HARMAN’S WHISTLE: allusion as his master’s voice

Graham Harman’s ontological system allows only two fundamental modes of existence: sensual objects (declared to be “utter shams”) and real objects. Sensual objects, the only ones we know, imagine or experience, are relational, whereas real objects are substantial (they “withdraw” from all relations).

In the terms of Bruno Latour’s AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE () Harman’s sensual is Latour’s metamorphic, and his real is “double-click”. Latour’s AIME, like the philosophies of Deleuze, Derrida, Foucault and Lyotard, makes being-as-other primary with regard to being-as-being. Harman reverses this progress beyond monistic limitations to thought.

Harman constantly taunts critics who try to refute his system by attempting to draw undesirable political conclusions from his premises. Harman’s meta-thesis is that no such normative conclusions can be drawn from his descriptive theses. However, the predicate “real” in his system is clearly valuative, as can be seen by its weighted contrast with sensual.

“Sensual” is a seemingly neutral descriptive term, but is explicated as lacking in reality, “sham”, a negative evaluative term. The real object for Harman has the positive valuation of depth, it is “deeper” than all human access. “Accessible” objects are illusory.”Real” for Harman is implicitly a value-word, and the  access to the real constitutes an ontological élite, alone capable of this “impossible” (by ordinary human means such as experience, science, or the humanities) feat.

That this value-laden dualism would be disastrous for political practice is obvious: its authoritarian overcoding of sensual fluxes is both conservative and authoritarian. But it is not often seen that OOP’s adoption would be equally disastrous for scientific practice. A good example is Timothy Morton’s repeated prediction (now passed over in silence) that the Higgs Boson would never be found, as it is “correlationist”. Imagine the funding of science being based on such a philosophy! For an object-oriented administrator only “objectal” research would deserve to be pursued, “relational” research would be denied funding and institutional support and would wither away.

The Higgs Boson is declared to be “correlationist” because it belongs to a relational, as opposed to a substantial, ontology, and so for OOP cannot exist. We can add that Marxist economics is dialectical, and so correlationist for OOP, as is any notion of class struggle, or even democratic control. Abstract, non-relational, political and economic theories would not be ruled out by OOP, but would receive ad hoc protection and heuristic (and financial) encouragement. Gaia theory is relational, and would be ruled out as “correlationist” if OOP was applied with any degree of conceptual coherence. Ecology is relational, and the adoption of OOP would be disastrous for the planet.

The link that many seek to establish between OOP and capitalism is not to be sought in its the “treating people as objects”, a critique that Harman mocks as inept (but it isn’t). The link is not one of mere formal “homolgy”, but much stronger: an identical treatment of objects and people as a-relational. This a-relationality is the appearance that capitalism generates to hide real, relational, causal chains (this is also the function of the ad hoc notion of “vicarious causation”) permitting theoretical understanding and social change.

Note: any objection to OOP that Harman mocks has been presented by him in its weakest form and ripped out of its theoretical and argumentative context. However, even reduced to this weakened and de-contextualised state, the critique is usually decisive.

The weakest term in Harman’s ontology is not “object”, but “withdrawal”. This term is used to generate a weighted dualism giving priority and superior value to an a-relational (i.e. an unknowable, unimaginable, invisible, untouchable) posit that can then be imposed to repress explicitly relational thoughts and practices (including, as we have seen, in the sciences) and to favorise thoughts and practices that hide their relational substructures. It is a means of promotion of ontological hypocrisy and bad faith. As Latour’s AIME shows the hypothesis of a-relational real objects is an ideological illusion of bifurcated modern thinking. Everywhere that we take the trouble to examine the matter, these relational substructures are always present.

One shudders to think what a Harmanian psychoanalysis would look like. The object-oriented pyschoanalyst would maintain that substance is destiny, so actively discourage any relational approach to problems. OOP would produce a monadic psychoanalysis, focused on the deep ego, with a Stirnerised individual as the goal.

Withdrawal means that one cannot upload from the sensual realm to the ontological cloud, nor can it download. All mapping relations fail. In other words the real table is not a TABLE, nor is it A table. Numericity fails too. It’s not that there may be only one real object, but that the concept of number does not apply to Harman’s real.

Philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend talks about “science as art”, and OOO claims that “aesthetics is first philosophy”. But the resemblance between the two philosophies is only superficial. For Feyerabend there is no “first philosophy” and the very idea is distateful and dangerous.

Those who naively associate Harman’s OOP with a “democracy of objects” should take a second look. Harman’s real object is reclusive and manipulative.

a reclusive otherworldly object that we are unable to grasp, while also converting previously autonomous sensual objects into notes or marionettes of the otherworldly thing (Guerilla Metaphysics (216-217).

Real objects are master objects, sensual objects are servile puppets.

seem to see the beautiful entity lying beneath all its marvelous qualities, commanding them like puppets (142).

There is no historicity in Harman’s doctrine, no sense that today’s intelligible can become tomorrow’s sensual, and vice versa.

The apophatic aspect of OOP is self-contradictory: “objects withdraw” means that Being is unthinkable, unexperienceable, unknowable (withdraws) but nevertheless we know that it is made of objects. The qualification “withdrawn” negates the objectity of the object: it is posited as outside space-time, no sensible or scientific or mathematical, predicates.

Given that “real” for Harman means “withdrawn”, the expression “real object” is itself a contradiction where the predicate “real” negates the substantive “object”. One can recall here Wittgenstein’s idea of the unsayable, and F.P. Ramsey’s comment “You can’t whistle it either”. Harman whistles.

Harman’s Whistle is the fallacy that he can “allude” across the Veil of Withdrawal.




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2 Responses to HARMAN’S WHISTLE: allusion as his master’s voice

  1. landzek says:

    I’m not sure if some of the crossings you propose with Harman are proper; I mean, I think of course you are trying working things out here, but I think Harman started something that appeared solute at first, but upon extension he’s like in a high wire — but without having ever practiced. He assembles various ideas according to what is asked, but the assemblages are merely definitional. It makes sense the ‘withdrawal ‘ of objects, but he merely tried to work from the overturning of that paradigm; I don’t think he ever had a wizard behind that curtain, he just went with the logic of counter position because it ‘felt right’. One day, after I ever finish my next two books, I might get around to describing in detail that ‘transients ‘ of his song. He lives on transients; but everyone else keeps asking him what tune he’s humming. lol

    But I think because of his insolution, your attempts here can’t really make ends meet.

    But I don’t think Harman is so incorrect, maybe just misguided and a little lost. But he’s a professor so he’s gotta save face . That’s his job. Make an argument. Even if it’s nonsense. Lol.


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