Wednesday, 14 July 2010

OOO and SR Round Up

It’s been a few weeks since I last blogged, and it’s also nearly a year since I first encountered Speculative Realism and Object Oriented Ontology and started blogging, so, a round-up and provisional map for the year ahead might be in order.

Looking Back

Philosophically, I am now happy to utilise Speculative Realism as a general term of introduction, a useful banner of identity and also a good conversation starter. Academic colleagues and friends are generally familiar with some of the variations of idealism, materialism, realism etc., and adding a new term to their lexicon is usually met favourably. More narrowly, though, it is Object Oriented Ontology that I have hitched my wagon to and it is this that I have been seriously mulling over for the last twelve months.

What have I read? On the Speculative Realist front there has been Meillassoux’s After Finitude and Brassier’s Nihil Unbound, both of which warrant re-reading, but aren’t occupying my thoughts in the same manner as the Object Oriented materials. In this regard Graham Harman’s Tool-Being, Guerrilla Metaphysics, Prince of Networks and a number of articles have been significant. Prince of Networks remains for me the most accessible and illuminating of these works, although I still seem unable to retain a clear understanding of the quadruple object for any length of time (I hope that the forthcoming work on this will help, diagrams much appreciated). One can also add to this list Harman’s Object Oriented Philosophy and Bryant’s Larval Subjects blogs, the reading of which has probably amounted to a several hundred thousand words over the past year. Currently, I’m about half-way through Bennett’s Vibrant Matter, which is an agreeable read. She is, in most respects, preaching to the converted, and the book is not particularly challenging as yet. My main hope is that it has political reach and impact beyond its immediate readership.

What has the effect of these works been on me? Well, somewhat awkwardly, the early upshot of encountering OOO and SR was to make me fervently wish that I had read more philosophy as an undergraduate student. As the product of a joint honours degree, comprising Religious Studies and Philosophy, followed by postgraduate specialism and subsequent University teaching post in Religious Studies, it is fair to say that I spent a lot of time during the last year regretting not having studied Aristotle, Hegel, Kant, Plato, Spinoza etc. in far greater detail than I did. Fortunately, I have at least now moved past this particular regret, or, more specifically, I have modified my expectations and aims somewhat. My attitude at the moment is that I ought to simply get on working with what I do know, incorporating and combining OOO and SR with that as creatively as I’m able. There is admittedly nothing simple about this, but it has allowed me to get past what was a poorly veiled procrastination strategy and move forwards with some OOO related projects of my own. This usefully brings me to looking ahead.

The Future

The next couple of years look to be bright and productive for Object Oriented Ontology, with an outpouring of works and mini-treatises by three of its main contributors. Graham Harman has Towards Speculative Realism, Circus Philosophicus and The Quadruple Object coming out over the next year with Zer0 Books, in addition to a Treatise on Objects with Open Humanities Press a little further in the future. One could also add to this list his proposed works on the more broadly SR-related subjects of Meillassoux and Lovecraft. Levi Bryant has his own Object-Oriented magnum opus, The Democracy of Objects, with Open Humanities Press, and Ian Bogost is working away at his intriguingly named OOO project, Alien Phenomenology. On top of this, there is the volume edited by Bryant, Srniek and Harman, The Speculative Turn, which looks to draw together a number of very interesting articles and perspectives.

All in all, an exciting period. One can expect the OOO positions to be elaborated and formalised further during this time, although this has already been happening through the growing network of blog entries and responses over the last couple of years. There is a part of me that wants to postpone my writing until I have a better sense of what Bryant and Bogost will contribute, and also what Harman will clarify in the Quadruple Object. However, this is just more procrastination. I suspect I will need to adapt on the hoof, so to speak, to the OOO materials emerging over the coming year. I’ve already noted that I will be attempting to combine OOO with what I know, rather than trying to read my bodyweight in Hegel, Kant or Leibniz, regretting degree choices from the early 1990s, or simply attempting to create OOO from the ground up. The heavy conceptual and metaphysical groundwork of OOO I happily leave to the triad of Harman, Bryant and Bogost. My aim is to interweave my own interests and projects with an OOO informed approach. This is somewhat tricky, in terms of the current constraints imposed by institutional and personal life, but I’m pushing forwards with some renewed commitment now.

I already owe Speculations and/or Hypatia an article on feminism and OOO, drawing figures such as Braidotti, Grosz and Haraway into a conversation. This could easily develop into a larger project, as I already have some extensive notes dedicated to feminism, metaphysics and technology (notably the GRIN technologies of transhumanism), but time will tell. The two major projects that I am working towards, though, are somewhat different. The first began as a critical response to post- and transhumanism, hence the aforementioned feminist notes. It has, though, subsequently mutated into something rather different. Drawing on more and more of my teaching materials, it has a acquired a broader critical perspective and currently fits firmly within the genre of global threats analysis - or “Is this our last century?” - of the kind that Levi Bryant touches upon here. It begins with an overview of likely global threats we will face in the next century and then proceeds to an analysis of the maladaptive psychological mechanisms, behaviours and beliefs that render it difficult for us qua humans to respond effectively to those threats. I retread some of the points made by Clive Hamilton in Requiem for a Species in this analysis, but my main targets are the versions of optimism and hope embedded in certain forms of humanism and religion, notably the hopes of transcendence through technology at work in transhumanism and the hope of eschatological and soteriological transcendence in Abrahamic religions. Both of these I argue to be deeply problematic in terms of not allowing humans, as a species, to respond effectively to particular types of danger and threat.

My second work in progress is located firmly within what may be identified as applied OOO. I will probably write more about this when I have secured a contract, but I’m excited about being able to philosophically unpack one particular version of what Bennett would call “thing-power” in world history. I’m doing some interesting interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary work here and exploring collaboration with colleagues in other Humanities subjects. I’m not quite sure about the size of this project yet: I can foresee a workable succinct version that could fit within the Zer0 Books short book series, but I can easily envisage a far more expansive work that could hit eighty thousand words. Unfortunately, this is a decision that I need to make soon.

Nonetheless, an interesting year in OOO behind me and a particularly interesting one ahead.

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