DE-NOUMENISING THE DEBATE (1): Pete Wolfendale’s creative disappointment with OOO

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.

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5 Responses to DE-NOUMENISING THE DEBATE (1): Pete Wolfendale’s creative disappointment with OOO

  1. Abe says:

    Good post, though I think you misread Wolfendale in suggesting that he is apologizing for a “passing infatuation with OOO”, as I’m pretty sure that he never had any such infatuation (it’s certainly not in evidence from any of his blog posts, even the earliest ones). As I read it, what he’s talking about there is the online community of bloggers loosely grouped around the oxymoronic-sounding term “Speculative Realism” in 2007-2008, before Harman (and latterly Bryant, and also Mark “K-Punk” Fisher) started employing the kinds of bad-faith tactics you discuss above. The tactics and rhetoric they used back in 2009/2010 were far worse than the Bryant quote you dissect above, however. I don’t know if you were following blogs like Object-Oriented Philosophy, K-Punk, Larval Subjects, Dead Voles, Kvond, Ktismatics, Perverse Egalitarianism etc. back then, but if you do some searches with some of these names along with the words “fans”, “trolls”, “grey vampires” and “the sneer from nowhere”, you’ll turn up a lot of posts and discussions from around mid-2009 which reveal the lengths to which K-Punk, Harman and Bryant went to try to demonize any potential critics (and even demonize “critique” itself) and turn OOP into a kind of cult in which (precisely) “the language of mind control, not of free exchange” reigned supreme. The tactics they used (which at times descended into outright bullying of graduate students by Harman) were most definitely “designed to command complete submission or complete exclusion”, and it became really very sordid, divisive and ugly. It’s this kind of dynamic which, I take it, Wolfendale is alluding to when he suggests that the rise of OOP in the blogosphere destroyed that online network “permeated by a certain enthusiasm, ambition, and intensity” which he was initially drawn to. I think it’s this whole blog-war context that people will miss if they simply read Harman and then turn to Wolfendale’s book, but it’s understandable that Wolfendale didn’t want to go into all that, not least because it would have meant disclosing some very unpleasant aspects of Harman’s character. Certainly Harman himself has no problem using ad hominem slurs to silence his critics, but Wolfendale is a superb philosopher, and so has no need to resort to such tactics. If you disagree with Wolfendale’s arguments, he will not demand that you show him proper respect, or try to embarrass you into silence with personal slurs on your character, nor insinuate that if you disagree with him you must be driven by some kind of pathological envy or whatever. Rather, he will simply engage with your arguments at face value. That’s how it should be, but Harman was never able to do it. As you have discovered, his philosophy is really just concept-poetry which confuses itself with a rational discourse, and his arguments little more than loose metaphorical associations. It is therefore exceptionally vulnerable to any kind of rational scrutiny. No doubt that’s part of the reason that Harman feels he has to resort to the kinds of unsavoury tactics he does when anyone takes issue with his claims, but it’s also because he’s just a dreadful philosopher (he really ought to have stuck to sports journalism).

    So Wolfendale’s not apologising for any fleeting infatuation with OOP, but I think you’re definitely right that “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”. Whatever one thinks about that, one thing is for sure, and that’s that Harman and Bryant will rue the day that the latter accused Wolfendale of spending his time “obsessively and endlessly writing lengthy posts on OOO … while withdrawing from any sort of serious debate with us” and challenged him to spend time engaging with “our actual arguments”. In a very short time they’re going to find out what they were asking for, and I predict that it will ultimately have a devastating impact upon their professional reputations as professors of philosophy. Sad to say, but they both richly deserve what’s coming to them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Stop writing lengthy blog posts examining our arguments and engage with us already!”


  3. Pingback: QUARRELS OF REDUCTIONISM: Harman vs Wolfendale | AGENT SWARM

  4. Pingback: AWAITING MODERATION: Why me? (or more to the point why not me?) | AGENT SWARM


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