This is a commentary on Pete Wolfendale’s preface to his forthcoming book THE NOUMENON’S NEW CLOTHES.
Levi Bryant, in an amusing diversion of OOO’s ontological vocabulary for personal polemics, raises the question of
“why Pete has obsessively and endlessly written lengthy posts on OOO, striving to undermine our positions, while withdrawing from any sort of serious debate with us”.
One recognises the key term “withdrawing”, used to describe the inaccessibility of the real, applied here to a human being who does not deliver his ideas in the form demanded by the OOO “community”. Strangely, to stigmatise Wolfendale’s behaviour Bryant makes use of a verb that places him in the position of the real object posited by OOO. I think this choice of signifiers betrays Bryant’s fear that philosophically speaking Wolfendale’s texts criticising OOO are the “real thing” compared to those born of his own sworn fealty to a philosophy, OOO, that he is already beginning to suspect cannot be saved even by the most extreme operations of weakening, redefintion, hybridation, and lacanisation, a fealty that Bryant’s rhetorical contortions and conceptual incoherences show he has become aware constitutes the biggest mistake of his intellectual life.
Given the extent of Bryant’s philosophical disaster it is striking that Wolfendale feels the need to apologise for what seems to have been a passing infatuation with OOO, provoked by the impression of joining a network “permeated by a certain enthusiasm, ambition, and intensity that offline academia seemed to lack”. We see from the acknowledgements at the end of his preface that this impression of belonging to an inspirational community, happily, was not entirely erroneous, but with respect to the principal proponent of OOO the feeling that came to dominate was that of disappointment.
What is worrisome in Bryant’s injunction is not the overweening smugness of convoking Wolfendale to the “serious debate”, a debate that we all know does not exist within the OOO community. Nor is it his bad faith in referring to a “debate” when even now he is still unable to confront the father, despite the fact that his philosophy is the exact opposite of Harman’s. What is alarming is the use of techniques of mental manipulation closely related to those of brain-washing and cult-formation. The invalidation of Wolfendale’s multiple blog posts as not “serious” enough, the pretence that a “serious” debate exists and is ready to receive him if he will only make a positive gesture and leave all this sterile negativity behind (“striving to undermine our positions”), the pathologisation of his creative analyses as “obsessional”, the exaggerated and repetitive language (“obsessively and endlessly written lengthy posts”) – this is the language of mind control, not of free exchange, and is designed to command complete submission or complete exclusion.
Doing philosophy, that is to say taking philosophy seriously, is a dangerous act. One does not encounter such enunciative double binds in the pursuit of one’s passion without being adversely affected, even when one is capable of seeing through them. If one is lucky (but more than luck is involved), this entrapment in sad affects operates only in the short term. The trap was there from the beginning, if only one had seen it for what it was. One feels like an “idiot”. But the idiot in Deleuzian terms is someone who does not have the “correct” reaction, not the one demanded (in this case join and agree or be banished and stay silent). The idiot thinks that there is something deeper than the appearances.
Wolfendale describes this search for something deeper subjacent to his interest in OOO. Yet he feels the need to justify what seems to be a paradoxical effort of having invested more time and energy in analysing a philosophy than is warranted by its intrinsic worth. But that is because he regrets, as if it were due to his own falings, not having been admitted to participate in a dialogue that in fact never existed. Those who came closer to and stayed longer with OOO have been sterilised. Wolfendale went deeper.