Including his reaction to my satiric
Manifesto of speculative realist/
object-oriented ontological blogging
Image: Ray Brassier
I first came across Dr. Brassier’s brutal excoriation of the Speculative Realist/Object-Oriented Ontological blogging “movement” after my own lighthearted sendup of the phenomenon was met with such disapproval by Tim Morton, Levi Bryant, and (seemingly) Nick Srnicek, although Srnicek was perhaps justifiably upset that I counterposed his e-mail to me to Bryant’s. In any case, I felt some sense of vindication upon seeing Ray Brassier’s own scathing commentary on SR movement in his interview with the Polish magazine Kronos:
The “speculative realist movement” exists only in the imaginations of a group of bloggers promoting an agenda for which I have no sympathy whatsoever: actor-network theory spiced with pan-psychist metaphysics and morsels of process philosophy. I don’t believe the internet is an appropriate medium for serious philosophical debate; nor do I believe it is acceptable to try to concoct a philosophical movement online by using blogs to exploit the misguided enthusiasm of impressionable graduate students. I agree with Deleuze’s remark that ultimately the most basic task of philosophy is to impede stupidity, so I see little philosophical merit in a ‘movement’ whose most signal achievement thus far is to have generated an online orgy of stupidity.
Now, Brassier’s unsparing invective against this trend within the theory blogosphere has already been widely circulated, and I must admit that I was something of a latecomer in discovering the sentiments he expressed. Most have probably been aware of these statements for much longer than me. Nevertheless, I’ve been slowly working through his recent book, Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction, and must admit that I’ve enjoyed it so far more than anything I’ve read from Harman or Latour. I especially appreciate his engagement with Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment; his interpretation is really quite good. So there’s a level of respect I had for him that preceded my stumbling upon this little snippet.
Anyway, following my recent publication of the satyric Manifesto of Speculative Realist/Object-Oriented Ontological Blogging and subsequent discovery of Brassier’s somewhat similar (though no doubt deeper) position on the matter, I e-mailed him with a link to the satyric piece. With the largely mixed response to the post that I’d received from the rest of the theory blogosphere, I was curious as to what Brassier might make of it. He responded this morning, rather promptly. The correspondence ran as follows.
Me to Ray Brassier
Dr. Ray Brassier,
Your comment on the SR “movement” in the Kronos interview was very refreshing.
I wrote a sendup of the whole SR/OOO blogging phenomenon on my own blog, which I think you might enjoy.
Ray Brassier to me
Thanks for the link. This is very amusing. The online antics of the OOO crowd would be overdue for satire were it not for the fact that their spectacular inanity frequently defies parody.
If I may make one observation, it’s that your characterization is somewhat over general — neither jargon mongering, nor insularity, nor cliquishness are peculiar to SR/OOO.
What is peculiar to them is the claim that this is the first philosophy movement to have been generated and facilitated by the internet: a presumption rooted in the inability to distinguish philosophy from talk about philosophy. The vices so characteristic of their discourse can be traced back directly to the debilities of the medium. Blogging is essentially a journalistic medium, but philosophy is not journalism. Exchanging opinions about philosophy, or even exchanging philosophical opinions, ought not to be equated with philosophical debate. This is not to say that one cannot produce and disseminate valuable philosophical research online. But the most pernicious aspect of this SR/OOO syndrome is its attempt to pass off opining as argument and to substitute self-aggrandizement for actual philosophical achievement.
Having said this, not everyone associated should be tarred with the same brush: I don’t think someone like Reid Kotlas deserves to be grouped with the OOO enthusiasts. Admittedly, I’m biased since I have corresponded with Reid. But even if I hadn’t, I would hope that his basic intellectual scrupulousness would be evident enough to distinguish him from the rest.
Me to Ray Brassier
Thanks for the prompt response. Your clarifications regarding the peculiar claim of the OOO, regarding its basis in the newish technology of the internet, are very helpful. The democratization of philosophical “reflection” made possible by the internet, and particularly the blogosphere, all too often results in nothing more than vulgarization.
Regarding Reid Kane/Kotlas, I will admit that I hold him in significantly higher regard than the rest of the OOO blogosophers. This isn’t so much for his work on his blog Planomenology, which I understand is more in line with the sort of philosophizing with which this new “movement” participates, but rather for his strikingly intellectually honest engagement with the tradition of Marxism through his blog “The Luxemburgist.” He and I exchanged a few articles over the relation between Luxemburg’s politics and Lenin’s, as well as its analysis by Lukacs in History and Class Consciousness. I was very impressed by his critical and analytical abilities, to say the least. So you’re right that I probably shouldn’t group him with the rest of those I mention, who are in almost every case intellectual frauds.
P.S. — Would you mind if I published this correspondence between us on my blog? I would want to ask your permission so as to not drag you into any fights you wouldn’t want any part of. But your candid, undisguised contempt for the SR/OOO blogging crowd in Kronos gives me hope that you wouldn’t mind even further distancing yourself from them.
Ray Brassier to me:
Re: publishing this correspondence: my antipathy towards this stuff is no secret by now and I have no qualms about it being public knowledge.
However, although I don’t mind being attacked, I’m reluctant to provide my enemies with extra ammunition by criticizing them in a way they can too easily discredit.
The problem is that publishing this online lays me open to charges of hypocrisy and underhandedness: “Brassier is attacking blogging, but he’s doing it on a blog! What a hypocrite! He doesn’t like the internet, but still he uses it to carry out personal attacks on others! How underhanded!”
One can be sure that this line of attack will be quickly resorted to, since the parties involved are hardly known for their argumentative scruples.
So while I’m no longer prepared to disguise my contempt for Harman and Bryant, publicizing it in this way risks playing into their hands by providing them with the opportunity to portray my animus as mere personal vindictiveness, against which they can easily retaliate by throwing a few choice insults my way. But the more the issue gets personalized, or reduced to a “clash of personalities”, the more they win, since substituting gossip for principled argument is part and parcel of their modus operandi.
Once again, Brassier wasn’t shy in airing his disgust with the SR/OOO blogosphere, and so here stands his expanded indictment of the lazy, unrigorous, and largely improvised opining that all-too-often flatters itself by passing its opinions off as legitimate philosophical inquiry on the internet. This merely confirms my prior belief that the movement’s internet popularity was largely just the work of a few narcissistic, self-aggrandizing charlatans, a conspiracy of dunces to promote one another.
Not to say that everyone involved in it can be grouped into that category. I’m sure there are plenty of bloggers interested in these thoughts who approach it with only the most sincere intellectual intentions, and I do not mean to disparage them.