A sincere question (about Meillassoux)

I raised this question on Twitter yesterday, and I’m still curious: Does Quentin Meillassoux represent such a sea-change in philosophy he needs a book introducing his, er, one book, and handful of articles? Really, I’m not being sarcastic or snarky, but am asking this question in good faith because I’m genuinely perplexed.  Here’s the blurb:

…a unique study of the fastest-rising star in French philosophy since Derrida in the 1960s: Meillassoux. He discusses a broad range of his work, which includes After Finitude, and some of his remarkable yet unpublished work, such as L’Inexistence Divine, all of which assure his prominent position in the London-based speculative realism movement.

From a practical standpoint, why not wait until this “remarkable, yet unpublished work” is published (clearly there will need to be new editions of the text)?  There seems to be, at least in “continental theory,” a tendency to fetishize one thinker, usually French, as the next big thing (especially in the United States).  I don’t have a problem with the book, or writing on living thinkers, or whatnot, my question is simply if such a book is premature, unless there something I’m missing (which could very well be the case).  I guess I’ll simply have to wait and see…

And yes, the design of the book is not particularly appealing, as Ryan Krahn noted yesterday: “Whoa, now that is some ugly cover design. Textbook background, candid conference photo, and is that Book Antiqua AND Calibri!?”

Again, I’m posing a sincere question, so hopefully this won’t turn into another boring commentary/carnival of attacks on you know who…

6 thoughts on “A sincere question (about Meillassoux)

  1. I’ve only read After Finitude, so I’m really not an expert. This said, I don’t think there’s any principled reason why one can’t write a commentary on a ‘great’ thinker’s work. Had Heidegger only published SuZ, people would still call him great. Wittgenstein only published one book in his lifetime, etc. I’m sure we could come up with other notable examples.

    From a practical perspective (and this is just conjecture), this kind of book could leverage Meillassoux’s work into a different intellectual bracket, generating interest in the yet-unpublished-super-treatise of the 21st century. It’s kinda like leaking a musical track online in an unfinished form….

  2. I will certainly be reading this book, because (my sympathies are public) I think the author and the subject are both philosophers to be reckoned with, and I am interested in the encounter. I have indeed asked myself the same question– an “intro” to Q.M. now? But why not just read After Finitude? But –I had the same thought as Rasmus, above– imagine if this were, say, about the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. (O.K., maybe that’s setting the bar too high, but still).

    I think it is worth noting that this is not the first of GH’s books to focus on another thinker, one he finds very compelling and with whom he has important differences. This book is different from Prince of Networks but I still expect it to be not just a presentation of Q.M.’s thought but also a thinking-aloud argument with it.

    The much-anticipated excerpts of M’s unpublished manuscript could be unchariably read as a stunt, but one to be laid at Meillassoux’s door. (And incidentally, I don’t see anything wrong with such stunts per se–if there’s the philosophical oomph to back them up. Philosophers gotta eat too.) For myself, I assume that M is a perfectionist and is releasing certain things he’s ready to see in print, but not the whole book which is still a work in progress (at least in the details).

    I could of course be wrong about that scenario, but one thing I’m ready to go to the wall for: Q.M. is the real thing, and a book on him will be worth reading. This is the case even if we describe this in terms of the manipulativeness of academic publishing biz.

    I agree that there’s a danger of seeing him as the Next Big Thing (Badiou was fun for a while, but times are a-changin’), but the fact that its possible to read him badly, as a philosophical messiah, is no excuse for not reading him at all. I won’t say that “any unbiased reading of After Finitude will see its importance;” I can well imagine missing the significance of Wittgenstein once upon a time (in fact, I think Meillassoux sort of does even now). But speaking for myself, I realized–“Whoah, here’s someone I will have to deal with.”

    As to the book cover– yeah, not the best. Sort of cancels out the publicity-stunt angle.

  3. Call me cynical but it looks very much like the perfect marriage of the publisher’s ever more sophisticated tricks to sell books and the author’s own desire to be a famous philosopher (Harman, that is). You have to sell yourself as discoverer of the next Derrida to get anywhere these days – no one wants another book on Hegel, you know?

    • I wouldn’t mind another book on Hegel, especially if it serves to clarify. The best way to write on Hegel, as I see from my present vantage point, is not necessarily to extrapolate big, unstated implications (with at least one exception), but simply to prove that your interpretation is stronger and more well-supported than those that came before.

      Meanwhile, I’ve spent the past 6 or so years trying to avoid taking Derrida seriously (I flipped through ‘Spurs’ maybe 5 years ago, something about an umbrella…) As an undergraduate, Derrida served certain classmates’ intent of justifying not studying philosophy (but instead literary criticism, theater, etc.) but still talking big with largely nihilistic abstractions.

  4. I propose a 10 year moratorium on the publication of all books and articles in philosophy. Jobs and tenure will be awarded competitively through hot dog eating contests and ice sculpture exhibitions judged by highly myopic third-graders.

  5. Yeah, this was pretty much my thought. A book on Meillassoux seems a bit premature at this point. He has, after all, only published one book himself, and it’s certainly quite a preliminary sort of text.

    To be honest, I think the whole notion of a speculative realism ‘movement’ falls into the trap of the sort of fetishism you mention.

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