Over at Networkologies Chris has graciously responded to my post last night here and here. I very much appreciate Vitale’s clarifications and apologies. I take charges of object-oriented ontology being in league with neo-liberal ideology and capitalism very seriously. When OOO first started to make a strong appearance in the blogosphere, it was not unusual to hear it charged with being somehow an apologetics for neoliberal ideology. I don’t think these are innocent charges or mere misunderstandings, but are, for anyone who understands what capitalism has done to this world, extremely grave charges.
This criticism seemed to come primarily from those deeply influenced by Zizek who advocate what I view to be an extremely idiosyncratic form of Marxism. And if I refer to this Marxism as idiosyncratic, then this is because economics is entirely absent in his thought (despite his protestations to the contrary in The Parallax View), because any meditation on technology or class is absent from his thought, because any discussion of resources and their role is absent, and because everything is reduced to the level of the signifier and an entirely idealist conception of the real (“the real is an effect of the symbolic”). Part of what happens here, I think, is a transcription of Latour’s views about Marxist thought (he rejects it), onto what onticology is up to. Here I think Latour is just plain wrong and that Marx is a lot closer to Annales School models of analysis that so deeply influenced ANT than Latour is willing to suggest.
At any rate, as I remarked in my last post I take the charge of my ontology being equivalent to capitalist ideology as equivalent to the charge that I support the brutal exploitation and oppression of people the world over, a thriving war industry responsible for the death of millions, and the degradation of the world’s resources to such an extent that life on this planet is threatened. By contrast, much of my work with OOO has been devoted to the development of conceptual tools that better allow us to respond to this blight and think through this blight that is capitalism. And if I’ve been so deeply attracted to OOO for this purpose, then this is because I believe the idealist strains of Marxist thought we’re currently witnessing, those strains that de-suture the political, the economic, the technological, etc., are woefully inadequate to this task. Semiotics has come to dominate everything else, rendering the technological, the economic, and the ecological invisible. We need to move beyond that while retaining the insights drawn from semiotic approaches, and OOO, I believe, is the strongest means for accomplishing that.
However, additionally, OOO simultaneously allows us to think the existing relational structures in the world or the being-for-relation that characterizes the domain of local manifestations or sensuous objects, while also marking the places of excess and potentiality from which such sticky networks can be changed and challenged. Ontologically I believe that relational internalism is mistaken and that it is impossible to coherently think the world in these terms. By relational internalism I mean, of course, the thesis that objects are their relations or that they are nothing apart from their relations. OOO is a relational externalism that holds that relations are external to their terms and that new qualities emerge when objects or terms enter into new relations. For this reason it is also a much more optimistic position because it holds a priori that objects can be detached from the sticky networks that dominate or oppress them, entering into new assemblages that might allow for the production of far more fruitful and satisfying qualities. By contrast, with internalism– if you work through it consistently –you’re left with Hegel’s position that the real is the rational and the rational is the real insofar as you’re committed to the thesis that nothing can be any other way precisely because entities are constituted by their relations rather than affected by their relations.
In addition to what I take to be the ontological incoherence of internalism– and ontology should hold sway here –I also believe that internalism has a number of unsavory ethical and political implications. In holding that relations are internal to their terms, that terms are constituted by their relations, we’re left with the world as it is because there is nothing else outside of the relations that could challenge the reigning order of being-for-relation at the level of sensuous objects or local manifestations. All one can do his hang their head in resignation and say “so it is for we are our relations”. In the end, I wonder if detractors of OOO aren’t conflating it with philosophies of presence or Ontotheology. Yet if this is what is going on, the key point is missed that objects are withdrawn from presence or actuality, that they challenge the pornography of all pretensions to presence.