AGAMBEN, LARUELLE, BRATTON: planetary pandemic vs microcosmic academic

I think non-philospher François Laruelle’s work is done, even if some are still catching up. What he has been describing is more collective than he seems to think. The most interesting thinkers today are all doing « non-standard » philosophy, whether they refer to Laruelle or not.

Benjamin Bratton is doing his job as an intellectual responding creatively to the era of the non-standard condition, and doing it better than most, certainly better than the sect of Laruelleans themselves.

Bratton’s willingness and ability to take on a practical problem of planetary scale, the Covid-19 pandemic, show the fecundity of his heuristic.

Giorgio Agamben too was trying to do his job, but was hampered in his efforts by a series of cognitive biases in part detachable from his system of thought (modularity of sub-paradigms) and in part inherent to it (two-cultures syndrome).

Even so, Agamben sketches an ethical awareness to balance the excesses of what can only be called the potential eliminativism of Bratton’s position. Both are responding intellectually to the non-standard condition that the real, and its paradigm-breaking « revenge », imposes.

In contrast, the microcosm of those who talk about non-philosophy and non-standard philosophy has all the allures of a cargo cult. Bearers of a set of obscure texts, often badly translated, they remain lost in abstraction and sterility, prophesying a time that has already come.

Bratton’s style is clear, dense and demanding. He addresses problems that affect everyone’s lives, calls on us to rethink our premises, and instantiates that process of rethinking.

In the name of modularity I criticise some aspects of Bratton’s analysis that I view as separable from the whole, but one can only admire the intellectual mega-machine that subtends it. In this I am following Bratton’s own point that the planetary scale computation he describes is not one unified homogeneous mega-system but that it contains disparate semi-autonomous sub-systems that are at least partially isolable from the « whole ».

I encourage everyone to read Bratton’s THE REVENGE OF THE REAL, not because I agree with everything in it, but as a treatise on the testability and the responsibility of competing research programmes in the conjuncture of a planetary scale experiment in their respective applicability, relevance, and efficacity.

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Benjamin Bratton’s THE REVENGE OF THE REAL (4): historical amnesia and the master-amalgam


Bratton fallaciously self-identifies as a « Boomer »:

« Waves of Boomers, myself included, grew up in a world in which the bad establishment was (supposedly) hierarchical and rationalist » (12).

Bratton was born in 1968, Agamben in 1942. Neither are Boomers (those born 1946 – 1964). This strange autobiographical insertion seems to be an attempt to give authenticity to his account, and as such falls into the schema of intuitive empiricism that Bratton constructs as the ideological target of his critique.


This (self-)misrepresentation is no mere detail, it schematises the philosophical opposition that Bratton sets up (between a paradigm of scientific planetary entanglement and one of aesthetic local over-individuation) as a generational divide.

Bratton’s adversaries taken one by one do not stand up to scrutiny, it is only by the resort to a cross-generational amalgam that the argument seems to rise to a high intensity of polemical energy. It is interesting to decompose this amalgam to see that its elements do not constitute valid adversaries (in the sense of rival paradigms) when taken separately

Agamben? taken as one of the master-thinkers for the Boomer generation? We have seen that Agamben’s take on the pandemic does not falsify his general project.

Boomers? Is Bratton actually trying to give a unitary account of the spontaneous ideology of a whole generation? His own account of modularity and heterogeneity undermines this attempt.

Right populists? That’s a rather easy target. A philosophico-scientific critique (as opposed to a philosophically informed political analysis) of the cognitive errors of this disparate assemblage of worldviews does not require the conceptual overkill that a 160 page book on this subject of concern would constitute.

Latour? Bratton laments the absence of philosophical response to the pandemic, but Latour’s texts on this subject are of a quality far superior to Agamben’s elucubrations, and he has been elaborating a different analysis of planetarity and positive bio-political stakes for a long time. Despite this proximity of philosophical projects, Bratton does not mention Latour once in this book.

The idea that the populist right are the inheritors of the Boomer ideology inculcated by pre-Boomer master thinkers such as Agamben and Illich, while demonstrably false, serves to give legitimacy to Bratton’s master-amalgam: Agamben-Boomers-populists.


Bratton in fact constructs a conceptual type, the master-amalgam, composed of a cluster of traits that he claims (falsely) characterises not just « Boomers », but also Agamben, and the contemporary populists. We do not need to dwell on each exemplar, we can view the cluster of traits in itself:

« individualism and autonomy and spontaneous irrationality were (supposedly) a position of resistance » (12).


One cannot accuse Agamben of being an « irrationalist » just because he is critical of scientific medicine and he speaks out for the good of the « little » people – in doing so he is not acting as an individualist either. Agamben’s general project is mis-characterised as « negative biopolitics ». He criticises the negative biopolitics of the State and its accompanying ideology of vitalism, in favour of what he conceives of as a positive biopolitics of human entanglement.

Once again, it is not Agamben’s scientific errors that are irrational, it is his refusal to correct them despite more ample information and thought.


The critique of the individualist ego, the affirmation of entanglement, the construction of a planetarised subjectivity, an awareness of the insufficiency of spontaneity and the tyranny of structurelessness, the de-textualisation of existence were all key struggles of the (« Boomer ») era, and essential parts of its legacy for today. Bratton paints this era in the colours of the populist right, which is rather part of a prolonged reaction against what Derrida called a key moment of « deconstruction in the real ».


Another key figure of the sixties and seventies to be included in the master-amalgam is Ivan Illich, who is classified in the conceptual type of the irrationalist individualist for his refusal of the existing treatments for his cancer, whose side-effect was sedation. Illich chose lucidity and activity over longevity. So did Socrates. This is not irrationalism.

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Benjamin Bratton’s THE REVENGE OF THE REAL (3): Life, the Planet, Everything


I am much more in agreement with Benjamin Bratton’s ideas than those of Agamben. However Bratton falls into the same epistemic trap of paradigm tunnel vision, seeing confirmations of his views everywhere and reducing opposing views, such as those of Agamben, to examples of simplistic stupor.

My own argument differentiates between Agamben’s research programme and his theses on the Covid-19 pandemic. His research programme as such and as a whole is not invalidated by his recent interventions. The problem is that Agamben treats it as an entrenched paradigm in this series of articles, rather than an ongoing project subject to correction and modification. A year later he publishes them in a book with no self-correction.


Bratton talks a lot about hard science (mostly biology and informatics) but he sprinkles his text with very « light » uses to psychoanalytic (return of the repressed, symbolic, imaginary, real) and sociological (e.g. « explosive » decompression) concepts. This mixture raises the question of the epistemological status and argumentative role of the sciences that he deploys.

The book is constructed around the soft use of hard sciences, that are thereby elevated to the status of metaphysical research programmes, e.g. Darwinian conception of life, epidemiology, planetary scale computation. This is no defect to be critiqued, but it is important to keep this metaphysical status in mind. This is not a book of science, but rather a polemical intervention in favour of more science, less tradition.


Bratton leaves no room for philosophical re-conceptions of « life » yet his own conception is a philosophical extrapolation (with some hand-waving) of the « Darwinian » research programme, which is not pure positive science but contains a metaphysical component (as Popper insisted).

Agamben is presented as propounding a pre-modern, pre-Darwinian, pre-scientific, simplistic mode of thought stuck in intuitive concreteness and localised tradition. This whole depiction is inaccurate. Agamben’s thought composes with a modernity of abstraction, complexity, and of global biopolitical struggle, where the question of the modes of entanglement with and by technology is a complex one.

Agamben’s problem is his implementation of a pre-decided incorrigible one-sided orientation that creates and reasons in terms of simplistic demarcations. Bratton likes to talk in terms of « modularity », his planetary scale computation is not a homogeneous monolithic mega-machine but a multi-layered system of inter-locking modularities. The same principle should be applied to reading Agamben’s pronouncements on the pandemic: one should be talking in terms of a sub-paradigmatic module, as his whole body of work is by no means engaged in these pieces.

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Benjamin Bratton’s THE REVENGE OF THE REAL (2): entanglement and (scientific) empiricism


Benjamin Bratton declares that contrary to the traditions of « blunt segregation » we must not blame « unnatural global entanglement » for the genesis of the epidemic. We are inextricably entangled with entanglement:

« Entanglement is the baseline, not the exception » (2).


Entanglement is not just an evolutionary fact but an image of thought and a principle of demarcation.

« Any viable post-pandemic politics must be based on more pluralized and entangled frames of reference »(67).

However, in his dispute with « philosophy » Bratton is trying to dis-entangle this thought. from its noetic network, constituting itself as a « rival » hypothesis.


This last quote about pluralization points to a potential form/content ambiguity in Bratton’s discourse. He does not seem to be talking about a plurality of frames of reference and their entanglement (form) but a frame of reference containing plurality and entanglement (content).

It is to be noted that the word « plural » or its derivatives (pluralized, pluralistic) occur only three times in the book


Bratton is against the spontaneous individual sensibilty underwriting a bogus empiricism. He condemns both « aesthetic resistance…to scientific rationality » and « intuitive individualism », in favour of « sensing », or technologically assisted sensation.


Standard philosophy replaces the real with constructs elaborated on a supposed foundation of aesthetically validated intuitive givens, a sort of folk-experience used as a pretext by magical thinking disguised as rational thought to justify and entrench its illusory categories.

« It is here that the orthodox biopolitical critique is, unfortunately, aligned with the populist Right…At their extremes, both valorize political performativity over scientific empiricism » (38).


Bratton on this point takes the opposite choice to Zizek. For Bratton the individual subject is replaced by a de-subjectivised positive biomaterialistic planetarily entangled epidemiological relay. Perhaps we can learn to experience, or at least to think of, ourselves this way. For Zizek the individual subject is replaced by an ontological negativity schematised by Lacan’s logic of sexuation.

We do not know as yet if the orientation of thought through Bratton’s planetarity can be taken as an ampliative or a reductive version of the biomaterialist replacement hypothesis for human subjectivity.

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Benjamin Bratton’s THE REVENGE OF THE REAL (1): meta-philosophical stance and heuristic criteria of demarcation

Live-blogging reading Benjamin Bratton’s THE REVENGE OF THE REAL.


The preface begins with a concern for testability. For Bratton the Covid-19 pandemic has put to the test

(1) how our societies govern life and death (negative biogoverance) and

(2) philosophy (negative biopolitics).

According to Bratton, both have failed the test.

Note: I am in favour of the heuristic criterion of testability, and have discussed it in many places on my blog.


The pandemic test was failed by our Western neoliberal capitalist societies, which did not live up to their responsibility, but also by philosophy, which showed itself to be impervious to the real. Bratton’s critical focus is not just societal, political and cultural, but also philosophical.

This book is a cultural critique or, more accurately, a critique of Western political culture and its present philosophical shortcomings (page 6).


Standard philosophy failed the pandemia test, non-standard philosophy may pass it. Bratton’s methodology at this stage, and at this level is broadly falsificationist. One type of hypothesis having been refuted by a crucial test, Bratton proposes a replacement hypothesis.

The book THE REVENGE OF THE REAL situates itself post-test. It’s subtitle is « Politics for a Post-pandemic World ». It

« is also about how so much philosophy failed the pandemic’s test, and so provides an outline for an alternative » (1).


Bratton’s diagnosis of the pathology underlying the failure is lack of « planetarity ». As Bratton wants us to think in scales, perhaps we can rename this lack in scalar terms of more or less, of high or low: standard biopolitical philosophy suffers from low planetarity. Bratton’s solution is (or intended to be) high on the planetarity scale, proposing

« model of governance based on planetary-scale technological rationalism (5).


According to his website Bratton is

« Program Director of The Terraforming program at the Strelka Institute…also a Professor of Digital Design at The European Graduate School and Visiting Professor at SCI_Arc (The Southern California Institute of Architecture) and NYU Shanghai ».


Bratton is high in planetarity, and also high in academarity and institutionality. He is proposing one of the increasing number of successor concepts to philosophy that are currently emerging: biocomputational planetarism. This successor concept is designed and engineered so as to be high in planetarity, academarity, and institutionality.


I was born in Australia and I live in France. I maintain a bilingual philosophy blog devoted to contemporary epistemological and ontological pluralism. My planetarity is good (but not high), my academarity and institutionality are low. My heuristic meta-ontological critique is designed and engineered so as to be high in concept and low in academarity and institutionality. In this review I am willing to consider « planetarity » as a possibly useful heuristic criterion.


Benjamin Bratton’s book is high on the scales of planetarity and academarity. It will be read to a large extent by readers low on these scales. Entropy will increase as one reads the book if one reads it through a perspective of low scalarity. Reading the book from the perspective of standard philosphy also dissipates its negentropy. One enemy of Bratton’s is reductionism, a high entropic thought and reading. Can his book be received and read non-reductively? Are there other scales by which a reader may read it negentropically?

Note: Bratton does not mention entropy in this book, but he does reference « thermodynamics » in relation to an intuitive picture of social compression resulting in social explosion. His plea for biological and epidemiological complexity by means of greater scientific literacy is weirdly undermined by this folk-sociology underlying much of his political analysis of contemporary unrest.


The book is very readable, the style is clear without ceding to academic populism, and I agree with most of what Bratton says. However there is an undercurrent of (well merited) hostility to philosophy that may lead to a new type of philosophy or to a new reductionism.


Bratton posits multiple criteria of demarcation between acceptable and inacceptable styles of philosophy: testability, (bio-)responsibility, realism, scalarity, planetarity. I do not think that « materialism » can be included among them.

According to Badiou’s analysis in LOGICS OF WORLDS, biomaterialism is the default position, the consensus ideology of our time. Everybody is a biomaterialist.

Bratton declares in favour of « materialism », more specifically of « biological materialism ». In this he is our contemporary, and nothing more. He further distinguishes between a positive version of materialism: scientifically informed biomaterialism, and a negative (folk) version: theologico-aesthetic or empirico-phenomenological intuitive materialism.

We shall see in this review if these all distinctions and demarcations can be maintained, and at what cost (there is always a cost) in view of the high stakes that Bratton posits for his essay of politico-scientific intervention.

For a convergent analysis see:

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MORE LOGIC LESS SEX: Zizek’s replacement hypothesis

Contrary to a popular impression, Zizek has next to nothing to say about sex, sexuality, or even sexual difference. His books are in fact about logic, to such a degree that one can often replace the word « sex » with « logic » in his key sentences.

For example, Zizek’s SEX AND THE FAILED ABSOLUTE has nothing to do with sex, but is mainly about the logic of the all vs the logic of the non-all. One could rename the book LOGIC AND THE FAILED MASTERY.

Similarly, the three topological surfaces that Zizek discusses in the book (the möbius strip, the cross-cap, the klein bottle) play no essential role as topological concepts, they are conceptual schematisations, deterritorialised figurations of logical structures.

Zizek is one of the most a-sexual thinkers there is, hence his discomfort with non-standard sexualities, and his constant attempt to re-territorialise them within Lacan’s two schemas of sexuation, instead of seeking to formulate new schemas.

Hence also the impression of a « dumbed down » Deleuze and Guattari that we have in reading Zizek’s work, and even more so that of his followers.

The logic of multi-sexuality is at least sketched out in Deleuze and Guattari’s work, only to be re-binarised by Zizek.

This multi-sexuality is not simply a matter of numbers, of 2 versus n. The n-sexes in Deleuze and Guattari’s work are noetic first, then bio-machinic. Zizek’s 2 sexes are bio-cultural first, then logico-noetic. What counts is not the number, but the arrow of logical primacy.

This primacy determines a logical first, not a temporal precedence of the logical over the material. This materialism unites Badiou in Logics of Worlds and Deleuze in Logic of Sense: there are only bodies and languages (languages are bodies too) except that there are truths.

They argue that within a (materialist) logic of multiplicities Oedipus cannot be first, but rather that « deterritorialisation is first ».

Further, within a logic of multiplicities two is not treated as a binary block but as a multiplicity of multiplicities. The first two sentences of Rhizome read « The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd ».

Thanks to Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu whose criticism helped me to clarify my thought.

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SEMANTIC REDUCTIONISM IN COMPOUND WORDS: On « Cosmopolitics » and its lexical cognates

This post is a response to a cryptic tweet by Benjamin Bratton:

«  »Cosmopolitics » will be looked upon as one of the most absurd and unfortunate intellectual trends of our time, the perfect compliment to waves of reactionary populism, pervasive denialist Idealism, demonstrating our utter lack of cosmological and political imagination ».

I think Bratton’s rather condensed critique of « cosmopolitics » can be unpacked by means of a a logical parallel with his critique of Agamben’s biopolitics.

« Cosmopolitics » should have been a good word for an interesting concept, instead it tends to mean « cosmoconsensus » rapidly becoming a synonym for cosmodoxa. Paul Feyerabend’s idea of « cosmological criticism » is more radical, because it deals with the ontology projected by a worldview, and critically examines that ontology as already political.

The example of Agamben’s deployment of a concept of « biopolitics » in the current pandemic, juxtaposed to that of « cosmopolitics », shows that these supposedly high-powered compound words are reductionist in value, indeed doubly reductive, reducing each component by means of the other. They are on topic without being in problematic.

Topicality displaces problematicity. How can one analyse a singular conjuncture such as the Covid-19 epidemic with a de-problematised ready-made paradigm recycled in terms supposed to have topical relevance? The « idealism » that Benjamin Bratton discerns in the current appeals to « cosmopolitics » is to be found even more in the method than in the content.

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SYMBOLS OF TRANSFORMATION: reductive or expansive

In SYMBOLS OF TRANSFORMATION Jung sometimes seems to suggest that Miss Miller’s base problem is erotic, at other times he evokes a conflict involving the whole of her being. This is in line with the tension in the book between a more reductive Jung (libido) and a more expansive Jung (archetypes).

The word « archetype » does not occur in the first version of the book, titled THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE UNCONSCIOUS, published in 1912, where his focus on the libido is more quantitative, whereas in the 1952 rewrite he makes use of his theory of archetypes, so the qualitative point of view emerges as more important.

If we think in terms of Jung’s full system, some of his remarks in this book seem unnecessarily reductive or even pessimistic, given that the key concept of the process of individuation is hardly mentioned in this book.

Jung does suggest both that Miss Miller missed an occasion for psychic growth through the engagement of her total being and that later repetitions or reiterations of engagement with the underlying conflict can bring forth new solutions.

This last suggestion is only sketchily indicated in SYMBOLS OF TRANSFORMATION but it can be amplified by a knowledge of other books in Jung’s corpus, in particular by way of the idea of individuation.

From what little we know about Miss Miller’s life, she did undergo two « nervous » breakdowns as predicted by Jung, but not schizophrenia. These breakdowns were of short duration (one week and four weeks) but Miss Miller went on to have an interesting life as a popular speaker on the Chautauqua circuit.

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READING LOSURDO’S NIETZSCHE (2): the argument so far

I am attempting a free and honest reading (i.e. « cynically and with innocence ») of Domenico Losurdo’s book NIETZSCHE THE ARISTOCRATIC REBEL that has recently been published in English.

POSTMODERNISM: rhetorical amalgam or neoliberal ideology

Losurdo’s immediate enemy is what he calls « postmodernism » (a term he does not bother to give any conceptual content to) and the « postmodern » reading of Nietzsche. Losurdo’s use of « postmodernism » seems to designate a societal phenomenon analysed by Paul Feyerabend as the ideology of « democratic relativism ». Feyerabend himself actually defended a philosophical version of this position, but then quickly rejected it as untenable.

Losurdo’s aim on this level is to construct a vision of Nietzsche’s thought as a form of what one could call « aristocratic relativism », thus very different from its democratic appropriation. He argues that the far right recuperation of Nietzsche’s thought is more faithful to its spirit and theses.

FRENCH THOUGHT: pseudo-leftist anti-empiricism

Losurdo’s second enemy is French thought of the 60s and 70s influenced by Nietzsche (Deleuze, Derrida, Lyotard, Foucault). He treats them as « postmodernist » as well, obliterating the conceptual difference between democratic relativism and the pluralist realism of these thinkers (and of Feyerabend).

Losurdo’s aim on this level is to invalidate the diverse French interpretations of Nietzsche as being « postmodernist » readings that betray Nietzsche’s text. The implicit presupposition is that in this way he has « refuted » all leftist appropriations of Nietzsche.

CONCEPTUAL INVENTION: the end of the age of the concept

Losurdo’s third enemy is philosophy as a practice of thinking with concepts in relative autonomy from its conditions, in particular from its political condition. He reads Nietzsche’s thought reductionistically, as sutured to a reaction against the Paris Commune and ongoing revolutionary struggles.

Losurdo’s aim on this level is the suture of philosophy with politics (political reductionism) and the liquidation of thought that is not so sutured, to close the epoch of Post-Nietzschean Continental Philosophy. He rejects the constellation of traits analysed here:

DANGEROUS METHOD: the hegemony of the reductionist scholar

Losurdo’s strategy is itself postmodernist in the bad sense. The sheer volume of the book (quantity) is meant to create the appearance of a definitive argument (quality) for the political reduction of Nietzsche’s thought but his argument is circular, beginning with the supposition it is meant to prove.

There is nothing wrong with proceeding counter-inductively in this way and then examining the empirical evidence in the light of a bold hypothesis. My objection is that Losurdo critiques Nietzsche’s lack of empiricism, all the while forcing the facts to suit his idea.

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READING LOSURDO’S NIETZSCHE (1): wild intuitive essentialism

I have only just begun reading Losurdo’s NIETZSCHE and already I feel quite perplexed by his methodology. The book is written in a clear and engaging style and we learn lots of factoids about Nietzsche’s ideas at the time of the publication of THE BIRTH OF TRAGEDY and about his later ideas about these ideas, but Losurdo’s thought process is « wild » (in Lévi-Strauss’s sense) to say the least.

Losurdo begins by imagining, in 1872, running into THE BIRTH OF TRAGEDY in a bookshop and asking himself what sort of book is this? He explains that it can not be taken to be a treatise of philology or musicology, nor a homage to Wagner, nor a study of the phenomenon of tragedy in ancient Greece from an aesthetic point of view. In particular, Losurdo notes the inclusion of many references to contemporary political events. His preliminary conclusion is that we need a « radical change in the way of reading The Birth of Tragedy » (19).

It is worth pausing here to examine the set of hermeneutic hypotheses that Losurdo examines and rejects. There is no attempt at completeness and Losurdo does not even consider the most obvious, that THE BIRTH OF TRAGEDY is a book of philosophy that effects a « radical change » in the way of doing philosophy.

To simplify the discussion and to clarify the stakes I will make heuristic use of Badiou’s idea of the four conditions of philosophy (science, art, love, politics) and of philosophy as a « discipline » that configures the space of « compossiblity » for these conditions. We are familiar today with works of philosophy that wander in all directions, that roam between realms, often making points about different disciplines in one and the same sentence by way of a polyvocal use of language. Losurdo just ignores this possibility, he is looking for a single key.

Thus my first point is that Losurdo examines each of the four conditions but not philosophy itself, and concludes that since THE BIRTH OF TRAGEDY is neither science (philology, history) nor art (artist’s metaphysics) nor love (homage to Wagner) it must be an intervention within the realm of politics. In particular, the book embodies Nietzsche’s reaction to the slave revolt of the Paris Commune.

« The terrible event that took place in 1871 had to be studied and traced back to its remote sources (Losurdo, 29).

These « remote sources » were Socrates and Euripides and the long rise to hegemony of the corrosive rationalist optimism that they inaugurated.

Losurdo arrives at this conclusion by a singular method, that of an intuitive leap. He quotes a passage from a single paragraph in THE BIRTH OF TRAGEDY and leaps to various quotes from Nietzsche’s letters and writings showing his concern about the Commune, the revolutionaries, slave revolts etc. He then invites us to consider this political reaction as the key to the book, its essence. At no point does he consider this quote in context, nor does he produce an extended analysis of Nietzsche’s book.

This approach is perplexing because Losurdo is practising the same method that he reproaches Nietzsche for following. Nietzsche does not proceed historically, descriptively, empirically but uncovers, or constructs, an « essence » of Hellenism, a core set of traits, in the name of which he can classify some works and people, including Plato, as « non-Greek » and others, such as John’s Gospel, as Greek.

« This is the most profound and remote core, indefinable on the basis of the empirical world and appearances, which constitutes the measure by which individual authors are measured and evaluated » (23).

Nietzsche’s thought in THE BIRTH OF TRAGEDY goes all over the place (it is « wild »), it proceeds less by scientific method than by intuitive leaps, it extracts noetic essences out of the empirical givens that it then uses to correct those givens. In short, it is philosophy.

Losurdo’s NIETZSCHE while criticising this configuration exhibits the same traits, but under the sign of denial. It too is a work of philosophy, and I will read it as such.

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