BRASSIER vs HARMAN: reciprocal correlationism

I did not like Brassier’s postface as much as Wolfendale’s preface, no doubt because he combines his personal anamnesis of an ex-speculative realist with what I regard as a completely false historical narrative about the omnipresence of a correlationist orthodoxy and the attempted “breakout” that SR represented. This breakout was a failure supposedly due to the capture of the movement by Harmanian branding and marketing. As we saw in the last two posts, Wolfendale associates Harman’s OOP with scepticism and pluralism. Brassier tries to associate it with scepticism and “dandyism” posited as hallmarks of poststructuralism.

A strange feature of Brassier’s argument in the postface is that he associates correlationism and its “pervasive epistemological scepticism” (405) with the poststructuralist critique of representation. He even goes so far as to assert the existence of an “anti-representational (or ‘correlationist’) consensus” (417), in agreement with Wolfendale’s notion of “orthodox correlationism” as the “conceptual core” of the “sceptico-critical hegemony” (359). It follows from this conceptually misguided and historically false premise that the critique of correlationism is tied to an escape from scepticism and a return to representation.

We are moving at a very general and abstract level of discussion here, where words may be employed with different acceptions depending on the author’s problematic. But as a historical thesis about the concept of representation as actually used in recent Continental philosophy this is the exact opposite of the situation. The critique of representation, for example in Deleuze’s analysis of the image of thought, is the critique of “correlationism” (if one must use that misleading term). Representation is analysed as constructing the world in its own image and repressing awareness of this constructive activity, it is denounced as unconscious correlationism. That is to say that the critique of correlationism began and was accomplished long before Meillassoux set pen to paper. A return to representation risks being a return to the dogmatic image of thought and to its implicit correlational functioning.

This is why I do not like the term “correlationism”. If one can be an unconscious correlationist, all the while thinking one is a realist, it seems to me that anyone and everyone can be diagnosed as “correlationist” according to a dogmatic stance imported from outside into the debate. Similarly, the concept of representation is equally ambiguous, as both its proscription and its defence could be called correlationist. In its diagnostic use correlationism is not a clear and stable notion capable of serving as a demarcation criterion between “sceptical” and “scientistic” positions (as each calls the other).

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6 Responses to BRASSIER vs HARMAN: reciprocal correlationism

  1. “But as a historical thesis about the concept of representation as actually used in recent Continental philosophy this is the exact opposite of the situation.”

    From how I understood QM’s critique, while historical in situating its emergence with Kant (though he seems to switch to Berkley later on), it is also systematic insofar as its isolating and critiquing a methodology. So, in raising the above concern, you are not offering a defeater but rather a counter and a counter requires support:

    “The critique of representation, for example in Deleuze’s analysis of the image of thought, is the critique of “correlationism” (if one must use that misleading term).”

    The problem here is that your support is insufficient. Simply because QM address GD in his systematic critique:

    “The second metaphysical strategy, [. . .] consists in *absolutizing the correlation itself*. [. . .] A metaphysics of this type may select form among various forms of subjectivity, but it is invariably characterized by the fact that it hypostatizes some mental, sentient, or vital term: representation in the Leibnizian; Schelling’s Nature, or the objective subject-object; Hegelian Mind; Schopenhauer’s Will; the Will (or *Wills*) to Power in Nietzsche; perception loaded with memory in Bergson; Deleuze’s Life, etc.

    Even in those cases where the vitalist hypostatization of the correlation (as in Nietzsche or Deleuze) is explicitly identified with a critique of ‘the subject’ or of ‘metaphysics’, it shares with speculative idealism the same twofold decisions which ensures its irreducibility to naive realism or some variant of transcendental idealism:

    1. Nothing can be unless it is some form of relation-to-the-world (consequently the Epicurean atom, which has neither intelligence, nor will, nor life, is impossible).
    2. The previous proposition must be understood in an absolute sense rather than as merely relative to our knowledge.

    [. . .]

    Thus, the rivalry between the metaphysics of Life and the metaphysics of Mind masks an underlying agreement which both have inherited from transcendentalism – anything that is totally a-subjective cannot be.” (37-38)

    While you can disagree and argue against this claim, it is not sufficient to simply state a contrary. So, while there are ways in which the term “correlation” is in need of refining, your charge of ambiguity seems — based off the Deleuze example — to speak to a desire to think *around* the notion rather than *through* it.

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    • terenceblake says:

      I have discussed the notion of correlation in many places, particularly in relation to its philosophical ancestor: Althusser’s notion of the “problematic of the subject”. The notion of “hypostatization” is just as problematic, and not a useful demarcation criterion. Many have replied that Meillassoux too is guilty of hypostatization, in that he hypostatizes mathematics. The argument that Deleuze “hypostatizes” life is more a pun than a real argument, as Deleuze is not invoking the ordinary common sense or scientific notions but one defined in terms of immanence, i.e. of non-hypostatization. Meillassoux is just incapable of making his argument stick with any major French poststructuralist philosopher, neither Deleuze, nor Foucault, nor Lyotard, nor Derrida, nor Serres are correlationists in any robust sense, and were busy criticising correlationism before Meillassoux was even born. The problem is that “correlationism” has a seemingly precise, but rather limited, meaning and then gets a huge extension by metaphorical resonance. Nietzsche and Deleuze are realists, pluralist realists, and Meillassoux’s crude analyses are certainly inadequately argued in relation to his poststructuralist predecessors. His bifurcational scenography in terms of primary and secondary qualities imports a subject/object problematic into discussions that had long left such thinking behind. So I would say the burden of proof both in general as to the originality and pertinence of his critique, and specifically in terms of the thinkers liable to be branded correlationist remains with Meillassoux.

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      • Thanks for the response.

        A Preface: While I am no expert on Deleuze, I have spent a good deal of time studying him and being inspired by him. So I don’t want to come off as throwing Deleuze under the bus. I simply agree with others smarter than me that there are some limits to this metaphysics.

        “The argument that Deleuze “hypostatizes” life is more a pun than a real argument, as Deleuze is not invoking the ordinary common sense or scientific notions but one defined in terms of immanence, i.e. of non-hypostatization.”

        While you are right that QM doesn’t get into the particulars of GD’s system, I think his points still merit pause — if simply for the fact that they resonate with a chorus of critiques from the likes of Badiou, Brassier and Ian Hamilton Grant (and Peter Hallward, but he is kinda down stream from Badiou), all of which regard Deleuze — for better or worse — an idealist. For the former two this is for the worse, for the former one, this is for the better. So I see the charge of idealism as a fair one, and in need of engagement. And insofar as the conception “correlationism” is, in a certain sense, identifying a certain form of idealism, I find QM’s charge to be appropriate.

        “The problem is that “correlationism” has a seemingly precise, but rather limited, meaning and then gets a huge extension by metaphorical resonance.”

        But we can say this about any technical concept: Idea, transcendental, differance, etc. A concept having residual effects (and defects) is not sufficient cause to throw out the concept. This is simply part of the life of a concept. (A good example of this is the transcendental in Germain Idealism).

        “Nietzsche and Deleuze are realists, pluralist realists, and Meillassoux’s crude analyses are certainly inadequately argued in relation to his poststructuralist predecessors.”

        The question isn’t whether GD (and Nietzsche) are realists. But rather, what exactly were they are realist about? As Grant has convincingly argued, the Problem-Idea plays a central role in Deleuze’s system and, irrespective of whether he is a philosopher of the One (a la Badiou), Deleuze is better categorized (if at all possible) as a heterodox Idealist – or a sophisticated Panpsychist. One could makes the inverse argument that he is a realist insofar as the Idea is real. But I think the mirrored relation between those two positions renders the counter impotent against the initial charge. Everything being “real” is no different than nothing being “real”.

        “So I would say the burden of proof both in general as to the originality and pertinence of his critique, and specifically in terms of the thinkers liable to be branded correlationist remains with Meillassoux.”

        As I have said, I grant that Deleuze simply makes a cameo appearance in the “Idealist” scene of AF, but it nevertheless joins the choir of similar concerns regarding the nature of Deleuze’s system (Badiou, Brassier, Grant, etc.) and thus merits pause.

        I recognize that getting into these details was not the purpose of the post. But I think the claims made in the post were in need of justification, seeing as there seemed to be blatant accounts to the contrary. Broadly, my point was to attempt a defense of the concept of correlationism despite its naive proliferation. Brassier’s taking up of the concept as an epistemological problem (against QM!) is no different than Hegel or Schelling (or Deleuze!) taking up of the concept of the transcendental or Heidegger or Derrida taking up Husserl’s concept of intentionality. While they all use the concept, no one would say that is used the same way across the board.

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  2. terenceblake says:

    In your list of thinkers who regard Deleuze as in some sense “idealist”, you call add Laruelle. My response there is that perhaps we should differentiate between an idealist or correlationist theory and a correlationist practice of that theory. For me there is no doubt that the Deleuze of DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION is already analysing and criticising correlationism under the name of representation. However, he himself came to regard his practice of anti-correlational theorising as itself correlationist, and sought for a non-correlationist practice. This is something that I don’t think is usually seen or taken into account by Badiou, Zizek, Meillassoux, and Laruelle.

    My point on the metaphoric resonance of technical concepts is that Meillassoux may well be able to make the case that Berkeley or Kant are correlationist in the technical sense, Deleuze can only be considered correlationist in the extended metaphorical sense. But then so can everyone, including Meillassoux and Brassier.

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  3. dgolumbia says:

    have really appreciated this series of posts, and confess that I’m a bit disappointed by what you relate of Wolfendale’s remarks (not having the book myself yet), and Brassier’s postface as well. I had hoped the book would have more rigor than that, but it doesn’t sound like it.

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  4. terenceblake says:

    I am beginning to feel like a “foreign body” for both sides of the dispute. I have analysed and criticised OOO for 3 years now and have been constantly ignored by that group. Now I learn that over the same period Wolfendale, in closed discussions with his intellectual friends, has been doing the same and making often very similar criticisms to mine, without deigning to include me in the conversation. And rightly so, because even if we agree on our critique we diverge on almost everything else. I am busy asking myself what more general import, if any, can I give to this perplexing non-dialogue, which seems more like a delayed settling of accounts between two factions of a rather insignificant pseudo-movement.

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