REVIEW OF WOLFENDALE (5): The Non-Existence of Speculative Realism is Noone’s Property

I did not like Ray Brassier’s postface to the book as much as Wolfendale’s preface, no doubt because in it he combines his own personal anamnesis as an ex-speculative realist with the promulgation of what I regard as a completely false and intellectually harmful historical narrative about the omnipresence of a correlationist orthodoxy and about 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 have seen, Wolfendale associates Harman’s OOP with scepticism and pluralism. In a similar vein 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 this association that he tries to establish between 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, as Wolfendale claims is the case with Harman, it would seem that anyone and everyone can be diagnosed as “correlationist” when viewed in terms of a dogmatically maintained stance on reality imported from outside commitments into the debate. Similarly, the concept of representation viewed in these terms is itself 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).

However, on the question of the association established between correlationism and reductionism, I do not think that accusations of “reductionism” depend necessarily for their validity on a model that gives pre-eminence to scientific explanation. We must distinguish between intra-regional reduction (e.g. within the sciences, but equally within politics or psychoanalysis) and inter-regional reduction, where one or more regional ontologies are reduced to another. Brassier himself can just as plausibly be accused of naturalistic (or even “scientistic”) reductionism if he gives ontological primacy to the natural realm to the point of reducing other proposed forms of existence to that realm. On the other hand, Harman can be accused of anti-natural reductionism, in that he reduces all reality to his realm of real objects, declaring sensual objects, i.e. the objects of the sciences, of the humanities, and of common sense, to be “utter shams”.

Thus tere are 2 points that I find positive in Harman’s philosophy:

1) Anti-scientism: Harman assigns only a regional validity to scientific truths and denies the pretention of scientists to cognitive hegemony. This is important as there has been a recent return to scientism in Anglophone Continental Philosophy. The valorisation of science and mathematics is a turn which constitutes merely an alternative version of the flight from pluralism.

2) Anti-literalism: Harman defends the use of “allusive” language and style against the primacy of referential language and literal understanding. The new scientism valorises a referential mode of language, freed from its ambiguities and from its metaphorical substrate.

It is the presence of these two traits that helps to explain why scientistic objections to Harman are ultimately unconvincing. No argumentative strategy can succeed in its critique of OOO if it does not acknowledge the positive nature of Harman’s anti-scientism and his anti-literalism.of these two hypotheses and their ensuing suggestions.

Wolfendale, like Brassier, is scientistic and literalistic, and despite scoring many points against Harman’s system he cannot provide a convincing alternative ontological hypothesis.

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