Object-Oriented Zen


I don’t know why but I have recently (yet again) glanced at an object-oriented post, but this time about Marx – boy, was I sorry? Not that I consider myself an expert of any sort, especially on Marx, but I’ve read my share of Marx and I think that this is so dumb and on so many levels that I can’t even think of all the possible ways to mock it properly. I give you the selection of my favorite parts (apparently, there is more to come): 

Class should be thought of as a distribution of interactions between humans and objects — a constellation of machines, bodies, spaces, tools, money etc…Class, at the level of objects appears as a set of limitations on the possible combinations and interactions of objects — who can deal with them, how and why.

Wait, what? Are you kidding me? Who, what? Should be thought by whom? Why? Fuck me sideways!

Thus any object-oriented Marxism would have to take as its starting point an analysis of private property as a discrete sort of hyper-object that organize an ever-expanding domain of object relations (between men and machines, steel and rust (those machine must get cleaned!), cash registers and oranges etc…).

Hyphenating things does not make them clearer! This is not even close to being legible. Is it just me? What is this parentheses disaster?

Private property would be the organizing hyper-object that would determine how other object relations could take place (between men and machines, rust and machines (when to clean, how to repair) and recedes from knowledge at the same time that it structures an entire economic and social field.

I give up! Marx would probably mock the shit out of this “Herr Zen” guy – but the fact that these object-oriented morons feel as though they can take on Marx is troubling to this red comrade…

24 thoughts on “Object-Oriented Zen

  1. I saw that Bryant flirted with Marx but seeing that he knew as much about Marx as he did about Kant I figured he’d let it go unless he gets some Marxists angry and they’d burn him alive – I’m glad to see he found some “Zen Doucherman” to do his dirty work for him.

    I have to say that there’s only one thing I hate more than these sort of spoiled rich kids (with names like “Zen”) and it’s idiots who think that they can get some mileage out of Marx because they feel rebellious and they think Marx can give them some ammunition (and because they watched David Harvey’s lectures on Capital and think they “get it”) – I’d say mock it till the cow come home, comrade!

  2. I always loved Marx for no-bullshit attitude and just a general concern for those he wrote for – the man suffered horrible misery of poverty only because he wanted to write and think. Now these little professors want to appropriate him for their little new fad, fucking makes me mad…

    P.S. Harvey’s Capital lectures are great, but I know that many will forego reading Marx because of them, and it’s sad.

  3. The inner concern-troll in me wonders whether this goes too far. After all, the writer is just a grad student, probably lacking a decent advisor (this is the only way I can fathom the strange grad student gravitation towards Harman and the like), and maybe will realize how silly and faddish this was a month or so from now. Then again, his first name is ‘Zen’…

    On a more substantive level, the post seems to fail with regard to satisfying two criteria:

    1. Does this tell us anything new about Marx?
    2. Is it an interesting interpretation?

    I’m willing to say though that that failure is more broadly a symptom of OOO-inspired work at large.

    • I seriously doubt he’s an innocent “grad student” (but I understand your concern, Bryan) – he’s like the hippest of all hipsters (google him) which means he’s probably okay with some mocking:

      http://www.democracynow.org/2009/11/20/students

      The point is not to single him out, but to show an annoying tendency of appropriaing Marx. To answer your questions:

      1) No, it does not.
      2) No, it is not.

      My own question is though: Why is it so easy to take Marx (or Kant, Hegel, Aristotle and so on) and pretend as though you have a brand new approach to them, while avoiding all the leg-work of actually patiently working through them year after year?

      • Oddly I think it’s easier because of the sheer scope of their work.
        The more material a famous author has written, the easier it is to write about them without actually understanding them, since you can draw on certain common sense understandings quirky new interpretative schema as a kind of philosophical Rorschach. And given the gigantic amount of secondary literature, you could probably just read that instead and even use it to buffer non-substantive claims.

      • * (easier to write about them without READING their work…)
        * (common sense understanding in connection with a quirky new interpretative schema…)

        In the future I shouldn’t write comments from a phone… also I went to that Democracy Now link and I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to glean from that other than that the person in question was involved in UC student campaign against budget cuts. The link Lou posted, on the other hand, is kind of annoying sounding.

      • I just get really irritating when they do Marx (Kant I can take, Kant I did take in the past) – maybe I read too many Marx biographies, Marx really had a shitty life precisely because he chose (and was forced to, to a certain extent) a life of a revolutionary and not an academic, so even “Western Marxists” annoy me. Needless to say, idiotic mumbo-jumbo nonsense about “object-oriented Marxism” is boudn to drive me up the wall.

    • 3. need for compliance.

      Appeasing Marxists may be a fair goal given their will to throw you into an acid bath when you are heading towards alternative sociological approaches [1] or run danger showing conservative tendencies. So you need to demonstrate that OOO is compliant with Marxism and Marxism is somehow contained within your new framework.

      Reducing the number of enemies can be your tactics but it is also a bit naive when your ally is one which broadens the front to its possible maximum and exists in uncountable splinter groups resulting from a continuous division and purification process in collective building.

      [1] E.g. ANT with its protesting placates.

  4. Jesus Christ, what has that Austrian body-builder done to the education system in California?

    The very first claim – “It seems that the talk of class as a hyperobject is on target — namely that class is something that exists outside of human subjectivity and therefore does not depend upon any recognition of it” – shows such a basic misunderstanding of Marx (who tries on the contrary to de-mystify class by showing that structure is merely alienated subject, alienated human praxis) that I could barely read any further. And how does this hipster propose to explain that recognition of class exploitation was seen by Marx as a motor of revolution, i.e. the eradication of existing class relations, i.e. that recognition is extremely important?

    Why do these idiots hate everything about the subject so much that they erect a fetish out of the object? Were they treated badly as children? Did they lack friends and find solace in toys? Did their pet show them more constancy than their parents?

    • that I could barely read any further

      Why is everyone so emotional when it comes to discussing abstract ideas?

      “Hyperobject” is hardly a well defined concept – and it only seems to be there to capture objects which do not easily get in your head. It’s a catchy phrase to avoid talking about Cthulhu when you are not a Lovecraft fan and when you don’t believe you get mad when you are confronted with very big aliens.

      I do think most people basically get that we are outsourcing human relationships towards relationships we have to objects. The strange thing most people don’t get about Marxism is that this has produced so much anger and justified pejorative wording like “mystification”, “alienation”, “fetishism” etc. as if creating abstractions ( and using intelligence ) was a bad thing.

      It’s really puzzling what those OOO guys want with Marx other than ensure that they don’t want to be engaged in battles with Marxists. But why bother? Harman quits with Shaviro, so why don’t they?

  5. Kay, I wouldn’t confuse precise terms like alienation, fetishism, mystification and abstraction. Marx teases out important differences between them. I don’t know if anyone here is allergic to abstract thinking; you’re speaking to Kantians and Hegelians, after all. And in Marx, how we treat abstraction is very important because of the contingent historical reality of what he calls ‘determinate abstractions’ like labour. There’s sophisticated and unsophisticated use of abstract thought. I’d certainly stand by my above assertion that OOO is guilty of making a fetish out the object. I agree with you, though, that ‘hyper-object’ is woolly. If they want to treat social class under the same heading as, say, climate, then more fool them.

    • I don’t quite mean “abstract thinking” but real abstraction or objective abstraction which means that a thing is produced after a model which has less features ( but often some new others ) and which can be effectively understood / managed / computed / combined.

      Forgetting about the social context of origination happens on purpose. When you enter a plane you want it to fly and not to memorize how much work has gone into its construction, how much did it cost and if the workers were happy and so on. It is not even relevant if the pilot flies the plane or the plane is a flying machine with a human supervisor. All this information may be relevant to some but not to many others. Of course if humans don’t want or need planes they wouldn’t exist and therefore we are their final cause. You can also think it is some sort of fetish because it moves on its own for reasons we call “energy conversion” which is common to all living and inanimate beings in the universe, a divine force, if you will which is captured by the modern magic of science and technology.

      If they want to treat social class under the same heading as, say, climate, then more fool them.

      Climate is treated as a process partially determined by social activities as well and this is not specific or caused by a bunch of OOO guys. As it seems there was just a short period of time in which nature was abstracted as “nature”. This was somewhat simplistic. We are dealing with the will of the gods again which punish us for our hubris – they are just not anthropomorphic any more. We replaced images by mathematical models and gone a little more realist this way.

  6. I’m with Kay here vis-a-vis “they don’t want to fuck with Marxists” desire to include Marx and others.

    Bryant’s previous attempts at doing was were 1) watching Harvey’s lectures on Capital and pretending to have read the book, and 2) make an idiotic claim that “of course, Marx spends a lot of time mentioning non-humans therefore he was object-oriented”…

    I think to attempt a measured response here would be to assume that Bryant (and his pseudonymical friend “John C. Goodman”) know their Marx and they don’t, so mocking is all that is left.

    • I think I would be way more annoyed if Levi had written the post, since someone with a PhD should “know better” than to write trash like the post in discussion. I do recall Levi’s terrible “Wouldn’t it be *delicious* if it could be proven that *Marx* was an *object-oriented ontologist*?” and remember writing an angry comment, before the comments section on the website became the equivalent of the North Korean public sphere. And strangely, no trace of this post seems to exist anymore on the Larval Subjects website, but maybe I’m just overlooking it.

      • I wouldn’t be surprised if he took it down. Marxists are usually an angry and direct bunch, so someone probably set him straight and he got scared. Still, to say that Marx was OOO because he writes about objects is like saying that Vice Departments are rape and molestation oriented since they talk about it (and attempt to fight it). I just don’t get how anyone can read this – talking about objects means being object-oriented – and not just burst out laughing, you know?

  7. It’s ironic that there is more of a discussion going on here than there. Bryant’s blog used to be a really great discussion place, does anyone remember those days? Now it’s just a kind of stale pat on the back virtually discussion-less space.

    Does he really think people believe that “John C. Goodman” is not actually him? Hilarious!

  8. When I read the name ‘Zen’ I thought: oh, right, this must be Tim ‘OOBuddhism’ Morton in disguise, playing some kind of fun inside-joke with Levi. Then I realized that Morton’s threshold of dignity is low enough that he would have openly written this on his own blog.

    I like to think that it’s Alan Sokal in disguise, who — having been warned by Leiter about the OO fad — decided to write a OO article himself.
    If not, perhaps someone should try that, with a title like ‘Withdrawing the substances: towards an object-oriented interpretation of Chienese ceramic art in its alluring interaction with the molten core of scandinavian Cod’.

    • Mmm… Scandinavian Cod – I think I’ll have some for lunch.

      Seriously though, with the standards of rigour so low or non-existent – only rule being that you mention “objects” – it’s likely that someone would write a spoof very soon.

    • Leiter doesn’t care for a few philosophy startups as long as they don’t enter old economy enterprises like the “New York Times” or reputed universities like his own one.

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