The Downer Principle: Overcoming the Overcoming.


In a series of posts, Larval Subjects is trying to articulate a sort of new philosophical approach that, he argues, is necessary to consider. Since posting a comment is usually a matter of an immediate reaction, at least for me, it is easier for me to tackle an issue or two in a form of a post. Alright, let’s start from the end of the story, a post called Hegemonic Fallacy. It opens with a rather strange sentence:

The danger faced by any object-oriented philosophy, especially in its beginnings, is that readers will conclude that the aim is to speak of things as they are in themselves, independent of any humans, thereby denying all that is human.

What is this “danger”? The readers are in danger, I am assuming, of making their assessment of this “object-oriented philosophy” in terms of old philosophical habit of separating the in-itself from for-us. Actually, it seems as though it is the danger for the new philosophical position, not so much the readers, the danger that from the very beginning it will have to address the issues of already-posed philosophical problems. I don’t see how this is a danger at all or even a problem – why shouldn’t a “traditional view” expect, in fact, demand explanation of any “newcomer”?

Here the grumpy tradition is speaking for itself:

Here the interminable, inexhaustible, objections will begin. “But it is still you, a subject, a human being, talking about objects! How do you propose to overcome the manner in which your mind gives form and structure to the world?”

Is that not a legitimate question? Just because one might not like it or consider it bothersome to explain oneself, or be annoyed by the obligation to respond to such questions, does not mean that one can simply dismiss the question. How are these issues addressed? LS argues, or at least boldly states, that the above-mentioned “traditional” question misconstrue the main “problem”:

What object-oriented philosophy opposes is not culture, society, or mind, but rather those metaphysics – and they are metaphysics – that declare that one difference makes all the difference…

I call this reduction of difference to one difference that makes all the difference or one difference that makes the most important difference, the hegemonic fallacy. The hegemonic fallacy can occur in more or less extensive forms. Thus, in the case of those theologies where everything is dependent on God as in the case of Leibniz or Spinoza, we have a rather extreme form of the hegemonic fallacy. By contrast, the relationship between form and matter as conceived by Aristotle or categories and intuitions as conceived by Kant are both less extensive forms of the hegemonic fallacy insofar as matter and intuition still contribute some difference, but in a less important way with respect to form and the categories.

Ok, I like all this whole “metaphysics that declares that one difference makes all the difference” stuff, but I am afraid that I have absolutely no idea what it all means. Let’s take Kant as presented in the above paragraph: “[the relationship between] categories and intuitions as conceived by Kant [is] a less extensive form of the hegemonic fallacy insofar as matter and intuition still contribute some difference” – let me be honest here, I have absolutely no clue as to what this means. Let’s give LS a benefit of a doubt and assume that I simply need to pay more attention.

What the object-oriented philosopher seeks, at least in my formulation, is not the reduction of the number of differences, but rather the multiplication, pluralization, or proliferation of differences. The aim is not less difference, but more difference.

This is pretty clear – not one privileged difference, one difference that makes all the difference, but many differences, as many as possible, I suppose. Now look, I’m not very up on the recent philosophical jargon, but I always thought that something like “proliferation of differences” would eventually result in no difference clear enough to discern any difference. I have said this before, but the aim of “more difference” as oppose to the aim of “less difference” only makes sense if there is a choice, i.e. the traditional reduction of all differences to one difference (that makes all the difference) is problematic if it is an actual choice to emphasize one relation and ignore all the others – that it is not the case is easy to show from Kant: we do not choose to be confined to the proverbial submarine, we are whether we like it or not, he provided arguments, all I see in this new object-oriented philosophy is a frustration with the situation, but no real way out as of yet.

But maybe I misunderstand the phrase “to make a difference” – admittedly, there might exist some sort of a wordplay here between “making a difference” as “changing” and “making a difference” as literally “creating a new difference” – in another place LS uses a different formula of “one difference that truly matters” – how to make sense of all of this? I think this might be why we need to look at an Ontic Principle:

Ontic Principle declares that there is no difference that does not make a difference…

In the original post on this Ontic Principle LS spends a bit of time discussing how his principle is similar to Latour’s principle using a variety of examples, but when it comes to his proposed principle , LS states:

Henceforth, should one adopt the [Ontic Principle], it follows that no entity can any longer be treated as a mere bearer or vehicle of another entity.

[…]

As a result of this position we are able to articulate the most fundamental anti-humanism yet imagined, for immediately humans are disbarred from having a central or hegemonic position in the order of beings insofar as they only contribute one difference among others. The difference contributed by the human, whether in the form of a transcendental subject, Dasein, society, or language is neither more nor less than the difference or translation contributed in the encounter of a tree and lightning.

[…]

If this principle must be called the Ontic Principle, then this is because it sings the hymns of all beings, rather than striving to reduce all beings to one being, seeing all the others as nothing but derivative corruptions.

I am personally all about signing hymns, and I sense some passion behind LS’s pronouncements, but I fail to see what I am most desperately looking for, that is, an argument: my main problem not just with the citations, but the whole excitement over this new object-oriented philosophy is a simple (and arguably grumpy) attitude: wishing that it be so does not make it so. I will call it the Downer Principle. So according to the Downer Principle the statement such as “the Ontic Principle is, above all, a modest principle” just cannot be so because one proposed that it is, especially since it “asserts that to be is to differ and to produce difference.” I mean we are dealing with old, very old, philosophical concepts that are reinterpreted and rethought which is terrific – trust me, I am all about it – but to say that something determines what it is “to be” and somehow it is also “modest” is not doing it for me. However, my issue here is that – admittedly to simplify a bit – we are taking words like “being” or “difference” and we basically say: “Old philosophy sucks, man! It’s oppressive with its arguments and its systems and its hegemony, I wish we could do something different!” And then, of course, anyone who suggests that old ways might have their reasons is a defender of the authority of tradition, a sort of a downer who demands at least a resemblance of an argument, not just poetic pronouncements:

Object-oriented philosophy, in my formulation, vigorously rejects all those ontologies where one difference makes all the difference or where one difference makes the most important difference.

[…]

What will be denounced is the idea that they make the only difference.

[…]

The human is to be decentered, according to the requirements of a genuine Copernican revolution, where humans are no longer at the center of being or treated as a difference that makes the most important difference.

Well, let’s say I vigorously reject this vigorous rejection – how are we going to decide who is right here? can we measure our respective vigor (I will lose) or our experience of rejection (I will win)? All this language of denunciation and of exposing the fake revolutions and insisting on the genuine ones is making me sort of uncomfortable. Of course, I have selected phrases to make my point – am I twisting them around and making them say what I want to? Maybe. But to insist that something should be the way I want it to be and hoping that it will become such is good for some situations, but certainly I never thought of it as philosophically valuable.  I know the argument: let’s stop with the exegetical musings of who said what and deal with philosophical problems. I think it’s a great call, but where precisely are the problems and their possible solutions?

There is of course more to it, judge for yourself…

5 thoughts on “The Downer Principle: Overcoming the Overcoming.

  1. Pingback: Response to a Snarky Critic « Larval Subjects .

  2. Pingback: Velvet Howler › Blog Archive › A Night in which All Cows are Black

  3. Man, so many denunciations and rejections! You’d think philosophy was the First International. This kind of thing is probably the most harmful legacy of ’60s continental philosophy–the language of the Party meeting, with all its Che Guevara T-shirt revolutionary cachet, became transplanted into the realm of critical debate. (Is it Deleuze we have to thank for this? Althusser? Foucault was generally pretty careful about these things.) It’s not the tendentiousness I dislike–it’s the fact that this particular style of polemic is so po-faced and unoriginal. Is it so much to ask that people emulate Hume and Voltaire rather than I. I. Petrov, Second Secretary of the Sverdlovsk Regional Party Committee?

  4. Ha Greg, I have thought you might pick it up actually – in fact, anyone familiar with the language of the Soviet “discussions” should appreciate stuff like “vigorously reject” or “denounce” – oh well, apparently it only works if one is being confrontational one way, I’m not sure my post really communicated my problems in a way I thought it would.

  5. Pingback: First Draw a Distinction! « Larval Subjects .

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