updated: This post is inspired by a discussion of certain lacunae in Harman’s philosophy, with respect to ethics and politics posted by Alexander Galloway here. My analysis of Harman’s philosophy is ongoing , but I have come to some provisional conclusions:
1) Harman’s OOO is a form of monism – he begins usually with a preliminary gesture of recognising the multiplicity and abundance of the world, but rapidly reduces the multiple elements to overarching « emergent » unities that exclude other approaches to and understandings of the world (cf. THE THIRD TABLE) – his objects are the « only real » objects.
2) Harman’s OOO is thus profoundly reductionist. Harman makes a big fuss about criticising « reductionism » (cf. also his bogus grab-all concepts of « undermining » and « overmining »), but he seems to have no idea what it is – easily winning points against straw men, then proceeding to advocate one of the worst forms of reductionism imaginable: reduction of the abundance of the world to untouchable unknowable yet intelligible « objects ». (For more details see my review of Harman’s THE THIRD TABLE here).
3) Harman’s OOO is theological: He produces a a highly technical concept of object such that it replaces the familiar objects of the everyday world, and the less familiar objects of science with something « deeper » and « inaccessible », and then proceeds to equivocate with the familiar connotations and associations of « object » 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 theology: the unknowable, ineffable, untouchable object that withdraws.
4) Harman’s OOO is a-temporal and a-historical: Harman has no understanding of change, his philosophy has no place for it except by arbitrary posit. One of his favorite arguments is that « if everything was defined by its relations, then nothing would change ». This is a sophism, as it ignores temporal relations (such as « x is going faster than y », « m is accelerating faster than n »), and force relations (« a is crushing b », « c is fighting back against d »). This denegation is preparatory to Harman’s re-essentialising of the object.
5) The de-politicisation comes in when Harman, having argued illegitimately for non-relational essences (cf point 4), goes on to « inform » us that the essences cannot be known but that they are not eternal and unchangeable. But Harman cannot think change with the conceptual resources of his system, he can only posit it and then play on familiar but illegitimate associations to make it seem to be comprehensible in terms of his OOO. However, this incoherent posit cannot disguise the fact that change is foreclosed in Harman’s system: « there is no event for Harman ».
6) Ontology is not primary for Harman. His real polemic is with a straw man epistemology that he calls the philosophy of human access. No important philosophy of at least the last 50 years is a philosophy of access, so the illusion of a revolution in thought is generated by the misuse of the notion of « access », inflating it into a grab-all concept under which anything and everything can be subsumed. But a philosophy of non-access is still epistemological, a pessimistic negative epistemology that subtracts objects from meaningful human intervention (cf. THE QUADRUPLE OBJECT where Egypt itself is declared to be an object, albeit, strangely enough, a « non-physical » one, and so unknowable and untouchable). The ontological neutralisation of our knowledge is consonant with the political neutralisation described by Galloway. How can a withdrawn object « de-withdraw »? Harman cannot explain any interaction at all (he seems to be confused about the distinction between relation and interaction), he can only just posit it.
Conclusion: Harman’s flattening of ontology is a reductionism, the reduction of the abundance and multiplicity of the world to an a-political, an-ethical correlate to his epistemology of inaccessible objects.