Ok, this was not definitely not my intent! Yes, more objects and relations . . .
Well, I just got back from watching a movie, and had no idea what was waiting for me back at my computer. I checked my email, saw I had a comment on my last post, went to read it, and my jaw hasn’t reconnected since.
I have nothing but the utmost respect for Levi, as well as Graham, and all working in object-oriented issues. In fact, I’m fascinated by it all, and the only reason I’ve engaged with it so fervently lately is that as my own work is coming to fruition, I find myself wanting to understand how to situate it in relation to object-oriented approaches. But in no way, shape, or form did I intend to in any way insult Levi. In any interactions with him I’ve only thought of him as an excellent guy, and still think just that.
So to the extent I’ve offended Levi, I apologize fully. I did not mean to in any way impugn his character, nor anything like that. And in fact, I didn’t even think my blog post was in any way offensive! I went and watched a movie afterwards, with no idea I’d said anything beyond the standard debates we’ve all been having lately.
There are lots of intellectual fine-points to get to to properly reply to the issues Levi presents, but the important stuff first.
I do not think that object-oriented approaches are ‘molar’, or examples of ‘state thought’, or tied to a ‘moral image of thought’. Rather, it hits me that object oriented approaches, if I understand them correctly, want to safeguard the singularity of what exists against its possible subsumption by power. Object-oriented thought is about protecting what is precious, ephemeral, and easily trampled upon. At least, that is my understanding.
Furthermore, I completely didn’t intend anything I said to be ‘name calling’ or ‘normative judgement,’ nor would I ever want to win an argument that way. Nor would I ever want to accuse Levi or Graham of ‘stupidity’ (why would I find this work so fascinating?!). And I do not at all think either of you two were ‘duped’ into ‘defending the neo-liberal orthodoxy.’ I have the utmost of respect for both Graham and Levi, both as thinkers, but also in the way in which they treat others online, and from what I can gather, in person. In fact, I’m really looking forward to meeting everyone at a conference in the future, as everyone seems to me, from what I can tell, to be really good people.
My sense is that this is just one of those cases in which blogging, email, etc., creates opportunities for misunderstanding. It happens all the time. Usually a phone call or in person talk can set things right, but print has that way of getting away from you when there’s not tone or body language to contextualize. Levi, if there’s anything I said that was offensive, I’m truly sorry. It was not my intent, and I know that’s hard to convey in print, but here’s to trying.
I know that Levi was worried that I was trying to attack his ‘motivations’ for his positions. Now, I DO think it is important that EVERYONE examine their motivations, psychological and social, for why they take the academic positions they do. I think the ‘logic of suspsicion’ coming from Freudian and Marxian sources is essential to good philosophy today, and I’ve blogged on that before here. I see Meillassoux’s point that it can substitute for philosophical argument if over-applied, though I don’t think it should be discarded, but used appropriately (see my post). But I was not in any way taking aim at Levi or Graham’s motivations, nor do I in ANY way think their motivations are ‘shameful’!!
There’s lots of specific points that Levi makes in his argument, probably its best to start with the quote from my last blog post that Levi cited. Hopefully I can clear up some of what I said that seemed attacking.
I do agree with Adrian that “Commodity capitalism is very good at making us think that objects are real,” And since Adrian didn’t make Levi want to ‘end the discussion’ with this point, I’m assuming that’s not what I said that really was interpreted as a personal attack, so I’m guessing its in the following section:
I think he hits a key point – we see objects because capitalism has taught us to do so. Then again, I’d also argue, with Whitehead (and hence I don’t doubt Adrian would agree), that there is also the reifying apects of language, but also embodiment and taking up a particular perspective within spacetime. Reification is part of what it means to exist at a particular spacetime location, and I think that thought requires that we figure out ways to get around how this enables yet also warps our larger relation to the world. Capitalism, and paranoid politics in general, I think, are merely echo of this much deeper set of problems, even if they do much more damage.
I think that its more than just capitalism that makes us, as Adrian says, “think that objects are real.” I think language does that, our corporeal bodies do that, our need to survive in physical world structured like ours does that, the fact that we take up a single perspective in spacetime due to our physical bodies does that, etc. That is, I think there are many, many, many reasons why we “think objects are real”, and often lose sight of processes. I also think that without the ability to focus on one aspect of our perceptual networks over others, we wouldn’t be able to localize anything, select one aspect our our lifeworld as needing attention over others, etc. There’d be no intentionality, no ability to maintain attention, no ability to select some things over others, no choice, no ability to find food, to eat, to have an ego, to love, etc. I do not think objects, or seeing objects, is inherently evil!
When I said that “we see objects because capitalism taught us to do so,” this is a shade stronger than Adrian’s quote about making “objects seem real.” I hope that’s not what did it, though I’d hoped it was contextualized by what I said below it, which I was hoping conveyed in condensed form some of what I explained above. Maybe it didn’t succeed, but I didn’t want to get too distracted in what I considered a side point to the main points I was trying to make in my post. Perhaps I spoke too hastily.
Now, when I said that “Capitalism, and paranoid politics in general, I think, are merely echo of this much deeper set of problems, even if they do much more damage”, perhaps it would’ve been more evident what I meant if I’d said ‘problematic’ instead of ‘problem’. For in fact, I think the fact that we ‘see objects’ in the world around us is a knot, something to be understood, but not evil! I think when the world gets petrified into the same objects, the same processes, the same relations, now THAT is evil. But I don’t think that’s at all what object-oriented work is for, nor have I ever thought that, nor was that what I was trying to say.
Now, do I think that capitalism and paranoia make us over-emphasize reified objects in our world? Of course I do. Do I think that being a good marxist is working to restore processes where capitalism leaves us, at least on the surface, only objects? Of course. But that certainly does not mean that I think object-oriented philosophy is simply duped by capitalism, or that its understanding of ‘object’ is in any way similar to that produced in commodity fetishism. Object-oriented philosophy, as I said earlier, seems to me to be concerned with protecting singularity and difference. Capitalism, under the guise of the proliferation of difference (ie: new products!), destroys difference, liquidates all to the general equivalent of money and a series of additional capitals which it then puts into a giant resonance machine. The very premise of capitalism is to absorb any aspect of any entity which is held in reserve.
Object-oriented thought is fundamentally a philosophy which aims to protect this reserve, for it is an attempt to think singularity and difference. If I think this, why would I then see it as an ally of that difference eraser, that producer of devious pseudo-difference, namely, capitalism?
Do I think that capitalist reification is real? Sure I do. It reifies processes and relations and objects, and that is a huge problem. The issue isn’t objects per se. And I also think that object-oriented thought is full of relations, processes, and massive proliferation of difference. For its not about one object simply repeating time and again, namely, the commodity in its different guises (what Deleuze would call ‘clothed repetition’ or ‘the capitalist axiomatic’), but rather, its seems to me that object-oriented work is about creating an explosion of objects. I’m still not sure whether or not object-oriented thought would consider me at this moment a different object than the me in ten minutes. I am still getting the hang of object-oriented work, and my engagement with it is still one of curiosity. While I feel pretty well at home with my philosophical training, I am still learning the positions that Graham and Levi are taking, and honestly, considering that this OOO/OOP is still in formation, much of it requires sifting through blog posts to get to! That’s why it seems to me that blogging and engaging is a good way to learn more about it, and how it relates to the projects I’m working on. But I’m more than happy to learn when I’ve misinterpreted Levi or Graham, and I hope I’ll learn in the process!
And yes, of course Levi is right that today especially capitalism is proliferating relations faster than objects, we are, after all, in the age of ‘network capitalism,’ as Hardt and Negri have so clearly shown, despite whatever ways we may disagree with them, with a work like ‘Empire’. The question becomes what TYPE of objects and relations we are dealing with. Are the objects and relations static, centralizing, overcoding? Do they seek to create giant machines designed to bring everything into resonance with them? Or do they add to the maximal chaosomosis which our universe needs for maximum diversity, the sort of Spinozist utopia of the maximal development of difference as such, schizoanalysis that does not lead to schizphrenic breakdown, but rather, maximal difference without disintegration?
I for one think that whatever differences we may have in the details about relations and objects, that both myself and Levi (and Graham) are on the same page in wanting that. Furthermore, I think that object-oriented thought, and my own networkological thought, are actually doing very similar work, with very similar goals. I don’t think that Graham or Levi would deny that objects change, mutate, and morph, in fact, this hits me as central to their theory. And in fact, object-oriented work is FULL of relations of all sorts, inclusion of objects within other objects, relations of sincerity, nestings within nestings, objects shifting in their relations to others in a continuous process of relational interplay, etc. I would never argue otherwise. And this is hardly in line with the sort of object-thought that Mark Fisher has so poignantly dubbed ‘capitalist realism’.
Do I think a relational approach has its benefits over an object-oriented approach? Yes. Do I think that there are dangers with using an object based ontology to fight capitalism, when capitalism does make us reify things so? On the surface, perhaps. But I think that object-oriented approaches deconstruct and defamiliarize the traditional notion of the object, object-hood, and objectivity, to the point at which this would only be an issue for those who remain on the surface in their dealings with object-0riented approaches. As I’ve said, object-oriented approaches are all about singularity, difference, which to capitalist realism is abhorrent. And furthermore, relations ALSO can be very problematic these days, take, for example, the discourses promoting NAFTA as an example in which capitalism promoted its goals in the language of relations. The manner in which capitalist ‘globalization’ is currently eating the world is nothing but the proliferation of the dangerous sorts of relations gone wild, the creation of a giant resonance machine through an abuse of both objects and relations, etc.
Relations can be paranoid too, and I’m sorry if I implied otherwise. When I wrote that passage, I was really thinking about the issues further down in the post, my focus was elsewhere. So I can see how a sentence like “Reification is part of what it means to exist at a particular spacetime location, and I think that thought requires that we figure out ways to get around how this enables yet also warps our larger relation to the world” can be interpreted as saying some harsh things, but I thought I balanced that out by saying that reification BOTH warps AND enables, and in fact, is “part of what it means to exist at a particular spacetime location.” I can’t be saying that I think object-oriented work is evil because of something every single thing in the universe does anyway! I think its a lot more complex than that. But I’m sorry if I telescoped too many potentially volatile points in one paragraph without explaining a bit more.
And yes, Marx is most certainly someone who, as Levi says, shows enormous “attentiveness to objects of all sorts.” For Marx, it makes ALL the difference in the world if I use a backhoe or a shovel to plow my field. Like Benjamin, he’s a true thinker of materiality. It would be silly to argue otherwise. And while I am not convinced that “for Marx, unlike Hegel, relations are always external to their terms” (I will honestly have to think about that for a bit, I’m not sure I agree . . .), however that issue gets played out, I think its one we’ll figure out without it getting personal, messy, etc.
As for my discussion of ‘eternal objects’ at the end of the post, at that point I was not at ALL trying to suggest anything about capitalism. I brought this up while trying to understand the issue of qualities/types, and how these relate to object-oriented approaches. But by that point in my post, capitalism was the last thing on my mind, and in fact, it was on my mind only very briefly in that post at all, in the section we’ve now dissected far too much.
I think that I do disagree with Levi on a few things, but I think overall we are most certainly aiming at very similar things. And certainly my post seems aimed at some critique of some object-oriented positions, but I meant nothing more than good natured debate. As I said earlier, that problematic paragraph I mostly put in because I thought Adrian had made a good point, and I didn’t give much more thought to it! It was a side point, I simply thought I slightly elaborated on Adrian’s point, and then moved on to what I thought was the meat of my post.
But I have nothing but the highest respect for Levi, his thought, etc. It was not in any way my intent to imply, state, or say otherwise.
My hope is that this was all a misunderstanding. I’m still confused, but I sincerely apologize for any misunderstandings my prose may have fed, created, etc. It was certainly not my intent.
So, here’s to some more good debate? I hope so . . .