The problem with correlationism is not that it drew attention to the relationship between thought and being, humans and the world, but that in doing so it had a tendency to reduce other beings to what they are for us. Correlationism’s question always seems to be “what are things for us?”, “how do the beings of the world reflect us?” Thus, in Kant, you get the analysis of how beings are structured by our categories and forms of intuition (time/space). Things are transformed into “phenomena”, where “phenomenon” signifies being as it is structured by us. The phenomenologists draw attention to how beings are organized around our meanings and projects and how they are given in and through these meanings and projects. Again, beings are transformed into phenomena. The semioticians and partisans of the linguistic turn perpetually show how things signify and express our meanings. For example, when Zizek analyzes German, French, and English toilets, he shows how each embodies and represents the dominant ideology of these peoples.
Within correlationism, the beings of the world are treated as screens upon which we project ourselves. These are strange projections because we don’t experience them as issuing from us, but as being properties of the entity itself. The critical and philosophical task thus becomes one of recovering these meanings, of showing how they structure our relationships to entities, of showing how they issue from us, of showing how they are constructed by us. I hasten to add that these are valuable projects that should not be abandoned. The point is not to abandon these modes of analysis, but to broaden the modes of analysis open to us.
If realism has any critical significance, then perhaps it lies in asking what entities contribute as the entities that they are independent of any meanings we might attribute to them. What do entities do– not what do they mean –and above all, how do they affect us and our social relations? How do they modify, by virtue of what they are, our ways of doing, acting, and relating to one another in the world? Zizek wants to ask how toilets express a particular ideology, but we can also ask the question of how toilets and waste management change the lives of a people. What is the difference between a society that has toilets and a society that uses outhouses, latrines, etc. What problems emerge as a result of this way of handling waste? How does our relationship to diseases such as cholera change? What is the significance, for social relations, of not having periodic epidemics of cholera? We are looking here at what the things contribute and do and how they change our lives. What is discerned here is a different form of power; one that isn’t based on belief or ideology, but on built features of environments. As a consequence, different strategies of politics emerge through thinking how these powers might be engaged with to render other forms of life possible. Correlationism renders this invisible.