image amounts to smuggling in the presupposition of duality by the use of the notion of an encounter between consciousness and image. Far from being self-evident, this is an unjustified posit. It can easily be falsified by citing those thinkers who get along quite well without having to presuppose it (Bergson, Deleuze, Hillman).
Note, I am not defending Deleuze’s particular premise here, I am merely defending its conceptual coherence. Also its speculative utility in specific domains: cinema (Deleuze) and psyche (Deleeuze, Hillman).
The problem with Bruno Latour’s style is largely due to his anxiety of influence and his consequent covering his tracks by changing the terminology and hiding the concepts by means of a seemingly de-concepted “infra-language”. This is motivated by his desire to think and write outside the meta-linguistic sufficiency of traditional academic philosophy, but it has created more misunderstandings than it has avoided (see previous post).
Latour has recently produced a very innovative ontology, expounded in his treatise AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE. This is where I bring in the comparison of Latour with Badiou. Latour asserts that the sixteen modes of existence that he describes are also modes of “veridiction”, in Badiousian terms they are “truth procedures”.
We must be careful here not to raise superficial objections. Obviously Latour is not Badiou, his terminology is different. I do not reify either’s vocabulary, and I have produced a series of “wild” comparisons, for example in this post.
I had a very interesting dialogue with François Nicolas on this attempt at a comparison of Badiou’s and Latour’s thought. Though he remained unconvinced, he was quite courteous and seemed genuinely curious. A trace of my discussion with François Nicolas can be found here.
I do not “believe” in Latour’s system, but using him as a means of comparison can help us see limitations in Badiou’s thought that would otherwise go unnoticed. All I am saying is: read Latour with an open mind, outside reified terminology and provincial references, and it will change your vision of Badiou.
I do not defend Latour blindly, I have often been very critical, and was even classified as a “troll” by his group at one point. This designation must have been revised, as Latour later published an article by me in his final catalogue for the AIME project exhibition, RESET MODERNITY.
I have been ganged up on and denigrated by “Badiousian” hard-liners for daring to take a step back and looking at Badiou from an angle that they had never thought of. Sticking to the letter of the text is not the only way to elucidate it and to do it justice.
Latour’s well-known opposition to critique is a pretence. Noone critiques as ferociously as Latour, only his de-concepted surface is “diplomatic”. For example, Latour is very critical of both naive realism and relativism, arguing in favour of a realist pluralism.
I defend Latour’s realist pluralism here.
It is only by taking Latour’s de-concepted surface style at face value that OOO can pretend to absorb actor-network theory into its own veritably de-concepted body. Latour’s entire theoretical corpus contains a continuous critique of the sort of metaphysics that OOO represents.
Thus both the relativist reading and the ooo-realist reading are based on a concept-blind hermeneutics that is the very antithesis of Latour’s interpretative strategy. This strategy, considered as a Trojan Horse has unfortunately been a failure, reinforcing the reductionist ontologies that it aimed to displace.