Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On Not Knowing Anything

A few months ago I was a happy go lucky deconstructor, and quite frankly I thought I had everything licked. It was just a matter of writing what I thought I was going to write, which would probably take care of itself more or less, because I was pretty sure of how the land lay in the kingdom of Ideas.

Then I discovered OOO, or more accurately, it discovered me. Thanks to Levi's original posts about The Ecological Thought, I found myself investigating a thrilling new school of thought with which I had definite affinities. Then I realized I WAS an object-oriented ontologist, and that much to my delighted amazement, I had been wrong about a few things.

So I'm writing this post in the not unpleasant—but most definitely weird—place of realizing that I know jack. I've gone from thinking I had it all licked to wondering whether I'm going to lick anything ever again. And I've done this in the space of a few months. OOO really has been that powerful.

It really is rather disconcerting. There really was part of me that thought that for the most part, how to do philosophy was pretty much covered. Part of what's wonderful, and disturbing, about OOO is that it opens up whole new dimensions of philosophy. I truly believe that it's something new in the world.

Ontology is always ontotheology? Wrong. Phenomenology old hat? Wrong. Aristotle just a boring old duffer who dictated terminology to bored students? Wrong. No essence anywhere to be seen? Wrong. Humanities the handmaid of science? Wrong. The list goes on and on.

So to be honest, here I am, forty something years old, being introduced to a genuinely new experience (I mean even going back to my schooldays—you know how arrogant teenagers can be): not having a clue. It reminds me of beginning my Ph.D. (don't make me go back there!) So I look at the students in my grad class and I feel like a fake. Or a fake in a chrysalis state.

It's not that bad, not knowing anything. But it really is a little odd. Sometimes I catch myself thinking about something that would never have occurred to me a few months ago, and I do a sort of inner double-take.

I have this renewed, tremendous desire to read things and think about things. But I have a hugely diminished sense of confidence in my ideas or my thinking power. I really didn't think I'd be here (wherever that is) a few months ago.

I just trust that it's all right. Why? Because OOO is, quite simply, one of the best ideas anyone ever had.

3 comments:

John B-R said...

Sounds something like Seung Sahn's "Only don't know." I suppose a zen master would offer congrats. I'm not a zen master - of course - so I'll just quote Yeats' "All things fall and are built again, And those that build them again are gay." OOO has been all over my poetry since I discovered it. I wouldn't call myself a convert because I still don't understand what "withdrawn" means, if if means there's someplace things withdraw to. But nevertheless, nevertheless ... you do a hell of a job of being incredibly interesting where you are, by the way ...

ai said...

"Ontology is always ontotheology? Wrong. Phenomenology old hat? Wrong. Aristotle just a boring old duffer who dictated terminology to bored students? Wrong. No essence anywhere to be seen? Wrong. Humanities the handmaid of science? Wrong. The list goes on and on."

Tim, I wonder whether Deleuze, Whitehead, Latour, Peirce, Haraway, Barad, Connolly, Varela, Thrift, and others like them couldn't have also been vehicles for realizing the wrongness (or at least incompleteness) of these things... But whether it's OOO or anyone else, I'm glad about the shift.

Will this mean we should stop teaching Ecology Without Nature (as representative of the deconstructivist wing of ecocriticism) and wait for your new books?

Cheers, Adrian

Timothy Morton said...

No, still teach it! That's how I came to OOO. I see strong affinities between OOO and deconstruction. Levi has a nuanced position on this, as do I. So does Graham actually if you read him carefully. EwN got rid of the "ontic" prejudice "nature"--which is an OOO kind of a thing to do. Then ET developed the "strange stranger" that is easily generalizable to objects.