This strange logic of supplementation, where the seemingly derivative supplement to a philosophical system becomes hegemonic and all-pervasive, such that its proponents talk of the supplement almost all the time (to the detriment of its fundamental principles and self-declared original themes), is typical of recent movements in Continental philosophy.
OBJECT-ORIENTED PHILOSOPHY: beyond the apophatic veil
Graham Harman’s object-oriented ontology starts with the fundamental posit that objects withdraw from relations. This is a powerful ontological thesis, but it leaves adherents in an enunciative void. It is in principle impossible to say anything about what is behind the apophatic veil of withdrawal.
To remedy this problem the real ontology requires the supplement of a second, sensual ontology, and pretty soon OOO is talking only about these supplementary sensual objects and relations. The much-touted return to the real becomes inverted into a renewed and reinforced immersion in illusion with a strong ontological prohibition of escape.
This sort of supplementation intended to cover over a weak point in one’s system, rather than to re-think or modify it, transforms a philosophy into its opposite.
NON-PHILOSOPHY: scientism’s non-self-overcoming
A similar process is at work in François Laruelle’s thought. Non-philosophy’s critique of standard philosophy’s failure to attain immanence needs to be supplemented by a notion of “transcendental” science, i.e. no science at all.
This purported science then becomes the thematic core of its enunciated content, and the formal law of its enunciation. The supplement takes over.
This is the deeper reason for Laruelle’s “quantum” turn. For a long time he was unable to critique his scientism – neither from without (as he is hindered by his non-philosophical blinkers, that blinded him to the existence of thought that escapes his critiques) nor from within (as his scientism pervades both everything he says and how he says it).
Laruelle was obliged to search within science itself a way out of scientism. In doing so he came to elevate an empirical discipline, quantum physics, to the position of transcendent principle, indulging in precisely the sort of manoeuvre that non-philosophy originally set out to critique and go beyond.
AIME: élitist posits as empirical inquiry
Bruno Latour’s AIME project proceeded in abstraction from all empirical content. He was obliged to posit a special religious mode of existence serving to ratify his own prejudices as to the underlying, and irrefutable, Catholicity of our society. Multiplying the modes of existence left him free to posit anything that suited his purposes.
The need to dissimulate this method of free positing explains why concrete “inquiry” became the key word for Latour’s methodological supplement to a basically dogmatic abstract approach.
At the level of form, AIME’s pluralistic post-scientific, post-referential truth ontological project is very abstract. As we have seen, it needed to be supplemented by the fiction of a concrete “inquiry”.
At the level of content, the inquiry needed to be supplemented by some empirical datum to produce the illusion of concrete application. Hence Latour’s logorrhea on Gaia, which as a multi-modal object is strictly incompatible with his system.
Notwithstanding this incompatibility, Gaia functions both as empirical supplement and retroactive legitimation to a shoddily constructed ontological system.
CONCLUSION: bridge hypotheses and supplement as mind-trick
In all these cases we have an originally innovative abstract hypothesis finding itself in need of bridging principles to relate its abstractions to our concrete life. These ad hoc bridges serve also to immunise the hypothesis from all critiques of its obvious failings.
Thus one can have one’s ontological cake (speculative boldness) and eat it too (empirical adequation). The more mind-bending your ontology the more arbitrary and desperate is the supplementation it needs to get back to the empirical world.