Peter over at Philosophy in a Time of Terror reflects on why speculative realism might be significant:
Call it the argument from catastrophe, in which you cite the real possibility of global environmental devastation (in a previous era it would have been the nuclear holocaust) and then accuse X figure of basically wanting that through some theoretical apparatus. In any event, what is exciting about the work in SR is how it meets up with work in environmental studies and animal ethics, to name but two areas, which have long argued for getting out of the human as a part of a larger normative project, part of which would be finding means for averting the very catastrophe in question. This is where, in a sense, I see SR going, namely connecting up with these other movements in such a way as to bolster SR’s normative accounts (such as they are). Or at least, I see these connections whenever I’m at an environmental philosophy conference.
I confess that my gut reaction is to dismiss Peter’s musings out of hand because the bastard gets to live in San Diego. However, I take solace in the fact that the California higher education system is currently a mess, so I guess I can forgive him. Jokes aside, this sounds right to me. At the risk of generating all sorts of ire, I suppose what I want from the object-oriented ontology I’m trying to develop is a “theory of everything” or a “grand unified theory” (a GUT).
Now, the moment I suggest something a GUT the ghost of Hegel enters the room and specters of totalitarianism swirl in my mind. A GUT or a ToE is not a totalizing theory that would assign everything a place within a system. I hope this much is clear from my ontic principle and Harman’s vacuum packed and withdrawn objects (which I’m finding myself more and more sympathetic to in light of recent discussions with some very fine interlocutors such as Mitsu and Deontologist). No, for me a GUT or a ToE is a wish that arises from coming from a very eclectic theoretical background that draws on semiotics, semiology, psychoanalytic theory, critical theory, technology studies, sociology, complex systems theory, developmental systems theory, Marx and Marxist thought, mathematics, deconstruction, phenomenology, post-structuralism, autopoietic theory, ecological thought, feminism, German Idealism, physics, race studies, Lucretius, rhetoric, American pragmatism (especially Dewey and Peirce), gender studies, the great 17th century rationalists, cybernetics, Kenneth Burke, ethnography, media studies, biology, history, and a host of other things too numerous to mention that have since fallen out of my ear or disappeared in too many bottles of cheap yet good wine. On the other side of the spectrum, there are the issues that concern me such as questions of pedagogy, critical animal studies, globalization, capitalism, the impact of technology on our world, hate, ugly ressentiments, and on and on.
What is one to do when faced with this bewildering array of thinkers, movements, and orientations of thought that howl inside of me like so many damned voices in Dante’s Inferno that refuse to be silenced? What am I to do with the Josiah Royce and Santayana that still echo in my mind from high school? What do you do when you’re fascinated with and convinced by all of these things? Am I a theory slut? A whore that is persuaded by whatever it is I happen to come across? Or is it rather, as Leibniz, Nietzsche, and Whitehead say that there is a truth in all philosophies, that we are points of view on the world, or that, as I argued in Difference and Givenness, point of view or perspective precedes the existence of the subject, such that the subject is an effect of a topology of a point of view rather than the point of view an effect of a subject from which a “look” issues?
What I would like is a theory capable of integrating these diverse theoretical technologies, and reconciling this heterogeneous pastiche of thought. Yet make no mistake, this is a heterogeneous pastiche. These orientations are not complementary. If I emphasize that these theories are technologies, then this is because concepts are tools, they are instruments, they are machines that evoke differences. In this regard, Ian Bogost, in his title Unit Operations, and in the manner in which he performs his theory of the unit with respect to theory– treating elements of theories as smiles without a cat and cats without a smile, and approaching the smile without a cat to which the muse speaks as an entity in its own right –has the right idea insofar as he marshals blocks of difference to enter into amalgams and mixtures that produce something else in the process. If a demonic mixture of these technologies is to be produced, it is necessary, above all, to overcome the humanities/science rut. We need science fiction, and I make this assertion as a cipher to be de-ciphered. Yet so long as we remain in the rut of epistemology, privileging the human-object relation above all other relations, such a science fiction is impossible. No, what is required is a deflationary move that renounces any ontological duality and places all beings on an equal ontological footing. This is the only way, as far as I can see, that it is possible to avoid the sort of concealing that theory produces that I talked about in my Alethetics of Discourse.
Yet such a deflationary move can only occur in a thought that is post-ontotheological and that has learned well the lessons of Heidegger and Derrida, refusing a realism of presence and representation. What is needed is a post-onto-theological metaphysics. A metaphysics that is no longer premised on presence or parousia, but which has learned the lesson of withdrawal. Yet no longer a withdrawal for us as a result of our finitude, but a withdrawal of being qua being with respect to itself. Harman already showed the way in the thinking of this strange world composed of milk cartons, Harry Potter, quarks, mountains contemplating us from the standpoint of eternity, and, yes, humans as well. I do not share Harman’s ontology, but I think with my friend and admire his thought. And as a function of this strange post-ontological metaphysics where even fiction becomes real, we get an unheard of realism that traces a transversal across all our accustomed lines of how the realism/anti-realism debate is formulated, allowing for electrons that are everywhere and nowhere and flying clowns, all to our delight as we dine on Mediterranean couscous.