UPDATE: Graham has a follow-up to this post here. There Graham reiterates the claim that Derrida is not a realist. I agree, Derrida is as little a realist as is Heidegger or Husserl. I am make the claim that the concept of differance can be deployed (with modification) in a realist fashion (for me what’s important is the concept of objects as blooming and withdrawing temporal structures). This sort of appropriation of concepts from anti-realist thinkers for realist aims is a move I commonly make. I make a similar move with Luhmann and the autopoietic theorists, Lacan, Zizek, Foucault, and likely some other thinkers I’m forgetting at the moment. In chapter two of The Democracy of Objects, I follow Zizek’s Wagnerian route of claiming that “we are healed by the spear that smote us”. The anti-realist error was to believe that it had demolished realism, rather than seeing that the very structures it described are e structure of withdrawn objects. In other words, the mistake lay, as Graham notes in his response, in conflating being with presence. In my view, there is much in the anti-realist legacy that it is absolutely vital to preserve (namely the critique of presence and onto-theology). Not only are the two ontologically untenable, but they have, as I outline in this post, extremely destructive political and ethical consequences (Graham articulates this very nicely when he remarks that onto-theology treats some beings as more beings than others; (hence my ire towards theistic theologies as well, i.e., the great chain of being that ranks and measures beings). For me I feel that there’s a lot worth preserving in Derrida and, especially, in the work of those who have been deeply influenced by Derrida. Given that the challenge for me becomes one of determining how it’s possible to appropriate certain moments and operations of Derridean thought within a realist, object-oriented framework. It’s a similar sort of challenge that I encounter with Lacan, Luhmann, and Adorno.


Graham has a post up outlining his thoughts on Derrida. Referring to a post I wrote recently on differance, he writes,

I also don’t agree with LEVI’S RECENT IDENTIFICATION of objects with différance. Quite the contrary. The object is precisely that which is deeper than any differing from anything else, precisely because it is non-relational through and through.

I was a little surprised by this post as Graham knows that I don’t hold that the being of objects does not consist in differing from other objects. I probably should have been clearer about this in my original post, but what interests me in my original post is, in particular, the dimension of deferral in Derrida’s non-concept of differance. I read Derrida’s differance as deferral as another name for withdrawal and Heideggarian aletheia. This dynamic is not a difference from or to other objects, but a process within an object itself. The idea is that for any local manifestion an object undergoes, its substantiality nonetheless withdraws. The important point here is that there could be a universe in which no other objects exist, in which there is only one existing object, and differance as I’m describing it here would or could still take place. In other words, differance is not difference between objects and the being of objects cannot be defined by the relations an object has to other objects. Based on remarks Derrida makes about grafting and subtraction in “Signature Event Context”, I have reason to believe that he doesn’t define the being of objects in terms of their relations to other objects either. For Derrida, it seems, any object can be severed from its relations to other objects. An article of mine entitled “The Time of the Object” should be published soon.

I personally share Derrida’s and (Lacan’s, not to ention Adorno’s) political critique of ontotheology and philosophies of presence. I believe these forms of thought contribute to truly horrific social systems that are deeply destructive to the planet, of others, and that are psychologically devastating for the person himself. As Jean-Luc Nancy observes, social systems based on the idea that there is a transcendent essence to the community like blood and soil ultimately will death. First, they inevitably produce an “other”, a remainder or residue, that must be destroyed for the community to attain self-identity with itself. This is the meaning, I believe, of Lacan’s analysis of masculine sexuality in the graphs of sexuation (which I take as a structural depiction of ontologies of presence and transcendence) and of Lacan’s discourse of the master. Second, they will the death of the individual member of the community as his difference must be erased, destroyed, to merge with the essence of the community. No sacrifice is too great. I can’t outline all of the noxious consequences that are entailed by ontotheology and philosophies of presence right now as I am with family in Ohio for my sister’s wedding, but it is worth noting that the identity folks like Derrida, Lacan, and Adorno critique is not the identity of individual entities, but rather general essences grouping individuals under a kind or shared features that erase the singularity of original entities. These essences then function teleologically as measuring sticks, evaluating the truth of an individual by virtue of how closely it resembles the essence and are then used to defend certain forms of oppression. For example, the writers of the American Constitution said that African-Americans are only 2/3rds human and that therefore slave owners were doing them a favor by taking on the role of a benign father directi the lives of these “childlike” people who, they said, cannot govern themselves because they lack reason. Another example would be a student in one of my classes who remarked, the other day, that homosexuality is deviant because we are just naturally heterosexual (as he put it, “keys go in a lock”). “Nature” here is a name for essence as those features shared in common by a plurality of entities. Here it became a measuring rod for certain sexed bodies. Only the essence, in this frame of thought, is fully self-present and abiding because they are eternal and always identical to themselves, but individual entities that come-to-be and pass-away can more or less approximate or resemble these essences and therefore have higher degrees of presence. Ergo we get justification for eradicating that which doesn’t conform to the essence or seeking to make it accord to the essence (the treatment of people with disabilities under the Nazis, for example, premised on the idea of an essence of what humans should be). This style of argument, which we witness again with every racism, sexism, every project of eugenics with the disabled, is based on the presence of essences as defining what is common to a plurality of individuals and that then measures how closely those individuals approximate the essence. The very reason I find OOO attractive is that it avoids this logic. With that said, however, political and ethical arguments are not sufficient for judging ontologies. If we wish to show that an ontology is inadequate, we require ontological arguments. I believe OOO provides exactly these sorts of ontological arguments.