In the introduction and the first chapter to DISPARITIES Zizek has emphasised that his work is not only to be understood in terms of ideological critique but also as ontological critique. He is not just a media critic or a theorist in the field of cultural studies but first and foremost a philosopher who is proposing a new, non-standard ontology.
This ontological project leads Zizek to give a critical account of the differences between his own ontology and the seemingly similar positions defended by object-oriented ontology (OOO). It emerges from Zizek’s critique of the work of Levi Bryant, who has elaborated a naturalistic version of OOO, that OOO represents a pre-modern regression within standard Kantianised philosophy rather than a significant advance beyond it.
Zizek’s critique of OOO has many points of convergence with my own analysis of OOO and with my critique of Levi Bryant’s naturalistic version (see also: https://www.academia.edu/2637439/AGAINST_METAPHYSICAL_NATURALISM).
The overarching idea is that far from breaking away from standard ontology, developped under the sway of what OOO calls “correlationism”, OOO constitutes merely a further step within the Kantian paradigm, merely universalising the distinction between noumenon and phenomenon, internalising it within each object. One may object here: this distinction itself remains transcendental, it is not naturalised, it is not treated as itself an empirical hypothesis but as a necessary posit. More generally, OOO’s basic propositions are purely subjective posits, and its “method” is none other than subjective intuition.
Zizek traces a double movement, firstly one of naturalisation under the aegis of science, accompanied by secondly, and more superficially, a movement of re-enchantment. This is OOO’s way of avoiding the nihilistic consequences of Ray Brassier’s position. The ascetic worldview of naturalism, which reduces subject back to substance, is supplemented with the euphoric vocabulary of a pre-modern vocabulary expressing the interiority of things, a description of their “inner life”.
In appearance OOO seems to operate a necessary de-centering away from the primacy of human subjectivity and a re-centering on an objective field of objects and their relations. However, the real contribution of OOO to modern naturalism is as a secondary ontological discourse that enacts the triumph of human subjectivity.
Thus the overt conceptual aim of OOO, to critique the purported correlationist primacy of subject over object within recent philosophy, is a mask for a covert ideological operation: to provide an ideology that combines elements of a progressive account of modern science with a regressive pre-modern ontology.
OOO proposes a strong critique of the primacy of epistemology and effects 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.
For Zizek, 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. In a slogan: Kantian loss is Hegelian gain.
Zizek’s analysis concludes that far from constituting a non-standard alternative to current “correlationist” philosophies, 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 not only to us and to other objects, but also to themselves. For OOO objects self-withdraw. Zizek argues that this concept of “self-withdrawal” is incoherent, as it implies the prior existence of a Self as substance.
According to Zizek, 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 real object, the putative undistorted absolute real underlying all we encounter sensually is an ad hoc posit, a fantasmatic projection.
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 as certain types of empirical elements . Thus, Levi Bryant is free to specify these real objects as empirical objects available to scientific study, but also as processes, differences, units, or machines, according to the needs of the conjuncture.
Note: Harman’s OOP short circuits this type of specification: in his version of OOO real objects are re-specified as simply objects, conflating the meta-level placemarkers with their specific instantiations.
There is no place for the subject in OOO. Zizek is right to note the similarity on the question of OOO’s vision with Althusser’s conception of the subject as misrecognition. The parallel that Zizek draws between OOO’s and Althusser’s philosophy of the subject can arguably be extended to seeing 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 perhaps the perfect ideology for our times, amounting to a neo-liberal structuralism, a sort of de-Marxised and de-scientised Althusserianism.
In conclusion, despite its non-standard ambitions OOO remains completely within the confines of standard philosophy, with its self-confirming transcendental positing of an objective field of self-withdrawing 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. Unable to escape the nihilistic consequences of the complete obectivisation of Nature it overlays its scientistic naturalism (or in the case of Harman’s OOP its idealism) with an ideological vocabulary of re-enchantment.