In response to my post on Nature and Its Discontents, Joseph C. Goodson posts a terrific comment on what he sees as the significance of OOO/SR. Joseph writes:

Precisely. As Gould puts it, the history of our evolution is a history of catastrophes, one after the other. I wonder, thinking along these lines, that in the wake of the death of God, this transcendentalizing of our fissures, breaks, discontents, etc, was done in such a way that the effect was one of making the human (so to speak) another exception (even if this exception is fundamentally “negative”). “Man” was still allowed this exceptional place even though the theological backdrop was lost. Part of what is exciting about SR and OOO in particular, and why the continuing backlash against it is so interesting, is that it takes these fundamental antagonisms of Marx, Freud, Lacan, et al, completely seriously — if anything, *its* wager seems to be that we have not taken them far enough, and that the death of God must imply, at one and the same time, the death of a theological concept of nature (this self-consistent sphere which would allow the -1 of humanity to appear).

Another very productive thing I have noticed about OOO is that, even in order for this ontology to begin, in its positivity, it also critiques much of these unsaid philosophical prejudices which, even in some of the most critical philosophies, still operate. This often subtle culture/nature hierarchy is one such prejudice that is very nicely displaced in a flat ontology.

Joseph here gets at one of the key aims or ambitions of the flat ontology I’ve tried to formulate in my version of OOO. I restrict this flat ontology to onticology because Graham, in the past, has expressed reservations about just how flat my ontology is. This difference, for example, comes out in our respective differences with respect to fictional entities. Graham draws a distinction between sensual objects (roughly intentional objects) and real objects. The latter are, if I’ve understood Graham correctly, dependent on minds to exist. In my case, however, symbolic entities are real actants or objects no less than rocks or stars. In my view there are collective entities like symbolic entities, pure mental relations, and nonhuman objects or actors like technologies, stars, quarks, cells, etc. I do not think that symbolic entities can be properly thought by reducing them to a mind-intention sort of relation. This, I suppose, is part of my debt to structuralism and semiotics. If I’m interested in fictions and the ontological status of fictions then this is not out of any sort of perverse wish to say that fictions are real, but rather because fictions provide a sort of exemplary case of a purely symbolic entity that is not a representation of something else. As a consequence, fictions shed light on what symbolic entities are in general. Hopefully Harman and I will work through some of these issues together at the Object-Oriented Ontology event at Georgia Tech in April (please come if you’re able! You’ll get to see me, Shaviro, Harman, and Bogost go at it!).

read on!

Setting all this aside, one of the striking things I’ve noticed in Lacanian secondary literature is precisely what Joseph alludes to in this post. Now my primary sources for Lacanian thought tend to be books written by clinicians or practicing analysts, not so much Zizek, Zupancic, Dolar and the rest of the crew. My view has been that to properly understand Lacan and psychoanalysis you should consult the analysts to see how the theory works. Within this secondary literature one of the striking themes I’ve noticed is a deep hostility to biology, neurology, and evolutionary theorists. Van Haute, of course, writes his book Against Adaptation, presenting a rather ridiculous picture of what evolutionary theory claims with respect to natural selection. He is to be excused, I think, because among the so-called ego psychologists you find a rather absurd picture of therapy as “adapting us” to the world. Then again, Johnston will tell you in private conversation that “ego psychology” as portrayed by Lacan and Lacanians is a myth and that the theories Lacan often makes the target of his critiques are far more sophisticated and nuanced than the Lacanian literature suggests.

Yet in addition to van Haute you will often find celebrations of “anti-evolutionary thought” with some Lacanians going so far as to champion “creationism”. Of course, the creationism that is here defended is a creationism of the signifier or the power of the signifier to bring non-being into being (and here they’re right in a sense), rather than Young Earth creationism. Nonetheless, there is a persistent strain in the secondary literature of wishing to treat man as an exception and as the condition of everything else (through the power of the symbolic and the subject). Here I think Joseph is right on the mark in suggesting that there is a residual theology at work in those that choose the culture side of the nature/culture debate and a tendency to wish to treat man in Ptolemaic terms as being at the center of being. OOO, of course, recognizes that there are differences between objects and therefore differences between humans, rocks, avocados, and other animals. However, differing from and requiring system specific analysis and serving as a condition for all other things are two entirely different claims. If Nick and company will still allow me to contribute to the Inhumanities Event sponsored by Speculative Heresy and The Inhumanities, I hope to say more on this in the next couple weeks. Unfortunately I am currently swamped with other obligations so I can’t get to it immediately.

I should also add that this blog began by trying to think through the implications of the death of God or the possibility of a metaphysic beyond ontotheology (here and here). Soon a formalized version of these arguments in terms of Lacan’s graphs of sexuation (which I believe to be more about ontology than sex or sexual identity) will be published through Pre/Text: A Journal of Rhetorical Theory.