LATOUR vs HARMAN: common language vs esoteric doctrine

If we look at OOO in terms of language, the difference with Latour’s approach stands out strikingly. Latour wishes to create a common language capable of being spoken by both scientists and humanists. OOO does not want to create a common language for the sciences and the humanities, but rather a bloodless third language, like the phantom « third table » that Harman invents after invalidating the tables of commonsense, of science, and of the humanities (thus proving that he cannot count, as it should have been called the « fourth » table). I have already stated in my review of Harman’s THE THIRD TABLE why I think Harman’s OOO is a political ontology. The theme of the edification of a common language helps clarify this issue.

Harman’s OOO condemns all known, thought, sensed, or shown objects as unreal. His « object »-oriented ontology posits the existence of invisible, untouchable, unknowable objects branded as sole real. His thought is one of rupture and dominance, ripping apart reality to give one esoteric aspect dominance over all the rest. Latour’s thought is one of union and democracy. He talks of sewing together the two cultures (of the sciences and the humanities) along with common sense, into a Harlequin’s cloak, to fight the new « culture » of evaluation that administers everything. Harman’s ideology corresponds to this practice of evaluation that regards sciences and humanities as illusions, good only for profit.

In Harman’s esoteric language the scientific object and the humanistic object are « sensual »
i.e. illusory. Real objects withdraw from the the sciences and the humanities, and Harman explicitly accuses both of missing the real table and of falling into reductionism. Harman deftly deploys familiar terms, but each predicate invoked is to be understood in terms of the double language of OOO: the esoteric (real) and exoteric (sensual) sense. Harman’s real object is an abstract monster, invisible, untouchable, unknowable and inaccessible. The sensual abundance of our experience and the conceptual abundance of our knowledge (whether scientific, humanistic, or common sense) are illusions.

The esoteric ontologist with administrative powers at the university or publishing level, who is able to make or break careers, is no laughing matter. At the governmental level it would be catastrophic, implementing anti-science, anti-humanistic principles in the name of an esoteric realism where our “sensual all too sensual” thoughts, feelings, practices and values would be treated as the illusions that they are for OOO.

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