Blog Cowardice


Objectologist the Son is at it again, another grumpy post directed at PE, but, of course, he is not brave enough to actually cite or link to our conversation here: we are anonymous others who say things and do things “somewhere in the blogosphere” and so on. Read the post – judge for yourself.

Strangely enough, the objections that the Son raises are supposed to show us here how the objections we raise only reveal to everyone our careerist selves but, of course, as irony would have it, the Son ends up revealing his own self in his hapless and sulky post – someone quickly post a comment there about how he is awesome and how all those jerks at PE will burn in hell.

As for the actual “argument” advanced in the whiny post, I give you two citations from Objectologist the Son’s recent posts:

Exhibit A:

The academic rat race is already competitive enough– the only equivalents I can think of are the NFL draft or getting a good gig in Hollywood –without having an online “paper trail” following one about. The point here is not that we shouldn’t have a paper trail, but that we should be attentive to the sort of paper trail that we leave. The grad students that publicly reveal who they are really have spine because their engagement online will impact their subsequent career in the form of publishing opportunities, presentation opportunities, and project opportunities with the gatekeepers that happen to witness their meritorious or not so meritorious interactions online, as well as the word of mouth that gets around in the small world of academia when names come up. That behavior will either increase or diminish those job, publication, presentation, and project opportunities, and those decisions will be made through a combination of the merit of the work that folks produce online and offline (publications, presentations) even when being assholish, and the good or bad blood generated as a result of various interactions, their civility, their generosity, their respectfulness, and openness to fair discussion.

Exhibit B:

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.

[…]

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, there’s no “on the other hand” in the last sentence, don’t look for it]

Conclusion: blogging is important and can get you ahead academically, blogging is not important since no respectable philosophers blog, therefore blogging cannot get your ahead academically. Go figure.

As for our “attacks” on Paul’s idea for a journal, they are not attacks and I would certainly not consider erasing anything I’ve said so far about it (I actually wished him luck with it), like, I don’t know, Bryant’s long and offensive rant against Reid that he since sheepishly deleted.

Levi, I know you read this blog religiously. If you have a problem with what we write, be a man and comment, you are not banned or forbidden – stop with this idiotic “some people say I’m so and so” and say it like it is, more people will respect you for it.

67 thoughts on “Blog Cowardice

  1. Um, I know we all have some version of ADHD, and that this gives us all memory problems, but didn’t we just agree NOT to react to this junk?

    Ever think that Levi is just trying to get your goat? Let it be ME!

    • Good point, but I think we have also agreed that we are all characters in MY HEAD and my head decided to react to this, so be quiet and do as I say!

      You’re right, of course, I’m slightly bored today, just reading at a coffee shop and someone emailed me the link saying – look, it’s about you! – so I couldn’t resist such an easy target.

    • I don’t believe we agreed to be characters in your head, so much as we agreed to be the same person, or to share the same ontological status. Your claim is tantamount to schizophrenia. Mine to multiple personalities. Mine’s cooler, and more egalitarian.

      In any event, I understand the allure of sniping on lazy days. It’s definitely a pastime of ours….

  2. 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!”

    Has anyone actually made these arguments? My inclination, hopefully not too psychologizing, is to say that the bizarre reoccurrence of the overbearing, patriarchal and repressive image of the stodgy Continentalists so often evoked by Levi in these quasi-autobiographical diatribes is more akin to the hysterical rehearsing, the fantasmatic staging, of a perverse fantasy of subjugation. In other words, his David and Goliath image of the all powerful cadre of phenomenologists and social constructivists pitted against the weak but devoted speculative realists ought to be understood more as a kind of textual hermeneutic, rather than an ontological assertion. See what I did there… playing the role of the anti-realist constructivist…

    So it’s either comedic or tragic that Levi should invoke (as he always does) psychoanalytic motifs, since the term “screen memory” keeps coming to my mind when I read these kinds of posts.

  3. I have to second Alexei on this one. It goes nowhere.

    Besides, what we say about what other people say about what we said about the objects of their desires says more about ourselves than it says about them.

  4. Also, I’m strongly tempted to use the word “idiotic” to describe Harman’s light-hearted jocularity in Levi’s aforelinked post, where he writes:

    Continue to serve me, my puppets, and you shall be rewarded. The great universities of the world are but clay in my hands, and none shall pass their ivy-covered gates unless I give the sign.

    Who actually thinks Harman is a gate-keeper to anything, besides of course, the SRistas themselves? Harman’s joke is therefore unintentionally hilarious since he basically donkey punches himself.

  5. I love the logic of his post, especially coming from someone who claims expertise in psychoanalysis:

    People say I blog because of X, but I don’t, because I blog because of Y and I should know why I blog.

  6. Bryank: “Has anyone actually made these arguments? My inclination, hopefully not too psychologizing, is to say that the bizarre reoccurrence of the overbearing, patriarchal and repressive image of the stodgy Continentalists so often evoked by Levi in these quasi-autobiographical diatribes is more akin to the hysterical rehearsing, the fantasmatic staging, of a perverse fantasy of subjugation. In other words, his David and Goliath image of the all powerful cadre of phenomenologists and social constructivists pitted against the weak but devoted speculative realists ought to be understood more as a kind of textual hermeneutic, rather than an ontological assertion. See what I did there… playing the role of the anti-realist constructivist…”

    Kvond: Interesting point, one I’ve often felt. By posing himself as EPISTEMIOLOGICALLY anti-Realist, Levi is firmly in the evil Continentalist camp. As posing himself as an ONTOLOGICALLY Realist, he is STILL firmly in the Continentalist camp. Hell, I don’t even know what this means. The Realist/Anti-Realist dispute is really an epistemological one, not an ontological one, as far as I can see (especially on the Analytic side where issues of justification are what is at stake). Kant could be said to be an “ontologically” realist insofar as he posits things-in-themselves. It seems that these guys have turned the happenstance of the minority of their careers into a MYTHOLOGY about the forces of philosophy itself, a great Manichaen battle. I don’t even know what it would rigorously (rather than rhetorically) mean to let objects “speak” or to have a “legitimate” role. What person does not think that that dog over there, or this tea cup over here does not, apart from questions of epistemology, actually exist as an object of some sort? Levi seems to imagine that he has put on the crown of thorns having adopted the (qualified) position of “Realist”.

    Is this ever more than the case than: All the bigwigs of philosophy are ignoring me…me and mine must be discriminated against? Perhaps this is the touchstone for Levi’s pressing need for philosophical alliance, the need for enemies. It is the simplest way to create a group.

    What I don’t get is that once you have found each other, and huddled up in a enclave of self-importance, why is it that you have to cast others as essentially bad types?

    Or…

    1. The Continentalists are those that simply want to write footnotes to the so-called Great Philosophers.

    2. The OOO-OOP Continentalists want to play at BEING the Great Philosopher (Harman’s advice: write as if they will be teaching your philosophy 200 years from now).

    Whatever happened to “hey, this is a cool idea?” or “Did you ever think of Kant in this way?” or “What happens if this scientific phenomena became a philosophical concept?” . What’s with all the mythology?

    • You can always delete the post. I recently posted on Levi’s absurd appeal to the KKK to describe the obsene blogging done by anonymous bloggers (I guess people like you or me are to be read as KKK members). The guy is so over the top in his sense of victimization and is frankly disrespectful use of crimes against humanity. Talk like that simply should be acknowledged for what it is.

      But I pulled it down after a day because honestly it felt like beating up on an emotionally (and politically) unbalanced fellow. Quoting him and directing others to his pos felt like an abuse. The guy has little control over what comes out of his typing fingers. In a strong sense, the more important Levi becomes in his own mind, the less interesting he is.

    • I have nothing to say as usual on the personal stuff, but I’m growing increasingly puzzled by the idea that the anti-realism of Continental philosophy must be attacked from within. Brassier has said it, Meillassoux said it, Graham said it just the other day. The more I think about it, the less sense it makes.

      • Perhaps just explain to me what it means to be an ontological realist (apart from being an epistemological one).

      • For me the Realist/Anti-Realist debate is a debate of “justification” which is entirely in the epistemological realm, the question of what we know and how we know it. To be a “epistemological anti-realist” is simply to say that when we say that we know something about the world we cannot appeal to that something itself as the justification of that knowledge. The ontological reality of the object, its reality beyond that process of justification simply is not part of the game. This does not mean that such objects don’t exist, so saying that you are an “ontological realist” isn’t a position of importance, as far as I can see. Its like saying that you are in favor of freedom, where freedom remains unqualified, trying to earn Reality points. Levi wants to say that objects need to have their “say” and “play a legitimate role”. If this role is not an epistemic or justifying role, its just lip-service.

        As a Spinozist I am an Ontological Realist and a Epistemological Anti-Realist, but I dont’ imagine that my position is running against the whole current of Continental philosophy. As I said, Kant could be considered as such.

        But perhaps you have a better grasp on the radical (and heretical) position Levi thinks he is occupying. Or…what it means to let “objects speak”.

      • For instance Levi “updates” his recent post (after declaring that Harman’s diagrams are “exciting” although his theory is head-scratching…otherwise known as incoherent), as if responding to our question Asher Kay:

        “One of Harman’s core claims is that objects withdraw from one another or never directly encounter one another. This is the Kantian moment in Harman’s ontology. Where Kant holds that we never have direct access to the thing-in-itself, emphasizing the relationship between mind and thing-in-itself, Harman generalizes this thesis to all relations between things, regardless of whether or not humans are involved. This is precisely why Harman’s ontology, despite being an ontological realism is also an epistemological anti-realism.”

        So someone can be a full-fledged Kantian (displaying the same Realist/Anti-Realist combo), but then if you suddenly say that objects themselves are locked in some sort of Kantian preclusion (which is an epistemic preclusion), now you suddenly are running against the entire current of Continental philosophy. If you are a Kantian Realist/Anti-Realist you are evil. If you are an omni-Kantian Realist/Anti-Realist, you are suddenly Good. But because the Anti-Realist position is specifically that of the question of “epistemology” (and in human beings justification), what on earth does it mean to claim that donuts and microwaves are precluded from knowing other things epistemically??? Such a claim requires such head-scratching things like Harman’s silly notion of vicarious causation which even staunch Harmanist Levi Bryant cannot get himself to make sense of (nor any other human being that I know of, including Harman himself). And who is it that says that doughnuts (those objects) and microwaves (those things) don’t exist? The entire classification by which Levi imagines that he holds some unique, heretical position seems to dissolve into seeming nonsense.

        Okay, so we say “Rubber tires ‘translate’ the road.” I’m all for this. But this does not make us “realists” in any meaningful sense.

      • I see. My answer to you would be that I see things the same way you do. Nobody has ever proven or disproven the independence of reality from our apprehension of it, and it seems impossible that anyone ever will, because everything we can know comes from the apprehension. Simple enough.

        So “ontological realism” is something we are capable of assuming (or denying). For me, the only possible value in the assumption is pragmatic — we see where it takes us, and what we can do with it. We use it to structure our speculation. We see if it gives us something more coherent and inclusive of stuff that currently doesn’t make sense.

        I don’t have any special insight into Levi’s position. It’s just strange to me that (for example) Graham would say something like this:

        This discussion is necessary within continental philosophy. It wouldn’t be such a big deal among analytics, who have always more or less looked realism in the eye and either embraced or rejected it. The continental tendency, by contrast, is simply to assume that the realism/anti-realism dispute is a pointless pseudo-problem, such that even to raise it is treated as a sort of vulgar gaffe.

        But within continental philosophy, it is, for precisely the reasons you were talking about, a pointless pseudo-problem. If you wanted realism to be something more than the sort of assumption I mentioned above, it would seem to make more sense to abandon the continental tradition — or at least to go back beyond its primary assumptions to a place where you can construct a paradigm in which it’s not a pseudo-problem. Why not just “look realism in the eye” along with the analytics?

      • Asher, I agree with this. It seems like a good general principle to me: if a disagreement is over fundamental premises that’s not an argument worth having. Faith positions always look crazy to each other. There’s no common foundation on which to build persuasion. The best that can be done is mutual survey of what can and can’t be accomplished with those premises.

        Would it be possible to shift our perspective of the discussions around SR/OOO/’Correlationism’ to understand them in this sense, that is, as versions of this survey? When SR/OOO claims that there are some things that correlationism can’t do based on its epistemological foreclosure, this is not only correct but explicitly asserted by correlationists, right? If SR says it’s speculating the real as its name premise, that pretty much defines its scope outside that of correlationism, right?

        I think we correlationists get cranky when the SR/OOO types do their speculating in a brash rhetoric as-if they’re actually penetrating the mysteries of the Real. But what-if/as-if is the stock-in-trade of philosophy tout-court, so why should that rankle? Science is always available if we’re feeling tired of the subjunctive.

      • AK: “But within continental philosophy, it is, for precisely the reasons you were talking about, a pointless pseudo-problem. If you wanted realism to be something more than the sort of assumption I mentioned above, it would seem to make more sense to abandon the continental tradition — or at least to go back beyond its primary assumptions to a place where you can construct a paradigm in which it’s not a pseudo-problem. Why not just “look realism in the eye” along with the analytics?”

        Kvond: The reason why Analytical philosophy took the question so seriously is because for a great while it was being the hand-maiden to science. Its great problematic was now to identify true propositions from false, or sensical ones from nonsensical ones. As soon as the proposition/world binary (correspondence) no longer became the driving aim of analytic philosophy, so did the Realism question fade. But in any case, in analytic philosophy, there never arose the position of so called “Ontological Realism”. The “looking in the eye” of Realism by the Analytics, was ALWAYS the looking in the eye of EPISTEMOLOGICAL realism, at least its possibility. This is a million miles away from Harman who doesn’t even have an epistemological theory aside from some absurd picture of allured and sensuous vicars mixing in an orgy of the mind.

        The larger question remains, what the hell does Ontological Realism distinguish? Who out there in the Continental world does not think that in some form babies, teaspoons, pulsars, etc are “real”? Even Rorty, the arch Anti-Realist bestraddling the Analytic School thinks that such things do exist in some non-human way.

        Once you dump the “epistemological” question of the Realism/Anti-Realism debate, I’m not even sure what is at stake.

      • Carl: “Would it be possible to shift our perspective of the discussions around SR/OOO/’Correlationism’ to understand them in this sense, that is, as versions of this survey? When SR/OOO claims that there are some things that correlationism can’t do based on its epistemological foreclosure, this is not only correct but explicitly asserted by correlationists, right? If SR says it’s speculating the real as its name premise, that pretty much defines its scope outside that of correlationism, right?”

        Kvond: What is “at stake” one imagines is that the actual claims made by someone like Harman are plain ridiculous, if you look at them clearly. They offer NO explanatory value of what happens outside the human realm (explaining causation in terms of the kinds of sensuous “objects” imagined to populate the human mind, only projected into fur balls and bank accounts). At the level of theory it is just one vast bill of goods. Further, if one was concerned about just what passes for a substantial or adequate theory, it seems to perpetuate in this causal picture, a rather inaccurate explanation of human cognition and experience itself, and lastly makes additional and bizarre claims about the physical world, such as “a meteor crashing into a large enough planet would have no causal effect” (paraphrased). When one can colonize the “real” with such sci-fi conceptions, and AT THE SAME TIME claim that you are more concerned with objects that most of philosophy, you are simply hocus pocusing.

        I know that this does not matter to you because you regard ALL of philosophy of non-historical or perhaps even social importance, but for those of us who love philosophy such shamanism and appeal to authority is besmirching. If THIS is the height of what comes out of internet philosophizing and thinking, the whole outreach of prospective intellectual endeavor is challenged. It just becomes a great big cocktal party of networking, making up on-line journals and “splinter” groups. Its just alliance building, emptily.

        When Levi can go on and on about the “us” of OOO and OOP, and utterly ignore that fact that he can make NO SENSE of Harman’s theory of the four fold and causation (which only yesterday after months of silence he finally said makes him “stratch his head”), people are no longer really talking about ideas and their improvement. Its just about club-making. The actual critical discussion of ideas is swept under the rug in the name of a brand.

      • Kvond – Again, to me, the “looking in the eye” is a recognition of the impossibility of an ontological determination, coupled with a pragmatic, lets-see-where-the-assumption-takes-us response to that recognition. So I think that ontological realism does arise in analytical philosophy (post-“fading”), but only as a presumption — not as something to be proven.

        So all of the SR/OOO people’s approach seems to me to be off, insofar as it says, “we don’t need no epistemological theory” or maybe insofar as it takes the centrality of the continental realism/anti-realism debate seriously. It would seem much more fruitful (to me) to take the pragmatic approach I mentioned, make a great normative argument about why speculation rocks, and then go forth and generate theories about reality.

        As to the larger question of whether SR/OOO really say anything new, let alone heretical — I don’t think we have any way of knowing until it’s clear what we can *do* with it. At least on the surface of it, orgies of vicars sound pretty interesting, don’t you think?

      • AK: “So I think that ontological realism does arise in analytical philosophy (post-”fading”), but only as a presumption — not as something to be proven.”

        Kvond: If no one is is advocating ontological anti-realism, then to say that ontological realism arises in analytic philosophy is pretty much meaningless. No one denies the reality of objects in the external world. You can find this in Davidson for instance, an anti-Realist. States of the external world “cause” our beliefs but are not the reasons for our beliefs. To say that this is ontological realism (as opposed to anti-realism) is silliness.

        As to what can be “done” with OOP or OOO, if the coherence of claims doesn’t even get off the ground (if the parts don’t fit together convincingly) I’m not one to wait around to see what it “does”. What it IS doing as far as I can see is putting a primium on “playing” the philosopher on the internet.

      • If no one is is advocating ontological anti-realism, then to say that ontological realism arises in analytic philosophy is pretty much meaningless.

        Yeah, okay. All I’m saying is that ontological realism is treated as an assumption, which means that the realism/anti-realism debate becomes sort of nonsensical, which I think is a much better approach for SR/OOO than engaging the whole continental set of issues. So we probably agree with each other, although I often find that impossible to determine.

    • Carl – I think you’re exactly right — and I’m not just saying that because you’re agreeing with me and you gave me posting privileges on your blog.

      Mikhail has mentioned this before. Here’s a quote from a comment he made on my erstwhile blog:

      I suspect that Levi takes (or used to take) my questions to be epistemological, i.e. takes them to be on a different level, because he knows that ultimately he’s just making things up and is unable to answer “how do you know X?” if he is producing philosophy as any sort of knowledge that can be understood by others, it’s going to be tough, but i think he just needs to come out and say that he is indeed a kind of a philosophical fiction writer, then all of his stuff would be a fascinating example of imaginative and interesting discourse where instead of unicorns you will have onticological differences and such.

      What he seems to be saying is that it’s not the unicorns per se that bug him — it’s the not admitting that they’re unicorns.

      So maybe the “larger” discussion is, “What makes speculation a good approach?” Honestly, I think there are possibly some decent answers to this with respect to SR and OOO. Take Ennis, for example, who sees in OOO a way of “reviving a lost possibility in phenomenology”. Phenomenological realism? Tell me that’s not a cool idea.

      • AK quoting Mikhail on Levi: “he knows that ultimately he’s just making things up and is unable to answer “how do you know X?” if he is producing philosophy as any sort of knowledge that can be understood by others, it’s going to be tough, but i think he just needs to come out and say that he is indeed a kind of a philosophical fiction writer, then all of his stuff would be a fascinating example of imaginative and interesting discourse where instead of unicorns you will have onticological differences and such.”

        Kvond: This is precisely what deserves to be placed next to Harman’s own admission that his philosophy is dangerously close to being a made up bit of nonsense, which I previously quoted:

        ““when new, is that you’re always within a few inches of looking like a goof or a crank cooking up homebrewed philosophical systems in the basements and attics of the internet. What you have to do to avoid that impression is keep on reminding the reader of the absolutely compelling considerations that lead gradually to a model of this sort. It is the (for now) end result of many years of reflection, and I’m already becoming more comfortable playing with it and getting new results out of it.”

        This is the thing, Harman does not present any “absolutely compelling considerations” or any considerations at all, that keep the whole ball of wax from slipping into unicorn land. That is, other than anyone who already finds Husserl and Heidegger extremely compelling. This is why Harman wants the “Realism” debate to occure WITHIN Continental Philosophy. It is only within Continental philosophy, and more specifically within Husserlian and Heideggerian suppositions that his dream-world gets the least bit of traction. It is parasitic upon the work of those two philosophers. Apart from being a radical break from the derivative commentary of Continental philosophy, it is strongly in the tradition of “what can we make with THESE ingredients”. Harman’s problem is that for serious Heideggerians there is nothing compelling about what he is doing with Heidegger, and for non-Heideggerians his whole theory makes no sense at all. He is preaching to a thin band of Husserlian Heideggerians who don’t take those thinkers TOO seriously.

        As for Levi I suppose he is preaching to Deleuzian Lacanians (and now Latourians).

      • Isn’t that true in most cases though? I mean to make sense of some intricate Kantian points you need an audience that already knows and appreciates Kant. In a larger context, say, teaching Intro to Philosophy to students who have no knowledge of any philosophy is going to be tough if you think they’ll be excited about the same things as the philosophical community, but in reality they have some philosophical background, it’s just not based on the same kind of knowledge and their questions aren’t formulated the same way. In a way then Harman is correct here, it’s all about making your statements believable and cogent and not obviously crazy made-up shit. For all those people who think Kant or Hegel are brilliant there are people who think that they are full of it. We’re not scientists, we’re not going to have an objective measuring stick for truth, so it’s all about faith after all and it’s all about those you trust or like to read…

      • Then simply stop pretending/claiming that you are breaking away from the commentary for specialists aims of Continental philosophy. In short Harman is selling specialist claims to non-specialists because specialists won’t buy them. And frankly, I don’t know anyone who buys them. Even Levi can’t make sense of Harman’s thinking on causation and objects.

      • If I understand Shaviro’s point about OOP being an essentially aesthetic position (and Harman himself, I think, said that much), then it doesn’t seem as though anyone is really pretending to sell anything to anyone. I think there’s a certain amount of realpolitik going on here, especially in terms of Harman’s advices on how to become a successful philosopher – all those things are true, it’s just that they are usually discussed behind-the-scenes and not on blogs. Maybe he is doing us all a service with his advice columns? I mean his real advice columns, not that stuff when under the mask of giving advice he simply describes his own way of doing things (like the disappointing “Composition of Philosophy” series that I followed for a bit until I realized I’m reading Harman’s writing diary and don’t see how it would apply to me at all).

        My real point is simple – I do sometimes react in a way that shows my conservative side: “Stop making things up, play by the rules” but in reality I know that philosophy is making things up, the only difference is how we do it and whether those who read us are in on it. I don’t think much will come out of SR/OOP/OOO as a philosophical position (I just don’t think it’s very interesting), but I’m sure it will create a new kind of cynical philosopher who knows how to play the game (wasn’t there a book of advices announced some time ago that Harman/Bryant were going to publish? I forget)…

      • [posted in the right place]

        If I understand Shaviro’s claim, it was not that OOP was an aesthetic position, but that the DIFFERENCE between his position and OOP was an aesthetic difference. This is a very different thing. This is to say that there is no argumentative, rational basis upon which to say which position is better than the other. In the consideration of philosophical positioning, this is somewhat problematic, for what makes ONE philosophical position more asethetically perferable is the coherence of its arguments. In short, Shaviro has come back around to his original claim that Harman’s position is “incoherent” (which he backed off from). So say that the difference between your own theory and another is aesthetic is just a way of simply avoiding saying that another person is “wrong” (and keep in mind, Shaviro had just presented a paper on why Harman is wrong).

        As to whether Harman’s position is itself just an aesthetic position, I told him this a long time ago. He is not concerned at all with objects, but rather with sensuous qualities. He wants objects to be anchor points just so his love of qualities has something to attach to. If you read his philosophy of causation you can see this pretty clearly. Aside from the difficulty this poses for the supposed titular object orientation of the philosophy itself, the whole thing becomes a big imaginary fiction, a pseudo-philosophical picture of the world with no explanatory value. Is this a bad thing? Not at all. Its just that the kinds of claims being made should be separated out. If one is writing poetry, than “what can be done with it” that AK is worried about becomes a different kind of question. And whether it is believable or cogent falls to a very different threshold.

  7. Kvond:

    2. The OOO-OOP Continentalists want to play at BEING the Great Philosopher (Harman’s advice: write as if they will be teaching your philosophy 200 years from now).

    Whatever happened to “hey, this is a cool idea?” or “Did you ever think of Kant in this way?” or “What happens if this scientific phenomena became a philosophical concept?” . What’s with all the mythology?

    It’s like the old Horatio Alger myths: why settle at being a mere intellectual busyboy, peddler, or busker in the world of continental philosophy, when you could become a star, rise to the top, and achieve eternal fame by getting your visage chiseled in the face of the philosophical Mt. Rushmore with the likes of Plato, Aristotle, etc., even if—or perhaps because!— your contemporaries (those dults!) look upon you with suspicion, scorn, and Nietzschean ressentiment. Those fools, they’ll all be sorry one day!

    • Yes, it seems like there is something of this working. The ignored genius – and the genius who parasitically takes ideas from well founded past geniuses, mixing them in creative self-authentic new ways (Harman using Husserl and Heidegger almost whole cloth; Levi the bricoleur stealing his “fallacies” and “principles” from this person and that)…

      I like this recent admonition from Harman on the risk of trying to become a Great Philosopher via hodgepodge synthesis:

      “when new, is that you’re always within a few inches of looking like a goof or a crank cooking up homebrewed philosophical systems in the basements and attics of the internet. What you have to do to avoid that impression is keep on reminding the reader of the absolutely compelling considerations that lead gradually to a model of this sort. It is the (for now) end result of many years of reflection, and I’m already becoming more comfortable playing with it and getting new results out of it.”

      Others of course, not aiming for Mt. Rushmore or Hollywood don’t mind being the basements of the Internet. What is “abosolutely compelling” about Harman’s philosophy I have no idea. He is in the basement with the rest of us.

  8. I pulled the post down a bit so it’s not so in your-face. I’m not deleting it, I don’t feel like I wrote something horrible or defamatory, just pointing out some strange contradiction. “It’s my blog,” as John Doyle says.

    • Mikhail,

      I don’t think you did anything wrong at all. But don’t you ever get the sense that when quoting Levi at length against himself you are dealing with someone…I don’t know how to phrase this…less than “all there” or at least not “self-aware”? It becomes like making fun of the retarded kid in class, or hitting an unarmed man. Levi thinks he is brilliant etc., but in some sense it seems unfair to actually engage him. He invites it again and again, but in the end he is pretty silly (not to mention offensive).

  9. Not to keep beating a dead horse, I sort of promised myself I’d stop commenting on all of this damn gossip, but I wanted to bring to people’s attention these rather suspicious and trollish responses over at Paul’s blog:

    http://anotherheideggerblog.blogspot.com/2009/11/ooo-journal-forthcoming.html

    It seems like someone is deliberately going out of their way to trolls his blog, making it look like a hostile commentator from here at PE by quoting or paraphrasing certain anti-OOO remarks made in this thread.

    Which would be…kind of insane.

  10. Mikhail, I sort of feel the opposite way about the OOP cadre and their work than you state. You write (or at least imply) that your distaste of their work comes from a kind of “conservative” impulse that they “play by the rules,” to cease inventing and stick to the tradition of scholarship, etc.

    For me, however, it’s almost the opposite. What I dislike about OOP is that, for all of their talk about revolutionizing philosophy and changing coordinates, I actually don’t think they go far enough: something about their philosophies appears incredibly doctrinaire, and I think it shines through in their techniques for reading different philosophers, which is always a good way to gauge someone’s level of inventiveness and “sharpness” (good readings, for me, are always *sharp* and *minimal* ones). The OOPistas either:

    * Engage in certain hermeneutical practices that often feel archaic or silly (Harman’s “one great idea” approach to reading Husserl and Heidegger, and to which he himself seems to aspire towards)

    * OR Tend to analyze philosophers didactically, as teaching tools (quite a bit of Levi’s commentaries at LS feel like this, though I don’t necessarily intend this as a sure critique, they can be incredibly useful for explaining new things to people like me). This is what I think is upsetting about their reading of Kant: not that it misidentifies the central problematic of the Transcendental Dialectic in KdrV, Rev. B or something, but rather that, if anything, they try to hold Kant too close to the text, as some sort of out-dated anthropocentric cognitivist, without thinking him anew, breathing new life into his works (this is why I like Shaviro’s claim, contra Levi and Harman, that he is a “Kantian SRist”). So not only do the OOPistas eschew in “symptomatic reading” to excavate new meanings, but when they do they tend to fail at it (which leads me to my next point…)

    * OR Genuinely offer attempts at crafting daring new readings of old philosophical works, but end up sounding absurd and unbelievable. A good example would be Levi’s ridiculous claim, “See, Marx is an object-oriented philosopher!,” which totally presupposes its own conclusion, and so I’ll continue on this point…

    Compare the latter—the ability to provide a unique and powerful new reading of some work of philosophy that has been discussed ad nauseum—to Louis Althusser’s reading of Marx in *Reading Capital*. Now, undoubtedly Althusser’s reading is heterodox, and obviously Marx himself never mentions “overdetermination”, “epistemological break”, “problematic” or “combinatory,” but Althusser’s commentary is so powerful and so exciting that it draws the reader in and makes one say, “I can’t believe I never noticed this before, this is surely right!.” This, I think, is because Althusser’s construction of a new set of theories does not occur OUTSIDE a set of new textual practices, nor solely WITHIN them: he is neither “inventing” a new philosophy, nor dryly trying to give meaning to traditional Marxian concepts like “socially necessary labor time.” Rather, Althusser’s genius is that his work occurs BETWEEN textual practice and active theoretical construction. He turns reading into an active, politicizing, and revolutionary tactic, which is something that I don’t think deconstruction was ever able to live up to.

    So to recapitulate: I am all for radical new constructions and readings of texts, but I find OOP’s to be dull, unconvincing, and, lastly, aesthetically baroque. I would consider myself an aesthetic minimalist, which is I think why Lacan’s formalization of Freud appeals to me and why I find Zizek’s notion of “minimal ontological difference” appealing (not to mention that Zizek is a brilliant reading of texts through “looking awry”). OOP is for me too doctrinaire, too willing to take common sense positions, too willing to draw lines in the sand to strengthen group relations at the cost of real philosophy, and too willing to ignore the problem of contradiction.

  11. Bryank: “…but Althusser’s commentary is so powerful and so exciting that it draws the reader in and makes one say, “I can’t believe I never noticed this before, this is surely right!.”

    Kvond: Your whole comment was wonderfully expressed. Really nice. But I think it is this bit quoted that really comes down to it. There simply is no “this surely is right!” but merely the hope that someone finds it such. Harman when I first ran into him was suitably talking about the metaphysical gambler, the need for philosophy to start taking risks, to be a swashbuckler adventurer, to leave the sure ground. In this perhaps he can be awarded a fine point. But if you go to the roulet table and push $100,000 of monopoly money and declaim “Put it all on 00 black!” this isn’t gambling. If there is no fear of loss, if nothing is at risk, philosophical risk-taking becomes just making things up. Unless you can be proven wrong, or shown to be incoherent, there is no such thing as the metaphysical gamble.

    And I agree, the idea that philosophy is made up of “one great idea” and then another, a mode of exaggeration, simply invites one to imagine that one is conducting brilliant albeit unrecognized philosophy, each time you come upon what you think is a “great idea” (such as Harman felt he had stumbled upon in reading Heidegger so many years ago). Hey, I too can become a great philosopher if I just come upon one Great Idea! One keeps checking one’s ideas, “is this a great idea? Nope. How about this one? Nope. Ahha, I think I have one”. This really is not how philosophy, or really anything progresses.

    • Kvond, thanks for the compliments. I hope that my remark, “This is surely right!” didn’t come off as too naive. My intention was to evoke the sense of awe in the face of the “theoretical Sublime”, not so much the eternal Truth of the interpretation itself.

      As to Harman’s own stated proposition regarding the virtue of “philosophical gambling,” I am of two minds on this: on the devil’s side of my shoulder lies Hegel, fully informed of the Kantian problematic, who approvingly nods in favor of speculative metaphysics; on the angels side of my shoulder lies Kant, who shouts “Within the limits of reason established by reason alone!,” sometimes to no avail. I find both convincing, but….

      …There is undoubtedly a “bad” kind of speculation, which evokes the “spec”/”speculare” we find in political economy: risk taking for the sake of profit. Certain forms of speculative behavior, it seems to me, cannot be separated from their metaphysical counterpart. Here I think Harman’s thought becomes something of a mirror of contemporary American attitudes towards finance: his speculative gambling in search of that “one great idea” inevitably leads to the construction of a metaphysical “bubble” (his defense and support of panpsychism I read as a symptom of this) built on unsure ground and upon the continual deferral of the debt it accumulates. In that sense, OOP can be read, perhaps a bit too reductively for my tastes, but nevertheless as a form of packaged, repackaged, and traded collateralized debt obligations, which will inevitably collapse once the basis is revealed to have been nothing but a “toxic asset”, a transcendental illusion, a house of cards.

      • I know Carl, amazing. Especially the defferal of the “debt” of explanation, and the emphasis on packaging and repackaging.

      • Yes. I had a shiver of recognition and tracked it down to a passage in my dissertation in which I described Lenin in much the same terms, gambling on tactical flexibility to defer the consequences of bad analysis into a speculative revolutionary future.

        Doesn’t Derrida suggest that meaning / understanding is always deferred because of the circular self-referentiality of language? So if Harman is really trying to do something new, of course that hermeneutic circle wouldn’t be closed yet and its riskiness would therefore not be masked by its familiarity. But how to tell that apart from snake oil?

      • Carl: “I had a shiver of recognition and tracked it down to a passage in my dissertation in which I described Lenin in much the same terms, gambling on tactical flexibility to defer the consequences of bad analysis into a speculative revolutionary future.”

        Kvond: Nice correspondence.

      • Carl, I think you have it exactly right. I think it sets up the fact that critique, as it was for Kant, is only a propaedeutic: what we need is a kind of “symptomatic reading” of speculative metaphysics itself, which serves to excavate a distinction between “good” and “bad” metaphysics (though I hate those kind of labels, since they wreak of moralism). What I mean more is, how to distinguish between speculative metaphysics that breaks free from ideology and its reproduction, and speculation that simply affirms or mirrors our contemporary financialized political economy. Not sure where one would begin with such a project, but it’s always struck me as something I might like to work on when I get to graduate school.

  12. bryank: “…There is undoubtedly a “bad” kind of speculation, which evokes the “spec”/”speculare” we find in political economy: risk taking for the sake of profit. Certain forms of speculative behavior, it seems to me, cannot be separated from their metaphysical counterpart. Here I think Harman’s thought becomes something of a mirror of contemporary American attitudes towards finance: his speculative gambling in search of that “one great idea” inevitably leads to the construction of a metaphysical “bubble” (his defense and support of panpsychism I read as a symptom of this) built on unsure ground and upon the continual deferral of the debt it accumulates.”

    Kvond: This is brilliant and in fact goes to many of my intutions about Harman and his how to beat the philosophical system advice, not to mention is oft appeal to his All American mid-western ethics. His own metaphors (and aren’t we supposed to take his metaphors SERIOUSLY?) go exactly in this direction. More than once he has claimed (and shrugged legitimate discussion) that “Spinoza’s stock is over valued”. What on earth does that mean? His intellectual assessment is seemingly made entrenched within a “market place” concept of ideas, and he wants to “strike it rich” so to speak, with his “one great invention”. The whole world will catch on and be selling his one great idea, invest now while the stock is still low. Your comments upon “speculation” really set these aspects into bold relief.

    Additionally they explain the very superficial nature of Levi’s alliance with Harman. He is buying some very low price stock. Never mind that Harman’s theory on causation and his ontology of objects (the four fold) causes Levi to “scratch his head”. He is just buying low.

    • Kvond: “This is brilliant and in fact goes to many of my intutions about Harman and his how to beat the philosophical system advice, not to mention is oft appeal to his All American mid-western ethics. His own metaphors (and aren’t we supposed to take his metaphors SERIOUSLY?) go exactly in this direction. More than once he has claimed (and shrugged legitimate discussion) that “Spinoza’s stock is over valued”. What on earth does that mean? His intellectual assessment is seemingly made entrenched within a “market place” concept of ideas, and he wants to “strike it rich” so to speak, with his “one great invention”. The whole world will catch on and be selling his one great idea, invest now while the stock is still low. Your comments upon “speculation” really set these aspects into bold relief.”

      I really like this elaboration, because I think it manages to convey, in clearer prose, much of my initial (and continued) apprehension with regard to OOP, the attitude of “striking it rich by jumping in early”, when the “stock price is still low”. I withheld my opinion, not only to spite Harman’s stupid philosopher-whisperer advice about making positive contributions, but also because I thought it was a somewhat premature formulation. Nevertheless, I think in some way the perspective of how Harman’s speculative metaphysics mirrors contemporary political economy also fits nicely with your argument you made over at Frames /sing, about how, in his very attempt to decenter and remove the human from the privileged point of access for any “first philosophy,” Harman actually naturalizes the human by smuggling it through the backdoor, vis-a-vis the Cartesian withdrawal-into-self through universal doubt (and its Husserlian extension)-cum-“objects withdrawing into themselves.” I am reminded of a hilarious/dialectical reading of animal rights that Fredric Jameson describes in his *Valences of the Dialectic,* apologies in advance for the huge quote:

      I will therefore preface this discussion with a remark about the paradoxes of Michel Foucault in a hypothetical Foucauldianism. Suppose we observed that one of the extensions of Enlightenment thought is to be found in nature itself, and in particular with an intensification of concern today with animals: it is a concern which goes well beyond the historical programs of vegetarian movements and has now been articulated in the concept of of animal rights, an ideal certainly to be welcomed when one thinks of the immemorial suffering of animals at the hands of human beings—a suffering not less great than that inflicted by human beings on each other.

      But now we are abruptly called upon to rehearse the classic Foucauldian account of “capillary power”: the way in which in the modern age power refines and extends its networks through bodies by way of the effects of what Foucault called bio-power: such that the old brutality on bodies was now, beginning with the bourgeois era, transformed into ever more subtle forms of knowledge and control that penetrate ever more unexplored zones of the physical and of natural life.

      It is a nightmarish (or dystopian) vision which will now with one struck suddenly transform our admiration for the animal rights movement itself; for we suddenly grasp the fact that “rights” are a human concept, and that by extending their way into hitherto uncolonized and untheorized zones nature and the animal world, we are preparing an intervention into non-human life and an appropriation of nature by human bio-power far more all-engulfing than anything the planet has hitherto known. “Animal rights” thus becomes the vanguard of bio-power’s totalitarian sway over the earth; and hitherto specialized philosophical minutiae such as the problem of whether a given virus should be made utterly extinct by human intervention are now cast in an altogether different and more sinister light.

      • Bryank: “I think in some way the perspective of how Harman’s speculative metaphysics mirrors contemporary political economy also fits nicely with your argument you made over at Frames /sing, about how, in his very attempt to decenter and remove the human from the privileged point of access for any “first philosophy,” Harman actually naturalizes the human by smuggling it through the backdoor, vis-a-vis the Cartesian withdrawal-into-self through universal doubt (and its Husserlian extension)-cum-”objects withdrawing into themselves.”

        Kvond: Well we are at variance when it comes to animal ethics and panpsychism, perhaps (I agree with your Foucaultian point). But this is at least the gore of the stick in the eye, very much close in keeping with the deception in advertising ethic in Capitalist commericialism. It doesn’t matter if the soap really makes you fresh and clean, its advertisment SAYS it does. It doesn’t matter if Object-Oriented Philosophy actuallly IS Object-Oriented, its very name says it is, duh. The entire thought that one is buying a de-centering of the human through Harman’s Cartesian objectology is goofy and frankly is deception in advertising. His theory of causation simply projects a bunch of Idealist fantasies about what humans experience into every object in the world. Not only a deep misunderstanding of objects (I would say), but also of human beings. That Levi (or Shaviro) won’t even touch Harman’s thinking on causation makes it an embarassment of the franchise. Gee, that soap really makes you fresh and clean. It is the worst sort of commericialism at the level of the idea.

        So you have a bunch of thinkers who are gathered together under the auspices of a NAME. OOP underwrites OOO (even though no one actually believes in OOP). And OOP is underwritten by SR (even though no one in SR agrees with OOP. Ponzi scheme. You have someone like Harman saying that never mind what physics says, there MUST be one-way causation wherein an object affects another object (via mediated impact), but is not affected itself (he uses the example of a bug and a semi-truck), and this fantasy is supposed to mean that we are letting “objects speak”. While Levi seems to be saying the exact opposite, that the sciences are somehow very reliable modes of objects speaking (just not in an epistemic sense). It is a kind of network of non-thought. I find your analogy to the speculative bubbles of Capitalism quite apt.

        What I try to raise in my recent blog post, inspired by your comments, is that the ideas associated with both the concepts presented and the modes of reproduction deserve to be criticized. Additionally, when one buys a supposedly de-centering philosophy of the human, it should be what it advertises.

  13. bryank: “Kvond, thanks for the compliments. I hope that my remark, “This is surely right!” didn’t come off as too naive.”

    Kvond: I don’t find it naive at all. I really think that this is what powers philosophy. When you read something that is critically very sharp and coherent so much so as to bring into strong relief new features of the world or of texts, there is a sudden intuition of how things are. The coherence creates a speed of thought, an electric line. Then one goes about trying to test out the details and see if it was chimeral, or what it is worth. And Harman’s thinking DID have a kind of bright, kindling effect. Only when I tested it out it lacked legs or coherence or relevance. The “one great idea” wasn’t that great. It was an island rather than a bridge. I was particularl disappointed with his essay on causation. It was pretty much then that I realized that this guy is more in the snake-oil salesman tradition (buy my stuff, it really works) rather than the genuine appeal to meaningful truths and actions that make philosophy interesting and perhaps even valuable.

  14. Are the OOPers selling t-shirts? I could really go for a clown and a ferris wheel or a diagram of the l’object quadruple . . . I see this as a whole new revenue stream to fund the inevitable Institute of Flat Ontologies. “The object recedes from itself and other objects” paired with your choice of evocative ontolobjects, like maybe an unplugged electric cord next to a power outlet . . . Next time the ontolobjectivists gather on Road 9 in Maadi they’ll have to buy me a delicious rotisserie chicken, to celebrate . . .

    • Sorry, mates, but Mr. Bjk gets today’s prize for inventing the word ONTOLOBJECTIVISM – collect your prize money the usual way, i.e. by providing me with your bank account number, social security number, finger prints, likes/dislikes and other important personal information.

      May I propose a variation? Ontolobjectology?

  15. Pingback: Harman’s Speculative Bubble: The Runaway Capitalism of OOP « Frames /sing

  16. Pingback: Velvet Howler › Blog Archive › Speculative Realism as Ponzi Scheme: On Financial and Metaphysical Bubbles

  17. Bryank: ” I think it sets up the fact that critique, as it was for Kant, is only a propaedeutic: what we need is a kind of “symptomatic reading” of speculative metaphysics itself, which serves to excavate a distinction between “good” and “bad” metaphysics (though I hate those kind of labels, since they wreak of moralism). What I mean more is, how to distinguish between speculative metaphysics that breaks free from ideology and its reproduction, and speculation that simply affirms or mirrors our contemporary financialized political economy. Not sure where one would begin with such a project, but it’s always struck me as something I might like to work on when I get to graduate school.”

    Kvond: This is very well said. I would only add, and in this we might differ, that our “contemporary financialized political economy” is not essentially “bad”. What is at risk when our metaphysics MERELY mirror is that an escape route for change and imaginative conceptualization is cut off or strongly diminished. What we want to ethically track are those correspondences and reinstantiations of aspects of our social relations we would much rather improve upon. For me this is distinctlly what is wrong with Harman’s Orientalizing metaphysics of withdrawl, that it duplicates some of the least desirable aspects of our social relating, hence my criticism of it as paricipating in a kind of colonialism. In order to be transformative or at least inspiring, metaphysics must also grasp (mirror) substantive aspects of our “contemporary financialized political economy”. The question is, which aspects, and at best, in conscious ways.

  18. A couple of thoughts:

    (1) This string illustrates what is great about Perverse Egalitarianism; something that begins as an expression of late semester, mid morning, this-coffee-doesn’t-seem-to-be-working, grumpiness devolves into a really interesting philosophical discussion.

    (2) I continue to think people should cut Levi more slack. He keeps his mind open to the muse and then works that out on his blog. Sometimes what he says at point A and point B are arguably inconsistent. O.K. It’s fair to claim that and see where it goes. Sometimes he gets grumpy or defensive about an idea. O.K. Also fair game. But I kind of feel like the main character in “On the Road” defending Dean Moriarity to his detractors here. The fact that we’re over here talking about Levi and Harman, and that the conversation has yielded so much interesting philosophy above surely says something strongly in their favor.

    (3) The only thing I fault Harman, and to a lesser extent Bryant, with is not getting the last sentence in the previous point. This is indicative of blogsopheric philosophy though. Any of us that blog enough have all responded to criticism in ways that are not to our credit. Again, instances of this can be decried without the implication that anyone is better than anyone else on these scores (and part of Mikhail’s charm, for anyone who fairly reads him, is that he takes the piss out of himself with equal and greater humor and insight as he does anyone else).

    (4) During the Braver reading group there was a lot of talk about ontic versus ontological realism. Man I wish we’d taken some time to think it through in terms of the way kvond is presenting epistemic realism and anti-realism. It cuts through a lot.

    (5) I disagree about the importance of Harman’s initial insight in “Tool Being.” Here are some reasons (and I realize that smart, informed people will disagree about these): (a) Heidegger himself is dreadfully incoherent on the realism/anti-realism issue. Harman beat the writers in the excellent new anthology “Transcendental Heidegger” in not only showing how the incoherence occurs, but also by doing the following. (b) Harman honestly presents his interpretation as one that preserves a large set of Heidegger’s insights, while also explicitly disagreeing with much of the stuff the Heidegger says. Despite the concern that they present cartoon versions of “continental philosophy” on their blogs, this non-hagiographic take (where you can clearly argue that the thinker is incoherent, but importantly right about this, and importantly wrong about that) does not strike me as anything like Sallisesque SPEPy Heideggeriana. (c) More non-hagiography. Harman has the guts to say that in a lot of the gesamtausgabe, Heidegger is just saying the same old things in repackaged form, and that in fact some of the material is not good. I’m sorry; that takes guts, given hagiographic high church Heideggeriana often is, and more broadly how hagiographic SPEP at its worst can be. (d) I would express Harman’s early central insight slightly differently than Bryant does (though they come to the same thing). You can tell a story about the vicissitudes of post-Kantian thinking in terms of the vicissitudes of the scheme-content distinction. Harman shows that a big chunk of Division One, Being and Time Heidegger can be read as plausibly externalizing the distinction to objects themselves. You may hate this view, or produce compelling arguments that the way Harman went on to develop it Guerrilla Metaphysics is way off, but I think you should still recognize that it’s an important piece of dialectical space that Harman bravely marched forward into. No one can judge these things, but for this very reason I can see OOO becoming part of the story. (e) Again, I’m in no way sure I agree with it, but the discussion it (and Bryant’s development of it) prompted in the glory days of interaction between the Perverse Egalitarian crowd and Bryant and Harman was pretty amazing. I mean you can to some extent judge a position by how interesting its refutations end up being and how interesting the debate these refutations engender, etc. So I think that paradoxically the interest of the above string entails something very positive about Harman and Bryant’s status as philosophers.

    (6) Those glory days are gone. Too much water under the bridge and all that. But I know I’m not the only one who continues to have a high regard for all parties involved.

    (7) Please rebut all the above (snark invited!). That’s why I post here.

  19. The order is getting messed up. My post, seven posts above was supposed to be after Mikhail’s snake oil post. . . Wait a minute, I’m assuming now that this post will be right after the snake oil post. But with what justification do I assume that.

    Now I’m reminded that Kierkegaard leap of faith does not involve going down a wooden ramp in roller skates in the Copenhagen arena (Kierkegaard realized this himself too late I think).

    Nonetheless, I’ll bravely post this in the hope it that the gods of wordpress are feeling kind.

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