On Obsessive Slander and Non-Philosophy

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.

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19 Responses to “On Obsessive Slander and Non-Philosophy”

  1. dominicfox Says:

    I think the conventional name for the operation you describe is “scapegoating”.

  2. Meg P Says:

    This seems incredibly uncharitable and at least a little ill-willed given the rest of the post you linked to:

    “I write this because I feel bad for snarkily responding to a comment by “APS” to this post. The fact is, I had no idea what she was talking about when she wrote:

    ‘So is this what OOO does now? They just write posts about how they are unfairly maligned and treated poorly while their major figures go around accusing people of anti-semitism? Neat. Really makes me want to take you guys seriously.*’

    APS’ comment was not only surreally uncharitable to my post, but I just had no idea who is going around accusing people of anti-semitism. This has prompted quite a bit of e-mail discussions to try to discern what she was talking about. “APS” was talking about posts written about a year ago (e.g. this) by Tim Morton, who finds himself horrified for a variety for a variety of reasons by Laruelle’s division of all philosophy into “Greek” and “Jewish.” I also found this paper by Andrew McGettigan which describes Laruelle’s comments about Jewish philosophy homologously to the racist nonsense with which I started this post.”

    Not only does the post explicitly state that the part you quoted is “racist nonsense,” but it is being used to describe someone else’s position towards Laruelle (in this case McGettigan’s). On top of all of that, your original comment that sparked the NewAPPS post still makes very little sense, and it is clear that Jon is going out of his way to make sense of it, precisely because it is a heavy charge that seemingly came from nowhere.

    I didn’t even see anyone attempting to discuss Laruelle or “those people over there” who align themselves with him, they seemed instead to be trying to make sense of your claims (read: sneers). The most I can muster on either account is a general “wtf?”

  3. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    “Why won’t all these snipers and grey vampires have charitable discussions with me?!”

  4. Charles R Says:

    I’ve long had a respect for you, APS, from close to a decade or so ago when I lurked on the former incarnation of the site and most of us were young whippersnappers. Y’all got your shit together and were graduated. My life wrecked out, but I think I’m doing alright. You owe me nothing, and I owe you nothing, but please understand I’m saying this from some sense of acknowledgment that I don’t harbor any ill will towards you but appreciation for how you’re awesome.

    Cogburn’s comments drawing upon Harman and Brassier in the punk piece was to point out how those two have written about the kind of mentality so prevalent on the Internet-raised generation of kids, where authentically appreciating anything is the trap of ignorant commoners. This wasn’t about immunizing OOO people from criticism. It was about all those jerks and cranks all over the Internet who do not allow people to say they like this or that band because to care enough that way is to reveal one’s self as not literate enough in whatever aesthetic transcendentality ‘the hipster’ trope represents. You were the one who brought Cogburn’s failure to call out someone for making the charge of antisemitism pretty much out of nowhere on a piece that had little (ostensibly) to do with OOO.

    When you came on to that goon squad post, I had no idea that person was you, and it seemed so odd and out of place for what the conversation was like. And when Cogburn wrote an attempt at explaining his position, I noted the number of times Cogburn admitted to having no idea what you were talking about or what the substance of the complaint was. Cogburn isn’t feigning ignorance. He’s admitted that he stepped into something bigger than what he was aware, but only because you were bringing it into a space where it wasn’t being acknowledged. Cogburn’s self-defense in the ‘overcoming the Jewish obstacle’ article is trying to make sense of how someone might think Laruelle is anti-Semitic, and it’s a poor attempt since it’s also attempting to be a revelation of useful inconsistencies for when essentialism grounds a charge. I think you nail precisely how weird it is to argue that he wasn’t saying Laruelle is an anti-Semite but still being an anti-Semite doesn’t detract from the other parts of one’s philosophy. I really don’t want to defend Cogburn’s ad hoc justifications, but I’m going to have to go with that series of defenses being a shotgun approach to defend, defend, defend. But, against what?

    Step back and think about this. What really makes what you’re doing here in this and in your comments different from the conservative Internet commentator who posts: “Why don’t the moderate Muslims condemn the radical wing of their group who call for the murder of us all? Why, because there are no such things as moderate Islamists, and all of them are guilty of these secret thoughts the true Muslims reveal!?”

    Cogburn admits to being largely unaware and previously ignorant of what you’re very clearly and rightly concerned with. It looks like Cogburn is trying to get up to speed while also using the moment as an opportunity to score theoretical points against bad versions of contemporary continentals. Is Cogburn, though, whom you are, right this very minute, honestly upset with?

    I think you’ve shown you’re willing to go into vulnerability in a very public place such as this, as with the recent discussion about how to think consent in a world of manufactured desires. So, be vulnerable and think seriously with yourself. What actually prompted you to come into that punk article to post as you did?

  5. bzfgt Says:

    I probably shouldn’t post this, as it will probably do no good and you will probably think I’m a jerk or an idiot. But I am disturbed by this whole exchange. I am surprised that Cogburn has no idea about the whole ongoing Athens/Jerusalem theme in philosophy, and his remarks about Laruelle are not very informed or informative. But he wouldn’t have made them at all if you hadn’t gone on Newapps and started incongruously bloviating about his supposed tribal defense of OOO, seemingly because he quoted Graham Harman in a post that had pretty much nothing to do with OOO.

    I recognize that the offending paragraph, which quotes Harman, is similar in tone and content to a lot of the stuff Harman and Bryant say while criticizing their critics, and that this may have skewed your reading of the post. But if this offended you, it is seemingly because you are annoyed with the OOOers “tribal” defensiveness and what you perceive as bad faith maneuvering that prevents people from having fruitful philosophical online engagement with them. Whether or not that is true or fair, the reason I am posting this is that it seems clear to me that this is not Cogburn’s style: he’s in good faith a higher percentage of the time than 99% of people on the internet, and most importantly, no matter what Cogburn says or does, if you criticize him respectfully and with some content other than ad hominems, he will always take you seriously, treat you with respect, admit it when he is convinced he may be wrong rather than defensively trying to make you look wrong, and generally be a good interlocutor even when his views are the opposite of his partner in conversation. The conversation began with you accusing him of the opposite approach, and if it degenerated from their that is largely your responsibility.

    I recognize that anti-semitism is a very serious charge and that Cogburn’s second post is incommensurable with that in its level of seriousness and rigor. But he was clear that he was not well informed on the matter, which mitigates the sin, if it doesn’t exculpate him. And his main point seems to be missed: the purpose of the post was not to say anything about Laruelle. It was to say that from the evidence he’s seen, it is possible to say these things about Laruelle without intentionally trying to discredit or slander Laruelle; basically, the post was saying “People who aren’t idiots think there’s something problematic about Laruelle’s discussion of Jewish thought, so it seems to me that the very fact that someone raises this issue is not sufficient evidence that they are a bad faith slanderer and jerk.” In other words, Morton’s charges aren’t from left field, they have been made elsewhere in a published paper, so even if they are mistaken they should be considered on their merits rather than cited as evidence that Morton is a slanderer and therefore anyone who quotes Graham Harman is also a slanderer who shouldn’t be taken seriously.

    It seems from my perspective–I have never read Laruelle or any of the criticisms or Morton’s blog at all, actually–that Cogburn is basically one of the most reasonable people on the internet who was trolled into making an ill-considered post by someone accusing him of not being a reasonable internet personage on the basis of flimsy associative logic. It seems from my perspective, in short, that you are being a jerk. I only say this because it seems so clear to me that you are being a jerk that I hope you will reconsider the events of the past day and apologize to Cogburn. I am sorry if you find this offensive, but it is sincere, and even if I’m wrong I’m not motivated by any ill will toward you; whether you accept my comments or not, I hope you don’t think I’m trying to be a jerk.

  6. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Yea, I am disturbed that I’m being psychoanalyzed while it’s totally cool that slander is being spread. But I’m the jerk for saying it is slander instead and assuming “reasonable people can disagree on whether or not Laruelle is ok with the murder of Jews”. I find that depressing and disappointing.

  7. Adam Kotsko Says:

    The fact that this thread immediately descended into niceness policing and hashing out the details of past threads is disturbing and disappointing.

    Regardless of the circumstances that caused this topic to arise again, the fact remains that people are throwing around completely unfounded accusations of anti-Semitism — which is widely regarded as one of the worst things in the world to be — against Laruelle, a thinker in whom Anthony is deeply invested.

    No matter how “nice” Cogburn was when he promoted such accusations as being plausible, the fact remains that those accusations are very serious and that Cogburn has no real basis for making them.

  8. Adam Kotsko Says:

    To put it differently: it’s hard for me to imagine a way that Anthony could have behaved that would have justified making unfounded accusations of anti-Semitism against someone who wasn’t personally involved in the discussion at all. Regardless of the tone in which such accusations were offered, they were by their very nature not “nice” or “charitable” and it’s totally acceptable and understandable to get angry about them. Indeed, if such accusations are floating around in a given intellectual circle, it’s probably okay to be a little on edge about them and to bring them up in circumstances that don’t seem completely intuitive to everyone else involved!

    So in short, the behavior of groundlessly slandering Laruelle is objectively worse than anything Anthony did or was likely to do, just by definition. Get over yourselves.

  9. Charles R Says:

    No, Anthony, you’re not the jerk for being concerned about Laruelle being slandered. You’re the jerk for derailing a conversation that wasn’t even remotely associated with insinuating slander about Laruelle, in order to guilt Cogburn by association for simply using apt phrases by people you’ve already had disagreements with. Cogburn would never have even entered into any kind of discussion about what’s going on with the slander unless you did that. Now that he is, and stumbling through it, here’s a great opportunity to show how not to stumble.

    It’s a good discussion to have in order to set things right, but it doesn’t have to be forced. And if neither of you think that being charitable to one’s own worst enemies is something to strive for, but that reminding one another to be charitable and patient is niceness police, then what is at all the point in asking *Cogburn* to not slander and not assume and to read, read carefully, and read thrice more before he speaks in ignorance?

    Like I said, you owe me nothing, but then I’m not the one *you* accused of being complicit in the charging of anti-Semitism against someone else.

  10. bzfgt Says:

    Adam, I don’t want to argue with you or with anyone anymore about this since I don’t see the point, but I do want to point out that control-f reveals that the first occurrence of the word “nice” on this thread is in your post. So there.

  11. Adam Kotsko Says:

    My quotation marks were intended as scare-quotes, not as indicating a literal quotation. I regret the ambiguity and appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight.

  12. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    “You’re the jerk for derailing a conversation that wasn’t even remotely associated with insinuating slander about Laruelle, in order to guilt Cogburn by association for simply using apt phrases by people you’ve already had disagreements with.”

    Ok. My bad. I find the whole taxonomy (grey vampire, sniper,blah blah blah) really annoying, but fine. My bad. Still stand by the main thrust of this post.

  13. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I hate to be stubborn, but I feel like false accusations of anti-Semitism are a more serious problem than derailing a comment thread. Call me old-fashioned!

  14. ambzone Says:

    The grey vampire thing is still going around? One of the least useful contributions of Mark Fisher (k-punk) during the last decade. Just block comments or learn to with their constitutive negativity.

  15. Steven Shakespeare Says:

    What is striking to me is that, whatever the rights and wrongs of Anthony’s original intervention, the subsequent Cogburn post simply presented Laruelle’s anti-Semitism as an established fact, largely on the basis of someone else’s blog post. This is a strong reading par excellence – one that dispenses with any need to actually read.

  16. iamblichi19 Says:

    OK, I can’t really follow this discussion at all, but I gotta say this is why I love An und fur sich!

  17. Aaron Pedinotti Says:

    As someone whose ideas have been influenced by OOO, I want to say that I find the accusations of anti-semitism that have been leveled against Laruelle to be baseless and dubiously motivated, and I wish that they would stop.

  18. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Thank you, Aaron. I appreciate that. For the record, I used and found useful Harman’s Quadruple Object in my PhD and which is now published in Ecologies of Thought.

  19. Aaron Pedinotti Says:

    My pleasure Anthony. And thanks for the book ref. I look forward to reading it.


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