Imagine being the kind of professional philosopher, priding yourself on your rigor, openness, and clarity, yet you wrote this:
Imagine for a minute how you might respond if I were to insist that Cornell West can only be understood as a black philosopher and presented my own work in terms of the necessity of overcoming black philosophy. Imagine that my work involved understanding the history of philosophy in terms of a contrast between black and Greek philosophy and moreover understood different black philosophers in terms of their place in this contrast. Moreover, imagine that Cornell West repeatedly publicly stated that he hated my reductive understanding of his work as merely being epiphenomenal aspect of some black racial essence, yet I continued to hector him with it.
Would it be hyperbole to say that I was being racist?
Is it hyperbole to say that the homologous aspects of François Laruelle’s work are anti-semitic (“black” being “Jewish” and “Cornell West” being Jacques Derrida)?
Yes, indeed, we might imagine how we would respond to such a reading of Cornell West, but what would that practice of imagination have to do with reading or understanding the work of Laruelle? Quite the opposite from what Jon Cogburn implies (and that’s all it is, an implication, not an argument which would require, you know, reading Laruelle). This imagined reading of West bears more in common with the bizarre obsession of Cogburn and other OOOers (namely Timothy Morton, Graham Harman, and Levi Bryant) to misread Laruelle than it does with Laruelle’s own reading of Derrida. It should be noted that Cogburn’s history is plain wrong here. While Derrida and Laruelle had debates over Laruelle’s reading of his work and the practice of non-philosophy generally, Derrida did not ever express annoyance at Laruelle’s use of the terms Greek and Jew or Laruelle’s discussion of the element of Jewishness of Derrida’s philosophy. That’s just false. Incorrect. Without any basis in reality.
Of course that doesn’t stop people from making these very serious accusations of anti-semitism. But we know that Cogburn can’t be serious because his entire reading of Laruelle has nothing to do with Laruelle, his own references are to blog posts by Timothy Morton (despite claiming that his post had nothing to do with Morton he does link to his posts) with Andrew McGettingan’s review of Laruelle’s Future Christ and Philosophies of Difference. As an aside, McGettingan’s criticisms are far more considered, though he does too quickly move to the accusation of anti-semitism as well without any analysis of what that would mean aside from it being a “very bad thing indeed”. McGettingan’s piece is the focus of a longer and more tempered critique in a book I am currently working on. I may post some drafts of that in the future, but for now let’s just set his review aside as that requires a longer discussion of Derrida (whose own work on Jewishness Cogburn seems ignorant of), Jewishness, the meaning and effect of anti-semitism. All of which I have good reason to think matters to McGettingan, but not to OOOers. For them it is just a slur, an attempt to smear someone else and mark their victim as taken care of.
So, let’s go back to Cogburn and his bizarre appeal to an imagined discussion around Cornel West. First, surely he can’t be ignorant to the fact that West does think there is something like black philosophy? And, like Laruelle whose own non-philosophy shares quite a bit with American pragmatism, that blackness of the philosophy isn’t seen as an essence, but as something that is actually constructed. It’s not a classification system used to identify and separate, but a way to delineate an actual antagonism that was operative in 20th-century French philosophy. Laruelle is not the only one to make these claims and the idea of some kind of relationship (antagonistic, cooperative, complimentary, or otherwise) between “Athens” or “Jerusalem” as a way of discussing the mixed heritage of European thought goes back to the earliest debates within Christian thought (Terrance Blake mentions other French thinkers who have done this). While it is indeed Derrida, and not Levinas, who is discussed in Philosophies of Difference, that has to do with Derrida standing as one of the most important philosophers of difference, but of course Levinas is a philosopher for Laruelle. He says as much through his entire corpus, makes claims in interviews that European philosophy was saved from itself by the Judaic turn of Levinas, and even edited one of the major collections of philosophical responses to Levinas in France. But, of course, for readers like Cogburn who haven’t actually read, that admiration and taking on board of a Jewish critique of Western philosophy doesn’t matter.
So what is with this obsessive slander? It is unclear what anti-semitism even means in this context. At time the logic, as others have said, looks to be saying something like, “Jewish thought doesn’t exist and if you study it as a non-Jew you are an anti-semite”. This sort of twisted logic is also at work in the way that Cogburn constantly says, “I’m not saying that Laruelle is an anti-semite! Plus, we can substract his anti-semitism from his work.” Rigor!
So what is? Why are OOOers obsessed with making a critique of Laruelle without having to read him? Cogburn might say he wanted to have a conversation. That’s the sort of fort/da move we are all used to seeing in discussion with OOO. Some kind of public statement that serves to mark them as the good guys who are open to discussion, while the actual performance of that discussion is filled with the worst kind of invectives. But why would he even want to have such a conversation and are we really expected to believe that he thinks a conversation can start with an accusation of anti-semitism? “So, have you stopped hating Jews?”
Why the slander? I don’t really know. The best I can figure is that the risks around slandering Laruelle and people interested in non-philosophy is so low that they can get away with it. It’s a way of marking themselves as good, liberal philosophers who just want to talk about ideas, man. It casts them as philosophers free from prejudices like anti-semitism, who care about not marking people in essentialist ways, unlike those people over there who may align themselves with Laruelle. For Harman it was a way of waging a proxy war with Brassier, for Morton it was a way of waging a proxy war with Galloway, for Bryant I think it might really have been a way of waging a proxy war with his own complicity with what he sees as the irrationalism of Continental philosophy. I don’t know though. I just know it’s tiring. Maybe I should come up with a clever name for it though and then somehow I’ll be a paragon of respectful discussion and get away with slander.