Jon’s Points


[Jon, I’m reposting your comment as a post here so it’s not lost in the comments and all those “reply” comments don’t get lost as well. I’m putting you as an author as well. ME]

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.

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About joncogburn

Cogburn is a stereotypical beatnik, with a goatee, "hip" (slang) usage, and a generally unkempt, bohemian appearance, studiously avoiding anything resembling work, which he seems to regard as the ultimate four-letter word. Whenever the word is mentioned, even in a line like "That would work," he jumps with fear, yelping, "Work?!" He serves as a foil to the well-groomed, well-dressed, straitlaced Mikhail, and the contrast between the two friends provides much of the humor of the Reading Group.

102 thoughts on “Jon’s Points

  1. Jon, thanks for your observations. I think when it’s all said and done, I personally try to stay emotionally unattached because I know how crazy one can get debating all of these things in public. I also don’t think that I stake my existence on the correctness of my philosophical views so it’s easy to back out of many things, including some of the ideas I held dear for many many years – we all develop, we all change. I think the majority of heat comes from our fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of online interaction (it’s certainly true for me) – some people click immediately, some just can’t seem to find any common ground, and some people are just real dicks.

    • You can imagine the existential crises that ensued when I realized I that Mikhail was my own personal Cartesian demon. But this lessened when I realized I still had math (though I’ve become slightly more critical of the work of Russian intuitionists since realizing I was a thought in Mikhail’s head; is that too politically incorrect to say?). In addition, Hilary Putnam kindly convinced me that the sentence “I am character invented by Mikhail Emelianov” in the sense meant to induce skepticism cannot be expressed in the language of any character invented by Mikhail Emelianov (because “Mikhail Emelianov” in our language is a different creature from the “Mikhail Emelianov” in the language of real people).

      So basically times are good. Also, his beard not only conceals a noble visage, but is expressive of one as well.

  2. Jon, dont’ have much time so perhaps I should return to your post later. Really nicely expressed thoughts though. Off the top of my head though, as to…

    2). The problem, or at least my problem with Levi is not so much his gruff, arrogant, professorial profusions, which read as someone PLAYING the philosopher (which alternate with the kind hearted, muse-lead, self-belittling, and often depressed “Levi”), but it is the dramatic irresponsible way he goes about building his alliances. His non-critical treatment of the “us” of OOP and OOO is laughable, so afraid is he of actually offending a partner. Harman’s theory of the fourfold objects and his theory of causation causes Levi to “scratch his head” but does this stop him from making an alliance of thought? It’s just plain nonsense and no one wants to say it. Levi doesn’t even understand it (nor does Harman). Further, Harman’s approach to the sciences (he overthrows physics in his theory of causation) is diametrically opposed to that of Levi’s (who seems to think that objects “speak” through the sciences). Do we hear anything about this, even a peep from Levi, no? It becomes one big slog of “us”ness.

    5). I agree, Harman did some cool things with Heidegger. This was his One Great Idea (the kind of thing that he thinks makes up great philosophy), but the idea is incredibly derivative (commentary on another thinker), and doesn’t lead to the mock-up of objects he thinks it does. Part of the problem is that Heidegger is not the truth of philosophy, and correcting him with Husserl does not make him all the more relevant. The move back to Husserl and representation is a regressive move. And populating the world with a representationalist vision of objects becomes an act of science fiction. Cool to visualize, but a fantasy. And as a fantasy, but to be subjected to a cultural critique.

    Couple these two aspects with a tendency of both thinkers to participate in this “vamipirization” of their critics, Levi’s tendency to equate his critics with the KKK, racists of every kind, Nazis are just the kind of thing that invite others to not cut “slack” for these fellows. Honestly, the cut very little slack.

    Does this mean that the blogoworld is better off without them? NO. Does this mean that others should critique and test out and expose the bull where it is found, yes.

  3. Jon, this is a wonderful set of reflections. I’m not sure I agree with everything you say here, but everything is certainly worth considering in detail.

    Anyway, totally independent of any particular individual, I want to take issue with claim (5e) (I also disagree — as you know — about the externalisation of the scheme-content distinction; I really don’t even know what that would mean. but that’s a separate point, and maybe you could elaborate on it before I say anything more substantive). You write,

    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

    .

    I’m simply not convinced this is true. I mean, really, if you have a therapeutic model of philosophy, for example, the amount of discussion a position generates is indiciative of how confused the entire problem space actually is. Along these lines, consider just how unclear (and polemical) some of the criticisms have been concerning the modest claims revolving around normativity, justification, etc have been. At best, the criticisms that have been leveled against the “norm-oholics” are instances of talking past one another; at worst they intentionally miss the point. McDowell’s see-saw seems apt here. Again, it strikes me that the general level of philosophical discussion — inspired — a project generates isn’t really an index of its importance or even its coherence. IN fact, I would wager that incoherent positions tend to generate way more discussion than coherent ones: there are simply more lines of light open to us.

    For the most part, I would like to think that the most productive elements of the conversations here at PE were ones that tried to identify basic suppositions and change the subject by arguing that there is a paradox to all this object-talk (and now Shaviro is talking about a differend between relational and non-relational conceptions of objects, which seems to put us more or less right back at Cambridge, circa 1900 or so). In this sense, if there’s any value, then it lies in the object-lesson in how certain commitments lead to incoherent philosophical positions.

    But anyway, it’s just a thought. Engaging smart people does tend to increase one’s own ‘geniusosity.’ But that’s neither a mark of importance nor of productiveness: We can come up with all kinds of fantastical theories concerning the origins of objects. but for all that effort, for all the hamsters running in the wheel, we may just produce a frictionless spinning in the void, or a baroque instrument that has no use, a level connected to nothing in particular.

  4. Jon, completely agreed with your post (criticisms and everything), and thank you for your even-handed approach.

    Mikhail, I agree that a lot of the online disputes seem to stem just from the nature of online interactions. I think everyone has made misreadings, been unfair to people they’re debating with and said things that were inflammatory. I was talking with someone else about this earlier today, but it seems to me that one of the worst moves in online conversations (and maybe some people would disagree) is to impute personal motivations to people’s arguments. This is particularly true because most of us don’t know each other at all in real life. And it’s worse because it turns the debate from one about ideas, to one about people. So I try to self-consciously stay away from that move myself; it’s not productive and often antagonistic. Anyways, just a thought!

    Also, I’d be quite happy if we could return to what Jon calls ‘the glory days’, because he’s exactly right: agree or disagree with SR stuff, the debates around it were fascinating. It’s just plain fun to debate these ideas, and not simply be asking, well, ‘how would Hegel think about this?’ And so I think it’s a real loss for everyone (SR supporters included) if we lose the philosophical critiques.

  5. “Also, I’d be quite happy if we could return to what Jon calls ‘the glory days’, because he’s exactly right: agree or disagree with SR stuff, the debates around it were fascinating.”

    This is a bit of a rosey-eyed retrospective. I don’t think the debates were really ever that interesting. I think a better word to describe it would “noise,” and we’ve all had to waste a lot of time proving why. So I basically agree with Alexei that it hasn’t been entirely productive, perhaps on both sides of the aisle.

    I now worry that this thread will become another rallying point for the OOP blogosphere, a moment of self-congratulations, and a justification for why nothing should *really* change after all. But who knows…

  6. I don’t know – that just seems like a really cynical perspective to me. I’m quite happy to say that I learned things from the debates that I didn’t know beforehand. Did it come to some sort of consenus? Of course not, but when has philosophy ever done that?

  7. Perhaps it is a cynical perspective. But, by the same token, ‘learning things’ is not synonymous with ‘productive.’

    For my part, at least, I can honestly say that most of the discussion has been pretty much the opposite of productive. Leaving aside all of the personal nastiness that i directed at others and that was directed at me (which has really depleted and exhausted me in real life) I can’t say much other than I read a few books, and wrote some stuff that will languish online or on my computer but will never appear in a productive journal or contribute to a productive project. For me, the whole thing has been nothing but a loss of time and emotional energy.

    If it helped others, I’m happy to have done it, but I doubt I’ll ever bother contributing to that scale again.

    but again, that’s just me.

      • Thanks for the suggestion, Jon, I really appreciate it.

        This said, though, the only reason why my objection has any sway, is because folks aren’t doing their homework. Since the point is over 40 years old, it shouldn’t shock anyone — especially given the avowed relationships to Kant, and Kantianism. All I did was repackage a pretty standard kind of objection.

      • Carl,

        I thought we some time ago thoroughly discussed Harman’s advice giving on paper writing (specifically how one should just insert a forgotten philosopher for effect), over at your site. I’ve googled about, but couldn’t find the post. I find the subject quite germane to the question of philosophy and commodification. Do you recall?

      • Yeah, Alexei I think Carl is right. Most published philosophy nothing more than repackaged old points in new contexts. I don’t think that’s a bad thing either. The line between same-idea-in-new-context and new-idea is vague and unstable, forming a sorites series.

      • Harman’s “*Always good to bring an older classic thinker into the mix. My choice in this case is Giordano Bruno, who has so much in common with Grant. A critical analysis of Bruno’s Cause, Principle, and Unity would work perfectly here. Put it on the smaller bookshelf where I keep books currently in use for projects, where I will see it each day as a reminder to reread it when I have the time” quoted in that Dead Voles blog entry by Carl is utterly insane.

      • Jon: I totally agree that placing old ideas in new contexts is a great process, especially since ideas tend to repeat themselves over time. The problem is that speculative realism, or at least its All-American OOP lineup, considers itself to have struck gold in the frontier hills of California with its sublime discovery of some sort of Radical Post-Human Newness.

  8. If I might add to your comments jon, to the notion that Harman and Levi deserve some kind of break (perhaps for different reasons). The problem is that the alliance between them has become some kind of “black box” philosophy wherein it doesn’t seem to even have anything in the box at all. We see this in the evolution of the entire branding of the philosophy.

    1. We are told that Graham is part of a group of philosophies that is known as SR.

    2. When asked what makes up SR, we are actually told that SR doesn’t even exist (an odd claim for an objectologist that makes an object out of EVERYTHING).

    3. Then we are told that what makes up SR is being against Kant. When asked what is in particular about Kant, we then are told that it isn’t Kant per se, but that Kant makes up a figure of protest. What makes SR what it is is a kind of protest against Kantiness.

    4. Then we find out that Harman himself has a kind of Kant position, just exporting Kant to all objects, so he is Kantian without having Kantiness.

    5. So we have OOP (that brandname) which gains its ontological ground from being part of a non-existent SR. And then now we have OOO (that brandname) which in turn gains its ontological standing from being a “spinter group” (as Harman calls them) of OOP. All of them being against Kantiness, but not Kant.

    Leaving aside the other thinkers that make up the non-existent SR, the question is does this designation of alphabets designate ANYTHING? Or, is it an odd kind of speculative bubble that Bryan so beautifully described?. It doesn’t matter in the least, one can see, that Harman’s own position is incoherent even to Levi, his OOP provides the lynch pin that connects OOO to SR. It all becomes a silly charade of a philosophical movement, a charade in which Harman’s Tool-Being (which you defend here) plays almost no role at all. Does anyone understand what the radical break is here? What on earth does it mean to “let objects speak?”

    Instead, as Levi has aligned himself with a philosophy he scratches his head over, so as to become a franchise “splinter group” of OOP, we seem to have a fine case of the nth degree of a Capitalist device. The old adage is “Sell the sizzle, not the steak!” Well we have a whole lot of sizzle, claims to a whole movement, but where in the world is the steak? This falls perfectly in line with Harman’s own, Latour-inspired, concept of the black box. As he confesses in his book on Latour, a theory is like a black box. You want to get enough people to be interested in your black box to promote it, but not so many people so as to have people actually look inside and criticize it. Harman has successfully sold the notion that he actually has a philosophy (and a theory of causation) via a name alone, and Levi’s reluctance to engage Harman’s so-called philosophy on any critical level, falls perfectly in line with this “black box” philosophy process. Harman can make up an entire “movement” to which Levi can participate, he can have a non-existent philosophy of causation, and Levi can make up all kinds of black box terms like OOO, but also all kinds of “principles” and “fallacies” which hopefully will spread like memes everywhere. You call this following his muse, and it would be such if it were open-hearted and playful, instead of authoritative and deceptive. I remember way back when he borrowed the phrase/concept of the difference that makes a difference from Bateson (I forget what “principle” this is in his vocabulary). I tried quite hard to mine this concept in the context of Bateson himself. One can’t just take a concept out of a whole philosophy and do whatever you want with it. Levi protested, he is just a mere “bricoleur”, a tinkerer, putting together stuff from the scrap heap of philosophy. In the meantime he is pronouncing great truths left and right, and aligned himself with a non-existent movement.

    This whole “black box” process is paralleled with might be called an ideological front, the need to de-humanize one’s critics to keep them from peeking into the black boxes everywhere. Everyone who questions whether any of these Emperors or sherifs have any clothes are seen as projectless suckers of energy, undead and vile creatures that are destructive in their essence, even diseased. This insures that the whole “movement” stays together, that the black box of memes spreads, insulating it, immunologically. Never mind that it has no substance, it now has an ideology, again, some of the worst characteristics of Capitalist methodology. Suddenly every who deigns to ask what the substance of OOP/OOO is all about is a KKK racist or a Nazi fascist. My goodness.

    All of this of course is part of Harman’s great dream of a Scholasticism of SR:

    “What if I could wake up every morning and the big debate was between the eliminativist and non-eliminativist wings of the post-SR landscape?”

    http://kvond.wordpress.com/2009/02/28/the-coming-medieval-scholastism-of-sr/

    I don’t really think the point is what is being debated, but rather the dream that one has produced an endless debate in a black box of your own, where your own authority is insured by being part of the non-existent movement.

    I think that Bryan’s comment about the entire SR/OOP/OOO development being like a process of repackaging that simply divides up the “debt” of explanation in one huge Speculative Bubble is strikingly apt. When Levi can attach himself to a philosophy he doesn’t even understand how is his different than someone buying a dividend package that Bernie Madoff put together?

    • I think it would be awesome if this was just an elaborate scam, a kind of internet Sokal affair to show everyone how easy it is to start a fad. I would seriously be Harman’s first disciple if it all turned out to be just a big joke.

      • It is far more complicated than the Sokal Affair, but perhaps you should reconsider your position on Harman’s “Philosopher whisperer” prescriptions, eh?

      • I’m going to say this openly, please don’t judge me, I think that if Harman wasn’t such a dick (cf. lecturing Bryan over at Shaviro’s on how to read), I think he’d be cool to talk to about philosophy – he’s got a genuine air of curiosity and excitement when it comes to ideas, but as he himself pointed out, the manner in which one presents the ideas matters as well and in his case it’s a good demonstration of this particular principle.

  9. What I think is particularly humorous about the whole L’Affair de OOP is that, in their very misguided attempts at depoliticizing ontology through their fidelity to the Truth-Event known as Graham Harman, they end up reifying late capitalist folk ontology. And now, of course, that the whole thing has been revealed to have been nothing but an elaborate charade, we see the OOP-blogosophere forming two predictable reactions, reactions that I am tempted to call “real abstractions,” given that they belong to a material process that has allowed for the OOP bubble to continue growing:

    1) The superegoic laughter found in this thread:

    http://anotherheideggerblog.blogspot.com/2009/11/ive-always-suspected-that.html#comments

    Here what we have on display is a crystalline form of the typical wink-wink nudge-nudge, “Oh yeah, we’re all secretly working behind the scenes as capitalist ideologists, yuck yuck…” reaction. This operation of ideological disavowal perfectly demonstrates the logic of ideology par excellence, the claim that *ideology does not exist*, and all those who naively believe are the REAL suckers!

    2) We also get the over-rehearsed, but somewhat less ideologically obscured, type of response found at Philosophy in a Time of Error:

    http://philosophyinatimeoferror.wordpress.com/

    Here the argument goes something like this: “To claim X resembles capitalism is a typical academic strategy used to delegitimize X. But so what? Anything, including critique of X, produced within an extant system like capitalism, is going to mirror certain aspects of that system.” Well, yeah, that’s Althusser’s whole point in jettisoning Marx’s naive concept of “false consciousness”: no system or concept or consciousness is ever going to escape ideology. For all intents and purposes, IDEOLOGY IS CONSCIOUSNESS. But that is hardly tantamount to saying that one shouldn’t engage in this sort of cultural or economic critique, nor that they are futile. Additionally, it’s silly to say that this critique is just a naive operation that presupposes its own conclusion, since there is a bit more to the criticism than just “oh, objects.. must mean commodity fetishism.” That’s a pretty obvious strawman.

    • Thanks Bryan for these links. I had responded at some length at Paul’s site and am merely waiting for my comments to be “approved”. The other post I had not seen, and have commented there. I find the comparison between Harman and Zizek to be really misconceived. The important point I find is your thought of how Speculative thinking can pass the “debt” of explanation through repackaging (and, I would add, re-rating) of that debt. This was really brilliant and went to the intuition of what has always troubled me with the whole hubbub.

      I sense that there are important correspondences to be made between Latour’s Black Box analysis/metaphor and Capitalist commodification. The Black Box metaphor (and I can send you Harman’s book on Latour if you missed it: kvdi@earthlink.net ) invites the sense that the “trials of strength are not in anyway linked to rational or causal explanation. Althusser makes an interesting connective because under Spinozist influence he was interested in Marx as Scientist, the idea that one could actually discover the mechanism of what was going on, and through one’s understanding produce a kind of liberation or increased freedom. That philosophy could instead by conducted in more an Black Box, meme-spreading fashion, and remain “philosophy” is of course dramatically antithetical to either the concept of liberation through understanding, or the thought that positions of philosophy themselves require explanation.

    • “since there is a bit more to the criticism than just ‘oh, objects.. must mean commodity fetishism.'”

      Maybe I’m just totally confused, but I thought the whole criticism was related to the way in which the philosophical “movement” was approached rather than the specific content of the philosophy. Gratton’s response seemed like a non sequitur to me.

      • There is the way that the “movement” has been packaged and repackaged (let us call these its “trials of strength” in a Latourian sense), and then there is also the philosophy behind this process, Harman’s notion that “all every human being wants is to make black boxes” (if I recall the claim), and he overall sense that philosophizing is black box making (and black box philosophy’s relationship to commodification).

      • Still, “Philosophizing as black-box-making”, if that’s what Harman is really doing, is a justification for a certain kind of speculation. That lies outside the content of the philosophy itself, even if the content is used to justify the claim about how one ought to philosophize.

        To the extent that the “speculation” metaphor is supposed to apply to the actual content of OO theories, I guess Gratton’s response is appropriate. The metaphor (for me, at least) becomes neutral when it isn’t being applied to someone’s justifications.

      • AK: “Still, “Philosophizing as black-box-making”, if that’s what Harman is really doing, is a justification for a certain kind of speculation. That lies outside the content of the philosophy itself, even if the content is used to justify the claim about how one ought to philosophize.”

        Kvond: I’ve read this a couple of times and I can’t say that I fully understand it. I don’t know what you mean by “justification”. Harman doesn’t justify his black boxing by an appeal to Latourian Black Box thinking, rather it seems the reverse, BOTH his attraction to this aspect of Latour, AND the process of his which involves a “sell the sizzle not the steak” methodology are symptomatic of a general and commercial sense of what philosophy is and how it should be done. He is not justifying anything, he’s just doing it.

        It just so happens that his theory of “allure” also seems to coincide with the same sizzle not the steak thinking.

        AK: “The metaphor (for me, at least) becomes neutral when it isn’t being applied to someone’s justifications.”

        Kvond: What justifications are you referring to?

      • By “justification”, I just mean, “this is why you should buy into my theory” or “this is what makes my theory good philosophy”. If a “commercialist” metaphor is apt for someone’s theory (like perhaps Latour’s trials of strength or ideas about alliances), I say, “Okay, that’s interesting”. When it applies to what someone thinks is good about philosophy, I say, “Ick”.

        I see that you are saying that the two things are interrelated for Harman.

        I think there’s a sense in which the commercial metaphor is just generally apt, and can’t be effective as a way to impugn a particular philosopher. Philosophers in general can be said to be selling their ideas, marketing, creating business alliances, etc.

        The “ick” factor comes in when someone is simply a snake oil salesman — someone who knows their stuff is not good, but who thinks that the “truth” of philosophy is really just good marketing, and who thinks that they know the “secret” to being the next Heidegger.

        Moving from the general commercial metaphor to the snake-oil metaphor is a big accusation to be making. It’s an accusation of bad faith. It requires knowing someone’s intentions and motivations. You have to be very careful and thorough when making accusations like that.

      • Asher, I think my point is two-fold:

        1) As Kvond has mentioned, the object-oriented branch of speculative realism has expanded largely upon the deferral of a “debt” of explanation, by packaging and repackaging their ideas that have been premised on nothing but a transcendental illusion. The enthusiasm generated by this speculative bubble mirrors the structure of a ponzi scheme by drawing in more and more recruits, whose contributions put off the final moment of “settling the debt.” As Carl points out, it is similar to Derrida’s notion that understanding/meaning becomes “deferred.” In my opinion, however, this practical critique is inseparable from the fact that…

        2) Certain forms of speculative thought, and the actual metaphysical or theoretical aspects of their speculation, bear a strong resemblance to the hermeneutic circle of their movement’s own expansion, and, more importantly, to the realm of speculative finance. What I mean by this is that, once we removed the “limit” placed on reason BY REASON, we are essentially “deregulating” the market, allowing for a kind of ostensibly “free market” activity to flourish. Of course, what we quickly forget, but are inevitably reminded of, as in real life, is that such speculative activity is premised on nothing more than a transcendental illusion, just as actual capitalist crises are the result of a transcendental illusion (i.e., one that is structurally necessary) that relies on the gap between the empirical exchange of money and transcendental “value” generated through the circulation process. To put it briefly, both Reason and Capital strive to go beyond their limits, but in doing so they inevitably encounter antinomies. So here we have a brief if incomplete sketch of the relation between speculative thought and speculative economic practice.

      • AK: “The “ick” factor comes in when someone is simply a snake oil salesman — someone who knows their stuff is not good, but who thinks that the “truth” of philosophy is really just good marketing, and who thinks that they know the “secret” to being the next Heidegger.

        Moving from the general commercial metaphor to the snake-oil metaphor is a big accusation to be making. It’s an accusation of bad faith. It requires knowing someone’s intentions and motivations. You have to be very careful and thorough when making accusations like that.”

        Kvond: The “ick” comes when Harman advises philosophers to simply go back into history and dig up some old forgotten philosopher and make some vague correspondence simply to give their paper weight. This is about as disingenuous and “snakeoilish” as one can be. The “ick” comes when Harman imagines that “shock value” is a PRIMARY motivation for why a philosopher would present an idea, as he reveals in this case where he cannot even imagine why Heidegger would not talk about objects in the way he does, if he thought it possible:

        http://kvond.wordpress.com/2009/03/01/heideggger-never-says-and-simon-says/

        Clearly Harman advocates both in his advice to young philosophers, in his assessement of the motivations of past philosophers, in his thought that Great Philosophies are “one great idea” exaggerations, a huge “sizzle” over the “steak” commericial concept of what philosophy is, and what philosophers should do. This combines significantly with his own “head scratching” theories of “allure” as causation. In fact I do find him deeply disingenuous, and felt that his essay on causation was a betrayal of a kind, a betrayal of the sincerity of the reader. He simply wants, in fine Capitalist fashion, to keep his head down and produce his Product, caring not a wit for its substance or its merit.

        His “book” on Latour is a very fine example of this. Instead of a thoughtful engagement and revelation of Latour, it is broken up into one huge book-report like summation of Latour’s thinking, and the an added on insertion of his own ideas. What was really important was simply that the book be written, that “work” gets done, sold, established. If you pay attention to all the advice he gives, the man-hour amounts posted, he character’s typed (including spaces and periods), the timed number of songs he listens to on his ipod while working on a chapter, it is a all-american production line of text making.

        Upon this philosophy of text making, and name passing one can make some rather interesting comparisons to Latour’s thoughts on what makes a good “copy” and an “original”. I discuss the problems or deficiencies with Latour’s approach:

        http://kvond.wordpress.com/2009/03/08/the-flatness-of-latours-concept-of-origin-and-holbeins-the-ambassadors/

        http://kvond.wordpress.com/2009/04/04/the-copiousness-of-copies/

        If interested the problem is that Latour defines an “original” or a “good copy” sheerly by its replication powers, with no causal source grounding. If something produces a lot of copies of itself, it is either a good copy or an “original”. This is precisely the “sizzle” and no steak approach that Harman takes with his “head scratching” theories. Why should one include an ancient or forgotten thinker in your paper? Because it gives your paper the illusion of weight. Its like artificially aging your desk so you can sell it has an antique. In Harman’s thinking there is no such thing as “fraud”, there is only replication or not, there is only market place (just as in Madoff).

        Harman simply takes Latour and places an additional, ever retreating, vacuum-packed, “real” object behind all the artiface. Disingenuous, or authentic?

  10. This is the relevant “Black Box” quote from Harman’s Prince of Networks:

    “Black boxes face two primary and opposite dangers: too much attention from other actants, or too little. When a black box receives too little attention, it is simply ignored. This is actually the fate of most of the objects in the world. We are surrounded by trillions of actants at any given moment, and overlook the vast majority of useless flies and beetles that swarm amidst our more treasured objects. Most patents are for inventions that never catch on in the marketplace, or are never even built. Most novels and scholarly articles go entirely unread: not criticized, but simply overlooked. Black boxes go nowhere if they fail to become obligatory points of passage for other entities. The second danger for black boxes is the opposite one—that of gaining too much interest in the form of skepticism and scrutiny. The work of the fraudulent South Korean clone doctor was not overlooked, and neither was that of the Utah cold fusion researchers. Instead, their black boxes were torn open and laid waste by sophisticated doubters. We do not want our letters to the beloved to arrive unnoticed, but neither do we wish them to be challenged or critiqued, their grammar marked with red ink.”

  11. I personally don’t think the aim of philosophical discussion is consensus, though it’s nice when it happens. I did get a lot out of the Kant and normativity discussions, particularly the discussion surrounding Meillassoux and the discussions with Mikhail surrounding normativity. The Meillassoux/Kant discussions took place early in the development of my own position, when I was tending towards a hard materialist position. Those discussions led me to move away from that position where I came to advocate a realist position that generalizes Kantian anti-realism. This is what I have in mind when I talk about “translation”. I’m not sure that shift would have occurred had it not been for that encounter.

    Questions of normativity have just never been my philosophical raison d’etre. Generally my interests have been in ontology, metaphysics, epistemology, and social and political thought. Like many coming out of a broadly Marxist tradition, I’ve tended to be suspicious of questions about normativity, seeing orientations driven by normativity as obfuscatory or elements of ideological suprastructure. My discussions with Mikhail, along with Alexei and Pete of Deontologistics, have led me to appreciate these questions much more and understand why they are important. Currently I would say that I’m working through them.

    As for Harman on vicarious causation and the four-fold, I think there’s a difference between not understanding a thinker and finding them incoherent. Insofar as I respect Harman as a thinker, I do not immediately jump to the conclusion that because I have difficulty understanding what he’s trying to get at on some particular issue or with respect to some line of thought that his position must be incoherent. Rather, I reserve judgment and try to figure out just what claim is being made. It’s the same with Lacan, for example. There are aspects of his account of the borromean knots that I have difficulty understanding. However, I don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that the new structure of subjectivity he proposes through the borromean knots is incoherent. More broadly, I just don’t see a lot of value in the idea that philosophy should set out to demolish other positions. I think Whitehead got it right when he said that the most common failing of a philosophy is not incoherence or errors in argumentation, but rather overstatement. When viewed in this way, the goal of engagement with other philosophical positions lies not so much in demolishing those positions or showing how they’re “wrong”, but rather in showing where the overstatement is and preserving what is worth preserving in that position.

  12. In Harman’s defense, wasn’t it Bryan lecturing Harman and Harman explaining how his position differs from Hegel’s? Hegel demolishes the Kantian concept of the thing-in-itself showing how it is identical to its concept (the thinkable). Harman’s objects, by contrast, are perpetually withdrawn like Kant’s in-itself and can never be represented or known. To relate to them, for Harman, is to change them. Were Harman betting on a cage match between Hegel and Kant his money would be on Kant and the inaccessibility of the in-itself. The place where Harman diverges from Kant is not in rejecting the thing-in-itself on the grounds that it is knowable, but in the claim that this inaccessibility of the thing-in-itself is true not only of mind-thing relations but of relations between any objects regardless of whether humans are involved. I don’t see how Harman was lecturing. He was merely underlining how his position differs from Hegel’s. Moreover, let’s not forget what BryanK initially wrote:

    Not to say that he’s wrong, but Harman’s so-called “critique of the ‘thing-in-itself’” as you’ve described is nothing but Hegel’s. If Harman’s claiming that it’s his original argument, then shame on him, but if he’s just re-iterating or repackaging Hegel’s claim, then I think that should be noted.

    In one brief post BryanK manages to layer on sarcasm, insult Harman’s originality, diminish his work, and lecture him about how to read and write. There’s some dickishness in this exchange, but I don’t think it’s coming from Harman’s side. If anything, I think Harman’s response was rather restrained given the unnecessary tone of how he was addressed. I think all of us could do a lot better in paying attention to how we come off to others. If anything has caused friction I think it’s been not so much the content of things said, but the manner in which things said. And I acknowledge that I’ve been just as guilty of this as everyone.

    • Everyone’s been so naughty but…. (points finger) LOOK WHAT BRYAN DID!!!!! Yeah, look at all those bolded parts… JUST LOOK AT THEM! THE HATRED! THE ANIMOSITY! THE FURY! Obviously this is no match to anything anyone has ever said to each other here, including when you decided to Google search me and used personal information about me that you harvested off of the Internet to spew an insane, hate-filled diatribe out at me in the “For Reid” thread some time ago, which you’ve now since removed.

      And of course, Harman’s response, comparing me to the idiot that wrote the recent Chronicle of Higher Ed piece on Heidegger’s Nazism, was totally justified as well, despite the fact that Shaviro’s grammar was entirely unclear in his own post.

      So, once again, I roll my eyes.

      • Hi BryanK,

        As I said, everyone has behaved badly and said things that were less than civil. All I was pointing out was that you were the one lecturing Harman and even accusing him of plagiarism in that thread. Both Reid and I deleted our posts in that exchange for reasons of which he is aware and that we agreed to. For me the real question is not who was right or wrong in all of these exchanges, but how it is possible to put an end to it so as to allow for more productive exchanges on the part of all parties involved. I do apologies for writing the post you’re referring to.

      • Or, to put the same point differently, I think all of us can cite a long list of wrongs and how the other person has behaved hypocritically and in an ugly fashion. In citing these lists we’re all right. It doesn’t seem, however, that constantly citing these lists really gets very far and that actually it intensifies hostilities. So there are one of three options:

        1) Just ignore each other completely and cease talking about one another altogether.

        2) Continue to engage with one another in this highly unpleasant and unproductive fashion.

        3) Find a way to put that past to rest and begin talking to one another in a more respectful and productive fashion.

        Option 1 doesn’t really seem to work. At one point or another we’ve all said that we’ll just forget about one another and go our own separate ways, yet all of us seem to be too compulsive to really do that. Option 2 causes many of us (all of us?) a lot of frustration and mental exhaustion, so it doesn’t seem to be very productive. Option 3 thus seems to be the best course of action, but that requires a bit more self-awareness as to how we’re addressing one another and a reluctance to immediately hit the “submit” button when we wish to voice and objection or criticism. The ideal case would be one where the genuinely philosophical criticisms could be expressed and worked through without all the sarcasm, insults, ad homs, and whatnot.

      • If the revolutionary messianic movement known as “speculative realism” wishes to put a pause on the class struggle in order to achieve “realism in one part of the blogosphere” and “peaceful coexistence,” I am by all means in favor of this, but only with the hope that, once its arch nemesis recedes into the background, we get to see some mass purges take place.

    • I’ll give you this much: I regret writing the comment, both because I do think I misinterpreted what Shaviro wrote, but also because the tone is totally off. I never intended “shame on him” to become some sort of grand indictment of all things Graham Harman, a shocking remark that would echo throughout ages. It may have been flippant, but I don’t regard that comment as very significant. But it’s hardly like I’m insinuating that Harman is a “hoodless member of the KKK” or a “Holocaust denier,” as you’ve often tried to characterize your interlocutors.

      When it comes down to it, I see your post as an attempt at reconciliation, but in typical Levi style, you insert the final “fuck you” at the end, in a similar way to your old “For Reid” non-apology: “Sorry guys, this whole thing has gone out of hand, we’ve all misunderstood each other, but have also learned a lot…. But when it comes down to it, isn’t this whole thing really Bryan’s fault?” Real nice, Levi.

      • Bryan, I’m afraid you’ll have to take the blame for this one, there are too many “sins” on my soul already – take one (or two) for the team already, it’s a rite of passage.

      • BryanK,

        Maybe the question shouldn’t be whether you regarded the comment as very significant, but whether Harman regarded the comment as very significant. I think there’s plenty of blame to go around, such that pointing fingers isn’t very productive and tends only to escalate conflict. I guess the question for me is that of how to put an end to these feedback loops. I’m more than happy to cease making catty, insulting, snarky, or sarcastic comments to the best of my ability if I’m treated with the same regard or dignity. Like Alexei, I’ve found all of this to be extremely exhausting mentally and take no pleasure in it… Especially with people who, in more polite contexts, I’ve gained a lot from in discussion.

  13. How about maybe unbanning PE and everyone associated with it (I have to say it was a nice and wide ban) from LS? That could be a good reconciliatory sign.

    • Levi posted a comment in response to Jackson’s unsolicited request that we be unbanned from LS, I erased that comment as it was basically something like: “When I see that you jerks changed your tone, then I will think about unbanning you” – this is a good example of Levi’s clear lack of any social skills and basic understanding that condescending bullshit comments like that is why people think he’s a real dick in his treatment of others in the first place.

      I personally don’t care about the ban, but I don’t like lectures from people who propose some sort of peace and then proceed, in their normal manner, to lecture everyone about what they did wrong.

      • Interesting choice of deletions, Mikhail. I didn’t use any of the language you suggested. Rather, I said that when I see the general tone change I would be happy to release the ban. No reference to jerks, nor was there any lecturing. I also provided statistics pertaining to the number of comments that have been deleted on my blog, roughly 2% with half of that percent being genuine spam (ads and so on).

      • The fact that you are completely unaware of your very lecturing tone is hilarious, Levi. Keep it up, I’m sure it’s all one big misinterpretation and one big misunderstanding and you’re really just a nice guy and fuzzy on the inside…

      • A phrase used recently, I believe it was here, is “ontologically good”. Levi is ontologically good.

      • If one were a Presbyterian (or some other form of protestantism that has double-determination), then being ontologically good makes sense (as does ontologically evil/bad): regardless of what I do, I’m already determined to go to hell or heaven, so I might as well do whatever the hell I want.

        Of course, that only works if one is ontologically good. The rest of us ontologically evil folks need to work like hell to be ontically good, while infinitely resigning ourselves to danmnation and hellfire. Then, by some sort of sense of the paradoxical, we will perform some salto mortale whereby our faith brings foreward some kind of possibility of grace.

        Oh Wait, that’s Kierkegaard….

  14. BryanK,

    You write:

    the object-oriented branch of speculative realism has expanded largely upon the deferral of a “debt” of explanation, by packaging and repackaging their ideas that have been premised on nothing but a transcendental illusion. The enthusiasm generated by this speculative bubble mirrors the structure of a ponzi scheme by drawing in more and more recruits, whose contributions put off the final moment of “settling the debt.” As Carl points out, it is similar to Derrida’s notion that understanding/meaning becomes “deferred.” In my opinion, however, this practical critique is inseparable from the fact that…

    Do I understand correctly that you are asserting that OOO mirrors capitalism in that it attempts to persuade others to adopt its position? If that’s the case, then how is any philosophy or political theory to proceed if the requirement is for it to avoid trying to persuade others and get them to their side? Also, maybe you could outline just what OOO is not explaining. I try to provide arguments for my position and claims, so I’m not clear what specifically you’re criticizing here.

    You go on to write:

    Certain forms of speculative thought, and the actual metaphysical or theoretical aspects of their speculation, bear a strong resemblance to the hermeneutic circle of their movement’s own expansion, and, more importantly, to the realm of speculative finance. What I mean by this is that, once we removed the “limit” placed on reason BY REASON, we are essentially “deregulating” the market, allowing for a kind of ostensibly “free market” activity to flourish. Of course, what we quickly forget, but are inevitably reminded of, as in real life, is that such speculative activity is premised on nothing more than a transcendental illusion, just as actual capitalist crises are the result of a transcendental illusion (i.e., one that is structurally necessary) that relies on the gap between the empirical exchange of money and transcendental “value” generated through the circulation process. To put it briefly, both Reason and Capital strive to go beyond their limits, but in doing so they inevitably encounter antinomies. So here we have a brief if incomplete sketch of the relation between speculative thought and speculative economic practice.

    Maybe you could say a bit about just what limit placed on reason by reason you’re talking about and how this impedes the functioning of markets. I find these sorts of remarks perplexing from a Marxist point of view. Marx’s historical materialism, I take it, argues that thought belongs to suprastructure, such that the categories of thought and philosophy are disguised reflections of the categories of production within a particular historical milieu. When Marx talks about turning Hegel on his head this is what he’s getting at. Where Hegel has everything issuing from spirit or mind, Marx turns Hegel on his head and shows how conditions of production general a particular legal system, set of norms, governmental system, and form of philosophical thought. To treat reason as defining that system would be the height of ideology for Marx as it would be dehistoricizing reason and placing it outside this immanent field of production.

    I think the point with respect to Marx would thus be two-fold:

    First, there is no transcendent point of view or position outside of the current historical field of production. Any philosophy will necessarily be pervaded by the reigning categories of the current historical production.

    Therefore second, critique must be immanent critique. It can’t make appeals to ahistorical or transcendental criteria to advance its critique, but must rather proceed in a manner similar to psychoanalysis where the focus is on slips of the tongue, contradictions, bungled actions, symptoms, and so on. The sort of thing that will function as a symptom is Marxist would be things like crimes, workers shutting down factories and sabotaging machinery, etc. I don’t see how its possible to appeal to reason, in the Kantian sense, within a Marxist framework however. If anything, as Negri and Hardt point out in their latest, Kant’s theorization of the subject is a philosophical apologetics for the legal subject required by capitalist economy. Even the model of reason Kant advocates, where reason always surpasses itself, is characterized by perpetual unrest, and perpetually goes beyond itself reflects the movement of capital.

    • Levi… I am not arguing that some sort of ahistorical “transcendent” Reason is all powerfully pulling the strings of capitalism and history. What I am saying is that both Reason (for Kant) and Capital (for Marx) are compelled by a certain *drive* or *Trieb* to go beyond their limits. What are these (IMMANENT) limits, you ask? Well, the whole point of any “transcendental critique” is to show precisely that! The rest of your argument about historical materialism or whatever, one of your recent interests judging from its repeated appearance as of late over at larval subjects, is based on a misunderstanding of my post equating human Reason with Capital, which would SURELY be an utterly absurd argument and an easily refutable one. If only we all had the luxury of choosing what our interlocutors are arguing, it would make debates much easier.

      As to the first part of your argument, I can only point you in the direct of Kvond’s comments over at Frames /sing and at Another Heidegger Blog, as well as the various comments in the last thread on this issue, which are more substantive. Obviously, my remarks were cursory because those of us who have been actively involved in the discussion know all of the points by now and I didn’t feel like repeating them all, which might now seem to have been a mistake since I didn’t predict that you would seize on the opportunity to snipe.

  15. LS: “As for Harman on vicarious causation and the four-fold, I think there’s a difference between not understanding a thinker and finding them incoherent. Insofar as I respect Harman as a thinker, I do not immediately jump to the conclusion that because I have difficulty understanding what he’s trying to get at on some particular issue or with respect to some line of thought that his position must be incoherent. Rather, I reserve judgment and try to figure out just what claim is being made. It’s the same with Lacan, for example.”

    Kvond: I don’t know, “most head-scratching” seems a pretty evocative term. Levi grants Harman the same lee-way of brilliance that he does Lacan, which probably explains why although he has been exposed to Harman’s metaphysics and explanations of cause for at least 6 months now, (and has aligned himself with Harman in a general sense for maybe 3 months), and despite the fact that Levi is diligent reader, a voracious interpreter, someone who can un-knot the most difficult thinkers in the 20th century (Lacan, Deleuze), he STILL doesn’t understand Harman. STILL. Boy, this Harman must be some kind of genius. His brilliance remains impenetrable even to a relentless interpretative mind like Levi’s. My goodness. This is some kind of shit.

    How about Levi read Harman’s essay on causation AGAIN and tell all of us just WHAT Harman’s explanation of causation consists of? I’m sure Levi could spare on of his voluminous, “digital ink-spilling” posts on Harman’s brilliance, a nice 2,000 words on just what causation is for Harman (because it certainlly isn’t what Physics tells us it is).

    Yes, this is exactly how commodification works. There is a projection of essential worth into an object (here Harman the philosopher) which anchors all the investments and relations that surround its positioning. I don’t understand Harman, but the guy (must be) brilliant! What, a new diagram from Harman, so EXCITING! I love diagrams, they give us a “bit of the Real”, so here, in his diagram we might get a glimpse into the “real” of Harman’s briliance.

    Perhaps Harman is just THAT brilliant. He defies the interpretive powers of everyone around him.

    • Hilariously, Harman, seemingly reading this thread Mikhai (or simply sensing its qualities across the ethersphere), responds to the fact that Levi doesn’t understand his ontology, nor his “theory” of causation:

      http://doctorzamalek2.wordpress.com/2009/11/15/levilatour/

      He seems to (if I read his quote of Latour to be a real quote, and not just a game) actually say that Latour doesn’t get it EITHER. Ha, that really shows how it must be something. Not only does Levi not get it, but Latour doesn’t get it. Hell, nobody gets it. It must be really radical.

      The point is, it doesn’t matter WHO doesn’t get it, nobody seems to want to call it what it is, incoherent. That SOME people though align themselves to it (or its author), despite not understanding it, well, that is another problem.

      • Honestly, Kevin, I read that post just now several times and I don’t get the point of name substitution as all – what is he trying to say? Can someone explain this to me? Levi, if you’re still there, can you discern what he’s doing by talking about you and Latour?

        Is he saying that since even the great Latour himself does not understand X, then Levi is in good company of general head-scratching? I mean it makes sense, but not very much, because it presumes that his theory is so complex that not even the brightest minds can get it. I’m utter confused here – is he just joking around?

  16. ME: “Honestly, Kevin, I read that post just now several times and I don’t get the point of name substitution as all – what is he trying to say? Can someone explain this to me? Levi, if you’re still there, can you discern what he’s doing by talking about you and Latour?

    Is he saying that since even the great Latour himself does not understand X, then Levi is in good company of general head-scratching? I mean it makes sense, but not very much, because it presumes that his theory is so complex that not even the brightest minds can get it. I’m utter confused here – is he just joking around?”

    Kvond: Me too, I got lost on it too, and didn’t get the substitution or the point. But he seems to be trying to save the face of his loyal compadre who really has been very kind, until this slip, to utter a word of criticism towards his “theory”. Levi got excited by the diagram and opened his otherwise tight-lips. (Shaviro recently withdrew the word “incoherent” as well.)

    So yes, I think he is trying to elevate Levi, and get us to see that if the words were put in the GREAT Latour we wouldn’t think twice about it. Levi is a lot like Latour (they BOTH don’t understand Harman).

    That Harman doesn’t think that this exposes his own theory as incoherent or unbelievable is pretty obvious. But also revealing. Nobody understands it.

    The big difference between Latour and Levi is that Harman is trying to coatail himself upon Latour. There is no reason at all why Latour should do much more than scratch his head over the metaphysics of someone who wants to write a book about him (and piggy back his own ideas, trying to gain some sort of associative significance). On the other hand it is Levi who is trying to coat tail upon Harman, and the fact that Harman’s theory is unbelievable or “not understandable” has a very different cast.

    In any case, the post, trying to brush up Levi’s standing really works to make my overall point. Harman’s theory is incoherent and no one really understands it or is convinced by it in the least. It is a brand that gets its footing in its association with heavy weights Husserl, then Heidegger and now an attempted Latour, as well as a “movement” asscociation with the other more esteemed thinkers of the SR group. Levi’s just trying to catch the very tip of the last coat tail, making a priority out of NOT criticizing Harman’s incoherent theory.

    • Mikhail: I’m not normally one to stand up for Levi, but I do think Kvond’s claim about Levi not understanding Harman has been a bit overblown. There is something there, but not as much as he takes there to be, and I think Harman’s post about Levi and Latour was meant to clear this up to some extent.

      Harman’s point was basically the following: despite the fact that Harman and Levi have been grouped together under a single banner, and are sometimes presented as being closer to one another than they are to other thinkers (an impression for which they are at least to extent to blaim), Levi is actually closer to Latour than he is to Harman. What unites them under a single banner is more their joint determination to do some kind of modern Latourian metaphysics. Harman does this by deploying Heidegger and Husserl and the phenomenological tradition, and Levi does this by deploying Lacan and Deleuze. The fact that Levi doesn’t entirely get the direction Harman is taking the phenomenological tradition doesn’t thereby undermine their commonality, as it isn’t premised upon this in the first place.

      Now, I’ve got plenty of problems with this attempt to create a Latourian metaphysics, and I have further problems with both Harman’s and Levi’s particular trajectories (insofar as I understand them), and I think that their positions are often put forward as being clearer or more determinate than they in fact are (I particularly have this problem with Levi’s references to ‘difference’ and ‘translation’), and they might even bear some responsibility for failing to articulate their differences as well as they should do. However, none of this amounts to the kind of wilful snakeoil selling that is being talked about here.

      They can be wrong, and they can even be overselling a philosophical orientation that perhaps needs some more clarification (particularly about its internal variations), and they can even have bad online conversational manners, without thereby being disingenuous.

      I think we’d all do best sticking to the actual content of the philosophy. If we think its lacking, insufficiently clear, or just downright wrong, then it should be enough to say that.

      As a final note, there are plenty of philosophers who I love, identify with, and whose ideas I find exhilarating that I don’t fully understand. Deleuze is a good example here (and I don’t think anyone completely understands him, despite how much they write about him). I don’t think that should disqualify me from finding the bits I don’t entirely understand exciting. Especially if I haven’t finished reading them (and especially if they haven’t been fully published yet). I’d be surprised if everyone in this discussion wasn’t at this stage in their understanding of some thinker.

      • Pete, thanks for your explanation. I’m afraid that I did get that point and that’s why I was rather confused. That is to say, if Harman was trying to point out that both Bryant and Latour don’t get his theory of causation, and it is this puzzlement that somehow unites them, then he said basically nothing, because Kvond doesn’t get it either – does it make him a more Latourian thinker then? You can’t make any sort of real affirmation about X by simple suggesting that even Latour doesn’t get X. I agree with your point about reading and not always understanding thinkers, I’m sure everyone had that experience, but Harman seems to be making a point that this lack of understanding somehow shows something about Bryant and Latour and I’m not sure I see that it is exactly.

        Let’s be honest here: most of us (not all, but most) take the philosophical worth of a philosopher A on faith before we really get into it because we are told A is a great philosopher. What I take to be Kvond’s point (correct me if I’m wrong) is that Harmanphilia is just another example of such faith: Levi and others go into reading him believing his own creed – “We have invented a whole new world of philosophy” – and even if they find incomprehensible points (important for the overall theory nonetheless), they don’t reject the idea of Harman’s greatness, they “scratch their heads” hoping that the profundity will reveal itself later, which is a totally legitimate move, I think, but it makes one think: is this how I approach other philosophers as well? if I cannot understand Kant’s ethics, is it me or is it Kant? should I approach everything with a hyper-critical mind or should I trust that philosopher I’m about to engage is going to be making sense? and so on…

  17. Jon c: “Yeah, Alexei I think Carl is right. Most published philosophy nothing more than repackaged old points in new contexts. I don’t think that’s a bad thing either. The line between same-idea-in-new-context and new-idea is vague and unstable, forming a sorites series.”

    Kvond: I think it is a horrible thing when it is done consciously with an attempt to merely manipulate the reader, to trump up interest, to give the illusion of depth.

    As for the general practice of contributing very little to discussion other than creating another long line of footnotes in a self-referential system of text-producing and readership making, this is what makes philosophy what it is, an insider’s game of meaningless distinction making.

    The answer to this is not to come up with One Great Idea, One Great Exaggeration, as Harman claims, either. It is to genuinely explore the past of our community discussions for the relevance that REALLY matters now, and to articulate that relevance convincingly. I do not consider this a matter of “repackaging” nor of repeating a past point, nor straining for “originality”. It is making persons of the past who answered questions quite well, answer OUR new questions, a far cry from simply bringing a classic philosopher into the mix for some paper-writing effect. Its a question of engagment.

    • But it’s also a question for many of publishing or perishing.

      I hope that one can play the article game successfully and still manage to accomplish what kvond describes, though some of that won’t lead to articles. . .

      In this context though I do question the presupposition with respect to Alexei’s paper. He has a fantastically interesting argument to the conclusion that Harman ends up anthropomorphizing things in a way inconsistent with the critique of correlationism that Harman accepts. It’s worth getting out there, and the argument is either in principle detachable from the older problems with transcendental deductions that he was studying when his blog shut down, or if it’s not, it certainly adds something new. [NOte: I wouldn’t “out” the contents of the paper were it not that Alexei voiced earlier versions of these same ideas in blog discussion. If I remember right, he was the first to raise the anthropomorphism concerns. So all I’m saying is that a draft of a paper I read was really a first rate first draft, which is not something that is unprofessional for me to share.]

      • I have not read Alexei’s paper, but I long have argued that Harman’s supposedly non-human, object-oriented metaphysics is deeply anthropomorphic, especially as it begins, by admission, from “human examples” (as I think he states in Vicarious Causation). It is just one vast projection of a caricature of what qualifies as human cognition, and is very far from “object” oriented.

        I would be very interested in Alexei’s paper, but I suspect he doesn’t want to waste time denouncing Harmanian.

      • If only there was some other thinker who had spent a great deal of time trying to explain how the realm of human relations gets transposed/ideologically mystified into the realm of things, of objects….

        Nope, can’t think of any.

      • These are all very good points, Jon, Carl, and I appreciate the interest Kvond, Asher, and Bryan.

        My feeling about the publish or perish model of research is that it has introduced a number of journals or venues of publication simply to satisfy the ‘publish’ aspect. The whole thing actually keeps me up at night, since I can’t seem to get anything published, and I am usually quite slow in writing — herein lies the dilemma: to write something with the intent to publish is a huge investment of time and energy for me, which I can’t get back. I can’t write like either harman or levi — making connections is easy for me, but identifying structural, ‘deep’ relationships and constructing arguments is hard — so I feel as if I need to be doubly sure that I’m actually invested enough to write a paper on that topic. Anyway, well beyond any division of labour or specialization, there is simply too much being written, and too many venues of publication. Not only does that mean that a fair bit of schlock is published (journals need to fill pages), but excellent work fails to get noticed simply because of the venue in which it appeared. It gets worse, of course, for the rodents/grad students and people facing down tenure review who are anxious about jobs etc… I’m tempted to say that one bad publication (out of, say, even a group of 3 or 4 publications total), which job search committees can get off of the philosopher’s index, would hurt me more than no publications at all (and a published book seems to be the tenureable-standard for most continentally oriented dept’s — but do vanity presses count? what about up-starts like re.press? etc).

        All this said, I’m feeling under the weather at the moment, and maybe I’m simply under a dark cloud. Folks with whom I’ve interacted with, and who would like a copy of my paper should email me (jeitzeit [at] gmail), and I’ll send along a version of it, once it’s moved from ‘first draft’ to ‘second draft.’

      • Alexei,

        I hope you feel better soon.

        The article system just is brutal. Harman’s writing advice is spot on for finishing dissertations and for strategies for actually getting writing done (especially his insistence on the necessity of getting a first draft quickly then having something to rewrite). But it leaves some important things out with respect to people working in the article system.

        Given that the acceptance rates are generally below 10% in philosophy, you can usually expect to resubmit an article lots of times before it gets published. This is a lot of heartache (really stomach aches for me) and getting knocked down and getting back up. You have to be kind of mechanical about it. A friend of mine just expects that he’ll get about one acceptance for every ten submissions. My personal algorithm is that if I get 6 things simultaneously under review, then pretty reliably at least one of them will get accepted within 6 months.

        The other thing is that you have to balance the conflicting necessities of getting a rejected article back out there quickly and also using whatever comments you got to make it better. I always try to do at least a little rewriting, even if only to further idiot proof it so the next uncharitable reviewer won’t be able to make the same kind of mistakes the previous reviewer did.

        I hope this doesn’t come across as condescending. . . After I got my PhD I had a two year period where everything was rejected and it was really sickening. The above kind of advice helped me get through it and helps me still get through it.

        One of the things that still frustrates me is that my best articles are the hardest ones to get published, in part because the less trivial the idea the easier it is for an unsympathetic reviewer to come up with a counterargument to justify rejection.

        Also, in general in academia (my wife has a library science degree, and learned the statistics while getting it) an article ends up being cited 1 and 1/2 times, and one of those times is by the same author. And these are mean numbers, so if you take into account that a very few articles are cited a whole lot, the chance that your publications will be cited by anyone else is really very small. This is true in all fields, not just philosophy.

        The only justification I can come up for continuing to do it is sort of Hegelian. The system does work as a way for me to figure out what I think about reality, and in some sense the universe is becoming self cognizant through my efforts. That has to be enough though. The idea that your thoughts will be read by anyone else or, more preposterously, talked about one hundred years from now is very small.

        This is not that big a deal though. It’s much more upsetting that idiots will always rule and that the pessimistic things Marx said about ideology all continue to be true. But the comforting thing about that is that it shows that we shouldn’t take the value of our intellectual endeavors to lie their reception. You have to love the truth for selfish reasons I think.

        Wow! Giving advice really does steer one inexorably in the direction of windbaggery. Apologies all around.

      • Thanks for the well-wishes Jon and Kvond. I really appreciate it. And I appreciate very much your wind-baggery, Jon. Feel free to bellow advice whenever you feel fit.

        My biggest problems right now is (1) getting constructive feedback on material (yours have been extremely helpful, but with the exception of one reviewer at the Paciific Philosophical Quarterly — who took nearly a year to review the paper — most of my feedback has been quite literally, “This paper uses some terminology imprecisely,” and “it’s fine, but don’t publish it, since it’s obviously part of a larger project.” Not to mention the general level of snark some reviewers feel is necessary) and (2) being able to quickly turn around rejected papers and resubmit them. The feedback is less than motivational, and after more than a year since the initial writing of a paper, it’s really hard sometimes to get back into the same mindset. I’m totally fine with the idea of being a philosophical technician, and really don’t expect to be read 100 years hence. I’m just a little overwhelmed by the publication process. Like you, the process gives me belly aches and vertigo — I’m still drafting my dissertation, so my time — and loyalties — are constantly split.

        I realize I’m just whining though. Things will get easier I’m sure, once I have a better grasp of what the structure of publishable papers looks like (which all depends on journal….). Thanks again.

      • Yeah, it sucks. People use anonymity to be complete bastards. Often it’s from a kind of defensiveness that arises whenever there is heuristic uncertainty. I’ve seen this in job searches. Basically there are lots of really good candidates and you can’t get anything near certainty that you are supporting the best ones. For some reason, in these circumstances humans tend to do just the opposite of being humble. Instead they often become nasty and pretend to infallibility. I think the same thing goes on with journal reviewers. I don’t know if this kind of assholeness is more pronounced in philosophy than other fields. The argumentative nature of philosophy might bring it out more.

        The norm ought to be that on a recommended rejection the reviewer always gives the person detailed advice about how to rewrite the paper. A decent number of journal editors actually encourage this, but they have such a hard time getting people to do reviews and then turn them in on time, that they can’t require it.

        Like I said, the way I deal with it is to try to get lots of stuff out at the same time. Then at the worst I’ll get one set of really helpful comments to balance out the no comments, the mean spirited condescending snark, and the ill informed comments.

        Though I agree with you rewriting a four year old paper can be a less than rewarding way to spend two hours a morning for a couple of weeks.

  18. This went by the wayside, but upon looking things over it really sticks out (and perhaps explains much):

    Larval Subjects: “I personally don’t think the aim of philosophical discussion is consensus.”

    Kvond: I find the word “aim” an interesting one. When two or more people are having a philosophical discussion, WHAT is the “aim” of the discussion. I would certainly hope that the aim is consensus. That is, what drives us to make ourselves clear, AND also drives us to actually listen closely to what the other person is claiming, hopefully is that we can resolve our disagreements by finding out where we misunderstand each other. The aim, where we are pointing to, is a POSSIBLE point of agreement. That is why we talk, that why we listen, that is why we present our reasons. I is the hope.

    If we don’t have this as our aim, if our aim is simply to express our vision (even if others will never hear it clearly), with a kind of proclamation, then one might see how entrenched disagreements arise. We simply are not interested in the other person’s beliefs, because regardless of them the “aim” of the discussion can still be achieved.

    Now it seems that it often is a little bit of both. We hope for agreement, but accept just expression. But the AIM can’t really be expression, or self-discovery, weapon-testing, or even idea-hunting.

    This does not mean that philosophical discussion is valueless when it does not reach its aim, for in a certain sense just trying to reach such an aim, as an aim, has a kind of reward, I would think.

    When we blog (or even write books) we are doing a diferent sort of thing, which may or may not lead to philosophical discussion. And perhaps the two get confused sometimes. But I can’t conceive how one can ENTER into a philosophical discussion where the aim is not for agreements and consensus.

  19. DE: ” do think Kvond’s claim about Levi not understanding Harman has been a bit overblown.”

    Kvond: Actually, it is not overblown, it is underblown. Not only does Levi not understand Harman’s theory of causation, Harman doesn’t even understand the theory (let alone anyone else in the English speaking world). This is pretty clear from reading the essay which actually becomes a long goose chase of objects and processes that offer NO explantion, and in fact dissolve into a kind of vague nonsense. Go again, read the essay DE, and YOU tell me what his explanation is:

    https://pervegalit.files.wordpress.com/2008/06/harman_vicarious_causation.pdf

    But, more than this, Harman goes on, beyond his essay in lecture to cite physical examples of his causation (for instance how a meteor that is small enough and a planet that is large enough would produce his “one-way” causation, where one thing effects another, but isn’t effected in the least), that are simply foolish.

    No one knows what he is talking about. Levi’s failure at the critical level as well can be seen in his treatment of Harman’s book on Latour. It is basically a book report summation of Latours ideas. Levi raved about it, how exciting the book is (ignoring the non-contributive nature of it, the way in which Harman tries to insinuate a mutuality between his bizarre metaphysics and Latour’s), building the illusion that Harman had actually written something of substance. I think the book is great as a ciff’s note access to Latour’s concepts, but the way that Levi treated it it showed Harman to be the next Deleuze, which is pretty crazy.

    There is just a general kid’s gloves approach to the non-sensical and non-substantive in Harman’s thinking, a polite silence by which one simply does not engage his thought in its particulars, and instead tries to find alliance with it at the WIDEST parameters.

    • Kvond: I have read Harman’s essay (although I haven’t read much else of his work), and I suspect that our opinions of his approach are similar (i.e., that it is more radically anthropocentric than non-anthropocentric). However, one must bear in mind that it is not meant to be a finished theory, but is a kind of introduction to a theory of causation in progress. As such, I can’t explain Harman’s theory of ‘allure’ and how its meant to fix the problems the essay tries to present, because its just hinted at. However, it is very explicit about this being a hint.

      You might want to say that excitement about this approach is overblown if all there is here is a hint at a theory which is yet to be fully worked out, and I think there is something to that. But, its not as if there is nothing else there in Harman’s work that people could be interested in, other than this hinted at metaphysics of allure. And its not as if that there is nothing in that paper other than this hint. There is stuff there. Its stuff that someone could feasibly get excited about and should be allowed to get excited about.

      We both just happen to think that it’s wrong. Why not just stick with explaining why its wrong, and pointing out precisely where its incomplete, rather than getting caught up in all this hyperbole about capitalist philosophy and rampant nonsense? This seems to be enough to make a case for why people shouldn’t be excited about it, which seems to have more point to it than commenting on the very fact of the excitement itself.

      Lets stop psychoanalysing each other and just get on with the philosophy. We’ll all be better off, be we norm-o-maniacs or object-oriented capitalists🙂

      • I think this is not a matter of “allowing to get excited” about something. Of course, anyone is allowed to get excited about anything, I don’t think anyone here argued that our excitement is illegitimate or that we mustn’t get excited until we look into it with sober unexcited eyes. I think we’re saying exactly the opposite, there’s plenty to be excited about here because it is presented as something most of us would perceive as an exciting philosophy: it’s new, it’s counter-traditional, it’s rebellious and so on – how not to get excited? The real issue is whether after all of this excitement has settled we have any substance, i.e. whether this was true or false advertisement. Minus the enormous amount of Harman’s explicit and nauseating self-promotion, this conversation reminds me of early reactions to Derrida – until today we have people who claim he was a charlatan (intentionally misleading and playing his obscure game to screw with us) and people who claim he was a genius. Harman’s of course no Derrida – not because he’s not as smart or exciting, it’s just too early to tell since he hasn’t published his equivalent of, say, Writing and Difference or Margins of Philosophy – but the dynamic of reception seems similar. Again, as I said before, one reaction is to blame Harman for being unclear, another is to blame oneself to being unable to grasp it, and both are legitimate, I think, and need to be put forth.

  20. ME: “Let’s be honest here: most of us (not all, but most) take the philosophical worth of a philosopher A on faith before we really get into it because we are told A is a great philosopher. What I take to be Kvond’s point (correct me if I’m wrong) is that Harmanphilia is just another example of such faith: Levi and others go into reading him believing his own creed – “We have invented a whole new world of philosophy” – and even if they find incomprehensible points (important for overall theory nonetheless), they don’t reject the idea of Harman’s greatness, they “scratch their heads” hoping that the profundity will reveal itself later, which is a totally legitimate move, I think, but it makes one think: is this how I approach other philosophers as well?”

    Kvond: This is really well put, and it is here that Bryank’s analogy to Speculative Bubble makes good sense. This is exactly how one goes into buying financial products. One walks into Madoff’s office, and if there are enough computer screens glowing and phones rings, AND if enough other big wigs are buying the stuff, then hey, there has to be something there. It is an elementary faith, and not a BAD faith.

    But there has to be something to it, the products have to represent something, it cannot be as Bryank put it “debt deffered”. Beside the initial faith that have lead people to Harman (based upon some cool thoughts on Heidegger and Tool Being, a simplification), there has been a kind of Capital runaway. Since the idea of Tool Being Harman has created exotic combinations with Husserl and now reaching for Latour, and in such built up a bubble of theory making and exotic object thought (he confesses that Particle Physicists get to have all the fun, why not philosophers) which actually has been quite substanceless. G. Metaphysics is a nice day dream, not rigorous philosophy. As I’ve tried to point out, his theory of causation is non-existent, and his book on Latour is a non-book.

    What is lacking, outside this intial moment of faith, is the will to actually critique his thought and theory. It contains no explanatory value really, so in a sense it seems unfair to actually critique it and hold it to a standard. Shaviro, who is the soberest of interesting new philosophers made the mistake of calling it “incoherent” only to withdraw and say that perhaps the differences between his theory and Harman’s are Aesthetic:
    http://kvond.wordpress.com/2009/11/09/in-praise-of-aesthetics-over-philosophy-the-metaphors-of-projection/

    I have not read Shaviro’s criticism, against which this appeal to aesthetics forms some kind of apology or softening of the blow, but this is the most critical attention Harman has recieved. Levi has been all about affirmation, all about embrace, trying as hard as he can to find any point of agreement despite the fact that they seem to have diametrically OPPOSED views of science. No one seems to want to say what they have surely found out: This makes no sense.

    And the longer that an orbit of non-criticism circles around Harman’s work, the more others who come to approach it get the sense, this must be really solid stuff. The orb of faith increases. Soon Harman is positioned well within a “movement” against….what, I don’t even know. Further though, his tactics of association and “shock value” philosophy, One Great Exaggertion, also start to proliferate, we can just conduct philosophy in THIS way.

    • Going off on this, I want to explain at least one of the misconceptions that Deontologistic’s post addresses, which focuses on the difference between “sincere” philosophical inquiry and deliberately beguiling people with obscurantist research.

      1) First, I want to briefly cover an intellectual historical issue that has some bearing on this debate: the Anglo-Saxon philosophical-academic reception of Jacques Derrida’s ideas. As pretty much everybody knows, Derridean thought and deconstruction were seen as deliberately obscurantist, particularly by more analytically-inclined philosophers of the day. One might say the rejection of deconstruction in a wide array of philosophy departments is what opened up the field of comparative literature, which became a new critical space to do *real* theory.

      I think this historical legacy of conservative skepticism towards the new and obscure is in some ways important, but not entirely relevant in the way that supporters or fellow-travellers of speculative realism view it to be. For one, I am not of the opinion—nor are many of us that are in some ways against OOP—that philosophy should be concerned entirely with examining “the canon,” as so many variations on textual interpretation and so on, the kind of thing that Levi is always ranting about from his bully pulpit at Larval Subjects. I am all for radical new systems, inventiveness, and a spirit of a return to metaphysics and ontology and all of the things that textual traditionalism and deconstruction alike swore off of, considered *Denkverbot*.

      But that’s not a real substantive difference, the difference lies elsewhere: even when Derrida was under the fiercest of attacks by his conservative-minded critics, who charged him with nihilism and all the other litany of anathemas and what have you, there was still a large contingent of people who not only took Derrida seriously, but understood many of his most complex ideas. While it is, I think, an open question as to what degree Harman has made a genuine contribution to the field of philosophy (personally, I don’t view his critique of anthropocentrism as entirely convincing nor original, and the same goes for his depoliticized ontological universe of withdrawn objects), not a single person has claimed that they understand Harman’s theory of causation: neither Levi, nor even Latour, the Prince of Networks himself. This is astonishing, and absolutely underemphasized: as Kvond argued, Levi has dedicated his life towards unknotting some of the most complicated thinkers who have ever lived, including Lacan and Deleuze. So, even though this might not count as direct evidence of Harman’s disingenuousness, it *should* (normatively speaking) elicit some degree of skepticism on our part.

      2) Now I’d like to turn to the issue of the initial “faith” when approaching a philosophy for the first time. I am wholeheartedly in favor of this, principally because I reject the alternatives (skepticism, relativism, historicism, empiricism), and also because, at a basic ethical level, we owe it to others to grant them a modicum of respect when assessing their work: to treat it *as if* it has some inherent worth prior to determining whether this be the case or not. If we presuppose from the outset that the philosophical work is not sincere, then all end up doing is confirming our own hypotheses, which—although it often works for the sciences—is not necessarily an effective hermeneutical practice.

      Personally, I was excited by Graham’s blog when it was first introduced, as I think were most in the philosophy blogosphere. I would also praise the speculative realist movement as a whole for breaking away from the dominant trends in continental philosophy associated with textual analysis, turning their efforts towards constructing new systems. But this is precisely where we need to distinguish that initial faith with a dose of skepticism. While many have continued their fidelity to the Truth-Event known as Graham Harman, it has become increasingly clear to me and others that his most central, core ideas do not seem to hold weight. This is suggested not only by Levi and Latour’s bafflement with his theory of vicarious causation—a sentiment which is shared just as well by Harman’s vocal critics—but also the extent to which Harman’s very own advice on how to write philosophy reveals a degree of cynicism about giving your work a sense of “shock value” and focusing on “One Great Idea,” painting a “philosophical landscape” using a pastiche of Classical and Contemporary, exotic and canonical, baroque and antique. This “mid-western ethic” of revealing how the game is played suggest a greater awareness on his part of using theories more as a means to an end, rather than as an end in themselves: it is less about the substance of the idea, than about creating networks and assemblages of power, authority, influence, and the “sizzle” of a brand name/identity. This, I think, is somewhat frightening, given that object-oriented philosophy claims to be investigating the question of BEING QUA BEING.

      critique of Harman’s work

      3) Finally, my proposal is this: what we need to do is reintroduce the spirit of critique to the blogosphere, in order to reveal the transcendental illusion upon which the speculative bubble known as object-oriented philosophy is premised. This does not amount to a skepticism, or a “bad faith” in which we view inventive new philosophers as charlatans, but rather an attempt to assess their contributions at a respectable distance, neither getting too caught up in the sizzle of the brand, nor too filled with personal animus to immediately dismiss ideas they have come up with that might be a genuine contribution to philosophy. What I hope for is something like Peter Hallward’s fabulous critique of Quentin Meillaisoux’s notion of the “arche-fossil,” revealing its central incoherence:

      http://www.radicalphilosophy.com/default.asp?channel_id=2189&editorial_id=27115

      (Unfortunately now behind a paywall for non-subscribers.)

      Now, obviously Hallward is not a conservative reactionary academic focused on textual interpretation. He has given us one of the most well-written and even counterintuitive commentaries on Deleuze to date, and is actively involved with extending the work of Badiou in interesting directions. Not to mention his revolutionary bent and interest in the Haitian Revolution. Furthermore, Hallward himself demonstrates no personal dislike of Meillaisoux: it’s clear from his assessment of *After Finitude* that he has much respect for Meillaisoux’s ideas, but this does not inhibit him from critically assessing them.

      So, to sum up: the problem is not with inventiveness, but rather with the kind of group-think and affirmation that have contributed to the inflated expansion of the OOP speculative bubble. Like all bubbles, it is only a matter of time before it eventually pops. I only view our critical task as hastening this inevitability.

      • BryanK: I’m all up for getting the OOP critique ball rolling. My major point is just that I don’t see how any of this is helped by claims like ‘no one understands what Harman is saying’. This just seems like posturing, and its made worse when Harman claims not to have put forward a definitive account of his position yet.

        Now, if we can get down to some actual critique, that’d be fab. I’m looking forward to reading Alexei’s paper as much as the next man.

      • Deontologistics, this is where I think the significance of “debt deferral” plays in, the deferral of meaning/understanding and the hermeneutical circle at work in OOP. We keep getting more elaborate theories about the relation between objects, about fundamental ontologies, about nights when all cows are grey, etc., but the core parts of the system, the key pieces of the puzzle, continue to be indefinitely deferred, yet the faith persists, and the movement grows.

        So whereas you see this as more of a contingent, practical issue, that it conveniently just hasn’t been articulated yet, I view it more as a feature. Perhaps in the end that reveals my own deeper cynicism, but Harman’s already published several large books on the subject of his philosophy, not to mention delivered numerous lectures and written papers for journals over the years, and we still have no idea how vicarious causation works, nor does it appear to be possible to think of how it might relate to the stupid “ontic” world. This, I think, is somewhat unprecedented for the leader of a “new and exciting movement.”

  21. Alexei: “All this said, I’m feeling under the weather at the moment, and maybe I’m simply under a dark cloud.

    Kvond: You are a clear bright mind Alexei, just treat it like the weather. It passes.

  22. DE: “We both just happen to think that it’s wrong. Why not just stick with explaining why its wrong, and pointing out precisely where its incomplete, rather than getting caught up in all this hyperbole about capitalist philosophy and rampant nonsense?”

    Kvond: I actually spent a great deal of time discussing why its wrong on my blog, surely more than any other person in the world (it would seem), all of whom seem to avoid the question.

    As to the issue of Capitalism and hyperbole, I don’t find this to be hyperbole at all. There are two issues:

    1. How philosophical products are to be disseminated as valued or not (involving Harman’s thinking about faking the depth in a paper), AS it expresses Harman’s own metaphysics of allure.

    2. In this specific case, the way in which movements are organized and the critiques of opponents are essentialized and dismissed, which has specific bearing upon our community of fellow thinkers on the internet.

    I find there to be some strong Capitalist homologies in logic that stem from Latour’s thinking (and I say this as a Capitalist of a sorts), along with its parallel in Harman in the concept of causal “allure”. And some problematic affirmations of the Western impulse to Orientalize mediation which of course has very strong social mapping points in the way that he Jew and the Black (to name only a few) have been historical treated in Capitalism’s rise.

    As to whether the theory of causation was meant as a finished theory or not, it still needs to be taken as a serious attempt to project out a Cartesian Husserlian synthesis of Heidegger, and in so far as it fails, or leads to absurdities, such a projection really needs to be called what it is, incoherent.

    It’s not finished of course, surrounded by a lack of criticism, is called the “defferal of debt”.

  23. I would like to point out that as fun as this is, the people who are under scrutiny here are easily (and otherwise eagerly) available to defend themselves yet choose not to do so (occasional outbursts of Mr. Bryant don’t really count as he is disappearing as suddenly as he is appearing from these sorts of exchanges) – you all are below their philosophical radar, see Harman’s fundamental doctrine “Publish First, Critique Later” – only by creating your own stuff, by choosing your own project can you redeem yourself. There are two kinds of thinkers in the world: creators like Harman and critics like this bunch. How can you expect to seriously and sincerely engage people who consider you to be if not of lower kind, then certainly of different “outside” kind that just doesn’t “get it” and never will?

  24. ME: “Minus the enormous amount of explicit self-promotion, this conversation reminds me of early reactions to Derrida – until today we have people who claim he was a charlatan (intentionally misleading and playing his obscure game to screw with us) and people who claim he was a genius. Harman’s of course no Derrida –

    Kvond: Please put an attention on the last sentence. Can you imagine if Derrida also wrote about how in writing philosophy papers it is always good to “mix” in an old Classical thinker? Levi favorably compared Harman to Deleuze (or at least his work on Latour the equivalent to Deleuze’s work on Foucault). Most, if not all of this is interent and blog generated. I don’t see the other SRist talking about “splinter groups” and “wings of SR” and other self-promotional stuff. Harman essentially is Black Boxing his theory by creating an “allure” of its importances through a number of rhetorical strategies, all the while comparing his pursuit to his fantastic objects and their relations to Science’s pursuit of the periodic table, and giving endless talks and thoughts on “real work” having a “project” being an American worker of book-making and paper-writing.

    I think the comparison to Derrida is misplaced, or if not misplaced, there are thousands of Derridians.

  25. Jackson: “you all are below their philosophical radar, see Harman’s fundamental doctrine “Publish First, Critique Later” – only by creating your own stuff, by choosing your own project can you redeem yourself. There are two kinds of thinkers in the world: creators like Harman and critics like this bunch. How can you expect to seriously and sincerely engage people who consider you to be if not of lower kind, then certainly of different “outside” kind that just doesn’t “get it” and never will?”

    Kvond: Yes, this is the factory All-American (need we say Capitalist) work-ethic. Philosophy is about text (and allure) production. Work, work, work, churn, churn, churn. Everyone else will be jealous. Nevermind the quality of your products, just keep putting it out there, they’ll be teaching your theory in 200 years.

  26. I think the point Bryan makes about how philosophy for Harman is all about painting pretty canvases is absolutely spot on. Harman’s attitude toward just about everything is an “aesthetic” one, and he even says that we should regard aesthetics as “first philosophy”. But note that he means nothing remotely sophisticated by “aesthetics” here. Philosophy for him is about liking and disliking things – quite literally – and he views it as a purely aesthetic pursuit – not because he has some theory about how aesthetics judgement supplants all others or what have you; there’s no judgment, no cognitive dimension whatsoever involved: it’s literally as primitive as “x feels good”, “I like x”: hence his love of travelogue, catalogues, lists, photographs with pretty colours: the world is a vast aesthetic sensorium featuring the pleasing and the displeasing and philosophy is the catalogue and guide.

    Go and listen, for example, to the lecture he gave in Dublin last year, most of which quite literally consists of him saying “so I like that” and “so I don´t like that”. Consider also all his “advice” posts in which says that bad arguments and non sequiturs are “the most trivial mistakes in philosophy” and that what really matters is that one writes with “style” and uses “vivid” language.

    One of the ironies about all this of course is that he then accuses anyone who would base their ontological commitments upon the results of the empirical sciences of “crude reductionism”! Thus, reducing everything to aesthetics and fashion is fine, but it is “reductionism” to concern oneself with actual empirical knowledge. Indeed his whole attitude towards science is also a purely aesthetic one and the value of science for him purely comes down to what kinds of “pictures” it can give us. Amusingly, when accused of ignoring the sciences his response is always to say “I love all the sciences and in fact spend more time in bookshops in the popular science section than in the philosophy section” – flicking through looking at the pictures, presumably, or looking for vivid, colorful descriptions and metaphors.

    Thus notice that in one post in which he was attempting to explain why he never draws upon science and yet nevertheless is “a great lover of all the sciences” he says “I love Dawkins for the vast landscapes he paints, populated with weird creatures” – note, not because he might actually learn something about such creatures, or about evolution or biology, but because he finds it aesthetically pleasing! However, he of course goes on to say that he “detests” Dawkins “arrogant scientism”.

    Equally amusingly, in the same post he claimed that he wants “to increase exponentially the amount of attention we pay to comets and neutrinos”. But how exactly does he intend to do this? How on earth is one supposed to say anything whatsoever about such things without actually learning some science? – something that Harman informs us in the very same post he is not interesting in doing because “I simply do not have the head for it” and because he has “a remarkable inability to remember anything” he reads in science books (hardly surprising given that he limits this to flicking through them when in his local bookshop!). By “exponentially increasing the amount of attention we pay to comets and neutrinos” does that mean anything more than he will try to remember to include such items on his random lists of middle-sized dry-goods?

    He also says that he rejects science because it does not fit in with his intuitive picture of how things are: “I just don’t feel on solid footing with the sciences. I can’t pretend to myself that I feel we’re in a safely solid domain when we talk about physics, for instance, because all sorts of non-physical entities immediately start leaking into the picture for me, and I can’t shut them out.”

    What puzzles me most when he gives papers saying how philosophy should forget about epistemology and should instead concern itself directly with fire and cotton, monkeys, tornadoes and quarks, is why no-one just asks him straight out: “Could you give me an example of what a philosopher might have to say about monkeys or comets or neutrinos that’s not covered by the sciences?” What would he have to say? “Errm, well … when a monkey eats a banana, there is actually no interaction between the monkey and the banana, because monkeys and bananas are vacuum-sealed objects which forever infinitely withdraw from one another. No-one has ever seen a monkey or a banana in the purity of their individual essences, and they can only interact on the inside of an intention, and all objects relate to each other by means of intentions”. Why don’t people just start howling with laughter and derision when he says such things?

    He also always puts the differences between himself and other “Speculative Realists” (a label that none of the others have ever actually used, by the way) down to purely aesthetic considerations: “My friend Brassier is temperamentally inclinded towards eliminativism, but that’s not for me … Grant likes to think of the world as a caeseless flux that somehow gets retarded to produce individual objects, but my intuition is that the world is carved up into individual objects, so I base my metaphysics on that …” This is not a direct quote but there have been plenty of posts like that, in which he characterises the four positions as if they were alternative pictures of the universe, something like choosing between various pre-Socratic worldviews according to one’s personal aesthetic tastes. For example:

    “When I read my friend Brassier, he’s too much of an eliminativist for my tastes. I don’t want to eliminate Popeye from the subject matter of philosophy, nor do I find it possible to do so” – presumably because whenever he tries to think about the world in terms of physics, pictures of Popeye keep leaking in to the picture and he can’t shut them out!

    However, he does like some things in Brassier: namely, some of the vivid language he uses:

    “However, what I really passionately love in Brassier’s work is his fierce poetry of the insignificance of human being. Not the pessimism of it so much, because I am temperamentally an optimist and have a quasi-libidinal investment in even the most trivial objects that pass through my field of vision, and do not enjoy the thought of burnt-out husks of stars and the heat-death of the universe, which Brassier almost seems to viscerally enjoy”.

    And ditto for Dawkins:

    “It’s for similar reasons that I often like reading Dawkins, even though I find his anti-fundamentalist tirades to be tedious and condescending …. But his vast landscapes of strange animal ancestors and archaic geological events … this I find highly appealing …”

    Thus, the entire ‘argument’ for his metaphysics goes something like this:

    “Is reality divided up into chunks or is it a ceaseless flux? Well, which do you prefer? Which one appeals to you? I like the former. Why? Because my teachers likes all the relational stuff, and I got bored with that. I don’t like monism. Some people do, but my inclinations are different. Some people base their ontology on empirical sciences, but I like Popeye too much to go down that road. Anyway, I can’t remember anything I read in science books, and there aren’t any pretty pictures to look at there – except in astonomy, of course: I love stars and comets! I also love all the landscapes of weird and wonderful animals painted by Dawkins. But it puzzles me why some people prefer to think of gold in purely physical terms, thus giving up its shiny appearance. I find that when I think of gold all that comes to mind is its glittery shiny appearance, so my claim is that gold is metaphysically torn between its appearance and its inscrutable inner core. I guess those eliminativist types just have more austere aesthetic tastes than I do.”

    The fact is, of course, that this stuff only appeals to overly impressionable students in the humanities for whom analytic philosophy is just too damn hard and who are constantly on the look out for the next new thing in continental philosophy: something abstract but user-friendly, undemanding, sexy, perfectly pliable for whatever ends they might require (geography, social theory, literary studies, cultural studies, film, business studies …). For such types, reading Harman is an absolute godsend: It’s easy and pleasant to read (lots of metaphors and imagery), deep- and lofty-sounding, doesn’t require them to do any thinking (thus saving unnecessary wear and tear on the brain tissues), it chimes perfectly with commonsense (albeit with some ‘weird’ twists’, which is cool), doesn’t require them to be able to evaluate arguments or learn anything technical, gives them a further alibi for continuing to ignore science and epistemology, gives them license to commit as many non sequiturs as they like (“arguments are the superficial skin of philosophy”, “logical errors are the most trivial mistakes in philosophy”), tells them that the only important thing about writing philosophy is to cultivate a literary “style”, to write “vividly” in bold and eye-catching colors, tells them that poetry is a greater cognitive tool than empirical inquiry, promises a direct revelation of Truth without having to acquire any knowledge … and, in general, it’s “fresh” and “bold” and “exciting” … It’s irresistable!

    Okay, enough from me. Apologies for the overly long post there! (I posted it first over at Kvond’s blog before I saw this discussion, but it seems this is where all the action is so am posting again.)

  27. Kvond: Yes, this is the factory All-American (need we say Capitalist) work-ethic. Philosophy is about text (and allure) production. Work, work, work, churn, churn, churn. Everyone else will be jealous. Nevermind the quality of your products, just keep putting it out there, they’ll be teaching your theory in 200 years.

    Hahahaha!! Well put! Absolutely!

  28. ME: “I’m not comparing Harman to Derrida, I don’t know much (philosophically) about either – I’m simply talking about the issues that come up when we discuss the reception of someone’s work.”

    Kvond: I’m not blaming you at all, but I am saying that drawing a comparison also requires a further comparison of differences. As you said, Harman is no Derrida. By saying that the “reception” is similar of course can create the obvious light-minded association (the kind that spreads easily on the internet), “Hey, we have another Derrida on our hands, everybody thinks this guy is talking nonsense!”

    And Bryan definitely supplied the disanalogous context required.

    The same kind of loose comparison also occurred when Levi “reviewed” Harman’s book on Latour. It basically was a review of how fantastic Latour’s ideas are (leaving aside the non-contributive, non-thinking nature of Harman’s presentation, as well as the question of the merit of Harman’s ideas which he inserted in the end of the book). The whole thing became a celebration of Latour, into which Harman somehow gets folded, as if by accident. Then Levi compares the book to the book that Deleuze wrote on Foucault. This is an absurdity except at the most obvious and widest of levels: a philosopher wrote a book about the ideas of a kind of sociologist. what such a comparison does though is create the impression of certain equalities, an “allure” that is nearly meaningless.

    • I see, allow me then to restate my analogy here: the reception of Harman’s philosophy is analogous to that of Jesus Christ – both were not initially recognized for who they really were, both will have eventually made a huge impact on their respective worlds, both were bothered by traditionalists, both had to suffer for their ideas. Does this work better?

  29. Pingback: Harman’s Object Disorientation: Anthropomorphism At Large « Frames /sing

  30. ME: “I see, allow me then to restate my analogy here: the reception of Harman’s philosophy is analogous to that of Jesus Christ – both were not initially recognized for who they really were, both will have eventually made a huge impact on their respective worlds, both were bothered by traditionalists, both had to suffer for their ideas. Does this work better?”

    Kvond: My god you are hilarious. Perfectly restated.

  31. And interesting addendum. Levi posts about a website that is touting how OOP and OOO shows what can be done with the web and philosophy:

    http://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2009/11/17/interesting-srooo-website/

    The website has this compelling description of the web movement:

    “Speculative Realism promises to be the first philosophy meaningfully engaged with Web 2.0: many of its primary figures are bloggers. The movement gains momentum from debates between graduate students, interested amateurs, and philosophy professors alike on blogs. Levi Bryant and Graham Harman, two of the most prolific bloggers among the school, make an effort to respond to all comments posted on their blogs.”

    Nevermind that Harman has shut down his “comment” blog some time ago, and does not allow comments posted any longer, nor that Levi has excluded many from doing so. This is the, what should we call it, “ideological” impression that there is a kind of natural flowering of an intellectual movement defined by its openness and non-professional nature, the hoi polloi and professor mix in a kind of interent agora of intellectual discussion and crtique.

    This is of course inaccurate, perhaps to an extreme degree. One suspects of course that the describer doesn’t know anything about Harman’s blog, but perhaps this is not so, and “make an effort to respond to all comments” is simply a party-line depiction.

    • I like the amount of excitement that student project (as it turns out) generated, Objectologist the Father mentions it favorably. I think it’s great that SR is getting noticed (no references to OOP/OOO though), but notice how it is presented by these excitable attention-craving “philosophical bloggers” – Fabio basically describes this as “part of a project of the University of Illinois” and so on. It’s a collection of links I can create in a minute, it includes Zizek, for example, whom I would not count as a “speculative realist” or anything for that matter. It’s a good lesson in self-promotion though, I’m very impressed. In a week we have a new “peer-reviewed journal” and now an awesome “database/pathfinder” – what’s next? a TV appearance or another Badiou interview? Oh my…

      P.S. We also get spanked by Harman (who also responds to some of the accusations of careerism never quite leveled against him by anyone here, not that I remember, I might be wrong):

      http://doctorzamalek2.wordpress.com/2009/11/17/austin-speaks/

      Enjoy, fellow hecklers! At least there are 4 or 5 of us now, not just me all by myself or Kevin, who wrote more about Harman’s theories then Michael Austin, but he doesn’t get a response from Harman for some reason…

      • Maybe it’s just me, but Harman’s response to the charge of careerism is kind of dumb – just because you were not successful in your careerism, does not mean you are not one. Plus, I don’t think anyone accused him of being a careerist, I think it was an accusation of being a nonsensical thinker and a self-promoting dick (which is a sufficient but not a necessary condition for being a careerist, I suppose, although I could never get these conditions in logic).

        On a brighter note: Hecklers of Harman Unite!

      • Harman’s post is totally incoherent.

        As you note Mikhail, NO ONE—NO ONE—HAS ACCUSED HARMAN OF CAREERISM. Where lies this strong temptation to argue against points that NO ONE IS MAKING? It’s really absurd. It looks like the attacks on Harman’s incoherent theory of causation are also drawing some increasing attention, notably this thread at Larval Subjects:

        http://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2009/11/17/harmans-objects-and-vicarious-causation/

        And the comments section of Austin’s post.

  32. There is a somewhat strange argument that is circulating here by most of you that seems to function like this:

    (1) Speculative Realism is boring, so lets just ignore its criticisms.

    (2) OK, speculative realism is not boring, but it is ridiculous, so lets ignore its criticism.

    (3) Alright…speculative realism is neither boring nor ridiculous, but its criticism are old hat, so lets just ignore them.

    This does not seem to be a great model for philosophical exercise. Graham and Levi have reacted childishly to criticisms and perceived slights against their arguments. Furthermore, their fascinations with trolls, vampires, pixies, and other members of some strange mythological zoo is tiresome and, more importantly, useless. But none of that forgives the childish and pathological response from many who are commenting here. Ignore the persons of Levi and Graham. Ignore their childish personality quirks. What is the problem of SR? I will give you a hint: Its not that Graham and Levi sometimes respond childishly…Its not that it has a presence on the web…It is not that it is some sort of secret capitalist conspiracy to distract us from radical potential of the space-time schema.

    Abandon the sour grapes and the hurt feelings. Do some philosophy. Offer real critiques of the positions taken by the SR theorists. Stop the psychologizing!

    • Good one. Do you care to point out exactly who and when produced these ridiculous propositions? Or is it just your own summary? I believe you’re missing one:

      0) No one seems to know or willing to explain what “Speculative Realism” is.

      Do you care to give it a shot?

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