Queer Atonality

I’ve been reading and re-reading Jordana Rosenberg’s fascinating essay on “The Molecularization of Sexuality,” published recently in Theory and Event. It’s a long and challenging piece, one that demands a high level of attention from the reader, but at the same time offers rich rewards in equal measure. Rosenberg covers a lot of ground, dealing with the contingency and fragility of “being together,” and provocatively challenging some of the tenets of contemporary queer theory and critical theory.

The essay is devoted to what Rosenberg calls the “ontological turn” in recent discussions in the humanities. By ontological turn, she means that strange polyglot that spans everyone from Jane Bennett to Beatriz Preciado, from Steven Shaviro to John Protevi, and from Eugene Thacker to Samuel Delany. What a bunch! But more generally, she cites speculative realism, object-oriented ontology, new materialism, and neo-vitalism. Labeling the ontological turn a form of “onto-primitivism,” Rosenberg puts forth a powerful polemic: “the ontological turn is a kind of theoretical primitivism that presents itself as a methodological avant-garde.” Continue reading

Laruelle: Against the Digital

I’m pleased to announce the publication of a new book, Laruelle: Against the Digital. My position is a bit idiosyncratic. Rather than offering a synopsis or critical annotation of Laruelle’s work, the book aims to collide Laruelle’s non-standard image_minimethod with the concept of digitality. I say concept of digitality because the book does not discuss the Web, computers, video games, or even binary numbers. Instead the book addresses a general principle that subtends and facilitates all of these kinds of technologies.

I define digitality as a process of distinction. Thus I see an immediate resemblance with Laruelle’s notion of the Philosophical Decision. Philosophy and digitality both require a fundamental act in which something is divided into two. For example metaphysics requires the notion of a division between essences and instances. And on a computer chip data is modeled and processed by means of voltage differentials. This fundamental action is important: distinction, division, decision, or discretization. Not so much the proverbial “zero and one” of computer culture, I’m focused here on “one and two,” or what it means to move from one to two. Continue reading

Superpositions (pt. 2) — Seven Paths

(This is the second of two excerpts from my talk at “Superpositions—A Symposium on Laruelle and the Humanities” hosted at the Center for Transformative Media at the New School. Read part one.)

In preparing for this conference, I was reminded of the many different kinds of undertakings represented here and elsewhere. With his background in philosophy and religious studies, Anthony Paul Smith has produced a treatise on a non-standard theory of nature and ecology. And I am just finishing Katerina Kolozova’s book Cut of the Real on Laruelle and poststructuralist feminism, which I find to be an incredibly original and courageous undertaking, not least because she’s taking on some of the most fundamental assumptions of the entire field of feminist theory! Continue reading


(This is the first of two excerpts from my talk at “Superpositions—A Symposium on Laruelle and the Humanities” hosted at the Center for Transformative Media at the New School. Read part two.)

Newcomers to Laruelle often find his work challenging. There is little familiar in Laruelle to serve as anchor, particularly for those of us reared on marxism, poststructuralism, or cultural studies. Laruelle is no sixty-eight radical like Guy Debord or Michel Foucault. He is not a public intellectual cast from the Sartrean mold like Alain Badiou. He does not practice phenomenology or dialectics, and he has little sympathy for today’s reigning Hegelianism championed by the likes of Slavoj Žižek, Catherine Malabou, or Judith Butler. His is not a familiar way of thinking. In fact it is a genuinely “strange” one, or as Anthony Paul Smith has called it, a stranger thought.

Laruelle gives a basic instruction, one that reveals the distinction between philosophy and theory—or “science,” as Laruelle, Althusser and others often prefer to called it. His instruction is that the best response to philosophy is not more philosophy. The best response to philosophy is to stop doing it. Continue reading

French Theory Since 1989

(Below is the description for my spring doctoral seminar at NYU. Consortium students in the New York area are welcome to join us.)

French Theory Since 1989
(MCC-GE 3010 Special Topics in Critical Theory)
Spring 2015
Thursdays 2:00 – 4:50 pm.
Prof. Alexander R. Galloway
New York University

French theory has exerted considerable influence on the world stage in recent decades. French intellectual exports from the post-World War II period, particularly in the area of feminism, semiotics, and post-structuralism, helped form an entire generation of theoretical inquiry in the English-speaking world. Even today, after the high water mark of postmodern theory has receded, the significance of figures like Michel Foucault or Roland Barthes has not so much faded as insinuated itself deeply into literary canons and course syllabi across the humanities and liberal arts.

This course focuses on recent French theory and philosophy published roughly during the last two decades, work that in some way deviates from the “greatest generation” of 1960s and ’70s theory. Our aim is to avoid some of the more familiar texts from the past, and instead seek out a new collection of thinkers, and indeed a new incarnation of critical and philosophical questions more apt for the contemporary landscape.

Starting with work of Catherine Malabou, Isabelle Stengers, Bruno Latour, and Tristan Garcia, we broach the question of materialism, specifically how best to understand the materiality of bodies, societies, and worlds. Then, in turning to a series of more explicitly rationalist and formalist texts, we examine a series of assessments of contemporary philosophy (specifically, ontology) from Quentin Meillassoux, Alain Badiou, and François Laruelle.

We treat this new roster as a divergent conversation of numerous voices, not a unified school with a single set of interests. Two particular questions guide the seminar: how does the author engage with ontology, and how does the author engage with the political. Several additional themes will structure the conversation, including new materialism, speculative realism, scientific rationalism, and generic science. The course will benefit from a number of recent English translations, and students are encouraged to consult the original French texts if their language skills allow it.

The Reticular Fallacy

We live in an age of heterogenous anarchism. Contingency is king. Fluidity and flux win over solidity and stasis. Becoming has replaced being. Rhizomes are better than trees. To be political today, one must laud horizontality. Anti-essentialism and anti-foundationalism are the order of the day. Call it “vulgar ’68-ism.” The principles of social upheaval, so associated with the new social movements in and around 1968, have succeed in becoming the very bedrock of society at the new millennium.

But there’s a flaw in this narrative, or at least a part of the story that strategically remains untold. The “reticular fallacy” can be broken down into two key assumptions. The first is an assumption about the nature of sovereignty and power. The second is an assumption about history and historical change. Consider them both in turn. Continue reading

Time to start a blog

Now that blogging is dead, seems like a good time to start a blog! I’ve given myself a few ground rules..

Mini-essays — Longer-form writing will be the focus here. Aside from the occasional acts of shameless self-promotion, this space will be primarily devoted to mini essays and other kinds of ideas and prose sketches.

No comments — Short-form discussion is great. But this blog will be for slightly longer pieces. If you want to respond in your own venue, please do!

No flame wars — I’m not one to shy away from spirited debate, but flame wars are stupid. I’ll try to keep the arguments substantive, while ignoring trolls and flamebaiters.

Sunset clause — Don’t you hate it when things go on too long? This blog will be summarily deleted after a certain amount of time. Six months, a year, who knows.