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It’s Scu’s birthday today. From one Aquarius to another, happy birthday! Give him some love as he’s much beloved.

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Via the Penny Arcade:

Difficulty sleeping again tonight despite being exhausted. In my half-wakeful fog I came across this link discussing Speculative Realism in my dashboard. It has been interesting watching how discussions of SR and OOO have developed in the last year. As I recall, and I’m paraphrasing here, somewhere Žižek says that first new ideas are rejected as nonsense and gimmicks, then they are taken seriously and engaged at the critical level, and finally it is declared that they were always obvious and that this is what the tradition was saying all along. Of course, this final stage is a sort of transcendental illusion produced by the fact that the tradition is like a hologram that appears differently depending on the frame through which it is viewed, coupled with the fact that antecedents, analogies, and parallels can always be found between the present and the past. And finally, of course, no philosophical thought occurs in a vacuum, but rather all thinkers draw on the tradition and other influences. The reduction to the obvious and what’s been said all along is the ignoble fate that all new forms of thought must suffer, but at least the concepts get through and modify that tradition.

Among the most vocal critics of SR and OOO here in the blogosphere, I’ve noticed that they haven’t actually read the actual works of the actual participants at the Goldsmith’s conference or that they have read very little of these works. This is sometimes explicitly stated and at other times implicit in the charges being made. At the very least, had these works actually been read it would put an end to the question “but what is SR!” as it would become clear that SR is a genus with different species where those different species are fighting philosophical battles amongst themselves tooth and nail, like categories of Rationalism, Empiricism, and German Idealism where you had tooth and nail battles between Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz, and Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, and Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel respectively. I’m not quite sure why this is such a difficult point to get. Nor am I sure how it is possible to make the charge that there are not arguments for the various positions when the actual works have not been read. It seems that philosophers who previously understood that you first have to read works before critiquing them and that you first have to understand the concepts proposed by a philosophy before rejecting them have decided to rely on ordinary language connotations of terms and received conceptions of tradition inherited from a training dominated by anti-realism, to understand a position.

But this is not what I find most interesting about these very vocal critics (VVC’s). What I find most interesting, and I confess gratifying, is the odd obsession with SR and OOO among these vocal critics. On certain blogs we encounter post after post devoted to OOO. Often these posts have between thirty and one hundred comments! Moreover, throughout the theory blogosphere these critics reiterate their charges against, primarily, OOO: “It’s a gimmick!” “It’s all advertising!” (some might call “advertising” argument and the attempt to persuade others, but never mind). “It’s shameless self-promotion!” “It mirrors the inflation of capitalism!” (a personal favorite of mine as the thought is never entertained that perhaps the positions are articulating the right thing at the right time in our historical moment or, as Lacan would say, “hitting the real”). “It’s neoliberal ideology that mirrors the expansion of capitalism!” (I’m interested in how this radical theorist proposes to bring about his social revolution without getting others on board with his political vision). “It hates humans!” (nevermind that perhaps OOO holds that we must discuss the nonhuman to properly address the problems of the social, political, and the human). “It wants to psychoanalyze hummus!” (that was a really good one. apparently the author didn’t get the memo that objects are different, have different structures and properties, and must be related to in different ways). “It’s incoherent and makes no sense!” “It’s hardly worth our time!” “It’s all just poetry and metaphor!” The thing that tickles my funny bone about the VVC’s is that they seem to be against things on general principle: “I don’t know what it is, but damn it, it’s new fangled and I don’t like it! Gimme my old silent films any day! Talkies just can’t capture that level of meaning or expressiveness, that level of art! Society is collapsing, I tell you!” (shakes cane).

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Apparently someone at University of Illinois (?) is using SR/OOO as a case study to teach what the internet is capable of intellectually and philosophically. Nice to see OOO used as a case study in media studies in this way.

One of the central theses of psychoanalysis is that the manner in which we interpret others says more about the structure of our own desire than the desire of the other person we’re interpreting. I am not sure one even has to be an advocate of psychoanalytic theory to endorse this thesis. Given that we don’t have access to the minds of other people our attributions of motives to others must proceed by analogy to ourselves, such that we attribute motives to others based on what motivates us. It is with this thesis in mind that I’ve found myself amused by a certain claim that has been floating about the blogosphere lately. Here the thesis is that I and a few others are forming relationships with other academics such as Harman simply for the sake of promoting our own academic careers. In other words, the suggestion is that I do not blog as much as I do for the reason that I’m genuinely engaged with the things I blog about, nor because I genuinely appreciate the philosophical positions of folks like Harman, but because somehow these relationships will advance my academic career.

This is a truly peculiar and baffling thesis. First a little reality check. I am a Continentalist. If there is one thing Continentalists almost viscerally despise, it is any form of realism. Whenever the signifier “realism” is evoked, one of the first charges you hear is “naive positivism!” or “reductivism!” If one is truly looking to land a plum position in a Continental philosophy department, hanging your hat on the peg of “speculative realism” is hardly a wise strategy for doing so. Similarly, it would be no exaggeration to say that Continental philosophy departments are dominated by Heideggerians and phenomenologists. Harman’s work, as admirable as it is, has generated a tremendous amount of hostility from Heideggerians and phenomenologists as a sort of sacrilege. Working on the premise that job committees in Continental departments are very likely to have at least one scholar representing this movement, one is certainly not doing themselves any favors by siding with object-oriented ontology. Additionally, Latour’s work is often looked down upon in philosophy departments as either a relativistic postmodernism as depicted by Sokal, or as that of a second string French thinker trailing far behind big daddies like Derrida and Deleuze. One certainly isn’t doing oneself any favors by taking Latour seriously.

Second, the way to advance yourself in your career is to publish in the most prestigious journals and with the most prestigious presses. You don’t exactly do yourself any favors publishing in obscure journals that aren’t recognized as the primo journals in your field, nor do you do yourself many favors by publishing with currently unknown presses as I will soon be doing with The Democracy of Objects. Moreover, for the non-established academic the simple fact of blogging, I think, can be a black mark against you. On the one hand, blogging remains suspect for many old school academics. This is especially true in philosophy where attitudes tend to be somewhat provincial and luddite in character. In addition to this, blogging leaves a long trail of comments where your less than stellar moments, your poorly thought out ideas, your weird ticks and passions, etc., are there for everyone to see.

No, if anything, hanging one’s hat on the peg of speculative realism and object-oriented ontology looks more like an act of career masochism than a way of advancing your career. I am not holding my breath for DePaul, Villanova, Penn State, Memphis, etc., to come knocking on my door. If I do these things things then this is because I am passionate about philosophy and ideas and believe there is genuine merit and importance in these positions. What is intriguing is an interpretive frame that suggests that advancing one’s career is the most likely and most plausible motivation for writing a good deal or interacting with other thinkers. This is especially absurd when said writing is on a blog rather than in publications in prestigious peer reviewed journals that count on your CV. Such an interpretation seems to say more about one’s own relationship to philosophy and writing than the motivations of others. I also find myself surprised that folks who were patronizingly and insultingly criticizing others for “beating up” on a “poor defenseless grad student” are suddenly beating up on a grad student who has taken the initiative to start an academic journal. Then again, these things never make sense.

minotaur3I’ve received a number of emails asking me why I deleted this post and asking that I re-post it. I guess my thoughts on the matter were that “meta” discussions of how people communicate with one another, how they should communicate with one another, norms of civility, and trolls, gray vampires, and minotaurs have the paradoxical effect of generating more conflict, not less. Luhmann makes this point in his later sociological work, observing that when social discourses turn to discussions of norms conflicts in social systems tend to quickly ensue. However, since others have asked for the post, I here re-post it without further ado.

Riffing on Graham’s remarks about critique in the ordinary language sense of the term, I will say that I have become especially critical of those who participate online without revealing their true name or identity to the public. The standard argument is that a person’s true name and identity shouldn’t matter and we should just focus on the content of arguments and positions. I don’t see it this way at all. The person who does not make their identity public risks nothing through their engagement with others. They can be the biggest asshole in the world, spout the most ridiculous absurdities, engage in the most trollish, vampirish, or minotaurish behaviors without having to suffer any real world consequences for how they’ve participated or engaged with others. This isn’t true for the rest of us who have either a) left enough clues for anyone enterprising enough to discover who we are, or b) who participate with full disclosure of who we are. In these cases our engagement online can significantly impact our careers and future career opportunities. We have to live with the “paper trail” that our interactions produce and which we cannot erase or control. We can have others post our name whenever they might like, thereby drawing Google their way or have to deal with what we write. At the very least, as a condition for critique in the ordinary language sense of the term it should be conditional that the person leveling the critique themselves risk something and be accountable for their critique with respect to their own genuine philosophical engagement. The person being criticized should be able to say x (not the screen name, but the person’s true proper name) argued y and y should be tied to that person. Absent this, I’m not really sure how any discussion is really possible.

trollOn these grounds, I’ve reached the point of simply ignoring comments from assholes, trolls, grey vampires, and minotaurs who do not publicly reveal their identity. As I see it, if they’re not making a real existential risk with their public engagement then there’s no reason for me to allow my blog to be a platform for their remarks. Why? I’m the one taking all the risk and they lose nothing. They are not avowing their position or dealing with the consequences of their utterances. Because they have not entered into discussion publicly and in good faith, they have nothing to lose but I have a lot to lose by entertaining such folks and interacting with them. No doubt I’ll be accused of hypocrisy here as there was a time where I carefully strove to hide my identity. However, even then I made enough comments about my book, conferences I was participating in, and articles I was publishing for any enterprising person doing a search on me to discover who I am. And indeed others did post my name, link to me with my name, and so on such that in certain instances I asked them to delete it.

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AAAADEskSs8AAAAAAE6XqwOver at the blog err…whateverz. snugglebus I has posted a couple of nice posts on Speculative Realism. Before getting to the actual content of the posts, I’d first like to note that I love it that here in the blogosphere making interesting and thoughtful remarks with names like “snugglebus”. Moving on to the content, snugglebug defends speculative realism against some criticisms by Giuseppe in his second post. As snugglebus writes:

Responding in the comments however, Giuseppe thinks I kind missed the point entirely. As he put it:

what is it that lures intellectuals into the comfort of “reality” in the rather consolidated turn that so many social sciences are experiencing towards some form of “ontology” (another way, very academic indeed, to name the interest in the “real” nature of things)?… I suspect it has something to do with a very precise insecurity and a certain modesty that affects social scientists when they are compared to solid scientists: the former would talk about real, solid, things, the first would just babble away about the sex of angels.

Ok – I’ll take the bait! I’m not an SR scholar, just an interested, but uninvested, spectator, so I might not be the most effective spokesperson, but this will help me start to work out my own thoughts on a group of thinkers who I have been following for a while now.

I think there is a lot more to the success of SR than a reactionary response to the fact that ‘physical’ science is saying ever more concrete things about areas that were once the preserve of social scientists. Just anecdotally SR people (see for example Larval subjects here) seem to be intensely interested in hard science and thinking its consequences (though SR is concerned above all with metaphysics, not philosophy of science). In fact I think it would be more productive to turn Giuseppe’s view on its head: isn’t it actually crude idealism that expresses the insecurity (in a very different, less modest form than Giuseppe meant) of social science? Doesn’t idealism sometimes seem to shut scientific ‘reality’ away, seeing science somewhere between a naïve enterprise at one end of the spectrum (whereas we know that ‘truth’ is a function of consciousness, power, signs etc.), or just a separate field that is at best interesting, but not our concern as social scientists…?

Obviously I cannot speak for all the speculative realists and, in fact, it is impossible to do so as our positions tend to be radically different. For example, beyond a rejection of the centrality of the human, my own thought shares almost nothing in common with that of Brassier’s. Brassier advocates a sort of eliminative materialism that leans heavily on the hard sciences, whereas I advocate a realism. While there is a robust place for the sciences in my ontology, I do not see the sciences as delivering us to “true reality” whereas all the other disciplines investigate things that are epiphenomenal or mere illusions. In this I follow Bruno Latour in his rejection of the nature/culture distinction, the division of the world into two distinct ontological domains– the domain of nature and the domain of the subject –and instead replace this division with collectives of human and non-human actors. This is quite a difference.

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