June 2012


This post will remain on the front page for the next few weeks.  New posts can be found below it.

This is just a reminder that the deadline for submitting articles to the first O-Zone is approaching in September.  We have a great line-up of contributors, including interviews with science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson, Andy Clark, Cary Wolfe, John Protevi, and Henk Oosterling.  For this first issue we’re looking for short contributions between 2,000 – 3,000 words.

If you’re worried that you have nothing to say about OOO, don’t.  O-Zone is not a specifically OOO journal, but a platform designed to promote discussion between the various emerging streams of realism and materialism.  Here’s the journal description:

O-Zone: A Journal of Object-Oriented Studiesis a peer-reviewed, open-access, and post-disciplinary journal devoted to object-oriented studies, both situated within and traversing the humanities, sciences, social sciences, and the arts. The journal aims to cultivate current streams of thought already established within object-oriented studies, while also providing space for new pathways along which disparate voices and bodies of object-oriented knowledges might encounter, influence, perturb, and motivate one another.

Located within a post-Kantian philosophical outlook, where everything in the world, from the smallest quarks to lynxes to humans to wheat fields to machines and beyond exist on an equal ontological footing, O-Zone: A Journal of Object-Oriented Studies invites new work that explores the weird realism, thingliness, and life-worlds of objects. Possible methodological approaches and critical modes might include: actor-networks, unit operations, alien phenomenology, agentic drift, onticology, guerrilla metaphysics, carnal phenomenology, ontography, agential realism, cosmopolitics, panpsychism, insect media, posthumanism, flat ontology, dark vitalism, prosthetics, territorial assemblage, vibrant materialism, dorsality, distributed intelligence, dark ecology, hyperobjects, realist magic, post-continuity, and other paradigms for object-oriented thought still coming into being and yet to be articulated.

Here’s the CFP:

Recent years have seen an explosion of interest in ecology in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences, with exciting new conceptual innovations and critically reflective returns to the work of earlier ecological studies. If ecological thought, in its most broad definition, investigates the interrelations and interactions of entities with one another, then the concept and domain of ecology can be expanded significantly, referring not simply to the natural world apart from social structures and configurations, but rather to relations between entities of any kind, regardless of whether they are natural, technological, social, or discursive. In short, culture and society are no longer thought of as something distinct from nature, but as one formation of nature among others. Increasingly, a sensibility has emerged that views as impossible the treatment of society and nature as distinct and separate domains, and instead sees the two as deeply enmeshed with one another. Similarly, ecological and posthumanist developments have increasingly come to intersect with one another, jointly conceptualizing humans not as sovereign makers of all other tools, beings and meanings, but as beings (or objects) among other beings (and objects)—animate and inanimate, human and nonhuman—entwined together in a variety of complex contingencies.

The inaugural issue of O-Zone: A Journal of Object-Oriented Studies seeks to expand current ecological dialogues and open new trajectories for ecological engagement vis-à-vis the world of objects, or even world(s)-as-object(s). Authors are invited to contribute SHORT meditations, thought experiments, riffs, ruminations, rants, broadsides, etc. — of approximately 2,000 to 3,000 words — on any object-oriented ecological turn or (re)turn percolating through their current work, OR, on any aspect of the relationship (or non- or frictional relationship) between the two terms. Artworks are also encouraged. Authors might consider the following questions when composing their contributions:

  • How do the post-correlationist, post-Kantian, realist, and materialist turns transform our understanding of the systems, operations, objects, and/or ontology of ecology?

  • What is an ecological politics, and what might certain political considerations bring to object-oriented and new materialist trends of ecological thinking? Conversely, how might an intensive focus on the singularity and autonomy of objects revise our conceptions of political domains?

  • Object-oriented theorists have proposed a number of new critical modes to expand ecological inquiry, like dark and black ecology. In what ways do these new approaches challenge the traditionally “green” orientations of ecological investigation? Further, what other new modes of ecological thought might we propose now, beyond green?

  • Ecology has traditionally been defined as the study of systems of inter-dependent relations, often with respect to natural environments. How might certain strains of object-oriented thought that take as a given the withdrawn nature and independent reality of objects give rise to new ecological thinking? Further, what would it mean to think the non- or para-“natural world” ecologically, such as new media, machinic and other technologies, artificial life, bioinformatics, cloning, and the like?

  • What is the relationship between posthumanism and ecology? Can there be a post-ecology, and how might that relate to the “life” of objects?

  • What might be some of the productive tensions, inter-relations, attractions, oppositions, alliances, dialectics, etc. between the two terms, “object” and “ecology”?
  • What would it mean to retrieve earlier ecological and materialist voices, especially from feminist, gender, and queer studies, and what might these voices contribute to object-oriented and new materialist modes of thought?

These questions are only suggestions for possible meditations. Authors are also invited to develop their own topics.

For its inaugural issue, O-Zone: A Journal of Object-Oriented Studies will also consider submissions on topics unrelated to ecology, but still within the orbit of object-oriented studies. These contributions might take the form of short essays, longer articles (of no more than 10,000 words), or digital media. In addition, we are accepting reviews of recently published works on object-oriented and new materialism subjects. Queries about the relevance of a given topic or potential review are welcome.

Deadline for submissions is August 1 – September 15, 2012. We will accept submissions at any time from May through September 15th, but the dates above sketch out the absolute last period of review for the inaugural issue. Please send all submissions and queries to editors.ozone@gmail.com.

Come join us!

The new issue of Analectica Hermeneutica is now out. All of the articles are freely available in .pdf form. I have an article in there entitled “A Logic of Multiplicities: Deleuze, Immanence, and Onticology”.

Over at Critical Animal, Scu has a great post responding to my earlier post on flat ethics.  There he criticizes me for evoking conatus or our endeavor to persist in our being as a ground for ethics.  Before getting to that, I wanted to clarify some remarks I made about the possibility of a non-anthropocentric ethics.  When I expressed skepticism towards the possibility of a non-anthropocentric ethics, all I meant was that even when we talk about ethical regard for animals– something I advocate –we’re still working in an anthropocentric framework.  We’re talking about the attitudes we should adopt towards nonhumans, rather approaching nonhumans as seats of value making themselves.

To see this, let’s return to the fraught example of the shark we discussed in comments in my post Flat Ontology/Flat Ethics.  Suppose we say that we shouldn’t kill the shark because the shark has a right to live (something I also believe).  Here I hasten to add that I’m very nervous about talk of “rights” because of how the concept functions in neoliberal thought, but let’s run with the example.  In making such a claim we might believe that we’ve entered the domain of a posthuman and non-anthropocentric ethics.  After all, we’re extending ethical rights to nonhumans, whereas traditional ethics tends to only see humans as having ethical duties and rights.  For example, as Kant says “always treat humans as ends in themselves and never as means to an end.”

While I think it’s a positive development to extend ethical regard to nonhumans, I nonetheless fail to see how this constitutes a posthuman ethic or a non-anthropocentric ethics.  Why?  Because we’re still treating humans as the seat of value in evaluating the world.  We’re talking about the way in which humans ought to relate to sharks, rather than exploring the manner of valuing engaged in by sharks, seals, killer whales, bacteria, coral reefs, etc.  This is still an anthropocentrism.  It’s a positive extension of anthropocentricism, but an anthropocentrism nonetheless.  In this regard, it’s difficult to know what it would mean to extend ethics to nonhumans– though I suspect it might work in the case of some nonhumans like primates, dolphins, octopi, etc –because ethics seems to involve choice of some sort.  I’m ethically culpable because I can choose.  The reason that we can judge the moral worth of my action with regard to the shark is because I’m capable of deliberating as to whether or not to kill the shark.  It’s much harder to see how this could apply in the case of sharks.  Would it make much sense to treat sharks as ethically culpable?  That would seem to require the shark having the ability to deliberate and choose between eating or not eating the seal.  I find this very hard to imagine.  This could either mean that a non-anthropocentric ethics is impossible, or that we need to significantly revise our understanding of what ethics is about.

read on!

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By SR I mean “speculative realism”, by “NFM” new materialist feminism, and the rest.  I get the sense that people miss the whole point of the debate between the anti-realists and the new realists and materialists.  There seems to be some impression that this is a debate between whether science is right or whether the social constructivists are right.  And believe me, I sympathize with the social constructivists and wish to preserve their discoveries.  I fully understand that having encountered discourses like eugenics, having seen the way the term “nature” is mobilized in oppressive ideological discourses, having seen the devastation of the ecosystem, the ravages of global capitalism, the atomic bomb, DDT, and a number of other things, people would be suspicious of the term “real”.  But “defending science” against “social constructivism” has never– insofar as I understand it –been the point of the new materialists and realists.

I don’t wish to put words in the names of others– so take this as a testament of how other theorists have influenced me –but for me the point has always been the recognition of the role that nonhumans play in the world.  The point has never been to show that sciences show us what is really real ™, and that the social constructivisms are full of shit.  How would that both I and the new materialist feminists advocate an ontological constructivism where construction and contingency appear at all levels of being?  I believe things are constructed at all levels of being, regardless of whether or not humans exist.  That makes it pretty difficult to defend the existence of something like “essence”.

read on!

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I’ve been astonished to see SR/OOO suddenly all over the place.  It’s appeared at art conferences, medieval studies conferences, rhetoric conferences, in anthropology, sociology, among design theorists, in media studies, among landscape design theorists, and a host of other places.  Why has it proliferated so quickly in the span of just a few years?  Tim Richardson– who is neither a speculative realist, nor an object-0riented ontologist –and I were discussing this last night in the context of some grumbling from some new materialists about OOO that he reported to me.  We were described as macho, ape-like chest thumpers; a description that I think, fails to take into account what participation online is like and the sort of interactions we have with others on a daily basis or how people tend to treat you online (it’s a pretty raw and demoralizing place, these internets, requiring you to have an extremely thick skin where people don’t always keep their cool).  I find this characterization frustrating because most of the theorists here have never made the effort to interact with us or enter into dialogue with us (the reverse is not true).  Bennett would be a notable exception.

It would be self-congratulatory for me to suggest that SR/OOO has proliferated so quickly due to the content of these positions; though I hope it has something to do with the content.  Rather, I think the reasons for the quick proliferation of SR/OOO are strongly material.  Here the genitive “of” in the title of this post is important.  I am not speaking of SR/OOO’s materialism– not all of the theorists here are materialists, though I am –but rather of the materiality of OOO.  SR/OOO is, in my view, a material phenomenon.  What does that mean?  It means that its growing presence in academic debates has not so much been the result of presenting persuasive arguments– though hopefully it does that too –but the result of how it has unfolded in the material domain of social communications technologies and open-access publishing.  In other words, there’s a sense in which, as McLuhan put it, “the medium is the message”.

Print journals and traditional presses are defined by 1) their slow pace, 2) the inaccessibility of their work to large audiences due to issues of price and whatnot, and by the minimization of interaction between audience and writer.  Not only are articles and books slow to appear in the print industry because of the differential between time of production and time of distribution, but they also generate very slow development in the views of authors because of the manner in which they create a buffer between audiences and writers.  Because the author’s only infrequently enter into dialogue with their audience, their positions are liable to develop at a much slower rate.  Moreover, because print works are inaccessible to large audiences due to their cost and distribution, it takes a great deal of time for thought developed in this medium to proliferate throughout the academy.  As I’ve argued, texts aren’t simply about something, they are something.  They are material entities that travel throughout the world, reaching larger or smaller audiences.  In this regard, the medium in which texts are produced and transmitted makes all sorts of important differences.  Print media– and I still publish quite a bit in print form –has the advantage of promoting the slow, reflective, and careful development of thought; but it has the disadvantage of circulating very slowly and of creating a barrier or gulf between author and audience.  This barrier, of course, has its advantages as well as it tends to promote less impassioned debates, fewer “flame wars”, and more careful consideration of arguments before responding in print.

read on!

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Returning to the questions of an earlier post, it seems to me that perhaps the central concern with OOO and SR is that flat ontology leads to a flat ethics.  Flat ontology is, in many respects, a response to the primacy of correlationism that places humans, language, Dasein, etc., at the ground of being, as that being to which being is given and that somehow structures all of being.  These positions are variants of what I call “vertical ontologies”.  Vertical ontologies are characterized by treating on type of being as a privileged being within the order of existence, such that all other beings are dependent on that being.  In contemporary thought, that being is generally treated as some variant of the human, the social, or language.  For a basic account of flat ontology, one can consult some of my previous posts here and here, or chapter 6 of The Democracy of Objects.  The basic characteristic of correlationist ontologies is that the treat the lion’s share of agency as issuing from humans.  For example, a theorist might endlessly discuss how signifiers structure reality without examining the differences that nonhuman entities contribute to the world.  Under this model, things become passive matters awaiting inscriptions, and do no inscribing or contribute no differences of their own.  This, I believe, has been the dominant way of thinking over the last forty years, if not the last two hundred years.

Flat ontology rejects this approach, not because it holds that humans don’t contribute differences to the world– that would be absurd –but because it believes this approach is dangerously one-sided and prevents us from thinking both ecologically and from comprehending why societies and power take the form they do (follow the links above for a more detailed discussion of this).  In other words, the aim of flat ontology is not to throw out the magnificent findings of the linguistic idealists, semioticians, social constructivists, phenomenologists, etc.  It is not to limit, but to broaden.  Towards this end, flat ontology asserts that humans are not sovereigns of being, but are among beings.  Nonhumans and the material world are not passive stuffs awaiting human inscription, but rather contribute differences of their own.  Indeed, a number of these differences are significant contributors to what human beings are at any point in history and the form that social systems take; often moreso than signs and signifiers.  Flat ontology once to open a space where these non-signifying differences can be discerned and their inscriptions can be traced.  Thus, rather than focusing on the question of what we contribute to the being of beings– though that question remains –flat ontology strives to draw attention the differences that nonhumans contribute.  In other words, it decenters obsessive focus on the agency of humans so as to investigate the agency of things.  All flat ontology says is that all things equally exist, even if they unequally contribute differences to various assemblages of entities.  A plant is no less a being than a person and its being cannot be reduced to how it is signified in a signifying system.  In other words, flat ontology rejects the anthropocentrism implicit in most contemporary theory.

read on!

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