image004Responding to Paul Ennis’ Blogpost on Humanism, Asher Kay of Spoonerized Alliteration remarks that,

My first reaction was, “Well, we *caused* the technological debasement and ecological catastrophe! We could use a little slapdown as far as our importance in the universe is concerned.”

But I think that OOO doesn’t really amount to a slapdown. It’s more of a change in perspective.

If we accept that our thoughts, concepts, drives, etc. are inextricably embedded and embodied in the world; if we accept that our mathematics and formal systems are based on how the body and mind work, and have no separate existence or special, “pure” access to the way things really are; then we start to develop a perspective that lets us solve problems like technological debasement and ecological catastrophe.

Quite right. While all of those working within the framework of speculative realist thought would certain argue that they are not simply attempting to shift perspectives but are making genuine ontological claims, it is nonetheless the case that speculative realism will have done a service to philosophy if it manages to draw attention to dimensions of the world largely ignored by contemporary philosophy. Speculative realism can be usefully articulated in terms of Lacanian discourse theory. Depending on what it is engaging, speculative realist thought occupies each of Lacan’s four discourses. When speculative realism critiques correlationism or philosophies of access, it occupies the discourse of the hysteric, occupying the position of a split subject declaring that the emperor has no clothes. When it formulates an ontology it occupies the discourse of the master, introducing new signifiers that organize the buzzing confusion of the world. When research is undertaken employing these concepts, it occupies the discourse of the university, situating the unknown in terms of these categories and concepts.

read on!

However, at the level of rhetoric it could be said that speculative realist thought occupies the discourse of the analyst. In the discourse of the analyst the analyst addresses the analysand or split subject from the position of the excluded or surplus object. What the analyst listens for in the analysand’s discourse is not what the analysand intends or the meaning the analysand hopes to convey, all of which remains at the level of ego-discourse. Rather, what the analyst listens for are all those elements excluded from the analysand’s discourse or those elements treated as so much irrelevant waste, flotsam, and nonsense. It is not what the analysand intends that is important, but the slip of the tongue, homonyms, the bungled action, the dream, the offhand joke, and the symptom that increasingly come to occupy center stage in the analytic setting. What before appeared to be so much irrelevant nonsense becomes the cipher of the analysand’s desire.

Speculative realism also occupies the position of the remainder, the surplus, and the excluded with respect to philosophical discourse. Where philosophy has, for the last three hundred years, been obsessed with questions of self-reflexivity and the relationship of a subject facing an object and an object reduced to the manner in which it faces a subject, speculative realism seeks to occupy those strange entities excluded from philosophical discourse such as the object, the animal, technology, and so on. It seeks to bring that which is largely unspoken, that which can barely be heard, within the domain of a philosophical thinking. One will object that Heidegger speaks of the animal in his brilliant lecture Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics. Indeed he does, but only relative to the human. The animal is there said to be “poor in world”. What we do not get is the animal for itself. It will be said that philosophy everywhere speaks of objects. Indeed. But only objects insofar as we represent them or insofar as they are vehicles for our signs and discourse. It will be said that thinkers like Adorno and Heidegger have all sorts of things to say about technology. Indeed. But again it is only a technology that poses the “greatest danger”, where being is thoroughly occluded, or a technology that enslaves us. Never a technology for itself.

The animal, the object, and technology are so many remainders, surpluses, or exclusions that scarcely find treatment in philosophy. Oh yes, there are exceptions to this. As is always the case when I write a post like this there will be those that say “but what about Serres! What about Stengers! What about Ong and Kittler! What about Simondon! What about Stiegler! What about McLuhan! What about! What about! What about!” Yet this misses the point that within the institutional frame of philosophy these figures are treated as largely marginal, rather than being at the center of discussion. One of the tasks of OOO is that of re-construction or the creation of a counter-tradition that excavates those corners in philosophy where these things have been thought about and worked through.

A long while back I wrote a post entitled “The Alethetics of Rhetoric” that resonates nicely with Asher’s point. My idea was that activity of the rhetor can be usefully understood in terms of Heidegger’s concept of truth as aletheia. For Heidegger, alethetic truth is always an activity of revealing and concealing. When I use my coffee mug to drink coffee the cup is disclosed as something for the sake of something else. It belongs to the referential network of the equipmental world to which it belongs, speaking to relationships with other objects like coffee, but also to my ends such as being stimulated and awake for the sake of coherently writing this post, for the sake of generating more discussion and so on and so forth. In revealing itself in this equipmental way, the mug as an entity composed of certain atomic bonds, for example, is concealed. My relationship to the mug must shift to see it as a natural object in this sense. When disclosed as a collection of atoms with a particular geometrical form, the mug as a bit of equipment is, in turn, concealed.

solar-flare-magneticRhetoric functions in this way as well. For everything that a particular way of speaking about the world discloses, something else is concealed. In this regard, discourses are like sun spots or the death of Michael Jackson. All over the world scientists monitor sun spots and solar flares because they have the capacity to interrupt satellite communications and radio transmissions. With the sun spot nearly everything can become concealed. Likewise, stories in the media like the manner in which the death of Michael Jackson was reported are like major storms that shut down everything. People joked that God must love Governor Sanford because he killed Michael Jackson to save him. In a sense they were right. In the face of a media storm like the reporting on the death of Michael Jackson, everything else is concealed or hidden. And regardless of the truth or rightness of a philosophical position– with Whitehead I agree that there is truth in all philosophical positions –nonetheless the manner in which a philosophical discourse organizes issues conceals as much as it reveals.

In part this has to do with the inherent temporality of speech and writing. No one can say everything at once. An entire system might be synchronous and there altogether, but it can only be spoken element by element. There’s no way around this and it is always charitable to recall that simply because someone is not speaking about one particular thing at a particular moment it does not follow that they necessarily exclude these other elements. However, rhetorics also conceal by selecting topics and bringing certain elements into relief, shunting others into the shadows. This is, I think, in part, an element of the philosophical situation that speculative realism and object-oriented ontology is responding to. A philosophical tradition that has been obsessed with questions of access, representation, self-reflexivity, normativity, mind, culture, language, and history discloses certain regions of the world making others fall into hiddenness.

If these issues were marginal or of no importance, this would perhaps be of no consequence. However, in a world where networked society due to international travel significantly speeds the epidemiology of diseases, in a world that faces looming environmental catastrophes, in a world where technology fundamentally transforms our relations to one another and the very nature of our cognition, these issues cannot be ignored or shunted aside. What is needed is an alethetics of rhetoric, a technology of concepts, that makes it easier to directly discuss these issues and harder to remain awash in signs, language, representation, etc. If speculative realism and object-oriented ontology make some small contribution to revealing these largely invisible dimensions of our experience, if it can make some small contribution to getting institutional philosophy to take notice, it will have made a significant contribution regardless of whether others come to accept its ontological and epistemological claims.