REVIEW OF WOLFENDALE (2): CONTEXT OF COMMUNICATION

In Pete Wolfendale’s preface to his book OBJECT-ORIENTED PHILOSOPHY we learn that 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” (my emphasis).

One recognises the key term “withdrawing”, used to describe the inaccessibility of the real object, 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. This choice of terms betrays the fear that philosophically speaking Wolfendale’s texts criticising OOO are the “real thing” compared to those born of the fealty to a philosophy, OOO, that cannot be saved even by the most extreme operations of weakening, redefintion, hybridation, lacanisation, or ecologisation.

Given the extent of OOO’s ongoing philosophical disaster, it is striking that Pete Wolfendale feels the need to explain and analyse what in his case seems to have been merely a passing infatuation with SR/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 included 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 is not the overweening smugness of convoking Wolfendale to the “serious debate”, a debate that Wolfendale explains does not exist within the OOO community. 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.

Many may have become attracted to, or involved in, OOO because of its implicit appeal to a mythic underpinning for its grand narrative about the history of philosophy. There is the disappointment and despair at the wasteland of academic philosophy, the discovery of an online forum or community of passionate thinkers, the gradual rise within this community of speculative warriors fighting to preserve the new life that this thought can bring to a dying academia with its devitalised unthinking lackeys. It is sad to see all this noetic vitality undermined in favour of branding and commerce. It is a sad thing to see philosophy being perverted into the marketising of pseudo-concepts. Witnessing such a spectacle can be a powerful motive for philosophising.

I read Wolfendale’s preface as just as philosophical as the rest of the book, and not as some sort of extra-philosophical appendage. It provides more than a sociology of communicative pathology in the construction of a philosophical movement.  It gives us precious indications about what it can be like to be in the grip of a philosophical problem: the passion and the tenacity, the desire to go deeper than the doxa, the need to resist the doxic masters’ discouragement, the feeling of not being understood and of not understanding oneself, the impression of being an “idiot”, that the formation of one’s own incommensurable perspective entails.

It is by now obvious to many people who have tried to make sense of the writings of the small network of bloggers and commenters that promote or participate in the discussion of speculative realism that something is seriously wrong with the whole movement of and around OOO. This object-oriented ontology, which announces itself as a great step forward from the major philosophers of the Continental tradition of the 20th Century, embodies and expresses a void of thought and a refusal of all thoughtful dialogue.

Such is the will to mental repression of this movement that a struggle is required even to name the situation. Badiou has taught us, following Deleuze, that to speak in one’s own name, outside the codes of clans and teams, means being able and ready to give things and situations their appropriate name. Calling OOO’s thought “void” and its communicational dynamics “pathological” is a philosophical act that, even though it is an exercise in stating the obvious, is an important intervention in a situation where illusion reigns as truth.

It is unlikely that the OOO team and its supporters will reply to Wolfendale’s critiques. Philosophy may sometimes be a sport of combat, but there is no match here, there never was. Some people, including Wolfendale and myself, may have been fooled for a while into thinking that a discussion was taking place and that they could participate. But we quickly learned that empty mind-numbing slogans in the place of concepts, crude adulation of the big players, and vindictive hounding or cynical ignoring of the critics was the rule of this situation, presented as a noble philosophical movement but that has shown itself to be a pusillanimous business at best.

There is no “match” because there is no adverse team. Ray Brassier, Jason Hills, Pete Wolfendale, Leon Niemoczynski, Kevin v Duuglas-Ittu (Kvond), myself, and many others do not form a team, and our positive ideas are mostly very different. I think all of us have had the same experience as Wolfendale, of trying to engage in the discussion, of being perplexed that this was not possible, and of finally realising that there was no discussion, and that the seeming ideas had been voided of all philosophical sense and were being exchanged as empty tokens, connoting concepts that were never forthcoming.

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