Imagine the expressions of apoplectic rage we would all discover on the various OOO blogs if Ray Brassier were to write a review of Harman’s Quadruple Object with the phrase, “And if Harman can respond to the criticism that his philosophy is not a substance based one, so what?” We all know that these are not calm men, that they bandy about the blogosphere chastising their critics in equal measure for not having read all their posts on topic X and for criticizing them on the basis of “just a blog post”.At the first sign of criticism they will jump behind any number of well-worn and tiring devices, almost immediately to the unassailable charge that the critic of their work has made it personal, while the progenitor of OOO has remained above the fray dealing only with the ideas of these abominable writers and Grand Moff Tarkins. But still, it wouldn’t be a rage that lacked a real cause, because there is something altogether reckless and disrespectful about writing a review that suggests that even if the philosopher being harshly reviewed could respond to all the criticisms put forward, well, so what?
That’s exactly how Harman has ended his awful review of Laruelle’s Philosophies of Difference. Of course it isn’t surprising that I think this review is awful since I have a personal stake in Laruelle’s non-standard philosophy. His method forms the basis of my PhD thesis and my own translation of his Future Christ came out at the same time as Rocco’s excellent translation of Philosophies of Difference. But as someone so invested in Laruelle I’m well aware of his shortcomings and yet for all the bluster of Harman’s review he does not touch on any of those real shortcomings (for instance, why accept the Eurocentric definition of philosophy?). Instead, once we cut away Harman’s own philosophy of the history of philosophy (which has nothing to do with Laruelle and everything to do with his philosophical accountancy) and his own rather flimsy reconstruction of the chapters, we are left with two criticisms. The first is that Laruelle’s style is “abominable” (though he does seem to like a section title which he refers to as “magnificent”) and that Laruelle doesn’t explain how his One differs from the Neoplatonic One.
The second criticism is strange. It’s clear that NDPR should have asked someone more familiar with Laruelle to review the book (perhaps Ray himself, who isn’t exactly known for being kind about Laruelle), since Harman appears unfamiliar with any of Laruelle’s other works. But already in Philosophies of Difference Laruelle is clear that his One is a name for something that is irreversible with Being and Alterity (where the concepts of difference and finitude play most openly). It’s an old philosophical name that he takes from the tradition, yes, but it is mutated beyond recognition. For instance, there is no emanation from the One in any ontological sense and the One is not transcendent, but radically immanent. That right there is already enough to differentiate it from Neoplatonism and Rocco’s introduction, if he missed it because of Laruelle’s abominable style, already makes that clear.
I’m not going to pretend that Laruelle’s style is easy, but it is not abominable. His style is actually quite playful in the French, not at all sober and academic as Harman suggests, and this playfulness comes through even as he lays a lot of stress on the importance of non-standard syntax for thinking non-philosophically. He also plays with and mimics the style of others, and so in the Derrida chapter of Philosophies of Difference you have a Deleuzian reading of Derrida (the Jewish Body without Writing being one of the more interesting concepts). I think Rocco captured this excellently in his translation and so reading him is no more difficult than reading Derrida, Henry, or Deleuze (and they are all difficult to read). Of course Harman’s point is that we might not have any reason to make that effort and it is true that someone at Harman’s stage in his career will likely be disinclined from undertaking the necessary work. This is true even though Laruelle himself has his own theory of occasions, objects, and realism as well as early experimental readings of Heidegger, Husserl, and Simondon. That’s just the life cycle of an intellectual since we are, even if objects, only human. But it isn’t true that a thinker has to prove themselves important prior to our undertaking that work. Why do students spend so much time reading Hegel if that were the case? The reality is that the work of others can convince us of the worth of spending that time. So, for me, it was seeing how Laruelle was used by John Mullarkey and Ray Brassier, to very different ends in the end, to think through the concept of immanence that first attracted me to his work. But equally a disparaging comment can convince someone that a work isn’t worth reading and that, I think, was the real point of Harman’s abominable review.
I’m guessing that the reason NDPR asked Harman to write this review was because Laruelle, despite his own protests to the contrary, has been lumped in with the fashionable discourse around Speculative Realism. I’m not going to rehash this all-too-talked about history, but of the original four participants to a panel called Speculative Realism, only Harman uses this term in his self-marketing (and I’m not saying that to simply disparage him, but the self-marketing has to pay off and I’m not sure it does). Brassier, who can be a bit grumpy in interviews about this term and who is especially hostile to OOO, has disowned the term. And that, to me, is the real cause of all this antipathy towards Laruelle. It is perceived by the OOO crowd as a proxy war in their battle against the nihilist-materialist “wing” of Speculative Realism (even as that “wing” refuses to associate with the other “wings”). How else can you account for the strange view of the history of philosophy you find in Harman’s review? Laruelle never wanted to be part of some Philosophical Supreme Court! And those of us working with Laruelle’s non-philosophy (Rocco, Mullarkey, Alex Galloway, Katerina Kolozova, etc.) have never suggested that he should be assigned to this imaginary court either! Where does this fantasy even come from? I know Harman and his acolytes are keen on using stock market analogies for discussing the importance of philosophers, but why would you impose such banality on the rest of us!
There are a number of inaccuracies in the review as well as mischaracterizations (for one, Laruelle explicitly does not proclaim the end of philosophy). All of which is rather impressive since the review only really discusses Laruelle’s book (the actual object of the review) for just over a third of its length. Instead of placing the book historically within Laruelle’s own development (it’s the first book where he begins to lay out the theory of philosophical decision, where he first begins to discuss the importance of his conception of the One in relation to the history of philosophy, but it’s also not fully developed here yet as that happens in Principes de la non-philosophie) or putting the book in its actual historical context (it was published in 1986), he spends his time painting Laruelle as some cruel-faced, arrogant sadist who thinks that every other philosopher has only been larvae at his feet. But Laruelle’s true point isn’t that philosophers are worms that writhe about for his entertainment, but that philosophy as a discourse expresses a desire to attain something that is hallucinatory. A salvific self-hood beyond the state of actuality. The larvae comment is an obvious nod to Deleuze’s larval selves (made clear by later context in the passage) and sets up Laruelle’s own theory of the ordinary wo/man that is radically immanent already against the philosophical drive to some overman. To be a larvae on the earth writhing about seeking after salvation requires nothing more than to understand that to be saved. That’s what the theory of the philosophical decision performs, not a radically negation of philosophy, but an understanding of it that allows for some freedom from its more oppressive elements.
Now all of this isn’t going to convince the OOO crowd and I fully expect to see yet another snarky comment from Levi Bryant saying that if I think Laruelle is worth the trouble I should make that argument without the jargon. Setting aside the richness of such a demand for jargonless philosophy from Byrant, I have already done this. There are plenty of articles published where I have attempted to lay out what I understand Laruelle to be doing and where I put that to use in different fields, especially the philosophy of religion. I’ve done that on the blog at times and I will continue to do it in the new book I’m working on entitled A Stranger Thought: An Introduction to the Non-Philosophy of François Laruelle. I have no other response to Bryant than “well, go read those”. Sadly, I can’t hope to avoid the stupidity, shared by idiots like Johann Hari, present in picking out random difficult sentences, but hopefully at some point these marauding objectologists will actually deal with the ideas instead of their own hallucinations. But if they don’t, so what?