ZIZEK AND OBJECT-ORIENTED ONTOLOGY: a non-scientistic critique

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.

 

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4 Responses to ZIZEK AND OBJECT-ORIENTED ONTOLOGY: a non-scientistic critique

  1. Carl Looper says:

    Zizek’s take on quantum physics is quite good. Einstein’s critique of Bohr is indeed an attempt to “ReKantianize” quantum physics. And indeed a very conservative and regressive aspect in modern physics is still convinced that such can be achieved. The Theory of Everything (ToE)embodies this particular movement. An important component of ToE is that it calls itself a theory when everything it writes under that name speaks of a theory that has yet to be formulated. Of a theory that is missing. Of a hole that is to be plugged. But that which informs this idea (of a missing theory) is not missing at all: it is none other than the pre-quantum physics idea of an objective reality that would be independent of an observer. OOO steps in and repackages this classical idea as if it were a brand new idea. As if nobody had ever thought of this before. As if this is what is missing (in quantum physics as much as anywhere else). But this is precisely what is not missing. It is precisely that which preceded quantum physics, and was found to be the very problem getting in the way of any further work in quantum physics.

    The so called wave function collapse problem is really a false problem. The concept of “wave function collapse” is little more than a way of speaking and one that was particularly invented for the purpose of assisting visualisation when otherwise maintaining a classical framework. It basically says: if you insist on thinking of reality in terms of an objective wave function, independent of an observer, then one way to understand the resulting particle detections (observations) is to think of the objective wave function as “collapsing”.

    However Einstein won’t get this. He will argue that without an objective mechanism for such a wave function collapse, the absence of such a mechanism makes the whole theory incomplete. Einstein refuses to take it on as a heuristic, ie. designed specifically for a flawed framework, because he refuses to believe the framework is flawed. For Einstein it will instead be the heuristic which is flawed. And he will seek to prove it (with EPR). He will seek to prove the crutch is a crutch. But it always was a crutch. It was created as such. It was so by definition. It didn’t require any proof in the first place. For what was the problem (or remains the problem) is the classical framework.

    It’s the legacy of an entrenched belief in various strands of Ancient Greek thought of the Platonic tradition – not that such isn’t without it’s merits – particularly in software development. But there are (as Deleuze and others have pointed out) equally useful strands of Ancient Greek thought that one can plunder, rework and elaborate. The pre-Socratics. The post Platonic Epicureans and Stoics. The empericism of Sextus Empericus🙂

    C

    Liked by 2 people

    • terenceblake says:

      Feyerabend points out a contradiction between Einstein’s heuristic inventivity and his dogmatic vision of the real. Einstein was able to contest in his practice the principle of meaning stability which unduly constrained scientific progress, but he clung to a type of ontological stability, unable to accept the revisions to the concept of the real required by quantum physics. Yet Feyerabend constantly emphasised that to be a “good empiricist” we need to accept both meaning variance and ontological change.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for another lecture today. Strange bu Spotnitz in his Modern Psychoanalysis developed for the schizophrenic works on the Object Oriented Question. You do not ask the schizophrenic a question that includes you – meaning the eog is never addressed. If you want to know whether they are chilly, too hot, etc you say, “Is this room warm enough (the “for you” being the subtext or deep structure as Chomsky would say.)A transference question would be “Am I, or have I, etc ….?” The schizo patient is squashed between the punitive super-ego and the seething id (Dostoyevsky had this psychic structure so we cannot dismiss it can we!) I could go on here but enough.Schizophrenia is cured without meds by this approach after a number of years.Whether cured is the desired outcome is something else entirely.

    Like

  3. Pingback: HARMAN/SWEDENBORG: Zizek is right | AGENT SWARM

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