This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Review of BELLS AND WHISTLES: MORE SPECULATIVE REALISM
(Gra a! Har!a"# $ero Boo%&# '( Nove!)er '*+,-
). Tere"/e B0a%e
We are 0ivi"1 2 ro31 a 4erio5 of i"2e00e/23a0 re1re&&io" i" 2 e rea0! of Co"2i"e"2a0 P i0o&o4 .# a re1re&&io" 2 a2 4ro/0ai!& i2&e0f 2o )e a 5e/i&ive 4ro1re&& )e.o"5 2 e !ere0. "e1a2ive a"5 /ri2i/a0 4 i0o&o4 ie& of 2 e re/e"2 4a&26 7e2 2 e 4 i0o&o4 ie& of De0e38e# 9o3/a302# Derri5a a"5 L.o2ar5 /a""o2 )e &3!!e5 34 i" 2 e i!a1e of 43re /ri2i:3e6 T eir /ri2i/a0 5i&&o032io" of 2 e 5o1!a2i/ re&i53e& /o"2ai"e5 i" eve" 2 e !o&2 i""ova2ive 4 i0o&o4 ie& 2 e. a5 e"/o3"2ere5 5i5 "o2 0eave 3& i" a 4ower0e&& voi5 of "e1a2ivi2. a"5 4ara0.&i&6 T eir ;5e/o"&2r3/2io"< we"2 a00 2 e wa. 5ow"# 5e/o"&2r3/2i"1 eve" 2 e "o2io" of /ri2i:3e a"5 0i)era2i"1 2 e 4o&&i)i0i2. of "ew a&&e!)0a1e& a"5 "ew 4ro/e&&e& of &3)=e/2iva2io"6 Despite his insinuations to the contrary, Bruno Latour with his compositionism is the direct application of this thought, that he is very familiar with. His talk about his “empirical” research is very misleading and contains overtones of scientistic bravado, as his system is parasitic on these predecessors. He is however a good populariser of good ideas, and his work should be encouraged as long as we do not accept his own conte tualisation of his ideas. Latour is vey much an inheritor of Deleu!e, Lyotard, Derrida and "erres and the intellectual contemporary of Laruelle and "tiegler. #t is this philosophical inheritance that gives his work its superiority over Badiou$s and of Harman%s, not any primacy of the empirical over the philosophical. Beyond the criti&ue of the new figures of transcendence and ontotheology these thinkers gave concrete sketches of how to see the world in terms of a very different sort of ontology based on immanence ' a diachronic ontology. (he recent promotion of philosophical successors to this constellation of thinkers of immanence, such as Badiou and )i!ek, has not led to any real progress but to a labour of travestying the past *one has only to look at Badiou$s D+L+,)+ and )i!ek$s -./01" 2#(H-,( B-D#+"3 and to a return to such intellectual deadends as Lacanian psychoanalysis *especially understood synchronically, as Badiou understands everything, as a system3. But even these regressive philosophers remain in dialogue, however one4sided and un5ust, with their illustrious predecessors, and strive to confront them at the level of conceptual richness that characterised their work. (he ne t step was to keep up the general aura of having “gone beyond” the older supposedly negative thinkers but to radically simplify the conceptual level, presenting easy summary presentations of the new thought while conveniently forgetting the conceptual paths followed. (his step was taken by the epigoni6 7eillassou , who still retains an elvated style and at least an intention of conceptual rigour8 and its pop variant in /raham Harman$s adaptation for the masses. 9or e ample, in (H+ (H#.D (0BL+ /raham Harman gives a popularised version his theoretical position in the form of a flawed reading of and an unsatisfying response to "ir 0rthur +ddington$s famous parado of the two tables. ,nfortunately, Harman shows himself incapable of grasping the anti4reductionistic import of +ddington$s argument and proposes an abstract philosophical dualism to replace +ddington$s pluralist vision of scientific research. #t is implied that the theoretical 5ustification for this unsatisfying presentation is to be found elsewhere in Harman$s works, but this is not the case. Harman 5udges science and common sense in terms of the crude philosophical criteria of another age and finds them lacking in knowledge of reality. He is obliged to posit a shadowy “withdrawn” realm of real ob5ects to e plain the discrepancies between his naive abstract model of knowledge as access and the reality of the sciences. 2orks such as (H+ :,0D.,;L+ -B<+=(, (H+ (H#.D
(0BL+ and B+LL" 01D 2H#"(L+", like the whole of his philosophy, are the record of Harman noticing the discrepancies, but refusing to revise the model. His solution is a dead4end, the timid, nostalgic propounding of an anti&uated epistemology under the cover of a >new> ontology. #t will be seen in this review article that Harman$s position is one of a surface pluralism *there are multiple r?gimes of knowing for an ob5ect3 overcoded by a deep monism and demarcationism *the humanist, the scientific, and the everyday ob5ects are “simulacra”, only the withdrawn ob5ect is real3 embedded in a synchronic ontological frame *time is not an ontologically pertinent feature of real ob5ects. +- How a)&2ra/2 !o"i&2 re0a2ivi&2 a"2i>rea0i&! !a&:3era5e& a& i2& o44o&i2e (oday, --- is at a loss. #ts hackneyed set of critical terms *philosophy of access, shams and simulacra, lavalampy overmining, atomistic undermining3 clearly have no point of application at all to the new lines of research opened up by Bruno Latour, Bernard "tiegler, and 9ran@ois Laruelle. -ne has only to look at the utter incomprehension that --- ians manifest with regard to Laruelle to see that their claim to “move beyond” deconstruction is an empty bluff. (hey never even understood the arguments of deconstruction and of post4structuralism, and so are ill4e&uiped to engage the ideas of its successors. /raham Harman%s newly published B+LL" 01D 2H#"(L+"6 7-.+ ";+=,L0(#A+ .+0L#"7 is a compendium of ---%s familiar but disappointing history of misunderstandings and failed encounters, and its publication is a fitting monument to a set of gesticulations that never &uite cohered into a philosophy. Harman$s --- is an abstract monism, reducing the multiplicity and abundance of the world to “emergent” unities that e clude other approaches to and understandings of the world *cf. (H+ (H#.D (0BL+, passim3 ' his ob5ects are the “only real” ob5ects. 7ore importantly, his *philosophical3 knowledge of ob5ects is the only real knowledge. 0ll that is ordinarily thought of as knowledge, both theoretical and practical, is >utter sham>6 >Human knowledge deals with simulacra or phantoms, and so does human practical action> *B+LL" 01D 2H#"(L+", BC3. Harman%s >realism> de4realises everything *reduced to the status of >phantoms> and >simulacra>3 e cept his own abstract knowledge and his withdrawn ob5ects. Harman$s --- is profoundly reductionist. .epeatedly, Harman goes to great pains to criticise a generic “reductionism”, but he seems to have no idea what reductionism is. He easily wins points against straw men, and then proceeds to advocate one of the worst forms of reductionism imaginable6 the reduction of the abundance of the world to untouchable unknowable yet intelligible “ob5ects”. He produces a a highly technical concept of ob5ect such that it replaces the familiar ob5ects of the everyday world, and the less familiar ob5ects of science, with something “deeper” and “inaccessible”, and then proceeds to e&uivocate with the familiar connotations and associations of “ob5ect” to give the impression that he is a concrete thinker, when the level of abstraction takes us to the heights of a new form of negative theology6 the invisible, unknowable, ineffable ob5ect that withdraws. 1o e ample of a real ob5ect can be given. 0ll that is given in e perience, all that is contained in our common sense and scientific knowledge is >utter sham>, >simulacra>, >phantoms>. Harman$s --- is a school philosophy dealing in generalities and abstractions far from the concrete 5oys and struggles of real human beings *“(he world is filled primarily not with electrons or human pra is, but with ghostly ob5ects withdrawing from all human and inhuman access”, (H+ (H#.D (0BL+, pBC3. Despite its promises, Harman$s --- does not bring us closer to the richness and comple ity of the real world but in fact replaces the multiplicitous and variegated world of science and common sense with a set of bloodless and lifeless abstractions *>ghostly ob5ects>3. 9or Harman, we cannot know the real ob5ect. (he ob5ect we know is unreal, an “utter sham”. Harman$s ob5ects do not withdraw, they transcend. (hey transcend our perception and our knowledge, they transcend all relations and interactions. 0s Harman reiterates, ob5ects are deep
*“ob5ects are deeper than their appearance to the human mind but also deeper than their relations to one another”, pD, “the real table is a genuine reality deeper than any theoretical or practical encounter with itEdeeper than any relations in which it might become involved”, pF4BG3. (his “depth” is a key part of Harman$s ontology, which is not flat at all, but centered on this vertical dimension of depth and transcendence. Harman remains stuck in a crucial ambiguity over the status of his real ob5ects, oscillating between the idea of an absolutely unknowable, uncapturable reality *cf. (H+ (H#.D (0BL+, “2hatever we captureEis not the real table”, pBC3 and the idea that it can be captured in some very abstract and indirect way. #n virtue of the unknowability of his ob5ects he is obliged to place all types of knowledge, including the scientific one on the same plane *knowledge of >simulacra or phantoms>3, as illusory, and at the same time presume that we can know something about these ob5ects *e.g. that they e ist, and that they withdraw3. #n effect, science is demoted to the status of non4knowledge, as the real cannot be known. Harman is caught in a series of contradictions, as he wants to have his unknowable reality and yet to know it. =ommon sense cannot know reality, nor the humanities, nor even science. (his leaves to philosophy the role of knowing ontologically the real, which accounts for the strange mi ture of ontological and epistemological considerations that characterises Harman%s philosophical style. (his generates such contradictions as pretending to accomplish a return to the concrete and giving us in fact abstraction, and pretending to criticise reduction and in fact performing an even more radical reduction. Harman$s epistemology is relativist, demoting science to an instance of the general relativism of forms of knowledge. However, by fiat, his own philosophical intellection and some artistic procedures are partially e cluded from this relativisation. Het no criterion of demarcation is offered. Harman di it must suffice. /raham Harman proclaims that his philosophy is realist, when it is one of the most thoroughgoingly anti4realist philosophies imaginable. (ime is unreal, and so is every common sense ob5ect and every physical ob5ect. 0ll are declared to be “utter shams”. “"pace”, one may ob5ect, is real for Harman, but that is no space one would ever recognise6 neither common sense space nor physical space *both “shams”3, Harmanian space is an abstract “withdrawn” intelligible space. -ntology is not primary for Harman. His real polemic is in the domain of epistemology against a straw man position that he calls the philosophy of human access. 1o important philosophy of at least the last IG years is a philosophy of access, so the illusion of a revolution in thought is an illusion generated by the misuse of the notion of “access”, inflating it into a grab4all concept under which anything and everything can be subsumed. But a philosophy of non4access is still epistemological, in Harman%s case it takes the form of a pessimistic negative epistemology that subtracts ob5ects from meaningful human theoretical knowledge and practical intervention *cf. (H+ :,0D.,;L+ -B<+=(, where +gypt itself is declared to be an ob5ect, albeit, strangely enough, a “non4physical” one, and so unknowable and untouchable3. (he ontological neutralisation of our knowledge is allied to its practical *and thus political3 neutralisation. -ne is entitled to ask6 how can a withdrawn ob5ect “de4withdraw”J Harman cannot e plain any interaction at all *Harman systematically confuses access, contact, relation and interaction3, he can only 5ust posit it. # see no reason to postulate an absolute bifurcation between interaction on the one hand and withdrawal on the other. 2hitehead tells us that6 “continuity is a special condition arising from the society of creatures which constitute our immediate epoch” *;.-=+"" 01D .+0L#(H, KL3. # think that the notion of intervals, or discontinuous relations, is a far more useful concept than the bifurcation operated by the notion of “withdrawal”, which is too absolute *there are no degrees of withdrawal3 and splits the world in two *realMsensual3. Harman$s system with its summary dualisms is unable to deal with the fine4grained distinctions that come up in our e perience.
'- A1ai"&2 o)=e/2a0 re53/2io"i&!: a Ma/ ia" re=oi"5er 2o Har!a"'& o"2o0o1.
-ne of my biggest ob5ections to --- concerns the &uestion of primacy, which remains moot in contemporary philosophy. Harman$s ontological turn gives primacy to *transcendental, meta4level3 philosophy. 9eyerabend articulates a 7achian position, one that gives primacy neither to philosophy nor to physics, but defends the open4mindedness of empirical *though not necessarily scientific3 research. # think this can be clarified by e amining 9eyerabend$s defense of the “way of the scientist” as against the “way of the philosopher”. 9eyerabend$s references to 7ach *and to ;auli3 show that this “way of the scientist” is transversal, not respecting the boundaries between scientific disciplines nor those between the sciences and the humanities and the arts. "o it is more properly called the “way of research”. +rnst 7ach is often seen as a precursor of the logical positivists, an e ponent of the idea that “things” are logical constructions built up out of the sensory &ualities that compose the world, mere bundles of sensations. He would thus be a key e ample of what /raham Harman in (H+ :,0D.,;L+ -B<+=( calls “overmining”. 9eyerabend has shown in a number of essays that this vision of 7ach$s “philosophy” *the &uotation marks are necessary, according to 9eyerabend “because 7ach refused to be regarded as the proponent of a new “philosophy””, "=#+1=+ #1 0 9.++ "-=#+(H, pBFC3 is erroneous, based on a misreading by the logical positivists that confounds his general ontology with one specific ontological hypothesis that 7ach was at pains to describe as a provisional and research4relative specification of his more general proposal. 9ollowing +rnst 7ach, 9eyerabend e pounds the rudiments of what he calls a general methodology or a general cosmology *this ambiguity is important6 9eyerabend, on general grounds but also after a close scrutiny of several important episodes in the history of physics, proceeds as if there is no clear and sharp demarcation between ontology and epistemology, whereas Harman, without the slightest case study, is asserts the e istence of such a dichotomy. Harman%s actual practice, # have argued, proceeds by ignoring the distinction and mi ing in a confused way epistemological and ontological considerations3. 9eyerabend$s discussion of 7ach$s ontology can be found in "=#+1=+ #1 0 9.++ "-=#+(H *1LB, BFNO, pBFL4CGK3 and in many other places, making it clear that it is one of the enduring inspirations of his work. 7ach$s ontology can be summarised, according to 9eyerabend, in two points6 i3 the world is composed of elements an their relations ii3 the nature of these elements and their relations is to be specified by empirical research -ne may note a resemblance with /raham Harman$s ontology, summarised in his “brief ".M--tutorial“, which is reprinted as =hapter B of B+LL" 01D 2H#"(L+"6 i3 #ndividual entities of various different scales *not 5ust tiny &uarks and electrons3 are the ultimate stuff of the cosmos. ii3 (hese entities are never e hausted by their relationsE-b5ects withdraw from relation. (he difference is illuminating. 2hereas 7ach leaves the nature of these elements open, allowing for the e ploration of several hypotheses, Harman transcendentally reduces these possibilities to one6 elements are ob5ects *1B6 this reduction of the possibilities to one, enshrined in a transcendental principle, is one of the reasons for calling Harman$s --- an ob5ectal reduction3. 9urther, by allowing empirical research to specify the relations, 7ach does not give himself an a priori principle of withdrawal6 here again “withdrawal” is 5ust one possibility among many. 0nother advantage of this ontology of unspecified elements is that it allows us to do research across disciplinary boundaries, including that between science and philosophy. 9eyerabend talks of 7ach$s ontology$s “disregard for distinctions between areas of research. 0ny method, any type of knowledge could enter the discussion of a particular problem” *pBFN3. 7ach$s ontology is diachronic, evolving with and as part of empirical research. Harman$s ontology is synchronic, dictating and fi ing transcendentally the elements of the world. Harman has invented a new vocabulary to describe various types of reductionism that he believes
he has discerned in various philosophical moves. (he move of e plaining a macroscopic ob5ect such as a table in terms of its atomic and sub4atomic is called “undermining”. + plaining the table in terms of the flu of perceptions is called “overmining”. Harman has recently detected arguments that make both moves at once, so he has baptised them “duomining”. 0 notable feature of all three moves is that their reduction operates inside only one of the worlds that Harman discusses ' the world of “utter shams”. But Harman himself operates a different sort of reduction that reduces the reality of one world, the “sham” world of sensual ob5ects, to that of the “real” world of withdrawn ob5ects. 0s this reduction cuts across both worlds, # propose to call it “transmining”.
,- Har!a"'& a)&2ra/2ive o"2o0o1.: a /o!4ari&o" wi2 Ba5io3
2e have traversd a period of polarisation during which the neoliberal do a reigned uncontested almost everywhere, e cept in a few academic and para4academic enclaves, where a “refined” or aristocratic criti&ue was elaborated. (he philosophical result of the e tenuation of this polarisation is in part the development of an abstractive *and a4political3 ontology of ob5ects as relay and effectuation of the neoliberal hypothesis */raham Harman3, and in part the elaboration of the subtractive ontology of multiples as relay and effectuation of the communist hypothesis *Badiou3. #n both cases we have a truncated form of pluralism6 a synchronic ontology of ob5ectal multiples where the diachronic is added on afterwards as a supplement. 9or Harman time is not a real relation between real ob5ects, but rather a “sensual” relation between sensual ob5ects, in the illusory domain of simulacra *(H+ (H#.D (0BL+ calls these sensual ob5ects, i.e. the ob5ects of common sense and of the sciences, “utter shams”, page L3. 9or Badiou time in the strong sense belongs to the event in the naming intervention, and there also, as for Harman, seems to be dependent, at least in part, on sub5ectivity. (here is also a monism which comes to overcode this ontological pluralism, at both the ontological and the epistemological level6 a3 ontological ' 9or Harman the real is a uni&ue and separate domain, real ob5ects are “withdrawn”8 the ob5ects of common sense, of the humanities and of the sciences are pure simulacra. 9or Badiou the real is the non4&ualified mathematical multiple, and the ob5ects of common sense, but also of the sciences and of the “humanities”, are constructed out of these multiples *it is to be noted, and this is an important difference with Harman, these constructed ob5ects are not necessarily simulacra3. #n both cases there is ontological primacy of one domain placed over and above the others. b3 epistemological ' 9or Harman scientific knowledge does not accede to the reality of ob5ects, the only possible knowledge is indirect and appertains to the arts under the control of ob5ect4oriented ontology, which dissipates the ontological and epistemological illusions, such as the naturalist pre5udice and the scientistic pre5udice. 9or Badiou, to each truth4domain there corresponds a generic and paradigmatic procedure *matheme, poem, political invention, love3. ;hilosophy serves to enounce the common configuration of these paradigmatic procedures and to dissipate the pre5udices coming from the suture of philosophy to 5ust one of these truth4domains. Badiou here is again more “pluralist” than Harman, as he recognises the e istence of four truth4domains, and not 5ust one. =onclusion6 abstractive and subtractive ontologies are in regression compared to the pluralist philosophies of their predecessors. (hey are the complementary representatives *a politicised communist version in Badiou$s case, a “de4politicised” neoliberal version in that of Harman3 of a truncated pluralism, the synchronic shadow of the diachronic ontologies that they ape without being able to rival in their force of thought. 7aterially pluralist, they remain formally monist. Harman$s --- is a specific variant within the general paradigm set out by Badiou$s philosophy. (he terminological differences are important. Badiou speaks in terms of multiples and events, Harman in terms of ob5ects. Badiou e plicitly emphasises the pluralist aspect of his ontology *multiples3 and makes room for time and change *events3, even if he gives them a secondary place in his ontology. Harman prefers the more unitary term, and consigns time and change to the realm of the “sensual”,
i.e. of “utter sham”.
?- P i0o&o4 ie& of a//e&&
Harman argues against “philosophies of access”, but this is 5ust to redo, only much more sloppily, the critical work done by ;opper and "ellars, :uine and Puhn, Bachelard and 9eyerabend, Lacan and 0lthusser, 2ittgenstein and .orty refuting and dismantling the dogmas of empiricism. 9ar from going beyond the post4structuralists Harman has not even caught up with the structuralists. 1o important philosophy of the CGth =entury has been a philosophy of access, and Harman$s --- is a regression on most of the preceding philosophy that he claims to criti&ue and surpass. Pnowledge is not “access”, it is not contact. ;ropositional relations are not access. 0n interaction is not in general access, either. 7ore importantly, a relation is not the same thing as an interaction. Harman conflates all this to obtain some blurry straw4man that even a BG year old child would have no trouble refuting. "o the whole picture of relations as not “e hausting” the &ualities of the ob5ect accessed is erroneous. (hus “withdrawal” has no sense as a general concept. (hese terms “access”, “e haust” “withdrawal” are normally part of a temporal, dynamic vocabulary. (hey are used illegitimately in Harman$s system and serve to give an allure of temporality to what is in fact an ontology of stasis. Harman is so concentrated on criticising the privilege given to human access and to anthropocentric assumptions in general, a rearguard action if ever there was one, that he has no understanding at all for the recent and contemporary pluralist philosophies that attempt to track down and dissolve the privilege given to reified categories and to monist assumptions in general. Harman$s ontology falls under the pluralist criti&ues of the post4structuralists and the post4empiricists. Harman$s --- relies on a systematic ambiguity in his key terms *ob5ect, withdrawal3 between their use as meta4categories and their use as categories. 2e can never see or touch or know an ob5ect *meta4category3 but he constantly gives e amples from different domains *category3. 2ithdrawal means ultimate abstraction from sensual &ualities and relations, absolutely no direct contact or relation *meta4category3, or it 5ust means the sensual richness of ob5ects, always more than our immediate e perience of them. 2e get a contradictory synthesis between a 1orthern asceticism and a 7editerranean sensualism. But in the last instance this concrete abundance, this aesthetic sensualism is declared to be an “utter sham”. #t is at the level of his ontology as rudimentary set of meta4categories that the homology of Harman$s --- with speculative capitalism can be affirmed. Badiou accepts the e istence of this homology for his own ontology, and takes it very seriously as a problem. Hence his repeated engagement with the concepts of the event and change, re&uiring him to complete his synchronic ontology with a diachronic supplement. Harman$s response is 5ust incomprehension and denialism, as with all the other criti&ues that his system has received. 1evertheless it is the internal homology between meta4categories and the categories that instantiate them *which makes of Harman$s system an elaborate play on words3 that makes possible the e ternal homologies between Harman$s system and various concrete domains, including the economy. (he &uestion of primacy remains moot in contemporary philosophy. Despite repeated allusions to the collapse of foundations and the attempt to construct a post4foundationalist philosophy, contemporary thinkers still grapple with this &uestion. -ne must ask of each philosophy6 to what does it give primacy ' to philosophy, science, art, religion, or common sense *or to none3J Badiou and Harman give primacy to *transcendental, meta4level3 philosophy. Laruelle is more ambiguous, giving primacy to science, yet including non4standard philosophy on the same level as the sciences. Deleu!e and /uattari in 2H0( #" ;H#L-"-;HHJ are somewhere between the two positions, and so seem to avoid the pitfalls of primacy6 they situate philosophy on the same level as the sciences *and the arts3 but make philosophy capable of meta4operations that take “functions” in physics *and affects and percepts in the arts3 as ob5ects of its own philosophical concepts.
@- Har!a"'& /o"2ra5i/2or. er!e"e32i/& of &3)=e/2ivi2.
Harman%s --- splits hermeneutic, i.e. participative, e ploration of the world into ob5ective speculation *an absolutised and thus “withdrawn” conte t of 5ustification3 and sensual or sub5ective encounter *an absolutised, and thus “sham”, conte t of discovery3. (his splitting demotes the sub5ect to the world of shams, which leads to a “reurn of the repressed”, in the form of an implied sub5ectivity, but one that he is either unaware of or unwilling to endorse e plicitly, adapted to the neo4liberal order. 9ar from eliminating sub5ectivity from the world of ob5ects Harman$s --- is subtended by an all4pervasive degraded sub5ectivity mas&uerading as its opposite. Harman then proceeds to re4sub5ectify his philosophical vision with e pressions connoting a sub5ectivity that is ruled out by the strict application of that philosophy. 2a ing lyrical, Harman talks of how we must love the ob5ect6 “(he real is something that cannot be known, only loved” *(H+ (H#.D (0BL+, BC38 thinking must be indirect, “its approach to ob5ects can only be obli&ue” *BC3, and “allude to ob5ects that cannot &uite be made present” *BD3. 0ll this talk of loving and hunting and approaching and alluding to, all these e pressions are strictly ill4 formed. 0 sensual sub5ect cannot love, hunt, approach, or even allude to a real ob5ect. #t$s not that ob5ects cannot >&uite> be made present, they cannot be made present at all. 2ithdrawal is all or none, it does not admit of degrees. Het to give appeal to the theory Harman has need of descriptors of the sub5ective attitude of those who endorse it. Hence the constant talk of ob5ects that redounds in unthematised sub5ective participation in the theory as vision of the world. (he ob5ectal conversion as the passage to the constructed “naivet?” that sees ob5ects everywhere is thus a sub5ective conversion to a hard4headed noetic asceticism of intelligible ob5ects coupled with a soft4hearted sensual e oticism of the aesthetic play of simulacra. Hou can be a geek and an esthete at the same time, with the contradiction being covered up by the medial sub5ectivity of loving indirectness, of hunterly obli&uity, and of diaphonous allusion. Despite appearances to the contrary, Harman in fact privileges sub5ectivity in various key aspects of his philosophy6 while trying desperately to contain it within his conceptual reductions it seeps out and contaminates the whole with a geeko4esthetic compound sub5ectivity fusing cold intellectual manipulation and warm sensual en5oyment and thus proscribing the ethical encounter which can be neither merely conceptual nor merely esthetic nor some conflicted hybrid of the two. Harman is in denial of hermeneutics, and as with his denegation of epistemology *which results in his elaborating a bad epistemology under the guise of ontology3, ends up doing bad hermeneutics. His hermeneutics of specific te ts such as +ddington$s >#ntroduction> is &uite inade&uate and erroneous, as is his hermeneutics of the history of philosophy. Harman%s key terms, such as “withdrawal” and “access”, are ill4formed hermeneutical concepts, giving a grotes&ue simplification and deformation of the history of philosophy and of contemporary rival philosophies. 9eyerabend and Latour argue that the sciences are not abstract cognition only, but have a constitutive, and thus necessary, hermeneutic dimension. (his is why even the sciences provide some resistance against neo4liberal neo4leibni!ian abstraction and speculative modeling and manipulation. Harman%s model is not enough to account for knowledge, and it is he who is being reductionist with his real ob5ects and their supposed sensual instanciations.
A- Har!a"'& !a&2er ar13!e"2 a1ai"&2 re0a2io"a0 o"2o0o1ie&
Harman$s “master argument” against relational ontologies is that they cannot e plain change, that if everything were related nothing would change. (his is patently false, as relations include temporal relations. Deleu!e for e ample talks about both kinetic *relative speeds and accelerations3 and dynamic *relative forces, and relative capacities to affect and to be affected3 relations. #t is ludicrous to claim that Deleu!e$s system entails that change is impossible. (his shows not only Harman$s incomprehension of relations *that he systematically confuses with specific subsets of relations such as interactions, and also with specific types of relation such as contact and access3, but also his inability to understand the positions he is arguing against, and that
he is supposed to have gone beyond. He criti&ues only straw man positions that have never e isted. He has no understanding of, for e ample, Deleu!e, and 5ust deprecates his philosophy without getting into any detail. He gives pseudo4conceptual affective refutations with no citations and no analysis. 9urther, he has given no substantial account of what is wrong with so4called “relational” ontologies in general, e cept for his master4argument that if everything were related change would be impossible. Harman tries to insinuate that in his ontology change can be accounted for. However, Harman denies the reality of time and so his ontology is synchronic in a very strong sense. His understanding of other philosophers is based on a synchronic reduction of their style. +ven his reading **in (H+ (H#.D (0BL+3 of +ddington$s two tables argument falsifies it by e tracting it from the whole movement of +ddington%s >#ntroduction> to his book (H+ 10(,.+ -9 (H+ ;HH"#=0L 2-.LD, and from his vision of the movement of research in general. Harman 5ust doesn$t “get” temporal relations. Hence his repeated, and absurd, claim that if everything was composed of relations nothing would change. 0s if moving faster or slower than, accelerating faster or slower than, being attracted or repelled or pushed or whirled around were not relations.
B- OOO: a &3)=e/2 wi2 a 1rea2 4a&2
-ver the last few years the --- ian movement has multiplied signs of success at the same time as showing unmistakable symptoms of decline. Based on a denial of epistemology and on blindness to its own status as *bad3 epistemology --- was able to capture the attention of those who were looking for a new speculative style, after the "cience 2ars and in opposition to those who were content to 5ust parrot Deleu!e or Derrida or 9oucault. "tanley =avell and .ichard .orty had each in his own way sought to attain to the status of homegrown 0merican =ontinental ;hilosophy, but their 2ittgensteinian and Heideggerian framework was too obscure and abstruse, too ?litist and erudite. 0 more pop version of the same ambition was needed and /raham Harman$s --- satisfied a strongly felt need to have done with deconstruction and return to “naivet?” *Harman$s word from the opening of (H+ :,0D.,;L+ -B<+=(3. Harman is by far the more radical thinker when we compare his ontology of withdrawn ob5ects to the mathematism of 7eillassou , the scientism of Brassier, and the Lacanian naturalism of Bryant. Harman alone has been willing to discard the scientistic pre5udice that vitiates the work of these thinkers. Het this superiority of Harman could only be maintained by sticking to the pathos of an escape from epistemology. 0s long as he did not e plicitly engage with epistemological themes in his own name the denegation of its status as epistemology on which his work was built gave it even more force of conviction and persuasive power. (he ob5ectual conversion remained a potent possibility. 2ith the publication of (H+ (H#.D (0BL+ this anti4epstemological posture was revealed as an imposture, --- was revealed not as superior insight over and above common sense and scientific realities, thus gratifying the narcissism of the artistic community while saving it from the accusation of postmodern relativism, but rather as a mode of philosophising that was intellectually incompetent to give a satisfying account of the domains of science, the humanities and common sense. #nstead of an account we get dismissive gesticulation6 these domains are >sham>, their ob5ects are >simulacra> or >phantoms>. (he absence of any understanding of diachrony, from the diachrony of science and that of common sense, to the diachrony of a simple argument is patent. .eal philosophical positions and arguments are replaced with absurd caricatures which are then easily rebutted, giving the impression of a lively polemical force ready to accept and reply to ob5ections.
C- O" 5i&a44oi"2!e"2 i" 4 i0o&o4 .: 2 e /a&e of OOO
2e easily talk about our enthusiasms in philosophy, as if our path of thinking was one of the accumulation of truths and elimination of errors, one of progress. But disappointment is 5ust as important a driving force, a non4philosophical affect that shadows our enthusiasms. 0 philosophy can seem to e press what we find essential to hear at a turning point in our life, and to promise a new world of insight and freedom, only to turn out to be a lure, a deceitful mirage unable to live up
to its promises. 2hen # first read /raham Harman$s books # found them promising. 0t least there was a reference to contemporary pluralist thinkers and a willingness to engage in e planation and argument. #t took me only a couple of months to realise that the promised e planations were either totally inadequate *the myth of “epistemologies of access” for e ample is maintained only by lofty ignorance of huge parts of recent philosophy, and by refusing to engage any real reading of te ts6 5ust global denunciation3 or not forthcoming. (he initial shock of recognition was tempered by the realisation that Harman was building on ideas that were widespread in =ontinental circles KI years ago, and that # had already sub5ected to a thoroughgoing criti&ue before moving on to something else. His “progress” was in fact a regression to barely disguised rehashes of old refuted ideas. # was astounded at the pretentiousness of the claims of ---, given their flimsy basis, and at the credulousnesss of the supporters, too young to have personal knowledge of the prior avatars of these ideas. Luckily, # &uickly found far more satisfying and intellectually challenging thinkers *Bruno Latour, <ohn Law, 0ndrew ;ickering, 2illiam =onnolly, Bernard "tiegler, =atherine 7alabou, and 9ran@ois Laruelle, to name a few3 and began to elaborate the non4standard pluralist philosophy that # had discovered in Deleu!e and 9eyerabend and Hillman, and that # think has still not seen its day. # decided to deconstruct --- as a way of clarifying why # had initially been attracted and why # thought it was a great step backwards. # do not care for --- in any of its variants, and # think its only value is pedagogical6 a warning of the stupidity that dogs us all of enthrallment with the plausible products of cognitive marketing. # think that ---$s popularity is based on a cruel misunderstanding. ;eople seem to think that --announces a return to the things themselves, but as we have seen this is not so. 1or is it a return to the concrete diversity and abundance of the world. (his impression is an illusion. --- gestures at the world, even as it withdraws any real possibility of e ploring it and coming to know it. #n my own case, # have used --- to help me clarify my own ideas on pluralist ontology, and especially onDeleu!e and 9eyerabend. --- is a debased synchronic travesty of the diachronic pluralism that 9eyerabend and Deleu!e espouse. 2hat people are looking for and think they find in --- is the e act opposite of what is there. ;eople are looking for intellectuality, strange new concepts to go further on the paths opened by the preceding generation of philosophers, and concreteness, an engagement with the abundance of the world, its passions, its pleasures, and its problems. But ---$s intellectuality is a tawdry sham, and its concreteness is a cynical bluff. Harman$s --- is the worst form of dualism imaginable, a dualist epistemology and ontology in regression from the great pluralist philosophies that preceded it. 0re these pluralist philosophies that # admire perfectJ 1o they are very incomplete and one4sided, developped in response to concrete conte ts that are now behind us. 0re they, these deconstructive philosophies, themselves immune to deconstructionJ 1ot at allQ (hey themselves even call for their own deconstruction, and "tiegler, Latour, and Laruelle continue the effort and deconstruct, each in their own way, what remains un4 deconstructed in their predecessors$ ideas. 0 liberation from the conceptual schemas of philosophy is possible if, as ;aul 9eyerabend invites us, we think and act outside stable frameworks *“(here are many ways and we are using them all the time though often believing that they are part of a stable framework which encompasses everything”3 and fi ed paths *“#s argument without a purposeJ 1o, it is not8 it accompanies us on our 5ourney without tying it to a fi ed road”3. (his is what # have been calling “diachronic ontology”. #t is the e act opposite of the path that --- has chosen, where we find a synchronic ontology incapable of dealing with time and change, and a monism of transcendent >withdrawn entities>.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.