Chris Vitale has “thrown down the gauntlet,” as he puts it, to the object-oriented ontologists to finally respond in a satisfactory way to process-relational critiques. (I admire his Sicilian bravado!)

Chris is obviously writing in a somewhat feverish mode, blogging at the speed of thought rather than in the tempered and cautious tone written philosophy has traditionally favored, and this no doubt accounts for a certain repetitiveness in what he’s laid out — which is itself a characteristic of the philosophical blogosphere (and therefore relevant to what I’m about to say). But he makes some very important points, which I would reiterate as follows:

(1) OOO is relatively new and is still awaiting its pièce de résistance. I understand that a few of these are on the way, and that one of Graham Harman’s is specifically intended to address sixteen or so (is that right?) questions posed by OOO’s critics. I’m eagerly awaiting the results.

(2) Process-relational approaches (or whatever term one uses for them) are, on the other hand, well established. As Chris puts it, “there’s a whole cottage industry of Deleuzians, Whiteheadians, Peircians, etc.” In fact there are several cottage industries right there (even among just those three branches), which aren’t necessarily in frequent communication with each other, though that has been changing. OOO has hardly made inroads into these industries, so the road is wide open for engagement. As a new kid on the block, OOO has been smart in garnering attention and occasional support from a few of the bigger names around, like Latour and Zizek. But attention, blog readership, numbers of downloads, etc., aren’t the same thing as intellectual conversion (to use that tendentious term), and if numbers are what counts, the process-relationists far outnumber the OOO-ists. But then, of course, when you factor in the Derrideans and Foucauldians and Marxists and feminists and postcolonialists and phenomenologists and discourse theorists (of course many of those categories overlap in all kinds of ways)… and the analytical philosophers (oh yes, them), neither OOO nor PRT (?) have much to crow about. (I prefer “T” for theory to “O” for ontology, since ontology removed from praxis isn’t really all that interesting to me, whereas the tradition of thinking theory as a complement to praxis is a longstanding one.)

(3) Chris identifies a few of the pieces that haven’t satisfied us (the process-relationists) in OOO’s account of things: (i) How does an object come into being, change into another, etc.? In other words, what’s the relationship between substance and change? (ii) What makes objects ontologically primary (as Tim recently put it) and processes, events, relations, or anything else secondary? (I’m not sure if all OOO-ists share that valuation, but then that’s something for them to clarify.) And (iii) “How do we determine what to call can object?” or, what’s the relationship between language (and/or perspective) and the thing itself? I think OOO has some answers to the latter question, but whenever it gets raised the discussion seems to descend into a terrain of incommensurability between the two camps. There are other points at issue, which a reader of these blog debates can easily identify, but those are good places to start.

(4) There is something unique about the “speculative realist” universe in its heavy indebtedness to the internet. There may be analogous movements in other fields, but few as purely blog-mediated as this one. Both the sociological and the philosophical results of this have yet to be fully thought through. Chris raises some interesting points about group dynamics that, I think, are part of the picture that needs to be theorized. Those dynamics include inter- and intra-group dimensions, and since I’m involved in them (like him and the rest of us), I’m not the ideal person to theorize them. But in this respect we are all “embedded journalist/anthropologists” of a sort, who may at least be well qualified to do some fruitful auto-ethnography. Another piece of this (which I’ve already mentioned) is the possibility that sheer activity can be confused with success, or, dare I say it, with capital-t Truth. Fifty years from now, what will all this feverish public writing have meant?

I wish I had the time to deal with the debate that Chris’s post will likely trigger, but I will be limiting my blogging time for the next little while. I’m also not sure if this is the best time for this discussion, given Graham’s and my exhaustion with the last interchange, Levi’s being out of action, etc., but who knows. Michael and others have been picking up the slack, so I’m sure there will be some excitement to come.

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