1) OOO is an abstract monism
Harman’s ontology reduces the multiplicity and abundance of the world to “emergent” unities that exclude other approaches to and understandings of the world – his objects are the “only real” objects, all the rest are “utter shams”. More importantly, his own (philosophical) knowledge of objects is the only real knowledge. All that is ordinarily thought of as knowledge, both theoretical and practical, is also utter sham: “Human knowledge deals with simulacra or phantoms, and so does human practical action” (BELLS AND WHISTLES, 12). Harman’s “realism” de-realises everything except his own abstract knowledge and his withdrawn objects.
2) OOO is a reductionism
Repeatedly, Harman goes to great lengths to criticise a generic but non-existent “reductionism”, yet he seems to have no idea what reductionism is. He easily wins points against straw men, and then proceeds to advocate one of the worst forms of reductionism imaginable: the reduction of the abundance of the world to an abstract hidden realm of untouchable, unknowable, yet intelligible, “objects”.
3) The withdrawn real object is an abstraction
Harman 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of the everyday world, and the less familiar objects of science, with something “deeper” and “inaccessible”, because withdrawn. These real objects have none of the empirical predicates of common sense experience or of scientific observation and research, they are mere abstract posits.
4) OOO is conceptually incoherent and terminolgically confused
In OOO words do not mean what they seem to. Harman equivocates 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 invisible, unknowable, ineffable object that withdraws. No concrete example can be given, as it would be taken from the sensual, i.e. sham, realm. Yet Harman repeatedly gives examples, which in terms of his own philosophy is the very category mistake that his philosophy is designed to prevent. He systematically confuses access, contact, relation and interaction. His argument to establish the inability of relational ontologies to explain change exhibits rather his inability to understand relations and to make simple conceptual distinctions.
5) OOO is ontological nihilism: there are no “real objects” in Harman’s sense
No example of a real object can be given. All that is given in experience, all that is contained in our common sense and scientific knowledge, all that we can see and touch and create and love is “utter sham”, “simulacra”, “phantoms”. All that we know, including what we know about ourselves, is unreal. All our hopes and joys, all our suffering and struggle, all that we strive for and value belong to the world of illusion. Nothing from the empirical world (none of its objects or properties or relations) is real, so Harman is left with nothing to populate his real world. Harman’s ontology of the real is empty. There are no “real objects”, this expression is an empty place-marker in Harman’s ontological formalism.
6) OOO is a school philosophy
Harman’s OOO is by no means a return to “naïveté” and to the objects of our experience OOO deals 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 of science and common sense with a set of bloodless and lifeless abstractions (“simulacra”, “phantoms”, “ghostly objects”).
7) OOO’s real objects do not withdraw, they transcend
For Harman, we cannot know the real object. The object we know is unreal, a sham, a “simulacrum”. Real objects transcend our perception and our knowledge, they transcend all relations and interactions.
8) OOO’s ontology is not flat: withdrawal is vertical
Harman says repeatedly that real objects are “deep”, deeper than their appearance to the human mind, deeper than their relations to one another, deeper than any theoretical or practical encounter with them. This “depth” of the real is a key part of Harman’s ontology, as is its transcendence. Harman’s OOO is not flat at all, but centered on this vertical dimension of depth and transcendence.
9) Harman’s real object is epistemically ambiguous
The epistemological status of OOO’s real objects is unclear, oscillating between the idea of an absolutely unknowable, uncapturable reality and the idea that it can be captured in some very abstract and indirect way. In virtue of the unknowability of his objects he is obliged to place all types of knowledge, including the scientific one on the same plane (knowledge of “simulacra or phantoms”), as illusory, and at the same time presume that we can know something about these objects (e.g. that they exist, and that they withdraw).
10) OOO claims to know the unknowable and to say the ineffable
Philosophical intellection in Harman’s system has the contradictory role of knowing ontologically the real, as that which withdraws from knowing. In effect, science is demoted to the status of non-knowledge, as the real cannot be known. Harman is caught in a series of contradictions, as he wants to have his unknowable reality and yet to know it. Common sense cannot know reality, nor the humanities, nor even science.
11) OOO is an epistemology masquerading as an ontology
The basis of Harman’s system is an epistemological critique of so-called “philosophies of access”, which leads him to propose an alternative epistemology disguised as an ontology. The masquerade is necessary to give the impression that he has found a solution to what he sees as the impasse of access. Unfortunately no solution is given because Harman is still moving inside the problematic of access, a problematic which was abandonned by every major philosophy of the 20th Century. To hide the absence of solution Harman is led to posit a solution in a previously unknown ontological dimension. This obfuscation accounts for the strange mixture of ontological and epistemological considerations that caracterizes Harman’s philosophical style. This generates such contradictions as pretending to accomplish a return to the concrete and giving us in fact abstraction, and pretending to criticize reduction and in fact performing an even more radical reduction.
12) OOO is epistemological relativism
Harman’s epistemology is relativist, demoting science to an instance of the general relativism of forms of knowledge, all belonging to the world of simulacra. However, by fiat, his own philosophical intellection and some artistic procedures are partially excluded from this relativisation. Yet no criterion of demarcation is offered. Harman dixit must suffice.
13) For OOO real knowledge is impossible
Harman judges science in terms of the crude philosophical criteria of another age and finds it lacking in knowledge of reality. He is then obliged to posit a shadowy “withdrawn” realm of real objects to explain the discrepancies between his naive abstract model of knowledge as access and the reality of the sciences. BELLS AND WHISTLES), like the whole of his philosophy, is the record of Harman noticing the discrepancies, but refusing to revise the model. His solution is a dead-end, a timid, nostalgic action propounding an antiquated epistemology under the cover of a “new” ontology.
14) OOO is idealism
Graham Harman proclaims that his philosophy is realist, when it is one of the most thoroughgoingly idealist philosophies imaginable. Time is unreal, and so is every common sense object and every physical object. All are declared to be “simulacra”. “Space”, one may object, is real for Harman, but that is no space one would ever recognise: neither common sense space nor physical space (both “simulacra”), Harmanian space is an abstract “withdrawn” intelligible space.
15) Ontology is not primary for Harman
Harman’s real polemic is in the domain of epistemology against a straw man position 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 an illusion 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, in Harman’s case it takes the form of a pessimistic negative epistemology that subtracts objects from meaningful human theoretical knowledge and practical 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).
16) Knowledge and practice are illusory: radical change is impossible
One consequence of the reduction of knowledge and practice to the status of empty phantasms and illusions of access is that global change is impossible. The ontological neutralisation of our knowledge is allied to its practical (and thus political) neutralisation. This explain’s Harman’s inability to deal with critiques such as that of Alexander Galloway, by any means other than denial.
17) A withdrawn object cannot “de-withdraw”
Harman cannot explain any interaction at all, in terms of his system. One is entitled to ask: how can a withdrawn object “de-withdraw”? He can only just posit such de-withdrawal, which is why his system is condemned to be a dualist rewrite of more complex relational thinking. Withdrawal is absolute, universal, a priori, and non-empirical.There are no degrees of withdrawal. Harman just postulates an absolute bifurcation between interaction on the one hand and withdrawal on the other. Harman cannot think withdrawal or its opposite (interaction) as an empirical concept applying only in certain circumstances.
18) Discontinuities are mis-described by “withdrawal”
Harman cannot think that withdrawal is itself one type of relation amongst many others, and that it constitutes only one variant of the more general class of discontinuous relations. In contrast, Whitehead tells us that: “continuity is a special condition arising from the society of creatures which constitute our immediate epoch” (PROCESS AND REALITY, 36).
19) Withdrawal replaces complex distinctions with a simple pseudo-concept
The notion of cuts, jumps, ruptures, intervals, or discontinuities is a far more useful concept than the wholesale bifurcation operated by the notion of “withdrawal”, which is both too simple and too absolute (there are no degrees of withdrawal, all withdrawal is of the same type, there are no special conditions for withdrawal, it is a purely non-empirical concept) and splits the world in two (real/sensual). Harman’s system is too absolute with its summary dualisms to be able to deal with the fine-grained distinctions that come up in our experience.
20) OOO’s realm of real objects is a de-qualified and de-quantified void
Real objects are not qualifiable in terms of the empirical predicates of common sense or of science, both declared to be reductionist. Nor are real objects quantifiable. In BELLS AND WHISTLES Harman declares several times that explaining things in terms of mathematical structures is reductionist. So finally his real objects are neither qualitatively distinct (in terms of empirical predicates belonging to the phantasmatic realms of common sense, the humanities, the sciences, and even mathematics), nor are they numerically or quantitatively distinct (as mathematics is itself a reductionist phantasm). So Harman’s real realm is a de-qualified and de-quantified void and his philosophy is an intellectually debased form of nihilism.