We are all familiar with the basic principles of Pre-emptive Counterfactuation. Graham Harman provided us with a paradigmatic example concerning an abstract of a future talk by Anthony Paul Smith here, reviewed here. Not content with APS’s abstract, Harman proposed a “more honest rewrite”. APS’s abstract was dishonest because it did not talk about Harman, and so had to be rewritten. That was enough to totally destroy it, and Harman did not need to actually produce anything stronger.
However one could argue that this was too easy. One might want to see how Harman could counterfactuate an abstract that was “honest”, that actually mentioned him as a central figure in the Controversy. The gods of the internet have been kind, and we now have the more advanced example of Harman’s minority report on an “unusually frank” abstract. In Harmanian language, let us recall, Katherine Hayles’ abstract is “frank” because it talks about him. Anthony Paul Smith’s abstract was “unfrank” because it talked about Laruelle and mentioned Meillassoux, so Harman had to correct it, to frank it up. Harman himself is always “frank”, even in his books on Latour and Meillassoux he talks more about himself than about the supposed object of study.
Harman begins with a basic reminder of his doctrine of vicarious causation as applied to philosophical critique. Alexander Galloway’s critique (and its sequel) of his ideas had no effect on him, it was just like “the experience of being shot at without effect”. This much is obvious, given that no object can ever touch another object. But vicarious causation is in fact much richer in its implications than that, it is in fact the theoretical basis for the practice of counterfactual criticism. Vicarious causation means that “each object reduces every other to a hazy caricature of its deeper plenitude” (Graham Harman, CIRCUS PHILOSOPHICUS, 49). Thus not only do we have a realm of “ghostly objects withdrawing”, we are entitled to, nay we are ontologically constrained to, replace them with “hazy caricatures”, and this is precisely what Harman does. Harman replaces Galloway’s argument by a hazy caricature, all that remains is a pun (“a pun in search of an argument”, as Harman so rigorously describes it). This pun is in Harman’s philosophy a “vicar”. Harman can of course never come into direct contact with an argument against his philosophy, what he does encounter is a vicar that replaces the argument and represents it. So Galloway’s arguments are replaced by a pun.
Once this pun is extracted from Galloway’s arguments, it can now by Latourian translation be deployed anywhere, even against Hayles’ talk before it is given. A simple consideration of her abstract is enough to show that it is “frank” (it mentions Harman by name) and a “pun” (it relates Harman’s philosophy to something else, and so dilutes its frankness). Whatever Hayles may say we know by the principles of vicarious causation that it will be a “pun” and that it will not, and cannot, “touch” or “move” Harman. (cf his verdict on Laruelle, which in fact applies to any thinker, Hayles included: “I for one remain completely unmoved by Laruelle as a thinker”).