HARMAN AS POST-BADIOUSIAN EPIGONE: Review of Mehdi Belhaj Kacem’s “Lettre à Tristan Garcia”

My review of Mehdi Belhaj Kacem’s “Lettre à Tristan Garcia”:

It can also be found on my academia.edu page, here.

A revised and extended French version has been published in a special issue of PHILOSOPHIQUE devoted to Mehdi Belhaj Kacem.

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11 Responses to HARMAN AS POST-BADIOUSIAN EPIGONE: Review of Mehdi Belhaj Kacem’s “Lettre à Tristan Garcia”

  1. Jason Hills says:

    Interesting, Terence.

    I have also made an analogue of each of the three critiques at my blog, although directed more at Levi Bryant than Graham Harman: inconsistent Kantianism, flat epistemology, and anthropologism. Although, I parsed the issues as a self-contradictory ontology.That is, if withdrawal is absolute, how can anyone enter a relation with in in order to know it? And if no mode of knowing is privileged, even gaining the relation gives one nothing since the knowledge gained has no special value. In Levi Bryant’s case, I critique his Bhaskarian transcendental argumentation as unable to grant his conclusions given his explicit premises, though I cannot speak for Harman. Finally, the last point is quite appropriate as well. Even if the two previous issues were resolved, then why are we privileging the human articulation of object-hood?

    My answer to all of these, by the way, is that the movement is driven by a few persistent and creative minds who know that careers are made by making waves. In that case, CANONBALL!!!!!!


  2. Leon says:

    Has MBK’s essay been translated into English? Alot of this seems on point. As Jason points out, these are some fairly problematic areas that, for years, I have been waiting to see addressed – but, alas, nothing. Inconsistent Kantianism for me means that, if there is such as thing as a “hermetic seal” closing up any individual in the universe ,then withdrawal is indeed absolute – and this contradicts the metaphysical positivity of the claim (essentially a Hegelian critique of Kantian fideism would apply here). However, also, if such a withdrawal is absolute then this would mean that one is left with *mythology,* not an ontology: a fideism of the worst kind, worse than any postmodern theology could ever dream of. I’ve also always thought that this was a sneaking form of correlationism in hiding: things are always correlated to that posited interior which runs away; without it there is nothing to run from relations.

    Second, the following point is that if the above is true, then the ontology is hardly “flat” – each item of the universe (as you’ve pointed out in the past, Terry) *transcends* into itself…but yet we need to discuss the inner core of whatever (any item, any object) and so this would be some form of affective communication, presumably – yet this, too, defeats the logic proposed by things either hermetically sealed or continually outrunning relations. Affectivity would leave a trace outward, as it were, there must be communicable properties if things enter into relation with other things at a very minimum. This is why this “post-relationalism” business bothers me. There is no account of change, the most elementary form of relation. Unless we live in a static universe (we don’t) I can’t see how one just sucks time out of the interior – one which presumably we know nothing about (or very little).

    We can’t just *assert* that things change and walk away. There are huge consequences for a theory of change give the *problematic* of internal and external relations (which was never addessed…not once). So to sum: fideism, the impossibility of a flat ontology, a hidden correlationism co-relating an interior to relations that that interior supposedly outruns (for without the relations would the interior possess the property of inexhaustibility or not?), the problem of internal/external relations, the problem of change, and that’s just the start.

    If I can find some time I’d like to read MBK’s essay and then respond to your post.


    • Jason Hills says:


      I think the “outrunning relations” is different for Harman vs. Bryant (vicarious causation vs. some kind of dynamism), and thus you’d need to level a different counter-argument for each when it comes to change.


      • terenceblake says:

        Jason and Leon, thans for your comments. I keep most of my arguments concerning OOO limited to Harman, as his position is very different from Bryant’s. One of the big differences is that he actually has a determinate position.


  3. Hits the nail on the head. Certainly, we need a level-headed intervention like this to counter OOO’s more bizarre claims. But as I said in my previous posts, OOO is another sufficiency that I can tolerate. Way to go, Terence!


  4. terenceblake says:

    Thanks Virgilio. I can tolerate OOO, and I was initially attracted by its ideas. It’s more the dogmatism, the exclusionism, and the rhetoric that I can’t abide.


  5. Leon says:

    Jason, Terrance, Virgilio,
    By “outrunning relations” I mean that any interior is never *exhausted* by its relations nor is any interior ever strictly *constituted by* its relations (therefore it is always “more” than the relations it exhibits or enters into, or it is always “different” in some essential sense from any relation: there are relations and then there are the things related). As I understand it, according to the perspective under discussion, *generally*, things are not their relations – that, is, things are not identical to the sum of relations nor are things constituted by other relations as some sort of an after-effect. A conclusion I could try to draw from that is that there is not just a degree of independence of things from relations, but also that things are absolutely independent of any relation they could possibly enter into, in the sense that whatever relation is given,the entity in question is both distinct from any relation essentially, but is also “more than any relation” in type – in terms of some fundamental activity, such as “withdrawal” or whatever. But if I have that wrong let me know. (This is problematic on several fronts, as my original thought is what is “withdrawal” if nothing other than some primal form of activity, yet that activity *is of a relation* due to the required oriented nature of one thing vis-a-vis another so as to *avoid* that something other – in other words, for withdrawal to work the thing in question must be oriented, in some way, to an other that it seeks to avoid. It would be meaningless as a concept otherwise).

    There seems to be several ways one could go from there: either relations and things are of the same kind, let’s call them particulars (to maintain the most radical pluralism that we can). There are nothing but particulars, and relations, too, are particulars. If we aren’t claiming a “particular-relational” ontology, but a “particular-oriented” ontology, then there are features of particulars which guarantee their independence from relations, relations are needed by the particulars themselves.

    To be honest however, I haven’t seen any detailed argument beyond initial assertions that we are “post relation,” or that relations are subsidiary in that they cannot exhaust any essential nature of whatever item in the universe. If relations, too, however are to be looked as particular things and flattened, then we must account for a few things: how is a relation different from what is being related specifically in terms of function, and why is that function unable to exhaust what is related. Moreover, how is what is being related distinct from (absolutely, and that’s the kicker) from the relation and in what specific sense. I have never read answers to any of those questions.

    I am thinking about the idea of non-relation at the moment and actually am reading two essays about Peirce’s philosophy of mathematics where I may be able to get some answers.


    • Jason Hills says:


      I’m playing devil’s advocate now. I think that if a complete theory of temporality and change were offered, perhaps your question might be answered. As noted, most of the relationality-talk (especially in Bryant) trades on an epistemic-level of analysis that purports to be an ontology. I can imagine that this might be overcome, especially in Harman who might have already solved this, by claiming that identity-in-relation is always dynamic. Heck, even I would claim that, though for very different reasons. If we insist that a metaphysics, to be metaphysics, must propose something about self-identity (provisionally) separate from relation, then someone might proclaim a true temporalist metaphysics and claim that identity is always alienated from itself and becoming other. I suspect this thesis is overly familiar.

      I think the sticking point for *us*, if I step away from playing devil’s advocate, is that we suppose that a metaphysics or ontology must propose something about identity that isn’t vacuous, because “absolute withdrawal” must be vacuous when an “object” is a fundamental unit. Compare Buddhism and sunyata or emptiness, which might be information. Emptiness proposes that any particular (or dharma) is empty of itself *because* it is full of everything else; here we have a radically relational ontology (how radical depends on which specific school or tradition we’re talking about), but still make claims of it. In the end, its the practice of Buddhism that matters and not the theology/philosophy, and that will often get it off the hook and provide theoretical support for its moves, since all thought is in ultimate service of amelioration understood in a certain way.


  6. Leon says:

    This especially rang true here: “identity-in-relation is always dynamic…If we insist that a metaphysics, to be metaphysics, must propose something about self-identity (provisionally) separate from relation, then someone might proclaim a true temporalist metaphysics and claim that identity is always alienated from itself and becoming other.” I think that this is what it comes down to.

    Right now I am working out a theory of what I call “vital negativity” in order to push this “overly familiar” thesis. But, to your above post, I agree that if we bring temporarlity into this that the “post-relation” or “non-relation” claim is going to fall apart.

    I am actually going to turn to two very good articles about Peirce’s mathematical philosophy to explore some of this, but I think I have something. We’ll see what turns up.


  7. Leon says:

    Well, at least it’s not just us. From Urbanomic’s announcement about the upcoming Speculative Aesthetics Roundtable:

    “We think that it is necessary to develop a serious understanding of the ramifications for aesthetics that bypasses the cultural faddishness of OOO”



  8. inthesaltmine says:

    I’ve just caught wind of “Apres Badiou” and will begin reading it very shortly, alongside Laruelle’s “Anti-Badiou”… I must try to contain myself in my remarks against Badiou in these following months.


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