I Wonder Who the Target Is?


Needless to say, this can apply to anyone, but considering the ever present didaskalia on the accessibility of writing on Professor Marvel’s blog, it must surely be him:

See in particular Sellars’ demanding but profoundly rewarding Science and Metaphysics: Variations on Kantian Themes, London Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968. Contrary to widespread opinion, Sellars is a philosophical writer of exceptional distinction and elegance. His prose—obdurate, lapidary, elliptical—exerts greater philosophical power and communicates more of genuine substance through obliquity than the unctuous blandishments of allegedly superior (i.e. more easily digestible) stylists.

Ray Brassier, The Speculative Turn, 50note4

61 thoughts on “I Wonder Who the Target Is?

  1. Who knows, but this is very tasty:

    “The metaphysical injunction to know the noumenal is relinquished by a post-modern ‘irreductionism’ which abjures the epistemological distinction between appearance and reality
    the better to salvage the reality of every appearance, from sunsets to Santa Claus. [8]

    Note 8: It is not enough to evoke a metaphysical distinction between appearance and reality, in the manner for instance of ‘object-oriented philosophies’, since the absence of any reliable cognitive criteria by which to measure and specify the precise extent of the gap between seeming and being or discriminate between the extrinsic and intrinsic properties of objects licenses entirely arbitrary claims about the in-itself. For an example of ‘object-oriented’ philosophizing see Graham Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things, Chicago, Open Court, 2005.”

    Doesn’t sound like Brassier likes OOO/OOP very much, does it? You would think in light of such harsh criticism there would be A Rejoinder from Dr. Amazing and his gang immediately following the essay… Lest people decide that OOO/OOP might have visible holes in its “logic”.

  2. I like #20:

    “While irreductionists [Latour, but clearly folks like Bryant as well] prate about the ‘impoverishment’ attendant upon the epistemological privileging of conceptual rationality, all they have to offer by way of alternative is a paltry metaphorics that occludes every real distinction through which representation yields explanatory understanding.”

  3. All Brassier does is go on and on about the flaws in OOO and Harman’s work. After reading his howling, scathing, seething criticisms in the Speculative Turn you’d come away with the impression that Harman’s ideas are substanceless metaphors and that OOO is philosophically ridiculous. Puh-lease. What about the praise, people, the sense of balance! Why not compliment, for instance, Harman’s wardrobe, or the lovely home-spun imagery of Circus Philosophicus! At the very least, the wonderful diagrams of The Quadruple Objects! Even though I don’t like OOO that much, I can still think of superficially kind things to say about it in order to instill a false sense of civility as a pretense for forcing others to legitimize my bad ideas. As a result, I don’t see why there’s any reason Harman should respond to Brassier, not unless Brassier first writes a long apology and promises to write another book with positive things to say about OOO too.

    • I’m with you, Bryan. I read Brassier’s piece again and again looking for even the slighest mention of the world-changing “Speculative Realism” conference EVENT that apparently completely turned philosophy upside down, but I failed to find any indication that it was in fact the case. Reading Brassier’s essay one would think no real dramatic change ever took place in philosophy with the advent of Objectology! Outrageous!

  4. To the benefit of Harman, Levi et. al. one should say that they didn’t play a political game and included Brassiers essay dissing OOO in the “Speculative Turn” they edited.

    Of course Brassier is spot on with respect to OOO and I particularly enjoyed the little diatribe against its postmodernism.

    What I don’t quite get is where Brassiers/Meillassoux militant rationalism comes from? I mean emotionally, not only as a philosophical rage, framed by culturally shared biases. This is also very prevalent in the sciences which forbid the universe to be irrational or contain elements which cannot be fully integrated into a framework which is constructed from the bottom-up. Maybe we are such elements and as our evolution goes on there will be more of them in a greater diversity, not less?

    Unlike the late 1990s the last decade was completely dominated by realism and all we got out of it is Cthulhu-capitalism and a state machine which practices biopolitics, fear-mongering and the criminalization of people who smoke cigarettes in the public. It is not that we are acid-heads who need a landing. “Speculative Realism” is redundant when realism + speculation is all that is left anyway.

    • I’m not sure about your take on “political games” here – I bet you Harman wanted to include all four original founders, even if everyone but him is actually still on board. Look at this ‘original outline’ and see how it had sections for essays, this one being “Speculative Realism Revisited” (it’s not in the final version because there’s nothing left to revisit)…

      • “Speculative Realism” is a brand like “Postmodernism”.

        Most authors who were considered as PoMo felt uneasy about it. It was just too reductionist and gave the impression of a homogeneous movement where there was none. In the public perception the label still aided to cluster them.

        No one might wonder that Harman romantizised SR as a proper movement and himself as a musketeer and that Brassier responds quite harsh about the romantic “irreductions” of Latour, Harman et. al. Zizek could just shrug and simply remark that no movement exists without being split. So it may be.

  5. I think that the reason Meillassoux (and maybe Brassier — I don’t know his work as well) rage against the irrational is that they see the “scepticism/fideism” of so much continental philosophy as complicit w/ the religiously-oriented politics of the last few decades.

    They’re looking for another radical enlightenment, I guess.

    Obviously, there are other things going on in their philosophies as well, but I think that this begins to explain the tone.

    Meillassoux and (maybe) Brassier both seem to be fairly sympathetic to a version of Althusser’s Marxism (or, at least, Lenin read through Althusser), but I doubt that the charge against capitalism is motivating them.

    • I’ve only read After Finitude, so I’m not terribly qualified, but my sense of what’s motivating Meillassoux’s work is his felt need for a strong (non-defeasible?) conception of justification or epistemic grounding. That is, he wants a context transcendending position — call it ‘Truth,’ the non-metaphysical absolute (or whatever Meillassoux’s proper designation is) — that can be used to quash relativist and pluralist positions. He seems to think that the return of political theologies and religious discourse is a function of a weak conceptions of meaning and justification that ‘correlationism’ possesses. Hence the push towards a metaphysics of brute facts as the ultimate arbiter of claims to know and frameworks of intelligibility.

      My sense, however, is that Meillassoux’s position is just as reactionary as the religious fundamentalists who claim that without god there can be no morality because there can be no objective — transcendent — moral standard. The standard of justification in both cases is simply a brute fact of god’s creation (a principle of unreason as it were). At any rate, Meillassoux’s argument is roughly the same in structure as the religious zealot’s claim concerning ethical behaviour.

      I don’t know how this connects to Lenin, but both Bolshevism and religious fundamentalism would both qualify as Schwärmerei (and active nihilism). But perhaps that’s the point….

      • Maybe I’m using the terms incorrectly.

        My sense, however, is that insofar as the Bolsheviks refused to pursue institutional reform within the political and institutional framework available to them (and this was the watershed issue between them and the Mensheviks was it not?) in favour of direct revolutionary action aimed at destroying the tsarist state altogether, they embraced a particularly nihilistic kind of agenda (smash the state in order to usher in an utopian social arrangement: it’s a kind of Umwertung). One has to be a Schwärmer — the brute, transcendent Truth must be on one’s side — in order to embrace such a program.

        I’m not a student of Russian history, so perhaps I’m missing all the salient information. I would be happy to be corrected on the matter

      • Well, I thought you used Bolshevism as a name for some ideology, not the historical party attitude. The break with Mensheviks was a complex affair, it took a while after the initial 1903 break, and there were plenty of issues there, but both groups, as far as I can remember, wanted a revolution and “down with tsarism” wasn’t really nihilistic, just pragmatic. I think the difference was mainly that of strategy (especially early on), not some large ideological break.

      • I think you’re missing all the salient information. Also, I find extremely bizarre and counter-intuitive your claim that those who make truth-claims are nihilists. And lastly, the whole clichéd false equivalency thing (he’s secretly just like the opponents he critiques!) is even more facile than Harman’s “he’s really an absolute idealist!” hand-waving.

      • I stand corrected; I’ll try to think things through more carefully.

        I would like to point out, however, that I don’t intend any kind of false equivalency between Meillassoux and the fideists he dislikes so much. I really think the strategy is the same. So far as I can see, if you take his criticism of ‘correlationist’ techniques of justification seriously, then you can’t distinguish between his appeal to brute facts and those of the fideist. You have a geniune (no fault) disagreement that his ‘system’ doesn’t have the tools to address. We can disagree, of course, but that doesn’t mean i’m muddying the waters. There’s no a differend, which Meillassoux leaves to our personal intuitions to resolve.

        Sans Oeuvre points out that the litmus test for any difference is going to be rational knowability. I’m just not sure what that could mean, really. Meillassoux’s example of such a process is mathematical modeling; modelling, however, gives one what Kant would call ‘thinkability’ and not necessarily ‘knowability’. It is, after all, no less apriori than proofs fro the existence of god. In fact, I can construct all kinds of models of physical interaction — e.g. ptolemaic universes vs. copernican ones, leibnizean ones vs Newtonian ones, copenhagen interpretation vs its alternatives — but the correct model’s truth isn’t a function of the modeling process, but subject to a completely different set of concerns (usually taken to be empirical, observational, and hence non-rational). If one is sincere in one’s realism, ‘rationality’ isn’t sufficient to determine truth and hence not sufficient for ‘knowledge’ (given a JTB account of knowledge).

        Now as I said above, the problem is that justification is supposed to dovetail with a something like ‘correspondence to a transcendent entity’. But such a claim is precisely what religious fundamentalists want to claim about things too (the issue, it seems is whether it corresponds to observation, or some kind of god’s law — but both are equally brute). So, given Meillassoux’s committments, ‘knowability’ depends upon some kind of representational fitness between model and states of affairs (otherwise contingency wouldn’t be necessary, and we could in fact operate as Leibniz did). The problem is that there’s no longer any criteria to determine ‘fitness.’ So, I really don’t see what mathematical modeling could mean other than to say it develops possible worlds accessible from the actual one. This is, so far as i can see a problem….

  6. I’m almost starting to feel sorry for Brassier given the number of failing careers he has resurrected and the peoples who have downright stolen whole swathes of his work. And who would go to Beirut just to escape the London scene? Heck, Latour the daddy, Harman his bitch and the dismissal of Harman in a footnote is normally worthy of praise indeed. Or it would be if he hadn’t let Harman get his leg over in the first place. Harman has inflicted such an ass wreaking Brassier hasn’t been able to sit properly since. But maybe he’s learning. This time the astonishing obscure philosopher he has discovered is at least dead and isn’t likely to be stolen by anyone (though some fuckwits will undoubtedly try).

    For your consideration I’ve found a new cover photo for Harman’s book on Badiou’s chicklet:

  7. I agree with Bryan here: drawing false equivalencies between Meillassoux and those he’s attacking just muddies the waters. The key distinction separating Meillassoux from the “fideists” is that he thinks his absolute truth is rationally *knowable* and, thus, potentially falsifiable.

    To conflate Meillassoux’s first principle with, e.g., Jacobi’s is like the fundamentalist who says that evolution is just another religion since both biologists and theists believe in something.

  8. Re: Brassier’s characterization of OOO, I love the references to sunsets and Santa Claus.

    As an alternative to “Lava Lamp Materialism,” how about “Easter Bunny Realism?”

  9. I see too many new names here and with Harman hinting at going “deep deep underground” to find all the trolls out, I wonder if he has assumed some new identity and is going through your garbage as we speak – beware!

  10. In response to R.K.’s most recent post: you make a lot of really interesting points — it also makes me wish that there were more published criticisms of Meillassoux, as I’d love to see these types of debates open up. I’m personally much more sympathetic to some version of correlationism than I am to Meillassoux’s variant of S.R., but I do think that he’s by far the most impressive member of that group (and the only one who’s likely to still be in print 25 years from now).

    I’m not sure if I’m completely following you though.

    Meillassoux, famously, had the biggest problem with the term “speculative realism.” I suspect this is because he’s less interested in the sorts of empirical issues you’re raising, e.g., the question of whether a given mathematical model of the universe is accurate. Rather, he’s interested in the possibility of achieving adequate knowledge of a principle on which a variety of different mathematical modelings of the universe might be founded. The first principle is what the philosopher should look for; the models are the task of the scientist.

    Now the question is whether Meillassoux’s principle is a brute fact.

    As I understand the fideist position, it’s usually associated with some sort of scepticism: God is not knowable, but neither is anything else, so we have faith. Obviously, I’m oversimplifying.

    I suppose you could be a fideist and believe that God is an “axiom,” rather than assumed as a matter of faith, but Meillassoux’s first principle is neither an axiom nor an assumption of faith, so I’m not sure why you’d say it’s a brute fact.

    The principle of radical contingency (on which the mathematical knowability of everything must ultimately be grounded, etc.) is derived in the third chapter of AF, in the movement from weak correlationism (Kant) to the absolutization of the correlate (Hegel) to strong correlationism (Heidegger/Wittgenstein) to Meillassoux’s own position. If you show that the derivation is flawed — and it might be — then you can show that his first principle is horseshit. This is what I mean when I say that it’s falsifiable (though it’s not empirically falsifiable any more than the cogito or the principle of sufficient reason).

    Meillassoux’s “realism” refers, first of all, to the knowability of this principle (which can be derived before mathematical modeling ever enters the scene).

    [I feel like some of this was incoherent — let me know….]

    • O.K. I’m outing me: believe it or not, I’m Harman.

      The standard version of accepting correlationism is to embed humans in the natural history i.e. perform a re-entry into the world they seek to explain. This precludes absolute alterity. We are made of the same stuff as everything else and therefore the world for-us isn’t all that different from the world which it is for every other sentient being embedded into the same ground. It is a realist mysticism if you want [1]. Now we only have to roll up the whole universe within a theory of maximum explanatory power which is the project of science. This doesn’t break the circle but within this circle we can at least recover the arch-fossil.

      The major issues with the standard epistemology are twofold. A theory of maximum explanatory power i.e. a fundamental theory is not necessarily one which can derive a lot. This has to do with the statistical nature of fundamental theories but also with computational effort which breaks all limits for objects slightly more complex than molecules. Therefore we need approximations, short cuts and models of a very different kind and on every scale for most of the stuff we are interested in. This doesn’t look like a fundamental problem but when we accept being in-the-world we cannot fantasize abstract omnipotence.

      Secondly, the model building and confirmation of theories by means of facts is a social process and depends on its actors. This means that even though we believe in objective reality and the scientific method, these are just idealizations. How can we know that theories aren’t accepted because of group thinking and valid alternatives aren’t suppressed because of status fights, political ideologies or money transfers? Embedding of humans into the object they explore is sufficient to accept correlationism but it doesn’t exclude social and psychological aberrance. I do think that’s where (post-)modern scepticism comes from and Meillassoux can’t resolve it.

      [1] Objectology is like this as well. It embeds everything into the same ground and embraces a flat ontology. It doesn’t have any explanatory power though, as Brassier correctly noted. Irreductions can’t compute.

    • From where I stand, I don’t think any of the SR people mentioned in this thread are really worth spending any serious time discussing. That’s certainly a bias, though, as my knowledge of Brassier extends as far as the first 25 pages of his book, and the only work of Meillassoux’s I’ve read is his slim ‘book’. Harman’s work, I’m afraid, is simply contradictory: he’s effectively trying to offer an indispensability argument for substance that’s indexed to phenomenology’s practices. The only claim he’s licensed to make, then, is that relative to phenomenological investigation, we are committed to objects. But that doesn’t in any way entail the independence of objects themselves, etc etc. Stop doing phenomenology, and the need to those dumb objects disappears too. This means, however, that the human point is still privileged because without it the argument can’t get started. Contradiction. And, despite the subtitle of Harman’s second book, I see very little phenomenology being done. Performative contradiction.

      The best form of critique here really seems to be to simply pass over them in silence. There’s little to no productive value in engaging with them. And there are much better thinkers out there!

      Anyway, you’re right, S.O., to say that one can probably refute Meillassoux argument for the principle of factiality by showing that his derivation is faulty. There seems to be an easier way, though: just focus on the equivocal sense of ‘principle of sufficient reason’ against which the ultimate argument is directed. Hence, when Meilassoux writes,

      speculation proceeds by accentuating thought’s relinquishment of the principle of sufficient reason to the point where this relinquishment is converted into a principle, which alone allows us to grasp the fact that there is absolutely no ultimate Reason, whether thinkable or unthinkable. There is nothing beneath or beyond the manifest gratuitousness of the given – nothing but the limitless and lawless power of its destruction, emergence, or persistence (63)

      We see the equivocation: an ‘Ultimate Reason’ thinkable or unthinkable. But that’s already nonsensical. We can stop there.

      The passage also helps explain what I meant by brute fact. For here Meillassoux appeals to the bruteness of the given (to brute fact). So the principle of factiality is the recognition of the supposedly brute facts of the world (without ‘sufficient reason’). All this, I think, squares reasonably well with a fideist motto: ‘I believe it because it is absurd’ (without justification, without reason). It’s just there, ‘given.’

      Again, I don’t mind if people disagree with me, and I don’t have any vested interest in being right; I’m just trying to clarify what I mean.

      • Another thought: you can get pretty much everything that Harman wants his objects to be from a dispositions — even ‘withdrawnness’! George Molnar’s Book, Powers even argues that BRentano’s theory of intentionality can be understood in physical — dispositional — terms. The strategy is different of course, since Molnar doesn’t extend ‘intentional relations’ to physical objects, but shows that the category ‘intentionality’ has the same logical structure as ‘disposition.’ Different kind of argument altogether.

      • R.K.: I’m interested in your formulations here. I have to admit, I’m not so confident in my reading of Meillassoux that I can entirely disagree.

        My take on the passage you cite is that M. is that when M. says that there is nothing beyond the manifest gratuitousness of the given, he’s not rejecting a knowable first principle in terms of, e.g., disordered stuff.

        Another way to state the difference would be to say that M. sees himself arguing for a metaphysical position (though he rejects the term “metaphysical”), while what I hear you describing is an epistemological position. In other words, for M., the fideist says that we can’t know God/the universe (the epistemological claim), and, consequently, we can make a metaphysical claim about the existence or non-existence of God, first principles, etc. Meillassoux, without really taking account of epistemological questions (as far as I can tell), just makes the metaphysical claim that we can know, positively, that the universe is radically contingent.

        Are you reading Meillassoux’s metaphysical claim about the existence of a principle of contingency as a negative (epistemological) claim about the absence of knowledge of things? This is where I’d disagree. They do look pretty similar in practice; however, I think that for Meillassoux the difference is that, as I suggested before, he can both derive the principle of contingency and derive things from it (e.g., the principle of identity).

    • I’ve had a hard time organizing my response, so if it feels ungainly, you have my apologies.

      The first thing I want to say is that one can’t neatly separate out ‘ontology’ from ‘epistemology’. Brassier makes that point too, no? I don’t know who thought that one could in fact cleave the two apart, but that idea is totally asinine. If one were able to do so, ‘ontology’ would be a purely self-referential system of inscriptions devoid of content To the extent that one does metaphysics, one is trying to articulate a conceptual framework capable of grounding (in the epistemic, justificatory sense) certain kinds of practices. Some of these concern specific epistemic disciplines (the various sciences, literature, social theory, math). In fact, metaphysics has typically served a Justificatory function by providing a non-empirical ground capable of successfully refuting skeptical concerns about knowledge. If there’s a difference between that conception of metaphysics and ‘epistemology’ it’s merely that epistemology is interested in the narrower terms for applying the word ‘knowledge,’ (as in S knows that P = ….). In a sense, the epistemological accepts a specific ontology/conceptual framework in which a type of claim to know is couched. To completely separate the two seems to me to demonstrate a complete misunderstanding of what epistemology actually does, and what metaphysics and ontology are about. And asking what justifies your metaphysics (i.e. ask, ‘how do you know?) isn’t to reduce metaphysics to epistemology, but rather to demonstrate the coherence of the system itself.

      That said, I guess my point about Meillassoux is really twofold (as is appropriate to a discussion of ‘ground’):

      1) That Meillassoux feels confident in appealing to the given in the way I quoted above (i.e. as a brute fact that requires no further interpretation or justification) indicates that we have access to something outside or beyond the space of reasons. This fits the basic fideist position

      Now, although Meillassoux’s argument is supposed to to be grounded by the whole arch-fossil thing, that argument is rather lame (and his demand for a yes-no answer to the age of the universe question is actually fallacious in a really interesting sense, since it (a) precludes the most likely answer most of us want to give, namely ‘I don’t know,’ and (b) illicitly bans any epistemic modalization, like ‘given our contemporary understanding.’ By excluding relevant alternatives, Meillassoux ‘loads’ his question in a way that we ought not accept — to use a classic example, his tactic is akin to asking someone, “have you stopped beating your wife — yes or no?” while simultaneously refusing you the opportunity to contest the formulation of the question — and his insistence that we not unpack his question betrays something like bad faith). And his criticisms of Kant etc are completely wrongheaded (Tom from Grundlegung had a few nice points some time back about this issue, where he showed that it is factually/textually false to attribute to Kant the idea that truth is intersubjective agreement, etc)

      2) it strikes me that Meillassoux’s understanding of what a first principle is isn’t sufficiently clear, since he vacillates unhelpfully between metaphysical ground and epistemological first principle. Sometimes he really is talking about first principles (of knowledge!), and hence he’s doing epistemology; Sometimes he’s talking about what the first principle ‘corresponds’ to, and hence he’s doing metaphysics. If he were clear about this, it wouldn’t be problematic. But he’s not. And it is.

      So, I guess all this means is that I am in fact reading the principle as both a metaphysical claim and as part of an epistemology. But if I’m not supposed to do this, then why would you call it a principle? why not call it ‘the fact of factiality’ if it’s supposed to be a metaphysical claim from which we can derive epistemological conclusions?

      • Despite being a trick question:

        “Have you stopped beating your wife — yes or no?”

        can anyone see why “no” is the correct answer?

  11. So we’re agreed: Brassier’s piece moves the discussion on several miles from Object-Object Veganism. Those who live by the sword of fashion, etc. etc. Pity that some Godzilla Metaphysics (thanks, Mikhail) creeps in in Thesis 32 wrt Hegel; also, I would hesitate to call the outcome of all this transcendental realism. But otherwise, a refeshing read.

  12. A lot of typos in my last post… The most important is probably in the third paragraph: “we can make a metaphysical claim… ” should read “we can’t…” (in the sense that we can make a theological claim but not a philosophical claim).

    I shouldn’t touch a keyboard before I have coffee….

  13. I took the liberty to make some additions to Brassier’s text:

    ‘Once relieved of the constraints of cognitive rationality and the obligation to truth, metaphysics can forego the need for explanation and supplant the latter with a series of allusive metaphors whose cognitive import becomes a function of semantic resonance: ‘actor’, ‘ally’, ‘force’, ‘power’, ‘strength’, ‘resistance’, ‘network’, [‘withdrawn object’, ‘molten core’, ‘allure’, ‘vicarious causation’] (51)

    ‘[Harman’s] texts are designed to do things: they have been engineered in order to produce an effect rather than establish a demonstration. Far from trying to prove anything, [Harman] is explicitly engaged in persuading the susceptible into embracing his [Object-Oriented] worldview through a particularly adroit deployment of rhetoric. This is the traditional modus operandi of the sophist.’ (53)

    • You would think that for someone who loves the confrontation, Harman would be all about Brassier’s critique, composing multiple posts about it (the way he does with lesser characters) – does he feel maybe that here he is really going up against a worthy opponent?

  14. His narcissism probably does not allow him to consciously realize that, but I’m sure that somewhere deep inside (maybe in his molten core) he’s scared shitless of confrontation with Brassier, who is quite obviously –whether you agree with him or not– an unusually sharp thinker. Definitely more than the baron of Objects.

  15. Since this post was such an awesome success, I give you another themed observation:

    Reality vs. Popeye Riding a Unicorn

    If Marx was correct, one’s ideological commitments must be connected to one’s political views and considering how incredibly upset OOOlogists became when someone suggested they might be neoliberals, then I’m eager to see what Professor Marvel makes of the protests and the call for democracy under his own nose.

      • Well, as long it’s not the Hiroshima of the human-centered philosophy, it’ll be just fine:

        “Having been deeply perturbed by a personal visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I mean no disrespect to the victims and ruined objects of Japan if I say that the same list of objects is destroyed in a different way by the various philosophies of human access. Human-centered philosophy is a Hiroshima of metaphysics”

        Prince of Networks [103]

  16. Didn’t have to wait for too long, did we?

    Ta-Dum!

    Short version: Had no internet for a day, saw there were riots in Egypt, afraid that it will slow down electronic communications, might effect me me me me (“how will I be affected by this crisis?” is the most important political question!) We should play a game: “How many logical steps does it take Professor Marvel to go from event X to himself?”

    It’s so easy to mock, it’s boring – no wonder Mikhail seems to have given up, where is the fucking challenge? But I suppose that as long as he is sincere about it – and surely faking concern for the citizens of Egypt would be lame – it’s all good.

  17. From what I’ve read some of the anti-Mubarak protesters are critical – amongst other things – of the government’s kowtowing to American interests. I wonder if the American University in Cairo might become an object….of their anger. How incovenient that would be!

    • I realize he has no political interests, but you would think he could say just a bit about what it feels like to live in an oppressive police state with a dictator for a president. US, of course, has vital interests in Egypt and Egypt has a well-paid army that won’t let anything serious happen (they just banned all protests today) – but I suppose as long as they don’t kill objects, it’s fine. There’s something really misanthropic about OOO, isn’t there? I mean they will deny it of course but there is a sense in which, for example, Bryant has an almost allergic reaction to anything human (language, meaning, interpretation, intention etc etc) and an almost erotic reaction to anything non-human and object-like. Even his feeble attempts to usurp Marx are, in addition to being idiotic, radically anti-human.

  18. Half of me would like to see him try to give some reflection on these events; half of me thinks that would only reinforce his guru image, as if we really hang on his words. I agree with you about the misanthropy, though. It’s lurking beneath the surface with most of them and sometimes they don’t hide it too well. Another thing that annoys me is this talk about ‘the post-human’ and ‘the cyborg’. Have you ever seen a cyborg (apart from in Hollywood films)? Have you ever even seen a robot that isn’t a bit….crap? I was listening on the radio to a researcher who’d done some Latour-type observation of labs trying to build sophisticated robots. Her findings after several years of study: yes, they’re a bit crap. Could she envision them doing many of the things humans do, even in a few decades, a century maybe? “No.”

    • There’s an interesting parallel to the late Soviet philosophical attempts at a kind of technocratic materialism – this is not a criticism, just an observation (just throwing it out there for OOO lurkers) – it’s partly boring working out of diamat, but partly interesting fore-shadowing of all the IA stuff in the West. Of course, in the capitalist world robots are a great displacement of the labour force, but in the Soviet world it was the big great future of communism (for some).

  19. It’s kind of funny that it’s only now that Harman’s work is receiving so much attention that Brassier has taken to attacking him, don’t you think? Do you honestly think this is a mere coincidence? Harman has published four or five books in the past few years, with several more due to be published soon, and while his work continues to garner widespread attention both within and far beyond philosophical circles, Brassier meanwhile seems unable to offer anything but a short screed of seething resentment thinly disguised as “rigorous critique”. So Harman’s work only has a “paultry metaphorics” to offer eh? It amazes me that Brassier can say this as if Harman has not tirelessly spelled out his arguments again and again. Brassier may well have trouble following these arguments (they require thinking beyond the crude eliminativist/scientistic picture Brassier is so enamoured by, admittedly), but to pretend they are not there is just downright disingenuous. As Harman has recently said on his blog: NO ONE has offered more arguments in this neck of the philosophical woods than the object-oriented philosophers. And what precisely does Brassier himself have to offer other than nay-saying criticisms (which is what Nihil Unbound mainly consists of, once you strip away all the tedious commentary and paraphrasing)? Those of us who have read Harman know he has a whole lot more to offer than a “paultry metaphorics”, nor do we think (as Brassier seems to do) that rigorous argument and rhetoric/metaphor are somehow mutually exclusive. But what exactly is Brassier’s alternative anyway? As it turns out, it goes something like this: “manifest image”: bad, eliminate; “scientific image”: good, keep. But apart from all this being little more than a continentalist rehashing of outdated analytic scientism (the number of contemporary analytic philosophers who take eliminative materialism seriously is very close to zero), it is remains completely unclear how choosing between these two “images” of reality is supposed to provide a basis for any kind of realism whatsoever. So it seems to me that if speculative realism is no longer a movement in philosophy that is not because (as Mikhail likes to insinuate) the other three members of the group reject Harman’s work, but rather because Harman has simply outgrown the rest, showing himself to be the only genuinely original thinker of the group. It’s also surely a testimony to his generosity that he should write a book on Meillassoux (who himself can only seem to manage to write one very slim book in a decade), when really it is Harman’s work that is clearly most deserving of having secondary/exegetical texts devoted to it (and we will surely not have long to wait for those either, just as we have seen with the likes of Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, Badiou, and other truly original thinkers).

    • It’s kind of funny that it’s only now that Harman’s work is receiving so much attention that Brassier has taken to attacking him, don’t you think?

      It’s not funny because it’s not true:

      a) Harman’s work is not receiving much attention outside of the blogosphere
      b) Brassier’s essay was written at least 2-3 years ago since this anthology was announced in 2009 – it took a long time for it to come out.
      c) Brassier is not attacking Harman, Harman is dismissed in a footnote, he is arguing against a number of tendencies.
      d) Quantity does not necessarily translate into quality – Harman can write 5 more books by the end of this year, but what does it have to do with quality?
      e) Object-oriented philosophical “explanations” are multiple indeed but are only appealing to their choir – any serious engagement is/was met with pissy refusals and whiny complaints (e.x. Wolfendal, Shaviro, Ivakhiv etc etc)
      f) There was never a philosophical movement called “speculative realism” to begin with – Harman invented it and then successfully outgrew it. I never insinuated that the other three members rejected Harman’s work, because the other three members were never members of anything. Give me a fucking break, man! You can love Harman as much as you want, but, please, stick with some basic facts here. Is he also by any chance Jesus in your estimation?

  20. Sorry, should have been: “it remains completely unclear how choosing between these two “images” of reality is supposed to provide a basis for any kind of realism whatsoever.”

    Point being: this kind of philosophy limits itself to two *HUMAN IMAGES of* reality, whereas OOP opens itself up to a radically non-human reality, not just to picking and choosing among images of it as conceived by humans…

    • You have to be joking here – How is “opening itself up to a radically non-human reality” possible? What is being opened up to that non-human reality? Who is doing the opening? Who is perceiving the reality that is supposedly opened up?

      I really hope you’re just an infatuated teenager or a first-year philosophy student, because otherwise I fear for your sanity.

  21. My God Danny, is this satire? Brassier offers only “human” images of reality, whereas Harman offers… what? A superhuman image?

  22. It’s kind of funny that it’s only now that Harman’s work is receiving so much attention that Brassier has taken to attacking him, don’t you think? Do you honestly think this is a mere coincidence? Harman has published four or five books in the past few years, with several more due to be published soon, and while his work continues to garner widespread attention both within and far beyond philosophical circles, Brassier meanwhile seems unable to offer anything but a short screed of seething resentment thinly disguised as “rigorous critique”.

    First, as Mikhail has already pointed out, this book took ages to come out, and Brassier’s article is at least 2 if not 3 years old. Second: 5 books of Harman? Sure, old papers of his in order to carefully demonstrate to the world how long he’s been using the OOP formula (it is MINE! Since 1999!!) and to allow his minions to carefully trace his ‘intellectual’ development (that guy on Dark Chemistry really has to get a life BTW). Then a book of ‘philosophical myths’. Seriously? What were we saying about sophists? I will concede that the Latour book is in many ways a good one but because it is a good philosophical introduction to Latour, not for merits of original philosophy (same could be said of the ‘Heidegger Explained’ book, excellent for undergraduate courses…but that’s about it). Third: widespread attention? Really? Yes among other non-theoretical disciplines which need a neatly packaged, easy and ‘innovative’ theoretical take on the nonhuman world. Please list serious philosophers that have taken up Harman (I said serious, do not mention Tim Siddharta Morton). You know what is hilarious? All the bile Harman spat on Ladyman, Churchland and Metzinger (calling them bullies! Ah, the irony). Now tell me: have any of those people even bothered with a reply to him? I am pretty sure that they hardly know who he is.

     

    As Harman has recently said on his blog: NO ONE has offered more arguments in this neck of the philosophical woods than the object-oriented philosophers. And what precisely does Brassier himself have to offer other than nay-saying criticisms (which is what Nihil Unbound mainly consists of, once you strip away all the tedious commentary and paraphrasing)?

     

    So the sheer amount of words on the internet makes up for the lack of a good argument? Are the OOOists planning to win by exasperating their opponents (which is precisely what happened often, with Shaviro — smart enough to write a couple of things and then wash his hands of the whole controversy –, or Ivakiv –who more stubbornly kept trying to change the OOOists mind–: replies, more replies saying the same thing more aggressively, and then direct insults). And please, Nihil Unbound is not ‘nay-saying criticism’, it is what is called ‘close, critical reading’ and an engagement with an impressive amount of thinkers from Nietzsche to Meillassoux in order to identify precisely where things, according to him, went wrong in each and every case. Harman does the same, just replacing the close reading with his ‘innovative’ interpretations  (Heidegger) and his rough-and-ready pronouncements about this or that philosopher (which usually goes like this: ‘X said Y, Y is good BUT it must be applied to OBJECTS!! And so I shall!’

    Those of us who have read Harman know he has a whole lot more to offer than a “paultry metaphorics”, nor do we think (as Brassier seems to do) that rigorous argument and rhetoric/metaphor are somehow mutually exclusive. But what exactly is Brassier’s alternative anyway? As it turns out, it goes something like this: “manifest image”: bad, eliminate; “scientific image”: good, keep. But apart from all this being little more than a continentalist rehashing of outdated analytic scientism (the number of contemporary analytic philosophers who take eliminative materialism seriously is very close to zero), it is remains completely unclear how choosing between these two “images” of reality is supposed to provide a basis for any kind of realism whatsoever. So it seems to me that if speculative realism is no longer a movement in philosophy that is not because (as Mikhail likes to insinuate) the other three members of the group reject Harman’s work, but rather because Harman has simply outgrown the rest, showing himself to be the only genuinely original thinker of the group.

    First: Brassier is an extremely suggestive writer, compressing in an (admittedly dense) style a great amount of (precise) arguments. If you haven’t understood how the discrimination between two ‘images’ grounds a scientific realism I don’t really know where to begin. Then the hilarious statement: ORIGINAL THINKER?? Yes well, had Heidegger, Husserl, Whitehead and Latour (and I would add Bhaskar) not written a single page, then yes Harman would be very original indeed. The problem is that they did write, and that Harman’s system is just a — skillful — reworking and meshing-up of borrowed ideas, nicely packaged and labelled with the catchy (easily understandable and memorizable) ‘Object-Oriented Philosophy’ name.

    It’s also surely a testimony to his generosity that he should write a book on Meillassoux (who himself can only seem to manage to write one very slim book in a decade), when really it is Harman’s work that is clearly most deserving of having secondary/exegetical texts devoted to it (and we will surely not have long to wait for those either, just as we have seen with the likes of Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, Badiou, and other truly original thinkers).

    This is rich. This is a real gem. GENEROSITY? The cunning Harman saw the possibility of being the first (and actually he’s been beaten at that, as he found out with some hardly concealed disappointment a few months back) to publish a book-lenght introduction to Meillassoux, hence claiming the name of ‘official’ interpreter of Meillassoux in the English world, playing on Meillssoux’s naive ignorance of how popular his work became in the UK and the US. It’ll probably be something like ‘Hey people! Look Meillassoux is very important and smart and he fights the evil correlationists and I am the one who took this fight more seriously than anyone else! Indeed, I do it better than HE does!’ There is no ‘generosity’ involved in that book. There is only the usual inordinate amount of ‘narcissism’.

    Finally to see Harman’s work compared to Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze or Badiou simply makes me shiver in horror: academia is really, really fucked if this is the best that the new generation of philosophers can offer.

  23. Harman did say he was going deep undercover… Anyway Danny seems not to have read the Brassier piece, which is certainly not ‘scientistic’. I’ve no commitment to Brassier’s work in general or sympathy with his dismissal of this straw man ‘correlationism’ (who really fits this label? Fichte perhaps occasionally, no one else) but the thrust of his essay is not scientism but rather this: that ontology can’t get very far without epistemology to measure its wilder claims or help it avoid downright contradiction (Levi’s use of transcendental arguments doesn’t help much either in this regard). For all his ‘arguments’ Harman has never convincingly responded to this basic point.

  24. Take it easy on the old bachelor there, friends. I read his blog every morning – there’s always a high chance of him saying something stupid and making my day.

    I remember the days when in order to point out how vain and self-involved academics were one had to resort to gossip and stories, now you can just go to Harman’s blog and see it all for yourself: narcissism was never more obvious and enjoyable (if only because of such lack of self-awareness on the subject’s side)! Bryant’s whining always makes me sad and sorry for him, but Harman’s self-congratulatory “snack bar of stupid” is an awesome cultural phenomenon – let him be!

  25. He never disappoints, does he? As Egypt explodes in protests, a country he claims to have genuine feelings for, Harman is compiling a list of 20 most awesome philosophical books and making observations about the neighbours’ noises. There goes his “public intellectual” image.

  26. So Harman is not an original thinker because some of his insights are foreshadowed by Heidegger, Latour and Whitehead? Well, in that case I guess Kant was not an original thinker because some of his ideas were foreshadowed by Hume and Leibniz, and Heidegger was not an original thinker because he was influenced by Kierkegaard and Husserl…

    But really, Harman’s genius is hard to miss even in many of his short blog posts. For example, look at how he tackles that old myth about cats being unusually credulous creatures in one of his posts from earlier today:

    “Are cats really more gullible than humans? Cats don’t waste their time believing in things 13.2 billion light years away or slithering through deep ocean crevices that neither cats nor humans can ever reach. Cats don’t believe in cats that lived 2,000 years ago, let alone 800,000 years ago.”

    Hell, I admit I’m something of a fan of Harman’s, but honestly: is it even possible to condense so many insights into the essential differences between humans and cats into so few words? Yet there is more: Having laid waste to centuries’ old wisdom that “cats” (as my mom used to say) “will believe anything you tell them”; that they don’t tend to do much in the way of astrophysics; and that they don’t waste their time slithering through things they can never reach; Harman then goes on to point out that humans in fact believe in a lot more beliefs than cats do!:

    “Humans are the naive animals, not the critical animals. We create vast cities of beliefs for ourselves. Yes, there are “justifications” for many of those beliefs. But ultimately we believe in them, for whatever reason, and we believe in a lot more of them than cats do.”

    And yet you are still doubting that there is a mind of quite extraordinary brilliance and originality at work here?!

  27. I must confess: I am confused. For a second I thought: ‘Oh god, that Dark Chemistry guy has been building up a colossal, blog-sized mockery of Harman for the last months, so subtle none noticed!’ (which would have been fantastic). But no, he’s genuinely in love with the reincarnation of Aristotle.

    So the options are really two: 1) you really are the DC guy and you are much more of a crackpot then I gave you credit for (see cats above); 2) you are indeed doing parodies and trying to make a point addressing us to that blog, which is not yours. In this case, as Mikhail said above, I completely failed to get the irony in your first comment…

  28. This is getting weird. I can get my head around the idea that OOO/P appeals to some folks — typically non-philosophers who see it as a way to talk about animals or the environment without worrying about human access. I cannot, however, believe that anyone thinks Harman riffing on cats is a work of genius. Conclusion: it’s gotta be satire.

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