Over at notes for a later time, Thomas has an excellent post up responding to my critique of theoretical monism yesterday. There’s a lot in Thomas’s post, but I wanted to draw attention to this passage in particular:
The difference Levi draws between theoretical monism and pluralism (which I may have to borrow), correctly captures the bricolage quality that should overcome a lot of the pitfalls of closed structures (reductive? hegemonic? hierarchical?) that rely on a singular, static master concept for their explanation. This is one of the common threads in Latour’s critique of the “sociology of the social”, Whitehead’s “fallacy of misplaced concreteness”, Parsons’ critique of Positivism/Idealism, and Marx’s critique of Political Economy. In each case, we have a conceptual agent that does all the work in the order of things without itself being explained.* We may as well have recourse to “God”. Flat Ontology’s position that all entities are agents in reality activates material and immaterial conditions to create an action situation that is active in the truest sense [my emphasis]. Instead of an instance of action between subject and an object, we have an interaction of multiple agents that initiates a variety of processes that are identified by their significance to the observer.
There’s a lot of nice stuff in Thomas’s post, so please take the time to read it. I hadn’t thought about it in quite these terms before, but I think Thomas is essentially right. There are two basic criticisms I’ve heard directed against OOO, one based on just plain ignorance and word connotation, the one slightly better yet still based on connotations. This first line of criticism seems to hear the word “object-oriented” and concludes that OOO is a scientific realism that wishes, after the fashion of Ayn Rand, to champion a sort of “objectivism” against “subjectivism”. This criticism still works in the nature/culture distinction, where either nature or culture is the real. Yet it’s precisely that thesis that OOO elides. Cultural entities, for OOO, are every bit as real as natural entities and vice versa. The second criticism worries that OOO has no place for the subject. Yet here the problem is the same. One still thinks within the framework of an opposition between subject and object and concludes that if OOO is championing objects, it must be rejecting subjects. Yet for OOO, subjects are one type of object among other types of objects. In other words, for OOO there is no subject/object opposition, there are just objects.
This second criticism also seems to worry that OOO reduces everything to passivity. The subject/object opposition is indexed to the active/passive distinction. Subjects are the active in that they act on the world, while objects are the passive in that they are acted upon (Zizek formulates exactly this position at the beginning of The Parallex View). As a consequence, the person adopting this criticism might concede that for OOO subjects are objects, while objecting (pardon the pun) that OOO has thereby reduced subjects to passivity, undermining their agency. What I like about Thomas’s formulation is that it captures the sense in which for OOO the point is not that everything is passive, but rather that OOO wishes to think everything as an agent or as active. Hence the idea of agental realism.