THE JARGON OF OBJECTALITY: the historically appropriate untruth of the neo-liberal epoch

I have been taken to task for my critique of Harman’s OOO. If you feel that way about a philosopher, I am told, you should move on to something you like. However, I do not concern myself with feelings, but with arguments and concepts. This is why I consider my criticism both fair and useful. It is fair because it concentrates on concept and argument rather than giving in to surface impression and in-group pressure. It is useful because it breaks the monologue and introduces conceptual analysis into the de-concepted consensus. Many critiques of OOO, while valid, remain argumentatively timid and conceptually docile, tacitly respecting the demand for academic validation of what is in fact a manipulation of empty jargon.

Harman’s OOP is a lure: it looks like a philosophy of the purest sort, yet it is so riddled with misunderstandings, clichés, contradictions, and pseudo-concepts that even its detractors have to break through a psychological barrier in order to recognise that it really is as bad as it seems. The ambiguity about objects, the division between an exoteric philosophy of sensual excess and an esoteric philosophy of nihilistic withdrawal, the craziness of the thesis of the irreality of time, the fatuousness of the reiterated example of the cotton’s encounter with the flame, the sheer contradiction of giving “examples” of unknowable real objects, the ludicrous theory of vicarious “causation” which is forced on Harman by his rigid repetitive dualisms and which is no causation at all, the total absence of any philosophical method except that of dogmatic posit and autistic intellectual intuition, the impossibility of describing or even refering to real objects. All these are deep and disquieting flaws for such an ambitious metaphysics.

Adorno, in THE JARGON OF AUTHENTICITY, found a similar tendency at work in the existentialism of his time: the promotion of a pure philosophy that in its very self-purification voided itself of all content and cancelled itself as philosophy:

As long as philosophy was in line with its own nature, it also had content. However, in retreating to the ideal of its pure nature, philosophy cancels itself out (xix).

One may usefully compare this diagnosis with the incoherent status of Harman’s OOO, which is a pure philosophy of the object outside of all knowability and relation, and so void of content. This may not be noticed at first as OOO’s vocabulary consists of words that are technically deviated from their normal sense, but knowingly employed with their original, but by posit fallacious, connotations or aura. This objectal idiom is deployed as if it were the sign of a return to the rich and changing concrete world, to self-evidence and to naiveté, whereas it is a jargon that depletes our powers of expression and that empties our thought:

Elements of empirical language are manipulated in their rigidity, as if they were elements of a true and revealed language.

This manipulation of elements of familiar language as rigid tokens of a philosophically constructed “naiveté” is part of the generalised stultification that I analysed in my paper IS ONTOLOGY MAKING US STUPID? Yet OOO has arisen not just as a response to an ideological demand for a philosophical mirror allowing the necessary self-recognition of the well-adapted neo-liberal subject. Philosophy has come to be perceived as a set of refined but useless noetic games confined each to its own solipsistic world. The task of non-philosophy (whether Deleuzian, Latourian, Stieglerian, or Laruellian) has been to extricate us from these abstract worlds that imprison our energies and devitalise our practices.

The jargon—objectively speaking, a system—uses disorganization as its principle of organization, the breakdown of language into words in themselves (7).

Object-oriented jargon forms a closed system, creating an aura of objectality, while depriving objects of all empirical predicates. Language has broken down and is just spinning around in a frictionless void, evoking some strange objectal Stimmung – an atmospheric effect of objectality.

Harman’s OOO seems to call on us to leap all at once into the non-philosophical element, without requiring the lengthy detours of academic non-philosophy. His signature combination of irreverent style, intuitively appealing fast-thought concepts (withdrawal, undermining, access), “clincher” arguments that paralyse the mind (“if everything were related nothing would change”) yet are ultimately devoid of sense, complicated epicycles (e.g. vicarious causation) designed to reassure the profane that any perceived difficulties are overcome in the more technical esoteric parts of the theory and to give academics more scholarly material to nourish their analytic mania, the anti-academic appeal to artistic allusion and to naiveté, the setting up of cliques in charge of academic propagation and defence – all contribute to an impression of philosophical sophistication in the service of non-academic certainties and motivations.

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3 Responses to THE JARGON OF OBJECTALITY: the historically appropriate untruth of the neo-liberal epoch

  1. holynose says:

    You couldn’t have put it better. I kept wondering too about that cotton and fire example and about why should objects exhaust possibilities of each other and the other “clincher” arguments that paralyse the mind and are ultimately devoid of sense


  2. holynose says:

    Are you familiar with the work of this other OOO character, I was reading this a while ago
    and have since not yet figured what the point of that Deleuze passage is. Talking of Jargon while the neuroscience bits are not free of the specific jargon of that field of science I still managed but failed at comprehending the Deleuze bit?


  3. terenceblake says:

    Thanks for pointing me to a quote where Deleuze talks of a “swarm of differences”. I have commented Bryant’s “word magic” here:

    Liked by 1 person

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