I was once described as a "beautiful, intelligent iguana".
You sober people who feel well armed against passion and fantasies and would like to turn your emptiness into a matter of pride and an ornament: you call yourselves realists and hint that the world really is the way it appears to you. As if reality stood unveiled before you only, and you yourselves were perhaps the best part of it—O you beloved images of Sais! But in your unveiled state are not even you still very passionate and dark creatures compared to fish, and still far too similar to an artist in love? And what is “reality” for an artist in love? You are still burdened with those estimates of things that have their origin in the passions and loves of former centuries. Your sobriety still contains a secret and inextinguishable drunkenness. Your love of “reality,” for example—oh, that is a primeval “love.” Every feeling and sensation contains a piece of this old love; and some fantasy, some prejudice, some unreason, some ignorance, some fear, and ever so much else has contributed to it and worked on it. That mountain there! That cloud there! What is “real” in that? Subtract the phantasm and every human contribution from it, my sober friends! If you can! If you can forget your descent, your past, your training—all of your humanity and animality. There is no “reality” for us—not for you either, my sober friends. We are not nearly as different as you think, and perhaps our good will to transcend intoxication is as respectable as your faith that you are altogether incapable of intoxication.
Friedrich Nietzsche, “To the realists,” The Gay Science, §57 (via darkvvaste)
This is one of the passages I was talking about a while ago that was making me rethink OOO.
Not because this passage is anti- (or non-)realist, but because no OOO writer would disagree with anything in this passage. They’d make fun of these naive realists in the exact same manner. Given that, I’d have to question: what exactly is so ‘realist’ about OOO? Given that question, I’ve just realized how reactionary OOO is; not because it’s “complicit with capitalism” or whatever, but because in its ideological positioning of itself as ‘breaking’ away from previous philosophy, it covers up its connections to that philosophy and its radical politics.
Question with 9 notes
towerofsleep said: I think you're making this more complicated than it has to be. I'm pretty sure one of the basic tenets of OOO is that basically all "French theory" is correlationist and stuck within language. I think Derrida is maybe a more explicit target than Foucault, but I assumed that the unspoken message of Harman's books is "you were doing it wrong yall" and "let me fix it for you" in a tabula-rasa, let's-start-over way. Which is why he pisses a lot of people off, no? (I still haven't read Meillassoux.)
[Sorry for making this public, I hope you don’t mind. I just thought it was useful to share. If you want me to take it down for some reason, though, let me know.]
I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot lately and have been meaning to write something up about it [I will do something more in depth at a later point, I think]. I think the reason that reactions to OOO and Speculative Realist stuff is so polarized (most everyone I’ve met either LOATHES is or is TOTALLY PSYCHED for it) is because of how it presents itself as a ‘break’ away from previous (specifically ‘french postmodern’) theory. I think that’s why they appeal to Badiou and Zizek a lot, because they’re seen as being ‘beyond’ that stuff too.
But they’re really not a ‘break’ away from it at all. I was reading Nietzsche saying something about ‘realists’ the other day (the “To The Realists” paragraph that begins book 2 of The Gay Science, if you’re curious), and he keeps on listing beliefs that realists have - a belief that the presence of an object corresponds to it’s being, a belief in the power of ‘common sense’, a belief in ‘objective reality’ that is both static and can be known through scientific reasoning - and all I could think was “OOO [at least] is directly opposed to every one of these values”. So then I started thinking: what’s so ‘realist’ about OOO then? It’s opposed to all everything that the ‘naive realists’ believe in, and simply swallows a lot of previous theory from the past century but then adds “but objects exist!” In that move, then, it’s really conservative - it wants to have all the progressive gains of theory from the past ~50 years, without identifying with any of it explicitly (note: a lot of this questioning is born from me wondering what Harman’s relationship to Deleuze is - I know he took a seminar class on ATP in graduate school, and he opens Tool-Being with a quote by Deleuze from D&R, so there’s something there. But then again, Harman’s new book that he marketed as a collection of essays discussing his relationship to other philosophers, is painfully silent about his relationship to any ‘postmodernist’. There’s just a gaping lacunae there - he refuses to talk about it).
So, yeah, I think you’re right, that’s the element that pisses off a lot of people about OOO. But I think Levi Bryant at least has shown some reasons for why OOO is important, at least on some level. The focus on multiplicity, on difference, and the debasement of Truth (while all awesome!) in ‘postmodern’ theory have led to a kind of cultural value of relativism (note how this is different than ‘cultural relativism’), which is really bad for politics on a lot of levels. I think Latour illustrates this nicely when he talks about how his neighbor thinks he’s the ‘deluded’ for believing that 9/11 was carried out by ‘terrorists’ (or at least, not by our own government). And yes, all this relativistic stuff is based on really bad readings of ‘postmodern’ thinkers, and the ways those readings have trickled into pop culture at large, but it’s a legacy we have to deal with now. We need to start thinking and discussing politics in a way that allow us to make bold statements like “global warming is caused by human actions” while incorporating all that we’ve learned from French leftist theory (and leftist theory otherwise). And I think OOO is at least a first awkward attempt at trying to find some way of doing both at once, but because it keeps on relying on this posturing of ‘breaking away’ from previous theory, it’s really reactionary.
All this considered, I think Meillassoux, with the exception of Grant because I haven’t read him, is the only one of the original Speculative Realists to have (possibly?!) offered a new orientation and position for philosophy (and I’ll add an aside for Adrian Johnston too, but that’s just because I’m hopeful for his trilogy on materialism that’s coming out). Harman is just a puffed up Heideggarian (but a puffed up Heideggarian that I like), and Brassier’s just a cranky guy who thinks he’s above all contemporary theory (he’s does the similar “break” move - his claim to brilliance isn’t unfounded though). Meillassoux at least takes the original step of saying that we can know the Absolute, at least one thing about the world ‘as it is’ or whatever. But this ‘as it is’ is exactly what a lost of ‘postmodern’ thinkers were talking about in terms of difference and multiplicity and all that - hyper-chaos and the necessity of contingency. So he’s actually able to synthesize both those elements that I was takling about above - we can still be critical deconstructionists, critiquers of systems of power, and lovers of rhizomes, but we can also (cautiously, tentatively) appeal to scientific facts (because scientific facts point towards a ‘Truth’ of the ‘as it is’, but that ‘Truth’ is contingent and could change at any moment). So maybe that’s why I’m so interested in Meillassoux, because I think he offers at least the possibility of finding a way out of this problematic stance a lot of theory has backed itself into (that makes it useless in terms of praxis, that makes it such a good place for a-political academics to spend their lives ‘deconstructing systems of power’ or whatever).
All this is to say: yeah, you’re probably right. I probably am overcomplicating this.
P.S. If you’d like a quick intro into Meillassoux just to see if it’s up your alley at all, look up the essay: “The Immance of the World Beyond”. It’s like ~30 pages and a short read, and a good introduction to Meillassoux and covers all of his thought (even the more recent stuff about the ‘spectral dilemma’).
P.P.S. Sorry, this went overboard.
Post reblogged from with 16 notes
So, sorry for getting to this so late. I had a birthday a few days ago, and then was too hungover to do a proper response yesterday, so today was the first I could get to this. It may be futile to bring this back up with how much time has passed (in internet time), but oh well, I really do think this is an important conversation to have. Also I’m putting this under a cut because it’s going to get long.
[T]here’s a more insidious form of human-centric ontology, as found in many version of scientism. On the one hand, scientism insists that human consciousness is nothing special, and should be naturalized just like everything else. On the other hand, it also wants to preserve knowledge as a special kind of relation to the world quite different from the relations that raindrops and lizards have to the world. Another of putting it… for all their gloating over the fact that people are pieces of matter just like everything else, they also want to claim that the very status of that utterance is somehow special. For them, raindrops know nothing and lizards know very little, and some humans are more knowledgeable than others. This is only possible because thought is given a unique ability to negate and transcend immediate experience, which inanimate matter is never allowed to do in such theories, of course. In short, for all its noir claims that the human doesn’t exist, it elevates the structure of human thought to the ontological pinnacle.
“Viewed through this lens, it is equally valid to say that cows exploited human desires for fat, compelling us to clear forests and protect them from predators, enhancing their reproductive possibilities. But domestication doesn’t end here. It is not simply that cows domesticated us in the sense of leading us to develop a set of practices such as raising cows and clearing forests so they would have more grazing land. No, the conspiracy of cows against humanity go far deeper. It is likely that cows also introduced extreme selective pressure on human populations dependent on cows for food, weeding out those members of our species that couldn’t tolerate high-beef diets and selecting for those that could. It’s likely that in many human populations cows changed our very genetics. As Scu has argued, we are addicted to meat. This addiction, in part, was carefully cultivated by cows themselves.
Note well, I am not saying this is good or that this morally justifies our ugly and ecological destructive treatment of livestock. I am saying that there are a variety of different teleologies involved in the evolution of cows. Some involved human aims. Others involved nonhumans such as chickens, cows, pigs, lamb, etc. The same could equally be argued for various grasses such as wheat, as well as a variety of other plants upon which we’re deeply dependent. And, I would argue, the same would be true of technologies, social groups, and texts […]
There will never be a society composed just of humans because humans always dwell among a variety of different agencies including humans but also including all sorts of nonhumans. These nonhumans are never just wax for human intentions, but introduce all sorts of differences of their own that are irreducible to human intentions.”
Still haven’t really said anything about how OOO specifically does the above things though (is it just a matter of replacing subject-object with object-object but doesn’t that just inverse the terms)? And also, there’s a rich history of anti-Idealist philosophers who have “dethroned” the subject-object relation already (and I would say my faves, Derrida, Deleuze, & Foucault, have done this most successfully) so how is OOO doing anything new (especially from ppl like Latour)? And what exactly are the politics at stake in saying that an object like the desk I’m writing on has an “ontology” (cuz there is a whole tradition of anti/post humanism that doesn’t resort to claims of this sort)? As I understand it (and I might be totally wrong here), it’s almost like a playing out of that really dumb scenario about if there’s no one around to hear a tree fall in the woods does it really fall. Like no shit it falls cuz things exist independently of humans but why the fuck should I care when ppl are suffering and dying (does this make me a “humanist”? naw bro). I’m further suspicious of OOO because 1) what I have read really misreads Deleuze and 2) the people that I know who are into it are kinda dumb (mostly in the English dept), but I am totally willing to give it a shot cuz obvs you are not dumb. If you had to recommend a short intro text what would it be?
[I’m truncating this for ease. Also, if you just want to get to recommended texts, skip down to the bold part so you can find them easily, because, uh, long post.]
Well, first off, like I said earlier, I was typing that in class and couldn’t really get into details that heavily.
But also, the problem with trying to answer a lot what your questioning is that you’re treating ‘OOO’ as if it were some homogeneous thing, or set of ideas.
But seriously, irt that last post: if any of you are even interested in OOO and related projects, just check some of it out. It’s pretty easy to get yourself into, and it’s not to hard to take at least some sort of cursory glance at it (something that the majority of people I’ve seen trying to dismiss it haven’t done).
If you want an easy introduction into some stuff about it, along with a bunch of critical essays (some good, some not), check out the Speculative Turn anthology. (That links to a .pdf, by the way, since the book’s Open Access).
And, on the Open Access note, part of the reason I like OOO so much is simply access. When I was out of school for a year, OOO and SR were projects that I could immerse myself into because most of the books were either really cheap, or Open Access, and so I didn’t need exclusive academic access to try and learn a lot about it. So, in terms of material constraints on learning philosophy, OOO/SR has been a really new thing for me, and I think that’s why it’s taken off so much (more than any other reason at least).
any of you “into” object oriented ontology and can explain to me why I should care?
I’m going to be really broad here, because I’m in the middle of class and so I can’t go into this too deeply.
I also appreciate that a lot of the work being done in OOO is being taken out of the academy. Or even important ‘academic institutions’. It’s not that ‘academics’ are bad in some sense, but that housing philosophical discourse only within universities (for the most part) is a negative thing. This is the first time in a while that I’ve seen a lot of people talking about philosophy without having years and years of background knowledge into highly specific parts of it - which means sometimes it’s really clumsy and uncritical, but it’s also opening up a lot of avenues for discourse outside of traditional paths for it, which I really like. I mean, Bryant teaches at some small community college and is at the forefront of a new philosophical outlook is a really cool phenomena in its own.
I don’t know, I’m super excited about it for reasons that I can’t quite pin down yet. I suggest giving it a looking through, though, especially since I think it gets a lot more flack than is deserved. I’ve yet to see anyone give a sustained critique of any OOO type projects that don’t amount to “you read ‘x’ philosopher that I like a lot wrong’ or ‘I hate the type of rhetoric you use’ or ‘I fundamentally misread everything you wrote because I wanted to critique it from the beginning’ (Zizek’s the worst offender here). So until I see that, I’m going to continue to support it on some level.
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I was trying to find things about the newest translation of Heidegger’s “Contributions” from Heidegger scholars (to see if it was any improvement), and came across a good little post from Harman. This was probably the best part:
In recent months we’ve seen a number of crabby critiques of how “real” philosophy can’t be done on the internet. And ironically enough, I agree to some extent with these critiques (except that Levi Bryant is a glowing counterexample of how it really is possible to do much of your best philosophical work on a blog, though I’m more of a traditional academic writer myself in terms of chosen genres).
However, these critiques also miss the point completely. Namely, they assume that blog philosophy should simply be a different venue in which to publish the sorts of things you put in books and articles, and judge philosophy blogs by that same standard.
And that’s simply wrong. The philosophy blogosphere is not another version of books and articles. It is more like a city where you can live or hang out. It is Blogopolis.
What do you do when you live in a city when you’re out in public? You read the news, go to work, hang out in cafés, hear tips from others about what’s happening, share your own news, meet new friends, and so forth.
And that’s what the philosophy blogosophere is about. It’s a kind of loose philosophical bohemia that keeps things stirred up and is able to transmit new currents (such as speculative realism) quickly and enthusiastically.
This is obviously pretty contra Brassier on the whole point.
Obviously the internet isn’t a place for highly technical philosophical work to be done (the kind you’d find in a published work), but it is good for testing out ideas and making connections with others who help tend those ideas.
I think it’s a pretty good example of what Derrida was trying to get at in “Death of the Book and the Beginning of Writing”, and I kind of feel that those who critique attempts to do philosophy online tend to have really conservative and stodgy ideas of what constitutes philosophy ‘proper’. It’s just an annoying thing to still be seeing so prevalently.
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