Lately I’ve been thinking about how strange and contingent the last two years have been. The other day one of Mel’s friends mentioned that SR has largely unfolded online and wondered what this means. I think she’s absolutely right and see this, in certain ways, as supporting some of the basic claims of object-oriented ontology. When I look back on how all this started in my own thought, I’m struck by how easily it could have been otherwise or how it might not have happened at all. When I first heard of SR I knew nothing about it. I saw that people such as Nick Srnicek were writing about figures like Meillassoux, Brassier, Harman, and Grant, but knew little as to what SR was all about. When I first conceived The Speculative Turn it was conceived as a collection that would present a set of Deleuzian rejoinders to some of the claims the speculative realists were making against Deleuze, pitching Deleuze as a realist (it’s ironic that I’ve recently been approached by the Deleuze Connections series to put together a collection on Deleuze and Object-Oriented Ontology. Jeff Bell and I will be co-editing).
At any rate, The Speculative Turn was conceived in a rather rash moment over a few too many glasses of wine. I could have just as easily not contacted Nick or set out to contact people to contribute. I could have just as easily let the idea fall to the wayside. Yet, when I approached Nick about this project and we started contacting people, we were shocked by the level of interest and the generous willingness to contribute. That’s when I started my conversation with Graham Harman and gradually found myself in the object-oriented ontology camp. This aleatory encounter with graduate students writing about SR in the blogosphere, with other bloggers, with Nick, and then later with Graham was literally a life-changing experience. And that’s what I find so striking. Right now I could still be writing endless posts on Deleuze, Lacan, Zizek, and Badiou. My various encounters here on the internet shifted all of that.
What I wanted to say is that it is very important to participate and to do so in a way that’s public such that people know who you are. I have participated on the internet for over a decade now on email discussion lists, hosting lists, and more recently on this blog. This participation has brought me innumerable opportunities (at this point, almost too many to reasonably handle) in terms of books, articles, and conferences and has generated friendships with people who I would have never otherwise met.
Occasionally I’ve been accused of being a “careerist”, using this medium to advance my career, but career advancement has never been the reason for my engagement in this medium. Indeed, I have no idea at this point whether my participation here has helped my career or hindered it (I remain a lowly professor at a two year school, without tenure and with no real job prospects looming on the horizon). Rather, I participate because I have a deep need to communicate with others about ideas, text, and theory. In my experience, when you write articles they generally disappear into a void and you never hear anything about them again. I always wonder why I even bother. To be sure, you get another line on your CV, yet the articles seem to generate no discussion… At least none that you’re privy to. As frustrating as some of the discussions here can be, there is, nonetheless, real interaction.
I think Mel’s friend is right about the role that the internet has played in the development of SR and OOO in particular. Had I simply gone the traditional SPEP route, I would have never encountered Graham. Had I not encountered Graham, I would have never encountered Bogost. Had my blog not existed and had these discussions online not occurred I would have never met Morton, nor would I have struck up discussions with Ivikhiv, Cogburn, Shaviro, Protevi, Srnicek, Bell, Vitale, etc. All of these people have significantly influenced my thought in one way or another and have influenced it in ways that would not have occurred had I worked in solitude. In terms of Badiou’s Logics of Worlds, prior to these internet discussions, SR was an appearance that appeared with a very low degree of intensity. The internet, and blogosphere in particular, created a common place that allowed these strange entities of SR and OOO to become a little more real, a little more substantial, a little more existent. Through these discussions and the medium that’s allowed these discussions to take place, new lines of thought, new problematics, new questions, and new positions have emerged. Given how separated we all are geographically, this would not have been possible without this medium enabling the unlinked to be linked.
Similar points are to be made with respect to articles. Graham has often noted that you’re lucky if four or five people read your published article. This is true. Articles tend to fall into a void, never to be heard from again. While it is absolutely vital to build your CV through articles and conference presentations, it is equally important to build relationships with other thinkers and academics. These lead to collaborative projects, intellectual growth and enrichment, further articles, opportunities for conference presentations, and so on. Participation in electronic media increases your likelihood of being read and allows you to meet other researchers that you would never otherwise meet. All of this is a way of encouraging readers to participate, to explore ideas even when they end up going nowhere, and to avoid seeing participation here as something secondary to your academic work. Don’t be afraid to drop emails when you’ve encountered something striking in a book or article you’ve read. You might not get a response, but generally it is appreciated. Link to the posts of others and comment on them. Participate in discussion threads. Write your own posts and develop your own ideas publicly. Just as we go to conferences to engage in discussions with others working in our area, the internet has created a common place where conference engagement can take place 365 days a year. This participation is not secondary to your academic work, but is a vital component of that work. Of course, it’s important also to not be an asshole. I’m still working on that one myself.