jueves, 20 de enero de 2011

The Positive Side: Amends With OOO

- The Positive Side -
Amends with Object Oriented Ontology

   I am compelled to answer Graham Harman’s reply to my post about some of the problems I perceived in his version of OOO, given my doubtlessly incomplete and probably defective understanding of it. As some of the ensuing discussions with Levi, Joseph and others have encouraged, there is much more to be learnt from Graham’s wonderful work than I have been able to capture thus far. So, I should first say that I owe Graham an apology for being exceedingly critical, and not being as vocal about the aspects I find commendable in OOO; especially for not taking into consideration arguments in support of the claims I purported were either without justification, or bearing a defective one.

   By way of mitigation, I can only say that I never intended to project a caricature of Graham’s philosophy, but merely express my quibbles as I understood the arguments. Unfortunately, he expresses that I ended up misconstruing his position and obviating essential parts of his argument. For this there is no excuse. I can only say that I will attempt to do better in the future, and try to pick up on crucial missing details in my future readings. Also, I must confess that even if Graham was indeed kind enough to share with me some of his manuscripts in advance, I was only able to review these briefly, and I felt  that implying that I had possession of these in the commentary might have been improper for obvious reasons. But this is no excuse, since I  knew and did acknowledge for example that Graham’s Quadruple Object presents a series of diagrams illustrating his ontology, in much richer and thorough fashion than I did in my post. As a student, I am still occasionally imprecise in my adjectives, because of a lack of intellectual maturity which allows for precision. Part of why youngsters are polemic and energetic is because they are uncivilized still. I hope Graham doesn't forget that he is dealing with a first year graduate student, who has a long, long way to go before he can even hope to stand in the same position he is! I say this not necessarily with respect to knowledge about philosophy or skill, but also personal wisdom. I have a bad reputation for being a bit improper sometimes when I simply intend to be inquisitive, but I can see retrospectively why Graham got this impression.

So for all of these misgivings, I reiterate to Graham my apologies, and want now to rise up to the very pleasing invitation to formulate some of the aspects of OOO that I find most commendable. It is difficult for me, however, to state points of
agreement between OOO and my own position because, alas, I do not really have one. Graham infers I have a love for Badiou’s work, which is very true, but I wouldn’t straightforwardly call myself a Badiouean at this point. There are aspects of the scientific realist guild of SR which I find very appealing (Brassier's work is notably influential on me), a lot of Deleuze is reverberating within me, and I find a lot in psychoanalysis and Zizek’s forays. This is where I see myself most comfortable, but at this point I would just really be modest and say I am learning and working towards a position. It might be constructive to try and formulate an own position, instead of perpetually debunking, but I feel I need a better grasp of things in the tradition before I do this. And clearly, if my understanding of Graham was so apalling, chances are I must be doing equally as bad in other terrains. Somewhere in-between this bundle of opinions, eventually, I hope, I might be able to say Iwith what I agree and not just what I like find inspiring

   Formulating discrepancies and signaling gaps has become for me a didactic tool to force me to formulate and disentangle my muddled intuitions, and has helped me a lot in progressively gaining clarity on the issues I entertain. After all, as a student, I am more than likely going to be wrong about plenty of things when commenting before I get them right. The beauty of the blog is that it allows you to formulate a preliminary understanding without getting too serious about it. In this case, it seems my reading was faulty for reasons I need to assess with further study. I don’t mean to have arrived at this result in bad spirit, even if I should have been more attentive to detail, particularly when it was expressly made available to me! I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to see the details of your work passed over in favor of facile dismissals, so I must take future precautions to be more empathic and rigorous.

That being said, I enumerate those features of Graham’s philosophy (and not just his ontology), which I find most inspiring, as well as OOO more generally:

1)      The insistence on the importance of vividness in philosophy, and highlighting its historical link to an imaginative, architectonic ambition, which furnishes for us novel ways of thinking and approaching the world in its complexity. This image of philosophy is what I most enjoy about the vibrant style and passion in OOO, and something which I also find stimulating in peculir ways in thinkers such as Deleuze (for whom importance is greater than Truth).
2)      I find the idea of a realism compatible with the withdrawal of real objects very interesting; insofar as it attempts to render compatible a full blown thought about the external world, and at the same time acknowledge that our knowledge/activity is partial and distorting. This is something which I think moderates realism in philosophy from becoming entirely insensitive to the very important lessons of critical philosophy, which often show us how painfully inadequate even our most cherished emblems of knowledge can be, inviting sobering modesty with respect how we view our thinking and footing in this world.
3)      Its seemingly boundless curiosity to explore different fields of discourse as a sine qua non for philosophy, de-localizing it from its restriction to the human cohort, but also from the strict philosophical text. Thus Graham embraces insights from Latour, McLuhan, just as Ian thinks robustly about video games, Levi about Lacanian psychoanalysis, and Tim Morton about Ecology. These are not fields external to philosophical interest, but all of the OOO members are willing to step outside the usual stock of heroes of the philosophical canon, and bring in fresh new air to the mix. This is again something which I think Levi would agree has prefigured some great advances in philosophy: Heidegger’s odd appropriation of Don Scotus, Deleuze’s bizarre stock of forgotten 18th Century philosophers (Wronski anyone?). OOO repeats this gesture, expanding the contours of the field in which it plays, without losing grip on the philosophical benchmarks of our recent times. Thus Graham’s appeals to thinkers like Zubiri, his intrigue for the occasionalist tradition, Aristotle, Lingis, Latour and others, supplements his absorption of aspects of thinkers like Heidegger, Husserl, and Levinas.
4)      Not to fear transforming an author, hijacking his thought from himself. This is a great philosophical move, from Aristotle's violence to Plato, onwards. Just like Meillassoux hijacks correlationist philosophy and exacerbates facticity to unearth an unforeseen realm of possibilities for philosophical thought, Graham attempts to not simply surrender a pious reverence for Heidegger (like so many of his ‘followers’) and takes a turn at the point where his philosophy does not merely give us an Idea to defend, but a crossroad to explore. The idea of the withdrawal of being is appropriated in Graham’s own idea of a withdrawal of objects. This articulates a philosophical problem presumably exhausted in a novel way, allowing us to see anew a face which had become worn out by predictable interpretations. Thus resists the sterile academicism that resembles the zombie-esque following of a sect (believe me, I grew up in Peru, where phenomenology dominates the philosophical scene).

Thus Harman, as well as the other OOO folk, are not principally interested in getting absorbed into a downward spiral of academic technical debates to prattle exclusively among specialists. This passion for philosophy to be accessible and open, and not secluded and esoteric, is a commendable passion which many great philosophers were right to uphold (James, Dewey, Heidegger, Deleuze, Lingis, Zizek, DeLanda…).Although I think there are indeed many theoretical problems with Graham’s thesis of withdrawal, those certainly don’t make it less interesting or worthy of thought.

  I don’t think, for example, that Ray Brassier’s appropriation of Laruelle allows for the kind of scientific realism he seeks to advance, not that his usage of Stove’s Gem to deflate the circle of correlation works either. Nor do I think Meillassoux’s bold absolutization of facticity on the basis of the contingency of thought works. Nor do I think Badiou's theory of Truth can be realist while the truth procedure remains circumspect to the disruption of an exclusively human act, and foreclosed to natural occasion. But these are all fertile, thought inducing ideas which even in their presumed error become catalysts for thought. Indeed, OOO is adamant in teaching us that it is better to be wrong but bold, comprehensive, and imaginative; than to be myopic, inane, and uninteresting, just to avoid being wrong. That is why so many people seem obsessed with refuting it: they are infuriated by what they perceive to be wrong, but also in a strange way fascinated by it. This is already a great classic of philosophical drama: Husserl and Heidegger, Plato and Aristotle, Putnam and Rorty...
5)      The stylistic embrace of clarity, without compromising vividness. Analytic philosophy is notoriously petulant in its purported claims to bear the field's standard for ‘good writing’, when as Graham rightly puts, it confuses technically coherent prose with good prose. Of course, obscurity is a no-no for philosophy. But there is no reason why philosophy cannot be tilting the emotional membranes of people: in fact, it should! Thinkers such as Plato, Spinoza, Nietzsche, Rousseau,Descartes, Benjamin, Deleuze, Zizek and Badiou are all emblematic figures which knew how to use vibrant prose and literary imagery to the service of philosophical illustration and argument. By the same token, OOO represents a good case for how being literary and not just literal bears a philosophically interesting magnitude: Graham’s Guerrilla Metaphysics discusses the role of metaphor, humor in a philosophical manner, while his notion of allure makes an argument at the core of the process of discerning the opaqueness of the real in its resistance to fuse with other objects. Tim Morton recently delivered in OOO what was a tantalizing anticipation of an OOO theory of rhetorics, poetics and language. And Ian’s talk was an exemplary occasion of how a lyrical narrative, which touches an audience emotionally, can be conducive to triggering a lasting effect in the thought of people. Graham’s Circus Philosophicus doesn’t shy away from experimental form to communicate  and present a reelaboration of his familiar ontological thesis. This is one of the aspects that I conjointly enjoy between Harman and Badiou: the latter’s hypertranslation of Plato, his little book about love, the Pocket Pantheon of philosophers, Circus Philosophicus… all of them weird, enjoyable, passionate texts. And I also enjoy this experimental style developed in some authors following Deleuze-Guattari, like Reza Negarestani, and others.
6)      The reiteration that however we may want to endow science with an authoritative position in describing the structure of the real, this must be in a way that is never refractory from revision. OOO here goes further however, and claims that science seemingly enjoys no putative authority in the ranks of what we know and before the real, in favor of a democratic ontology. In spite of my uncertainty and doubts about this last move, which I attempted to explore in my post, I think that the fallibilism towards knowledge accentuates the philosophical modesty I spoke earlier, and is part of the de-anthropomorphizing function which begins with the contestation of correlationism. This in spite of my fundamental disagreements with the theory.
7)      The material embrace of the form of the blog for communication: engaging with a multitude of audiences, in a variety of forms, not shying away from discussion and even conflict. Of course, the blog format in its liberties is more conducive to error, misinterpretations, redundancies, lax analyses, and other shortcomings. But at the same time it de-privatizes speculation, opens the debate up to new audiences, allows authors to experiment without being pressed by the demands of publishing agencies, to participate and communicate with other think tanks, and produce new forms of discourse, art, and thought. The emergence of the journal Speculations, as well as the exemplary blogs by Graham, Levi, Tim and Ian, are all testaments to a new age of philosophy, to which we are lucky to be the heirs and opening acts.  

8)  They are all great people, and a fantastic group in their composite quality.  But they all have radically different styles and personalities, and are all very unique thinkers in their own right too. What they share only becomes stronger in time because of the things they don’t share. And in spite of the young age of the movement and some of its members, they have been very prolific and kept readers with new stuff to chew on. They are all very pleasant in conversation, and do not shy away with their humor and eccentricity. Levi made some really funny remarks about me being Peruvian. Graham is a great storyteller, as you can tell from his books. Tim is bonkers and outlandishly courteous and nice. And Ian is very cool, and down to earth guy who seems he'd be fun to get drunk with (that's a compliment in my book). I think Lacan was right when he said that the madman is also the king who thinks he is a king. I’m not saying these guys are kings,  but they certainly very nice folk, casual people, with whom who can speak freely without feeling daunted by their position in the academia.

It might seem like these points address mostly stylistic/personal impressions than philosophical agreements. But I must reiterate that at a loss for a position, I can only explain why it is I take the trouble to respond, however defectively, to OOO, and why I keep coming back to it. Even if it appears that my ‘disagreements’ are located in the more substantive issues, albeit in a distorted and unjustly understood manner, I hope this does some good to amend the wrongs that Graham perceives I did to him and his work in my last post. I must say that with respect to Graham's observations about my arguments' shortcomings, my lingering concerns persist, for the reasons formulated.

    And yet although I must not shy away from saying that the preoccupations I expressed back then still remain now, at this stage, I can say that I acknowledge the necessity to go ahead and review Graham’s work to see where those missing arguments lay, and how they might assuage my concerns. I can’t say they do, but at the very least, right now, I can’t say they don’t. And that means that in saying there were no further reasons where there were, defective or not, I was, plainly speaking, wrong.

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