Objectology: A Distorted View.


John comments on the issue of objectology and politics (I am going to combine both of his comments here):

Why should every philosophy be expected to address politics just because all philosophers are affected by politics? “Ontology is play-science for philosophers,” says the I.T. post in question, and I can’t help but agree. But I don’t see why “real” scientific work should be regarded with suspicion just because scientists don’t explicitly discuss in their scientific articles the political and economic factors that influence the trajectory of their work. To the contrary: I would be particularly suspicious of chemists or physicists who claimed that their scientific work and findings were influenced by their political position.

I think, though, that the objection is more direct than that: ontology is pointless, like alchemy; go make better use of your philosophical talents.

Although John is using the term “ontology” I think it’s clear that we are talking about a very peculiar kind of ontology, i.e. objectology. Here’s what I think, and it’s going to be fairly short: there’s a fundamental difference between understanding politics as what politicians do (elections, issues, platforms and so on) and politics as a simple structure of human coexistence (polis) – this is not a novel idea or a novel distinction. I think that John means politics as as an area of political activity done by or in some relation to politicians, I think most objections to objectology are not that its members are not politically active in this sense, but in a sense that the argument seems to suggest that a reconfiguring the relationship between humans and non-humans does not have any immediate political significance or is not in itself a political activity.

Now, I know that this whole angle has been presented before – demoting human beings from their ontological pedestal and making them equal with objects does not mean objectification or diminution of humans: humans are still cool, but the stones are as well. This change in human status does not carry political consequences, it is in itself a political move because it redefined the complex web of human-human and human-nonhuman interactions, it redesigns the polis, it’s pretty self-evident, I think, but let me illustrate my point:

Imagine that I (male) decided that having one wife is so old-school and hegemonic, that this monogamous oppression has lasted for too long and that I need to change something. So I bring a second wife home and I give my wife the following speech: Listen, it’s not that you are no longer my wife and that our relationship is in any way different, it’s just that I think this woman should be my wife as well, I’m not putting you down, I’m raising her up to a new status, now everyone can enjoy me as their husband, nothing changes, you see?

Of course this is not the argument of objectology per se, something does change and changes significantly, and these changes are political (but not only these, of course, there are other aspects of this change – for example, we can ask psychological questions such as “What kind of person would say that stones are better than human? What does it tell us about her state of mind?”) because they deal with humans. Again, it’s not as if we invent an ontology first and then political implications follow, the relationship is much more complex, but it is a relationship. So is objectology breeding apolitical nihilism? I don’t think so, but it does have a political dimension as any philosophical effort that attempts to reassess the role of humans.

As for “ontology as play-science of philosophers” I think it’s quite true: take just one example – a certain objectologist describes his future book as a work in which he develops “his ontology” – how can I say my ontology? It makes about as much sense as saying “I’m currently working on formulating my physics.” If one wants to do ontology and talk about how things are without any reference to human subject, then where does this “mine” perspective come from? Ontology is ontology is ontology. Certainly there are differences of scientific opinions in mathematics and physics, but there’s also a large overlap in the sense that these people are identified as mathematicians and physicists. If you are calling yourself an ontologist and yet you do not claim any universality (or even generality), how is it anything else but your own personal (human) opinion, even if it is about nonhuman objects?

Grandpa out – John?

51 thoughts on “Objectology: A Distorted View.

  1. I feel myself being sucked into some sort of gooey molten plasm…

    I was responding to the I.T. post, which seemingly consigned to uselessness all philosophical ontology, not just the OO brand. The concluding quote from Engels seems more relevant to Brassier’s variant of SR than to Harman’s and Bryant’s. The basic point is the same though: what use is an ontology that doesn’t throw light on what happens among humans? Science is better equipped than philosophy to talk about the inhuman world, so let’s get back to the artificial world of humans and what they do.

    As for your bigamy analogy, I guess you’re saying that, since ontology has long regarded the human as more important than the non-human, suddenly flattening the distinction constitutes a betrayal. I can’t say that I have a lot of sympathy with this argument unless I regard monogamy not just as the traditional arrangement but as the right one.

    I’m in agreement about “my” ontology being problematic, especially in comparison with science. There’s been this ongoing contention that people are confusing ontology with epistemology, but what sort of thing is “speculation”? Clearly it’s some form of human thought; in my understanding it’s more closely related to imagination than to evaluation. Speculation seems better suited to constructing fictional realities than to describing the already-existing one. So if we regard speculative ontologies as works of the imagination akin to novels, then sure, “my” ontology works fine.

  2. Certainly, as a subject-oriented correlationist I do think that philosophy is a human enterprise – not because I deny non-humans the ability to philosophize, but because as a human being I cannot think such possibility (I can imagine a talking stone, of course, but that’s clearly a stone that I imagine, not a stone in itself) – and therefore philosophy is about humans thinking about X (bigamy in my example, if you will, although my example is rather humorous, and not meant to be taken seriously). My point is that if it is indeed a betrayal, then let’s not be coy about it and try to pretend that object-oriented philosophy in this case is just leveling the field and not really violently rearranging the pieces (you could be for rearrangement and I could be against it, let’s just call it what it is then – that’s my point).

  3. I know this is probably a stupid question, but in object-oriented philosophy, who or what is doing this orientating? Why not just go for a name like “object philosophy” or, and I know you mean it sarcastically, “objectology”?

  4. Good question. I don’t know who or what is doing the orienting – humans, I suppose, they are not out of the picture, they just have to share their interests with objects – philosophy orients itself, orients its (human) attention away from subjects to objects, away from Johns to johns (sorry, John)…

  5. I really like the polygamy analogy, as much because it’s inapt as because it’s apt, and *especially* because you turned “the human” into an actual human for whom we can feel sympathy. The question we focus on in this metaphor is whether the first wife is right or wrong to feel betrayed — whether her expectations are reasonable or not. If the wife were instead an office-mate, and she was demanding that the man only ever speak to her, we’d probably say that her expectation is unreasonable. With a marriage, we’re going to tend to side with the first wife, because the husband previously promised a monogamous relationship. To make things a little more apt, we might say that the “objectologist” is telling the first wife, “I’ve been thinking about it, and we need to admit to ourselves that the whole monogamy thing is a sham. Let’s have an open marriage instead”. Then it all hinges on how much they were lying to themselves in the first place, whether the wife, husband or both were “cheating” on each other, etc.

    “I do think that philosophy is a human enterprise – not because I deny non-humans the ability to philosophize, but because as a human being I cannot think such possibility – and therefore philosophy is about humans thinking about X “

    This gets at where the objectationalists and the corrolahelions are talking past each other. I think the objectamatrons are saying, “Yeah, it’s a human enterprise — but so what? this is ontology, dammit”, and the corrolatamatrons are saying, “well if it’s ontology, then you best be first showing me where your direct access to the reality of beingness is coming from, there, spanky”.

  6. Excellent dramatization, Asher, you’re fitting right in, soon your comments will no longer be welcome over at the Objectology Central.

    The image is, of course, inadequate, but it does make a point that you have grasped superbly: all of the known objectologists begin in traditional philosophical marriages – the Son admits it openly, the Father alludes to his Heideggerian past (even if retrospectively embellishing his past awesomeness and originality) – then they decide to switch from subject-oriented philosophy to object-oriented philosophy which is fine, just stop pretending it’s all good and nothing changes dramatically (i.e. that you simple switch the emphasis and humans are still cool), humans now have to share the spotlight with stones and I, a human, do not like it because I think – call me anti-stone if you must – that stones are rather stupid and entirely uninteresting as subjects of philosophy, especially when so many actual humans might benefit from more sophisticated versions of subject-oriented philosophies – yes, you can’t make a rapid career talking about Kant, Hegel or Marx but why invent new questions when the old ones are still not answered properly and satisfactorily?

  7. How do feel about scientists studying stones, stones as the subject of science? No betrayal there because the split took place so long ago? Or you’re happy that someone has taken up this tedious task of stonology so you don’t have to?

  8. I don’t have a problem with scientists studying stones but I would have a problem with stone-oriented science. Objectologists did not invent objects, they were always studied by philosophers (objectum-subjectum really only makes sense as a pair), if I understand it correctly (and I might not), this is not just philosophers or scientists studying objects/stones, it’s a whole new world in which humans and stones are equally cool. Scientist studying stones treats them as stones, not equals.

    I’m happy that someone (a person, I assume) is taking up objectology (of which stonology is a part, right?) but it’s still an -ology (logos), so I’m unhappy that that someone would claim to have the whole new way of riding a bicycle when all I see is a person riding a bicycle (“But no, you don’t get it, it’s the bicycle that rides itself, it’s an equal partner in this experience of bicycle-riding, both human and bicycle work together – you’re looking at this event from your hegemonic human-oriented perspective, not bicycle-oriented perspective!” – “Umm, whatever, I have to go now. Get some human friends…”)

  9. Of course science has room for stone-oriented specialists, flame specialists, cotton specialists — pretty much the whole Harmanian list of objects is covered by some subset of scientists. There are even scientists who study humans. Within the scientific world it’s equally cool to be a stonologist and a humanologist.

    I hear you though: science is always a field of human knowledge. The “how do you know?” question isn’t dismissed by scientists as mere epistemology: it’s a central concern.

    Even if scientists acknowledge that they’re humans acquiring knowledge about things, they don’t obsess on being inside The Correlation. They study objects assuming that these objects exist independent of themselves. Scientists do watch themselves, but the intent is to detect all-too-human biases in their procedures and conclusions and to figure out ways of compensating for those biases. Some guy studying rocks isn’t studying himself interacting with rocks: he’s studying rocks by interacting with them.

  10. “Some guy studying rocks isn’t studying himself interacting with rocks: he’s studying rocks by interacting with them.”

    Easy there, my mother-in-law is a geologist, although she is not currently studying stones.

    If the guy interacting with stones suddenly started claiming that stones have equal status – my point that you have not addressed yet – then I’m sure other guys he studies stones with will think he is insane.

  11. Excellent dramatization, Asher, you’re fitting right in, soon your comments will no longer be welcome over at the Objectology Central.

    Ha – well, they know that I’m a sympathizer — at least in terms of saying that there isn’t any kind of special, separate existence for the mind. But they do not think much of my way of going about it, because it’s so physical.

    If the guy interacting with stones suddenly started claiming that stones have equal status…

    But it’s only equal status with respect to “being”, which amounts to so little that it’s not worth getting upset over. Or maybe it is for some people. From my perspective, we haven’t really put much meat on the idea of being over the last 5000 years. We say some pretty funky shit about it being sutured to stuff, and being “being-nothing”, and having various made-up relationships to stuff that we also made up, like immanence and manifestation, but after you’ve eaten all that, you’re not really pushing back your chair or loosening your belt, to speak of.

  12. Okay okay, the stonologist is more important than the stone. But we can both hear the counter-argument: a flat ontology doesn’t prevent us from establishing other sorts of hierarchical schemes — political, economic, psychological, religious — for assigning importance. What’s wrong with that? For example, in my personal value system I’m way more important than you are, but I don’t (necessarily) claim higher ontological status over you.

  13. Ontological status is what I give to objects and people, if I give stones the same ontological status as I give you, it is again my decision. Ontological status is not something separate from me who is giving it – to give a stone an equal ontological status requires that I do it, stones therefore depend on me for their ontological status, even if in the end it is the same as mine by my decision. If I give them equality now, the assumption is that I can, and that I can take it away – there’s no equality here.

    As previous conversation revealed, people marry Eiffel towers – there’s all sorts of things going on, but I don’t see any real philosophy here, forgive me bluntness. Plus, if I claim higher ontological status over stones, I don’t see them complaining – why bother then?

  14. Well, we’re back to the “talking past”. I do see your point, though. Even if I disagree with you and say that we don’t “give” anything ontological status – i.e., it just has it and my “theory” just recognizes it, and my theory is about the having rather than the recognizing – it’s still me giving the theory the status of being correct in recognizing the object’s ontological status. And also I have a lot of trouble seeing the worth of an ontological theory unless it makes itself useful in some other way.

  15. Let us continue to talk past each other then, maybe something will come out of it. I have a hard time thinking of a “status” of anything, myself included, without a thinking subject. Let’s say that I do assume that things are out there – is that a status? If it is, it’s still the status I give them, in this case as “existing outside of me” – do they see themselves as existing outside of me? I can think of things/objects as existing outside of me, I can imagine them out there, that’s not a problem. I can surely pretend then that I have discovered them as just being out there without me thinking about them, the problem is all of these things are examples of me thinking – me thinking, I repeat.

    On the business of “having” and “recognizing” – so is you subject passive? Does she simply read certain characteristics of things? The object is cold, round and its ontological status is X. Let me ask you this question then: if objects have an equal ontological status with us and objectologists only now discovered that this is the case, then a) how did they do it? (certainly not by looking at a mass of objects and seeing their ontological statuses), b) why didn’t anyone else see it before if ontological status is in the objects themselves and can be recognized?

  16. Well, see, Mikhail, the problem is that you’re not going to get the same sort of answer from me that you might get from your so-called “objectologist”. Your first paragraph talks about your ability to imagine things existing or not existing apart from you. And for me, that’s all it is — an imaginative exercise. To say that “existence has no meaning apart from a subject” is for me a tautology, because the definition of meaning includes a subject.

    Say you have three Blue Moon Belgian Wheat Ales. Now, conceptually, take away the Blue Moon Belgian Wheat Ale part, and you have… three. Three what? Three nothing — just three. In the same way, you can observe something, then conceptually subtract yourself, and you have just the thing. The human brain is awesome at performing such feats.

    Your second paragraph gets more to the heart of things. Given this fun little conceptual trick that we can perform, what justification do we have for saying that, for really real, the subject and object are disconnected in such a way that you can take the subject away and it makes no ontological difference? I would say, “Not much more than saying that there is a three without Belgian Ales or calcium hydroxide particles or what have you”. As far as I’m concerned, nobody has made a convincing case either that S and O are inextricably bound together or that they are totally separable. And I don’t know of anything that I would say would actually convince me that an argument for either thing was true.

    With ontology, it’s always going to be unicorns.

  17. “The human brain is awesome at performing such feats.”

    So things are the products of human brain? A result of a trick in which we first “make” a thing into a thing and then detach ourselves, or actually just imagine that we are detached? Or the products of me thinking about them apart from them? That’s totally fine with me, there’s still me all over this – I’m fine with it. Three beers are three beers because I count them, the idea of numbers exists in my head, not in the beers themselves – can we agree on that?

    I think we’re on the same page more or less – we can argue about details and so on – my only point is that we don’t need to make a convincing case that subject and object are bound together because it is so by definition of subject (sub-jectum) and object (ob-jectum).

  18. I find myself really tempted to agree with Nina’s criticism, if only because so many of the speculative realist bloggers are annoying and obnoxious, I have to disagree with the idea that speculative realism is a pseudo-Heideggerianism that places greater emphasis on ontology rather than the ontic. I mean, Levi for one calls his ontology “onticology,” suggesting that his ontology integrates the ontic into it. So I although I agree with Mikhail to an extent, when you point out the whole “logos” part of ontology (you know, that it’s us *humans* who are doing the ontologizing, or whatever the word would be), I think the accent of that argument should be shifted elsewhere.

    Specifically, the problem with the intermingling of ontological and ontic in such professed “realisms,” as I see it, is not that it oversteps the boundaries of what us finite human subjects are capable of grasping beyond the realm of appearances, into the hazy realm of primary and secondary qualities and so on and so forth. Rather, the seamless transition between the ontological and the ontic disavows the very cut introduced by logos *between* the ontological and the ontic. In other words, there is an incommensurability between the discourse of laying bear that which is, or the meaning of the question of being, and that which is in reality, the ontical realm of things in all of their naked stupidity. Which is all to say that, like so many metaphysics, the problem is not that speculation oversteps the bounds of human reason (well, maybe so), but the real problem is that it’s really an ideology: it is an attempt to suture the wound of our ontological out-of-jointness, the non-identity of Being in itself with itself.

    So, you can’t just go from ontic to ontological and back again. That’s *really* the failure of realism, in my mind. Not that it’s too speculative, but rather that it stops short of thinking genuine contradiction. The same could be said of its politics: it’s not that its apolitical nihilism, nor that it’s even just simple plain old apolitical, but rather that its failure to name the constitutive gap which separates Being from itself means that it posits an abstract flatness or homogeneity (to recite the overrehearsed Harmanian mantra, cuing robot voice: “All objects are equal, be they hummus, tractors, or protons.”) that merely reifies the status quo (hence Harman’s commitment to classical liberalism and Levi’s book “The Democracy of Objects”—on that subject, I’ve always found it perverse that Levi denies any political project, yet the book title is somewhat suggestive, no?).

    Anyhow, these are just some thoughts that have been roaming through my head as of late and I am not particularly attached to any of the arguments yet. It’s been difficult to place my finger exactly on what I find so wrong about certain forms of speculative realism, but I think I am coming to a point where I can articulate it, at least to an extent.

  19. Also, I know Levi’s rehearsed rejoinder to me would focus solely on my point about logos introducing a cut, and then he would cut and paste from his million or so responses where he says that logos = signifier = elevating Culture over Nature (such a tedious binary opposition to begin with, franky…). But we should remind ourselves that ontology has just as much logos in it as biology does, so…

  20. Misha, I don’t get the leap between tricks the brain can perform and brains producing things. Stones may crush me and bears may eat me without my brain having any useful input to the process. I understand Asher and you to be agreeing that pulling human subjectivity out of objectivity doesn’t satisfy. But dumping everything back into subjectivity doesn’t satisfy either, and not merely because we define it so.

  21. Good point. I guess I am overstating my point vis-a-vis thinking/humanness etc etc just to restore the balance a bit. I am not really suggesting that it’s all in my head, I’m simply saying that as a good old correlationist I like the correlation – stones can certainly crush me and I may discover this awesome power a bit too late, but I’m not giving them equal ontological status crush me as they might, I’m anti-stone.

  22. I’m going to weigh in here despite my better judgment because I think that, for the most part, a real discussion is taking place here rather than (for the most part) a bunch of name calling, mockery, and insults. Generally in email you’ve been fairly kind and friendly towards me Mikhail, though in pulbic this hasn’t been the case. Since I tend to have a rather short memory I tend to set these things aside. Moreover, despite the manner in which you’ve related to me, I do in fact like you, often appreciate what you have to say (but not how you tend to say it), and hope that discussion is possible.

    Now on to more substantial points. While I know that you’ve criticized me for saying “but you misunderstand”, I do think you’re missing the point of my particular engagement with object-oriented philosophy. In your post prior to this you quote Eleanor Kaufman’s offhand remark that “rocks are nicer than humans” and then attribute it to me. You then go on to suggest that somehow I’m not concerned with the human. The point I’ve tried to make to you on a number of occasions, however, is that one of the central reasons I’m engaging with these issues is because I believe that we need better conceptual tools to approach the political and ethical questions we’re grappling with. I’ll try to explain why.

    First, let me emphasize that I believe the correlationist has made tremendous contributions to our understanding of these issues. I’m not sure if you’ve been following my discussions with Pete or not, but while we still share a number of philosophical differences, we’ve arrived at a variety of agreements on the issues nonetheless. If correlationism and anti-realism have contributed one enduring thing to questions of politics, ethics, and inquiry it is the emphasis on questions of self-reflexivity or the role of the subject making the judgment with respect to the object being related to. This is a genuine contribution, on par with Aristotle’s four causes, Plato’s forms and dialectic method, and so on. It cannot and should not be abandoned. There’s your nod to Kant.

    Now I was led to object-oriented philosophy primarily on political and ethical grounds. Given your own strong emphasis on ethical and political questions, I think you can appreciate this motivation and perhaps admire it. It is my belief that a philosophy is like a lens that brings certain things into focus and makes other things obscure. Think about, for example, a microscope. The microscope allows us to see all sorts of marvelous small things. However, what disappears when you use a microscope are larger patterns and structures. Philosophies are similar. When I hear my friend Asher complain about psychoanalysis or philosophy, I think he misses the point that concepts, as Kvond would say, matter. They bring certain things into relief while other things fall into the background or become invisible. If, contra Asher, psychoanalytic theory is important, then this is because it draws the attention of the analyst to certain phenomena in the relation between analyst and analysand, generating better (Asher’s pragmatic criterion and your normative criterion) than forms of practice that lack this dimension of theory. A therapeutic practice lacking this self-reflexive dimension risks becoming a sort of guru practice that tries to convince the patient of a particular ideology, rather than letting the patient’s own universe speak.

    An ethical argument. And it’s similar with philosophy. Philosophies bring certain things into relief and obscure others. So why object-oriented ontology? Why have I adopted the position of “son” within this framework of thought? It is my view that certain assumptions at the heart of philosophy have made it more difficult to discuss issues we need to discuss in the realm of politics rather than less difficult. Kant is not a bad guy for me. It is what follows Kant that is bad. What we have today is a form of philosophy that treats objects as mere receptacles or containers for human cognitive categories primarily coming from language and society. We obsess over how humans create objects within these particular linguistic and social structures. In my view, this leads to a form of political thought that focuses almost entirely on the discursive, the semiotic, or the domain of meaning to the detriment of everything else. Now I’m all for recognizing the role played by ideology, texts, signs, meanings, norms, and so on. I don’t reject this one bit. I’m trying to build an ontology that gives all of these entities a robust place. However, returning to the metaphor or analogy of the microscope, I do not think such approaches are adequate to thinking the political and ethical questions that face us. Climate change is not simply a discursive or semiotic phenomena. It is not merely a discourse or a text. The new technology is not simply a discourse or text. The availability of resources are not simply discourses, signs, texts, or language. So long as we remain at the level of ideology critique we’re not even able to begin raising this issues as questions. We need ideology critique, but we cannot restrict ourselves to the discursive level. We need to be capable not only of thinking the differences humans contribute to objects, but the differences objects contribute to humans and human social structures. This is why I’m interested in object-oriented ontology. There’s a very human concern at the heart of my anti-humanist leanings.

    Bryan likes to give me a hard time for my claim that neo-liberal thought is deontological through and through and that genuine Marxist historical materialism is object-oriented in character. I don’t blame Bryan as I’ve given him a very hard time, but then again I don’t like the way he talks to me and find it rude and not conducive to discussion. He could make the same points without beating the shit out of me. If I hold by the thesis that genuine Marxist thought is object-oriented in character then this is because Marx does not remain at the level of the superstructure or the domain of discourses, texts, ideology, norms, and so on, but because Marx seeks to determine the role that material actants like factories, institutions, networks of trade, weather patterns, the availability of resources, technologies, practices of production, etc., play in our social relations, moral beliefs, and social formations. Perhaps Bryan has not actually read Marx or perhaps he has. However, I don’t see how the social, political, and ethical can even begin to be thought without taking into account the differences that these nonhuman actors play in human structures. For that you need a philosophy that like a microscope or a telescope brings these things into relief. If I claim that deontological approaches are handmaidens of neoliberal ideology (and yes I am aware that I’m reversing a criticism made of OOO and said as much in comments to that post) then this is because I believe that these deontological approaches abstract from all really existing conditions, ignoring material conditions, thereby repeating the form of thought at the heart of the neoliberal legal system. This is an ugly and unfair argument that none of us should be advancing. Instead we should recognize that we share largely the same political ends and goals and set about examining the philosophical merits of these respective positions, conceding points where they are good and standing by our criticisms where they are appropriate.

    • Levi: “I’m going to weigh in here despite my better judgment because I think that, for the most part, a real discussion is taking place here rather than (for the most part) a bunch of name calling, mockery, and insults.”

      It is interesting that in his opening statement (to a bunch of felllows he has banned from his site, one supposes he just is not getting enough attention after locking all his doors) he has initiated a veiled insult. Levi is going to weigh in with his intellectual girth now that the usual stuff that goes on at Mikhail’s house isn’t happening. “Now that you guys are no longer acting like the jerks you usually are, I am going to have what I call a “real discussion” .” That this passive agressive remark is the INTIAL remark Levi makes in returning to a forum he has regularly insulted is almost alarmingly humorous. The guy sure knows how to take the highroad, or at least spend very little time looking at the mud on his boots while straightening his cravat.

    • Levi: “Bryan likes to give me a hard time for my claim that neo-liberal thought is deontological through and through and that genuine Marxist historical materialism is object-oriented in character. I don’t blame Bryan as I’ve given him a very hard time, but then again I don’t like the way he talks to me and find it rude and not conducive to discussion. He could make the same points without beating the shit out of me.”

      Kvond: Its the L’Affair de Kane all over again, writ small. I don’t blame you Bryan, I really don’t, but…if you stop “beating the shit out of me” I would treat you much better.

  23. Bryan,

    In response to your points about cuts I have to point out that I’ve consistently and continuously sung the praises of Spencer-Brown who begins his treatise on mathematics with the line “first make a distinction”. A distinction, of course, is a cut. I am not denying the importance of cuts. What the realist rejects is the idea that the cut makes a thing what it is. By all means, we should investigate how we humans make cuts and what role they play.

  24. Before I actually respond in any substantive way, I think that it’s first worth pointing out how your peaceful olive branch conceals within itself a slightly more insulting approach than outright mockery or name-calling. At the very least, despite whether or not I’m being “rude” or “unpleasant,” I do take your ideas seriously, I just disagree with them. On the other hand, you tend to act as though your audience is too stupid to understand what you’re saying. Either that, or your ideas are just so brilliant and thought-provoking that they simply require a more thorough explication. Or that the two are basically just identical with each other: we’re too stupid to understand your brilliant idea(s), so the solution to any disagreement inevitably involves a repetition which sadly seems to elicit no difference.

    The other point to be made is that you seem to be entirely ignorant, lord knows how, of the innumerable performative contradictions that you engage in on a daily basis. Take for example your recent debate with deontologistics, in which you accuse the author of falling prey to neo-liberal ideology for espousing normativity, blah blah blah. I don’t really care about the particularities of the debate, but nevertheless I find it unbelievable that you deploy the same criticisms against a critic of yours that you found to be inconceivably at odds with your onticology just weeks before. Another striking example is that you again manage to weave in your rehearsed narrative about discursive and semiotic constructions against Nature (global warming), even after reading my comment lampooning your very tendency to do just that.

    But perhaps this has to do with your recent obsession with “historical materialism,” and the winds of change have made radical politics hip again in the SR world. I really have no idea. Nor do I care whether or not you believe in your heart of hearts whether I’ve read Marx. Interestingly, the version of Capital, Vol. 1 that I happen to own (we’ll leave the question of whether or not I’ve actually read it open) contained no references to the principle of translation or the hegemonic fallacy, nor the night in which all cows are black. So, while it’s great and all that you can read yourself into Marx and thereby come to love Marx’s historical materialism—after all, it’s not difficult to fall in love with one’s reflection, as the tale of Narcissus proves—I question its theoretical and argumentative use value.

    I’ll post more thoughts tomorrow.

  25. Levi – I am all about the importance of concepts. Most of the posts on my now defunct blog mention, at least in passing, how important concepts are. If you were to do a search on the terms “concept” and “important”, you would probably get a skillion hits, all pointing to me. People that I don’t know approach me in restaurants to ask me if I will please stop going on about how important concepts are. When I get on the bus, it is a pretty sure bet that I will hear someone mumble, “Oh, Christ, here he comes. Whatever you do, *don’t* bring up the subject of concepts — and if you value your sanity, please, for the love of God, do not imply or even hint that they are not important”.

    However – let’s say that I have a theory that includes the concept that “Love is the hatred of the Uncle’s pants”. That concept would throw all sorts of things into relief, and things would be coming to the forefront and receding like they were hooked up to electrodes. But the phenomena that I called to my defense would still be so much cherry-picked evidence and spin.

    It’s interesting that you say I disagree that psychoanalytic theory is important — not only because I never said that it wasn’t, but also because you could have chosen another word, like “true” or “correct”.

    My beef with psychoanalytic theory comes down to a very simple question: What reasons do I have for thinking it’s correct? The answers don’t have to be fancy or involved — in fact, the simpler the better.

  26. “we don’t need to make a convincing case that subject and object are bound together because it is so by definition of subject (sub-jectum) and object (ob-jectum).”

    Unless I pull out my kung-fu ontology and say that your subject is really just an object, so now all you have is two objects bound together, and also they are ignoring you because they happen to be rocks, and they have heard about your attitude problem.

    So, yeah, I think we basically agree. But the “by definition” thing only works if you don’t substitute other words that aren’t bound by definition. And that, mon freitag, is true by definition.

  27. Bryan,

    A simple question. You write:

    But perhaps this has to do with your recent obsession with “historical materialism,” and the winds of change have made radical politics hip again in the SR world. I really have no idea. Nor do I care whether or not you believe in your heart of hearts whether I’ve read Marx. Interestingly, the version of Capital, Vol. 1 that I happen to own (we’ll leave the question of whether or not I’ve actually read it open) contained no references to the principle of translation or the hegemonic fallacy, nor the night in which all cows are black. So, while it’s great and all that you can read yourself into Marx and thereby come to love Marx’s historical materialism—after all, it’s not difficult to fall in love with one’s reflection, as the tale of Narcissus proves—I question its theoretical and argumentative use value.

    Given that you come from a background heavily influenced by Zizek, Badiou, and Karatani and see these as Marxist thinkers, I wonder if you could point me to the passages in Marx where Marx references the event, truth-procedures, set theory, multiplicities, jouissance, the Real, parallaxes, the signifier, and so on. I ask this question not to dismiss any of these things, but to underline why your remark about the hegemonic fallacy and the principle of translation is rather unfair as a criticism of the relationship between Marx’s thought and object-oriented ontology. Hopefully in your promised comment this evening you can refrain from heaping scorn and insults upon me and simply make the philosophical points you want to make. Further the time I take in responding is not an insult but a sign of respect to those I interact with as I try to make my points as clearly as possible. If you find it insulting to be responded to at length I would say that says more about you than what I write.

  28. Asher,

    You’ve made the claim that psychoanalysis has no empirical grounding, but this simply isn’t true. The empirical grounding of psychoanalysis is found in the clinic. This is both the material out of which the theory arises and the measure of its truth. And within the clinic psychoanalysis does produce results. It is difficult to understand that theory independent of what takes place in the clinic.

  29. Jeez, don’t you guys ever sleep?!

    Levi, I’m intrigued by your assertion that you were drawn into the OO-osphere precisely because of political considerations, as a way of giving due attention to the real material factors that affect us. I agree. However, the rock randomly falling on my head is one thing; factories, technology and global warming are, it seems to me, a different kind of thing. In her brief remarks that precipitated this latest flurry, Nina said this:

    “Confronting ‘what is’ has to mean accepting a certain break between the natural and the artificial, even if this break is itself artificial.”

    I agree that it’s important to acknowledge the real power that artifacts exert over human lives, independent of the motivations of those humans who created the artifacts in the first place and of those humans and institutions which deploy artifacts for strategic/tactical purposes. And certainly artifacts can be exapted by their users or even turned against the masters. So far so good.

    I can’t speak for anyone else of course, but my political concern is this: in attributing to artifacts themselves the power to make differences, a power that veers toward intentionality, you seem to be deflecting responsibility/blame away from the tool-wielder to the tool itself. E.g., it’s not the sweatshop owner who’s at fault for the workers’ oppression but the sweatshop itself; people don’t kill people, guns kill people; etc. Even if it’s some sort of owner-artifact assemblage that’s exerting power, doesn’t this deflect responsibility away from human agency in the oppressive exertion of power over others?

    • I was sleeping, I have no idea what happened when I was gone. Apparently Levi thought that it was totally cool to post a comment here after all the drama of banning me and my kind from his blog and all – now I have to read all of his long comments?

      • But Mikhail, its your chance for some “real discussion”! Aside from the usual fare of things here. Think of this, its like getting more fibre in your diet. It helps add to the hill of servility.

  30. Actually Mikhail, the hubbub about whether or not an ontology is political or not seems to be much less abstract than even you make it out to be (which is not to say that your point is wrong). There is a presiding presumption that what authenticates you as a INTELLECTUAL is how Leftist you are. This is where you get your intellectual street cred. Part of this is due to the fact that philosophy, at least in Continental circles, but going back to Socrates, is based on questioning assumed beliefs. If the “group” believes it, it probably is wrong. Add to this questioning of the status quo the attendant Marxist belief that if the “group” believes it, it is not only wrong, but it is also insideously working to exploit others (and serve hidden masters). One shows one’s proper intellectual acumen by displaying all the ways you can uncover both the basic wrong assumptions of the group, but now, also how much you can, as a Leftist, protest that group beliefs are violents oppressing others. It is pretty much for this reason that Levi rolled around like a recoiling serpent underfoot when some deigned to say that his ontology supported, gasp, Neoliberalism. This was the equivalent of being called a Nazi, a gut punch, so Levi said. This is because the criticism goes right to the raison d’etre of Levi’s (and many others’) project. If one’s work ISN’T protesting the status quo, the beliefs of the group, it simply isn’t insightful enough, it isn’t rigourous enough, it isn’t rad enough. Add to that, it stands ready for the charge of the high crime of working to exploit “others”. For someone like Levi, this is losing both, intellectual authenticity and moral footing. Onticology or Ontology or whatever becomes a mere fantasy, a sci-fi project.

    For someone like Graham, to his credit actually, he is quite happy with this being like sci-fi project. He has regularly repeated the notion, Why do scientists get to have all the fun of exploring/inventing new bizarre words. And he is quite happy to let his politics be “boring” (as he unabashedly calls them. But for someone like Levi, while he wrestles with the dethroning of man, he has to scrap and scratch at every opportunity to gain that street cred of being a REAL intellectual via his political stand, all the while balancing this against his supposedly apolitical ontological picture of the world. This requires sometimes, when the damning Neo-liberal figure gets pointed at him (which really means: You aren’t even a REAL intellectual), that is he point the finger at others and shout “Neoliberal!”

    As someone who does think that ontology is intimately woven into the political due to the very valuational nature of “what is”, for the most part this is not what is being talked about when accusations of politically neutral (and therefore supposedly exploitive) descriptions get tossed about. What is more on topic is the culture of intellectual authenticity particular to academic institutions and their discourse, and how someone gains standing in that sub-culture.

    Its much less that case of the primacy of the human subject, and much more the case of “I am a real intellectual because I can prove social action against injustice”. The sad thing is that in many cases the badge of Leftist becomes more important, and more authenticating, than the value of critical thought.

  31. Levi writes:

    Given that you come from a background heavily influenced by Zizek, Badiou, and Karatani and see these as Marxist thinkers, I wonder if you could point me to the passages in Marx where Marx references the event, truth-procedures, set theory, multiplicities, jouissance, the Real, parallaxes, the signifier, and so on. I ask this question not to dismiss any of these things, but to underline why your remark about the hegemonic fallacy and the principle of translation is rather unfair as a criticism of the relationship between Marx’s thought and object-oriented ontology.

    No offense, but that first sentence is just plain sophistry. Marx is not a set theorist, nor is he a Lacanian, and neither Badiou nor Zizek make either of these claims, which would be laughable, as yours is (but it’s obviously a politicizing gesture, in’t that cute!). Karatani is a bit of an exception, given that he does try to forcefully argue that Marx is Kantian, but even though I think Karatani’s argument is brilliant (he, you know, actually did read Marx’s entire collected works to come up with his reading, and actually does make a few valid points, i.e., “why does Marx not begin with a unified concept of Value and then put it into dialectical motion a la his notion of the Commodity?”), it’s still obviously more Karatani than Marx, and as a result comes up weak in certain places (like his Kantian reading of relative surplus-value as a transcendental aesthetic framework, or his emphasis on Samuel Bailey’s influence over Marx, which doesn’t have much, if any, textual support). On the other hand, you basically wave your hands and say that since Marx deals with “objects” and, like, a lot of “different” things, which form relations with each other that are kind of like “networks,” he is, like you!, therefore an object-oriented ontologist, which is.. what’s the word I’m looking for… oh, absurd. If that makes Marx an object-oriented ontologist, then so am I whenever I make breakfast.

    Also, I think some of the above comments knocking on psychoanalysis for not being empirically validated are naive and so over-rehearsed after nearly of a century of being argued that I find it astonishing that they’re still made, or even still have any argumentative purchase, especially after structuralism. As far as I see it, it’s just an expedient tactic deployed by the purveyor’s of common sense, who’d just as soon like to see empirical proof of the dialectic or of a priori synthetic judgments. And by necessity, it never seems to merit on the skeptics behalf a moment of self-doubt which might cast suspicion on their thoroughgoing theoretical commitment to empiricism, which in that regard is no less dogmatic than dogmatism.

  32. BK: “As far as I see it, it’s just an expedient tactic deployed by the purveyor’s of common sense, who’d just as soon like to see empirical proof of the dialectic or of a priori synthetic judgments.”

    Kvond: Last I checked, people did not refer to “the clinic” as epistemic proof of the arguments of either the dialectic or the a priori synthetic judgments. But that being the case, just as real revolutions (in the world) and the Marxist inspired governments that they gave rise to, also have no bearing on the “truth” of Marxist assumption or analysis. When making prescriptions FOR the world, based on meta-concepts (concepts about what concepts are, for instance), the results of those prescriptions really don’t act as evidence, one way or another…apparently. Hell, 2000 years of “clinical” evidence that the “priest” as the psychopomp for subjectivity may or may not be evidence for Anselm’s Ontological Proof or Augustine’s semiology of the world, but indeed as long as people want to prescribe to us the practices of the priest (ie the therapist) via the authority of such abstract arguments, indeed both the requirement for evidence from the “clinic” (and real world social action based on such principles), and the testing of those authoritative abstractions, should be carried out.

  33. Your first point is taken, with a caveat: obviously the dialectic and a priori synthetic judgments, considered on their own, have no practical equivalent as does psychoanalysis. My above comment, which you quote, is more concerned with whether or not something like the status of the unconscious can be empirically validated. I don’t think this is the case, if only because I don’t see the unconscious as being quite so positive, or even “extant”: it has nothing to do with the positivity of something actually that manifests itself in the realm of appearance, but instead (I hope this isn’t too pedantic sounding, since I’m sure you’re familiar with Freud) with lapses in judgment, moments of oversight, parapraxes, bungled actions, dreams, screen-memories, and so on. It’s where thought isn’t. And for this reason, too, we should avoid any support of the unconscious that fights against empiricism by siding with dogmatism, which is basically Jung’s point of view (the unconscious as the sphere of rational noumenal intuition which derives its efficacy from a Monadic collective unconscious composed of eternal archetypes, and so on… basically astrology.) I think Freud’s position is much more subtle: the unconscious is not something actual, but only a structure about which we can say that it exists: it exists only as a certain *function.* So, if we talk about something like the ego, superego, and the id, we’re not talking about three empirically provable spheres of human consciousness, but only a kind of map or topology that can explain the conditions of empirically manifested phenomenon.

    But this is all a bit of a digression, since your point of contention has to do with the efficacy of the clinic. I remain somewhat Kantian in this regard, if only because I remain circumspect about how to best go about thinking the unity of theory and practice, which provides an underlying unity between the conflictual sciences (as Althusser called them) of Marxism and Freudianism. I really do think you need to unite the empirical and the rational in such circumstances, but you have to do it in such a way that doesn’t lapse into either skepticism or dogmatism (for Marxism, you end up with social democracy and Stalinism as two polarities, and for Freudianism you have ego psychology or worse, and Jungian psychoanalysis and even Kleinian object-relations [speaking of which, I wonder to what extent object-oriented speculative realism is a kind of pseudo-Kleinian theory, but that’s another matter…]).

    You see a similar tendency manifested in Lenin’s “What is To be Done?”: Lenin comes down neither on the side of worker’s spontaneity (Kantian sensibility) espoused by certain SDs, nor on the side of a pure intellectualist Vanguard movement (the understanding), though the latter is often falsely attributed to Lenin. He even goes so far as to point out the unconscious symptoms of both bad opposites: the former manifests its weakness in gradualist trade unionism, while the latter results in terrorism. And while both appear to be extremes of one another, the unity of their opposites is brought together by the “subservience to spontaneity.” One must instead bring together understanding and sensibility in such a way as to make a “spark” that sets off something radically new. I think the same applies to the psychoanalytic clinic, though I don’t think it exists in any practical form as yet created—not because all attempts to manifest it are doomed to failure because of the insurmountable gap between theory and practice, but just because it is really difficult to even theorize to begin with!

    Finally, I think your last point about “the testing of those authoritative abstractions, should be carried out” sounds nice, but I think the verb “testing” carries quite a bit of metaphysical baggage: who or what does the testing? How is it to be tested? It’s as if, just to test the efficacy of a theory, we need to invent a whole new set of concepts and theories just to do so. And then how to empirically validate those theories which empirically validate the theory they’re testing, and so on. So, again, I think it’s a deceptively elegant sounding solution that appeals to my innate sense of anti-authoratarianism, but I am not sure how efficacious such “testing” actually is in reality.

  34. On a more empirical note, I will say this: if the unconscious does not manifest itself, either through symptoms or during transference (particularly qua resistance and defense), then, quite simply, the unconscious does not exist.

  35. BK: “Finally, I think your last point about “the testing of those authoritative abstractions, should be carried out” sounds nice, but I think the verb “testing” carries quite a bit of metaphysical baggage: who or what does the testing?”

    Kvond: Testing is primarily the test of coherence. In this way I assume there will be good variety of metaphysical systems, or at least meta-epistemic systems (but things like the nonsense of Harman’s theory of causation would simply be tossed out due to overall incoherence and lack of explanatory value). The second layer of “test” is how these systems of analysis reveal the world to us, and our decided valuation of what they allow us to see. An objectologist, or what not, might say that Kant just gives too much primacy to the homo sapiens, and deprives us of real ecological understanding of our sphere. Or a Kantian might say that a Latourian perspective is moral-less, and deprives us of our valued place-in-the-world priorities, the richness of human experience and the redeeming aspects of rightful action. In the end, once the general coherence is established (and at some point the spade gets turned) it ends up being “what kind of world does this experience of coherent description bring forth?” In this sense, indeed the prescriptive value of such abstractions is taken into account, for they are a result of the world that theory reveals. At least that is how I see it. There is always a tension between tested coherence and prescribed result (with the revealed world lying between).

    BK: “On a more empirical note, I will say this: if the unconscious does not manifest itself, either through symptoms or during transference (particularly qua resistance and defense), then, quite simply, the unconscious does not exist.”

    Kvond: Sure, and if the demonic world does not manifest itself either in possession or the influence over our desires, then the demonic world does not exist. And if the planet mars does not influence our states of agression, then the influence of mars does not exist. There are always OTHER causal explanations for the events one thinks are confirming of one’s suppositions. A psychotherapized person sees possible “symptoms” everywhere. It is part of their conditioning as diseased so that they can then be cured or addressed or whatever it is that is supposed to be happening when going to a priest…err, I mean therapist.

  36. Kvond: Sure, and if the demonic world does not manifest itself either in possession or the influence over our desires, then the demonic world does not exist. And if the planet mars does not influence our states of agression, then the influence of mars does not exist. There are always OTHER causal explanations for the events one thinks are confirming of one’s suppositions. A psychotherapized person sees possible “symptoms” everywhere. It is part of their conditioning as diseased so that they can then be cured or addressed or whatever it is that is supposed to be happening when going to a priest…err, I mean therapist.

    I think these are false equivalences, and the failure to distinguish between ideological mystification and critical thought seems to offer as its only possible substitute the misguided notion that the world is a noumenal abyss composed of a multiplicity of “non-totalizable,” unintelligible causalities… which is its own theory masquerading as a non-theory. In other words, it’s basically an argument in favor of skeptical relativism.

    Also, I think that your argument benefits from an obscuring of the boundary that separates the theoretical and the practical in psychoanalysis. You can make the argument that psychoanalysis has no practical value, or insinuate its likeness to the Catholic Church, with analysts functioning essentially as priests: actually, on the latter point I totally agree with you; I think that analysts, at their worst, do tend to function as priests, and that the attempt to convert Freud’s critical work into a dogmatic orthodoxy, and its resulting litany of heresies, excommunications, and official creeds, is an unfortunate symptom of attempting to “systematize,” in a highly authoritarian manner, what was actually, to begin with, a heterogeneous body of work that does not seem to come together in an easily unified way (hence the whole period of the “Controversial Discussions” in the 1940s), and that contain no ready-made answers that could be easily graphed onto reality in order to imbue our world with “meaning.”

    So, in other words, I think that the way that psychoanalysis has thus far been put into practice betrays its theoretical premise (as with Marx, and in much the same fashion). You accuse it of providing just another Master-Signifier, but I think this is only true in the case of certain perverse practical uses, and certainly not true of the theories themselves.

  37. Levi, as mostly an observer of your fights with Mikhail (and banned from your website by association which is rather unfair, even if I never really commented there anyway), I would like to believe that your comments here are conciliatory, even if you go about it in a very strange way – but part of me has a sneaking suspicion that you are just trying to control the conversation and insert yourself here in order to let everyone know what you think which would be cool in any other circumstances but these, especially after you made it very clear to everyone that you despite this blog and think that it never really made any valuable philosophical observations in all of its existence.

    I think regardless of your motivations this time the noble thing would be just to let this one go and just accept that this battle is lost (battle for the hears and minds, I suppose) or won, whichever perspective suits you better.

    • The honest way is quite simple. Post the relevant material/comments over at larval subjects, and simply initiate the “real discussion” there. And, if you want, heap all the effusive conciliatory praise you want on Mikhail (as in Levi’s Jeckyl tendency is to his Hyde), from a distance.

  38. Mikhail,

    There is one interesting aspect of your post that is quite normative, the comparison of monogamy (Judeo-Christian I would suppose) with polygamy (exotic in culture). Is it your feeling that there are rigorous philosophical reasons why human beings should have one wife? Or is it that because we have been a monogamous culture, it is too radical a break (or simply unfair to the wifes we might now have) to start thinking about the benefits of polygamy. I say this because I DO know that you are using an analogy, but the power of your analogy, its moral weight so to speak, comes out of a certain cultural stance, monogamy GOOD, polygamy BAD. I actually think that your analogy is quite apt, but I suspect that it causes more justifiable problems for you, than it does for your imagined opponent.

    • My point was not that monogamy is good and polygamy is bad, I was trying to say that we can’t pretend that they are the same – if you give objects the same ontological status as you give to humans, you are changing the status of humans and you cannot pretend that there is no effect – that was the point of my illustration.

      • Well, when you write,

        “Imagine that I (male) decided that having one wife is so old-school and hegemonic, that this monogamous oppression has lasted for too long and that I need to change something. So I bring a second wife home and I give my wife the following speech: Listen, it’s not that you are no longer my wife and that our relationship is in any way different, it’s just that I think this woman should be my wife as well, I’m not putting you down, I’m raising her up to a new status, now everyone can enjoy me as their husband, nothing changes, you see?”

        There are definite elements of moral judgement (the sardonic doubts of hegemony and “old-school” and the implicit offense to the old wife).

        Further, there is the sense that the husband is simply being licentious, and only using “marriage” as a cover. He goes from having two wives from having “everyone” as a wife.

        But indeed if we follow your analogy, and that the status that we hold certain objects (called human beings) is like the privilege husbands hold their monogamous wives in, can’t you see that you are arguing for a cultural practice as the foundation of this status in the first place? So let’s say, yes we hold human beings as the most special and categorically unique objects in the world, and this is culturally so, why is it when we are approaching the subject matter from a philosophical perspective appreciating this is a cultural fact regards it as something of a demotion?

        I mean, the object-oriented one is not saying, hey, let’s all get married to as many objects as we can, but rather he/she is saying, hey, the reason that we privilege human beings in the first place is culturally established, but our primary bonds to human beings go deeper than that. Our primary bonds to human beings are not really like marriage at all, but in fact are very much like our primary bonds to all objects, questions of power and force (or something like that).

        Its not, Lets get married to everyone! Its more like, lets be polysexual with everything, let marriage take care of itself.

        I agree with you that this does change the status of marriage as it is commonly understood, and to the analogy, it does change the valuational scale on which the importance of human beings is weighed. I’m not sure that it “devalues” human beings (unless you think that valuation of persons is very much like marriage, a cultural construct). Instead it places “humans” (those objects) on a scale with all kinds of other things (those objects), and if humans are going to come out on top it will not be due to the fact that we are married to them. It will be some other determination.

      • Perhaps the correct, or more apt analogy is that of “best friend” and “friend”.

        If you are my best friend, does it minimize you if I have other friends, or if, in principle I do not exclude the possibility of being friends with anyone at all? You are my best friend for some very good reasons, most of which will endure the test of time and occasion, but this bestness is not the product of the exclusion me having no other friend at all. If you are my best friend and I have no other friends, you are also my worst friend as well.

        Now indeed if I am open to having other friends, and I welcome the friendships of others, there is a risk that if we don’t live up to the the high standards you and I have for ourselves one of these other friends might someday take your place as my “best friend”, but there is also the possibility that the richness that I gain through all my other friendship with improve and anchor my “best friend” status with you.

        For the object-ontic-ologist, to say that all objects have equal status is quite likely like saying that I could become friends with any person. This does not prevent me from deciding that one person indeed is my best friend, and that this whole host of other persons which most likely would never be a friend of mine.

  39. Pingback: Is Psychoanalysis Empirically Supported? « Ktismatics

  40. In the aftermath of this breakdown in public discourse I was going to put in my two cents’ worth about the empirical basis for psychoanalysis. But my ramblings got too long for a comment box, plus Mikhail’s and Shahar’s subsequent posts have buried this one in the archives by now. Besides, the psychoanalysis stuff was off-topic anyway. So I wrote a separate post at ktismatics instead: here’s the link.

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