Friday, 22 January 2010

Harman on Objectification

Just a quick note that Graham has responded to Levi's response to my post here (apologies for the painful circle through blogspace). Usefully he is clarifying what was one of the concerns in my paper, namely that "the objects of object-oriented philosophy have nothing to do with objectification. In fact, they are what resist all objectification." This is rather obvious when one reads some OOO, but probably far less so if one doesn't. In terms of PR, it is one thing to claim that pepsi bottles, cacti and snow flakes are objects, but claiming that people are objects will frequently cause "objectification alert" alarm bells to start ringing. Unfortunately, if OOO wants to build alliances with the Humanities, this topic will need to be tackled with some regularity. Indeed, when I thought about introducing OOO to a feminist journal a couple of months ago, this seemed to be the problem or misconception that would need to be addressed first and foremost.


ai said...

I'm surprised they hadn't thought of that earlier. The name (OOO) has always perplexed me, since to me it didn't seem worth the endless explaining to repeatedly point out that by "object" they don't really mean "object" (the object of an action, something objectified, etc.) but rather something more like its opposite.

Whitehead, the panpsychists and panexperientialists (of various persuasions), and the biosemioticians (von Uexkull, Sebeok, et al) all seem to have picked a sounder starting point for a non-anthropocentric, non-Kantian ontology.

But unfortunately, once one has committed to a certain label, the tendency is to keep tweaking it and redefining things incrementally in response to critiques. It will take a lot of tweaking to make the object-oriented network (in a Latourian sense) grow.

Paul Reid-Bowen said...

I've become rather wedded to the terms 'Object' and OOO myself now, and it does seem appropriate most of the time. The main trouble is, though, in many people's minds 'object' maps rather nicely onto the human-world divide; objects are simply the material contents of the world that aren't human. It's particularly interesting at the moment as I'm having to think about how to explain my work to Humanities colleagues. Latour's language of actors and actants is frequently easier, but the terminology of objects does sometimes work out without too much puzzlement.

ai said...

Paul -

I guess I should rephrase what I was getting at. It's great to see philosophers trying to expand their language to include an attention to "objects" other than humans. But many disciplines, most obviously in the physical and life sciences, deal with objects already - almost exclusively, to the neglect of the "subjectivity" (interiority, etc.) of those objects.

What I'm interested in is generating cross-disciplinary conversations that would help us work our way out of the traditional dichotomies of culture/nature, objectivity/subjectivity, mind/matter, ideal/material, agency/structure, etc., since they (as Latour and others have argued) constrain our ability to understand the relationalities of the world in which we live and act. Latour's most important move is his critique of that whole dichotomous machinery, which has gotten ingrained in our sciences, our humanities, and our everyday common sense.

Privileging "objects" at the expense of "subjects" seems like a step back from that bold move. That's not to say it can't be a useful move for philosophers to make (at least in the Continental tradition). But I don't see it doing the kind of transdisciplinary work I would like it to do.

All the same, I wish it well as a project.

- Adrian