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Onticology and literary criticism

by on March 1, 2013

Sorry for the lateness, and brevity, of this post, everyone. Perhaps appropriately enough, I’ve been experiencing some system/environment perturbations in the form of a nasty cold, leading to the introduction of Dayquil (non-drowsy? lies!) to my difference machine.

I am interested, reading through the second half of Democracy of Objects, in a question that has been in the back of my head since our first seminar meeting in January (has it been that long already?) I recall Alex asking us all why we were interested in taking this seminar on speculative realism – i.e. what question/curiosity we were hoping to address over the course of the semester. My answer was some relatively safe/academic-sounding response on the relation/differences between speculative materialism and more traditionally humanities-oriented varieties of dialectical materialism – pretty sure I had Jameson, et al, in mind here. My response was genuine enough, but I was nevertheless embarrassed when, after we had all offered our answers, Alex pointed out that none of us had mentioned anything pertaining to the (potential) relation between literary criticism and SR/OOO. Being a PhD student in English, this was, of course and unsurprisingly, somewhat embarrassing.

This is a topic on which I am interested but still somewhat uncertain – and, judging from the posts on this blog, on which I am far from alone, with regards to interest and uncertainty. In many ways, the utility of SR/OOO with regards to literature seems quite facile. Take, for example, my current riding-public-transit reading material – Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven. In many ways, the book seems to open itself up to an object-oriented reading – it focuses on a protagonist whose dreams have the ability to alter material reality (seems pretty SR/OOO-py to me). I’m sure I could get a decent enough conference paper out of such a reading – in fact, I’ve written and delivered a similar-enough conference paper, focusing on speculative fiction and posthumanism (specifically – N. Katherine Hayles and Joe Haldeman). However, the more I read into SR and OOO, the more such an application seems somewhat, for lack of a better word, disingenuous. Almost akin to domestication, along the lines of the treatment of deconstruction by literary criticism – to the point where we can now churn out dissertations employing a Derridean approach to 19th century poetry.

Anyhow, I am still working my way through the second half of Democracy of Objects, and am hoping that my thoughts cohere a bit more as my cold dissipates. However, this does seem to point in the direction of questions being raised throughout our blog posts, and on Bryant’s blog as well (in response to the various critiques leveled at the non-ideological stance of his onticiology).

One Comment
  1. jmdaven permalink

    A problem I have so far with Bryant’s onticology is that though it proposes an ontology divergent from that of correlationism, it seems his phenomenology would be fairly similar and would boil down to access and appearance and thus a form of weak Kantianism. In such a case, the only supplement or change to post-structuralist literary criticism would seem to be a greater emphasis on how non-human systems operate in literature. However, other forms of criticism do encounter this issue already, such as Marxist criticism. The point is that for Bryant there is no information as such, and that every system translates information in its own way. So each reader would read each text in her own way without ever really accessing any text itself. This is why I find Bryant’s claim in the last pages of his book that one might somehow access the virtuality of an object through secondary processes very difficult to support in his own system.

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