THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF HARMAN: Rise of dialogue and abundance

Graham Harman’s OOO is a form of monism – in his texts Harman begins usually with a preliminary gesture of recognising the multiplicity and abundance of the world, but he rapidly reduces the multiple elements to overarching “emergent” unities that exclude other approaches to and understandings of the world  – he decalres his objects to be the “only real” objects. His philosophy is thus profoundly reductionist. Harman makes a big fuss about criticising “reductionism” (cf. also his bogus grab-all concepts of “undermining” and “overmining”), but he seems to have no idea what it is – easily winning points against straw men, then proceeding to advocate one of the worst forms of reductionism imaginable: reduction of the abundance of the world to untouchable unknowable yet intelligible “objects”.

Contrary to appearances, ontology is not primary for Harman. His real polemic is with a straw man epistemology that he calls the philosophy of human access. No important philosophy of at least the last 50 years is a philosophy of access (one has only to glance at Quine or Popper or Wittgenstein to see that), and the illusion of a revolution in thought is generated by the misuse of the notion of “access”, inflating it into a grab-all concept under which anything and everything can be subsumed. But a philosophy of non-access is still epistemological in the subjectivist sense that others have left behind, a pessimistic negative epistemology that subtracts objects from meaningful human intervention (cf. Harman’s THE QUADRUPLE OBJECT where Egypt itself is declared to be an object, albeit, strangely enough, a “non-physical” one, and so unknowable and untouchable). The ontological neutralisation of our knowledge is accompanied by a political neutralisation (as Alexander Galloway’s analyses have established). Harman’s ontology of real objects is a reductionism, the reduction of the abundance and multiplicity of the world to an a-political, an-ethical correlate to his epistemology of inaccessible objects.

OOO exhibits an astonishing epistemological naïvety, painted over by a pseudo-ontology. In contrast, Deleuze does ontology, but he is careful to include it in the context of a reflection on the “Image of Thought” that allows him to avoid traps such as Meillassoux’s dubious mathematical reductionism. I say “reductionism”, but I am compelled to add (intellectual) “conservatism”. In Meillassoux’s case, and in OOO in general, we have a seemingly ontological claim based on a covert pragmatic (yet transcendent) decision, covering up an insufficient epistemological analysis. This formula of bad epistemology masking as ontology is of course not unique to Meillassoux – he merely has the advantage of clarity, concision and elegance of style, which makes any “dismantling” that needs to be done both easier to carry out (Meillassoux is clear and concise) and a pleasure (his written style is elegant and his conceptual style is dazzling). If only the same could be said for certain of his intellectual associates.

With Feyerabend, I have argued that world of contingencies is a world of abundance and not of withdrawal. In this I am haunted by Deleuze and Guattari’s idea that resistance, or deterritorialisation comes first. This means that multiplicities or pluralities come first, before even the existence of a unitary world. Even deconstruction maintains that it can be a necessary preliminary move to privilege one term of a binary couple, the marginal resisting term. Deleuze and, I would argue, Feyerabend seem to maintain that we must give precedence to the term bearing the most plurality, the most abundance. This means that provisionally the degree of abundance contained in a philosophical theory is a criterion of its adequacy to the real. A further criterion of demarcation for evaluating the relative merits of such pluralist doctrines is in the degree of contact or interaction they authorise. Pluralism for me is on the side of abundance and interaction, as opposed to monist doctrines of withdrawal and retreat from contact.

It is not so easy to escape reductionism as one might think. Aside from the intellectual blunder of not perceiving, or not being able to think with, incommensurable gaps of meaning, there is also the ethical blunder of re-instating transcendence with the same gesture that intends to abolish it. In Meillassoux’s case, I think that he re-instates an absolute (of contingence) and thus falls back into onto-theology. We must distinguish here Meillassoux’s meta-theoretical proclamations about “going outside” and the actual functioning of his theory, which absolutises contingency.

I have repeatedly argued on this blog that correlationism is a bogus concept that trades on a confusion between a narrow conceptual sense that would best be designated idealism (or post-kantianism) and an extended notional sense that can cover anything and everything. So it manages to combine the very narrow (and negatively valued) intension of the first and the very large extension of the second (thus extending a negative aura of guilt by association with the narrow sense). I am appalled by the impoverished account of the history of philosophy that Meillassoux promotes via his bogus concept of “correlationism”. Harman repeats this historically illiterate idea that epistemology is all about access without feeling the need to cite one major, or even minor, epistemologist. Meanwhile the pluralist thinkers continue their work undeterred by such temporary misunderstandings.

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2 Responses to THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF HARMAN: Rise of dialogue and abundance

  1. landzek says:

    I’m not so sure about abundance and multiplicity; it sounds suspiciously religious to me. For example; this philosophical abundance allows for some philosophical venture of ‘accelerationalism’. Now, I am not accelerating, neither is my experience nor my ‘world’; I honestly do not know where such authors get their material – that is, yet I do see that people live that way and are caught in the accelerated world as if it the only world, to the point that one author said when I asked him about the basis, said I need to wake up and maybe I might be able to escape my prison of limitation. It seems to me that it is the accelerations lists that are in a prison because they account for my position as invalid or otherwise not present.

    I likewise have a many that refuse to understand correlational ism . The only way I can account for those who do not see it is to say they must be ‘invested’ in the correlated terms and so cannot see the forest for the trees.

    I do not thus see an abundance except in so much as every proposition of truth relies on denying a correspondant multiplicity of ideas that are not included for the proposal. I might as well start a money making business and stop thinking so much in such a multiplitudenous world; my question is then: what is preventing me? Is it the abundance I cannot see due to so e psychological malady?

    Very religious; very ideological. Seems to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. terenceblake says:

    My use of abundance is in relation to Feyerabend’s use of the word in his CONQUEST OF ABUNDANCE, as a trait of the world when it is not forced through procrustean simplifying schemas. Accelerationism and the get rich by cynical abundance pep talks are both examples of such religious ideological simplifying discourses. Any word used by me is acknowledged to be one-sided and polysemic, affirmed only in a particular conceptual context. Sometimes abundance means being blind to occasions for financial abundance because perceiving that would mean simplifying your soul to the utmost. I refuse to let such profiteers steal my words from out of my mouth and leave me speechless. They are not the originators of such thought but hope to gain advantage from unilateralising it. I do not waste my time on such nonsense, don’t let it get to you.


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