Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy


Theory and Criticism


Rajan, Tilottama

2nd Supervisor

Vanderheide, John

Joint Supervisor


This dissertation investigates contemporary speculative knowledge grounded in the immanence episteme, which is struggling to emerge as a foundation for a new kind of absolute knowledge. Regarding method, I use Michel Foucault’s concept of archaeology, situating archaeology in the context of deconstruction. In general, by delineating the various differences and genealogies within immanence theory, I show that immanence is neither a monolithic homogeneity nor a schizophrenic multiplicity but a coherent, if troubled, ground for speculative thought.

In Chapter 1, I define deconstruction as a broad philosophical project concerned with the order of knowledge and the University and its disciplines. I claim that deconstruction opposes the idea of universal order premised on equilibrium, complementariness, and discovery while proposing a different order premised on incompossibility, sense, and exteriority.

In Chapter 2, I elaborate on deconstruction’s alternative order of knowledge via Foucault’s archaeological texts and Gilles Deleuze’s early work on Hume. Specifically, I argue that Foucault and Deleuze mark the limits of reflexive, or self-ordering, knowledge, and I describe the twin procedure of simulation-dissimulation that all bodies of knowledge need to develop to achieve epistemological stability.

In Chapter 3, I carry out an archaeological analysis of biopolitics, a contemporary pseudo-discipline that has entered its reflexive phase while attempting to ascend to the status of an established discipline. Although biopolitics runs into the problems of self-ordering that Deleuze and Foucault described, its position as a pseudo-discipline provides biopolitics with speculative advantages and points to the episteme behind contemporary speculative knowledge: immanence.

In Chapter 4, I consider the research programs associated with the immanence episteme. Specifically, I identify three strongly speculative research programs: the “speculative everything” discourse, the “absolute speculation” discourse, and the “subtractive speculation” discourse.

In Chapter 5, I investigate the immanence episteme itself and distinguish two archaeological figures: immanence as plenitude and immanence as surplus. I find that the transition from immanence as plenitude, which is considered to be the dogmatic version of immanence, to immanence as surplus, which is what immanence theory is focused on today, is mediated by the following three stages: absolute immanence, complete immanence, and pure immanence.

Summary for Lay Audience

Today’s popular discourse emphasizes the importance of critical thinking, fact-checking, and pragmatic rationality, without paying attention to what makes such procedures possible. However, contemporary metaphysical philosophy is often hostile to said critical thinking, fact-checking, and pragmatic rationality, arguing, instead, for thinking that is radically creative and inclusive. In both cases, what predominates is a novel form of anti-intellectualism that dismisses reflexive thought in favor of immediately useful knowledge.

I argue that this problematic state of affairs can be better understood by remembering the deconstruction project that thrived between the ’40s and the ’70s. On the one hand, deconstruction showed that being critical necessarily involves being speculative—that is, criticism cannot help thinking beyond what is allowed by established facts and accumulated knowledge. On the other hand, deconstruction pointed out the acute problems that plague all reflexive thought, namely a tendency towards delirium (believing in fictions) and aphasia (the inability to establish order).

I claim that contemporary metaphysical philosophy writes in the shadow of deconstruction, having haphazardly internalized many deconstructive elements. The “post-knowledge” that metaphysics proposes today is, in general, an attempt to go beyond the limits of delirium and aphasia by developing a new theory regarding the foundations of reality. This new foundational theory is called immanence. According to immanence, reality has a single, knowable ground that supports an infinite, inexhaustible range of things to think about. Supposedly, such a single, inexhaustible ground not only reconciles philosophy with science and criticism with speculation but also promises a radically egalitarian politics.

Besides investigating the concept of immanence in more detail, I point out the multiple issues that arise when scholars propose a single and knowable ground for an infinity of unknowable things. I argue that such a paradoxical position, instead of creating an open and inclusive space for thinking, tends to result in a new kind of universalism and enclosure of thought. In the end, while acknowledging the advances made by immanence theory, I strike a cautionary note and suggest the importance of revisiting deconstruction before leaping ahead into the new speculative terrain.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.