By Jon Cogburn
Slavoj Žižek has a characteristically interesting criticism of the version of object-oriented ontology in Levi Bryant's The Democracy of Objects HERE.
Graham Harman shares some preliminary thoughts HERE. Harman is currently writing a book on critics and commentators of object-oriented ontology called Skirmishes. It's currently slated to cover Tom Sparrow, Steven Shaviro, the Peters (Gratton and Wolfendale), and an appendix on Andrew Mitchell's account of Heidegger's fourfold. In the linked-to piece, Harman says he will publish a considered response, but it's not clear if it's going to be a chapter in the new book.
In his deployment of the ontology of immanence/withdrawal, Bryant begins by asserting the primacy of ontology over epistemology, and rejecting the modern subjectivist notion according to which, before we proceed to analyze the structure of reality, we should critically reﬂect upon our cognitive apparatus (how is our cognition possible in the ﬁrst place, what is its scope and limitation?). Following Roy Bhaskar, Bryant turns around the transcendental question: How does reality have to be structured so that our cognition of reality is possible? The answer is provided by the basic premise of ooo: “It is necessary to staunchly defend the autonomy of objects or substances, refusing any reduction of objects to their relations, whether these relations be relations to humans or other objects.”4 This is why there is no place for subject in Bryant’s ediﬁce: subject is precisely a nonsubstantial entity fully reducible to its relations to other entities.
Th last sentence is possibly a non-sequitur. In any case, Schelling's original arguments for nature philosophy (to be done in addition to transcendental philosophy) instantiate exactly the flip that Žižek attributes to Bhaskar and Bryant! It's very weird that Žižek doesn't mention this because he goes on to connect Schelling's God with the one mentioned by Bryant and because his extended introduction to the second version of Schelling's Ages of the World is so good.
As far as the non-sequitur, in another post I'm going to respond to Žižek's claim about OOO's inability to account for characteristic self-reflexive paradoxes concerning the subject. One of the main claims of my forthcoming book, Garcian Meditations, is that Tristan Garcia is actually more radical than Žižek in this manner since for Garcia (and Paul Livingston and Graham Priest for that matter) the world as it is in itself conveys a self-relfective paradoxical structure, I think from reading this the same structure Žižek associates with the subject! Given Žižek's debt to Hegel, this is perhaps not so surprising if one read's Priest's chapter on Hegel in his Beyond the Limits of Thought. I didn't do a chapter on Žižek in the book because that would require leveling up quite a bit, but I hope to be able to do that at some point. One of my co-translators, Christopher RayAlexander, will probably beat me to the punch here, because he sees the connections between Garcia and Žižek pretty clearly. In any case, I'll try to do another post on this subject in the next week or so.
Harman makes a really interesting claim in his post:
OOO is also not a “transcendental” philosophy as Žižek claims, not even a transcendental philosophy spread across the cosmos onto all beings. It is a frank realism, and not a realism that thinks we can only speak about the conditions of access to the real. Here Žižek completely misses the aesthetic claims of OOO.
As far as I'm parsing this with respect to Harman's work, the criticism is that Žižek is committing the intellectualist fallacy of assuming that all of our epistemicly relevant access to reality must be in terms of the way that reality provides truth-makers for claims that are articulable in language. The pragmatist strains in Heidegger lead to a critique of this fallacy. One of Heidegger's central claims (the one Americans almost always get wrong in part because they mistranslate Rede as "discourse") is that our ability to interact with reality in correct and incorrect way is pre-linguistic. After the fact we can try to catch up with language, but it never fully does. In analytic philosophy, our sensitivity to Raffman qualia, which cannot be reidentified reliably over time but still recognized relative to one another (consider very fine shades of color or pitch), is perhaps the best example of why Heidegger is correct.
Much of Harman's aesthetic works can be read as arguing that aesthetic comportment should be viewed as a third mode in addition to the theoretical and practical. Aesthetic experiences for Harman paradigmatically happen when we have a non-discursive awareness of the way that objects in themselves are at variance with the properties they display. We get this sense even though the experience we can directly describe is all in terms of the displayed properties. How this works is clearest with humor, when we just sense a disconnect between the things as it is and the way it is portraying itself. Harman also analyses tragedy and humor in a similar manner and also argues that our ability to manage metaphors requires this kind of aesthetic sensitivity.
Thus, while there is for Harman a kind of Kantian divorce between things in themselves and the properties they manifest to us, and the divorce can never be bridged straightforwardly with declarative language, aesthetic experiences do bridge the divide, giving us a quasi epistemic rapproachment with the real. Moreover, as I argue in my book (and a paper I'm giving this week) Harman can best be understood as understanding metaphysics as also serving this aesthetic function.
Weirdly, if RayAlexander and I are right that Garcia can be read as a properly speculative Žižek (that is, what happens to Žižek once one, as one should, chucks the distinction between transcendental and empirical subjects), then a further interesting thing happens. In my book I show that Harman's claims about the primacy of aesthetics actually allows him to avoid Garcia's view of objects as intrinsically contradictory. This demonstration might then verify Harman's claim that Žižek biggest mistake is neglecting this aspect of his thought.
One of the things I want to get clearer on is how Bryant's own work fits into this dynamic. I very much would have liked to include a chapter in my book on him as well. In any case I'm going to try to do a post on Žižek and Garcia in the next week or so.