We easily talk about our enthusiasms in philosophy, as if our path of thinking was one of the accumulation of truths and elimination of errors, one of progress. But disappointment is just as important a driving force, a non-philosophical affect that shadows our enthusiasms. A philosophy can seem to express what we find essential to hear at a turning point in our life, and to promise a new world of insight and freedom, only to turn out to be a lure, a deceitful mirage unable to live up to its promises.
When I first read Graham Harman’s books I found them promising. At least there was a reference to contemporary pluralist thinkers and a willingness to engage in explanation and argument. It took me only a couple of months to realise that the promised explanations were either totally inadequate (the myth of “epistemologies of access” for example is maintained only by lofty ignorance of huge parts of recent philosophy, and by refusing to engage any real reading of texts: just global denunciation) or not forthcoming.
The initial shock of recognition was tempered by the realisation that Harman was building on ideas that were widespread in Continental circles 35 years ago, and that I had already subjected to a thoroughgoing critique before moving on to something else. His “progress” was in fact a regression to barely disguised rehashes of old refuted ideas. I was astounded at the pretentiousness of the claims of OOO, given their flimsy basis, and at the credulousnesss of the supporters, too young to have personal knowledge of the prior avatars of these ideas.
Luckily, I quickly found far more satisfying and intellectually challenging thinkers (Bruno Latour, John Law, Andrew Pickering, William Connolly, Bernard Stiegler, Catherine Malabou, and François Laruelle, to name a few) and began to elaborate the non-standard pluralist philosophy that I had discovered in Deleuze and Feyerabend and Hillman, and that I think has still not seen its day. I decided to deconstruct OOO as a way of clarifying why I had initially been attracted and why I thought it was a great step backwards.
I do not care for OOO in any of its variants, and I think its only value is pedagogical: a warning of the stupidity that dogs us all of enthrallment with the plausible products of cognitive marketing. I think that OOO’s popularity is based on a cruel misunderstanding. People seem to think that OOO announces a return to the things themselves, but as we have seen this is not so. Nor is it a return to the concrete diversity and abundance of the world. This impression is an illusion. OOO gestures at the world, even as it withdraws any real possibility of exploring it and coming to know it.
In my own case, I have used OOO to help me clarify my own ideas on pluralist ontology, and especially onDeleuze and Feyerabend. OOO is a debased synchronic travesty of the diachronic pluralism that Feyerabend and Deleuze espouse. What people are looking for and think they find in OOO is the exact opposite of what is there. People are looking for intellectuality, strange new concepts to go further on the paths opened by the preceding generation of philosophers, and concreteness, an engagement with the abundance of the world, its passions, its pleasures, and its problems. But OOO’s intellectuality is a tawdry sham, and its concreteness is a cynical bluff.
Harman’s OOO is the worst form of dualism imaginable, a dualist epistemology and ontology in regression from the great pluralist philosophies that preceded it. Are these pluralist philosophies that I admire perfect? No they are very incomplete and one-sided, developped in response to concrete contexts that are now behind us. Are they, these deconstructive philosophies, themselves immune to deconstruction? Not at all! They themselves even call for their own deconstruction, and Stiegler, Latour, and Laruelle continue the effort and deconstruct, each in their own way, what remains undeconstructed in their predecessors’ ideas.
A liberation from the conceptual schemas of philosophy is possible if, as Paul Feyerabend invites us, we think and act outside stable frameworks (“There are many ways and we are using them all the time though often believing that they are part of a stable framework which encompasses everything”) and fixed paths (“Is argument without a purpose? No, it is not; it accompanies us on our journey without tying it to a fixed road”). This is what I have been calling diachronic ontology. It is the exact opposite of the path that OOO has chosen, where we find a synchronic ontology incapable of dealing with time and change, and a monism of transcendent “withdrawn entities”.