DELEUZE AND OOO: the assassination of philosophy

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Harman’s metaphysical promotion of “objects”, i.e. of the existence of a transcendental field of withdrawn static indifferent objects captures an intuition that we all may become aware of in moments of boredom, fatigue or intellectual disorientation, constituting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).

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7 Responses to DELEUZE AND OOO: the assassination of philosophy

  1. “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.”

    That a “core argument” is lacking, & that there is an “overarching rhetoric”, are not necessarily deficiencies. The ‘argument’ could well be ‘global’ in effect: a novel perspective: a new arche: informing a rhetoric that overcomes ‘global’ ignorance & produces novel insights. What could this paragon of innovation be? What is this “Mother-of-All-Novelties”?

    OOO: “There are objects, & they’re a bit strange.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • terenceblake says:

      They are not necessarily faults, as you say. Many new philosophies invoke a paradigm shift, or conversion, for their arguments to begin. OOO’s global perspective is that the world divides into objects and they withdraw.


  2. Not necessarily a contradiction, btw – “absence of a “core argument” / “to reconstruct the argument”. ‘Trying to discover an implicit argument’ would be better.


  3. “OOO’s global perspective is that the world divides into objects and they withdraw”

    I expect it’s going to be on the “News”, tonight.


  4. BREAKING NEWS says:

    This is how the news broke on CNN today:

    ‘This just in: Professor Graham Harman, a philosopher at the American University of Cairo, has announced a groundbreaking discovery about the nature of reality. According to Professor Harman, “there is a fundamental rift in Being between the sparkling, shiny, effervescent appearances of things and their volcanic inner cores”.

    The official announcement was made by Professor Harman at the World’s Greatest Minds Summit in Geneva on Wednesday. The three other Great Minds in the audience, Professors Timothy Morton, Ian Bogost and Levi Bryant, strongly concurred with Harman, with Bogost stating that “this a real game changer”, and Morton referring to Harman’s revelation as “the most important discovery since the invention of light”. “This is set to change the face of philosophy, science and the entirety of human culture in the coming centuries”, tweeted Bryant, live from the WGM Summit on Wednesday evening.

    Elaborating on the problem which led to his startling findings, Harman explained that “Being is fundamentally torn, irremediably fissured by an ontological chasm dividing the incommensurable kingdoms of reality and appearance. Since every object is pristinely individuated and vacuum-sealed, unable to make contact with anything else, there is a profound metaphysical mystery about how two objects can ever causally interact. There is a need, then, to formulate a theory of occasional or vicarious causation in order to resolve this perplexing ontological enigma.”

    Having announced his discovery of this hitherto unnoticed rift in the fabric of Being, Professor Harman sent the philosophical and scientific world into rapture as he went on to proclaim that he had already solved it, and that the answer is to be found in 23 books he has published over the past four years with Zero Books:

    “The solution is to realize that intentionality is not something confined to human relations to things, but rather that all interactions between objects can only take place in the sensual realm”.

    Speaking to the BBC’s Philosophy Correspondent in Geneva, Harman was surprisingly modest about the significance of his findings:

    “While I am flattered by the comparison, I don’t necessarily think that my discovery is comparable to the invention of light, nor can I claim to have arrived at these insights all on my own. The greatest philosopher of the twentieth century, Martin Heidegger, already presented a crude sketch of my tool-analysis as early as 1927, and though he was very far from understanding its implications, it quickly became clear to me that it contained the seeds of the most important philosophical insight of modern times, if not of all times. By toppling the dictatorship of the human-world relation, my discovery has finally liberated inanimate objects from their imprisonment within the gloomy dungeons of the scientific laboratory and returned them to philosophy, and philosophy to its true vocation, thereby igniting a veritable new Age of Metaphysics: the Epoch of Object-Oriented Philosophy”.

    It has since emerged that a controversial new book by an obscure British philosopher, Dr Peter Wolfendale, is due to be published next week, with some philosophers already claiming that it contains detailed refutations of Harman’s claims. When asked about Wolfendale’s arguments, some of which have allegedly been available on the internet for more than four and half years, Professor Harman responded:

    “It is inevitable that, when one makes a discovery of such breathtaking magnitude, there will always be envious nay-sayers trying to undermine your genius, especially when they have themselves failed to secure an academic position or successfully promote their brand. Such bitterness, which they dishonestly try to dress up as so-called ‘critique’, is entirely predictable, but it’s not the sort of thing that a great philosopher need concern himself with. For those who may be inclined to think that Wolfendale’s thoroughgoing refutations of my arguments somehow impugn my conclusions, I have only two things to say. First, philosophy is no more built out of arguments than apples are built out of squirrels. Second, how many books has Wolfendale published? The last time I checked, he’d only written one, and guess what it’s about? ME! Do you know how many books I have published?”‘

    It is rumoured that Harman’s rebuttal has left Wolfendale a shattered man, and that he is presently undergoing emergency hospital treatment somewhere in the North East of England. Alluding to the subtitle of Wolfendale’s book, Professor Jon Cogburn summed up the general mood amongst academics when he said: “Wolfendale should realize that you do not take issue with the Emperor and expect to get away with it. I just hope Wolfendale has learned his lesson”.’

    Liked by 3 people

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