In the long interview (“Gilles Deleuze from A to Z”) that constitutes, along with WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?, his summing up of his philosophical legacy, Deleuze discusses the danger to philosophy constituted by the formation of philosophical schools. In this extract he is talking about the disciples of Wittgenstein’s thought. but I have replaced this with a reference to OOO to bring out the contemporary relevance:
For me, it’s a philosophical catastrophe. lt’s the very example of a ”school,” it’s a regression of all philosophy, a massive regression. The OOO matter is quite sad. They imposed a system of terror in which, under the pretext of doing something new, it’s poverty instituted in all grandeur… There isn’t a word to describe this danger, but this danger is one that recurs, it’s not the first time that it has happened. lt’s serious, especially since OOOxians are mean and destructive. So if they win, there could be an assassination of philosophy. They are assassins of philosophy.
Graham Harman’s OOO expounds in perhaps its purest form an image of thought that is a transcendental condition for philosophical thinking in the contemporary context, whether we adopt or reject his particular system of the world. This is where I diverge from Pete Wolfendale’s analysis of OOO. He notes both the absence of a “core argument” and the omnipresence of an “overarching rhetoric”. Laudably, he attempts to set aside the rhetoric and to reconstruct the argument. I maintain, however, that the absence of core argument and the primacy of rhetoric is deliberate, as what is being sought is conversion rather than rational conviction. The resort to an overarching rhetoric in fact serves to present OOO’s image of thought, in the context of which all its particular theses and occasional arguments are to be understood.
Harman’s metaphysical promotion of “objects”, i.e. of the existence of a transcendental field of withdrawn static indifferent objects captures an intuition that we all may become aware of in moments of boredom, fatigue or intellectual disorientation, constituting the often implicit but ever necessary background of ontological stupidity that shadows all our thoughts. Such “stupidity” need not be purely negative, sometimes it can serve to dissipate an unsatisfactory synthesis and to allow one to create something new.
The key to understanding this characteristic of OOO is to be found in another sentence, that occurs in Deleuze and Guattari’s WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? concerning the relation between the doxa, or general, opinion and philosophical thought: “Thinking provokes general indifference”. This indifference is both an atonal affective state (subjective aspect), and the de-differentiated status of the objects apprehended in that state (objective aspect). The “catastrophe” of which Deleuze speaks is the persona and collective imprisonment in such a state and the corresponding reduction of our vision.
OOO is classically philosophical in that it is both meta-theory and theory. It integrates this “indifference” into thinking itself, as one of its transcendental conditions (methodological or meta-theoretical moment) and proceeds to ontologise it as qualifying the very nature of the real (ontological or theoretical moment). This double movement is the origin of what Graham Harman calls “naiveté” at the beginning of THE QUADRUPLE OBJECT:
Instead of beginning with radical doubt, we start from naiveté. What philosophy shares with the lives of scientists, bankers, and animals is that all are concerned with objects. (5)
Rather than representing a return to a pre-theoretical vision obtained by means of a naive goggling and gawking at the world, such naiveté is in fact the highly constructed point of view of a particular conceptual persona, the naive subject of OOO. Graham Harman’s object-oriented philosophy does not just articulate the point of view of a particular empirical person, but expresses, by means of this conceptual persona and its vision, both a transcendental possibility and something essential in the contemporary philosophical context. This is part of the reason that OOO was able to become a school in the first place, and to meet with a certain amount of success in a more general, but philosophically-cultivated, public.
I have argued elsewhere that the philosophy of OOO is not new, and that it is substantially the same epistemology and ontology as the Althusserianism of the 60s and early 70s, only de-marxised and de-scientised. OOO and Althusserianism share the same ontology of real objects and ideological or “sensual” objects, the same critique of the problematic of the subject (now called “correlationism”) and the same utterly inadequate epistemology, incapable of explaining scientific progress.
This is why I consider OOO to be a “regression” compared to the post-structuralist philosophers that it critiques so unjustly, without showing any signs of understanding or of engaging with their positive contributions.
In the quote above Deleuze lists the characteristics of a philosophical “school” that has for programme the assassination of philosophical thought and its replacement by a regressive counterpart, its indifferent or de-differentiated shadow. He paints a conceptual portrait of a recurrent danger in philosophy. Such a school is a system of catastrophe, of regression and poverty, of pusillanimity and terror, comporting: philosophical catastrophe (miring in indifference), conceptual regression and impoverishment (proceeding by stereotypes and slogans), mean and egoistical affects (driving the quest for satisfaction in an atonal world), and destructive behaviour (contempt for dialogue: all attempts at real debate are met with silence, indifference, or inarticulate disapproval).