THE HISTORICAL ARGUMENT AGAINST OOO: Graham Harman’s phantasmatic history

Argument: Graham Harman, contrary to the legend he has tried to accredit, did not have to confront a philosophical world dominated by anti-realism and the epistemology of access.

Let us recall a few well-known facts in the history of philosophy prior to the birth of OOO. Harman was born in 1968, so he was one year old when Althusser’s FOR MARX was published in English and two years old when READING CAPITAL was published. These books contain a critic of the “problematic of the subject” and a fully worked out alternative account of the difference between the sensual, or ideological, object and the real object. They also give an explanation of how knowledge of the real object is possible, one which does not have any recourse to a knowing subject. No hegemony of access there

Harman was 4 years old when Karl Popper’s article “Epistemology without a knowing subject”, originally given as a talk in 1968, was published in a collection of Popper’s talks and articles called OBJECTIVE KNOWLEDGE (1972). The main theme of this book is that knowledge is not a matter of subjective belief or access but of objectively formulated and testable speculation.

Foucault’s THE ARCHEOLOGY OF KNOWLEDGE also came out in English in 1972, it contains a definitive liquidation of all “philosophies of access”.

Bruno Latour’s LABORATORY LIFE came out in 1979 (Harman was eleven). This book is based on a similar rejection of the presupposition that knowledge is access, which Latour replaces with the thesis that knowledge is objective construction.

Harman’s phantasmatic history of philosophy effaces all the pro-realist anti-subjectivist advances of the 1960s and 1970s. Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos, Althusser, Foucault, Badiou, Deleuze, Dagognet, Latour, Laruelle, Michel Serres – all these disappear in Harman’s phantasmatic narrative. One would be entitled to think that all Harman knows about recent philosophy of science, science studies, and French philosophy is contained in Sokal and Bricmont’s books. This is no chance resemblance: Harman profits from the dogmatic regression that was one of the effects of the Science Wars in some quarters, and uses the resulting wave of intolerance to provoke the “Object War”.

The Object War is a purely illusory battle where Harman reassures people that he is defending their common sense intuitions about a world of objects, when in fact his philosophy is based on the assumption that all that these people think, and believe, and experience is pure illusion. But this battle itself is pure illusion.

The real battle, the Realism War, was won by the realists long before Harman set pen to paper.

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2 Responses to THE HISTORICAL ARGUMENT AGAINST OOO: Graham Harman’s phantasmatic history

  1. landzek says:

    I have only read a couple Harman things. Where might I find his ‘history’? –and,

    As usual, very interesting. I am the same age as Harman. I am admittedly short-read, but in a way on purpose. How much does a person have to read before they realize and or admit that everything that is being read occupies a definite and (nearly) predictable place and argument? That is the question I had to ask myself. I cannot remember all the authors I have read, as I did not take notes nor was reading them within an effort that I felt would need to reference them, since I thought what they were saying was obvious (why would I have to reference them?) It took a little while before I realized that what I though was obvious is not so obvious to most. So some of the readings at times, I regret that I was not so thorough, but I will wager that I can account for any philosopher who has a position, and the reason for that position, within a sensible and complete explanation of world.

    In this sense, even though I have read very little of the authors you site, I would say that they were not sufficiently addressing the entirety of the situation, in as much as there are apparently elements of world that are not conforming to their propositions. It would be as if one were addressing a table, and leave out, say, the material the table if made of, or its height, or its color, et cetera, yet speaking in a manner as if they are indeed addressing the entirety of what the table is (That is only an analogy). In other words, though they may have been writing about, or at least implicating a topic of access, the ideas represent a type of ‘unripened’ fruit. For the fruit indeed appears on the tree sooner than it becomes appealing as a fruit, which is to say, to eat. Indeed, it is possible to find the same themes all through the history of Western philosophy, and, if one looks with different lenses, one can even find the same answers spoken in different ways. I believe this is the philosophical phenomenon that Laruelle addresses. So, it is interesting that these authors from before I was born and then my childhood, were already saying things that seems Harman wants to claim as his own.

    *

    This is why I say that you (Terrence) are not limited like I am. This is also the point that serves as the issue I attempt to describe. (The book that I hope will be out soon, is addressing this same issue). This issue concerns how it is possible that I am able to account for every author I read in a sensible manner, as if there is some ‘scheme’ or perhaps ‘plan’ behind philosophy as a presentation as well as an unfolding phenomena. I have tried many times to discount this feature of my coming upon certain discourses. In fact, every author I read I begin, or attempt to begin, from a sort of tabla rasa, if you will; I attempt to suspend all I know and approach the reading with no or as little preconceptions as possible. And at times, I even attempt to enter a writing with a preconception of another person who has an opinion on it. Yet, for at least 14 years, I have been unsuccessful, by at least the first half of each essay or book but often much sooner, at proving that the running theme that I come across in all philosophical and critical theoretical writing is incorrect. At some point I just had to admit that whatever this perception is anchored by, it must be valid, and true at least for the purpose of allowing a position from which to write.

    It is by this phenomenon that a sort of partition has been erected between what I see as authors such as myself, who seem to evidence the same issue that I have come upon and am thus incapable of not addressing, and those who appear to me as much more flexible, more ‘open’ to variable possibilities of meaning. These latter authors are able to have a view that allows each author, and even piece of writing, to have its own meaning, it’s own objectivity, if you will. And as such, these latter class of authors are able to compare that individual veracities of these philosophical objects, and run it through a sort of processor, which is the reader him/herself, to be able to make critiques and have opinions based, if you will, upon the objective quality inherent of the arena; which is to say, that the reader himself is not merely some subject that reads, but is also an object that interacts with other objects.

    I tend to see Harman as one of the former authors.

    This is why I will argue that he — in particular and especially as opposed to other types of authors — is in Bad Faith: Because he is indeed addressing what I see is the significant issue, but proposes it within an arena that is supposed to be accounting for, indeed, a whole arena. In short, he has ‘flipped’ the philosophical discourse: taking cue from non-philosophy, where the phenomenal subject collapses, Harman is speaking of what could be before ‘the subject’ but is now, in light of what I just described, ‘An object’. The view is an ontology that is oriented by the object, instead of the subject.

    “A rose by any other name…”

    His effort is to remain pertinent philosophically even while he knows that he has merely changed terms based upon the trope that says discourse is the entirety of reality, even though it can never be proven without using discourse — but more: Discourse that is oriented upon a particular ontological horizon. His effort is one of Bad Faith.

    But also, one should see, that in as much as Harman may be advocating a certain ‘new’ idea, he is quite short read, but also denying that his scholarship should have been so thorough. For, he is not taking into account that there are people who are — as Badiou might say — essentially different, which is to say, a difference that does not ascribe to the same standard of difference that the assertion of difference proscribes.

    It is this feature that I draw upon to indicate that not only should philosophy be dead, but that in as much as it lives, it must aim its accounting upon the possibility of a true difference, as you might agree, a pluralism, but again, one that admits that it is not accounting for the possibility that it cannot account for all things.

    Like

  2. landzek says:

    Reblogged this on Constructive Undoing and commented:
    Here is a comment to Terrence Blake’s post:

    As usual, very interesting. I am the same age as Harman. I am admittedly short-read, but in a way on purpose. How much does a person have to read before they realize and or admit that everything that is being read occupies a definite and (nearly) predictable place and argument? That is the question I had to ask myself. I cannot remember all the authors I have read, as I did not take notes nor was reading them within an effort that I felt would need to reference them, since I thought what they were saying was obvious (why would I have to reference them?) It took a little while before I realized that what I though was obvious is not so obvious to most. So some of the readings at times, I regret that I was not so thorough, but I will wager that I can account for any philosopher who has a position, and the reason for that position, within a sensible and complete explanation of world.

    In this sense, even though I have read very little of the authors you site, I would say that they were not sufficiently addressing the entirety of the situation, in as much as there are apparently elements of world that are not conforming to their propositions. It would be as if one were addressing a table, and leave out, say, the material the table if made of, or its height, or its color, et cetera, yet speaking in a manner as if they are indeed addressing the entirety of what the table is (That is only an analogy). In other words, though they may have been writing about, or at least implicating a topic of access, the ideas represent a type of ‘unripened’ fruit. For the fruit indeed appears on the tree sooner than it becomes appealing as a fruit, which is to say, to eat. Indeed, it is possible to find the same themes all through the history of Western philosophy, and, if one looks with different lenses, one can even find the same answers spoken in different ways. I believe this is the philosophical phenomenon that Laruelle addresses. So, it is interesting that these authors from before I was born and then my childhood, were already saying things that seems Harman wants to claim as his own.

    *

    This is why I say that you (Terrence) are not limited like I am. This is also the point that serves as the issue I attempt to describe. (The book that I hope will be out soon, is addressing this same issue). This issue concerns how it is possible that I am able to account for every author I read in a sensible manner, as if there is some ‘scheme’ or perhaps ‘plan’ behind philosophy as a presentation as well as an unfolding phenomena. I have tried many times to discount this feature of my coming upon certain discourses. In fact, every author I read I begin, or attempt to begin, from a sort of tabla rasa, if you will; I attempt to suspend all I know and approach the reading with no or as little preconceptions as possible. And at times, I even attempt to enter a writing with a preconception of another person who has an opinion on it. Yet, for at least 14 years, I have been unsuccessful, by at least the first half of each essay or book but often much sooner, at proving that the running theme that I come across in all philosophical and critical theoretical writing is incorrect. At some point I just had to admit that whatever this perception is anchored by, it must be valid, and true at least for the purpose of allowing a position from which to write.

    It is by this phenomenon that a sort of partition has been erected between what I see as authors such as myself, who seem to evidence the same issue that I have come upon and am thus incapable of not addressing, and those who appear to me as much more flexible, more ‘open’ to variable possibilities of meaning. These latter authors are able to have a view that allows each author, and even piece of writing, to have its own meaning, it’s own objectivity, if you will. And as such, these latter class of authors are able to compare that individual veracities of these philosophical objects, and run it through a sort of processor, which is the reader him/herself, to be able to make critiques and have opinions based, if you will, upon the objective quality inherent of the arena; which is to say, that the reader himself is not merely some subject that reads, but is also an object that interacts with other objects.

    I tend to see Harman as one of the former authors.

    This is why I will argue that he — in particular and especially as opposed to other types of authors — is in Bad Faith: Because he is indeed addressing what I see is the significant issue, but proposes it within an arena that is supposed to be accounting for, indeed, a whole arena. In short, he has ‘flipped’ the philosophical discourse: taking cue from non-philosophy, where the phenomenal subject collapses, Harman is speaking of what could be before ‘the subject’ but is now, in light of what I just described, ‘An object’. The view is an ontology that is oriented by the object, instead of the subject.

    “A rose by any other name…”

    His effort is to remain pertinent philosophically even while he knows that he has merely changed terms based upon the trope that says discourse is the entirety of reality, even though it can never be proven without using discourse — but more: Discourse that is oriented upon a particular ontological horizon. His effort is one of Bad Faith.

    But also, one should see, that in as much as Harman may be advocating a certain ‘new’ idea, he is quite short read, but also denying that his scholarship should have been so thorough. For, he is not taking into account that there are people who are — as Badiou might say — essentially different, which is to say, a difference that does not ascribe to the same standard of difference that the assertion of difference proscribes.

    It is this feature that I draw upon to indicate that not only should philosophy be dead, but that in as much as it lives, it must aim its accounting upon the possibility of a true difference, as you might agree, a pluralism, but again, one that admits that it is not accounting for the possibility that it cannot account for all things.

    Like

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