Some thoughts on secularity-without-secularism and non-philosophy more generally (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

Rather than offering an overall perspective on A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature in this post, I wanted to highlight several moments that I found particularly insightful to think and wrestle with.

1. The most viscerally powerful moment for me in the book was the image it offered for the possibility of what a generic secular might look like. Anthony recounts a dual act of solidarity that occurred between the Muslim Community and the Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt. The first was the act of solidarity by Egyptian Muslims who, in the wake of a suicide bombing against the Coptic community, encircled a Coptic Christian Church to provide the worshippers a human shield that would allow them to safely celebrate Christmas. The second image is likewise an encircling of protection. During the Tahir square occupations, a number of protestors carried out their religious duty and prayed during the calls for prayer, and in so doing, left themselves vulnerable to police harassment and brutality. This time it was the Coptic Christians who encircled the Muslims, constructing a human shield and allowing prayer to continue free of harassment and intimidation. Read the rest of this entry »

The Defiance of Baselessness and Mutation: A Reply to Daniel Colucciello Barber (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

In our society there are individuals, found often amongst black youth, who are told that their dissatisfaction with the World is unreasonable and expressive of their defiance. Is it unsurprising that a group of people subjected to the long lingering effects of social death constitutive of the World would seek to defy that World? That they would seek to end it through the overburdening of its space and time with niche spaces that, to the World, look only like death but for the moment they can be sustained are experienced as a moment of the lived-without-life? I want to frame my response to Dan in reference to the singular suffering expressive of the primary antagonism of anti-black racism, in part because Dan has helped introduce to my a number of important authors on this problem and because Dan and I both share a sense that thought must respond to suffering. The problem of suffering–and do not let the coldness of this term lull you into thinking that the problem of suffering isn’t a crying out that we hear–is what I hear behind Dan’s question to me: “Is the “non” about the enactment of baselessness, which can also be enacted in the neighborhood philosophy claims to possess, or is the “non“ about finding a different use for philosophy?” This question, if it is to matter, must regard something more than a question regarding Laruelle or Meillassoux or debates in philosophy proper. This question, for it does matter, is one regarding what kind of weapon non-philosophy may be. Not just in the hands of Laruelle, and it is in a very serious way a weapon for him, but as a weapon that another may learn to use (albeit in some small way, but smallness matters in an ecology of thought) for the overturning of the World. Read the rest of this entry »

Aviary Notes on Creatural Immanence (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

The book’s first chapters triangulate philosophy, theology, ecology; its later chapters undo this triangulation; they supplement and radicalize. The book self-consciously creates the space for its reading, not between or beyond philosophy, theology, ecology, but already torturously active among them. It is a book that actively resists argument. Instead it is a book to be worked with and through. Thankfully it teaches you how to read it. It has an idiom that is more intimate, closer to you than you first thought. “Ecologists are able to take people into a field and show them the teeming drama of what seemed hidden before. I will do the same now for this theory of nature” (217). Its scope is defined and chimerical: it opens onto itself. And it takes further reading. Read the rest of this entry »

The nature and future of liberal theology

I’m one of a number of people asked to write 1000 words on ‘the nature and future of liberal theology’ for an upcoming issue of the journal Modern Believing. I’ve found this really difficult, partly because of the demands of brevity and not being able to qualify everything I say a million times, partly because of my ambivalence about liberal theology itself. For exactly the same reasons, it’s been a really stimulating process. At the risk of self-indulgence, I am reproducing my first draft here. If anyone has patience to read and comment, I’d appreciate it.


Theology is often a matter of images. In the case of liberal theology, two images stand out which define its classical form. Both need critical interrogation. Read the rest of this entry »

All we are saying is give war a chance; Or, the strange peace of an ecology of thought: A Response to James Stanescu (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

When Scu says that he doesn’t know anything about Laruelle or theology, I want to say, with him, “but here you are!” My hope and my fear is that this book doesn’t really fit comfortably into any disciplinary mold so one shouldn’t need to know anything about Laruelle (because the book isn’t a book on Laruelle properly) or theology (because the book isn’t a book of theology properly) or any of the other disciplines engaged with (ecology, philosophy) in order to engage and spend time with the text itself. And I love what Scu says about the lattice structure of first philosophies becoming second philosophies and think that this vision of the book fits well with that description. There is really nothing in Scu’s post that I don’t resonate with and so in my response I will pull a little bit from our short discussion in the comments where certain aspects of a self-criticism emerged.

Scu picks up on a part of the book I wrote later in its development, the discussion of Laruelle and ecology. This fits within a general section where I am trying to attend to certain differences between Laruelle’s own deployment of non-philosophy and my own use. So, Laruelle, for example, expresses a clear suspicion regarding ecology because of the way it may be used to harass man and the ways in which its metaphysics has remained unexamined. I try to show in this discussion of the undulatory wave that ecosystems are far more “wave-like” than “particle-like” when you understand them from the perspective of the ecosystem instead of the more macroscopic question of species (though, species too are “wave-like” when understand from a certain timescale, something I try to engage with in the book when discussing biodiversity). When Laruelle is modified in this way I think he gives us a better sense than Latour or Morton for how philosophy/theology/theory can engage with science and particularly the science of ecology when it comes to the question of nature. But this discussion of the ocean brings us again to the question of the relation between a peace and the non-normative figures so often invoked in the book and to which Scu adds the figure of the pirate. Read the rest of this entry »

Is James Cone a postmodern theologian?

As I worked through God of the Oppressed with my students this week, a disturbing thought occurred to me: I began to detect a homology between Cone’s project (at least as represented in this particular text) and that of Radical Orthodoxy. Part of this may have stemmed from my somewhat questionable placement of Cone in the “postmodern” segment of the humanities capstone course — a choice that I made in part because I thought Cone was a challenging variant on something like “perspectivalism,” and that came to seem further justified by Cone’s implicit emphasis on social construction.

For Cone, it seems, social construction works. Oppression would be thoroughly determinative for the experience and identity of the oppressed if not for the transcendent reality of Christ. He says this over and over: the enslaved Africans never could have known they were human if Christ hadn’t been with them. They never could have survived and resisted slavery and oppression if Christ hadn’t been with them. Furthermore, he is aware of the danger that this transcendence could be viewed as a mere subjective fantasy of the oppressed, an imagined compensation — and so it must be objectively, historically attested in the life of Jesus.

The black experience is thus validated by its reference to a reality that is at once historical and transcendent. And if there wasn’t this transcendent, historically attested point of reference, then violence and death would have the final say — the earthly masters, with their power over life and death, really would be the ultimate masters. Here I can’t help but see strong parallels with the Radical Orthodox project of taking “postmodern” thought at its word — yes, everything is socially constructed, yes, we’re consigned to an endless power struggle with no ultimate meaning or goal — and then proposing that divine transcendence is the only answer.

The difference — and it is a hugely important difference — is that Cone grants authority to the church of the oppressed where Radical Orthodoxy places its hopes in the church of the oppressor. Nonetheless, I find the parallels alarming and I’m not sure what to do with them.

Is “Non” Baseless? (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

Given a book such as this, which does so much so well, to approach a response by way of summation or comprehension is to risk binding oneself to cliché or dilution. Better, perhaps, to just pick up one of the singular insights with which the book is littered. One of these insights is embedded in Smith’s analysis of Quentin Meillassoux’s critical reading of François Laruelle. Following Smith’s own incisive account, the point of this analysis is not to start another intra-philosophical war, now between Meillassoux and Laruelle. It is rather to give attention to, or to study, what it is about Laruelle’s thought that remains unthinkable by philosophy, or by the sort of work named and called for by philosophy. This is to say that Meillassoux’s misreading of Laruelle, and the critique that depends upon this misreading, can be taken as an indication of the incommensurability between standard philosophical practice and the practice of thought that is at issue under the name “Laruelle.” Read the rest of this entry »


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