Paul Ennis has a terrific post up asking us to imagine the following:

Let us engage in a thought experiment. Imagine in twenty years time someone has written the magnum opus in speculative realism. It is called something like ‘Being and Being’. That would not be a bad title. I’d buy that book. Either that or its the worst book title in the world. The point is that ‘Being and Being’ is such an important book that people don’t care about the title. Like how we still read things called ‘The Phenomenology of Spirit’ or ‘The Critique of Pure Reason’.

Then imagine that a disciple in another country had written a similar book influenced by ‘Being and Being’ called ‘Non-Being and Non-Being.’ The writer of the latter complains that the author of ‘Being and Being’ has erased the human from the picture.

This is truly problematic because we are entering an utterly bleak stage in history with lots of technological debasement, ecological catastrophe and so on. What madness is this book ‘Being and Being’ with its endless discussions of objects interacting with one another.

More and more I feel that this is the question people want answered with regard to speculative realism.

What I cannot understand is why people think speculative realism is out to debase the subject. Or why it is an anti-humanism. ‘Being and Being’ would be a book populated with humans and other objects. The human would be treated as an especially interesting object among others. In fact maybe ‘Being and Being’ contains its own existential analytic dedicated to this object which is so complex that we spend an awful lot of time dealing with it. Maybe it loves the subject-object object so much it lavishes 200 pages to a description of how consciousness is an emergent property popping up inside the physical structure of a human body etc. This would be a beautifully apt convergence with the insights of neuroscience.

I’m kicking myself for not thinking of this title first! Setting that aside, I think an additional point worth making is that today we simply cannot talk about the human without talking about objects. As Latour tirelessly argues, the great sin of modernity was to try and produce a schism between the world of nature entirely independent of humans and the world of the cultural entirely independent of nature. The problem is that the world in which we live is a world in which we’re constantly enmeshed in imbroglios with objects of all sorts. To understand ourselves is, in part, to understand these imbroglios with objects. Yet what do we in fact find in so much cultural and critical theory? We find a bracketing of objects so as to get at that which is specifically human– norms, cultural significations, ethics, politics, and so on. Technology studies, media studies, material history, science studies, and all the rest get shunted to the side, treated as rarefied sub-disciplines that the high cultural theorist is free to ignore or investigate as they see fit.

In my view, the most vital questions we seek to answer are hopelessly distorted so long as we ignore this dimension of our “amonst-ness” with objects. Nor can these objects be treated as simple “vehicles” of cultural significations or human intentions as in the case of Baudrilliard. Rather, they must be approached in all their uncanniness, their strangeness, as both the most familiar of the familiar and that which exceeds anything like human familiarity and comfort.