“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

Updated list of links

Platypus reading group series in New York continues

It’s been quite a while since I updated the Charnel-House’s links.  Recently, however, I made a number of additions and revisions.  So I thought I would devote a blog post to the new list of blogs and websites I link to.

Also, I’m posting the poster I designed for the new Platypus reading group series in New York.

Thinking Nature, a Speculative Realist Journal, Volume 1 Released

Thomas Cole's "A Tornado in the Wilderness" (1835)

Volume 1 of the Speculative Realist journal Thinking Nature is finally out.  Though I do not consider myself part of the Speculative Realist movement and have on several occasions been extremely critical of it, the content of my article was deemed relevant enough that it warranted inclusion in the journal.  My essay, “Man and Nature,” posted on this blog already, is written from a thoroughly Marxist perspective.  In any case, the other accepted submissions are listed below:

Volume 1


/1/ – What did the Early Heidegger Think about Nature? – Paul Ennis

PDF version

/2/ – Being and Counting: Speculative Materialism and the Threshold of the Given – David Lindsay

PDF version

/3/ – Unthinking Nature: Transcendental Realism, Neo-Vitalism and the Metaphysical Unconscious in Outline – Michael Austin

PDF version

/4/ – Philosophies of Nature in the Differentials of Iain Hamilton Grant and Ray Brassier – Himanshu Damle

PDF version

/5/ – Ecological Necessity – Tom Sparrow

PDF version

/6/ – Six Myths of Interdisciplinarity – Ted Toadvine

PDF version

/7/ – Some Notes Towards a Philosophy of Non-Life – Timothy Morton

PDF version

/8/ – Towards a Philosophy of (Dejected) Nature – Ben Woodard

PDF version

/9/ – Man and Nature – Ross Wolfe

PDF version

A Clarification on Why Levi Bryant has Really “Given up Talking to Me”

As Evgeni pointed out a couple posts ago, Levi Bryant is misrepresenting his reasons for no longer engaging with me on the blogosphere.  Yesterday, one of Levi’s followers on twitter, Joe Clement, alerted Bryant to an article that might support his “wilderness ontology” thesis against the criticisms I leveled at it two days ago:

@onticologist This seems highly relevant to your discussion with Mr. Ross about non-human agency vis-a-vis politicshttp://bit.ly/mvkRDX

However, on Levi’s twitter page Bryant indicated that he was no longer interested in talking to me, suggesting that it had something to do with my post exposing some of the origins of Heidegger’s ontological meditations on the environment in Nazi ecology.

@joepdx i’ve long given up discussion with him. When someone calls you a Nazi because you talk about ecology he’s jumped the shark

Of course, I never called Bryant a Nazi.  The real reason that Bryant chose to stop talking to me is decidedly more embarrassing, as he expressed it to me in an e-mail from May 27, about a week before I even posted the article about the fascist fetishization of nature:


Between your highly insulting and patronizing comment about my education (http://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2011/05/25/dark-objects/#comment-50541) on my blog and your post mocking my work and scholarship on your blog yesterday I’ve decided to cease discussion with you.



I dealt with this little incident of crybabyism in a separate post, “On Hurt Feelings: The Case of Levi Bryant’s Missing Sense of Humor.”  But this wasn’t the first time that Bryant had banned me from his blog.  Back on April 13, I received an e-mail from Levi informing me that he wasn’t going to post my comments over at his blog anymore.  We had just previously been debating the question of the Left’s role in critiquing vs. “producing” ideology.  His reason for banning me? He explained:


I have opted to no longer post your comments.  I do not approve of how you have both interacted with the other participants on my blog and with me.  You have engaged in a monologue rather than a dialogue that has been rather disdainful to other positions equally informed by Marxist thought.  Moreover, over at your blog you have hosted discussion with one of the most well known trolls of the theory blogosphere, Evgeni Pavlov, who has spent years attacking me online, suggesting that I know nothing about Marx (I have quite an extensive background) and shooting spitwads from afar.  This calls into question the genuineness of your interactions.  Ergo I choose not to make my blog a platform for your interactions.

After repeatedly asking him to be reasonable and pleading my case with Bryant, he continued to respond:

I banned you from my blog for hate speech.

Let me get this straight, Ross.  You came into my living room, made ugly slurs about women, homosexuals, african-americans and environmentalists and then proceeded to host a snark fest on your own blog with one of the most belligerent and unfair trolls in the theory blogosphere, all the while mocking the bonafides and earnestness of the Marxists that participate in that living room, and you believe that ****you**** are being persecuted because others don’t care to continue discussion with you or host you in their living room?  Yes, yes, you’re so oppressed that others don’t care to carry on discussion with a pompous, insulting, homophobic, sexist, racist, know-it-all who wishes to pontificate to everyone else without bothering to listen.  Once again, good luck with your revolution.  Somehow I think you’ll have a hard go of it if you continue to engage in this religious fundamentalist, belligerent, behavior that refuses to listen and honor others with dignity.  Pardon me, I have to get back to body building, hormone injections, and hair color treatments in between worshipping neo-pagan gods.

And finally, he explicitly compared me to Rush Limbaugh, which seems to be one of his signature terms of abuse:

You presented these emancipatory political movements in extremely ugly and stereotypical terms worthy of Rush Limbaugh.  The fact that you continue to portray these vibrant and diverse movements in this reductive light only confirms the point.  Nor was I alone in evaluating your remarks in those terms.  A variety of others responded along similar lines.  You might think you’re providing relevant commentary, yet micro-fascist sensibilities immediately exclude themselves from discussion.  Your form of Marxism seems not to have learned anything from the last one hundred years of political theory and thought on these matters, repeating the worst tendencies of Stalinist sensibility and general disdain for life.  There’s nothing critical about your critical theory.  It is religious fundamentalism through and through.

So let’s tally things up, shall we? Bryant compared me personally to Rush Limbaugh, accused me of “hate speech,” and then claimed that I repeated “the worst tendencies of Stalinist sensibility.”  As for me, I merely pointed out that many of the motifs of his “wilderness ontology” can be seen as reflecting Heidegger’s late ontology of “pathways” in the Black Forest, searching for the “clearing.”  And then I further pointed out how this was symptomatic of some of the prevailing tendencies of Nazi ecology.  That’s all I did.

Bryant didn’t appreciate that I was pointing out specific places in which he was contradicting himself.  My comments stood in the way of his rather careless philosophical improv act, and called him in for accountability.  That’s why he doesn’t want to talk to me anymore.

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

Continue reading

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.

The manifesto of Speculative Realist/Object-Oriented Ontological blogging


…the infernal piping of those blasphemous flutes…

Prologue: Of manifestoes and manifestoism

To launch a manifesto you have to want: A.B. & C., and fulminate against 1, 2, & 3.

work yourself up and sharpen your wings to conquer and circulate lower and upper case As, Bs & Cs, sign, shout, swear, organise prose into a form that is absolutely and irrefutably obvious, prove its ne plus ultra and maintain that novelty resembles life in the same way as the latest apparition of a harlot proves the essence of God.

We alone are the face of our Time. Through us the horn of Time blows in the art of the world.

Throw Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, etc., etc. overboard from the Ship of Modernity.

  1. Up to now literature has exalted contemplative stillness, ecstasy, and sleep. We intend to exalt movement and aggression, feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the slap and the punch.
  2. We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing automobile with its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath…a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than Тhe Victory of Samothrace.
  3. We are on the extreme promontory of the centuries! What is the use of looking behind at the moment when we must open the mysterious shutters of the impossible? Time and Space died yesterday. We are already living in the absolute, since we have already created eternal, omnipresent speed.
  4. We intend to glorify war — the only hygiene of the world — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of anarchists, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and contempt for woman. Continue reading