AGAINST QUARRELATIONISM: On Alexander Galloway’s Putative Logical Error

“Alexander Galloway, you have just been quarrelated”

Such could be the conclusion to a rather depressing sequence of events on the little atoll of blogs discussing OOO and SR (I’m tempted to add SPQR, but that would not be politically correct) in the sub-tropical regions of the blogosphere. Like the planet Solaris, the living blogosphere confronted Alexander Galloway with his deepest and darkest secret: he does not know the difference between “is” and “ought”, and his recent post on the problems of Harman’s OOO when it is subject to political criticism can be refuted and dismissed by a single phrase. But what if (here I cannot resist aping Zizek’s favorite tick for introducing what I can only understand as a heuristic leap of lateral thinking. Otherwise, I would have to accuse Zizek of making the basic mistake of confusing a question with an argument, and I have no wish myself to confuse good lateral thinking with bad logical argument), but what if Galloway’s recent “quarrelation” in fact proved the reverse? what if it proved that Galloway’s argument was basically sound but of a type that many did not seem to grasp, and gave vent to what I once called “fire-jerking” (the combination of fiery affect and knee jerk reflex responses).

I only half-liked Galloway’s post because, though I was in favor of his analysis, the post itself contained a structural flaw. While starting out from a specific text, an interview with Graham Harman and using it to sketch out a general assessment of Harman’s philosophy, it nevertheless slipped into talking about OOO in general. This permitted Levi Bryant to intervene repeatedly and at length on the general theme of:

My philosophy is very different from Harman’s, and I make politics a central concern. So somehow Harman’s philosphy is all right, after all. If that were not the case, I would boldly come out and say so.

But unfortunately Galloway included some general remarks (and even some personal remarks about Harman the empirical individual). This allowed him to be “quarrelated”: despite the great quantity of comments, virtually none of them had anything to do with Galloway’s critique of Harman’s OOO. Further, the few that did engage, however indirectly, his political critique reduced it to an empty stereotype and accused him of such simple mistakes as trying to derive an “ought” from an “is”. In the aftermath there were several cases of the now well-crafted “Harman litany”. This involves beginning by invoking piously Harman and singing his praises, progressively modulating into praises of Latour or Stengers or just about anyone who is praiseworthy, and sending back prayers of thanks for all the grace obtained to its origin in Harman’s actiion. All this is done of course without the slightest quotation, and by closing one’s eyes to the incompatibility of Harman’s OOO with the ideas of any of these other saintly figures. Thus by means of

1) a swamp of irrelevant comments

2) effacement of Galloway’s argument, which is too difficult, apparently, to argue against

3) its replacement with an “idiotic” stereotype that is easy to refute

4) a flurry of “Harman litanies”, or should I call them OOOdes

Galloway was quarrelated into oblivion (at least in the eyes of the quarrelationists).

Galloway was not in fact situating himself inside Harman’s system. If he had tried to derive an “ought” from an”is” inside that system he would have failed, because this system has been produced by a process of purification of his ontology (really a flawed epistemology, or ontoepistemology, as Harman has trouble seeing the difference) of all explicit political or ethical elements. It is this gesture of purification that is precisely the problem, and that “ought” not to be accepted if your starting point is a radical dissatisfaction with the entire global politico-economic system (good grief! did I just conflate two distinct objects: the economy and the political system? Harman does not have anything to say about these two very important objects, and that fact of not merely just not discussing them, but of not having the conceptual resources to do so, because of the willful creation of a purified ontoepistemology, is the main point of Galloway’s critique.

Galloway does not illegitimately derive, or try to derive, or require that one must be able to derive, or accuse Harman of not deriving an “ought” from an “is”, he actually begins from an “ought”: “to be political means that you have to *start* from the position of incompatibility with the state…the state of the situation”. To be political in Galloway’s sense, you must start from resistance. The valuation is there from the beginning, though it need not be expressed in the form of an “ought”. Contra the “oughtists” who refute him so easily, many valuations are not expressed outright in “oughts” but are coded into the state of the situation, and need to be made manifest. This is what Galloway does quite effectively, despite the slight rhetorical dispersion that I complained about at the beginning. It is his detractors that are guilty of a logical error in not seeing in what direction the argumentative arrow was pointing (from “ought” to “is” and back again to “ought”). These detractors may not share Galloway’s valuations, but this fact is part of what he is saying. By instantiating the thesis, their objections only contribute to proving its validity.



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8 Responses to AGAINST QUARRELATIONISM: On Alexander Galloway’s Putative Logical Error

  1. skepoet says:

    Reblogged this on The Loyal Opposition to Modernity: and commented:
    More on the Galloway and Harman developments out of the interview I did with Harman a few weeks ago.


  2. Bill Benzon says:

    So, here’s a question, and I’m thinking of the “rapproachmont of epistemology and onotlogy” as well: When did philosophy become riven into its various more or less recognized branches? The Wikipedia entry for philosophy lists six divisions:

    1) metaphysics (including, I assume, ontology),
    2) epistemology,
    3) logic,
    4) moral and political philosophy (I suppose ethics goes here),
    5) aesthetics, and
    6) specialized branches (where you’re likely to find philsophy of science).

    Now, I just took a look at my Introduction to Aristotle, edited by Richard McKeon, which consists of selections from Aristotle’s works arranged under various headings, as follows:


    So, most but not all of the Wikipedia’s headings are recognized here and there are things here that the Wikipedia doesn’t recognize as philosophy. Further, I’d assume even where there is alignment that, to some extent, McKeon is projecting back onto Aristotle a set of divisions he might not have recognized himself.

    So, the divisions on the continent of knowledge and inquiry are somewhat arbitrary and are subject to historical change. Big deal. We know that, don’t we?

    I also know that here and there Harman has expressed dissatisfaction at how easily philosophy has been awarded franchises in the human stuff, like aesthetics and ethics, while the scientists have claimed the physical world for their own philosophers keep out! And he has certainly deliberately crafted a philosophy that stakes claims on the physical world and that denies a firm division between the natural and cultural spheres. It’s that division, after all, that assigns philosophy to ethics and aesthetics while reserving a big hunk of the rest for other disciplines.

    So he’s crafted a philosophy that stakes a claim on the physical world. I’ve got no problem with that myself. & I’ve got no problem with an interest in ontology that’s decoupled from an interest in politics. I’ve got a similar rift in my own intellectual life. I like to describe literary texts and films, often in great detail, but I’ve got no particular interest in the explicit or implied politics of these works. It’s not that I don’t see such things–how could you NOT see them in The Heart of Darkness or Apocalypse Now? to which I devoted a great deal of time last year–but that that’s not my point of entry and it’s not what I’m looking for. So I’m sympathic to Harman and to his defenders in that discussion.

    If, however, ontology is in fact wearing a bit thin as you tell me, then pitching your tent in ontology forest may not be such a good idea. But then Harman also says aesthetics is first philosophy and it’s almost as though he wants his caterpillar of ontology to become revealed as the butterfly of aesthetics, which is a fish of a different kettle. Now, Harman’s written a lot and I know only a little, chunks of The Prince of Networks, a passle of blog posts from the last nine or ten months, and article here and there, and The Quadruple Object, which was written as a précis of the whole system. Though there’s some words of comfort for humanists at the very end, there’s not much there that seems like aesthetics. So is his aesthetics a rabbit pulled out of the hat of ontology, hidden there all the time, or is it something else?

    And if Harman can pull an aesthetics out of that hat, might not others produce a politics? Or is that impossible, given the structure of the hat?

    [my of my but didn’t he ramble]


  3. terenceblake says:

    Good set of questions, I try to reply in part in the next post.


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