HARMAN’S LANGUAGE IS INCOMPATIBLE WITH ITS CONTENT: notes on reading Andrew Cole’s critique of OOO

Andrew Cole has published an article which contains a serious, thoughtful and well-argued criticism of OOO. Most of these criticisms have already been advanced by others, including myself, and they have never been answered.

Harman, it is well known, does not reply to serious and intelligent criticism. His substitute for a real response is to caricature it and then to comment on his caricature as if it were the original. He will then proceed to make a series of irrelevant comments and comparisons in order to avoid serious dialogue.

He will comment on the “tone”, which he will always find fault with if the text is critical of his ideas. I find the tone of Cole’s piece to be dignified and serious, despite the surprising number of misunderstandings, self-contradictions, and simplistic stereotypes that can be found in Harman’s books and articles. Cole takes Harman’s philosophy seriously, and submits it to the normal process of critical discussion.

Harman will make comparisons with previous critics, such as Alexander Galloway, to give the impression that he has already replied at length to criticism and does not need to do so again. This is untrue, nowhere has Harman replied to serious criticism, and certainly not to Galloway’s argument for the homolgy between OOO and commodity fetshism. Harman just makes fun of this, he does not try to understand it, and he invites us to adopt the same attitude.

Harman will also make a big thing of how people are confusing his philosophy with other people’s ideas, for example Meillassoux. Many critiques make the mistake of talking about too many versions of Speculative Realism in the same article, and so Harman finds it easy to protest against imagined conflations. Cole’s article is well-structured and well-focused as he avoids this error, and concentrates mainly on Harman, so his arguments are clear and difficult to parry.

Harman will rip a critical argument out of its context and mis-represent it as its opposite. He has done this in his reply to Cole on his blog. He claims that Cole is unaware of how diametrically opposed his and Meillassoux’s critisms of Kant are, when Cole devotes a very interesting development to precisely this point.

Cole makes many interesting points, but one of the most original and far-reaching is his linguistic argument. Objects withdraw from relation, so there can be no relation of reference between names and objects. All naming is thus limited to the sensual domain. We cannot name real objects, and we cannot use real names. Thus the choice of names can noly be at best “indirectly” motivated by the object itself, but this choice is dictated by associated fields of meaning. Harman’s OOO language is sensual, and very much influenced by prevalent capitalist connotations, otherwise it could not elicit the shock of recognition it relies on to spread.

Harman calls Cole’s linguistic argument “impressionistic” and does not deign to reply to it at all, except by making the dismissive parallel with Galloway’s arguments. He declares “I couldn’t really sink my teeth into it”, implicitly admitting that he doesn’t understand it enough to reply to it. This is regrettable, as Cole’s article contains the best reflection I have seen on the contradictions between OOO’s language and the message it is supposed to convey.

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3 Responses to HARMAN’S LANGUAGE IS INCOMPATIBLE WITH ITS CONTENT: notes on reading Andrew Cole’s critique of OOO

  1. Anonymous says:

    On the model of Harman’s “sensuous” object, perhaps one could call the caricature of the criticism Harman responds to a “sensuous” argument.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anonymous says:

    Though I think Cole focuses too much on OOO contra Kant and his conclusion regarding OOO & capitalism is rather feeble, Cole definitely exposes much of OOO’s vague conceptual vocabulary (‘relations’, ‘withdrawal’) and reasons how OOO can’t really be applied to other fields, from art to literary criticism, against Harman’s wish, since it is ontology which tries to swallow everything up with its unstable framework.


    • terenceblake says:

      Yes, the excursions on Kant dilute the argument and provide an opportunity for Harman’s sidetracking instead of replying. The link with capitalism is feeble if it is seen in isolation, but the linguistic argument strengthens it quite significantly.


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