Galloway’s Piece in Critical Inquiry

Alexander Galloway has new piece in Critical Inquiry, “The Poverty of Philosophy: Realism and Post-Fordism,” which has already seen some responses by Tim Morton and Graham Harman. The article runs in the following order: 1. A demonstration of the homology of the logic behind object oriented computing, which is the infrastructure for the modern capitalist apparatus, and Badiouian set theory; 2. a brief description of speculative realism before moving into Meillassoux’s politics, specifically his “metaphysical essentialism”; 3. that there is difference between realism’s focus on the absolute and the real on history. He writes:

[M]uch of today’s realism claims that ontologies should not be political; it claims that ontological speculations must be separated from political ones….One simply can do metaphysics over here, while doing politics over there. (357)

Having left this field open, speculative realisms do not realize that “there is little differentiate the new philosophical realism from the most austere forms of capitalist realism” (364). Ultimately the problem, I take it for Galloway (I’m moving fast through his arguments) is that Meillassoux has a “naive trust in mathematical reasoning” and that object-oriented ontologies ignore the “material history of mankind” (366).

I have my own criticisms of speculative realisms. But I, too, found it an odd argument. First, Galloway stamps all over the place in terms of the link between realism and materialism, between morality and politics, the philosophy of mathematics, the link between poststructuralism and Marxism, set theory and contemporary computer, the debate between Sartre and Heidegger on humanism, leaving quite a lot on the table in terms of vast literatures that have taken these on–all in one article. (Perhaps the one that was the most striking was not knowing that the Absolute does not mean totality in some static sense and has a long history, specifically as history: this, I take it, to be the dictum of German idealism from which Marxism sprang.) Also importantly, Galloway doesn’t address how Ideology critique itself has been critiqued by movements he seems to valorize, such as from within feminism and post-colonial theory, that he says these realisms cast aside. Perhaps they do. But often Marxian analyses do as well. One can’t put them all together in the same pot and simply hope for a good stew.

It’s all window dressing to what can seem a shallow ideology critique: your system has this surface similarity to some X in capitalism…. QED. But this can be done–as Zizek himself humorously notes somewhere–to anyone and anything. I agree with Galloway that pretenses to political “neutrality” have a sordid history and should be denounced every time someone suggests that it’s the case for them, but isn’t the far better path directly to their politics as announced? What is untenable in Bryant’s politics? Meillassoux has written what I take to be egregiously backward and essentialist stuff on politics: go straight to that. Latour has written about politics and his views are well-enough known.

Or at the least, the path has to be better than saying something like, computers use mathematics, Meillassoux uses mathematics, therefore Meillassoux gives us some sort of late capitalist apparatus. And it’s true that Meillassoux’s Platonism is problematic–something I’ve written about and will discuss further in coming publications. In other words, to take on the “politics” of these realisms–and I have much to say on this–means doing more, either in terms of its flattening ontologies or promises of a future justice beyond this world in Meillassoux.