On Hurt Feelings: The Case of Levi Bryant’s Missing Sense of Humor

Levi Bryant, humorless "onticologist"

I know that it’s usually in bad taste to publish a private e-mail correspondence with another individual over the internet, but in this case I feel it’s fairly harmless.  Over at Levi Bryant’s blog, Larval Subjects, I was engaging in an interesting discussion between Levi and Michael from Archive Fire.  You can see one of my comments on this thread, as well as Michael’s favorable citation of some of the points I make.  Anyway, sometime yesterday, I added another comment on the entry regarding the debate between Spinoza and Leibniz on actualism vs. possibilism (although Spinoza was dead when Leibniz’s major metaphysical writings began to appear).

After several hours, I saw that new comments had been updated for the post, and so I checked to see if Levi or Michael had responded to anything I’d written.  Much to my dismay, I discovered that my comment was nowhere to be found.  I tried leaving another one, asking what had happened, but this one likewise disappeared after a few minutes.  Concerned, I contacted Levi through e-mail:

[E-mails deleted out of respect for Levi Bryant’s privacy]

Basically, Levi told me that he felt insulted by a comment I’d left the day before, and that, coupled with my satyric post on SR/OOO, he’s decided to cease discussion with me.  My reply to him was that the sendup of SR/OOO was aimed at the movement in general, and that he shouldn’t take it as a personal affront.  I also encouraged him to develop a better sense of humor about things generally and himself in particular.

So far, I haven’t received any further response.  This isn’t the first time this has happened, either.  Back in the ides of April, I published a somewhat lengthier (though similarly fraught) exchange between Levi and me that had resulted from a heated debate on the subject of Marxism on his own blog.  He accused me at that point of “hate speech.”  After some further conversation through e-mail (following the correspondence posted in that entry), I explained myself more thoroughly.  Levi eventually came to his senses and invited me back to comment on his blog.

Now again, it’s his right to exclude certain individuals from posting or commenting on his blog if he wants to.  I just think it’s a shame that he allows his feelings to be so easily hurt, or that he takes an obviously satyrical manifesto directed at a general movement and interprets it as a personal attack.  It’s really too bad that he can’t have a little better sense of humor about this, and have a laugh along with everyone else.

By contrast, the responses I received from the author of the blog ktismatics and Joseph Weissman of Fractal Ontology were unambiguously supportive.  Even the e-mail I received, from Nick Srnicek of Speculative Heresy, was polite and largely understanding:

[A polite and good-natured e-mail deleted out of respect for Nick Srnicek’s privacy]

If this means an end to my participation on Larval Subjects, then so be it.  It’s just sort of sad that it had to be over such a petty matter.

33 thoughts on “On Hurt Feelings: The Case of Levi Bryant’s Missing Sense of Humor

  1. Ross,
    I would just like to say that I am amused that someone who is as inoffensive and pleasant as you are has apparently become a cyber-pariah in a very obscure corner of the internet. You should invent a new emoticon to represent the layers and nuances of your feelings.

    • Thanks for the support, Natalie. I will say in his defense that I can be somewhat vicious in my criticisms, but I don’t see any reason for him to react the way he did.

      • Ross, this is not too be unexpected in the world of Speculative Realism or OOO, there are many, although not ‘all’ of course, who have viciously attacked me for my questioning. In particular, Graham Harman personally unleashed a wave of Harmanites onto my blog with very nasty comments, ranging from some-what sensible to ‘no wonder your mother tortured you’ as I use some of my personal history (with cult-family background etc.) to understand philosophy. It was very hurtful and tears come to my eyes as I write this, for the attacks were vicious and inspired by Harman himself. I have also had a barrage of anti-Semitic attacks by OOO supporters and Heideggerian-Harmanites. It is a nasty world in SR/OOO sometimes, and although some of the people in it are very pleasant and open minded, many I have encountered – especially Harman and his followers – have unleashed a great deal of nastiness.

  2. That comment where you said something about his education was totally misunderstood – while you were pointing out that it’s okay to have one’s philosophical education in public, i.e. to have your thoughts publicly formed, discussed and challenged, he took it to mean that you were disparaging his education (like the school he went to). Reads like he’s very insecure about his education and sees a sign of criticism everywhere – sad story, really…

    • Yeah, I was thinking that too, Evgeny. It’s just perplexing that he allowed me to comment for so long after that passing comment, and then just suddenly decided to bar me from posting after an obviously satyric piece.

    • I don’t think it is inappropriate, especially since Levi, Harman et al, are very exhibitionist about everything they do – especially Harman who obsessively tells the world about his daily life 9 times a day or more. My relative, Alex, is ‘following’ his blog and receives dozens of emails about his latest lost luggage to his feelings about not having wifi etc, these are public intellectuals and they broadcast their opinions widely and their personal lives – Harman and Levi especially – are very, very open, and Ross’s critique is very soft and sensible and relative to the discussion ‘at hand’

  3. Nathalie, it depends what your notion of “obscure corner of the blogosphere” is. I get 1000 hits a day on average. That’s at the low end. Not as much as Fox, but not bad for philosophy.

      • No doubt these two posts have upped your hit rate significantly, Ross.

        I enjoyed your manifesto; I found it clever and funny and sharp. I see no reason why you, like others, shouldn’t critique the ideas, the thinking style, and the mutual admiration society of OOO — or Lovecraft’s fiction for that matter. I’m less enthused about leveling personal critiques or airing private emails publicly, but I understand there are differences of opinion on that score.

        I admit that I don’t much like being the butt of a joke. If I were an OOOlogist I doubt that I’d have greeted the manifesto as good-natured satire. I’d have regarded it as a fairly caustic rejection. It’s almost as though you want the OOOists to love you not in spite of the scorn you heaped on them in that piece but because of it. And by explicitly eliciting reactions from your targets it’s as if you’re inviting their scorn in response.

        Publicly attributing unconscious motivations to someone else is itself an open invitation to the other’s scorn, so maybe I’m just projecting here. Anyhow, I enjoy your writing, I have learned from your ideas, and I will keep coming back for more.

        Best,
        John Doyle

      • No, I think there may be something to your neat little bit of lay analysis here. There’s a great deal of narcissism involved in it. I truly expected that the SR/OOO people should come here and read it, squint at the blinding truth of my satire, admire its wit and sagacity, and then thank me for showing them the limitations of their blogosophizing. Well, perhaps not expected, but at least that’s what I was hoping for.

        In any case, I’m glad you appreciated my little manifesto, John. Most of my posts are about Marxism, contemporary politics, and the history of Soviet avant-garde architecture, but occasionally I’ll throw my hat into the ring of SR/OOO, even if I’m quite critical of the movement(s).

  4. I have to agree with Morton here, although I don’t think it’s “way out of line”, but it’s making me cringe just a bit – even though I know that others have done that before (i.e. published emails and so on), I still think that such matters should be kept in private as long as they are just matters of interpersonal likes and dislikes. That includes even unsolicited and nasty emails from some folks. I would only consider publishing private communications if my words were taken out of context or twisted around, but it doesn’t seem to be the case here.

    As for the sense of humor, those who invest all of their time in their philosophical projects, often to the detriment of many other areas of life, rarely like it when those projects are ridiculed (even if this ridicule is totally justified as it is in many cases) – they have nothing else to live for, so don’t take this one thing they have away from them, let them play around with it, I say.

    • I appreciate your opinion and agree that there was something about that exchange that was cringe-inducing. I’ve found that I have a fairly low threshold for vicarious embarrassment in general, which is perhaps why I’ve found reading so many of Levi’s posts excruciating.

      It was a bit unfair, though, the time he banned me for merely associating with you, “the greatest troll of the theory blogosphere,” as he called you. I can see why you’ve personally given up trying to engage with him.

  5. I agree with Tim and Evgeni – as someone whose private emails to you are now being published publicly in this post, I’m disappointed. I don’t think it’s appropriate especially without even bothering to ask for permission. I don’t appreciate being dragged into your arguments with other people.

    • And for what it’s worth, I think Levi’s response is perfectly reasonable – straight to the point, justified, and without being a personal attack. Certainly nothing remotely worthy of devoting an entire post to where you air private emails.

      • In any case, I am glad to have discovered your blog on The Disorder of Things. I take from the mission statement (viz. “relentless criticism of all existing conditions) that you have some commitment to Marx, however distanced. Perhaps some interesting posts I could check out.

        Questions of “normativity” have always bothered me, however. Whenever Habermas writes on the subject he departs from the tradition of the Frankfurt School — i.e., from critical theory. It becomes pseudo-positivistic drivel.

    • I apologize to you for using your e-mail as a case in point without your permission. Still, I appreciate the quick reply you gave me and your polite explanation for why you weren’t going to publish it. I would apologize to Mr. Bryant as well on his blog, if he’d let me, but in lieu of that I’ll apologize for publishing his e-mails here.

      Apart from this questionable decision to publish private e-mails, however, I really do stand firm in my position that Levi needs to either get thicker skin or a better sense of humor.

  6. Ross, you should stop being so petty and immature. If there’s anything that qualifies a person as a “a bit of a baby,” it’s probably get so worked up over a blog’s comment policy that you decide to create a whole angry post about it, complete with private correspondence.

    • I’m not sure exactly where you detected “anger” in my post. If anything, the tone of this entry is one of pity — a feeling of pity that Levi couldn’t have a bit of a better sense of humor about things.

      • Fine. Change “angry post” to “condescending post.” I’m not sure that the particulars matter so much on that quite specific point since the overall thrust of my comment ought to remain clear enough.

      • Well, that seems a bit more appropriate. It’s hard not to condescend to someone for whom you feel pity.

        As for being “a bit of a baby,” I’m not so sure. I’m not whining about his decision, just expressing my dismay. I even defend his right to have made it. Nowhere do I even ask that he reconsider his decision to prevent me from posting on his blog.

  7. Pingback: A Clarification on Why Levi Bryant has Really “Given up Talking to Me” « The Charnel-House

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