[30 JAN. UPDATE: Per blog stats, yesterday was the busiest day ever on Ktismatics. Just goes to show…]
“a) critics are trolls = bullshit, it’s a way to demonize critique and critics, it’s not new and it’s not useful, hate critics if you want, don’t pretend you can do without them. b) philosopher as a solitary genius writing away his books in his study = Romantic bullshit, never happened before, will never happen, regardless of all that propaganda aka “advice on how to write” (aka “Just do it like I do it”) c) trolls are out to get me/us = childish bullshit (“mommy, there’s a monster under my bed”), no one cares and wishes Harman “to fail” – philosophical is personal: you’re either with Harman all the way (with allowable deviance a la Shaviro) or you are his enemy (cf. Paul Ennis’ sad fate) – there’s no neutral third position. Love it or leave it, if you’re not leaving, you’re secretly loving etc etc.”
This is Mikhail’s dismissal of Graham Harman’s “troll theory,” on which yesterday’s post-and-discussion at Ktismatics was premised. Of course Mikhail is under no obligation to engage substantively with Graham’s position or with my posted engagement with it. Bullshit, Romantic bullshit, childish bullshit: this profane responsorium to Graham’s litany probably does summarize succinctly Mikhail’s views on the subject. But what’s to be done with it? At every turn it transforms the abstract into the personal, debate into disdain.
On the timeline of yesterday’s thread Mikhail’s comment immediately followed one of my own. I had just cited portions of Verene’s Speculative Philosophy — a book that Mikhail had previously recommended on his blog — suggesting that the distinction between speculation and critique upheld by Harman conforms to a long continental philosophical tradition. Bullshit, says Mikhail. I follow Mikhail’s “Three Bullshits” polemic with this:
Clearly the whole Troll conflict isn’t just a matter of creation versus discovery or speculation versus critique. Personalities clash, feelings are hurt, people act like bigger assholes than they might otherwise be. I’m probably regarded as an ally of the Trolls inasmuch as I condemn the dehumanizing and demonizing rhetoric so often employed against them (us?) by the “Bullies.” However, I find that practically the only time the philosophical Trolls comment here is when I write about the Bullies, and the only time the Bullies comment here (even more rare) is when I write about themselves. The recently-departed Kvond once accused me of writing posts like this one in order to boost readership for the blog. I don’t think that’s the case (at least not consciously); nevertheless, posts like this do draw more readers and commenters than anything I might write about realism or social constructivism or science or any of the other substantive topics on which the philosophical Trolls and Bullies disagree intellectually. I used to feel slighted, but no more, for I too have transcended commentary and ascended into the rarefied air where pure creation is wrought by the mighty Titans of Thought!
I just downloaded a review of Harman’s book on Latour referenced by someone on your blog, Mikhail, but since I’ve only read part of the book in question and none of Latour I’ll probably not have anything substantive to say about it.
…to which Mikhail replied thusly:
Wait, am I a Troll or a Bully?
I read that review, but since I haven’t read the book, I don’t know how accurately it represents the book’s problems. I once had a conversation with an old friend who confided that he read some Harman before Harman started blogging and thought it was okay, but now he cannot read him anymore, because he knows more about the author. Now, how does one react to this? On the one hand, we all read biographies, we all want to know who was the person behind the books – and Harman’s own argument is that it is important to keep philosopher and his/her philosophy together. On the other hand, biographical data is only good when it helps us LOVE the author and we are not allowed to use any of the biographical data to criticize the argument (it’s ad hominem and so on). I find this strange, don’t you?
So I creatively came up with the following characterization of Harman’s “troll theory” – everyone back the fuck off from MY idea – I think it’s a preventive ad hominem strike (a la George W. Bush and The Terrorists). That is to say, you strike your critics before they strike you by identifying a fundamental flaw in their being, not their doing (being a troll as being-critical): “no matter what you say, you are always already a troll; you are not a troll because you snark from nowhere, you snark from nowhere because you are a troll, it’s part of your being, you are a toxic person – now, speak!”
All of this is quite amusing; it might even be accurate. But does Mikhail give ME some love even after I practically begged him for it? He does not. I’ve just gotten done pointing out that the Trolls — and I reassure Mikhail in my next comment that he definitely is a Troll — typically comment on my philosophically-inflected posts only in order to bash the Bullies. So what does Mikhail do in response to this observation? He calls attention to himself (“am I a Troll or a Bully”), then goes ahead and bashes the Bully some more.
I guess in Mikhail’s case I’ll have to agree with him: it’s all personal. If his seeming obsession with Graham was once grounded in philosophical critique, it isn’t any more. It’s an outpouring of personal antagonism. Personally, I don’t believe that Mikhail “hides” behind a false blogging identity: in all likelihood he would say the same things to Graham in personal conversation at a coffee shop that he does in the blogs. Is that a good thing?
I’m sure that Graham believes that the uniqueness of his work stems at least in part from his uniqueness as a person: he sees things that others have not seen, and he presents them in a style that speaks to some who might not otherwise hear. In my view Graham over-psychologizes honest intellectual disagreements, a tendency which he demonstrates several times in the interview I linked to in yesterday’s post. So I suppose the Troll can point a finger at the Bully and say “he started it.” “Did not,” the Bully counters. “Did so!” “Did not!” Where’s René Girard when we need him? Here’s the main difference I can see in this mimetic rivalry: the Bullies all have book deals; the Trolls do not.