WHY LARUELLE? WHY NOW?: Reflections on some recent trends in Continental Philosophy

We are living through a period of intellectual regression in the realm of Continental Philosophy, a regression that proclaims itself to be a decisive progress beyond the merely negative and critical philosophies of the recent past. Yet the philosophies of Deleuze, Foucault, Derrida and Lyotard cannot be summed up in the image of pure critique. Their critical dissolution of the dogmatic residues contained in even the most  innovative philosophies they had encountered did not leave us in a powerless void of negativity and paralysis. Beyond the critique of the new figures of transcendence and ontotheology they gave concrete sketches of how to see the world in terms of a very different sort of ontology based on immanence – a diachronic ontology.

The recent promotion of philosophical successors to this constellation of thinkers of immanence, such as Badiou and Zizek, has not led to any real progress but to a labour of travestying the past (one has only to look at  Badiou’s DELEUZE and Zizek’s ORGANS WITHOUT BODIES) and to a return to such intellectual deadends as Lacanian psychoanalysis. But even these regressive philosophers remain in dialogue, however one-sided and unjust, with their illustrious predecessors, and strive to confront them at the level of conceptual richness that characterised their work. The next step was to keep up the general aura of having “gone beyond” the older supposedly negative thinkers but to radically simplify the conceptual level, presenting easy summary presentations of the new thought while conveniently forgetting the conceptual paths followed.

Both Mehdi Belhaj Kacem and Alexander Galloway agree that it is Badiou’s philsophy that expresses in its purest and most general form the new paradigm that articulmates explicitly what is elsewhere just blithely presupposed as a form of thought too evident to even be aware of. They indicate that the next step in consolidating the regression that Badiou’s philosophy, however innovative, does not initiate but rather registers and legitimates, corresponds to the far less ambitious productions of the object-oriented ontologists. I say far less “ambitious” in the sense of conceptual ambition, because their ambition is of a different order. They are the marketised version of the Badiou-Zizek constellation, and so the extremely politicised tone has been discreetly dissolved to leave a more demagogic packaging to the stale ideas that OOO trumpets ambitiously as the new construction after so much critique. They promulgate a dumbed down de-marxised version of the set-theoretic universe explicated by Badiou.

It is normal that in this context François Laruelle’s philosophy is at last coming into its own. It could not fully succeed while the work of Deleuze and Derrida were in progress, as his critiques of that work were only half-true, based on giving it an ultimately uncharitable reading as remaining within the norms of sufficient philosophy, but other readings are possible. Laruelle pursued over the decades his unwavering commitment to immanence, and this project shines forth now against the background of the regression that Badiou-Zizek-Meillassoux and the OOOxians represent.

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24 Responses to WHY LARUELLE? WHY NOW?: Reflections on some recent trends in Continental Philosophy

  1. cstcstudent says:

    I think that grouping Zizek and Badiou, who I agree are ultimately Statist and regressive, in with Meillassoux and Bryant is a mistake. I like some of your formulations here but SR and OOO and non-philosophy, each in their own way, ultimately tend towards a radically egalitarian comportment – simply one that includes both human and inhuman actors.

    – Dock Currie


  2. Bill B. says:

    Yeah, don’t really see this period as regressive. And Galloway’s piece on SR was so bad, it’s like non-philosophy’s version of Harman’s review of Laruelle, Makes it hard for me to take him seriously as a thinker at all anymore.


  3. Bill B. says:

    And just in the interests of accuracy (not defending them): OOO is not de-Marxized Badiouian set theory. Their positions on math-and-sets vary, but it is inaccurate to characterize them in that way. Harman doesn’t believe that math even describes being, because for him objects in themselves are not even quantifiable in their basic nature.


  4. Jason Hills says:

    Pardon my ignorance, but what does it mean in the wider sense to be “statist?”

    I do think that the OOO movement may be regressive, but I don’t see how “Badiou-Zizek-Meillassoux” is so. I only have a vague familiarity with them, by the way.

    Explanations if one has the time?


    • terenceblake says:

      The most important regression for me concerns the retreat from a diachronic ontology, and so the reintroduction of monist and trascendent structures. Badiou’s eternal truths and his set-theoretic ontology are clear regressions for me. Zizek’s Lacanism is a regression in relation to Deleuze and Guattari’s work together. I think so many French philosophers are intellectually lazy when it comes to the question of psychoanalysis, taking it for granted that they just happened to be born in the country where the most sophisticated psychological analysis was part of their basic education. Meillassoux with his primary and secondary qualities makes me laugh, as does his horrible simplification of the history of philosophy via his concept of correlationism, that prevents him from even seeing every major philosophical advance in the English-speaking world for over a century.


      • Jason Hills says:

        Thanks, Terence.

        Isn’t your “set theoretic” critique of OOO a way to establish it as synchronic? I want to make sure I’m understanding your usage of the term.


  5. terenceblake says:

    The point is not what Harman says about set theory, his “position” on set-theory is non-existent compared to Badiou, but about the structure of his ontological paradigm. There is no claim that he was influenced by Badiou, just that Badiou enounces this sort of paradigm in its purest form. People can be positivists without having read a single positivist text or even having heard of positivism. The same is true for Badiouian-type ontologies.
    Harman’s real objects are devoid of all sensual qualities and are thus reduced to the status of pure elements and combinations of elements. You say that real objects are “not even quantifiable”, and I think this is an important point that makes Harman’s position superior to Meillassoux’s mathematical reductionism. But I think that Harman is left with a hard choice: either real objects are numerically distinct and he falls into a set-theoretic ontology or they are not distinct and they are so noumenally unqualified that the epithet “object” is inappropriate and his ontology becomes totally indeterminate.
    As to Galloway, I have already expressed my ultimate dissatisfaction with his approach, but his pieces on OOO contain far more arguments than Harman’s piece on Laruelle. I have tried to spell out more explicitly parts of his argument here: https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/badiousian-background-to-galloways-argument-vs-dumbing-down-of-the-controversy/ and I have expressed my dissatifaction here:https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2012/12/09/galloway-on-the-way/ .
    I agree that there is something “regressive” or nostalgic about Galloway’s general theoretical stance, as if he were unable to establish full coherence between his various ideas and references. But that is a danger we all have to deal with, once we refuse to be the acolytes of any one philosopher, no matter how all-englobing and convincing, and decide to speak in our own name.


    • Jason Hills says:

      I appreciate Terrence’s structural analysis, and I sympathize with the difficulties of doing it and convincing people of its efficacity. Having read his prior posts, I knew what he meant immediately.


  6. Bill B. says:

    Galloway’s arguments contain almost no substantial reference to the ideas he’s critiquing, and they fail to draw basic distinctions between different schools of thought. You come away with the impression that he didn’t even know what he was talking about.

    On Harman: yes, Objects are basically “noumenal,” but not devoid of all qualities. They have real qualities, which have ontological effects. Very obscure, but not completely blank and elemental.


  7. terenceblake says:

    My big objection to Galloway is that he did not concentrate on just one OOO philosopher, say Harman or Bryant, and that he thought that his structural argument could be applied equally to both. I think this is partly true, but only partly, as he himself has difficulty in seeing things at a purely structural level. For example his discussion of particular programming languages was inadequate, erroneous, and beside the point. I have preferred to concentrate my discussion either on Harman or on Bryant, and only very rarely and tentatively offer some more general arguments. I think we must be very careful with Harman’s pronouncements as he oscillates between a very abstract meta-ontology, an abstract ontology using the same words, and a more intuitive ontology that is contradicted by his meta-position. Harman can give no example of a real object nor of a real quality. When he says for example in his new theory of art that you the spectator are a real object that combines with the art object this is incoherent with his more general system, unless he is using “you” in a thoroughly non-intuitive non-familiar way. Despite talk of real qualities all that can remain is the distinction between real objects, the rest is sensual.


  8. noir-realism says:

    The only problem I see in your critique of OOO is that it leaves out the central issue of causation, of Malebranche, of the crossover of occasionalism and vicarious causation… all this talk of Harman’s objects is like battering a rube Goldberg machine. Yes, Harman is schematic, reducing his schema to a quadruple object: real, real qualities, sensual, sensual qualities. But its his two keys, withdrawal and vicarious causation that underpin the whole system. So it is there that you would need to discover problems, not in the schematics of his objects. You seem to reduce everything to diachronic ontology as if that were all there was.

    Even Deleuze taking from the Stoics envisioned both, an interplay of diachronic and synchronic as part and partial of any toolbox. It was in the difference of how he used those terms against the Platonic and Aristotelian tradition of a metaphysics of representation that matters. Harman wanted to revive that Platonic and Aristotelian tradition under the aegis of substantive formalism. I think this is what you should attack from the get go if this is what you seek.

    Badiou returns to that metaphysics of representation and attacks the very minor traditions of Lucretius and the Stoics that Deleuze followed… Meillassoux is a Pythagorean pure and simple… but his is of an ontology of semiosis of the ’empty sign’… he has yet to get outside that circle, he is burrowing deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of correlationism… he even admits that he wants to push the limits of that correlational paradox to the nth degree.

    I will admit that I do not see anyone presently that has moved things beyond Deleuze or Whitehead… in that sense many of these latest philosophers are caught in the trap of Plato’s net of metaphysics of representation in one form or another… and, yes, Laurelle from non-philosophy – at least from his new Anti-Badiou seems to be moving the ball, yet his language is so personal and outside of the norm that I’m not sure if he will ever truly take hold of the majority of schooled philosophers (even if I admire his work).


    • Jason Hills says:


      I am glad to see serious dialogue here. Can you explain why a structural criticism is not sufficient; i.e., why is a criticism of the subtler aspects of withdrawal and vicarious causation necessary?

      I was under the impression that part of Terence’s argument is to identify Harman as giving a certain kind of argument, and that the classification alone would cinch many of his broader points. Aside, I’m not commenting on the other aspects of the conversation as I am not sufficiently knowledgeable and not due to avoidance.


      • noir-realism says:

        No, feel free…. 😛 No, I did not mean that isn’t a good strategy, what I was inferring to be honest is that if you first demolish the bedrock of the system you do not need to worry about its schematic structure. Just the path I would take… to me the whole idea of these hypothetical ‘real’ objects is a great fiction, an invention to trick out the complications surrounding causality and its dynamics. So it is to causality that I would go in the beginning of any critique, not that I wouldn’t later on in the critique supply the arguments that Terrence has already identified, and which are viable in themselves.


      • Jason Hills says:

        And that’s the one part of Harman that I’ve read carefully and commented upon on my blog at http://immanenttranscedence.blogspot.com/2011/08/thoughts-on-harmans-vicarious-causation.html . I just don’t buy what I’ve seen of his interpretation of tool-being per a withdrawal from relations, and I don’t know many Heideggerian thinkers who do. I mean, I just don’t see it as textually supportable, which is fine, but that also doesn’t mean he should feel entitled to leverage the “intellectual capital” of Heidegger in his defense if he is in fact violating its heart.


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  10. terenceblake says:

    I find Harman’s ideas on causality so ridiculous that I have had no desire to discuss them. The sleight of hand seems particularly patent in the case of his “real objects” and the historical affinity with Althusser on the real object and the critique of the problematic of the subject (correlationism) as unacknowledged precursor attracted all my attention. It is here that Derrida can be seen not as someone that OOO has superseded but rather as someone posing it questions that it cannot answer. Maybe a deeper critique in terms of causality is possible but I think a long detour via Latour would be necessary before I could get around to it.


  11. terenceblake says:

    Jason, yes the set-theoretic ontology is synchronic, which is why according to Lyotard Badiou was obliged to supplement it with a second ontology, that of the event, without ever really being able to include time in his system.


    • Jason Hills says:

      Likewise, reading analytic metaphysics on time and change makes me twitch, because it’s all synchronic–even the “radical” solutons–because they cannot think time as anything other than a spatialized notion. Ok, I’m generalizing a bit, and I’m sure some specialists have gone past that, but the average members of the tradition–no.

      Yeah, I don’t think that one really needs to attack causality if one can just hit withdrawal, which is not causality, and note that it reduces every real object to a mathematical point. I’m with Terence on this.


  12. underground-man says:

    Interesting how you think of Badiou and Zizek as representing a regress in continental philsophy. I myself was struck by a similar thought when I read the following:

    “Sartre said in an interview, which I paraphrase: if the communist hypothesis is not right, if it is not practicable, well, that means that humanity is not a thing in itself, not very different from ants or termites. What did he mean by that? If competition, the “free market,” the sum of little pleasures, and the walls that protect you from the desires of the weak, are the alpha and omega of all collective and private existence, then the human animal is not worth a cent.”

    Downright apocalyptic rhetoric, if you ask me. Frankly, rather than as a regress, I see the Badiouan-Zizekian enterprise as the Ardennes offensive of philosophy. Heels in the sand, teeth clenched, all or nothing, communism or misanthropy.


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  14. Kyle says:

    What I want to know is: should I read Laruelle’s Philosophy and Non-Philosophy? Is it worthwhile?

    I can’t seem to find a decent review of it on the web.

    I’m more of Baudrillardian and interested in non-philosophy as ‘radical alterity’ or even the suppostion of such alterity, to induce ruptures of the New, whatever its form or non-form. While the political implications of non-philosophy are interesting, I want to read something about ontology and if you are defining “diachronic ontology” as a sort of Zizekian “non-coincidence of the One with itself” then I am interested in reading up more on that kind of stuff.

    So, other than this post being a bit lost, I want to know: what should I read of Laruelle, Harmann (a friend recently lent me The Quadruple Object), and anybody else you might deem interesting? Or should I just not bother with the whole lot and move onto Deleuze and Derrida (who I’ve been wanting to read for quite some time)?

    Thanks for any and all response!



    • Kyle says:

      I was in the middle of ordering Baudrillard’s “The Ecstasy of Communication” from Amazon and wanted to add some more books to my order, which lead me to way too many hours on the internet trying to find out more about Laruelle. I want that Free Shipping!!! Ha!


  15. terenceblake says:

    Hello Kyle, for more on diachronic ontology you can read my article here: http://www.theoria.fr/is-ontology-making-us-stupid/. Laruelle is tough reading, but I would recommend reading his PRINCIPLES OF PHILOSOPHY. Harman is an ambiguous thinker but I think you should read THE QUADRUPLE OBJECT in conjunction with THE THIRD TABLE (which is only 15 pages long, and can be bought instantly on kindle or ibooks). Deleuze is a must read, and I recommend beginning with DIALOGUES and NEGOTIATIONS to get a good overview. Also his video interview set ABC Primer (you can find a good summary here:http://www.langlab.wayne.edu/cstivale/d-g/abc1.html). Also Bruno Latour is well worth looking into, his latest book is INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE.


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