December 2009

April 2010– Georgia Tech University

Object-Oriented Philosophy


Ian Bogost
Levi Bryant
Graham Harman
Steven Shaviro

RMMLA– Albuquerque New Mexico

With the exception of the object-oriented panel, the titles and themes of these sessions are soft, as well as the people presenting on each panel (i.e., they might be moved to another panel depending on the topic of their talk). Certain themes might change as well. If we get a slew of folks interested in OOO or SR we might turn another panel into an SR-OOO panel. Likewise, the STS and Media Studies panel might become something else. Anyone is free to submit a proposal to Joe Hughes or I.

Deleuze and Guattari Panel (Joe Hughes, Chair)

–Joe Hughes
–Eleanor Kaufman
–Claire Colebrook

Object-Oriented Philosophy Panel (Levi Bryant, Chair)

–Ian Bogost
–Levi Bryant
–Graham Harman

Digital Media and Science and Technology Panel (Under the title “Current Research in Literary Theory”) (Joe Hughes, Chair)

–Alex Reid

Lacan, Zizek, and Badiou Panel (Levi Bryant, Chair)

–To be announced

We still need talks for the STS and DM panel and the Lacan, Zizek, and Badiou Panel so if you’re interested contact me or Joe Hughes to pitch a proposal. For more information see the RMMLA website here. Listings for the panels can be found here and here.

Alex Reid has a couple of interesting posts up discussing the relationship between OOO and rhetoric (here and here). Right now my brain is mush from grading all day, so the best I can muster is “yes!”. Maybe Alex can join Graham, Ian, Eleanor Kaufman, Joe Hughes and I at the RMMLA this October to discuss these issues further.

From Bhaskar’s The Possibility of Naturalism:

What properties do societies possess that might make them possible objects of knowledge for us? My strategy in developing an answer to this question will be effectively based on a pincer movement. But in deploying the pincer I shall concentrate first on the ontological question of the properties that societies possess, before shifting to the epistemological question of how these properties make them possible objects of knowledge for us. This is not an arbitrary order of development. It reflects the condition that, for transcendental realism, it is the nature of objects that determines their cognitive possibilities for us; that, in nature, it is humanity that is contingent and knowledge, so to speak, accidental. Thus it is because sticks and stones are solid that they can be picked up and thrown, not because they can be picked up and thrown that they are solid (though that they can be handled in this sort of way may be a contingently necessary condition for our knowledge of their solidity). (25)

Setting aside the question of what properties societies must have to be known, here we get the basic structure of Bhaskar’s form of transcendental argument. Where the transcendental idealist begins with the question of what our minds must be like for knowledge to be possible, the transcendental realist begins with the question of what the world must be like for it to be knowable.

Over at his blog Ian Bogost attempts to provide a definition of OOO suitable for an elevator pitch to the layman. A very interesting discussion has ensued. Read the post here.

Object-oriented social and political theory can be illustrated with respect to Lacan’s famous Borromean knots. It will be recalled that the peculiar quality of the Borromean knot is that no one of the rings is directly tied to the other, but if you cut one of the rings the other two slip away. In evoking the Borromean knot I do not here intend to give a “Lacanian reading” of object-oriented ontology. Rather, I wish to draw attention to certain features of the social and political world that object-oriented ontology would like to bring into relief for social and political theorists. Consequently, in what follows I will take a certain degree of liberty in how I use the categories of the “real”, the “symbolic”, and the “imaginary” (abbreviated “R”, “S”, and “I” respectively), only loosely associating these with Lacanian psychoanalytic categories. I will not, for example, discuss the real in the Lacanian sense as the impossible, as a constitutive deadlock, as what always returns to its place, or as constitutive antagonism. This is not because I am rejecting the Lacanian real in these senses, but rather because I am here using the Borromean knot for other purposes. I have no qualms with reintroducing concepts such as constitutive deadlocks or antagonisms at another order of analysis. In short, I am using the diagram of the Borromean knot as a heuristic device to help bring clarity to certain discussions in social and political theory.

Thus for the purposes of this post, let the ring of the Imaginary refer to the domain of ideology, signs, group identities, political parties, images, the content of media, the sense or meaning possessed by cultural artifacts such as films, clothing, commodities, certain norms, etc., collective narratives, texts, and so on. It is important to emphasize that in placing these in the ring of the Imaginary I am in no way suggesting that these things are unreal or demoting their status. Here the category of the Imaginary retains some of its Lacanian resonances. Lacan associates the imaginary with the domain of meaning (hence the reference to cultural artifacts, texts, signs, etc). Likewise, Lacan associates the category of the Imaginary with images (visual, acoustic, olfactory, tactile, etc), as well as the domain of the ego and identity. Hence the placement of group identities, group narratives, and media in this category. By contrast, let the symbolic refer to the domain of laws, institutions, governmental systems, economy, as well as language, and so on. Again certain Lacanian resonances are retained here, especially with respect to placing law and language within the domain of symbolic.

read on!

On his facebook page Shaviro makes an interesting observation about the neurological work of Metzinger and Noe:

Neurophilosophy: Thomas Metzinger (The Ego Tunnel) and Alva Noe (Out of Our Heads) draw opposite conclusions from the same experimental data… Metzinger takes recent neurological research as proof that consciousness is entirely delusional, a false representation of what is going on in our brains, and a virtual simulation of the outside world. Brassier of course picks up on this. Noe, to the contrary, argues for a post-pragmatic, embodied and distributed notion of consciousness, undermining any dualism of inside vs outside, or self vs world. But what makes this even more interesting is that he argues this from much of the same scientific data that are the basis for Metzinger’s diametrically opposed claims.

Here I hope Steven won’t mind that I’ve condensed a couple of his posts together. Bhaskar argues that we must be vigilant with respect to the “nocturnal philosophies” of scientists. I take it that when he refers to “nocturnal philosophies” he’s referring to the specifically philosophical implications they draw from their research, independent of what that research directly shows. Thus, for example, you get nocturnal philosophies among a number of researchers in quantum mechanics, as well as in biology. Now, there is nothing a priori wrong with nocturnal philosophies. It’s just important for us to be aware that they are philosophies and not identical to the scientific findings themselves.

Returning to the specific discussion of neurology and its implications, the question to ask, I think, is whether consciousness has any powers of its own. Here we have a clear criteria for emergence and the individuation of objects. We can agree with both Noe and Metzinger that where there are no brains there is no consciousness, just as we can agree with the chemist that where there is no hydrogen or oxygen there is no water. The ontological question revolves around whether consciousness is exhausted by its neurological explanation or whether consciousness has powers and capacities of its own that while impossible without the neurological are nonetheless unique powers of its own. If consciousness has powers of its own, then it would be an object of its own. If not, then we would be warranted in excluding consciousness from our inventory of what is or what exists. With respect to this latter option, consciousness would merely be an effect and would not be a being in its own right.

It’s important to emphasize here no substance dualism is being asserted here. In entertaining the hypothesis that consciousness is a distinct object in its own right, the point is not to claim that consciousness could exist independent of brains, that it is separable from brains, or that it has spooky powers at odds with its neurological substrate. I would argue that water is distinct as an object from hydrogen and oxygen or even the relation between hydrogen and oxygen. This is because water has powers that are found in neither hydrogen or oxygen, nor in a single molecule of H2O. For example, water can wet paper and slide about on a table, yet a single molecule of H2O does not have these powers. The powers of water are entirely consistent with those of atomic chemistry, but something new emerges when these atoms are linked together and when molecules of H2O are linked together. The question is whether or not something similar is the case with consciousness. Does the emergence of consciousness generate powers that cannot be found at the lower level stratum upon which it is based? That would be the question and would be determinative of whether or not things like subjects are themselves objects.

Over at Speculative Heresy, Mike Watson of Logical Regressions responds to my recent object-oriented ontology round-up, writing:

Principally, I am at odds with the idea that systems which are sympathetic to Science need be seen as diminishing the subject. I don’t see yet that anyone has convincingly reversed the copernican turn… I just don’t feel that the base objectivity of the subject or the equal footing on which the subject and the object stand in the wider realm of nature are sufficient bases to overturn the philosophical vantage point that only the subject can enjoy.

Again, that is with the concession that that subject is objectively construed, and in that sense I have sympathies with OOO, OOP, etc, yet I do not see the innovation here. It is mainstream knowledge that we are material constructs – a notion that wouldn’t have upset or even suprised my late Grandmother, who passed away long before Brassier even completed his doctoral thesis! What would be a truly great innovation would be the the ameliorisation of an ethical code to our objective existence, that could maintain an objective basis, without becoming hoplessly sentimental. If a proponent of OOP, OOO, SR or any other affiliated or non affiliated thinker could do that, then I’ll be porting my commitments to there’s!

To be clear, I was only pointing out that in his post Mike treats the subject as an object, while nonetheless rightly attributing a number of unique qualities to this particular object. The rest of his post can be read here. In his comments I get the sense that Mike is running together object-oriented ontology with the position of Ray Brassier. This is understandable as he already admitted earlier that he hasn’t read much of the other Speculative Realists and has most been focused on critiquing Brassier (and thank god for that!), but it is important to underline that object-oriented ontology differs fundamentally from Brassier’s position and from that of the other Speculative Realists as well. One important point, right at the outset, is that OOO, while certainly wanting to make room for the objects or generative mechanisms discovered by the sciences, doesn’t see them as exhausting the real or being more real than other sorts of real objects or generative mechanisms (subjects, numbers, symbolic entities, societies, works of art, etc.).

read on!

A great quote from Andrew Collier’s Critical Realism: An Introduction to Roy Bhaskar’s Philosophy:

If there is a single philosophical idea which reflects more closely than any other this commercial (rather than technological) spirit, it is the epistemic fallacy, which reduces nature to our cognitive appropriation of it, just as this spirit reduces it to our economic appropriation of it. This epistemic fallacy has dominated philosophy for just the same period. In offering us the chance to break decisively with this fallacy, and the consequent anthropocentric world-view…, Bhaskar’s realism makes possible… a much greater respect for the integrity of things independent of us. (149)

This point is far broader than talk about cognition. The same point could be made with respect to linguistic appropriation of the world, semiotic appropriation of the world, social appropriation of the world, historically informed appropriation of the world, etc. There is a common structure among all of these strains of thought. Collier’s point holds every bit as much for object-oriented philosophy, where the realism of object-oriented philosophy opens the way towards a much greater respect for the integrity of things independent of us.

In response to my recent post, “The Fate of a Signifier“, my interlocutor Dan writes a kind yet critical response worth discussing in detail. Hopefully my response will do Dan’s post some justice as I’m pretty tired and emotionally worn down this evening. Dan writes:

You say, ” The problem emerges when the person arguing in this way shifts from the thesis that our access to the world involves language to the thesis that language makes the world what it is.” I think I agree with this though I might qualify it a way that I think you could accept with provisos, something like “language can be one of the things that makes the world what it is.” I am less sure if you would accept that ” language is a thing that sometimes predominates in human interactivity with other things.” This last is not, I think, your focus since I think OOO wants not “decenter” but — what? — un-center (or a-center) discursive and philosophical practices that were “humanistic.”

Quite the contrary. I don’t at all deny that language is a thing that often dominates in human practice. Moreover, part of my ontology is designed to take account of semiotic entities as real actants in the world. First, I see this as an issue for regional ontology, i.e., how one particular ontological domain (language) translates another. Second, and perhaps more prosaically, I see the focus on language as a covert or implicit Cartesian holdover in the tradition of philosophy. In other words, what we’ve done is replace one “immanence” (immanence to consciousness as in the case of Descartes) with another immanence (immanence to language). What we haven’t thought is immanence as such, or something akin to Spinozist, Bergsonian, or Deleuzian immanence where we don’t have one actor in the field of being hegemonizing the rest, but rather we just have the field of actors within being altogether such that that field is composed of actors like language, consciousnesses, trees, rocks, etc.

read on!

Unfortunately I’ve been unable to respond to other blog posts in the way I would like due to the semester coming to an end and collapsing under piles of grading. Here, however, are some highlights of OOO related things written in the last couple of weeks. Christopher Vitale, over at the new blog Networkologies, has a nice post up discussing OOO and quantum mechanics, referring to some of my early claims in the development of my onticology. I’m immediately in love with whoever might have that tattoo at the beginning of his post. The intrepid and passionate Jacob Russell has a post up continuing his discussion of questions of realism in art that’s very excited about some of the work I’ve been doing recently on the concept of translation. Here he discusses the relationship between OOO and aesthetics. At the risk of sounding cryptic, objects, in OOO, are never directly perceived. This fundamentally distinguishes realism as understood by literary realism and what might be an aesthetic practice informed by OOO realism.

Graham Harman is back from his whirlwind tour of various parts of Europe. He has a couple of nice posts up responding to my recent post on why OOO is hard and also responding to my initial impressions of his work. Over at Hyper tiling Fabio Cunctator has a post up on Arun Saldanha’s review of Meillassoux’s After Finitude that sounds pretty sympathetic to OOO. The review is published in the latest issue of Cosmos & History. Mike Watson of Logical Regressions has a post up on the subject over at Speculative Heresy that sounds like he’s porting his commitments regarding the subject with the framework of OOO. Over at Another Heidegger Blog the tireless Paul Ennis has a series of posts up on Harman’s vicarious causation that are well worth reading (here, here, here, and here).

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