He’s not exaggerating…

Last call on checking online before getting to some bed time reading, I see that Harman has a nice post on philosophical exaggeration, namely the fact that most philosophers begin with an exaggerated point and then use that as a pivot for the rest of their philosophical work. I think that’s an exaggeration itself, but the point itself is quite a good hermeneutic strategy, since it leads to a great Harmanian point about the counter-revolutionary stance that brings that exaggeration back down to earth. Here’s a great example he gives:

From Badiou's "Philosophy as Creative Repetition"

From Badiou's "Philosophy as Creative Repetition"

*Every page of Badiou is as subject-oriented as possible. He has nothing at all to do with realism. Yet you can find one or two minor throwaway remarks where Badiou says “a world without a subject is possible,” and somehow Badiouians are satisfied to use these remarks as evidence that Badiou is not an idealist, even after hundreds of pages to the contrary….

In other words, there is a recurring counter-critical strategy in philosophy that consists in saying “only a fool would take that part literally,” when in fact the literal, initial exaggeration in any philosophy is always its greatest strength, and it must be required to pay the price for that strength.

Here, I think there’s another point: why do people spend so long insisting on a hermeneutic strategy that is masochistic to themselves and sadistic to the texts in question? (This links up in a minor way with Harman’s quick follow-up post.) In other words, I am all for reading journal articles or books that upend my previous conceptions of an author and his or her work. I love micro readings, macro readings and so on. But about 50%—probably more, but I don’t want to exaggerate—of the articles we all read involve a willful strategy of moving a Badiou or Heidegger or Husserl or Princess Diana to a position that the author wants to push, but doesn’t say explicitly as such. So, despite Badiou’s avowed Platonism—by the way people, there are worse things—you get readings of him wanting to disavow this. But why go through the torture of providing that reading…why fillet the text for that long when you can just say, “here is my own argument for X, Y, and Z,” with some quotes from various authors to bolster my position?

In my own neck of the wood, I see this often in work on Derrida, and in recent weeks I’ve seen this especially on his link to science. Now, Derrida wrote very little on science. He has some parts of Of Grammatology that I think would be helpful, but he just didn’t talk about it, knowing his own limitations, except saying in interviews he wasn’t an enemy of science and the like. Yes, you could do a great reading of Derrida’s notion of writing and how this ties up with recent work (maybe even connection to Meillassoux on the trace), but I don’t see why one has to pound so much on a few quotes from OG about those commenting on 1950s-era research, to say something about all of science. It’s torturing the text, not re-reading it. Don’t be afraid: you can say it yourself; don’t hide behind quotations. I admit I will still catch myself doing that sometimes. But I’m recovering…