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.