Yeah, “seeming closeness”, as in “they ain’t really all that close”: Or, Harman does it again

I woke up to the strange experience of one of Graham Harman’s famous passive aggressive posts, though instead of aimed at young graduate students, this time it was directed towards me and an abstract for an upcoming lecture I’ll be giving in Dublin. It starts with the great line “I’m not trying to pick a fight with Anthony Paul here” and then goes on to try and pick a fight with me by writing, “Smith has wagered his whole career on being “the Laruelle guy,” and I guess he has a vested interested in airbrushing any nuance out of the picture [of the relationship between Laruelle and Speculative Realism]“. Alright, so those of us who haven’t been hoodwinked by Latour litanies or a form of Husserlian phenomenology presented in a pedantic form are kind of used to these occasional passive aggressive bullying outbursts from Harman. The bullying rhetoric from OOOers of various stripes functions in the same way each time, beginning with some proclamation of good intention followed incredibly insulting remarks before then putting the onus of the bullying on the one subjected to the bullying by claiming that it is in fact they who scream at them. It used to bother me when I read this kind of stuff and not just from Harman, but at this point I find it more tiring than anything else and so I frankly don’t want to follow in Brian Leiter’s bullying footsteps either (“John, if it’s war you want, you’ve got it!“). So, let’s see if I can just explain what’s going on with this lecture and maybe respond to a few of the more insulting remarks because, well, they were insulting and I tire of Harman’s unchecked bullying.

So what raised Harman’s ire was my claim that interest in Laruelle has grown in part because of a generalized interest in speculative realism (I’m tempted, because of the way Harman has relied upon this label for his own popularity to add a ™ after the phrase). He claims this is controversial since neither Meillassoux nor himself actually get what is going on in Laruelle. Now, funnily enough, I wasn’t planning on talking about Harman at all in this lecture as frankly I don’t find anything of interest or of use in his work and his writing style infuriates me because of its constant pedantic and overwritten tone. But Harman thinks that I should have put this phrase in my abstract “Despite the vehement objections of Harman and Meillassoux to any claims of a link with Laruelle, Anthony Paul Smith will try to show in this lecture that there are important links nonetheless.” Yeah, I’m not going to do that. But thanks for the advice, bro. The reason, I’m not going to do that is precisely because, while many of the readers of speculative realism often include Laruelle in lists of speculative realism (perhaps Harman could send out cease and desist orders), I have always been bothered by this lumping of Laruelle’s non-philosophy amongst this trend.

But it is a bit silly to hold that there is no family resemblance between something like Meillassoux’s project and Laruelle’s, especially as it was developed in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Now for some reason Harman thinks that by saying there is some “seeming closeness” between speculative realism I am claiming that there is some ancestral relation between non-philosophy and speculative realism. I guess this comes in part because Harman is very invested in this label as well as being invested in a kind of allure of closeness he has with Meillassoux personally, but I won’t engage in psychological speculation as to why that is. But when I use the untrademarked version of speculative realism I am thinking more of the general thrust of this movement towards realism, engagement with the sciences, materialism, so not Harmanian OOO in any specific sense. Nor am I thinking there is some filial relation. To my mind non-philosophy is a living project, not a historical one, and so my claim, understood by I think readers without weird label protecting agendas, is that Laruelle’s realist theory sure looks a lot like other realist theories in Continental philosophy. Harman is very fond of claiming that only he and de Landa were calling themselves realists back in the 90’s. The truth is that the early Laruelle as early as Principe de minorité was calling himself a realist and exploring a form of thought that would be neither correlatioinist nor absolutist (the main difference between his work and Meillassoux’s).

But then there is that modifier “seeming”. Is it really difficult to see the implication here that there are some important differences and those differences are what I plan to explore in the lecture? Well, if it was, then now you are clued in. I want people coming out of this lecture, or later on reading the chapter on Laruelle and Post-Kantian Philosophy it will be a part of, to come out with an understanding of what makes Laruelle’s project distinct from the project of speculative realism generally. My plan is not, let’s be clear, to cynically ride the coattails of speculative realism, a project I have serious doubts about. Now, this is where Harman gets personal (he’ll deny it, that’s what a bully does) when he writes, “Then again, Smith has wagered his whole career on being “the Laruelle guy,” and I guess he has a vested interested in airbrushing any nuance out of the picture.” It’s a strange claim, coming from a really grim place, but reflective of his wider market-based meta-philosophy. For Harman it seems that I can’t just be interested in Laruelle because he helps me deal with some theoretical questions, but instead I’m “wagering” my whole career on Laruelle and have so have “vested interests” in making sure that I muddy the waters between the more profitable OOO and non-philosophy. It’s both insulting and a sad worldview. I’ve talked before about my very working class reasons for taking on these translations, work which I find constantly humiliates and humbles me, and it’s true that these translations have resulted in people asking me to write articles and books on Laruelle (some of which actually respond to criticisms from Meillassoux and Brassier and go far beyond a random footnote or a review of a book that barely discusses the book). And I am lucky to have a job, a job in a religion department, not a philosophy one. So clearly my department didn’t hire me because I was “the Laruelle guy” and after I finish my current research projects (which are the basis of these lectures I am giving) I may not be asked to speak nearly as much, but I’ll be turning my attention to a project on secularism.

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10 Responses to “Yeah, “seeming closeness”, as in “they ain’t really all that close”: Or, Harman does it again”

  1. Adam Kotsko Says:

    It becomes more and more clear why so many people come to our OOO threads to vent about their mistreatment at the hands of OOO luminaries. The sociopathic narcissism involved here is simply breathtaking — how many layers of paranoia had to be at work for him to jump straight to the conclusion of “oh God, Anthony’s trying to ride the coattails of my awesomeness and make me out to be some kind of Laruelle-loving freak!!!”?

    I’ll admit that there was an incident when I was feeling particularly low because of the job market, etc., and I freaked out when I saw an article about awkwardness that didn’t reference my book. The thing is, I quickly became embarrassed about that behavior and realized I shouldn’t do anything like that again. For Harman, it seems like this is an ongoing commitment.

  2. nydwracu Says:

    Sometimes I find it hard to believe that philosophers ever do anything but complain about each other on the internet. Then I go to my classes and see that, no, they also complain about each other in real life.

  3. Jeremy Says:

    The best part of Hartman’s post was this, “I’m not trying to pick a fight with Anthony Paul here.” It reminds me of the strategy: I’m not trying to be racist but…[insert racist comment].” Jesus, it’s times like these that I feel sorry for what you all have to deal with in the academic circles of continental philosophy.

  4. robotsdancingalone Says:

    Whilst I don’t see Harman’s post in the full nefarious light you do (apart from the unforgivable ad hominem remark about your career), I have to say, FWIW, that this is the first AUFS .v. OOO spat in which my sympathies fall completely on your side. The GH post was just not written in good faith – his failure to see the wide-ranging directions of your phrase ‘seeming closeness’ displays uncharacteristic short-sightedness.

  5. TEACH THE CONTROVERSY: Graham Harman on the Intelligent Design of Abstracts | AGENT SWARM Says:

    [...] Anthony Paul Smith replies here, but shows a distressing tendency to emphasise the  facts, and so his response, like mine, is [...]

  6. sdv Says:

    nicely put ….

  7. Daniel Sacilotto Says:

    It’s an incredible hypocrisy: it’s he who is being dishonest. First, Harman’s reading of Laruelle merits no consideration of its own; that dismal review he wrote hardly can be taken as a serious source to render any “controversy” about the philosophical qualities of non-philosophy, including its proximity to the SR label. It was basically a rant about why Laruelle wouldn’t ‘make it big’, treating philosophy as always as some sort of popularity contest.

    Second, I think just as many people, if not more, might contend that Harman’s views themselves are neither ‘realist’ nor ‘speculative’ in any meaningful sense. Indeed, there’s ample controversy about that. But you don’t see everyone trying to instruct writers on OOO and SR to say everytime that “Despite the vehement objections of Brassier, Meillassoux, Zizek and others to any claims of a link with Harman, X will try to show in this lecture that there are important links nonetheless.” If anything, it is Harman who has been riding the ‘speculative realism’ wave to promote his own work, even if his much loathed Brassier coined the term (who basically adopted a Laruellean position at the time), the same guy who doesn’t think Harman’s work is even serious philosophy, and if on Meillassoux’s mind, the guy credited with starting the ‘movement’, Harman’s philosophy is resolutely subjectalist.

  8. terenceblake Says:

    Concept blindness and counterfactuality are the twin prongs of Harman’s method of de-noetisation. If philosophy is not a noetic activity then it is just drives and memetics. Intellectual interest is nothing but “vested interest”, comments on Twitter and Facebook are just “screams”, a complex thinker becomes “the Laruelle guy”, not mentioning Harman means belonging to the Brassier conspiracy, actually doing philosophy is a “crazy Derridean self-reflexivity” allied to a “weird narcissism”. Argument is reduced to “calling out” one’s interlocutor and telling it like it is. So Harman may even be sincere when he claims to “not trying to pick a fight” as he may be under the impression that this is what ordinary philosophical procedure amounts to once you subject it to an “honest re-write”. For “honest” we must read “counterfactual”, and “re-write” means “concept removal””.

  9. theextravagantbastard Says:

    In addition to the paranoid dynamics playing out here, there is also the substantive point that Harman continuously evades accounting for the specific relation between philosophical language and his beloved objects–a problem that indeed demands an extremely high degree of abstraction and conceptual self-reflexivity, such as that demonstrated in Laruelle’s necessary labors.

  10. hewhocutsdown (@hewhocutsdown) Says:

    Having studied OOO under Tim Morton, and Laruelle under you and Drew, I can sort-of see both sides (not Harman’s lack of charity, but his/Meillassoux’s frustrations with non-standard philosophy). I hope to (sometime early next year, when I’m done with a few more books of Laruelle’s) put together what I hope is a fair and good faith critique of Laruelle and his project.

    Precisely because I think it deserves a robust critique that isn’t simply reducible to not taking the time with it, or a pre-existing ideological commitment that automatically trumps.

    I’ll probably pick your brain on it, just to give you a heads-up.


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