Review of Levi Bryant’s ONTO-CARTOGRAPHY

In this review I consider the contradiction between Bryant’s desire to inherit and carry further certain progressive post-structuralist themes and his allegiance to the regressive schemas of object-oriented ontology.

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LOVECRAFT’S STYLE: a Deleuzian comment by Alan Moore

Gilles Deleuze talks about style as a form of creative stuttering, a means of speaking one’s mother tongue as if it were a foreign language, a way of being bilingual in a single language. Alan Moore writes:

The deployment of archaic vocabulary – Domdanie, nepenthe, eidolon and necrophagous, a sesquipedalian torrent – looks on second glance like an attempt to make the very medium that he expressed his stories through, the English language itself, into something creepy, unfamiliar and alienating.

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OOO AND MESO-MINING: the lazy man’s reductionism

Objects in Graham Harman’s object-oriented ontology occupy a middle ground between undermining (intelligibility in terms of atomic components, the scientific prejudice) and overmining (intelligibility in terms of subsuming ensembles of qualities and relations, the humanistic prejudice).

objects cannot be reduced to anything else, and must be addressed by philosophy on their own terms (THE QUADRUPLE OBJECT, 138)

Objects are irreducible, and as such are the source of intelligibility for everything that exists:

the tensions between objects and their qualities and other objects can be used to account for anything else that exists (THE QUADRUPLE OBJECT, 138)

However, this view is itself a reductionism, the reduction of the world to objects, rather than to facts (Wittgenstein), events (Deleuze), or processes (Whitehead). Such objectal reduction may be called meso-mining.

Harman’s “third table” is the meso-object, “deeper” than the scientific, the humanistic, and the common sense table because it is shorn of all sensible and knowable predicates. Completely untestable the hypothesis of the primacy of the meso-object is without any explanatory power.

For details see my review of THE THIRD TABLE here: https://www.academia.edu/1572436/HARMANS_THIRD_TABLE, and its sequel explicating some positions with more explanatory power (Latour, Laruelle, Feyerabend) here: https://www.academia.edu/7290442/HARMANS_THIRD_TABLE_II_comparison_with_Latour_and_Laruelle.

Everything reduces to objects, but objects themselves are irreducible, they are the ultimate foundation of intelligibility, intelligible on the basis of nothing else than themselves.

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LARUELLE’S “QUANTUM”: nostalgic obscurity and the manipulation of stereotypes

Laruelle’s project is to “quantize” Marxism. Yet his account of just what he means by the quantum thought is situated at such a high level of abstraction and of vagueness that he might just as well have projected to “magick” Marxism. His confused explanations do not explain very much as he devotes more time to proclaiming his project’s difference from any and every other well-known philosophical perspective than to elucidating his own perspective. Laruelle relies on this atmospheric presence of a set of more developped ideas in order to create in the reader’s mind a sense of familiarity and of understanding despite the abstraction and the unexplicated terminology.

In his quest for an expanded “non-standard” philosophy Laruelle fails where Feyerabend succeeded. This failure is not just due to Laruelle’s persisting scientism, in the name of a science that is tautologically articulated without any attempt at confrontation with real scientific practice. It is also due to the lack of any clear account of the developments in quantum theory that he relies on.

As to elaborating a non-standard “quantum” expansion of philosophy, Zizek too succeeds where Laruelle fails. An important part of this success is, as in the case of Feyerabend, that Zizek does not proceed scientistically. The quantum model is just one among several, and is overdetermined by his deployment of models taken from Lacan and from Hegel.

Indeed, unlike Feyerabend and Zizek (and we may add unlike Deleuze and Guattari, who also developped a non-standard “quantum” thought) Laruelle is not forthcoming with his principles of selection. He does not explain in terms of what criteria he selects, abstracts, and transfers the particular traits of quantum theory he deems pertinent to his research programme.

Badiou’s own “non-standard” philosophy makes use of the mathematical models of set theory and of category theory. These constitute no mere vague set of metaphors, but are technically correct in their details and their use is clearly justified in Badiou’s text. If we refer to Laruelle’s ANTI-BADIOU we are presented with the contrast between the appeal to the quantum model and the appeal to the set theoretic model, but we are given no real reason why one should be preferred to the other (or even to making use of both, which would be a more “democratic” procedure.

It is increasingly becoming known that far from showing us the way forward to a new practice of thinking Laruelle’s thought is nostalgic. It is caught in the 60s, somewhere between Deleuze’s DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION and his LOGIC OF SENSE.

The Laruelleans perpetuate Laruelle’s misreading of Deleuze, stereotyping him as a “philosopher of difference”, as they have no other critique of Deleuze that is not even more devastating for Laruelle himself.

Laruelle’s failure lies in his method: seeking to escape from the sufficiency of philosophy by a scientistic supplement.  Laruelle’s quixotic attempt to overcome scientism by even more scientism is doomed to failure. He deploys a form of surplus scientism intended to combat his primary scientism, resulting in greater reductionism, de-philosophisation, concept-blindness, and intellectual vice (Laruelle’s own “sufficiency is plain for all to see) disguised as its opposite.

To sum up, Laruelle’s non-philosophy is scientistic and reductionist and his non-standard philosophy is no better. Both contribute to the reduction of noetic possibilities under the pretence of their expansion.

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LARUELLE’S “NON-MARXISM”: Between Ethicism and Religionism

INTRODUCTION TO NON-MARXISM is a very interesting work of transition, published in French in 2000, and well worth reading in the contemporary context of thought trying to break free from the inherited limitations that prevent it from engaging realistically with the world. It comes just after Laruelle’s ethical phase, where he is still unable to shake off the influence of Lacan and of Levinas on his thought, and just before his religious phase.

In an only half-successful attempt to escape from his previous scientism (which despite his denegations is not at all limited to his Philosophy I phase but continuous with his whole corpus) Laruelle undertook an ethical turn that left him imprisonned in schemas of thought and ensconced in a system of references inherited from post-68 thought. Mobilising other aspects of that same thought, in this case Althusserian Marxism, and attempting to rework it by means of a non-philosophy newly freed from its preceding scientistic phase, Laruelle seems to have initially thought that a nonphilosophical extension of Marxism could achieve the breakthrough into nonstandard philosophy that he was searching for.

Far from hailing Laruelle’s notion of “determination in the last instance” as a major concept, readers should be aware that from the point of view of Laruelle’s later works this concept is an impasse as it is articulated in this book, just as his later concept of Christ in THE FUTURE CHRIST is an impasse. Both are overcome and fused together in Laruelle’s quantum approach inaugurated with his passage from non-philosophy to non-standard philosophy, which to be found principally in NON-STANDARD PHILOSOPHY, ANTI-BADIOU, and CHRISTO-FICTION. One of the most notable innovations in these later books is that the notion of “determination in the last instance” is reworked to mean indetermination in the “pre-primary” instance.

INTRODUCTION TO NON-MARXISM is a transitional work, caught in an impasse. Preliminary overviews of Laruelle’s work often give primacy to one or other of Laruelle’s phases over the others. I am particularly worried by the reductionist (politicist) readings that tout the pre-quantum version of “determination in the last instance” as a panacea for thought, just as I am worried about the (religionist) appeal to the pre-quantum Christ. I am glad that Laruelle’s “quantum deconstruction” is part of his ongoing process of liberating his thought from its pre-established limits, and I think it is what is needed to avoid the suture (in Badiou’s sense of reductionist conflation) of his thought with any one particular truth procedure (science, psychoanalysis, ethics, art, religion, or politics).

Laruelle’s INTRODUCTION TO NON-MARXISM is a very interesting non-philosophical extension of philosophical Marxism, but it remains a sutural work, and thus is more reductionist than emancipatory, for that very reason. Laruelle goes on to argue in his NON-STANDARD PHILOSPHY (published in French in 2010) that what is needed today is not an extension of any particular philosophical thought-world, but rather the quantum superposition of different thought-worlds, relieved of their sufficiency, contributing to a democratic pluralism of thought.

The unresolved tension between the monistic structuralist notion of “determination in the last instance” (drawn from Althusserian Marxism) and the pluralist post-structualist notion of “superposition” (drawn from quantum physics) is an ongoing problem of Laruelle’s thought, indicating the need to develop a new type of thought that conserves the radical impulse of non-philosophy without being tied down by the influences (and sutures) of Laruelle’s particular intellectual biography (scientism, psychoanalysm, ethicism, religionism).

Ultimately we are stimulated to create our own non-Laruellean non-philosophy.

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The World of Failing Machines

My review of Grant Hamilton’s THE WORLD OF FAILING MACHINES is now live on The Hong Kong Review of Books.

HONG KONG REVIEW OF BOOKS 香港書評

Terence Blake discusses OOO and convergent and divergent readings of an important new book on speculative realism and literature.

FALLIBLE DIVERGENCES: literary theory after speculative realism

Grant Hamilton, The World of Failing Machines (Zero Books, 2016), 144pp.

Grant Hamilton poses an interesting and topical question in his book The World of Failing Machines: “What would a speculative-realist literary criticism look like?” (1).

In order to answer this provocative question, Hamilton – a professor at CUHK – first gives a brief sketch of the history of speculative realism and of its main variants, before finally deciding to restrict his discussion to one of these variants, Graham Harman’s object-oriented philosophy (9). Hamilton does a good job of resuming the history and principal tenets of speculative realism, acknowledging that there is a ritualistic aspect to this gesture as “nearly every book on the subject began with a reprise of the…

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BECOMING FEYERABENDIAN BY LEAVING FEYERABEND

I first read Feyerabend in the early seventies but his philosophy was frowned on by the scientistic philosophy department I was studying in, which was dominated first by the analytic philosophers and then by the Althusserians. Towards the end of the seventies the dominant philosophy was becoming “postmodern”, in the bad sense of forms of social constructivism and linguistic idealism,under the sway of Lacan and Derrida.

So I moved to Paris to see if the French philosophers were really as irrationalist and as constructivist as described. No, I found, they were realist, rationalist, and pro-science. I could have moved to Zurich and studied under Feyerabend, but I thought that there was something undevelopped in his pluralism. Feyerabend’s thought was stunted by the lack of a favourable intellectual context. He was continually involved in polemics, trying to correct misreadings and misunderstandings.

So I think I made the right choice to push my pluralism forward by coming to France.

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