I was interested to discover this review of Mullarkey’s Post-Continental Philosophy, courtesy of our friends at Perverse Egalitarianism. Welchman, the reviewer, writes,

This book has two aims. First, it provides readings of four French philosophers more or less outside of the main phenomenological stream of French (‘continental’) thought exemplified by Derrida. The philosophers are Gilles Deleuze, Michel Henry, Alain Badiou and François Laruelle. Collectively they constitute the beginning of what Mullarkey takes to be the post-continental philosophy of his book’s title. Mullarkey considers these thinkers to be united by a commitment to the idea of immanence. But he argues that each of these philosophers tacitly betrays the immanence they are officially committed to. And this leads to the second aim of the book: an original philosophy of immanence that avoids the pitfalls identified in the rest of book. Here Mullarkey’s central term is ‘diagram’, a word that he intends literally (among other ways).

The term ‘immanent’ is a slippery one, as Mullarkey himself acknowledges (7). But its basic sense emerges quickly from his analysis of Deleuze, an analysis that plays a coordinating role in relation to Badiou and Henry. According to Mullarkey, Deleuze’s claim to be a philosopher of immanence is vitiated by his commitment to a ‘two-world ontology’ (25) spanning both the virtual and the actual. Although Deleuze himself is at pains to distinguish the virtual from the possible, this nicety does not concern Mullarkey because for him any ontological category going beyond what actually exists (the actual) is ipso facto transcendent and therefore no longer immanent.

Seeking to surmount this residual transcendence, Mullarkey instead proposes the following:

Mullarkey’s immanent materialization of self-relation in the diagram derives from Henry’s conception and shares with it a principled rejection of explanation. In a way this is odd because Mullarkey describes his position as actualist. This doctrine is usually understood as the denial that possibilities exist and its chief intellectual challenge is how to account for modal statements without such a two-stage ontology. One might expect Mullarkey’s immanent actualism to stimulate an analogous explanatory challenge: how to account for the apparently non-actual on the basis of the actual. But Mullarkey repeatedly blocks this challenge by arguing for example that even the appearance of transcendence is already transcendence. Thus even to admit that there is something to explain is already to have made it impossible to explain it on the basis of immanence. So Mullarkey’s solution to the explanatory co-dependency between Badiou and Henry is to eschew explanation itself. Mullarkey’s radical value-neutrality, descriptivism and his ultimately mute conception of the philosophical diagram all follow once explanation has been blocked. Deleuze’s materialization of self-relation by contrast rises to the challenge, and so perhaps it is not surprising that it should have been occluded in Mullarkey’s account.

I have not yet been able to read this book, but look forward to doing so. On the one hand, I find myself sympathetic to what might motivate Mullarkey to make this move. It seems to me that the target here is Platonism and Expressivism. On the one hand, I understand Platonic idealism to be any position that posits essences, forms, or substances, that condition beings without themselves being conditioned by these beings. The forms condition individuals without individuals conditioning forms. I will not here go into all the problems with this common thesis (a thesis so common that people often are not even aware they are advancing it), but simply earmark it for further discussion (much of Difference and Givenness targets precisely this idealism). On the other hand, by expressivism I understand a variant of this Platonic idealism where one asserts the primacy of an interpretative model that all phenomena then express as variations on that model. Thus, for example, Hegel is often read as an expressivist in that the meaning of any historical time period lies in a self-identical logos, such that all aspects of life are and society are expressions of this master-key. Similarly, Freud is an expressivist in the sense that all roads lead back to Oedipus. We always know what the answer will be, and all psychic phenomena are variations on this one motif. Finally, Levi-Strauss is an expressivist in that all mythology and social formations are treated as variations of the invariant structures of mind.

I think expressivism is a position well worth combating, especially given how common it can be in circles of those influenced by psychoanalytic theory (despite Lacan’s wide ranging critiques of such an understanding of the unconscious). However, I wonder if Mullarkey’s knife here doesn’t cut too deep. To explain is to trace a phenomenon back to something that serves as its ground. If this review fairly represents Mullarkey’s view, all grounds disappear and we’re left simply with scintillating impressions. Exit any ideological analysis, political analysis, textual interpretation, psychoanalysis, and so on. Rather, the problem does not strike me as being that of ground, but of how ground is conceived. In his Introduction to Sociology, Adorno makes a plea for preserving the notion of essence. If, says Adorno, capitalism is the essence of our time and of all cultural formations of our time, this isn’t because capitalism is an invariant form or logos that all phenomena express, but rather because capitalism is that system of relations and forces that allows us to comprehend why cultural formations take the form they take today. This in now way entails that these cultural formations do not themselves react back on to this system of relations… And that is the key point.

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