The psychopathology of everyday blogging

I’ve developed quite a reputation as being “against” Speculative Realism/Object-Oriented Ontology, but that’s not entirely true. I think Meillassoux’s thought is brilliant and fascinating — I’ve enjoyed and been challenged by everything of his that I’ve read. Given how much I’ve been influenced by German Idealism, phenomenology, and psychoanalysis, I’m probably doomed to be a dyed-in-the-wool “correlationist,” but I do sympathize with the use of OOO by artists, video game scholars, etc., insofar as I see the appeal of bracketing the intention of the creator and viewing the artifact as an independent object with its own internal logic and necessity. Brassier and Latour seem very interesting to me, though they’re pretty far afield from anything I’m likely to work on in the near term. I will likely check out Harman’s work on Heidegger before teaching Being and Time, but I’m most likely not going to be delving into his or Levi’s “systems” any time soon (again, because they don’t link up with anything I’m working on).

So on the conceptual level, I’d say if anything I’m basically sympathetic, though I’m not signing up for a school or movement anytime soon. Why the negativity, then? It’s basically a reflection of my “method” for blogging: I try to keep everything precisely at the level of blogging.

I very intentionally avoid talking about any serious work-in-progress on the blog — most notably, I kept the fact that I was even writing Zizek and Theology rigorously secret from the blog until I had already submitted the proofs! — because I have found that the blogging format just does not work to deliver the kind of feedback I need. What it does work great for is to keep me thinking and writing at least a little bit every day. It’s great for asking questions, for sharing surprising quotes or half-developed thoughts, for discussing things that are tangential to my primary work, and of course for building an audience so that I can promote my more serious work as it comes out.

So when I respond to SR/OOO, I am responding to it precisely and exclusively as a blog phenomenon. And indeed, I’m planning an article on exactly that phenomenon, using SR/OOO as a case study of the inherent dangers of blogging for academic work. Basically, I think that blogging produces a field of forces that push even the best-intentioned among us toward becoming a worse and worse person (within the blog situation) and that attempting to use blogging as a forum for developing serious philosophical work exacerbates those tendencies to the point of outright pathology. The end result is that they’ve definitely generated much more attention than they otherwise would have, but they’ve just as surely generated far more negative attention and ill-will than they ever would have done if they hadn’t attempted to do their thing directly in the blog format (viz. the fact that every SR/OOO thread here eventually becomes a forum for people who feel they’ve been mistreated by members of the movement).

But hey, what do I know? Just throwing it out there!

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70 Responses to “The psychopathology of everyday blogging”

  1. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I think people may notice, if they look back, I’ve only critisized them on the blog for their very poor reading of Laruelle and the strange groupthink atmosphere to their online approach. I have taught Morton’s work and engaged with it in my dissertation and I even found some of Harman’s reading of the fourfold helpful, but the other books of his have always put me off because of his writing style. It’s like he’s talking to a puppy. Infuriates me. Levi, well, it’s a big book, though it does overlap with some things I work on (in fact I was very surprised how much his black ecology paper sounded like some of my work).

  2. Jazz Feyer Salo Says:

    The SR/OOO blogging phenomenon has made me wonder if academic (simply meaning “credible” or “serious”) blogging is possible period. The idealist in me wants blogging to be something that can subvert the oft isolated academic journals and conferences and offer something new and possibly revolutionary. I think Zero Books is a good example of an attempt at a nuevo public intellectualism. Why does it seem that the blog medium cannot have same results?

  3. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I have been part of some really great blog conversations — certainly my best blog discussions have all been far better than my best experiences at conferences, etc. It’s incredibly hard to cultivate that, though.

    I don’t want to fall into the cliches of anti-blogging polemics — that it’s necessarily superficial or rapid-fire, etc. Some of that is obviously a factor, but live conversation is the most rapid-fire of all and I don’t hear anyone saying we should get rid of it. I think the problem that rises when you try to do serious work (i.e., when you try to do the “same kind of thing” you might do in a journal article or even a conference paper) on a blog is that the very nature of the format produces a persecution complex. People don’t read long blog posts in their entirety generally, and they certainly aren’t going to dig into the archives (which are usually not formatted in a helpful way simply due to the limitations of blogging software) before firing off a comment. As a result, the blogger is constantly peppered with the same basic questions and the same objections that they feel they’ve handled already — and that’s hard to deal with.

    On occasions when I’ve ventured to throw something about my serious work out on the blog, I’ve always been very frustrated when people just don’t seem to get it, when they make objections I’ve already anticipated, when they bring up points I find to be cliche or boring or irrelevant…. It’s not their fault that they’re doing that — they’re reading something that’s completely new to them, whereas I’m talking about something that has occupied my thoughts for months or even years. There’s no way to bridge that mismatch. In fact, I think Levi’s blog is a kind of natural experiment for how it doesn’t work — he has a huge amount of background resources on his project linked prominently, but still he constantly has to say, “Well if you’d just read this primer….” I imagine it drives him insane, and rightly so. I don’t think it’s even “his fault,” it’s just the nature of the beast — he’s trying to make it do something it can’t do.

    That’s why I tend toward “just throwing it out there” type of posts, or comments on side-interests (including attempts at counterintuitive political commentary), or else very broad topics — because if I post something that I haven’t put weeks or months of thought into, then the responses will be just about at the right level. Meanwhile, for my serious work, I have a group of people I’ll usually e-mail to get feedback, people who have already read most of my work, who know and generally sympathize with my goals, etc., etc. It’s a matter of putting things in their right place.

  4. Jazz Feyer Salo Says:

    Would you say than that print still serves as the best medium for “on the ground” theory?

  5. Adam Kotsko Says:

    For developing new theoretical work, yes. (For applying already-existing theories, blogging can work fine, though.) I don’t think anyone would try to do a major new scholarly project on a blog — involving close readings of primary texts, weighing existing scholarship, etc. — and if anything, developing a rigorous axiomatic philosophical system is much harder than that. There’s a reason Kant locked himself in a closet for ten years while he wrote the first critique!

  6. Levi Says:

    There are a lot of assumptions behind this post and some of the comments. I don’t think of my blog as trying to “do” anything beyond what it does. My blog serves two functions: first, it’s a place where I experiment with ideas. Some of those ideas get developed further and more seriously in talks, articles, and books, others do not. They’re all provisional. Second, it’s a forum for me to talk with others. In the area of Texas I live in there’s not much of an academic community. Blogging allows me to have that community I crave. Before that it was email discussion lists. I originally started my blog to explore ideas *outside* of academia because I just love ideas. I found preparing talks and articles to be stultifying and wanted a medium where I could just throw things out there without having to worry about all the professionalism of the article (hence the name “larval”). Over time I’ve found that blogging has made me far more productive in my professional work as it keeps me constantly writing and forces me to encounter approaches different than my own. Some of this becomes seeds for more serious projects. I know that you detest discussions about tone, but I do think there are problems with tone online. These days if I encounter comments that are snarky, insulting, derisive, or abusive, I just don’t publish them unless their cont meets fairly high standards and the person making them has a history of civil discussion. Life’s just too short to deal with nastiness. In my experience, those people that complain about being poorly treated were people who comported themselves in pretty obnoxious ways and who then express surprise when others don’t want to spend their time in discussion with them. That aside, I’ve found blogging to be an extremely valuable experience both intellectually and professionally. This year I gave 17 talks throughout Europe and the United States. I only paid for one trip. I also published half a dozen or more articles in some pretty great venues. I don’t think that would’ve happened without blogging.

  7. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I’m glad you’ve gotten so much out of blogging — and I never doubted it. Are you seriously maintaining, though, that there was never a period when you were using your blog to develop your “system” and frequently referred people to various primers you had posted on the blog?

    (The tone issue does not seem immediately relevant to me.)

  8. Levi Says:

    Adam,

    The blog is like a public notebook. As I remarked in my previous post, I do explore and develop ideas on the blog. Some are taken up and developed more fully in professional work, others are not. You seem to be supposing that the blog is the *only* place where that work is developed. There’s a significant difference between blogging and the process involved in writing an article or book. I think what’s valuable in blogging is the discussions it generates, the way it allows you to freely explore ideas without all the academic apparatus, and the way it shares references. There are countless thinkers I would have never encountered had others not discussed these texts on blogs.

  9. Levi Says:

    Also, do you think something is amiss with those primers? People asked for them and it got exhausting– as you remark in this post –constantly repeating certain points. I’ve seen something similar here on AUFS where people who obviously are new to the blog are told to refer to the archives.

  10. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I’m not supposing the blog is the “only” place you developed your thought. What would that even mean? Obviously your book isn’t just a bunch of copied and pasted blog posts.

    It’s very hard for me to understand your responses or to respond in kind. You seem to be coming at what I’m saying from a really weird and defensive angle. Understandable, I suppose.

  11. Jazz Feyer Salo Says:

    Levi,

    First, let me clarify that me referencing SR/OOO it wasn’t pertaining necessarily to the content or purpose of any of those blogs in particular. Rather, it was pertaining to the reception and response of such blogs. My question pertains to the receptivity of blogs when their content is mainly “serious work”. Particularly the relation of blogs to the notion of the “public intellectual”. I personally have read many posts on your blog and appreciate the new ideas.

    So, my concern hast to do with what seems to be an operational symptom of blogging summed up well in a quote from Adam’s post:
    “I think that blogging produces a field of forces that push even the best-intentioned among us toward becoming a worse and worse person (within the blog situation) and that attempting to use blogging as a forum for developing serious philosophical work exacerbates those tendencies to the point of outright pathology.”

    My concern stems from the desire for contemporary medium that can take the place of the pamphlet in the age of the printing press and whether the blog can take up this task in the internet age.

    Based off of you experience and off of Adam’s reflections do you think this is possible and/or happening?

  12. Jason Hills Says:

    Adam, I commend your insights and responses. My own response to similar circumstances was to stop blogging (at least for awhile). I presume that there’s something about your character or personality that allows you to write in so many electronic venues but not (apparently) get bogged down in them.

  13. Mark N. Says:

    I think that blogging produces a field of forces that push even the best-intentioned among us toward becoming a worse and worse person

    I wonder if there’s something specifically about philosophy blogging that would make this the case (if true), because academic blogging in some other fields has a rather friendly, collaborative tenor. For example, the mathematics academic blogosphere is generally pretty supportive, e.g. in the constellations of blogs loosely linked by Terence Tao’s blog, and has produced some serious academic contributions (published proofs worked out initially on blogs, etc.). An exception might be the parts of the mathematics blogosophere that get, too… philosophical: statisticians fighting holy wars over interpretations of probability, for example.

    The social-science/anthropology blogosphere at places like The Society Pages also seems to do serious academic work in public without too much angst.

  14. specularimage Says:

    Reblogged this on Specular Image and commented:
    I have to repost this because Adam and the discussion that ensues on this post have occupied my thoughts as well. Someone even mentions that Adam can maintain almost daily blog post but still maintain his other projects which seems to be a difficult thing for me. I have also received ridiculous comments regarding post that have absolutely no bearing on the fact that most thoughts on my blog are not even nearly finished but only an avenue for me to further my thoughts in a more coherent and yes academic fashion.

  15. Jason Hills Says:

    Mark,

    I offer a hypothesis to explain the difference. Philosophers tend to moralize their theories, either because they are working in the value fields, e.g., ethics, politics, sociality, etc., or because they moralize the truth (to which their theory comports). Given that most academics are left-liberals, it also allows them to align their subcultural moral expression and professional work unlike mathematicians.

    Philosophers may be bound to cut people with the sharp edges of their personality given the environment.

  16. Michael Norton Says:

    Jason– It seems that this is also the case because in philosophy (and also, I would say, in theology) any rhetorical distinctions between the form of well-developed arguments and that of provisional or causal thoughts posted on a blog get very blurry. Add to this the tendency that many bloggers have (and that the medium of the blog, I think, reinforces) to slide back and forth on the spectrum between personal anecdotes or casual observations and substantive, fully-formed claims – as well as, of course, the easy instantaneity of the internet in general – and it becomes difficult not to engage in an overly personal way.

  17. beatrice marovich Says:

    I have to wonder… Adam, you mention that putting actual work up here – ideas that you’re seriously thinking about – tends to result in people not reading through it carefully, making faulty assumptions, or somehow not getting it. I don’t doubt that this is true. But I’m a little skeptical that restricting content to print form (journal or book format, which I guess can also be digital) necessarily takes care of this problem. It seems to me that mis-readings and cases of “not getting it” also proliferate in academic conferences, etc… I wonder if part of the issue with blogs is that there’s a record of these mis-readings and misinterpretations that can be referred back to and pored over. There may be people talking about your book in a class somewhere this week, or at a conference this weekend… and mangling your ideas. But you won’t know unless some sort of record of it appears on the web.

  18. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Beatrice, The time delay and opacity of print is exactly why those misunderstandings don’t aggravate my pre-existing personality flaws — I don’t get mad about the misreadings that surely proliferate because they aren’t actively invading my personal space every damn day. Print obviously doesn’t help understanding, but it does help the author’s sanity.

  19. Levi Says:

    Jazz,

    I think that’s a hard call. Is it that blogs generate this sort of negative pathology or is it that they allow us to more directly see negativity that is characteristic of academia in general? We had aphorisms like “academic debates are so nasty because the stakes are so low” well before blogs came along. I’ve seen plenty of this sort of nastiness outside of the blogosphere in academia that resembles the pettiness of the blogosphere. We might also think of Badiou’s treatment of Deleuze, the long dispute between Derrida and Foucault, and Quine’s treatment of Derrida for examples of this sort of pettiness at the highest levels of academia. Academics just aren’t always the most socially well-adapted people and many of us have some pretty big egos and/or insecurities that lead us to behave in bad ways.

    I don’t deny that blogs create more possibility for this sort of conflict because they generate greater access and bring more people into contact with one another, but it’s harder for me to say that this is something unique to the blogosphere. A lot of comments on blogs resemble the sort of questions you hear at conferences or occasionally read in peer review reports: “damn you! Why aren’t you working on my project and dealing with my pet figures?”

    I guess I’m just not sure I understand what danger Adam is talking about here. Shaviro write nearly all of Without Criteria on his blog, as well as a number of other articles and talks. I think his work is pretty solid. I’ve certainly worked through a number of my ideas, in part, on my blog. Has there been nastiness on the blogs? Sure, I’ve behaved in a few ways in debates in ways I regret. I’ve also attracted my fair share of cranks and trolls (one of whom even tried to blackmail!). Sometimes I have myself trolled or stirred the pot by making bombastic claims that I knew, at some level, were designed to provoke (here I think of exchanges on religion with Adam and Anthony years ago). I’ve also seen other bloggers at the level of senior faculty behave in ways that I find pretty unacceptable; especially in their treatment of graduate students. I think these things have perhaps damaged reputations and the reception of work, but then again I sometimes think people are just plain territorial and look for any reason to reject something that makes them vaguely uncomfortable (recall the letter signed by all those analytic philosophers when Derrida received his honorary degree). Moreover, I think these things go on in academia as well.

    I guess that I feel I’ve just gained so much from blogging that I’m willing to take the good with the bad, though sometimes I consider quitting altogether when dealing with stalkers and trolls. I would have never come across things like speculative realism had it not been through the blogs. I wouldn’t have had certain cross-blog discussions that enriched my thought without blogs. II also think the blogs have sharpened my arguments and concepts by exposing me to criticism that wouldn’t have occured to ke. Finally, I think it’s made me a better writer by forcing me to speak to broader audiences and not just experts on particular thinkers and whatnot.

  20. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Perhaps Shaviro is made of sterner stuff than me. I made my decision not to write about work-in-progress in the context of my extremely frustrating discussions with John Holbo about Zizek — I knew I couldn’t produce the work as efficiently as I had to (given the context of doing it mid-PhD) if I was dealing with that kind of negativity. The one time I indulged in a debate about Zizek with him while I was in the process of writing the book, I lost a couple days to pretty severe writers’ block, even though the chapters I was working on had nothing to do with the debate — so that felt like a clear sign that I had found the policy that worked for me.

    I’m open to the possibility that this post is nothing but an exercise in projecting my own experience and preferences as norms for everyone!

  21. Levi Says:

    Oh I definitely get what you’re talking about re: Holbo. I’ve had my fair share of “interlocutors” like that. My other favorite are the “pedagogues” that talk to you like you’re a student in philosophy 101, explaining elementary and well known things to you like Aristotle’s four causes or the scholastic debate over universals. They seem only interested in displaying knowledge, and enacting a sort of power play where they try to reduce you to the ignorant student in need of discipline and correcting. I can see the need for this sort of didacticism with complicated figures like Hegel, Whitehead, Lacan, Badiou… But Aristotle’s four causes? Then there are those that try to subsume everything else in their fetish school of thought like pragmatism, not recognizing that there are other traditions and schools. Again, a seeming desire to just talk about what they want to talk about and to get everyone else to talk about that fetish object as well. There could be an entire book written on academics behaving badly.

    I think you make an excellent point the difference between the temporality of blogs and the temporality of articles. It’s also a very Object-oriented point: the medium, not just the content, makes a difference in the sorts of social interactions that occur. I’ve also sometimes wondered what role alcohol might play in blog interactions. I’ve noticed that a number of the nastier exchanges tend to occur in the evening and that people engaged in them behave in ways that are out of character at those times. This is another thing you don’t really see in the article format.

  22. Adam Kotsko Says:

    By proliferating the connections among academics, maybe blogging simply amplifies both the good and the bad?

  23. Jason Hills Says:

    Levi,

    Having had those discussions with you about the scholastic debate about universals and pragmatism, since I am the person you had those conversations with and have been participating here, I would characterize those events differently.

    Actually, Adam’s words work well (from above):

    “It’s very hard for me to understand your responses or to respond in kind. You seem to be coming at what I’m saying from a really weird and defensive angle.”

    I would not bring it up, except that I think it is a great case example of the clashes we’re talking about.

  24. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I would caution against spending too much time re-litigating past encounters, though it can be good to be reminded that the way one is perceived and the way one intends to come across can often diverge.

  25. larvalsubjects Says:

    Jason,
    Honestly I had no one in mind because I couldn’t remember with whom those discussions took place. It’s not as if I have a black book where I keep track of all the people I’ve had unpleasant exchanges with. Generally I just cut off the conversation, move on, and forget about it. My point was just that I think these are bad forms of academic behavior– both on blogs and in the broader academic world –as they are signs of disrespect and lack collegiality. Once people have reached the level of graduate work or have entered the world as professors– of whatever rank –it should be assumed that they have a certain degree of background knowledge in the field about very basic things. It’s boorish, pedantic, and insulting to lecture on those things. The tendency of this pedagogism is to generate acrimonious conflict because of the way they come across as disrespectful. Again, I am not making the claim that pedagogism is always out of line. With dense and complex thinkers such as Laruelle, Lacan, Hegel, Sellars, Derrida, Deleuze, etc., it’s often appropriate; and also especially when a thinker is relatively unknown such as Meillassoux. However, when it comes to foundational figures, arguments, and concepts in the history of philosophy, such modes of expression tend to become boorish and insulting.

    At any rate, don’t sweat it. This is something many of us often fall into. I know that I’ve often been guilty of pedagogism when talking with other Lacanians in the past. I remember one particular exchange with the now sadly defunct blog Blah-feme years ago where I came across as “lecturing”. It wasn’t my *intention*, but Blah-feme himself had a pretty thorough background in Lacan and took my didacticism along the lines of “tell me something I don’t already know.” We got over it fairly quickly, but he had a point and my behavior was boorish and insulting.

    As an aside, it’s a pretty standard point that *intention* does not define meaning. What something signifies is not really up to us, but rather arises from how others take us. We see this in the case of racism and sexism, for example. The person swears up and down that they did not *intend* to be racist or sexist; but whether or not their words or actions were racist or sexist is up to those *receiving* them, not those *articulating* them. The same principle holds here. Generally when an interlocutor has achieved a certain level of training and made a certain number of contributions its taken for granted that they have basic working knowledge in their field. Discussion should focus on the actual claims and arguments being made, not *training* the person in the history of philosophy. That’s a rule of thumb, of course; but if a person’s aim is to continue and participate in a dialogue they should be cognizant of how they are coming off to others they’re talking to. No doubt I am now behaving in a boorish way given the length of this post.

  26. Leon Says:

    “The end result is that they’ve definitely generated much more attention than they otherwise would have, but they’ve just as surely generated far more negative attention and ill-will than they ever would have done if they hadn’t attempted to do their thing directly in the blog format (viz. the fact that every SR/OOO thread here eventually becomes a forum for people who feel they’ve been mistreated by members of the movement).”

    I’ve found this by and large to be true. I can’t tell you the number of times that the nastiness of the SR blogosphere has been a sticking point when introducing folks to it.

  27. Ian Bogost Says:

    Interesting post. It’s good to reflect on why we do things that none of us really understand and agree on, like blogging, and also useful to realize that the things we think we do understand and agree on are actually far less certain than we think they are. Overall, the Internet is not a very good place and most people would do well to stay away from it.

    But then again, as I argued in one of my books (the OOO one, in fact), a lot of “conversations” in philosophy are more like conversations on the Internet than they are like anything else. I guess Mark Nelson already said that.

    And now I’ve gone and said “as I argued in one of my books,” ugh.

  28. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I think the thing that has annoyed me most lately, and I’m sorry Ian and Levi as this may seem like I am attacking you and I promise I am not, but to have Harman attack me for… well… whatever the hell that was about is one thing, but to have Tim then go on to just throw out strange accusations without any kind of proof really pissed me off. So, now I have to deal with people claiming Laruelle is an anti-Semitic Eurocentric thinker… without any particular reason why except they have some notion that he uses the term “Jewish” and “Greek”… not how he uses them, what it means, etc. This to me is the worst part of academic blogging’s infinite demand.

  29. Levi Says:

    Anthony,

    If it makes you feel any better, I didn’t think too highly of those posts. I’m fine with saying that I just don’t get the payoff with Laruelle and that I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise. I do, however, think the “Jewish thought” remarks he makes are worth addressing. I’m sure they raise a lot of eyebrows, just as Zizek’s remarks on Judaism and Buddhism do. My strategy in these moments is to suggest that there’s something more in the thinker than what the thinker articulates in those sorts of moments, that his own theoretical apparatus undermines such remarks and allows for an immanent critique of them. In that way, the thought is both preserved and critiqued.

    The thing I always wonder about with Laruelle is what the one and real give me. What interests me is thinkers that allow me to explain and understand the world around me. This is why I gravitate towards Lacan, Zizek, the semioticians, Marx, D&G, the actor-network theorists, The evolutionary theorists, etc. I like knowing how things work. With Laruelle I feel as if I’d have to sacrifice all explanation and understanding and that I’m only given critique. I’m fully willing to admit that I just might not understand him, but that seems to be the result of non-philosophy to me. I’d like to be persuaded otherwise.

  30. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Levi,

    Sure, but what Laruelle is saying with what he calls in various ways the Judaic turn, Judaic turn, etc., isn’t at all like the weird remarks from Zizek. This is what bothers me specifically. If there was a critique there, fine, I would like to address it, but instead, even in the RP review where this slur began, it’s just sort of assorted through a kind of “you know he used the word Jew… he might be an anti-Semite… why does he burn Jews?”. My friend Dan Barber has a much stronger, more productive and interesting critique. But now you think, just because it’s been stated online, that there is a Jewish problem in Laruelle, even though absolutely no examples from the text have been given! It’s offensive to people like me who work on him and if you knew his family background.

    If you feel like it’s just critique with Laruelle, well, I don’t know what you’ve read. You’ve told me in the past you haven’t looked at his French texts, but in many of his texts (including ones that are out now) you find something that is productive. The non, and this has been said over and over and over, is not a negation. It’s not a critique. I don’t see much “critique” after Philosophies of Difference until we get to Anti-Badiou. But ultimately I am not trying to convert anyone, again a thing about blogs I dislike and especially the OOO blogs… sorry, I don’t like that aspect at all…, I just really hate how there is this strange near obsession with not engaging Laruelle but throwing pot shots at him. Whether it’s Iain’s dumb cow clicker thing with the Laruelle cow or Harman’s really awful review, but even more so the way it has played out over blogs. I guess, you know I respect that you just don’t see anything of use and don’t usually mention it, but why do they need to? Seems like something is going on there and I find it to be rather bullying, especially Harman being upset I didn’t mention him in a goddamn abstract. Woops. Got a little bit upset. Anyway. Crazy story up above, pretty messed up.

  31. Levi Says:

    Like I said, I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise. Lots of smart folks like yourself have been excited by him. That says something. I learned from my *initial* encounter with SR that that’s something to take seriously. My initial response to SR in general was to reject it tout court through reference to Lacan, Badiou, and Deleuze. That was the original idea behind The SPEculative Turn when Nick and I conceived it. It was going to be a Deleuzian rejoinder. Nick already knew, but I discovered there was more going on there than I knew.

  32. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Why wouldn’t Jewish thought be different from the mainstream of Western (Greek) thought, given the material conditions under which they respectively developed? It’s like people who are horrified at the notion that there’s anything different about black and white culture — given the history of segregation, of course there are cultural differences!

    I don’t like the seeming trend where to avoid racism, you just “play it safe” by not talking about the group in question at all.

  33. Jason Hills Says:

    I’m with you on that one, Adam, as the “play it safe” tactic tends to do the opposite. I, like many who write and likely read here, teach (mostly East-Asian) religion and am reminded of that frequently given my students responses.

  34. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I’m teaching Malcolm X and Blackamerican theology right now. I completely had to get over my fear of words to do that and I did it by taking X seriously.

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    [...] of non-philosophical thought? The difficulty of such a possibility can be seen in a recent discussion started by Adam Kotsko the AUFS. The discussion took place at a very empirical, worldly level and [...]

  36. O-Zone Journal Says:

    Sometimes I feel as if this particular conversation, and also academic acrimony [in whatever direction], will never end. It’s partly why I decided to stop commenting on all blogs for a long time [except my own: duh] and to mainly put my efforts into publishing other people’s work [via punctum books and other places], and as much of it as possible, in order to help foster a more diverse, intellectually unruly, and hopefully lively public cultural commons. I think APS hits on what might be the most important point/affect for me: intellectual generosity. We don’t have to always agree on things, but we might also ask ourselves why agonistic contention and also “strong critique” are often perceived to be the most effective and desirable modes for hashing out, parsing, understanding, negotiating, testing [whathaveyou] other people’s ideas [and we might also pause to consider and to SEE that when we adopt these modes we often read others' work badly, seeing only what we want to see in relation to what we have already decided in advance won't suit our own purposes, as APS understands whe he laments others not reading Laurelle well, but which maybe he himself doesn't entirely practice when he slams Harman's work for being like "talking to a puppy"--is this criticism necessary, and is it even actually true?]. We could start by simply trying to read everyone’s thought/writing as generously as possible, without assuming we always have to take some sort of contentious “stand” on it, vis-a-vis whatever schools of thought we might be currently invested in. What the humanities needs right now is pluralism: pluralities of thinking and writing and doing that will help us see our way through several crises facing us right now [global-environmental, economic, socio-cultural, etc.]. We need all styles, all forms of thought imaginable, and we need to work harder to foster and cultivate these styles and forms: this isn’t a battle of thinkers or modes of thinking. That’s so tired, so old. Rather, we should aim for something like a Rabelasian carnival of thought, and we should commit ourselves to reading each other with more patience and more generosity. No one sits down at their desk and spends hours and days there, saying, “I’m going to write some stupid shit today.” Thinking is a form of striving; it is also always creative; it is an art practice, not a science. Best, Eileen Joy

  37. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Eileen, considering what Graham has said about Laruelle (will you be emailing him to question his formulations? Please do!) I am not overly concerned with offending him. But, my point was that I haven’t looked seriously at his system because of style issues and so I don’t talk about his philosophy as such. I was admitting this I’m not giving anything like a strong critique.

  38. O-Zone Journal Says:

    Also, one other comment: while I totally agree with Adam K. that there is much pathology on display in some blogging environments *some of the time*, it does not logically follow then that all of SR/OOO thought is therefore some sort of epiphenomenon of blogging. That is yet another instance of un-generous reading, as if Graham Harman, to take just one example, has only developed his ideas and ontology within blog platforms and did not conceptualize much of his thinking while reading others’ work and in his *writing*, whether undertaken on word processing software, on blogs, in notebooks, wherever. At the same time, if someone developed all of their philosophy while writing on a blog, it does not stand that there is something in particular about that writing/discussion platform that inherently contributes to … [what?] some kind of crippled/malformed/malevolent thinking. And that somehow, keeping our writing more “secret” will make it better? And yet this idea is propounded to us … on a blog. Again: more generous reading modes are required here. [from: Eileen]

  39. O-Zone Journal Says:

    APS: but what you’re also saying is that, because of his style, you’ve decided in advance NOT to read him, which amounts to the same thing. And no, I won’t email Graham: I’m not technically defending him or anyone else here, so please keep that in mind. I’m asking for *everyone* to consider reading everyone else’s work more generously. It’s pretty simple, actually [at least in my mind, it is, but then I'm hopelessly naive and optimistic about human nature].

  40. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I never intended to say that SR/OOO is an “epiphenomenon of blogging.” I suppose I can see where that impression may have occurred, but I just want to clarify that it’s not what I mean and that I don’t even know what that would look like, concretely.

  41. Adam Kotsko Says:

    What do you mean by generosity? Starting with the assumption that they’re right? Being willing to give up one’s own views at a moment’s notice? Emphasizing commonalities over differences? Just having a nicer tone? None of that strikes me as desirable in itself — some of the meanest things anyone has ever said to me have been delivered with the nicest possible tone, for example.

  42. O-Zone Journal Says:

    Blogging is a phenomenon [implied] and SR/OOO will be argued as a phenomenon of blogging, hence: epiphenomenon. Semantics. My larger points remain, whether you use the term “phenomenon” or something else. And now, for my own sanity: goodbye.

  43. Adam Kotsko Says:

    That’s very generous of you not to accept my own report of my intended meaning! Especially after when I said that I knew I had perhaps been unclear!

    Good grief.

  44. O-Zone Journal Says:

    Sorry, Adam: I didn’t see your last comment/questions, so this will [for real] be my last comment: if you equate generosity with niceness/politeness or some kind of non-thinking non-critical agreement-in-adavce, then you have defined generosity way too narrowly, and this again is … ungenerous of you. I could laugh or cry now, but what would be the point? Every time I show up at any of these discussions, I want to kill myself afterwards for even butting in at all. So now, for real: ciao!

  45. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Whatever generosity is, you are so obviously not doing it! It’s especially un-generous, it seems to me, to parachute into a conversation, misconstrue what’s going on, then repeatedly claim you’re leaving — because the whole thing has been nearly suicide-inducing for you!

    Are we really that horrible? Is it really that big a burden to explain what you’re saying (i.e., I asked what you mean by generosity), or to slow down and process what we’re actually saying?

  46. robotsdancingalone Says:

    In fairness, much as I love her work, Eileen Joy just came in, unloaded about being generous (again, in what sense?), then didn’t respond substantively to what were some fairly calmly expressed and seemingly well-intentioned comments.

  47. Jason Hills Says:

    Adam,

    In all seriousness, did you intend to have a demonstration of “the psychopathology of everyday blogging” in the comments, or did you not see that coming? If you say “no,” I will make an incredulous face in your honor.

  48. Adam Kotsko Says:

    This whole thing was a performance art piece, obviously.

  49. O-Zone Journal Says:

    Okay: points ALL well taken; I have to give a talk in a few hours so I am bit frantic; I do not mean to be ungenerous. I mainly just wanted to stop in and pick up on the things that APS said, which I actually liked a lot and to extend a little bit this idea he puts forward or gestures toward of whether or not some people spend enough time reading other people’s work well or fully enough. I think that’s a good thing to think through further. It does not mean we will agree with everything we read and of course strong critique is warranted in many situations [although, to be honest, I am on record as being somewhat anti-critique in certain situations: I just don't think critique is the only thing we need to be about in the humanities right now; I would also like to some new forms/practices of poesis and making, which partly draws me to the work of Bogost and Harman and Latour, but I've been thinking about that for a long time before knowing their work because I have a background in the fine arts; I also take some cues in this area from the early modernist Henry Turner, at Rutgers, whose work and thinking I really admire; also Mike Witmore at the Folger who combined machine reading of texts with the philosophy of Meillassoux and Harman, and it's pretty cool stuff]. But please consider, too, that I am not necessarily misconstruing what is going on here, although I may not articulate well [always] what I think that is. For me, generosity denotes a certain engagement with others’ work that attempts, through what the poet Lisa Robertson calls “rhetorical sincerity,” to really *describe* that thought, non-critically, as a way of making it more perceptible: a sort of descriptive turn, if you will, in analytical thought. That interests me right now as a valuable huamnistic [even post-humanistic] practice. I do respect and admire all of you, believe me.

  50. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Eileen, no, I’ve read him (Quadruple Object, Prince of Networks, articles in Collapse). My annoyance at his pedantic tone means I’m not going to spend a lot of time with him, the kind of time that one spends with a text one wants to use or critique. I’m guessing that he doesn’t want to spend much time with Laruelle or my work for similar reasons. His review suggests a cursory reading of the text and none of Laruelle’s other works.

    But I think that your plea is understandable. Just not realistic. We are finite and can’t give everything our time however promiscuous we may be intellectually we still have to decide.

  51. Jesse Newberg Says:

    I liked what O-Zone said. It was very nice, the carnival as pluralist inversion of utopia, but I am still skeptical of any peace of or in philosophy, any philosophy of peace, for that matter. There just seems to be almost no evidence of it anywhere in its history; perhaps the trait is contingent, absorbed from its proximity to kings and courts or later to the revolutionaries who brought their destruction. But basically I’m saying philosophy is the war machine, and no matter how many times we remake it, no matter how creative we are, it’s still going to have this character, this inherent violence. So, if they keep picking fights, seemingly at whim, we shouldn’t just yell “truce, truce!” every time. There’s no reason to actually engage them either, if you will indulge me I think it suffices to point out that their “shorting” of Laruelle has no counterparty, we and Laruelle are simply not philosophical investors or collectors like they are, and that the value that they imagine their theories have–insofar as this value is in part seemingly and unnecessarily (thus symptomatically) based on non-philosophy– is only speculative and doomed to crash. We thus tank their investment without ever being a counterparty to it, precisely for this reason in fact. A little silly I know, but I thought I’d try.

    For no good reason, I’d also like to say non-philosophy is sort of like the 3rd amendment, except that “forced quartering” is also a good name for unilateral duality…

    Quick point on being generous, it sounds less nice when it’s someone in power asking those without it to be generous amongst themselves…also how quickly generosity slips into a “market of ideas”…and why is the Other the end of thought, didn’t we already do that idea to Death?

  52. larvalsubjects Says:

    Adam,

    I don’t think there’s any deep mystery to what generosity in reading means. Generosity means that we begin from the premise that our interlocutors don’t have wicked or evil intentions and that we attempt to give the most rational possible interpretation of what it is that they’re claiming. If something seems completely batshit crazy insane to us, we don’t attribute that interpretation to the other person we’re talking to, but to a failed interpretation on our part. In saying that, I add that this interpretative stance is modified on the basis of repeated history. For example, when we talk to the racist, at a certain point we recognize that no further charity can be extended to their claims. But we at least *start* from a standpoint of generosity.

    Now you wish to claim that Eileen is a hypocrit for not extending charity to you. First, she did begin by merely making a claim about generosity in blog discussion. Second, you have a rather long history of saying rather ugly things about SR/OOO both on this blog and on twitter. At that point it becomes difficult to accept that you’re being a generous interlocutor. You’ve made a special effort to both make ungenerous remarks, and to promote a platform for those sorts of remarks. The same is true of Anthony. While I in no way condone Harman or Morton’s treatment of Anthony in this most recent exchange, I can certainly understand why they were inclined to respond to him in that way. Anthony has gone out of his way to denigrate them and their work and shown great glee in attacking them. Anthony might think he’s just being funny, but as someone who’s been on the receiving end of his barbed tongue, I can’t say that there’s nothing pleasurable about it and that it doesn’t translate in this medium. I doubt that these remarks will be posted, but I think Joy’s remarks are right on mark and are worthy of reflection form all of us. Eileen isn’t the only one that wants to slit her writsts in these exchanges.

  53. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Levi,

    That’s simply not true and that’s really offensive that you would make such a false claim in order to try to make a point. Where Harman has repeatedly attacked Laruelle on his blog, actually denigrating his work and even publishing a review that was just awful, I’ve never denigrated them, their work, or “attacked them with great glee”. Go look through my posts where I mention Harman, each time it only refers to his poor reading of Laruelle. I have said I don’t like his style and yes in the last post I got a bit snarky about Latour litanies. I’ve had private emails where people have asked if they should read OOO and I have always said that if they find it interesting they should, but that I didn’t find anything there for me, that I prefer Harman’s sources (Husserl namely) to his own work. I would also appreciate you not ascribe to me intentions you have no idea I have (“he may think he’s just being funny”). It isn’t like I’m the first person for Harman to weirdly attack. It isn’t like he doesn’t have a reputation for this among a lot of people.

    And finally, if the new narrative in OOO circles is that I have denigrated Morton’s work, well, that’s just sad and I hope you just were misspeaking. I suggested Morton as a speaker at DePaul, I have passed his work on to colleagues at INC, I have taught on his work in a number of classes and recommended it to colleagues looking for texts to use in an environmental philosophy course. I have a lot of time for Morton’s work and was sad that we couldn’t get on personally.

    Where is this weird public calling out of Harman and Morton? Why is the demand for charity always unilateral?

  54. Levi Says:

    Anthony,

    I’m sorry, but I think you’re suffering from selective amnesia regarding your treatment of Morton and Harman in comments on blogs and twitter. It comes down to unnecessary remarks such as “I see nothing of value in what x says”. These things didn’t arise out of the blue. And to repeat, they’ve been unfortunate all around.

  55. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    This is exactly what I mean by just throwing accusations out without any proof and now I have to prove that I don’t murder children. My treatment of Morton and Harman? I’ve never directly said anything to Harman about my not finding his work of value for me. I have called him out in the latest post for bullying, because I’ve seen him do this to grad students and that’s not ok. As for Morton, I seriously doubt I’ve ever said anything negative about his work online. As for him, well, I’m disappointed that we can’t be friends. If you’d like to work this out over email, please feel free to get in touch that way, but I’m asking you to stop putting this kind of accusations here unless you’re going to confront me with actual quotes.

    Again, I’m going to ask: Where is this weird public calling out of Harman and Morton? Why is the demand for charity always unilateral? If the answer is that you’re personal friends with them, that’s fine, but at least we should be honest about this sort of stuff.

  56. Deleuze and Guattari on Discussing Philosophy (on a blog) « Footnotes 2 Plato Says:

    [...] I read this for the first time just after getting caught up on this discussion about the psychopathology of philosophy blogging over at An Und Für Sich. [...]

  57. Aaron Says:

    Hi Anthony,

    I don’t think we’ve ever actually talked (except perhaps during a public q&a session at a Laruelle event in NYC, at which you may have been the person who answered a question of mine concerning non-philosophy’s relationship to gnosticism and neo-Platonism, responding affirmatively to my intuition that there was nothing emanative about Laruelle’s version of the One?), but we do have a few Facebook friends in common, and I would say that I definitely have noted a few timeline postings on which you’ve made some highly barbed negative comments at the expense of both Bogost and Harman (though I don’t think I’ve ever noticed anything about Morton). Out of courtesy to you, I won’t reproduce those remarks here; but I will say that as someone who is interested in taking a syncretic approach to Laruellian and object-oriented ideas in my dissertation, those types of comments have on occasion been a source of some anxiety for me.

    With that said, I also want say that I don’t like the way in which you and Laruelle were singled out on a couple of OOO blogs over the course of this past week, and I understand and empathize with your frustration on that front. I also have major differences with Harman’s reading of Laruelle, and over the course of the past couple of years, I’ve often had occasion to wish that he had just not agreed to review “Philosophies of Difference” in the first place. The alternate reality that would have flowed from that decision holds much attraction for me at this point.

    Anyway, the main reason I’m writing here is to say that you all of you–OOOers, left-Heideggerians,and Laruellians alike– do strike me as intelligent and interesting people, and despite all of the tension that has developed between your two camps, I really do believe that there are ways in which non-philosophy and various forms of neo-Aristotelian substance theory can be put into interesting and productive forms of dialogue with each other (in a manner that doesn’t need to involve beautiful-soulfulness). I’ve met each of the four major OOOers and like them all in person, and from what I know of your interests, your obvious passion for your work, and your excellent and extremely helpful commentaries on Laruelle’s texts, I think I’d like you too, if we ever get the opportunity to meet. Maybe that will happen at some future Laruelle-related event in New York or elsewhere. If so: looking forward to it.

    (P.S.I’d also like to say that I’ve noticed some glimmerings of general good will at various points throughout this comments thread, and I’m curious to see if it can end on such a note. If not, no biggie. But perhaps we could think of such an outcome a small-but-significant communal effort, i.e. small practice for larger projects?)

  58. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Levi, It seems that we’re stuck in a pattern where we can reach a moment of real understanding and everything seems fine — but you’ll eventually claim that Anthony and I basically deserve to be mistreated because “we started it.” Harman may have bullied Anthony in his somewhat paranoid post about his Laruelle lecture — but hey, Anthony’s been mean to him, so it’s understandable. After all, what do we expect?

    There’s a grain of truth there, in that I don’t expect everyone to fall all over themselves thanking me for the constructive criticism, etc. I don’t expect them to change their minds simply on my say-so. I try to be honest and have integrity and make differences clear when I think they’re important — and then I can withstand any negativity that results.

    With you, there seems to be this dynamic where you need to view yourself or your friends as victims, and then you’re “allowed” to be really mean because we deserve it. All your talk of generosity strikes me as a veiled threat because of that. There’s always an “or else.” If we don’t live up to your high standards of discursive charity, we should expect a tongue-lashing, and you won’t be satisfied until we admit we deserve it.

    On a broader topic: why all this cloying moralization of “charity” and “generosity”? Why do conversations need to start with a gracious donation? Why can’t we settle for accuracy and honesty and clarity? As I said on Twitter yesterday: discursive justice before discursive charity!

  59. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Aaron,

    Yes, I remember you. Hello! And, yes, I treat Twitter and Facebook as my private life. If you want to go and look at what I’ve said there I’m guessing it all falls along the lines of disagreements with their personality and, at a push, annoyance that what I see as essentially a retelling of Husserl has so much hype. That’s not a criticism though, it’s not one that I would think Harman should take time to respond to, so much as a pet peeve of mine. If it were a criticism I’d write it up and present it as such.

    If those comments have been anxiety inducing, I do apologize, but I have plenty of friends who do work on OOO. The Institute for Nature and Culture at DePaul, where I have worked for a number of years, has people I deeply respect working on OOO, setting up reading groups, etc. My personal distaste for the personalities (and I’ve had different experiences than you have) doesn’t mean one can’t engage with their work fruitfully. As I have said over and over here.

  60. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    (I should point out that the “Husserl” does not refer to Levi’s project. I have only read Harman and Morton, though his stuff was before the move to OOO.)

  61. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I’m sure he and Milbank would have a rollicking good time!

  62. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Aaron,
    Reflecting on your anxiety a bit more I wanted to offer a bit more encouragement by drawing on what I know of OOO as well as non-philosophy.

    You have good philosophical reasons for not being bothered by the personalities of both theories (I’m including myself there). Both OOO and non-philosophy have a principle of identity (probably from their shared phenomenological sources, though Laruelle draws heavily on Fichte for his) whereby that identity is unilaterally related/withdrawn to the relations around it. Both philosophies would suggest that the identity of their respective philosophies has something unrelated to the beings they spring out of. Something that is irreducibly “itself”. The subjects that produce the philosophies are in some ways completely unimportant for the philosophies as such precisely because of their withdrawn character/radical immanence. So you should write such a PhD without any worries. Hell, I’d be happy to read it and offer comments (and I promise none of them would express my personal antipathy towards any personalities).

  63. zjb Says:

    Reblogged this on jewish philosophy place and commented:
    ZJB: An interesting post about scholarship, philosophical thinking, and blogs.

  64. Aaron Says:

    Thanks very much for that feedback, Anthony–it’s exactly those similarities that I’ve been thinking so much about lately. I will definitely be in touch with some ideas!

  65. Adam Kotsko’s SR/OOO ‘blog phenomenon’: cynical and nihilistic? | ~ S c h i z o s o p h y ~ Says:

    [...] days ago Adam Kotsko blogged an interesting post about The psychopathology of everyday blogging. There he asserts that philosophical fads like SR and OOP are worth to be taken precisely as the [...]

  66. Ian Bogost Says:

    I sat here for a long time thinking of something to say that would come across the right way, but I fear I may fail no matter. So rather than propose or draw any conclusions, rather than answer questions or respond to arguments, I’m just posting to say that I read all these comments and the linked pages and other related material and I’ve learned something from doing so.

  67. David Golumbia Says:

    generosity would be (and is) terrific. i have been reading philosophy for a long time. i have never read comments like this before in a work of scholarship, let alone one that purports to explicate the author in question. and they are not the only examples by any means:

    Heidegger, despite his sometimes encyclopedic ambitions, is in fact a uniquely repetitive thinker. Despite his countless remarks on various concrete topics, despite the impressive bulk of his projected 102 -volume Collected Edition , Heidegger lacks the philosophical resources to discuss any particular topic at all. Shockingly enough, his supposed analyses of concrete themes all implode into a single repetitive dualism. (Harman, Tool-Being, 3)

    Heidegger is a thinker not only of profundity, but of profound monotony. Scratch the surface of his Stimmung, Zeitlichkeit, Spielraum, or Zwitterwesen, and you will find that they are only nicknames or aliases for a single obsessive reversal between the poles of “concealed” and “revealed,” ready-to-hand and present-at-hand. (Harman, Tool-Being, 6)

  68. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Is it funny to anyone else that Harman repeats this claim twice within three pages?


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