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Ian Bogost has a nice post up discussing the most recent politics vs (sic.) ontology kerkuffle.  Over at Digital Digs, Alex Reid has also written a terrific post.  What follows is an expanded version of a comment I posted over at Ian’s blog.

In Ian’s post and in a subsequent comment, it’s said that I gave the example of a white police officer shooting a black man in the face.  Actually I don’t use the example of a white police officer shooting a black man in the face.  I just refer to a shooting (at least as far as I can tell in my quick reread of the post).  That example came from Ahmed.

That aside, I think my point about the difference between ontology and politics holds up quite nicely with that example.  First, I immediately agreed with Ahmed’s point that racism is a real thing, that it is an ontological fact.  There was no dispute there.  In chapter 4 of The Democracy of Objects, as well as the introduction, I’m careful to make room for the ontological reality of social phenomena.  The realism of object-oriented ontology is not a realism that says that only physical objects like rocks and tardigrades are real, but is one that also defends the reality of semiotic entities like texts, works of art, court judgments, etc.  In some respects, this makes it a rather strange realism, as it refuses the thought/world, discourse/thing, divide characteristic of more traditional discussions surrounding realism.  Where, to simplify dramatically, debates over the last 40 or so years have tended to be organized around an exclusive disjunction stating that either the material world is what is really real or the discursive world is really real, OOO holds that both of these worlds fall in the field of the real.  Where before we were faced with a choice between either a scientific realism that said that only things like rocks, quantum particles, pulsars, etc., are really real such that things like signifiers, institutions, etc., “only exist in the mind”, or a social constructivism that said that our discourses abut the world and how we represent the world are the really real, such that things like rocks, stars, animal species, etc., are effects of discursivity, OOO says that both a pulsar is entirely real and irreducible to discourse, and that a discourse about race such as we find in eugenics is entirely real.  This discourse is not real in its representational capacity pertaining to what it says about race (it’s full of all sorts of false things about race beginning with the thesis that races exist), but it is real as a discourse that inhabits a world and that has entirely real and noxious effects on human bodies.  For OOO, discursive constructions are no less actors in the world than physical entities.

What OOO refuses is the thesis that we have to either hold that “physical beings” are constructed by discourses (discursivism) or that we must hold that discourses are mere figments of the mind that are unreal.  Both, for OOO, belong to the domain of being or existence.  This is probably why OOO tends to come under so much criticism from both sides of the debate.  The scientific realists are aghast that we would claim that things like myths or the discourse of creationism are real entities in the world that have real effects, and thereby take us to be undermining science and treating it as equal with creationism (we’re not).  The social constructivists are aghast that we would say that rabbits, aardvarks, black holes, etc., are real material entities in the world irreducible to discursive constructionism, and take us to denying the discursive construction of things like race, gender, nationality, etc., thereby allowing a dangerous essentialism in the door (we’re not).  What we’ve instead tried to do is adopt a more inclusive ontology that allows us to think the complex imbrication and interaction of a variety of entities, discursive and material, in the world.

read on!


I’m excited to announce that Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology is now available for pre-order. It’s a wonderful book that is both a magnificent contribution to the growing body of thought in OOO and that opens up all sorts of avenues for applying OOO to the world. Here’s the description:

Humanity has sat at the center of philosophical thinking for too long. The recent advent of environmental philosophy and posthuman studies has widened our scope of inquiry to include ecosystems, animals, and artificial intelligence. Yet the vast majority of the stuff in our universe, and even in our lives, remains beyond serious philosophical concern.

In Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing, Ian Bogost develops an object-oriented ontology that puts things at the center of being—a philosophy in which nothing exists any more or less than anything else, in which humans are elements but not the sole or even primary elements of philosophical interest. And unlike experimental phenomenology or the philosophy of technology, Bogost’s alien phenomenology takes for granted that all beings interact with and perceive one another. This experience, however, withdraws from human comprehension and becomes accessible only through a speculative philosophy based on metaphor.

Run, not rush, to get your copy today!

For those who have asked when the paper/.pdf version of The Democracy of Objects will become available, the answer is soon! Final revisions were wrapped up last week, so I suspect it will be any time now. As for the delay, this is the first book released in the series so there’s been learning involved, they have an all volunteer team, and I caused them a number of headaches with how I composed the book. I wrote it first in open access software. That didn’t work for them, so I transferred it over to Word. This created all sorts of bizarre hidden code that they had to fix. The Open Humanities Press people have been absolutely fantastic and, as I understand it, there’s a boatload of future books to come out in the series.

Working with Bogost, Harman, and Morton over the last few years has been an amazing and intense experience. We interact almost daily and during this time we’ve edited books together (The Speculative Turn and The Democracy of Objects), organized conferences, formed editorial boards for presses and journals together, proofed a number of each others papers and various other things. We’ve encouraged each other, helped to develop each others ideas, fought with each other, and consoled one another. And during this time, we’ve seen something small and marginal expand all over the place and develop in directions that none of us ever expected. There’s now a journal devoted to object-oriented studies, and two presses deeply sympathetic to OOO and SR (OHP and Edinburgh), all of which we have built together. Before deciding to put The Speculative Turn together with Nick Srnicek, I never even imagined (literally) that anything like this would be possible. Indeed, when I proposed it to Nick, I initially conceived The Speculative Turn to be a Deleuzian rejoinder to speculative realist thought, pitching Deleuze as a realist and materialist. I conceived myself as primarily some combination of a Lacanian, Deleuzian, and Badiouian. I really had no idea that this would be a life and thought changing project, leading me to become something of a philosopher rather than a scholar of other thinkers. It’s been quite a ride, intellectually invigorating, productive of a sense that this work is meaningful (rather than just plugging away to pad the CV for jobs and tenure), and I expect bright things in the future. I’m especially pleased at how multi-disciplinary it’s all become. As saccharine as it sounds, when you reach out to the world in a kind, generous, respectful and enthusiastic way, it often reaches back. It’s vitally important to believe that constraints are never so set in iron that alternative ways of living and doing things aren’t possible. Absent that belief, no attempts to do things differently are ever made and action simply reproduces those iron constraints.

Over at Bogost’s place, Ian posts on Eric McLuhan’s response to Harman. Ian writes:

Harman points to Figure-Ground Communication’s interview with Eric McLuhan. It includes a question from Harman about Laws of Media, namely “why did they they [sic., restrict?] the tetrad to human artifacts?” Of course, this is also the question Levi and I will pose in our planned book on McLuhan.

McLuhan doesn’t really answer the question, from the very beginning seeming not to take it at face value (“Graham, you are putting the cart somewhat before the horse, in order to be provocative–as I know you are aware.”) But of course Graham’s question is completely earnest and straightforward.

I got the sense that Eric took Graham’s question as critical, striving to debunk the tetrad. In reality, Graham was doing precisely the opposite: he was trying to expand the tetrad beyond the realm of the human. This, of course, is precisely what Ian and I will argue for in The Pentad: McLuhan and Object-Oriented Ontology. What Eric and Marshall McLuhan propose under the title of media is not restricted to how artifacts extend humans, but is a general ontology that targets how any object extends another object. In this connection, I see no reason to restrict the Mcluhan’s concept of media to the linguistic, despite the fact that Eric appears to do so at the beginning of Laws of Media. If anything, they completely explode the boundaries of the linguistic, opening all objects to being treated as genuine actors and not mere vehicles of signifiers. This is not to suggest that we should reject the linguistic. Language is a medium as well. Yet it is one medium among an infinity of others.

Bogost has a terrific post up reflecting on the recent politics and ontology debates. Check it out here.

Ian has posted his talk on Rorty presented at the “Time Will Tell, But Epistemology Won’t” conference at UC Irvine. Check it out!

Speaking of Bogost, here’s his interview with Peter Gratton. There are some nice sneak peaks at the alien phenomenology he’s currently developing.

Ian Bogost weighs in on the question of materialism over at his blog, writing:

Maybe part of the problem is the singularness of materialism. Gratton cites Harman on materialism being reductionist, and this is what I’m getting at too. Rather than seeking to define definitively the nature of matter (a task that inevitably leads to scientific reductionism), or taking material to mean that which mediates or regulates human interactions (which leads to inevitable correlationism), instead we should desire a multitude of materials. True materialism is an aggregate. Or, put differently, “materialism” doesn’t exist, but “materialisms” do.

I get the sense that many people misconstrue object-oriented ontology as a singular material affair, as a reductionism: “everything’s an object.” But instead, proponents of OOO hold that all things equally exist, yet they do not exist equally. The funeral pyre is not the same as the aardvark; the porcelatta is not equivalent to the rubgy ball. Not only are neither pair reducible to human encounter, but also neither are reducible to one another. In this respect, McLuhan is a better place to look for materialism than is Marx.

There’s a lot more in the post, so read the rest of it here. Here I think Ian hits the core of the issue. Both materialism and correlationisms are reductive positions. The variations of anti-realism all seek to reduce objects to some human related phenomenon, while the variants of materialism always seek to reduce objects to some identical material “stuff”. What is always missing is a genuine ontological pluralism, a promiscuous or slutty ontology, that allows for a variety of different actants irreducible to one type of being. This is one of the reasons object-oriented ontologists tend to refer to themselves as realists rather than materialists. Here Latour’s essay “Can We Get Our Materialism Back, Please?” is rewarding reading.

Over at his blog Ian Bogost attempts to provide a definition of OOO suitable for an elevator pitch to the layman. A very interesting discussion has ensued. Read the post here.

Anotherheideggerblog has a terrific interview with Bogost. It’s filled with all sorts of gems and nuggets. His observations about deconstruction are particularly interesting:

In this respect, Derrida opened my eyes in ways I will always be grateful for (as I will for the influential American deconstructionists I had the benefit of studying under), but once my eyes were opened, I didn’t know what I saw. Nothing. A blank vista. A desert.

Why? Deconstruction is superb at setting things in eternal motion, like some wild steampunk apparatus fastened with magnets of opposing poles. And that apparatus is mesmerizing. But beyond enchantment, it offers little direction on what practical steps to take. It is a paperweight. Once things are destabilized, then what? It is poetic and moving to assert, like Samuel Beckett, “I can’t go on, I’ll go on,” but what sort of coward or psychopath would leave his companions stranded there, in the desert, with this useless joke of a compass? Go where, exactly? To do what, precisely? What’s the third term, the structure that offers alternative to the aporia without reconciling it? Deconstruction can never answer this question, by definition, yet it is where the real work resides.

Read the rest here.