For some time Zizek has emphasised that his work is not to be understood solely in terms of ideological critique, but rather as proposing a new, non-standard ontology. Recently, this ontological turn has led him to give a critical account of the differences between his own ontology and the seemingly similar positions defended by object-oriented ontology.
Zizek’s critique of OOO has many points of convergence with my own analysis of OOO. For clarity, I shall content myself here with listing the most important points of agreement. We may note that Zizek has, for strategic reasons, preferred to express his argument as if his main target was Levi Bryant. In my summary I have slightly reformulated his theses and arguments to bring out their pertinence to Graham Harman’s version of OOO.
1) The overarching idea is that superficially OOO seems to operate a de-centering away from the primacy of human subjectivity and to a re-centering on an objective field of objects and their relations. However, more deeply, the movement of OOO enacts the triumph of huma subjectivity. OOO’s basic propositions are purely subjective posits, and its “method” is none other than subjective intuition.
2) The overt conceptual aim of OOO, to critique the purported primacy of subject over object within recent philosophy, is a mask for a more covert ideological operation: to combine elements of a progressive account of modern science with a regressive pre-modern ontology.
3) OOO proposes a strong critique of the primacy of epistemology, and its replacement by pre-modern ontology. Zizek notes that OOO’s critique of epistemology is inadequate and that it is made in the name of an ontology unable to break with standard metaphysics and its standard critique. OOO’s vision of the Real is based on a mixture of pre-critical naiveté and Kantian limitation.
4) OOO’s biggest defect lies in its inability to see that the lacunae, limitations, distortions, obstacles, and impossibilities of epistemology are themselves ontological features rather than simple epistemic failures. Kantian loss is Hegelian gain.
5) The concept of “self-withdrawal” is incoherent as it implies the prior existence of a Self as substance.
6) OOO is standard dualistic philosophy proposing a simplistic de-subjectivised ontology of the real as the in-itself of objects beyond our sensual reach, radically inaccessible.
7) The distortions and antagonisms of our knowledge and worldviews (of the Symbolic) are not, as OOO claims, located inside the sensual nor in the passage from the real to the sensual, but within the real, as an “excess” of the real itself. The undistorted absolute real underlying all we encounter sensually is a fantasmatic projection.
8) OOO has an incoherent view of language: a purely sensual construct containing intrinsic perversions, antagonisms, and distortions – but also containing a referential pole or function. Distortion and reference are combined in Harman’s doctrine of allusion. For Zizek language is not a mirror, not even a deforming mirror, but a torture house.
9) OOO requires a triple transcendental constitution: first the real is posited as an objective (de-subjectivised) field, second the transcendental meta-constitution of the elements of this field as objects, third the transcendental specification of these objects. Thus Levi Bryant is free to specify these objects as processes, or differences, or units, or machines, according to the needs of the conjuncture. Harman’s OOO short circuits this specification: real objects are re-specified as simply objects, conflating the meta-level placemarkers with their specific instantiations.
10) There is no place for the subject in OOO. Zizek is right to note the similarity of OOO’s vision with Althusser’s conception of the subject as misrecognition. The parallel that Zizek draws between OOO and Althusser’s philosophy can easily be extended to OOO’s distinction between the real object and the sensual object as a variant of Althusser’s distinction between the real object and the theoretical object. OOO is a de-Marxised and de-scientised Althusserianism.
In conclusion, despite its ambitions OOO remains within the confines of standard philosophy, with its self-confirming transcendental positing of an objective field of substantial objects. Having no method and no viable concept of the subject, it bases itself on the purely subjective grounding of arbitrary posits and idiosyncratic intuitions.