The Wolfendale Maneuvre II (Updated)

UPDATE: [Part III added to Pete’s response – read it and weep!]

Pete Wolfendale is back with a monumental post (Part I, Part II and Part III) on his recent engagement with Levi Bryant. Not to get our attention away from Maimon, but there’s plenty of ideas there to chew on. Although it’s only Part 1, it’s quite thorough and ordered. The post also contains all the necessary contextual references for those interested in some background.

23 thoughts on “The Wolfendale Maneuvre II (Updated)

  1. It is remarkable that someone really takes that much time and care with Levi’s OOO. After all, intellectual disagreement seems to be still relevant and is not erased by means of the huge bandwidth of the internet which rather inspires short and vehement flame wars; after those everyone goes their own ways rather unaffected.

  2. I’ve noticed that any attempt to understand Bryant’s position ends in the same scenario: someone asks him a rather simple but uncomfortable question (“what is an object?” etc etc), he immediately looks for an ulterior motive, psychoanalyzes you, writes a gigantic post sprinkled with a million of quotes, takes things personally and, I hear the rumor, writes nasty emails behind people’s backs to everyone who would listen. I feel sorry that Pete has to waste his talent on this mumbo-jumbo. Harman as least has some interesting ideas (I know you folks don’t like either of them), published some books and generally makes some sense. Bryant’s a parasite who latched on to Harman’s ideas because he found his next father figure in him. I seriously doubt that book of his will be anything more coherent than his blog posts. It’s not worth the trouble, don’t you guys see it?

    • Bryant’s a parasite who latched on to Harman’s ideas because he found his next father figure in him.

      Is it the passage about the taxonomy of internet trolls that you find original in Harman? My feeling is that there are persons who are less worth caring about than Levi.

  3. Harman seems to think some curious things: firstly Hegel is a phenomenalist. Secondly only Harman is the inheritor of the tradition which recognises an excess over appearances and aims its philosophy towards this. Thirdly Hegel “hypostatized the human-world correlate” (when on the contrary Hegel wants us to see the way the in-itself moves and alters). Fourthly Harman continually deflects from the contradiction (and futility) in trying to excise human thought and concepts from divining reality, diagnosing everyone else but himself as “simply following the well-established x tradition”. His comments after the Dundee conference about needing to read Hegel are highly revealing.

    • Somehow I doubt that Harman spent any serious time actually reading Hegel. I mean who does? Unless you are some sort of a Hegelian enthusiast, like yourself, it’s probably just the stuff you get from secondary lit and academic mythology. This is usually even worse with Kant, I think, but Hegel’s particularly bad – to throw out a Harman-like mannerism: “Hegel is the most unread philosopher of all time”…

  4. Reading Hegel would be an ambitious project for Harman and useless for that matter since he’s clearly only interested in the sort of “Harman told me to read Hegel and I did and then I had all of these ideas – thank you, Father Harman” sentiment.

    I doubt he reads anything monumental like that these days – why bother? He already has his own philosophy and he has already founded not one, but two, international philosophical movements! Plus, writing a book about a French philosopher who only published ONE book is taking all of his time. Seriously though, has anyone asked a simple question here: Does a philosopher really deserve a book dedicated to his philosophy after publishing one slim volume (no matter how interesting)?

  5. Here’s my favorite part from Bryant’s reaction:

    “I really don’t find much to disagree with here in your post, though I do find a lot of it trivial/tedious and condescending. For example, your points about giving and taking reasons and revision, as if somehow that’s excluded within the framework I’m proposing. You are aware, aren’t you, that social systems are among the objects of the world in OOO, aren’t you?”

    Aren’t you? Aren’t you?

  6. These posts are great if only for the clarification they provide of Pete’s own philosophy. Levi will continue to monstrously misinterpret everything, of course. I mean, really, it’s beyond ridiculous at this point. Just take his comment that “in treating norms that are constantly revised and negotiated you’ve pretty much conceded my point or critique”. If this debate was just starting, then fine. Levi erroneously thinks that Pete was previously arguing that absolutely every single norm is immutable and a-historical, not that there must some non-revisable norms in place in order for the very possibility of revision. That’s an easy misconception to fix, you would imagine. But after half a year or so and thousands upon thousands of gallons of digital ink spilled, how could Levi possibly think that Pete is altering this aspect of his position let alone conceding a point he never comes close to denying?

    At this point, it almost seems like Levi doesn’t even read these posts but to pick up on some pet word – “normativity” “representation” “knowledge” – and attack whatever warped connotation he’s come to have of these terms. It’s forgivable at the start, though still incredibly bizarre, to think that the whole notion of “normativity” is encapsulated by Kantian deontological ethics, or that “representation” is an inextricably Cartesian term, but over and over and over again. For a guy who loves the encounter, situational ethics, and the infinite fluidity of meaning, Levi’s awfully fixed in his understanding of just what is being argued.

  7. Wolfendale’s criticisms seem spot on to me. Good for him for taking the time to develop his own thinking in counterpoint to someone else’s.

    My sense of Bryant, however, is that he simply doesn’t read attentively, and his knowledge of philosophy seems to be astonishingly limited (as illustrated most recently by his remark concerning Woflendale’s use of ‘thick’ vs ‘thin’ conceptions of, e.g., practices — not to mention his rather casual use of ‘mereology’). For the most part, I’m constantly left scratching my head about what exactly is going on. I simply don’t see the live problem that Bryant (or Harman for that matter) take themselves to be addressing. Let me put it another way: if hermeneutically inclined thinkers laboured to replace the old emphasis upon Problemsgeschichte with Begriffsgeschichte so as to revitalize the question-and-answer dialectic (and hence a form of humanism and community that seemed to be waning in the ’60’s), what do Harman and Bryant take themselves to be doing? They certainly aren’t critically returning to a Problemsgeschichte, and Bryant’s rejection of textually based philosophy is tantamount to rejecting a Begriffsgeschicte too. So is it a frictionless spinning in the void, or what? Where’s the beef?

  8. Hi guys,

    Thanks for the support. I’ve tried to keep this exchange as clean as possible, stick to the arguments and leave the psychoanalysis at the door. I’m sure people can draw various conclusions about both mine and Levi’s motivations, but I think the best thing is to get to the important stuff, or the matters themselves as Husserl might say.

    To that end I think I’ve done a fairly decent job. It’s taken me a lot of time that probably would have been better spent doing other things, but I felt it necessary to counter any accusations that the opinions I’ve expressed elsewhere are based on a lack of detailed reading (or a simple intent to misrepresent) on my part. I don’t think I’ll be able to take this much further, as I need to get back to other things, but I think I’ve managed to be fairly comprehensive, and I’m glad that some people have found it interesting.

    The two issues I didn’t really get to address are Levi’s account of Kant and the relation between Kant and OOO, and the claims he’s made about the various different kinds of grounding.

    On the former, it strikes me that the bit of Kant that Levi and Graham claim to take up is precisely the bit that I and many others find troubling, and it happens to be a relatively small part of the Kantian edifice. Graham adopts the controversial (if common) interpretation of the the thing-in-itself as a substantive ontological commitment rather than as a limit-concept, and they both adopt Kant’s ill-advised relativisation of the content of sensation to the configuration of our own faculty of sensibility (while suggesting that there could be other such configurations). This kind of relativisation is the core of most correlationist positions, and its deeply problematic. I also think that it prevents us from properly talking about the production of observation judgements and the conditions involved in this production in straightforwardly causal terms (i.e., precisely what Sellars’ account of observation takes to be the important dimension of argument about observation statements). This is because it conceives the relation between the thing observed and the observer’s response primarily in special terms, which OOO then uses to describe all causal interactions, rather than understanding the relation directly in causal terms. This connects up with the affection problem, albeit it from an unusual direction.

    On the latter, Levi wrote a post in which he distinguished between various kinds of ground (as he did in his Speculative Turn piece), as part of his argument that ontology is not dependent upon epistemology. This is quite strange insofar as the relation of grounding is principally a matter of something serving as a reason for something else, and different forms of grounding indicate different forms of reasons. This would seem to indicate that one can’t make these distinctions between forms of ground without doing epistemology.

    Some individual points:-

    Sam: I notice you rather capably defending my position on Levi’s blog a while back (assuming that was you). I’m glad you find it interesting. If you ever have any questions about my position, feel free to email me. The address is on the blog.

    Rasmus: I can’t comment on how OOO views itself as a philosophical movement, but if you’re interested in problems with Levi’s claims about mereology, I have written something about this before (in the context of a post on Deleuze):-

    In short, Levi seems torn between a materialism he inherits from Deleuze and an ontological promiscuity he inherits from Graham, and it’s not clear that he can have the bits of both he wants. The best example is his endorsement of the existence of numbers. This raises questions as to how numbers are supposed to be understood as systems, how they perturb other systems and receive information, whether they have parts, and so on.

  9. So I’m assuming after Mikhail pointed out that his response to Pete was typical of the kind of response he mocks (“minotaur”) all the time – wasn’t he mocking Pete in the same way and calling his protestations concerning misinterpretation pitiful excuses of continental philosophers? – it’s fair to say that he just crawled back into his shell and will soon reappear again pretending that nothing happened?

    I have to say that it does hurt to be shown that you are basically a type of a scholar you yourself mock all the time – I’m sure there’s a good Lacanian image for it that involves some kind of mirror.

    By the way, did anyone catch Harman’s latest freak-out followed by a quick apology? I hope Jeffrey Bell doesn’t take it personally. Although I did like the fact that Harman at least admitting that he is not a “classy guy” – talk about an apology without an apology:

    “Actually, I’m the one who owes an apology in this case, because I think my response to Bell was needlessly short-fused. He caught me at an irritable moment, that’s all.”

    Reminds me of a Royal Tennenbaum’s apology:

    “Goddamn it, don’t do that to yourself. I’m the one that failed them. Or, anyway, it’s nobody’s fault.”

    • You’re confusing Harman with Bryant, friendo – Bryant takes down posts after he realizes how ridiculously pissy and unfair they are, Harman keeps them up (even restores his old posts from his previous “classic” blog), he will just post 15 short posts to make sure that this one is off the main page of his blog.

      If anyone is counting, it’s that time of the month for the oldtimer – first he jumps Jeffrey Bell for no apparent reason (admittedly, Bell was foolish enough to write about Harman without first sucking up to the great man), now it’s Michail’s turn.

      The persistent internet rumor is that Harman’s attack on Daniel Veal cost him his friendship with Ray Brassier who is incommunicado since that nasty episode – don’t know if it’s true, but I hope it is, so much for the “London-based movement of Speculative Realism”!

    • Ahh, who really cares anyway, right? Rumors or not, the man’s doing his thing – at least he’s consistent in his awkward anti-social way…

      Plus, there’s something cute about both Sarah Palin and Graham Harman comparing themselves to Shakespeare – Palin thinks she can make up words (like “refudiate”), Harman thinks that his philosophical complexity is akin to King Lear – go figure, he must be doing something right, right?

  10. I figured out who Harman reminds me of – Mr. Rogers. It’s Mr. Rogers neighborhood, and if you follow his rules he is charming and friendly, and if you don’t, he rips off his sweater vest, denounces you, and banishes you from his neighborhood. The same combination of warm and creepy and single. OK, I don’t think Mr. Rogers ever banished anyone from his neighborhood. But he had it in him.

    • And Mr. Rogers is somebody’s ‘father figure’? Well, I guess that’s possible, if you want this sort of pusillanimous high-priest librarian type with all sorts of well-meaning attitudes, which may or may not be genuine (at least in the case of Mr. Rogers. The only thing that interests me here is that if never occurred to me that Harman could be anybody’s father figure. As for Damian Veal, I’m sure he deserved whatever Harman dished out, even if it was false. These academics do tend to do this sort of shit all the time. So if Harman attacks Mistah Veal, then Mistah Brassier goes all into a huff? So what else is new? Well, some of the I Heart Shanghai people have been in town, and posted ‘pics’ of our breathtaking skycrapers in a post called ‘I Love NY’. Well, now isn’t that enough to make me want to call up a Sister City Convention and she even followed my cue and photographed the 1964 World’s Fair unisphere and NYState Pavillion still out in Queens, so as to match the breathlessly exciting glories of the current Shanghai Expo, in which new crackdowns of all kinds are taking place. I won’t link to any of these sites, as they are not worth it, and are usually about how you can get drinks with some sort of press pass, etc., or have a bad time at a new Apple store.

      This is THEIR problem. Maybe Mikhail is the same kind of academic bastard, but doesn’t seem like it, except for taking Harman too seriously. Personally, I now retract my original casting of Harman as ‘I, Claudius’, the new miniseries, since harman is surely a hybrid of both Emperor Claudius AND mistah rogers.

      And no, Mistah Harman, I haven’t read Tool-Being either, I only read about tools when they are chronicled by people who know, love and/or have them…You? Tool-Being? In your DREAMS!

      Mikhail does have some faults, for example, he has not yet listened to this fabulous Mozart. If he does, I’m going to try to find the 3rd movement, even if it means that we have to submit to another pianist. Barenboim isn’t bad, of course, but this new kid Kirill, really has phrasing so that the whole magnificent edifices of the 1st and 2nd movements of that Sonata are understood now. Okay, I’m interrupting a seirous discussion of shop -talk, and for this, I deeply apologize.

  11. I’m going to see if I can find it. I haven’t heard the Gould. I remember liking his C Major (can’t remember the Kochel right now) for years and years, but haven’t heard much of his Mozart. Did you think it was lots better?

    • The Gould that I have is all youthful early Gould and it’s a bit too fast and too furious (for example, out of his two recordings of the Goldberg Variations I prefer the second, when he’s not as cocky) – it’s this 4CD version – I do have to admit though that I only have maybe a couple of other versions (can’t even tell the names, have to look up), and my knowledge of Mozart’s piano works is limited, so maybe Gould’s versions are shit, it’s just the only ones I’ve really listened to carefully (and long) enough.


        Hey, now this is very fine, I was surprised. Here we have the Rondo, the 494 3rd movement played exquisitely by Mitsiko Uchida. It sounds a bit like needlepoint until she gets to this mini-fugato passage toward the end, although it’s all appropriate. I also listened to a bit of her first movement, but she does what is basically very grand architecture on too small a scale IMO. I thought Kirill did it much more convincingly, but Ms. Uchida is very fine on this and also I recall she does Schubert Impromptus superbly.

      • Ah yes, very nice indeed. You know we should just completely nerd out (and ruin this otherwise excellent blog) and do some sort of “I’ve listened to all recording of X” series with comments, although it’s bound to be boring as my posts on musical matter are primarily impulse-driven (or occasion of listening driven). Plus, people will probably start commenting on how awesome our music tastes are which, regardless of being occasionally flattering, is ultimately annoying. But if I were to ever do any sort of series, I think I’d want to listen to all Bach’s cantatas, since that would be the only chance I’d ever have to just finish listening to the damn things (although I found a useful website, if anyone reading might be interested in checking it out:

        As for “Cultural Exchange” (as the used to call this back in the USSR), check out this performance of Shostakovich’s Piano Concetro (I think technically it’s also a trumpet concerto or something) on Medici.Tv with Martha Argerich (the whole concert is good if you have the patience, or you can skip to it).

  12. I think Martha Argerich may be the greatest pianist since Franz Liszt. I know perfectly well she plays like him, and that her well-known appetites for the finer things in life are all audible as hell.

    Once, Nadia told me at a lesson about hearing her the night before. ‘Oh, MADAME AREGERICH! Yes, she has quite a prrrrrresence!!! TOO MECCHHHH PRRRRESSSENCE!!!” She was annoyed that she couldn’t resist this force of nature. Martha is like this animal at the keyboard, really just fucking magnificent.

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