“Interview with Anthony Paul Smith on the slow reception of philosopher François Laruelle,” by C. Derick Varn

Originally posted on The (Dis)Loyal Opposition to Modernity.

Ross Wolfe: When I first began blogging in the summer of 2008, “speculative realism” and “object-oriented ontology” (still as yet largely undifferentiated) was on the rise.  Taylor Adkins contacted me about providing some insight into the German philosophical references used by François Laruelle in his “non-philosophy.”  I provided one brief commentary, having come out of a recent engagement with German Idealism via Dieter Henrich and Brady Bowman.  I’m still very ambivalent about Laruelle’s ideas, insofar as I pretend to understand them, though I find his critique of the common “Greco-Occidentalist” threads in the post-Hegelian “philosophies of difference” intriguing and appreciate Ray Brassier’s contributions that rely on Laruellean concepts.

[C Derick Varn: Anthony Paul Smith is a scholar and blogger for An und für sich. He came to my attention by a web seminar I “attended” on the philosophy of François Laruelle and non-philosophy which I attended.   I have since read his translations of Principles of Non-Philosophy (with  Nicola Rubczak)  and Future Christ: A Lesson in Heresy both out with Continuum. While still trying to wrap by head around the implications of Laruelle, I also wondered why Laruelle has taken so long to catch on compared to many of his contemporaries like Badiou, Derrida, and Deleuze. ]

C. Derick Varn: Why do you think Laruelle has been slow to be introduced to the Anglophone world?

Anthony Paul Smith: Regarding your first question, I taught at DePaul University as an adjunct for a year bouncing between the departments of Religious Studies, Environmental Studies, and Philosophy. During that year Alan D. Schrift came and presented a paper to the philosophy department. You may know that he’s editing a pretty comprehensive history of Continental philosophy and I jokingly asked him about why he hadn’t included Laruelle in his history. After explaining that he didn’t really know anyone who worked on him, it didn’t come to mind and whatever, he did tell me that he thought Laruelle was one of those figures who just fell through the cracks. If things had gone a little differently, he said, or someone had picked up a text to translate in the 70s or 80s, who knows if he would have been picked up. I didn’t get the impression he particularly liked Laruelle or anything, but he did bring out for me the contingency of these sorts of things. I mean, there are lots of brilliant thinkers in the world and some of them are exceedingly smart. But in the same way we pass homeless people and think that there is some perfectly good reason why that’s him and not me, I think as readers of philosophy we just assume that there is a really good reason we all keep talking about Derrida or Deleuze or Badiou or even Meillassoux now (just to stick with some sort of contemporary names). So that is clearly part of it, just an accident of history. At the same time his work and the language he uses to express it are difficult and I think this has put off a number of potential translators. I always wondered why Ray Brassier, for example, never translated one of his works, even one of the shorter ones, considering his own skills in that area. But he has tended to go with relatively more straight forward writers like Badiou and Meillassoux. But that’s the real issue — the lack of anything of his to read unless you’re willing to track down the French and work through it in a language unfamiliar to most Anglophone readers.

C.D.V.: Do you think Laruelle’s linkage to Ray Brassier’s work and also to Badiou has limited his reading in the US and Europe?

A.P.S.: As for Laruelle being linked to Brassier’s work, I don’t know if it has limited his reading. Brassier really was the first person to advocate for him in his Radical Philosophy article. At the same time, I think that Brassier’s own development (which is ongoing as far as I understand) did really color how many younger readers ended up reading him. There was a certain assumption, since many of them weren’t reading the primary sources I don’t think, that Laruelle shared Brassier’s antipathy for the human, for religion, for meaning, even for a vision of science that isn’t itself colored by a certain grimness and darkness. I think with Laruelle’s own texts starting to finally be available in English this is starting to fade away, which means many of those first-generation of readers have moved on from Laruelle finding his work concerned with issues they are not. But, I think we are seeing new readers, many coming from the arts, and I’m looking forward to conversations that do build off of Laruelle’s actual work rather than Brassier’s. I should say, I think Brassier was always quite clear that he had found something  useful in Laruelle, that he wasn’t just explicating him. And I think we see some of the harshest criticism of Laruelle, if respectful, in the chapter of Nihil Unbound where Brassier deals with him. Continue reading