OBJECTS WITHOUT OBJECTIONS: OOO and Tonal Criticism

Update: Hardly had I published this post when it received astonishing confirmation from a series of comments on my review of ONTO-CARTOGRAPHY on Amazon taking Robert Jackson’s method of post-emptive vituperation to a new level. The “discussant” calls my review “small-minded”, “ungenerous”, “faux”, “a joke”. She claims that it “doesn’t deal with the book’s content”, and that I haven’t read the book. To test me she asks “What does it say on page 122 about hurricanes and tornadoes?”, and when I do not reply she declares ” You don’t even have the book”. When I explain that it came out on Amazon.fr a month before it did in the US, and I go so far as to publish a photo of me holding the book, she expresses her contempt. This is the debased face of OOO with a vengeance. I think the discussant doesn’t even realise the disservice she is doing to the book, and that she actually thinks this is what philosophical argument looks like.

OOO is not just refined debates about withdrawal ontologies and retro-vicarious vs post-vicarious causation. It allows some people to indulge in aggressive de-sublimation.

A philosophical school is a machine for propagating a series of variations on a fundamental set of order-words, and also to discourage objections against its tenets by any means possible. Often the school’s doctrine contains utterly ridiculous theses, that one is invited to gloss solemnly in a tone of supposedly academic seriousness. Openly showing incredulity and hostility about these formulaic ideas is not to be met with counter-arguments but to be sanctioned in a variety of ways. A very safe way to discourage critical evaluation is to don the white robes of the “beautiful soul” and to advise the critics to reinvest their energies elsewhere in more positive pursuits. Another way is to ignore all cognitive content in the critiques, and to comment on the “vicious” tone of the enunciation.

Deleuze discusses the characteristics of a philosophical “school” that has for programme the assassination of philosophy: conceptual poverty, mean affects, and destructive behaviour. A good example of these processes is the repeated “refutation” of my writings on OOO propagated by Robert Jackson, who has recently scolded me for giving an “uncharitable” review of Levi Bryant’s new book ONTO-CARTOGRAPHY: https://storify.com/TerenceBlake/objects-yes-objections-no-ooo-and-tonal-criticism

I think Robert Jackson’s idea of philosophy and his conceptual vocabulary are both very impoverished. What he really wishes to say is “silence, no critiques allowed”, while his own behaviour enacts the opposite of such a pious wish. On the one hand, I give a critical review of a book by a “friend” of his, in the sense of someone belonging to the same philosophical school as him. My review critically analyses the book’s concepts and arguments. On the other hand, Jackson’s “review” of me is limited to saying such things as my blog is full of “utter vicious streams of nonsense, the primary design of which is to scavenge as many hits as possible”.

Rather perplexed by Jackson’s reaction I re-read my review of Levi Bryant’s new book, ONTO-CARTOGRAPHY, and found in it not only no uncharitableness, but substantially more concepts and argument than Jackson seems to think necessary, or even to be capable of. The review contains a concise summary of my arguments against Bryant’s theses, which are developped more fully here, and in more general terms here. Only someone who is both “concept-blind” and “affect-blind”, but with a heavy engagement in a pushy school could affirm that these articles are nonsense or vicious. Jackson thus instantiates the characteristics enumerated by Deleuze: conceptual poverty (with no comprehension of alternative views, no arguments in reply), meanness (repeatedly and publicly calling my work “vicious”, “uncharitable”, “nonsense” with no proof other than acolytic indignation), and destructive of philosphy (because he wants to discourage and prevent all real debate).

This behaviour is not at the level of what is required in defence of a contested philosophical thesis. The message however is quite clear: only tame, docile, weakly phrased, long-winded critiques of particular points of doctrine are acceptable. Unfortunately, I keep on publishing outspoken, concise, strongly-phrased arguments on fundamental flaws of the doctine, and I receive silence, indifference, or inarticulate disapproval in return. Which, of course, is quite predictable.

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3 Responses to OBJECTS WITHOUT OBJECTIONS: OOO and Tonal Criticism

  1. Adrian says:

    I’m with you here, Terence. On my reading, you have always been scrupulously honest and clear about your first encounter with several thinkers’ works that you have gone on to criticise: the first reaction was excitement, a sense of new possibilities and openings (whether in some OOO, Badiou, etc). The criticism that follows is not so much disenchantment/disillusionment on your part as your way of extending that attempt at thought, formulating objections, doubts, counter-arguments … that’s how you make some piece of that original work your own, part of you, however transformed it may become in the process. That is the life of thought! Moreover, I would say intellectual history is full of these sorts of movements between initial excitement and then questioning. Foucault was, at first, very excited by the advent of the ‘new philosophers’ bunch in France in the late 70s (Deleuze was more circumspect!), although I can guess he might have reformulated that as a few years went by. Siegfried Kracauer hailed the new, young group of film critics/analysts who emerged, very influenced by him, in the mid 1950s, but went on to strongly formulate his criticisms and doubts about their approaches. You mention Deleuze & Guattari’s critique of psychoanalysis: how would you answer someone, Terence, who said to you now (this one has been said to me in another context) ‘you show so much rage against OOO, this surely means that secretly/unconsciously you really love it, to expend this much psychic energy on it!’ Perhaps our mutual Aussie friend Justin Clemens can give us a sophisticated read-out on that one! Back to the topic: what I find most odd about the frantic ‘tribal’ behaviour (of exclusion, protection, mockery, etc) that shores up any fervent new ‘school’ in thought or art, is that, within a few years, that school is inevitably going to break up into its component parts, whether that’s different chapels/sects (like in psychoanalysis), or individuals. Who talks today of the ‘new philosophers’ as a coherent grouping, post about 1982?? Their internal differences asserted themselves, in a positive way (whatever one thinks of the works they each did). A philosophical movement is just like a beloved rock band, in that way! Many ‘adherents’ of OOO are fighting against this fragmentation of the ‘tribe’ that is already completely apparent. I salute your ‘line of flight’, Terence !

    Liked by 1 person

    • terenceblake says:

      I see no rage but an immense patience in undertaking to analyse and deconstruct a pathological intellectual formation. Does a doctor working long hours for years to find a cure for AIDS “love” the virus? Or does he love health, and love people? Should he just insult the virus and then go on to something “more positive” (and more lucrative!) like teaching physical fitness online to aging yuppies? Can one spend psychic energy on what one hates? I think that people with such a reductive idea of psychic energy, and such narrow mode of interpretation not only hate disagreement, but hate themselves to imprison their on energy and their own comprehension in such narrow confines.

      You are right to make the connection with the new philosophers, and to remind the OOO crowd that a subject group affirms its inner plurality and its mortality, whereas a school is a subjugated group, in frantic denial of both.

      In my succeeding posts I will try to give an answer to this falsely embarrasing question. The people who pose it cannot even hear themselves, and see that they are spending psychic energy trying to invalidate critique, and so on their own principles they must “love” that critique.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: OOO and the transcendental field of stupid indifferent objects | AGENT SWARM

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