READING « READING MARX » (1): replacement theories, scientism and the denial of time

I will be blogging my reading of « READING MARX » by Slavoj Zizek, Frank Ruda, and Agon Hamza, Chapter One by Zizek: « Marx Reads Object-Oriented Ontology ».

1) REPLACEMENT THEORIES: de-marxised ontologies

In the opening lines Zizek writes:

« The reading of Marx we really need today is not so much a direct reading of his texts as an imagined reading: the anachronistic practice of imagining how Marx would have answered to new theories proposed to replace the supposedly outdated Marxism » (page 17).

Zizek’s « imagined reading » outlines how Marx might have replied to a « complex field » of proposed replacement theories. Among these candidate successor theories he specifically cites object-oriented ontology, new materialism, and assemblage theory. He finds them to be superficially opposed variants of the same underlying ontology.

I do not wish to repeat mechanically Zizek’s analysis and examples, I prefer to substitute my own examples to test his analyses and to explore their convergences and divergences with my ongoing inquiry into contemporary Continental ontologies. On this blog, I have been analysing a different set of replacement theories (Graham Harman’s OOO, François Laruelle’s NP) and Bruno Latour’s AIME project). My analysis is convergent with Zizek’s on important points, although it differs on others.

My analysis of these replacement theories is in terms of post-Althusserian problematics. Althusser is not only an important predecessor, he determined and exemplified many of the terms of  the current conjuncture. His thought went through a scientistic phase, but he was able to overcome this scientism in the course of his ongoing self-criticism. This progress was not only epistemological, but also ontological. Althusser’s later aleatory materialism is a form of “quantum” thinking, elaborated in part at least in dialogue with Deleuze’s thought.

2) SCIENTISM: Laruellean denialism and Laruelle’s failed self-criticism

Laruelle’s non-philosophy is indebted to both Althusser and Deleuze, without his having given proper acknowledgement to either. In contrast, Laruelle’s scientism is a throwback to the earlier Althusser, and his own self-criticism is only very partially accomplished.

This problem of scientism highlights the dogmatic, nostalgic, monistic side of Laruelle that I have always rejected. Laruelleans typically deny that Laruelle is guilty of scientism, despite its presence on virtually every page he wrote.

The problem with this denialism in his disciples is that Laruelle himself acknowledges the problem, and claims to struggle against its primacy in his own work. Despite this admission, I think that Laruelle still fails to escape scientism. This is also Deleuze and Guattari’s conclusion in their discussion of Laruelle in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?

Even if scientism is a real problem, I do not think that it is the principal one today. Both Harman’s and Latour’s projects are vigilant in their anti-scientism. However, they share with Laruelle a reductive impoverished ontology that requires supplementation to bring it back to a semblance of concrete relevance.

3) DEMI-POST-STRUCTURALISM: the absence of time

An important instance of this impoverishment is the absence of time in the three systems that I discuss (OOO, NP, AIME). Each is in need of diachronic supplementation to what is basically a synchronic system.

1) Graham Harman has made the explanation of change a central aspect of his polemic against relational ontologies. Yet he himself is incapable not only of explaining change, but even of acknowledging its reality: for Harman’s OOO time is unreal, a mere « sensual » supplement to real objects and relations.

2) Laruelle’s system is a-temporal (the Real) and structuralist (philosophy regimented by an invariant principle of sufficiency). Some Laruelleans try to remediate this defect by means of a standard temporal supplement (Bergson) or of a non-standard operator of temporalisation (« performance »).

3) Latour’s AIME project also suffers from the lack of a temporal dimension: the modes of existence are too incommensurable to interfere with each other, and so change can only come from outside the modes.

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