Comradeship, criticism, and collegiality

When did “comradely” come to mean “collegial”?

Part of the academicization of Marxism, I’d contend, has involved the gradual replacement of frank, unsparing polemic with chummy, backscratching collegiality. This can be seen in all the gentle nudges and polite asides, with authors practically tripping over themselves in order to point out how “thought-provoking” and “insightful” their critics are. Flattery of one’s peers is now almost as institutionalized as the periodic paradigm shift — the cynical, cyclical revolt against the old guard.

Academics’ egos bruise easily, you see, and they’re all chasing tenure and book deals in an increasingly dried-up market. So they need to be mollified from time to time, reassured of how much they’re enriching the “discourse,” lest they become demoralized and drop out. “Keep at it, son. You’re doing good work. Just a few more asses to kiss and gushing reviews to write; then you’ll have it made.” Ball-washing cajolery has been elevated into a principle, becoming for all intents and purposes de rigueur.

I miss the days when Marx would inveigh against the Young Hegelians (Saint Max, Saint Bruno, the Rabbi Moses Hess) for their “theoretical bubble-blowing,” accusing Malthus of plagiarizing James Steuart and calling Herr Vogt a fat bastard. Or Engels declaring that Herr Dühring’s contributions to theory “haven’t even the weight of a fart.” Radicals had thicker skin and more bile in their bellies back then.

Nor it end with the founders, Marx and Engels. Luxemburg wasn’t mollycoddled at all in the Second International; she was simply more bloodthirsty than the boys, calling for Bernstein’s head and ruling the Polish section with an iron fist. Even Feliks Dzherzhinskii — founder of the Cheka, certainly no shrinking violet — was terrified of her. And he worshipped the ground she walked on.

Don’t you think it’d be great to go to an academic conference where a panelist says she supports her critics “in the same way a rope supports a hanged man,” as Lenin did?

Ray Brassier on the speculative realist “movement”

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.

Cover to the volume The speculative turn

Cover to the volume The speculative turn

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Man and nature


Nature! We are encircled and enclasped by her — powerless to depart from her, and powerless to find our way more deeply into her being. Without invitation and without warning she involves us in the orbit of her dance, and drives us onward until we are exhausted and fall from her arm.


We live in the midst of her, and yet to her we are alien. She parleys incessantly with us, and to us she does not disclose her secret. We influence her perpetually, and yet we have no power over her.

— Goethe, Ode “To Nature”[1]

With recent events in Japan and images of Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 tsunami still fresh in our minds, it seems appropriate to revisit the old issue of humanity’s relationship to nature. The proper exposition of the problem requires a great deal of space; therefore, I propose to divide my treatment of the issue into four separate sections, each of which builds on the results of those that precede it.

After all, the problem of man’s relation to nature has been conceived in a number of distinct ways over the ages, many of which survive into the present day, in various mutations. So perhaps it might be useful to begin with an overview, a genealogy of sorts, so that these different conceptions and their relation to one another can be clarified. The presentation will be dialectical, but not out of any obligation to some artificially preconfigured format. It will be dialectical because the subject at hand is itself really dialectical,[2] as the various conceptions of nature interweave and overlap in their progress through history. For man’s orientation to nature has by no means been the same over time; and by that same token there are no later conceptions of nature that do not bear the traces of those that came before it. Continue reading