READING “READING MARX” (3): Althusser un-Marxed

In the discussion of the possible relation between politics and ontology, how are we to distinguish extension theories, based on re-imagined reading and creative repetition of Marx, from replacement theories? What criteria can we use?

THE APOPHATIC VEIL: withdrawal and the last instance

A first response can come from the comparison of Louis Althusser’s thought with that of Graham Harman. Both distinguish the real object from the illusory ideological objects of common sense and of the humanities, both distinguish the real object from the scientific object as product of theoretical work (Althusser’s “theoretical object). The resemblance at this level is so striking that one is entitled to ask: what corresponds to Althusser’s notion of “determination in the last instance” in OOO’s problematic? The answer is “withdrawal”.

We can describe François Laruelle’s non-philosophy as a variant within the problematic of post-Althusserian thought that maintains intact key Althusserian notions such as the distinction between the real object and the theoretical object, and determination in the last instance. Laruelle shares Althusser’s scientism, and acknowledges Marx as influence.

Graham Harman’s OOO is similarly a variant of the post-Althusserian problematic, only de-scientised and de-Marxed. OOO’s doctrine of the real object corresponds to what Zizek calls “full objectivization”. For Harman what really exists in the last instance, behind the apophatic veil of withdrawal, is the real object, the rest is “sensual”, mere sham, illusion.


In contrast to non-philosophy’s doctrine of determination in the last instance and OOO’s de-Marxed equivalent of withdrawal Zizek deploys the notion of “overdetermined” to resist the homogenization imposed by these doctrines. A fully withdrawn real object can never be subject, it is brute substance, pure posit of the non-dialectical imagination, and the same can be said for Laruelle’s withdrawn One.

Given that we are confronted with both a scientistic (Laruelle’s non-philosophy) and a non-scientistic (Harman’s object-oriented ontology) version of replacement theories, it is apparent that the question of scientism is only a surface phenomenon, the symptom of some deeper problem. Following an indication from Deleuze and Guattari we could say that extension theories are committed to the idea that “before Being there is politics” (cf. (A THOUSAND PLATEAUS, 203). Replacement theories in contrast place Being (or in the case of Laruelle the Real) before politics.

ANTAGONISM: the obstacle is the access

The question of whether one refers to Marx or not is of secondary importance. In Zizek’s eyes, Lacan’s thought belongs to the extension side of the divide, even if his mentions of Marx are few and far between. Similarly, Laruelle references Marx and Marxism, but his thought is on the replacement side.

The deeper division, according to Zizek, lies in the antagonistic conception of the barred One. It is not enough that access to the One is barred (last instance, withdrawal). The One is constitutively traversed and constituted by antagonism, distortion, and negativity.

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2 Responses to READING “READING MARX” (3): Althusser un-Marxed

  1. landzek says:

    Why do you call them extension theories? What is extended?


    • terenceblake says:

      I am following Zizek here, who claims that his reply to replacement theories (general ontological theories wishing to replace Marx-influenced Continental theories). He presents his reply as an imaginative extrapolation (extension) of what Marx could have replied.

      Liked by 1 person

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