Oracular Realism

Certain realists (or, rather, “realists”) simply proclaim what the world is like, what it consists of, what sort of stuff is real (or, rather, “real”) – without even a hint of argumentation or even decency of explaining how they arrived at such conclusions. I propose to call this form of realism (or, rather, “realism”) oracular realism.

Let me give you an example: “The world consists of objects,” we hear. “Some objects are sticky and some are bright, some are stinky and some are dim. There are four kind of objects, therefore. These are not static, sticky objects often become stinky, dim objects become bright. It all depends on the speed with which these objects move in the ether.”

“I say the world consists of relations, not objects. Some relations are fast and some are slow. There is nothing that is relating, only the relations themselves.”

“No, the world consists of objects. Instead of arguing about it with me you should develop my theory, see what it does for you, not what it is in itself!”

Any questions regarding this “ontology” are dismissed as irrelevant. Any criticisms are challenged as prejudiced. Any praise is met with exhilaration and supplementary nonsense (“Aha, I see how dim and sticky go together! Thanks, kind person, for developing my theory!”).

It might appear harmless in its utter idiocy and stubborn mediocrity, but it isn’t. It makes claims to knowledge, it disguises itself as knowledge while being, in essence, a series of irrational conjurations. Oracular realism is then a kind of dogmatism – it makes statements about reality (or, rather, “reality”) without providing not only any justification, but also any explanation of how one arrives at such statements. To say that it lacks any real historical development is to say very little – it refuses to explain itself as knowledge while insisting that it is and that you mustn’t question its status as such. Old dogmatism at least graced us with a reference to some higher authority (“The Bible tells me so”); new dogmatism takes even that consolation away from its adherents: things are the way I say they are, period.

Oracular realism as dogmatism, however, positions itself as novel and progressive. In reality, it isn’t simply pre-Kantian, it is unabashedly pre-philosophical:

“Daddy, the rainbow is made of cotton balls!” – “It is, honey, isn’t it?”

23 thoughts on “Oracular Realism

  1. I like it. I propose a variant called Sportmanteau Realism, which makes the same types of claims by combining elements of prior systems to sport the one. Say, someone’s claim about phenomenological fog, and some other’s claim about a ‘smoke-at-hand.’ Then one could propose a Smogontology.

      • Yes, a species of, I think. But it implies justification for it’s claims by the success of it’s merged collection. “Hmm, this monadic mirror distorts this phenomenal appearance pretty consistently . . .done.”

      • Hmm… But in Oracular Realism the emergence of one’s views must be hidden – it can’t just announce that it merged a pinch of Heidegger with a spoon of Latour. Sure, it gives us an elaborate (and irritating) “intellectual auto-biography” (he who control the message, control the game) but nothing in terms of “where do my ideas come from?” – the ontology is just born, mysteriously and yet inexorably…

  2. Combining the speculative excesses of continental philosophy with the methodological arrogance of analytic philosophy, with a sprig of historical garnish. It is The Next Wave in Philosophy (TM).

    • Sure, see this, for example.

      I love the “important to me” part of that nonsense…
      I mean it reads like a legitimate philosophical exercise and all, but take a closer look – there are types of objects, there are analogies with Einstein that are absolutely unjustified, there is a new type of object and so on. Despite the appearance of science/argument, it’s just oracular – “Hear, hear, I found a new type of object!” – “Where?” – “But of course, in my head! Where else?” – “Aren’t you the guy always complaining about philosophers sitting in chairs and not getting out to ‘get with objects’?” – “Who are you to question me? You are banned!”

      • So I’ll play devil’s advocate. Is there some way to talk in a non-dogmatic or non-oracular way about “bright objects” or “dim objects,” because the ideas are, maybe, pretty good, as long as you keep your wits about you, and don’t pretend that this has anything to do with Einstein, science, or, well, reality, speculative or otherwise. I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I could see how one might, if one is interested in objects, want to play around with these descriptors.

      • Ok, for the sake of the argument. There is no problem with classifying objects, sure. But where is this classification coming from? What is it based on? Certainly not on empirical observation, since there are certainly more than four kinds. So primitive empiricism aside, what is the source of these categories of objects (or any other categories of things, or any other idea and so on and so forth) – suddenly you are in Kant territory (to be avoided in oracular realism).

        Now, let’s be charitable and assume that “bright objects” and “dim objects” are real things existing in the world (despite strong resemblances, for example, to the theory of humors) – how does one confirm that this is the case? Is my table a bright object or a dim object? These are not real things, you will be told, these are objects and so on – I couldn’t care less about the specific of that ontology (“personal ontology” movement) – but how do I participate in this conversation? Is there a language I can use? Einstein had mathematics…

  3. On a serious note: of course the problem of where one begins in philosophy is a real problem. But one certainly cannot begin with random made-up statements about “objects” simply because any beginning point is arbitrary. Objectology developed an entire inside language that no one (including themselves) understands and yet everyone pretends to speak it. The very notion that the world consists of objects is dogmatically announced, not demonstrated or deduced. My world does not consist of objects, it consists of subjects – can I know construct my own peculiar subjectology? And it does not matter how elaborate and complex this system of “private ontologies” becomes – it originates with a fiat, with a personal preference writ large, with a mysterious appearance of thoughts and things…

    And they can publish as many books about it (Derrida-approved or not), it won’t change the randomness of the initial magic act of positing something as true without any explanation.

    • On a semi-serious note, objects are old hat. It is back to desiring machines.

      What I find most problematic is nominal realism which is tapered by also including an idiosyncratic notion of withdrawal, what is withdrawn is whatever you imagine it to be. You can counter by stating that it is a kind of zero point that is also withdrawn to other subjects/objects/machines, this is not satisfactory however because…

      A: Question of genesis #1: Talking about withdrawal begs the question; withdrawal itself needs to be accounted for.

      B: Question of genesis #2: It is the extension of a particular Lacanian clinical structure to that of non-human subjects/objects/machines – an anthropic narcissistic gesture if there ever was one.

      C: The presence of the subject/object/machines to itself, like every other subject/object/machines fatally undermines the notion of singularity of withdrawal given that it is a common structure to all subjects/objects/machines.


      • I find attempts to articulate any notion of “withdrawal” without explaining not just what is withdrawing (that’s comparatively easy) but what it is withdrawing from, in what direction, in relation to what else – obviously the metaphor of withdrawal only works in subject-object scheme: object is withdrawing from subject’s perception. The rest if just linguistic gymnastics and a lot of nonsense.

        I mean you can determine the idea of withdrawal in whichever way you want your “private ontology” (which has as much right to existence as any other “private language”) desires, it won’t help. The fundamental issue here is the simple fact that you cannot overcome the subject-object split, you cannot solve the fundamental problems at hand, by simply pretending it does not exist. It does or it doesn’t – you must clearly provide an answer (without citationism or other types of referentiality – “Well, in my physics the world is made up of 2 substances, fire and wood…” – “But no, dear Sir, in my physics it is not so…”) To say, like Harman, that it does but it’s not unique to subjects without any demonstration that it is the case is not very persuasive. How does he know that? He doesn’t. What he does is perform a magic act of sophistry: “I know we cannot know it (due to limited nature of knowledge) but let us assume that we do and see what comes out of it.” That’s all there is to it. Perhaps something really cool comes out of it – so what? What does it have to do with philosophy?

        Note the play with words that’s often taking place – “I have decided to abandon the term ‘withdrawal’ because it is confusing,” says Bryant, for example. That’s an interesting move. Why is the word confusing? Is it because it is inadequately describing the reality at hand? What reality? The notion that objects cannot be perceived, do not appear (to what? to whom?) in their entirety? And so on and so forth. You can give it whatever name you want, it’s still “linguistic turn” times. What this ontological masturbation then boils down to is simple linguistic promiscuity (in addition to a kind of idiotic borrowing with science – “I will develop my own notion of gravity – why should Einstein have all the fun?”), simple nonsense made flesh and pushed on the masses who are either too lazy to perceive it as nonsense or too preoccupied with its alleged novelty to think about it.

      • Harman does seem to acknowledge that he is not doing philosophy, well he hints a lot. “Instead of beginning with radical doubt (Descartes? Hume? Kant? the whole modern tradition?) we start from naiveté.” And this oft-repeated-in- interviews caveat ” Aesthetics is first philosophy.” I’ve always taken these writers to be playing creatively with the language of philosophy, while not showing any interest in doing philosophical work. That usually lets me enjoy reading their stuff, without getting worked up over the serious faced shallowness of it all.

  4. I usually have a dual reaction to these claims on not doing philosophy: a) it’s a defense mechanism against critique (whether intentional or not, it does not much matter, b) it is posturing as neither one of the objectologists strikes me as knowing anything about aesthetics or even demonstrating any sense of classical taste in music, art or literature. As a defense mechanism it fails because if philosophy wasn’t what they were wanting to do, they wouldn’t be so attached to philosophical contexts (read, academia). Plus, suggesting that aesthetics is first philosophy is still to cling to philosophical associations. As posturing it has about as much to say about aesthetics as it does about science – simply using terminology of aesthetics does not make something into aesthetics. Give me an example of more or less aesthetically thought-provoking idea originating from object-oriented realm?

    Now, doing philosophy as aesthetics is a great idea, probably about as great as doing philosophy as literature. However, it usually fails because it is still done by philosophers, and not artists or writers. And philosophers pretending to be artists or writers are, for the most part, the most pitiful spectacle one can think of. When Harman claims that philosophers must write clearly, he is correct – if they wrote clearly, many would see that behind many of their language tricks there lies nothing substantial, even if it is interesting in some sense (in the same sense as a well-told fantastical story might be interesting in all of its improbability). But what does this clarity really mean? It’s basically a kind of “imitatio Harman” – if you write like him, if you can understand what he writes about, you are golden. But enter Laruelle and we immediately hear objections that he is a bad writer. Based on what standard? If philosophy is aesthetics, does it then claim that there is some sort of universal standard of beauty/clarity? If there is, what is it – if there isn’t, who has a right make such statements about “bad” writing?

    The bottom line is this – being worked up about truth claims is the essence of philosophical debate. If you don’t, you aren’t thinking. All that business about aesthetics is a way to deflect any serious engagement with the material. “I’m doing philosophy” – “Your philosophy is shit” – “Well, I’m doing aesthetics then” – “Your writing style sucks and you have no taste” – “Well, what’s that to you? Why are you so obsessed with me? Let me alone” – “Stop writing nonsense and claim it isn’t then, speak the common language of reason or stop speaking” – “But that is oppressive and totalitarian! You are just a bully” – “I fucking am then. If you want to do your philosophy privately, without using commonly understand conceptual language, then do it in the privacy of your own head. As soon as you open your mouth, you are joining the collective of other human beings who have the right to challenge and dismiss your opinions. Period.”

    Or something like that…

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