MEHDI BELHAJ KACEM AND TRISTAN GARCIA: impressions of an encounter

I just listened to a radio interview with Mehdi Belhaj Kacem and Tristan Garcia on the occasion of the publication of a new book L’ALGÈBRE DE LA TRAGÉDIE, containing the last chapter of Belhaj Kacem’s book L’ESPRIT DU NIHILISME (2009) along with a new postface by Tristan Garcia. L’ESPRIT DU NIHILISME is quite long, 614 pages, and its last chapter (L’Algèbre de la Tragédie), 164 pages, is described by Belhaj Kacem as being the “heart” of that work. The interview is quite interesting in the synoptic vision it gives of contemporary French philosophy.

The context they sketch is that the end of modernity, the end of the great narratives of legitimation, led to a “passion for singularity” as a means of resistance to the temptations of universalism. However, the proliferation of singularities, instead of leading to a new epoch of creativity and intensity has led rather to a generalised lowering of intensity, a fatigue from the labour of negativity that has powered such resistance and deconstruction of the universal. For Mehdi Kacem, this passion for singularity combined with a generalised fatigue are the characteristics of modern nihilism, where the negative has been separated from its energy and become synonymous with exhaustion and depression.

So a sort of paralysis has come over thought, and the temptation is to return to some sort of static universal or to continue in a static dispersion of singularities, in other words return to an All without negativity (reaction) or remain in a negativity without the All (modern nihilism). To regain some measure of health in this “pathological” situation two solutions are indicated

1) a critique from within, a sort of immanent negativity or “Hegelianism of difference” (rather than of unities) – this is Belhaj Kacem’s solution, that he calls “intensive”

2) a pursuit of this nihilistic state to its logical consequences until the pathology heals itself and remission intervenes – this is what he cals the “extensive” solution, indicating that this is what Tristan Garcia’s flat ontology amounts to.

In both cases the post-nihilistic thought is a form of “non-hegemonic” system, acknowleging that it does not furnish the answer to everything, as there is no All that could be captured inside one system. They mention the philosophies of Latour and Meillassoux as examples of this sort of non-hegemonic system, but seem to regard both Speculative Realism and Object-Oriented Ontology as still trying to describe the All of being and so still hegemonic type systems.

Belhaj Kacem emphasises that he has a system, but that it is “non-hegemonic” and also non-academic, as he is an “autodidact” and had no intention of elaborating a system. It happened to him and he became a systematic philosopher “by chance”. He predicts that there will be a proliferation of ontologies, and he regards SR and OOO as part of this movement, but that none will succeed in becoming hegemonic, whether that is their intention or not. Nevertheless, Belhaj Kacem insists that his own system is not an “ontology”, and finds the whole idea of ontology questionable and outmoded, even the “minimal” ontology of Garcia, as there is no All and the time of unitary all-englobing systems is over. He still believes that we need to think being, but that an “ontologic” or logic of being is what is needed, and not an ontology or doctrine of being.

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