Question: What May I Hope For? Answer: More Vague Bullshit!


Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, you guys! Did you hear about the “new materialism”? No? Well you have to read this then, it’s the bestest most original philosophy out there. Just look at this introduction – doesn’t it make you really excited about this new big thing? No, not the “speculative turn” – that’s so 5 years ago. That seemed like a good idea at the time but it turned out to be a turn down the wrong alley. No, not the “object-oriented philosophy” – that is so 6 years ago and has been exposed as a big joke. No one, like, even reads that shit anymore.

Get ready, get set, get excited about the next big thing! Or at least this is what this Introduction wants you to do. How new is this “new materialism”? As new as they come! What is so “materialist” about it? It’s a big secret, ya’ll.

In academia, revolutionary and radical ideas are actualized through an engagement with scholars and scholarly traditions of the canonized past. Contemporary generations read, or more often reread older texts, resulting in “new” readings that do not fit the dominant reception of these texts… It is in the resonances between old and new readings and re-readings that a “new metaphysics” might announce itself… It rather traverses and thereby rewrites thinking as a whole, leaving nothing untouched, redirecting every possible idea according to its new sense of orientation.

Translation: academics read and reread books. New materialism is about reading old books anew, by new people with new ideas (and cool new words). Things will emerge as we stubbornly read the same books over and over again. Maybe we’ll throw in some new unexpected books, like, you know, new stuff from other disciplines?

An endorsement by the great wizard of online philosophy (Graham Harman) makes me want to read this immediately – that dude knows his philosophical fashions! But I suspect, judging by the introduction, this will have little or nothing to do with “materialism” and much to do with “new” verbal tricks and ways for bored academics to amuse themselves with new toys.

But I might be wrong! This might indeed be the next big thing!

13 thoughts on “Question: What May I Hope For? Answer: More Vague Bullshit!

  1. “The “new” in new materialism is not a term that accepts or continues a classificatory historiography of (academic) thinking that necessarily comes with a hierarchy or any kind of a priori logic. New materialism affirms that such hierachized specialization creates “minds in a groove” whereas “there is no groove of abstractions which is adequate for the comprehension of human life” (Whitehead [1925] 1997, 197). New materialism does not intend to add yet another specialized epistemology to the tree of academic knowledge production (Deleuze and Guattari [1980] 1987, 5). As such, it is thus not necessarily opposed to the crude or Historical/Marxist materialist tradition. It is not necessarily different from any other materialist, pragmatic or monist tradition either, since it carefully “works through” all these traditions in order to avoid, along with the trap of antagonism, the trap of anachronism (Lyotard [1988] 1991, 26–7) or of “a retrograde movement” (Bergson [1934] 2007, 11). New materialism says “yes, and” to all of these intellectual traditions, traversing them all, creating strings of thought that, in turn, create a remarkably powerful and fresh “rhythm” in academia today (Simondon [1958] 1980).”

    http://quod.lib.umich.edu/o/ohp/11515701.0001.001/1:5.1/–new-materialism-interviews-cartographies?rgn=div2;view=fulltext

    So, it’s new, but not so much…

  2. Gosh you all are a cynical, hardened bunch. OK, so the breathless tone can be a bit tedious. But may I inquire just what, if anything, would constitute a truly novel philosophical methodology in your opinions? Is there nothing new under the sun?

    • I do not object to the claims to novelty, I just think it is phrased in such horrid academese nonsensical prose that it simply begs to be mocked. Have you read the book? Interviews are okay but the second part where the authors are trying to torture our some “new materialism” is really odd. As an “old” materialist myself I find this sort of gibberish entertaining and worthy of being mocked.

      Is there nothing new under the sun? Probably not as much as some would want us to believe. The trick is to simply ignore what was done and act as if you just discovered the wheel! Seeing you are an admirer of OOO, you should know what I’m talking about.

  3. A few more thoughts here — hopefully taken in the good-faith spirit in which they’re offered. Academic jargon is at least partially in the eye of the beholder: nobody complains when computer engineers and zoologists use specialized or tailor-made vocabulary, yet when philsophers or theorists do it, they’re routinely accused of obscurantism or charlatanism. Believe me, I appreciate clarity in writing as much as the next guy — but straight-talking can be used to deceive at least as readily as fancy words (see: George W. Bush). I agree that rediscovering the wheel is not a particularly useful exercise; that’s why I’m quite interested in the roots and precedents of these “new” movements, going back at least to the Enlightenment and Romantics. That doesn’t mean they’re phony, but it does mean they’re not as novel as they may claim. In fact, the OOO authors I’m currently finding most interesting are the ones who tend to be pretty open about their partial debts to phenomenology, occasionalism, psychoanalysis, etc. I also think they appear to offer a useful corrective to the near-exclusive focus on discourse and culture that dominated most mid-to-late-20th c. theory (see esp.: deconstruction), and was my bread and butter in graduate school. Will it last? I don’t know. But I give people like Timothy Morton and Ian Bogost, who have embraced it in the name of different causes (environmental critique, technological critique), more credit than to dismiss them as just drinking the the latest flavor of kool-aid.

  4. Well, point taken. Jargon does not always mean bad, but in this particular case it seemed to be a cover for some pretty traditional academic exercises: reading books and making conclusions. People are free to drink cool-aid, just don’t pretend it’s holy water…

  5. There is nothing wrong with the use of specialized terminology, but cobbling together sentences such as
    It is not necessarily different from any other materialist, pragmatic or monist tradition either, since it carefully “works through” all these traditions in order to avoid, along with the trap of antagonism, the trap of anachronism (Lyotard [1988] 1991, 26–7) or of “a retrograde movement” (Bergson [1934] 2007, 11). New materialism says “yes, and” to all of these intellectual traditions, traversing them all, creating strings of thought that, in turn, create a remarkably powerful and fresh “rhythm” in academia today (Simondon [1958] 1980).”
    Spanning three thinkers over 54 years and devoting no more than two or three words for each in order to supposedly bolster one’s argument is, frankly, taking the piss. I know it’s only the introduction and perhaps the arguments get fleshed out later, but reading that sentence makes me cease to care about the rest of the book.

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