“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Saturday, August 7, 2010

All You Need Is Love

“Say, dad, what did you do for the summer vacation?”
“Well, son, I became an object oriented ontologist.”
“Gee whizz, dad! Is that like a character out of D&D?”

So this has been the big event of the summer—of the decade really—and in a broader sense my intellectual life. I mean it. I was teaching Plato last quarter (wow, seriously—so fresh) and I got a strong sense of what philo-sophy could be: like there's a reason why it's got “philos” in it. I've loved some philosophies before, but I can honestly say that I've never been IN LOVE with a philosophy before; didn't really realize you could be. Until now. (Pause while half the readers gag or hit the back button.)

I'm an English Prof. who was trained at the height of New Historicism, which meant that you had to run to the library every couple of hours to read a few hundred more books and pamphlets. It felt like being a dwarf in the mines of Moria. The object of the exercise if you're a historian is to get a big grant, go to some mine (library) that no one looks at very much, and find some unknown stuff, then bring it back and show everyone your jewels. It's kind of lonely–ironically, because history is supposed to be about society and all.

So when I figured out somewhere in the mid-90s (it took a while longer to really sink in) that I was more inclined towards the philosophy side of things (literature occupying a kind of middle place, as Sir Philip Sidney says, between philosophy and history), I felt a lot more at home. Because suddenly there were all these people who CARED about ideas and wanted to THINK about them, and quite often talk about them with me. Research turned gradually into, “Well, what kinds of book should I be mining for? Let's figure that out before I rush off to the book mine” to “Hmm, maybe I should just sit in my room and not go to the library. That way I can really chew this over.”

So THEN when I found out that people were blogging all over the shop about speculative realism and OOO, I became quite excited. I know it has its limitations and all but talking almost live around the world about philosophical issues—I dunno, it makes me feel alive. I'm quite clumsy with reasoning things out—my head seems to make lateral leaps all the time, so I get a lot of essays rejected (because to publish an essay you have to write slightly BEHIND the curve, he bitched. It's really about journals as systems—think about it, you're an editor with 90 essays in the pipe...but I digress.) Books, no problem. Essays? If I had a dollar for every report that said “This isn't an essay”...So OOO hit me like that. Very intuitively, it made sense. Before I started figuring it out.

At first I had all these objections to OOO. But I gradually realized, thanks to the infinite patience and kindness of Levi Bryant, that I was already thinking OOO things. It was like looking at one of those magic eye pictures. (I'm very bad at that.) At first you see nothing, then suddenly your perspective shifts. Joseph C. Goodson put it very well in a comment on Levi's blog, something about going through the looking glass. One suddenly finds oneself, well, in a Universe of objects. Doesn't sound like much when you put it that way.

I think you really can be in love with a philosophy. I know, because I am...I believe this is something very like being in love with a person—you see all kinds of infinite possibilities and you see that things are not totally revealed to you, and that the world is not “for you” but instead you're drawn out of yourself. There is magic in the world. It's not all totally explicit. Of course this feeling is deeply bound up with a central tenet of OOO: objects withdraw. Yet you also feel strangely at home, like you were always there, and everything else just melts away or fits in somehow, but in a larger space.

Here is a small example: I have been struggling with materialism for a very long time. Thinking about it, thinking I'm a materialist, talking about it...OOO gave me a very simple reason why I was struggling: this idea of matter as a substrate of everything is a FICTION, like Santa Claus. You sort of have to believe in it, vocally, so as not to disappoint the kids.

There: I said it. I'm out as an object oriented ontologist. Couldn't be happier. Graham Harman you are a genius. You too Levi and Ian. More to follow.


Roger Whitson said...

I'm also a Romanticist and have had similar thoughts about history and philosophy. New Historicism is a nightmare from which I've been trying to awake. And I thought I was the only one. Thanks for articulating so well why OOO (and Speculative Realism) is such a breath of fresh air.

Joseph Charles said...

Ah, I see the mention, that is very kind. And thank you for the words on Levi's blog. I only just crashed the OOO party myself earlier last year, though I had been following Levi's blog on and off for some time. A few weeks ago I watched your videos on You Tube via Larval Subjects (and commented on some of them -- my You Tube persona is "darkprose") and I have to say they were captivating -- both the "Beautiful Soul Syndrome" and "The Mesh." As I commented on one of them, the talk you give in each is so densely rich in ideas, it really makes one want to read your books. I especially enjoyed how it wove so many elements together, from Marx to DNA to deconstruction to evolution.

But just from what I gathered from those talks and some of the posts I have read here, I think you will add a great dimension to OOO in both your personality and your work.

Anonymous said...

This is certainly how I feel about OOO in relation to ecological issues. I started in that area too (Heidegger and deep ecology etc) and it took me some time to realize that something was amiss. I had completely abandoned thinking through these issues until I read Tool-Being and realized that I had been looking at the problem askew. OOO remains a powerful thought though at this stage I am happy to watch from the sidelines.

Also I enjoyed 'The Ecological Thought' and discuss it a little in 'Continental Realism' as an important step in thinking the great outdoors. I only wish I had time work on something for you and Ben's journal on the strange connections between Heidegger, ecology, and OOO. I think Naess would have enjoyed SR if he'd have had a chance to see it come about.

Kai said...

haha, this rules. made me smile!

captain furious said...

I'm just exploring OOO as well. I like the dialogue going on between these blogs as well. Very exciting stuff.

Anonymous said...

I know, once you realize that the world is objects filled with gooey sensuous centers that cannot touch anything but mysteriously the gooey sensuous centers of other objects, it becomes one big mystery tour. Welcome to the real world Tim.