Over at Pagan Metaphysics Paul Reid-Bowen has his abstract up for the upcoming Dundee conference:

Thinking Sex(es)/Object(s): Feminist Metaphysics as Object Oriented Ontology

Three main claims are advanced and defended in this paper, albeit with some brevity and increasing gradations of tentativeness. First, it is noted that feminist philosophers, in both analytic and continental traditions, have been reluctant to engage with metaphysics, or, far more commonly, they have been active critics and opponents of it. This attitude may be explained, in part, by the masculinist and misogynist use of “essentialism” in the history of women’s oppression, although a number of other reasons can be mobilised with relative ease. Second, contra these considerations, I propose that the marginalisation of metaphysics by feminists has been overly hasty. Indeed there are good reasons to move the discipline of metaphysics towards the centre of feminist philosophy. Third, I identify some feminist philosophers whose work may be read as metaphysics and whose commitments mark them out as holding realist ontologies (e.g. Christine Battersby, Donna Haraway and Luce Irigaray). I then bring to the table of continental metaphysics some concepts developed by those selfsame philosophers and propose that an Object Oriented Ontology may be the most appropriate means of developing and exploring these ideas. The irony and/or perversity of proposing this alliance, given the history and weight of feminist analyses of sexual objectification, is not lost on me. However, I contend that an Object Oriented Ontology does not run afoul of ethical, political and social feminist critiques of objectification; rather, it delivers fertile resources and research possibilities for tackling a pre-existent feminist interest in the status of objects.

Personally I do not like the idea of feminist metaphysics as I think there’s just metaphysics, but I do think Paul is on to something here (which comes as no surprise as I recently suggested something similar in comments to my post on Inhuman Ethics). In the world of cultural studies and the humanities, I think there have been a number of privileged sites that have been directed towards bucking the primacy of anti-realist or correlationist thought than other disciplines by virtue of the nature of the objects that constitute their object of investigation. These theorists have not, of course, in most cases baldly stated their work as a debate between realism and anti-realism, but their work has nonetheless inevitably led them to thinking being in such a way that it is not simply a discourse, language, or a correlation with the human.

read on!

Paradoxically, these privileged sites have largely been marginalized in the world of academia and the humanities; no doubt because of the hegemony of anti-realist thought or the status of correlationism as the establishment position. Among these privileged sites I would include environmental philosophy and thought, science and technology studies, critical animal theory, geographical studies, writing technology studies, media studies, queer theory, and, of course, feminist philosophy and thought. I am sure that there are many others that don’t immediately come to mind for me. If these have been privileged sites for the development of significant conceptual innovations in the field of realist ontology, then this is because all of these sites of investigation force encounters with real and nonhuman objects and actors that cannot be reduced to correlates of human thought, language, perception, or use but that have to be approached in their own autonomous being to properly be thought.

Thus, for example, setting aside feminist thinkers such as Butler that place almost all their emphasis on discourse and discursivity, feminist thought (and here I am not even beginning to do justice to the richness and sophistication of this thought and what has arisen out of these inquiries) forces an encounter with the real of the biological body and the difference it introduces into the world, the real of the sexed body, that exceeds the being of the phenomenological lived body and the discursive body, while somehow still being intertwined with these other two bodies. The real of the sexed body becomes something that must be thought and that cannot be reduced to a discourse or a lived experience. Moreover, feminist thought inevitably requires a forced encounter with nonhuman technological actors like various forms of birth control or aspects of abortion and fertilization technology that, at the social level, produce profound effects in the status of subjects (creating or generating new types of social subjects), that exceed the mastery of discourse and intentionally structured lived experience. If there is genuine justification for the thesis that ontotheology, the metaphysics of presence, correlationism, and anti-realism are necessarily masculinist forms of thought, then this is because the conception of the subject upon which these orientations of thought are founded are premised on a forgetting of the real of the body. It is only on this condition that other beings could be reduced to a correlation with cognition, perception, language, discursivity, signs, and so on. The forgetting of the real is always a masculine gesture. The same point could be made with respect to Marxist thought. The idea of a correlationist, anti-realist, or idealist Marxism is a contradiction in terms, an utter impossibility, as Marxist thought necessarily requires the thought of production, distribution, and resources as actors in their own right irreducible to mere correlations. Legible in these forms of thought is the hegemony of the bodies and class of the subjects that developed these anti-realist positions.

The case is similar with media studies and science and technology studies. Here the technologies are themselves autonomous actors that need to be thought in their autonomy (as Bogost’s work on video game platforms has so nicely shown). If the media theorist restricts herself to the discursive content of forms of media, then she will miss the decisive role played by the media themselves in informing the structure of these phenomena. Here the conditions of phenomenality or manifestation are themselves a-phenomenal and in-human, even if these technologies issue from the human. As Simondon demonstrated so beautifully in his meditations on technology (and Stiegler has continued this work in his own way in his monumental Time and Technics), there is a technosphere that has its own autonomous development and life not unlike the manner in which Althusser conceives social structures as having an autonomous life in Reading Capital.

The point here, then, is that these privileged yet marginalized sites of realist thought are, in so many respects, ground-zero for object-oriented ontology. The conceptual innovations and creations, the ontological discoveries, that inhabit these sites require, demand, from object-oriented ontologists the most careful scrutiny and attention for there is a wealth of ontological riches to be found in these sites. Here OOO/OOP learns from these sites of research and engagement, not the reverse. For these thinkers were all object-oriented ontologists before anyone thought to name themselves “object-oriented ontologists”.

Meanwhile, over at Anotherheideggerblog, Paul Ennis announces his topic for the Dundee conference (damn I wish I could be there!). It looks like it will be a terrific engagement with Harman’s OOO, however with Harman I have to voice my considerable doubts about the thesis that OOO/OOP is in any way nihilistic. As I see it, an ontology can only be nihilistic if it is founded on the anthropocentric and correlationist distinction between nature and culture as two absolute domains. Nihilism emerges when the thinkers sides with the “nature” side of the distinction, reducing the cultural to the causal order of natural phenomena and thereby evacuating the cultural and human order of any meaning. If I describe this distinction as anthropocentric and correlationist, then this is because it dictates the order of being in drawing the distinction between these two orders and thereby necessarily attaching it to the human. This is why, for example, the Enlightenment was always also a humanism and will always be a humanism in any form, regardless of how nihilistic it becomes. Because the nature-culture distinction is not operative in OOO/OOP, because the “really real” is placed on neither side of the natural, nor the human, these sorts of nihilistic consequences cannot follow. There is just the world and being such that humans are in and among beings. It is not the case that there are two distinct and fissured ontological realms such as this Enlightenment mythology argues.