Saturday, December 24, 2011

Objections and Responses to Object-Oriented Ontology

Jussi Parikka at Machinology posts some tentative criticisms here and gets a lot of response.

I am in a similar situation with Parikka, though perhaps slightly more knowledgeable, and I agree with most of his concerns.  My foremost question is why?  Why do this theory?  That is my first question because much of what I've seen in OOO is at best a radicalization of concerns expressed in novel ways that motivates an intellectual machinery.  However, I do not see why we need OOO to address many of these concerns, e.g., correlationism or a want for "flat ontologies," as pre-existing metaphysics already known to them accomplish this.

I never ask a question that I do not already have an answer to, although having an answer is not the same as having knowledge.  I suspect that what motivates OOO is more due to the current state of the discourse, political structures in the discipline of philosophy, and a lot of other reasons that are not philosophical per se.  

In the comments, I see Ian Bogost and Levi Bryant responding.  Dr. Bogost writes that Parikka's comments amount to "I don't like it."  Well, I think that Bogost is right in that regard--educated guess--but he also has substantial questions that Bogost ignores that other posters bring to the fore.

Let me explain why "I don't like it" so far.  In short, I am not convinced that the formal distinction offered by the term "object" is worthwhile.  This is part of Parikka's and commenter "shane" 's point as this approach has a lot of consequences that we might not want to embrace.  I like Levi Bryant's approach of the issue as a counter to this, e.g., his processional approach that I've discussed before and that he posts upon in response at machinology.  However, I still do not see what this gets us beyond Whitehead; i.e., why not just do Whitehead? Or some other thinker?  When I see responses to this, which are being fervently posted, I remain unconvinced except for one point.  Since I encountered it, OOO appears to be way for a continentalist to do process philosophy while not being "just" a Deleuzeian, etc.  I suspect that the freedom the new field allows is what motivates many, especially since continental as a tradition is very beholden to philosophical-figure thinking, i.e., centering work around thinkers rather than problems.

Speaking of, I wrote the previosu thought before seeing it replicated in Glen Fuller's response:

"Levi, if it is ‘very similar’ why then would I bother with OOP? Why not stick with Whitehead? Is it the whole ‘God’ thing you don’t like? I read eternal objects the same way as Shaviro, Massumi, etc as virtual singularities that can be repeated in different ways under different conditions, like the boiling point of water."

Conclusive Thoughts
I would discuss some of the fallout and its relation to my own engagements with OOO.  I share Parika's puzzlement here about why posting or comment about OOO/OOP causes such heated and often unfriendly debate.  For example--and this is not the only one as one need only peruse the comment threads--Harmans' response here is unfair per "normally someone reads something before attacking it."  I have been accused of that, and my response is this: must I become a scholar of someone's work before I ever make a criticism?  Parikka later makes that statement in a later post; he's read quite a bit but is not a scholar.  This move sets the bar so high that it can only be read as a rhetorical move, i.e., a power-play to silence any criticism.  Aside, every time I do look up a reference when given to me, it doesn't answer the criticism, excepting Levi's discussion of the processional nature of objects in onticology, which I think may contain a solution to my criticisms.  This goes right back to Parikka's puzzlement that I also share; why would I want to discuss OOO, if it's not central to my own research, when that kind of reaction is common?  For another example, see Glen Fuller's comments in Parikka's thread (this is my only knowledge of this person and the same for Parikka): what I take to be good, solid criticism is bashed as belligerence and speaking in a poor tone.  That looks familiar, again, as I have been hit with that.  Where am I going with this?  I feel both validated and validating (of Parikka and others) that there is too much touchiness in *some* members of the OOO community.  That is, they cannot seem to tell the difference between curious but critical interlocutors, and opponents cranking them; I am of the former.  Sadly, I do not think they would believe me--even those commenters on Parikka's blog that I've never exchanged words with.


  1. The solution? I note that I do online what I do in person. I tend to talk to people who "get me," and until I figure out who does and who does not, it can be a little messy.

  2. I missed this post at the time, but given that I get criticized for not responding to Jussi's questions, it's worth noting that I did respond, it just took me a few days. It was Christmas after all. That response is here:

  3. My thanks, sir. Apologies if I have been coming off as a "crank," (see above), as I mean to be curious and critical.

  4. Now that I've read it quickly, it is a very good response.

  5. Well, to be fair I was a bit cranky responding on Jussi's post. But, you know, it's a blog comments section. We should remember that there are still different kinds of writing, different kinds of interaction.

    Thanks for reading it.

  6. Thanks, Ian.

    If I had a tenured position, I would be less jumpy. The (un)funny thing is, I don't have a horse in the OOO race, but am drawing a lot of attention.

    I'm just trying to find scholars to talk to since the equivalent scholarship in my field, American pragmatism, appears to have all but died out.