Johnston Blogging


Two things:

1. First, there’s Dark Chemistry’s overview of Adrian’s contribution to the Speculative Turn:

[A]gainst Meillassoux’s anit-Zizekian tendencies in which “Žižek tries to smuggle atheism into Christianity via the immanent critique of a Hegelian dialectical interpretation of Christianity for the sake of a progressive radical leftist politics of Communism, Meillassoux, whether knowingly or unknowingly, smuggles idealist religiosity back into materialist atheism via a non-dialectical ‘materialism’” (113). Instead of an argument against religious ideologies Johnston tells us Meillassoux’s After Finitude with its “divinology and emergent life ex nihilo are rigorously consequent extensions of the speculative materialism” which it subtends within its stringent rationalistic speculations (113). In a final summation in which he praises Meillassoux for the many ” striking virtues, especially in terms of its crystalline clarity and ingenious creativeness, and deserves credit for having played a role in inspiring some much-needed discussions in contemporary Continental philosophy”, he dams the project of the book’s core argument as being unduly religious in intent “at least for any atheist materialism concerned with various modes of scientific and political praxis” (113). And, in one final admonition Johnston states that “sober vigilance is called for against the danger of dozing off into a speculative, but no less dogmatic, slumber.” (113).

It’s been a while since I’ve read Adrian’s contribution, but I recall that his major claim is that Meillassoux’s work should not be read as some return to science, since it’s a metaphysics that ignores any empirical claims about existence (thus the long discussion of Hume). Hägglund makes a similar claim, but from the side of biology. It’s also notable, too, that Meillassoux’s project is often a wonderful heuristic for getting at the problems of Badiou, since the lacunae in Meillassoux usually have an analogue in Badiou’s system, but in the latter’s work it’s harder to tell given the larger apparatus.

Also, when is someone going to finally write that paper connecting Meillassoux and Richard Kearney’s possible God? It’s just sitting out there…

2. Adrian Johnston also has a NDPR review up of Fabio Vighi’s On Žižek’s Dialectics: Surplus, Subtraction, Sublimation, Continuum, 2010, 189pp., $120.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780826464439.

At one point, he writes:

Furthermore, I wholeheartedly endorse Vighi’s diagnosis of the Left’s fatal failure to develop and deploy a “politics of jouissance” (pp. 142, 153). As I put it in this exact vein in the preface to Badiou, Žižek, and Political Transformations, “A perplexing, clumsy inability to master the affect-laden aesthetics of mass-media politics is merely one of many sad failings of today’s Left. Where is its Leni Riefenstahl?” In other words, Vighi and I, following in Žižek’s footsteps, agree that wholly ceding emotive and visceral aestheticizations of politics to the Right, hastily deeming any such gestures as unacceptably “(proto-)fascist,” is a grave mistake. An inability to grab people by their guts, to put it crudely, and mobilize their powerful feelings and impulses hobbles the publicly visible representatives of leftism in the late-capitalist universe…

I recall reading that in Badiou, Žižek, and Political Transformation and while I’d be the first to complain about a number of problems in representations of leftism, I’m not sure what this references: am I missing a vast literature suggesting mixing politics and aesthetics, if not a certain affectivity, is inherently “(proto-)fascist”? I mean that question in a  genuine sense. Leaving aside the Rawlsian and Habermasian procedural dramas, are there really people out there saying, no, what we need is less affect, less attention to what Aristotle long ago claimed was missing from Plato’s polis, namely a certain hedonê arising from an affection (philein) of politics (II.i.15-18).

UPDATE: Johnson and Vighi previously went back and forth over Johnston’s Political Transformation in the International Journal of Zizek Studies:

On Practicing Theory: Some Remarks on Adrian Johnston’s Badiou, Žižek, and Political Transformations ENGLISH
Fabio Vighi
Meta-Dialectics and the Balancing Acts of Žižekianism: A Response to Fabio Vighi ENGLISH
Adrian Owen Johnston

And my own thoughts on Johnston’s book is here:

Change We Can’t Believe In: Adrian Johnston on Badiou, Žižek, & Political Transformation          ENGLISH


  1. I actually wrote the Meillassoux-Kearney paper for a conference a couple years back, was going to expand it into an article, but that turned into my piece in ‘After the Postsecular and the Postmodern: New Essays in Continental Philosophy of Religion’ which dealt with different issues in Meillassoux, although I still think I make some implicit references the Kearney’s position. The reason I abandonded much of that piece is that I sadly think many of those interested in Meillassoux’s work probably just don’t care about the sort of religious phenomenology of someone like Kearney, although I think they should, as it’s interesting that someone a world away from a speculative materialism ends up at a shockingly similar position on the divine.

    On a side note, as much as I love Johnston’s work, it’s hard not to read some of his attacks on religion, especially as relates to Meillassoux, as that odd sort of angry 17 year old atheism of one who had a bad experience in Church or something like that. I’m just not sure how philosophically productive it is.

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