IS ONTOLOGY MAKING US STUPID? (3d): Withdrawal is Transcendence

My major objection to Harman’s OOO is that it is a school philosophy dealing in generalities and abstractions far from the concrete joys and struggles of real human beings (“The world is filled primarily not with electrons or human praxis, but with ghostly objects withdrawing from all human and inhuman access”, THE THIRD TABLE, 12). Despite its promises,  Harman’s OOO does not bring us closer to the richness and complexity of the real world but in fact replaces the multiplicitous and variegated world with a set of bloodless and lifeless abstractions – his unknowable and untouchable, “ghostly”, objects. Not only are objects unknowable, but even whether something is a real object or not is unknowable: “we can never know for sure what is a real object and what isn’t”.

Yet Harman has legislated that his object is the only real object (cf. THE THIRD TABLE, where Harman calls his table, as compared to the table of everyday life and the scientist’s table, “the only real one”, 10, and “the only real table”, 11. As for the everyday table and the scientific table: “both are equally unreal“, both are “utter shams”, 6.  “Whatever we capture, whatever we sit at or destroy is not the real table”, 12. And he accuses others of “reductionism”!). To say that the real object is unknowable (“the real is something that cannot be known”, p12) is an epistemological thesis. As is the claim that the object we know, the everyday or the scientific object, is unreal.

How can this help us in our lives? It is a doctrine of resignation and passivity: we cannot know the real object, the object we know is unreal, an “utter sham”, we cannot know what is or isn’t a real object. Harman’s objects do not withdraw, they transcend. They transcend our perception and our knowledge, they transcend all relations and interactions. As Harman reiterates, objects are deep (“objects are deeper than their appearance to the human mind but also deeper than their relations to one another”, 4, “the real table is a genuine reality deeper than any theoretical or practical encounter with it…deeper than any relations in which it might become involved”, 9-10). This “depth” is a key part of Harman’s ontology, which is not flat at all and is the negation of immanence. Rather, it is centered on this vertical dimension of depth and transcendence.

Harman practices a form of ontological critique which contains both relativist elements and dogmatic elements. At the level of explicit content Harman is freer , less dogmatic than Althusser, as he does not make science the queen of knowledge. Harman situates himself insistantly « after » the linguistic turn, after the so-called « epistemologies of access », after deconstruction and post-structuralism. He considers that the time for construction has come, that we must construct a new philosophy by means of a return to the things themselves of the world – objects. But is this the case?

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