Argument: Graham Harman judges science and common sense in terms of the crude philosophical criteria of another age and finds them lacking in knowledge of reality. He posits a shadowy “withdrawn” realm of real objects in order to explain the discrepancies between his naive abstract model of knowledge as access and the concrete reality of the sciences. Works such as THE QUADRUPLE OBJECT, THE THIRD TABLE and BELLS AND WHISTLES, like the whole of his philosophy, are the record of Harman noticing the discrepancies, but refusing to revise the model. His solution is a dead-end, the timid, nostalgic propounding of an antiquated epistemology under the cover of a “new” ontology.
Context: Over the last few years the OOOxian movement has multiplied signs of success at the same time as showing unmistakable symptoms of decline. Based on a denial of epistemology and on blindness to its own status as (bad) epistemology OOO was able to capture the attention of those who were looking for a new speculative style, after the Science Wars and in opposition to those who were content to just parrot Deleuze or Derrida or Foucault. Stanley Cavell and Richard Rorty had each in his own way sought to attain to the status of homegrown American Continental Philosophy, but their Wittgensteinian and Heideggerian framework was too obscure and abstruse, too élitist and erudite. A more pop version of the same ambition was needed and Graham Harman’s OOO satisfied a strongly felt need to have done with deconstruction and return to “naiveté” (Harman’s word from the opening of THE QUADRUPLE OBJECT). Harman is by far the more radical thinker when we compare his ontology of withdrawn objects to the mathematism of Meillassoux, the scientism of Brassier, and the Lacanian naturalism of Bryant. Harman alone has been willing to discard the scientistic prejudice that vitiates the work of these thinkers.
Yet this superiority of Harman’s position could only be maintained by sticking to the pathos of an escape from epistemology. As long as Harman did not explicitly engage with epistemological themes in his own name the denegation of its status as epistemology on which his work was built gave it even more force of conviction and persuasive power. The objectual conversion remained a potent possibility. With the publication of THE THIRD TABLE this anti-epstemological posture was revealed as an imposture, OOO was revealed not as superior insight over and above common sense and scientific realities, thus gratifying the narcissism of the artistic community while saving it from the accusation of postmodern relativism, but rather as a mode of philosophising that was intellectually incompetent to give a satisfying account of the domains of science, the humanities and common sense. Instead of an account we get dismissive gesticulation: these domains are “sham”, their objects are “simulacra” or “phantoms”. The absence of any understanding of diachrony, from the diachrony of science and that of common sense, to the diachrony of a simple argument is patent. Real philosophical positions and arguments are replaced with absurd caricatures which are then easily rebutted, giving the impression of a lively polemical force ready to accept and reply to objections.