DEBATING OOO: the spectres of scientism and de-noetisation

I am glad Russell Sbriglia and his collaborators are opening up the debate around OOO with new ideas and arguments. I have read their book and Harman’s response to it and listened to Sbriglia’s informal response on the podcast Zizek and so on.

My purpose in the last post was to recall some elements of the argumentative history and to contextualise the current state of the dialogue. Harman’s practice of rewriting and truncating history makes it hard to reconstruct this historical context.

It is good to see that Russell Sbriglia has read and appreciated Wolfendale’s book (as he has declared on facebook). I was the first to review it substantially on my blog, but I felt it missed the mark:

The problem is not so much that any particular argument is insufficient, rather it comes from Wolfendale’s general position. In particular, Wolfendale unfortunately relies on a reductionist scientism that is in regression compared to Harman’s general ideas. So I find interesting and productive that Sbriglia and his collaborators’ approach is non-reductive and non-scientistic.

I argue in favour of Zizek’s approach as against Wolfendale’s here:

If one reads me as Harman reads his critics, i.e.verbally rather than conceptually, my pieces on OOO can seem to be part of some personal « vendetta ». However, if you read them conceptually you will see that there is quite a lot of argumentative and conceptual inventivity going on.

This is why I reject the Deleuzian thesis that critique sterilises the debate, and is to be proscribed. Deleuze himself did not take his own advice. He was often a ferocious and formidable critic, but he made sure that it was the conceptual issues that drove the critical arguments.

Harman’s OOO takes the opposite tack, as the reduction to objects neutralises not just political critique but substantive conceptual critique. The OOO denial of subjectivity is part of the neoliberal trend towards de-noetisation and de-conceptualisation, whatever Harman himself may think and try to do as an empirical individual.

The over-arching character of my analysis (and yes, critique) of OOO is structural and conceptual. This critical analysis does not prevent me from seeing and highlighting the positive aspects of Harman’s thought, in particular his anti-scientism and his sometimes poetic, often invigorating, and rhetorically powerful use of language tied to his vision of language as primarily metaphorical and allusive:

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