BRUNO LATOUR, IRONY AND IMAGISM

Lacan’s concept of the “imaginary” does not exhaust the register of images but represents only one particular regime of that register. This insight underlies behind Deleuze’s cinema books, which continue, in sublimated form, the critique of Lacanian psychoanalysis that is contained in ANTI-OEDIPUS and A THOUSAND PLATEAUX.

Bruno Latour’s philosophical style can be seen as a generalisation of Deleuze’s imagistic conceptualism, or conceptual imagism. I have often referred to this pulsation between image and concept as characteristic not only of Deleuze’s style but also of Continental philosophy in general.

Bruno Latour describes his own style in a similar way, talking of his philosophical “life among conceptual characters” as a pulsation between imagistic character and intellectual concept, between actor and actant.

Graham Harman agrees with Searle and Chomsky denouncing the obscurantism of Theory, its irony, lack of straightforwardness and of engagement. However, straightforwardness may not be as desirable or attainable as he seems to think. After all, Harman is the thinker who tells us straightforwardly that we cannot say anything straightforward about the real object, as it withdraws.

For Harman only the non-straightforward, “indirect” approach of art can hope to say something of value about the real. This dualism between obscurantist disengaged irony and straightforward engaged vivacity does not exhaust all the possibilities.

Latour cannot possibly be an ally for Harman on this point as he proposes 15 “tones” of enunciation in his modes of existence project. In Latour’s system of modes of existence the only “straightforward” tone, Double Click, loses all hegemony, as it presupposes one can reproduce information exactly, without transformation, outside networks.

It also seems strange to hold Latour up as a paradigm of escape from irony. There are many sorts of irony, many ironic tones, not just one. Latour is a master of deflationary irony, taking his adversaries at their word to show up the absurdity he sees behind it.

Latour situates himself firmly on the side of textuality and “écriture” as opposed to straightforwardly putting one’s ideas into language. This means that in his work style and content cannot be separated so easily, and that Latour is constantly avoiding provocation, “hedging”, diplomatically negotiating meaning.

The irony of Harman’s naively hailing Latour as a paragon of non-irony is quite touching.

Latour cites Nietzsche, Greimas, Althusser, Deleuze, Derrida, Lyotard, Serres amongst his influences. He is no dupe of the myth of universal correlationism. Harman has replaced this pulsation between image and concept, between actor and actant, with a partition that only his real objects can overcome. Unfortunately these real objects are by his stipulation themselves partitioned off behind the wall of withdrawal.

Note: I have commented on Harman’s synchronic travesty of Latour’s diachronic ontology here.

Latour’s project of digital humanities demolishes these partitions. There is no pathos of a universal correlationism to be overcome.

Latour’s conceptual style operates between Nietzsche and Bultmann, between revisionary hermeneutics and conservatory exegesis. My regret is that he ultimately gives primacy to reprise over revisioning.

 

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ON THE DANGERS OF SELF-CLONING: overcoming Laruelle’s scientism

Laruelle constantly claims scientific status for his non-philosophy but is unable to respect his own criteria or satisfy even the vaguest criteria of scientificity. Conclusion Laruellean non-philosophy is pseudo-science: https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2016/09/19/non-philosophy-as-pseudo-science/. However, non-Laruellean non-philosophy can overcome that defect: https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2012/10/01/on-non-laruellian-non-philosophy/

https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2015/12/15/non-laruellean-non-philosophy-a-pluralist-supplementation/

https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2016/01/03/non-laruellean-non-philosophydeleuze-badiou-zizek-latour-stengers-feyerabend-serres-lyotard-haraway/

Contrary to his claims, there is no “scientific posture” in Laruelle, and all his pretentions to scientificity are so much propaganda, a self-cloning gone wrong. Just as Laruelle cannot define his way out of metaphysics he cannot define his way into science.

As to democratic or charitable reading there is none to be found in Laruelle’s response to Deleuze and Guattari’s WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? in his “I the Philosopher am Lying” nor is the principle of charity exercised towards Badiou in his ANTI-BADIOU.

Laruelle’s clones of Deleuze and Badiou are conceptual characters within his own solipsist self-fiction, or self-cloning, and not the products of an immanent reading.

In practice Laruelle’s concept of “in the last instance” amounts to the admission: “I the non-philosopher am lying”. Laruelle is lying about pluralism and democracy because it all comes down to his one view.

Laruelle himself comes close to recognising this when he writes:

“Do I practice terror? There are obviously two readings of my text. There is a philosophical reading, one in which I do practice terror. And there is a non-philosophical reading, which is obviously my reading” (here).

Conclusion: Laruelle is someone with a few interesting Deleuzian ideas, a lot of sophistic self-description, and a cranky obscurantist style.

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NON-PHILOSOPHY AS PSEUDO-SCIENCE

Landzek has responded to my last post with a long meditation stemming from his own research, which draws on other sources and experiences than mine. I think however that we agree on two interrelated points

1) the contradiction between Laruelle’s quantum gnostic religion and his followers’ classically religious veneration of his thought.

It is clear that in the last instance Laruelle’s “Christ” is quantum thought, for Laruelle the Messiah is none other than his own philosophy. More generally Laruelle stipulates that non-standard philosophy (what I have been calling pluralism) is the Christ. In the last instance  this plural “more generally” reduces to the singular one, as Laruelle’s writing vehiculates the uniqueness hypothesis, that there is only one non-philosopher and only one non-standard philosopher, Laruelle himself.

2) the contradiction between espousal of deconstruction and the betrayal of pluralism. Laruelle attemts to radicalise deconstruction by going one step further and deconstructing what remained undeconstructed within deconstruction (in his view) by making use of a model borrowed or extrapolated from quantum physics. His “quantum deconstruction” in its own terms can not and should not be exclusive of other radicalised deconstructions, for example Badiou’s mathematical deconstructions borrowing and extrapolating from set theory and category theory. Incoherently Laruelle practices precisely this sort of unilateral exclusion as his book ANTI-BADIOU amply demonstrates. His attitude toward Deleuze and Guattari’s schizoanalytic deconstruction of Lacanianism is another example.

Landzek does not mention “immanence” explicitly in his response but I think that we agree here too:

3) Laruelle exhibits a real deficit of immanence. He claims scientific status in virtue of his unique appropriation of immanence. Yet his critique of his contemporary rivals is laid out in terms of a transcendent structure of sufficiency. Laruelle seems absolutely incapable of immanent critique, or even of recognising the real role of immanence in philosophers such as Deleuze and Badiou.

We are forced in view of Laruelle’s claims to scientific status and his inability to respect his own criteria to conclude that Laruellean non-philosophy is pseudo-science.

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CLEARING THE GROUND (1): Laruelle’s rearview mirror

Laruelle: the mountain of jargon that gives birth to a mouse of common knowledge.

One of the evolutions of my thought on this blog is the passage from a relatively favorable attitude to Laruelle to a great disappointment. This evolution stemmmed from my return to Laruelle, after having dismissed his non-philosophy as unworkable turgid repetition of insights better expressed elsewhere and long before.

My return to Laruelle was tied to my initial negative evaluation of Badiou’s post-Being and Event research programme as articulated in his LOGICS OF WORLDS and subsequent texts. In the light of my reservations Laruelle’s ANTI-BADIOU seemed to confirm my own ideas and analyses, and to represent a welcome evolution in Laruelle’s heuristics. I turned to an enthusiastic reading of his PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD, and I was in agreement with his positive goals. However, I soon found tedious his repetition without acknowledgement of his predecessors, his dogmatism, and his overblown jargon.

I came to see Laruelle’s attempt to move beyond his negativistic “non-philosophy” and to invent  a more positive non-standard philosophy as culminating in an impasse, a monistic dead-end arising not from its basic principles and concepts but from the mind-numbing solipsism not only of Laruelle but of his followers.

This solipsism, that I have baptised the uniqueness hypothesis, is in flat contradiction with Laruelle’s self-affirmed commitment to a “democracy of thought”. Laruelle’s uniqueness hypothesis, which is not asserted explicitly but subtends all that he writes) is the idea that there is only one non-philosopher among all his contemporaries (himself) and that all the others (Deleuze, Lyotard, Derrida, Foucault, Badiou, Serres, Stiegler, Latour) are stuck inside the principle of sufficient philosophy. I do not find that the uniqueness hypothesis is demonstrated in Laruelle’s texts, nor is it even a plausible idea.

This solipsism is also in contradiction with Laruelle’s constant positive self-comparison with others. This solipsistic attitude leads not only to a lack of fruitful critical dialogue but also to declining content (and eventually popularity). Laruelle constantly compares and contrasts his own “non-philosophy” with the whole of philosophy and so fails to advance his own problematics in any non-ad hoc way. In Lakatos’s terms Laruelle’s research programme of non-philosophy is in a degenerating phase

After a first wave of enthusiasm for such daring and for its brave new vistas one quickly realises that Laruelle’s portrayal of others is a grotesque travesty and that the positive ideas (“non-standard philosophy”) that are supposed to come after his negative critique (“non-philosophy”) are mostly restatements of that same critique in new “positivised” terminology along with a set of vague and often idiosyncratic ideas set out in obscurantist jargon.

My provisional conclusion is that Laruelle has produced a constipated long-winded jargonised version of what many other recent French philosophers (but also Nietzsche, Wittgenstein and Feyerabend) have said long before him, only much more simply and concisely. Laruelle relies on this effect of recognition in the deforming mirror of a new jargon to gain word-intoxicated but concept-blind followers. Non-standard is the major characteristic of French philosophy from Lacan and Simondon to Badiou and Latour.

Laruelle’s attempt to inherit the mantle of non-philosophy is praiseworthy, his attempt to arrogate that title for himself exclusively has been harmful to himself and has impeded the dialogue necessary to the advance of thought. His positive suggestions can be retained, discussed, and (gasp!) criticised, but his solipsism is to be rejected.

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BLOGOS SYNOPTICON: six years of philosophical blogging

The blog AGENT SWARM has existed for a little over six years. There is a great coherence in my blogging over this period.

My constant theme has been epistemological and ontological pluralism. In fact, pluralism has been my concern for over 44 years, it was behind my coming to live in France 36 years ago. The only philosophical pluralist of any note in the Anglophone world during the 1970s was Feyerabend. Despite working in a philosophy department that took an active interest in contemporary French philosophy I was very intellectually isolated during that period and I was overjoyed to discover Deleuze, Lyotard, Foucault and Serres as fellow proponents of the pluralist hypothesis.

Today pluralism is still a living hypothesis in France, elaborated and defended by Badiou, Latour, Stiegler, and Laruelle. This French pluralism is the major context for my thought. It has determined my amused interest in such storms in a tea cup as OOO and Speculative Realism.

From 1980 to 1987 I lived in Paris and I attended the seminars of Deleuze, Lyotard, Serres and Foucault. Now I live in Nice, but I follow Badiou’s and Stiegler’s seminars on youtube, and have been doing so for 5 years now. I participated in Latour’s AIME project, made some contributions to the site, and Latour published a chapter by me in his catalogue RESET MODERNITY. I gave a paper at Stiegler’s Summer Academy (French: video, text; English: text). Michel Serres is still going strong, and his pluralism has evolved over 50 years. I follow his publications, and I often listen to him on the radio or watch him on TV. I have just received his new book on philosophy of history.

I have had no career inside the university, but I have had and continue to have priceless access to pluralist thought in the making. I speak out of this immersion. I am living the pluralist dream.

Another of my interests is science fiction. I publish a science fiction oriented blog XENO SWARM. Twice in Nice I have given a paper on science fiction and philosophy. The first paper was on DUNE AND DELEUZE, the second was on Neal Stephenson’s ANATHEM discussed from a Deleuzian-Badiousian perspective on immanentising Plato as the contemporary task of both philosophy and speculative literature.

The general compatibility condition of my philosophy blog is pluralism. This distinguishes it from other philosophical blogs which make scientism, or worse “speculative realism” or OOO, their boundary condition.

The principal contribution that has emerged from my philosophy blog is the treatment of the differing pluralist Continental philosophies, of Badiou, Laruelle, Zizek, Serres, Stiegler and Latour, as alternative metaphysical research programmes (in the sense of Popper). I analyse and evaluate these research programmes in terms of a set of criteria (pluralism, realism, diachronicity, apophaticism, and democracy). These criteria are taken from Feyerabend’s later philosophy.

Note: François Laruelle has produced a constipated long-winded jargonised version of Feyerabend’s view and criteria. His Anglophone disciples and popularisers have not the slighest care for situating Laruelle’s thought within any realistic context. They prefer to contribute to a more general movement of rewriting philosophical history and of falsifying the recent past so as to create the illusion that their own research programme is unique and in progress over other programmes.

Bruno Latour has elaborated a very innovative system of modes of existence based on the concept of being-as-other, expressed in accessible prose, that well satisfies these criteria. Although Badiou has trouble reconciling his demand for universality with his criterion of equality, his system is also a good embodiment of these criteria. His immanence of truths project is pluralist, diachronic, apophatic, realist, and egalitarian (he calls this criterion of equality “communism” instead of “democracy” for his own special reasons).

Note: we are not talking about voting or government here, but about epistemology and ontology.

The problem with Laruelle is he thinks that he can define himself out of metaphysics. The linguistic naivety of his approach astounding. Badiou, like Deleuze, has no problem with the category of metaphysics, even if they transform it. Their philosophies are at least as “non-standard” as that of Laruelle, as are those of Zizek and Latour. Laruelle preaches non-philosophy, but he does not practice it very well. And “democracy” and “pluralism” even less.

The principal concept that has emerged out of my SF blog is that of “noetic estrangement” which permits a unified approach to SF and fantasy. A good example of this approach is to be found in my review of China Miéville’s most recent novel: THE LAST DAYS OF NEW PARIS.

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SCIENTISM AND SELF-SOKALISATION

Scotty to Kirk: Captain, we’ll just put the OOOotron in the neo-Sellarsian tesseract and reverse the de-inferentialisation of the Brandomions. With any luck the Sokalian drive will hold out.

You would not know it from most discussions for and against OOO, but I have done a lot of work on this subject e.g.here. I have not limited myself to analysing Graham Harman’s version, but have also considered some of its variants. Unfortunately, even more recent versions of OOO that dare to jettison some of its assumptions and vocabulary are still very unsatisfactory.

Some of OOO’s critics represent a regression to pre-OOO scientism, and so cannot hope to be effective.  Girard on mimetic desire well describes such internet debates: neither OOO nor its promoted critics acknowledge my existence or arguments. The scientistic critics of OOO just want to “trounce” Harman, and don’t give a damn about any of the more positive aspects of his work. This simplicity is the reason for their popularity within their own camp.

Contrary to these scientistic critics my discussion of OOO is from a pluralist perspective, I do not wish it to regress back to scientism, as Bryant is constantly trying to do. I criticise OOO for not going far enough, and for sliding backwards from some of its own insights. I criticise OOO for not enough pluralism, whereas the scientistics criticise it for too much pluralism.

It is important to note that Harman has actually read Latour, and has seen the importance of his ideas. Brassier and his acolytes show no familiarity with, and no understanding of, Latour’s ideas. They act as if OOO can be conjured away with scholastic mantras. It sounds like Star Trek: de-activate the neo-Sellarsian dis-inferentialisation of the Brandomions.

I do not agree with Harman’s counter-propositions to Latour’s ontology, but at least he has studied Latour and knows what he is talking about.

Bibliography

For some parallels between Harman and Wolfendale see: https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2014/10/25/wolfendale-vs-harman-the-place-of-mathematics/

For the superiority of Harman’s position to Wolfendale’s see: https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2014/12/06/in-praise-of-graham-harman/

On Zizek as a fruitful alternative both to OOO and to its scientistic critics see: https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2016/06/20/scientism-as-blindspot-zizek-vs-wolfendale/

A reminder about previous critics of OOO who have conveniently been forgotten by both sides see: https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2016/03/06/being-fair-to-wolfendale/

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POETIC BLOGGING AND THE READER’S NEED

Sometimes I get strange reactions to my posts, comments and replies that have more to do with the reader’s need to express themselves or to provoke a response on my part than with anything that I have actually written. I do not disdain such exchanges as for me blogging is throwing a message in a bottle into the sea, only the sea is intelligent as in SOLARIS, an alien intelligence with needs and contexts unknown to me, unpredictable. These reactions are themselves poetic fragments of unknown import.

All I can say in such cases is: thanks for the discussion, I am happy to have poetised for you in your time of need.

 

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