[-empyre-] Meillassoux / Harman

Joe Flintham empyre at menticulture.com
Fri Jun 15 11:02:34 EST 2012

Forgive me I'm a first time poster with a long history of lurking here 
and a some-time fascination with SR/OOO, and thankyou to everyone here 
for an exciting discussion.  I wanted to write something both as a way 
of thinking it through and asking the contributors about the possibility 
of separating the political from the ontological.

Tim Morton recently in one of his podcast classes on OOO summarised the 
development of SR/OOO as a response to correlationism, noting that where 
the Meillassoux strand of SR admires the correlationist approach and 
attempts to ground or legitimise the correlate, OOO instead accepts the 
correlationist limit but extends it to all relations, human and 
non-human. Perhaps I could borrow from the Heidegger legacy that comes 
through Harman to this analysis and say that OOO acknowledges the 
'as-structure' that characterises being, and radicalises it to be a 
feature of all relations, rather than just human Dasein. I encounter you 
*as* something, as you encounter me; the cotton encounters fire *as* 
something, just as fire encounters cotton.

I therefore understand OOO not as a way to provide an ontology that is 
independent of epistemology, but as a transformation of the question of 
"how we know what is in the world" from being 'merely' a methodological 
problem, to a fundamental feature of being both an "individual" or 
"object" (such as a human, a toaster, or a quasar) as well as a 
component in an assemblage or world. Everything is interconnected, 
albeit while negotiating a fundamental inner rift in which we also 
encounter ourselves *as* something.  Again following Harman and Morton's 
reading of y Gasset, relations are tropes rather than literal.

In this sense the as-structure that runs through OOO thus seems to me to 
be very consonant with queer theories. No object is able to engage with 
other objects except through its own functional colouring, its own 
perceptual morphology, its own heritage and identity, whatever material 
or discursive agencies have been made to bear on that history. I 
understand Morton's take on the uncanny ecology in OOO to mean all 
objects confront each other suddenly as strangers, that we have no 
'natural' categories to rely on, and no normative criteria to which we 
can appeal - we can't even be certain of the extent to which we are 
either concrete individuals in our own right or fleeting instances 
playing the role of components within some larger being - perhaps we are 
both - both representatives of a form or type, but also withdrawn and 
thus always capable of being something else, someway else. In this 
respect it very much means that markers of the normal are awash and 
abandoned.  Perhaps some of the tropes that have characterised the 
development of SR - horror, the weird, anxiety - resonate with the 
experiences of abjection that make queer such a powerful resource.

I think it is because this resonance seems so fruitful to me that I am 
perplexed by some of the claims by proponents of OOO that the political 
can be separated from claims about the ontological - if we are 
constrained in our own ways by our as-structures, then right from the 
outset we encounter the world of human and non-human objects as 
profoundly political, raising uncanny questions of co-existence whether 
we are human subjects or neutrinos or cypress-flames. So OOO, far from 
allowing us to discuss "what exists" in politically neutral spaces, 
rather radicalises the political questions of ecology and "being-with" 
into the realm of the non-human, so that all objects are trying to 'work 
out' how to exist with each other - whether to congregate or flee, 
embrace or destroy, swap DNA and code sequences, or annex and withdraw.  
This doesn't prescribe a particular flavour of politics, but it does 
seem to make the political at least "equiprimordial" with the 
ontological.  I'd love to hear people's responses to these thoughts if 
you have anything to share.


On 14/06/2012 23:35, Robert Jackson wrote:
> Hey All, - I've been subscribing to this mailing list for a while now, 
> so I'm glad this debate is getting aired - I just hope it doesn't 
> inherit the unfortunate slippage of tone that the blogosphere features 
> typically in these types of discussions.
> So, I really don't understand this criticism of OOO, which tars the 
> ontological 'equivalence' brush with capitalism or neo-liberalism. 
> This is straightforward reductionism in my eyes. There are plenty of 
> political questions which need asking. But asking the question 'what 
> is' need not be a politically contentious one. This is what SR is 
> precisely getting away from, no matter what anti-correlationist 
> critique one advocates.
> The key issue here is sovereignty. If a current position can 
> articulate contingent surprise within an ontology that's a start (even 
> the early zizek took the correlated 'Real' has a sovereign theoretical 
> given, to which ideology conceals or masks). For my money OOO (which 
> Levi Bryant has argued), has an interesting proposition in that one 
> could potentially argue that all real objects have an ambigious 
> sovereign inner core of surprise which can never be fully articulated, 
> by anything: whether benvolent dust mite or proprietary software. This 
> might be a starting point for discussion.
> Best
> Rob

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