I used to be impressed by the critique of critique. However, when I was an undergraduate in philosophy, the Althusserians took over my department and insituted a programme of “critique of ideology”, which amounted to producing a critique of every other department in the University. Strangely, despite the fact that I was from the beginning explicitly and publicly anti-Althusserian for epistemological reasons, I was given the job of tutor for the epistemological module, called “critique of science”, for several years in a row. For me this tolerance was the sign that the Althusserian Department of General Philosophy was the successor and inheritor of the struggle of the much more philosophically diverse public that had preceded and contributed to its formation, and so for a while they maintained a certain degree of continuity with the “Romantic” critique that had been practiced before their rationalist takeover. For them, this critique of the ideology surrounding the practice and teaching of science was merely a necessary part of the application of their critical paradigm. After them came the Lacanians and the Derrideans, who began the critique of critique in theory, and who liquidated all that critique in practice, in favour of a post-modern textual experimentation.
So I am very aware of the motivations, the stakes, and the limits of the gambit of claiming that it is now the time to abandon the effervescence of speculation and to engage in critical analysis. Such analysis involves the clarification and the critique of all the metaphysical and ideological prejudices of its adversaries. Its radicalised version extends this critique to our own presuppositions. The end result is silence and paralysis, or else superficial (or cynical) play detached from all reference to the real. Speculative theory with any realist ambition is disqualified.
Lyotard once remarked that since both naive realism and deconstructive anti-realism were untenable, what was left was to combine the two in a limping progress, teetering from one to the other in a zigzag path. For me this “limping” describes the halting, crooked methods of post-structuralist thinkers such as Deleuze, Lyotard, and Feyerabend, and if the epithet “speculative realism” were to have any content it would designate this heuristic pluralist methodology and the speculative ventures of these thinkers rather than the regressive productions of their self-styled successors.
The “new” speculation abandons critique for a simpler relation to the real, more optimistic and more direct. The practical implementation of this attitude involves an impatience with and rejection of any critical discussion. Negativity, formerly the ally of speculation, is now rejected and repelled, and readers of the new speculative realist texts are invited in effect to “like it or lump it”, i.e. to adhere to the movement of speculation or to go elsewhere and create their own movement – as if social impetus was considered to be more important than intellectual embrace. We are treated to a “Nietzschean” contempt for the sterility of the critic compared to fecondity of the creator (i.e. the writer of academic articles and books, which is not a very Nietzschean idea of creation).
My problem with such an attitude is that these texts are distributeded to be bought and to be read by a large proportion of people who do not themselves write and publish. Is the ordinary reader supposed just to cough up the cash and to keep silent, to stifle any critical thought, because he or she is not a “creator”? If we include the reader in our purview the proud slogans against critique take on a more sinister import, transcribing and repeating the image of thought of the neo-liberal era: just buy, consume and applaud, let us do the thinking for you.