This article argues that the conceptual pair pluralism/monism illuminates the recent history of Continental Philosophy far more effectively than the pair realism/materialism.
First we must dispose of an epistemological obstacle. No conceptual panorama of recent Continental Philosophy can give any credence to the internet publicity campaign calling itself “Speculative Realism”, and even less to that potpourri of incoherent slogans that goes under the name of “SR/OOO”. The only advantage of this composite label is to make it very clear that Graham Harman’s OOO is a parasitic philosophy that has grafted itself onto anything and everything that could give it a semblance of existence (Heidegger, Delanda, Latour, and Meillassoux. In reality Harman’s OOO exists only in its role as the official opposition to Speculative Scientism.
The phenomenon that I am calling “speculative scientism” is the rational kernel that lies behind the heterogeneous network of philosophers working in the Continental tradition whose mediatised appellation is “Speculative Realism”. Speculative Scientism is a more appropriate name for this regressive movement that advertises itself as going beyond the limits of “poststructuralism”. Its most wellknown representatives are Quentin Meillassoux, Ray Brassier, Manuel Delanda, Levi Bryant, Peter Wolfendale.
Far from inaugurating, as it proclaims, a new era of rich concrete engagement with the non-human world and of bold speculation outside the confines of the anthropocentric bias of its predecessors, speculative scientism represents rather an impoverishment of thought and a new confinement within abstractions.
In the preface to his LOGICS OF WORLDS Badiou describes the dominant ideology of the contemporary world as a synthesis of bio-materialism and of democratic materialism. This ideological synthesis can be either vitalist, if the “bio-” component dominates, or relativist, if the democratic component dominates. Scientism is the ideological figure when there is a balance between the two extremes. Badiou assigns to philosophy the task of elaborating, in rupture with the dominant ideology and its figures (relativism, vitalism, and scientism) a
prospective metaphysics: capable of enveloping today’s actions and drawing strength, tomorrow, from what these actions will produce (LOGICS OF WORLDS, 7).
He cites Deleuze as one of the thinkers who propose such a prospective metaphysics. One may add that Badiou’s own metaphysics is far from finished, and he is actively working on a third volume of BEING AND EVENT, whose title is THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS, to be published in 2017.
Far from providing us with a prospective metaphysics, Speculative Scientism incarnates the nostalgic desire to reinforce philosophical speculation by subordinating it to a putative scientific worldview based on the retrospective synthesis of cherry-picked hypotheses and results.
In a recent blog post, Alexander Galloway offers a survey of recent trends in Continental Philosophy. This attempted survey is doubly deficient, as (1) Galloway ignores both the real pluralism of existing philosophical positions, and also (2) theoretical pluralism does not feature in his survey except indirectly.
Those philosophers who Galloway calls the “reticular empiricists”, Deleuze and Latour, are in fact pluralists who criticise subject-object empiricism and reticular reductionism. Thus the major player in the philosophical game of the last 60 years, namely ontological and epistemological pluralism, is travestied and then dismissed. Galloway’s own stance here is more a matter of positioning and of self-positioning than of real conceptual investigation. I have no objection to such rapid panoramas, Badiou does them quite well, but they do need more conceptual backbone than Galloway is equipped to give.
Thus Galloway’s discussion of recent philosophical history is based on a nonrepresentative sampling of positions and on a mis-characterisation of those positions selected. The most striking instance of this is in his characterisation of what he calls “reticular empiricism”, as espoused by Deleuze and Latour. This expression is doubly erroneous. Firstly it occults the nature of their thought, as it occults the fact that Deleuze and Latour are materialists, and that their whole work contains a critique of the “empiricism” of the kind that presupposes the bifurcation between subject and object. When Deleuze and Latour present themselves as advocates of “empiricism”, they are employing the term as a synonym of pluralism.
Secondly, the expression “reticular empiricism” travesties their thought, as it hides the fact that both have produced powerful critiques of the hegemony of the network paradigm. In RHIZOME, the magnificent introduction to A THOUSAND PLATEAUS, Deleuze and Guattari analyse two key forms of network: the tree and the radicle. Both types of network are rejected as unable to accomodate a real pluralism, but as subordinating multiplicity to the hegemony of the network-paradigm. Then comes their demand to inverse this state of affairs, and to give primacy to multiplicity:
In truth, it is not enough to say, “Long live the multiple,” difficult as it is to raise that cry. No typographical, lexical, or even syntactical cleverness is enough to make it heard. The multiple must be made, not by always adding a higher dimension, but rather in the simplest of ways, by dint of sobriety, with the number of dimensions one already has available always
n – 1 (the only way the one belongs to the multiple: always subtracted). Subtract the unique from the multiplicity to be constituted; write at n – 1 dimensions (6).
Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy is one of pluralism, whose principle concept is that of multiplicity. The passage cited continues
One system of this kind could be called a rhizome.
I have modified the translation, reading “one” instead of “a”, to bring out the idea that the network is subordinated to multiplicity, and that the rhizome is only one instantiation of the more general idea of multiplicity. In other words the primary idea is pluralism, and multiplicities may be conceived outside the network-paradigm. This pluralism is what provides the link between the later and the earlier periods of Deleuze’s work, something which talk of “reticular empiricism” is incapable of doing.
Similar remarks can be made for Latour, who is particularly interesting in this regard. His latest book AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE (AIME) begins with a critique of the network-paradigm as insufficient to account for the qualitatively different beings that transit in these networks. He shows us that each of his earlier “reticular” works not only analysed a particular network, but was already a contribution to the articulation of one of an open number of incommensurable modes of existence. The particular network was foregrounded, but over the decades the pluralism of modes of existence was the guiding principle in the choice of the heterogeneous networks to be studied. This pluralism of modes is reinforced by the pluralist principle of being-as-other that subtends it.
Thus, in the case of both Deleuze and Latour, their later books (RHIZOME, AIME) make it clear for all to see that their ealier works were already a critique of reticulism, or network reductionism. Deleuze’s multiplicities and Latour’s being-as-other are pluralist principles of a prospective metaphysics where they are conceived as prior to and more fundamental than the monist principle of the network.
To sum up:
The term poststructuralism is strictly a misnomer, as Feyerabend, Deleuze, Derrida, Serres, Foucault, and Lyotard were already “poststructuralist” before structuralism ever existed. “Structuralism” was a similarly regressive scientistic movement to Speculative Realism. Either you refuse credence to these denominations as mere media tags, or you try to give some conceptual content to them. For me the content behind post-structuralism is pluralist diachronic ontology. This characterises Feyerabend and Deleuze quite well, and also Stiegler, Latour, and Laruelle. The content behind Speculative Realism is scientism.
Thus “Speculative Scientism” is the more appropriate term to describe this movement, just as speculative idealism is the best name for Harman’s parasitic sub-philosophy of OOO. If we accept the hybrid figure of SR/OOO, neither realism nor materialism are in its unique possession. Deleuze and Latour are both realists and materialists (although you would not guess this from Galloway’s post), but they do not fall into the trap of scientism. “Reticular empiricism” does not describe any real position, it is an artefact of Galloway’s media theorist’s approach to philosophy. Deleuze and Latour are not prisoners of the network, but analyse and critique it from the point of view of pluralism.