WOLFENDALE’S CONFLATION OF PLURALISM AND CORRELATIONISM

In his book OBJECT-ORIENTED PHILOSOPHY: THE NOUMENON’S NEW CLOTHES Pete Wolfendale asserts that “pluralism motivates strong correlationism” (346). He sees the break with correlationism that he desires to accomplish as being a break with pluralism and a return to universalism (i.e. monism). He thus treats Harman’s OOO as continuous with poststructuralism. However he seems to exempt the thought of Deleuze and Badiou, both pluralists, from this “bad” configuration of pluralist correlationism and to include Latour’s actor-network approach within it.

This negative judgement of pluralism, insofar as it is rationally motivated, depends on Wolfendale’s reconstruction of what he calls the common “core conceit” of correlationist philosophies:

We briefly mentioned this core conceit of correlationism at the beginning of the last chapter: the idea that knowledge is irredeemably contaminated by its semantic conditions. We are now in a position to see how pluralism radicalises this conceit, by enabling strong correlationism to claim that the separation of the for-us from the in-itself is effected not simply by the inherent plurality of sensibility (e.g., forms of intuition, sensory mechanisms, etc.), but by the inherent plurality of thought as such (e.g., historical thrownness, language games, etc.), (346-347).

The “core conceit” for Wolfendale is the thesis of the theory-ladenness of knowledge, and the consequent pluralism of thought and sensibility that this thesis makes possible. The surprising word in this claim is “contaminated”. The semiotic turn in French theory recognises the pervasiveness of linguistic structuration, but does not for all that reduce everything to language (neither Lyotard, nor Serres, nor Foucault, Badiou, nor Deleuze, nor Stiegler, nor Latour are guilty of that, and even Derrida’s so-called “textualism” is an ambiguous case).

It is this pluralistic dissolution of semantics into a diaspora of historical, cultural, linguistic, and even biological forms that mutates Husserl’s phenomenological suppression of the noumenon into the quasi-mystical celebration of radical alterity that is the mainstay of strong correlationism in the Continental tradition (347).

“Radical alterity”, it must be recalled, is another name for what Meillassoux calls the “great outdoors”. Alterity, in other words, is the name for the non-correlational intent and structure of the pluralist thought that Wolfendale is condemning here.

The pejorative use of the expression “quasi-mystical celebration” also is also out of place here, and unjustly partisan: if any of these thinkers is “quasi-mystical” it is Meillassoux, with his God Who May Be.

In a book whose principal target is supposed to be Graham Harman’s object-oriented philosophy Wolfendale goes out of his way to associate OOP with the unrelated idea of pluralism. Thus he conceives his critique to be much wider in scope and more general general in import than its immediate object:

The parallel between this critical shift from universalism to pluralism and the sceptical shift from weak to strong correlationism indexes the reigning doxa of the Continental tradition in the latter half of the twentieth century (348-349).

It would be interesting to know which philosophers Wolfendale has in mind when he refers to “pluralism”. Deleuze was a pluralist, and not a “sceptic” in Wolfendale’s sense. Serres, Latour, Feyerabend, Lyotard and Foucault can best be described as pluralist realists.

All these philosophers criticised “correlationism” and elaborated non-correlationist philosophies long before Meillassoux was even born (1967).

I myself came to Paris in 1980 to get away from the “correlationism” that was taking over in Continental circles in Sydney. When I arrived Foucault was talking about practices of the self outside the linguistic structures, Deleuze was talking about painting the forces of the outside (Bacon) and lecturing on inhuman perception (cinema), Lyotard was talking about the Sublime (the noncorrelational divergence of the faculties) and Michel Serres was discussing the noise outside the systems. It was all pluralist and non-correlationist.

Since then, I went on to discover Latour’s emphasis on material networks and modes of existence, Stiegler’s material processes of transindividuation, Badiou’s immanence of truths, and Laruelle’s nonphilosophy.

So the major French figures have been consistently “non-correlationist” since long before Meillassoux coined the term correlationism up to today.

Wolfendale’s problem is that he employs a reading grid based on too short a period of time (perhaps 5 years) to interpret a longer and philosophically denser period. This is a fault he shares with Harman, and it gives a very distorted picture indeed of recent philosophical history. The conflation of pluralism and correlationism is a symptom of a serious conceptual failing in his endeavour. His naive attempt to construct a realist view of knowledge that would be free of semantic “contamination” bespeaks an underlying conflation of realism with empiricism.

 

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One Response to WOLFENDALE’S CONFLATION OF PLURALISM AND CORRELATIONISM

  1. Pingback: BEING FAIR TO WOLFENDALE | AGENT SWARM

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