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"So I'm going to put my foot in my mouth and live to regret this, and I can't believe I'm actually thinking this. But I might be an anarchist object-oriented ontologist. Now the 30-year-old me is becoming apoplectic and is about to have a cardiac arrest or murder me. I thought I had it all figured out and one thing I'd figured out was, anarchy was not cool."
     - Timothy Morton

Timothy Morton wrote and interesting piece on Notes Towards an OOO Politics in his blog that prompts this little essay. In it he differentiates the distancing inherent in any Object-Oriented Ontology and the political use to which it might be put in practice, saying that there is "no inherent politics to OOO and I for one think that's a good thing." Yes, obviously OOO is value neutral in that sense being as it is about the 'What is there?' (i.e., a metaphysics, rather than either an epistemology or an aesthetic, ethics, or political philosophy of value). Yet, isn't it true that all philosophy is an outgrowth of that age old quest for Wisdom? And one of its greatest benefactors, Socrates, was convicted of supposedly corrupting the minds of the Athenian youth for awakening within those young minds the ability to think against the grain of their elders received wisdom (i.e., made them think critically). And, as we all know any authoritative government hates the very idea of independent thinking. Think of how many universities across the world are even now slowly getting rid of both their investment in the humanities and in their philosophical departments as just one case. Yet, as Tim states it, philosophy in the hands of any sophist can be twisted to serve any master and has done so in a multitude of cases throughout our own protracted history. I think the central point of this being that ontology itself precludes the so to speak moral dimension: being value free rather than value centric.

His reading of the Hegelian current in most academic circles is spot on, and yes it even sounds a little empiricist oriented with his use of 'ideas inevitably come bundled with attitudes'. Harman has always been against an empiricist reading that objects are bundles of qualities or impressions since there is no substratum to validate such a notion. As long as ideas and attitudes are not equated I can accept Tim's notion. He also adds that one must "pare away the teleology" in such a notion, too. He is spot on about the correlationist illusion that "the goal in life is to get exactly the right attitude about everything." Even the use of goal implies already some teleological orientation is such an attitude of attitudes. Against a sort of inhumane cynicism, the type that was critiqued by such philosophers as Peter Sloterdijk (Critique of Cynical Reason)  he tells us OOO seeks an alternative path.

He then makes to points about OOO: first, that all objects withdraw (i.e., they are unique, not individual); and, second, all entities are "uncanny, even to themselves." Harman has himself states in Prince of Networks that the "real object is a unified thing, but not an empty unity. It possesses a multitude of qualities that it unifies in a highly specific way” (PON, p.218). In this sense essence is the unity of the real objects over against its moments. It is the interplay between the unity and the plurality of an object. It is “incarcerated in the very reality of the individual thing; it is not a universal perfect form lying outside the thing and shared by many individuals” (PON, p.206). 

Next, Tim reminds us that since "objects withdraw, there is no top object and no bottom object. No “matter,” no lava, no holistic web. Just a plenum of unique objects." What he is referring to here is Harman's use of overmining and underminding, concepts that certain philosophers use to attack an Object-Oriented approach to objects. As Harman states it:

“The overmining philosophies say that objects are naive because they are posited uselessly as substrata lying behind what is more directly given. This might be images in consciousness. It might be relations, or events, or bundles of qualities. Correlationism is just one type of overmining philosophy, though it happens to be the most common type in the past two centuries. There is also simply relationism. I myself (like Meillassoux) hold that Latour is not a correlationist, though one might argue the opposite without being ridiculous; there are certainly correlationist moments in Latour (“microbes did not exist before Pasteur”). But it should be crystal clear that Whitehead is not a correlationist. Yet he is still an overminer of objects” (OOP Blog Nov 6th 2009). [And, the] undermining philosophies say that objects are naive because they are not deep enough. There is something deeper than objects. In an extreme case, it might be “the One.” In less extreme cases, it might be some pre-individual realm. Or it might be atoms; or water or air, for that matter. The pre-Socratic philosophies are all undermining philosophies, but there are also more recent versions of this option” (OOP Blog, Nov 6 2009).

Then Tim ends with a notion that if there is just a "plenum of unique objects" then what we have is a notion of anarchy. Then as he states it: "So I'm going to put my foot in my mouth and live to regret this, and I can't believe I'm actually thinking this. But I might be an anarchist object-oriented ontologist. Now the 30-year-old me is becoming apoplectic and is about to have a cardiac arrest or murder me. I thought I had it all figured out and one thing I'd figured out was, anarchy was not cool."

Interesting that he would move toward an anarchist view of objects. Is this a new turn in OOO thinking? Maybe this is what Harman meant with his "zero-person" perspective. The zero-person stance “refers to the essence or intrinsic nature of any entity apart from any access we might have to it” (ZP, 253). “Objects must be granted zero-person reality that can only be translated into descriptive terms of the first or third person kind”. “Zero-person” refers to “the reality of any entity apart from its interactions with out entities of any kind. This changes the nature of the problem. Instead of trying to bridge the gap between two kinds of descriptions, we now have a gap between description and reality” (ZP, p. 261). “Both mind and body occupy the zero-person stance, quite apart from any experience of them”. Zero-person is a synonym for ESSENCE. “Georg Cantor’s insights into transfinite numbers even suggests that we cannot have a total set of all properties of the house, which strengthens the hand of the zero-person stance all the more” (ZP, p.263). [2]

1. Harman, Graham, Prince of Networks (PON) re.press, 2009
2. Harman, Graham, Zero-Person and the Psyche (ZP) in David Skrbina (ed), Mind That Abides: Panpsychism in the New Millenium, John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2009


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 10th, 2011 03:57 pm (UTC)
waiting for...
I too find this "turn" of interest - but i think Tim's view of objects has been quite plastic all along.

A side note: I'm not too happy about the use of the term "the anarchy of objects” because I have been working on a paper that tries to reconcile process-relational views and object-orientations under the title 'The Anarchy of Objects' for a couple months now!!! Yikes! ;-) It was bound to happen i guess…

I think the anarchic power of objects comes from being open systems and always vulnerable (thus not totally withdrawn) to extensive and intensive forces. Objects – or assemblages – can morph, become hybrids, mix, mingle or otherwise be obliterated, but while they retain (withhold) their own structural integrity, or efficacy, they channel, or self-direct their own armada of properties in onto-specific ways.

I’ll have to unfold more on this topic at a later time, but I just thought it interesting that you generated that term when it’s been floating around in my brain for some time now.


Feb. 10th, 2011 05:11 pm (UTC)
Re: waiting for...
Hi, Michael:

Interesting that many have a problem with Harman's central tenet of the 'withdrawn' or 'dormant' object; both implying a metaphorics of disconnection from either an outside horizon, whether it be of the real or consciousness.

I look forward to your further thoughts on your future essay!
Feb. 12th, 2011 04:11 am (UTC)
As ever you write so generously.

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


S.C. Hickman
S.C. Hickman

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