LEVI BRYANT AND THE PERFORMATIVE CONTRADICTION (12): empiricism by semantic stipulation

The official meta-language of OOO reduces everything to “objects” (and their relations). To be precise we should call these entities proposed by the meta-linguistic model “meta-objects”. The ontological instantiation of that meta-ontology promoted by Graham Harman is that these meta-objects are “objects”. No doubt confused himself by the imprecision of his vocabulary, Harman actually gives “examples” of objects, an impossibility in a system where objects are “withdrawn”: unknowable, invisible, untouchable, etc.

Levi Bryant’s instantiation is quite different, in that for him these meta-objects are “matter”, or “nature”, or “units”, or “machines”, or events or processes or whatever. Note that this is not a discovery about the world but a semantic stipulation of what Bryant chooses to call his instantiated objects. As with Harman’s object-oriented philosophy, Bryant’s matter-oriented ontology has no engagement with the world whatsoever, but is a vast ramified pun on the word “object”, conflating its meta-ontological and its ontological sense. Simlarly, if he starts out by posing that “being” and “nature” are synonyms, it is no discovery to find that culture is a part of nature. This is just a banal consequence of his posit.

There is no matter in the metaphysical sense because there is no unity of science, and such disunity is by now a common place. As I have argued in citing Feyerabend and Latour, there is no unity of common sense either. The conclusion is that there is something deeply flawed with the metaphysical notion of matter applied indiscriminately to all the entities of our common world, of which the sciences are important participants. Any materialism or naturalism that maintains otherwise is totally empty of content, amounting to just a set of meaningless ritual formulae (synchronic ontology). A non-metaphysical materialism, in contrast, is both more concrete and more democratic, and is to be judged on its consequences for our knowledge and for our collectives, both present and future (diachronic ontology).

Instead of simply decreeing a priori, by semantic stipulation, that everything is an object (in whatever sense you can be finally pinned down to), shouldn’t one approach this as an empirical question? Such a far-reaching claim should be given enough testable content to be susceptible of scientific investigation. Can one have a democracy of immanence outside the transcendent fiats, so as to respect the empirical specificities of the world?  We need more empirical research and less semantic stipulation.

If one takes out all the polemics containing caricatures of Continental philosophy or of “epistemology”, if one removes all the subjunctive evoking of what one “might” say or “would” look at, of what “perhaps” is to be found, there remains precious little in Bryant’s texts. All his examples are mere conceptual possibilities, subjunctive confirmations of lexical posits. Similarly, if one removes all the illegitimate examples in Harman’s text (there can be no concrete examples in his OOP) we are left with an ontological delirium about objects in a metaphysical parallel universe.

Bryant is unable to live up to the goals of his own project, and his texts are a dissatisfying mixture of conceptual incoherence, critiques of nonexistent adversaries, confusion between stipulative definitions and concrete theses about the world, wordy abstract ramblings about “objects”, combined with banal yet underdevelopped “possible” examples to give the appearance a concreteness that may come (subjunctively) and that never does.

This last is my principal objection to OOO, not the conceptual confusion (anyone can make a mistake), not the intellectual timidity, not the absence of dialogue (they don’t dare debate, even with each other). The big problem is that OOO is just empty word-magic masquerading as involvement with concrete things.

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2 Responses to LEVI BRYANT AND THE PERFORMATIVE CONTRADICTION (12): empiricism by semantic stipulation

  1. Misha says:

    Bryant is really too stupid to be given this much time. GH, despite his work being an alienated epistemology, is a solid thinker and a great viewer and critic of more profound thinkers. Bryant on the other hand is a complete charlatan. It seems as if he generates his insights as he writes them and then italicizes either the subject or the predicate, depending one which pleases him aesthetically.


  2. terenceblake says:

    Yes, I developped my critical categories in analysing Harman’s philosophy, as he at least has a coherent position. The analysis of Bryant is a simple corollary, mere confirmation that these categories can apply to the acolytes as well.


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