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Is Anthropocentrism a Proof of Object Oriented Ontology? Just a Musing Following the Morton Reading

by on March 21, 2013

Since the bulk of my posts have been arguing some angle of a text (generally speaking, incorrectly, but I suppose my awareness of this is a good sign), I have found it difficult to post as of late, partially because I don’t want to repeat myself, but partially because I have been in agreement with our last three texts. But following Bogost’s call for a radical ontology (still prefer the term practical, but I digress) and his willingness to actually speculate, I have been trying to find everyday proof for the withdrawal of objects (even though instinctually speaking it seems obvious to me), and since I am not fluent in metalanguage, I have begrudgingly accepted that I will need a certain degree of anthropomorphism to communicate this point (I suppose that is redundant, as I am not sure if I believe in metalanguage).

I was discussing OOO with a friend who has grown increasingly interested in the topic through our barroom discussions, and felt that Objects as Temporary Autonomous Zones was a nice, straight forward article to get a sense of OOO’s goals and some of the main areas of debate. He came back to me this morning questioning this particular quote:

“By essence is meant something very different from essentialism. This is because essentialism depends upon some aspect of an object that OOO holds to be a mere appearance of that object, an appearance-for some object. This reduction to appearance holds even if that object for which the appearance occurs is the object itself! Even a coral reef can’t grasp its essential coral reefness. In essentialism, a superficial appearance is taken for the essence of a thing, or of things in general.” (2)

My friend took exception to this statement, specifically the withdrawal of the object from itself (if I recall correctly, I took similar exception to like statements in Harman at the beginning of the course). This seemed easy enough to explain by way of saying you may see your appearance in a mirror, but that gives you no sense of the internal dealings of your organs, cells, blah blah blah. His counter for this of course was to call upon an inanimate object, composed of largely the same thing; say a chunk of pure limestone. Well, we went through the whole undermining/overmining discussion about atoms and reductionism, the outward appearance not being sufficient to describe the real object… we all know the drill. But a thought occurred to me here: at the risk of anthropocentricism, is this philosophical argument’s very existence not proof of the withdrawal of objects, since clearly we as human beings for ourselves are partially unknowable to ourselves? This can be taken one step further: is the God debate not proof of an object’s withdrawal even from itself?

While this position might come dangerously close to assuming pan-psychism by projecting existential wonderings onto objects, it seems clear to me that by way of these thoughts having been expressed or pondered at all speaks to our own withdrawal from ourselves. If objects were entirely knowable, there would be no God/Atheism argument since we would know the exact nature of every aspect of ourselves, which would include origins. Now, we can argue that since we know our parents, reproductive cycles, biology, etc. that we do know ourselves, but somewhere in the blue print of every human being is some remnant of the original conditions that allowed for the human as an object to exist within reality to start with, i.e. God? Chaos? Evolution? Whatever it is, some trace of it exists in everything since it all exists on the same plane. But, as thousands of years of history have proven, we certainly do not know what that is. In a sense, one could argue that humanity has been bickering with and killing each other for unknown centuries BECAUSE of the withdrawal/unknowable real object. All war can be seen as a product of this withdrawal: the kingdom cannot truly know if their neighbors truly want peace or if that is an appearance. The dictator that fancies his ideology as divine is threatened by his neighbor who feels the same, neither knows for certain, so war will reveal a glimpse into the inner (unknowable) strength of each, but this is only a glimpse as the defeat of one ideology does not mean you will survive a contest with the next in line. Each religion claims that it holds the secrets needed to know the self as an object in its entirety, up to and including listing rules and commandments that govern existence and reality, but theologians within the same sect will quibble and argue with each other over the particulars: thus, their own answers are unknowable.

While all of these previous examples are of course human concepts, and thus critical thought into them only reveals the limits of ideology, religion, and politics, they all seek to reveal some metaphysical truth: the best way, the ideal condition, the system of human order that best reflects the true nature of existence, but we never get it. It is always withdrawn. So, if we, with all our logic and cognition and privileging, still don’t know ourselves, still can never truly understand our function (or functionlessness) in reality, why suppose our limestone brick has pieced it together? If our own consciousness cannot get at the root of itself, which it arguably knows better than any other thing that exists, it certainly can’t truly know our proverbial brick.

So, I guess in the end what I am getting at is is this a logical sociopolitical extension of OOO and SR? Can we not use these theories to prove the futility of any human conflict? That at the heart of each one is some unknowable truth that is simply illogical, if not impossible to argue? Sure, I know this goes hand in hand with abandoning the kind of thinking that sees the universe as existing only for our selfish needs, but can’t OOO be practically applied to clearly demonstrate the futility of war? Sounds radical enough to me.

One quick side note directly pertaining to Morton: loved everything he had to say BUT this:

“Those sorts of words are a kind of sonic translation of a visual effect, the rapid diffusion of light across a moving surface. Shimmering is to light as muttering is to sound. Language is not totally arbitrary.5 And it is not entirely human—even from a non-Heideggerian perspective.”

Onomatopoeia does not transcend language, it is a conceptualization of a visual or sonic phenomena, a metaphorical translation. His use of pan versus bang demonstrates how arbitrary language is, not argues it (isn’t that why, and I can’t remember which, Derrida or Saussure mentioned it to begin with? Because it is a subjective attempt to describe a real object that differs according to culture, and is there for not the true natural form of the representation of this sound? For that matter, lets see how accurate or natural “shimmer” is to a blind man. If it wasn’t arbitrary, then he should know something about what it is to see simply by hearing the word “shimmer”).


From → Quadruple Object

  1. “Descartes was wrong to suggest it was sufficient merely to think in order to be. On the one hand, there are all kinds of ways of existing that lie outside the realm of consciousness; and, on the other, a thinking which struggles only to gain a hold on itself merely spins ever more crazily. Like a whirling top, it gains no proper purchase on the real territories of existence, as they slide and drift like the tectonic plates that underpin the continents. We should perhaps not speak of subjects, but rather of components of subjectification”. – Felix Guattari, Three Ecologies

  2. 7sshare permalink

    “Can we not use these theories to prove the futility of any human conflict? That at the heart of each one is some unknowable truth that is simply illogical, if not impossible to argue? Sure, I know this goes hand in hand with abandoning the kind of thinking that sees the universe as existing only for our selfish needs, but can’t OOO be practically applied to clearly demonstrate the futility of war?”

    I like your thinking here. I think that OOO can and should be used to shift our culture away from the “brittleness” of thinking in absolute terms and searching after an illusory stability. But OOO is not telling us anything new here about the human experience. The sort of healthy agnostic philosophy that such an unstable existence would imply has been with us for a very long time. It’s in the Bible, it’s in ancient Hindu philosophy, it’s in Buddhism, it’s in science, it’s in folk wisdom and common sense. Many people know on an intellectual level this sort of truth about the universe, that everything is in a state of uncertainty or ‘withdrawal’, but it would seem that most people are unfortunately unable to actually behave in accordance with this knowledge. We have these things called ‘egos’ that prevent us from doing so. And thank God for that! The problem is when egos get out of control and we mistake our own defense mechanisms for reality. Psychoanalysis is meant to help with this. Is it perhaps time for an OO psychoanalysis? OOP?

  3. I am really enjoying the idea of OOP, and it would probably be the best thing that every happened to the psychology industry as it guarantees a patient for life since we could never access the withdrawn root of our issues. In all seriousness though, I have often considered what OOO and SR might have to say about ego. I am reminded of a rarely seen Guy Ritchie (director of “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch”, as well as those awful new Sherlock Holmes movies) film called “Revolver” (not particularly good, but interesting) that considers the ego as something entirely separate from the subject, but occasionally allows glimpses into its inner-workings (a point which I think Freud would agree with). Where does the ego fall in relation to the object? Is it just a part, like another organ or skin cell, or if we embrace psychoanalysis and see it as the underlying motivation of all our actions (along with the subconscious and whatnot) could the human as a subject just be the product of ego?

    And I do agree with your point that ego stands in the way of ideology, and OOO is promoting a way of interacting with reality that philosophy has been endorsing in one form or another for quite some time. OOO certainly wouldn’t be the first school of thought to logically denounce conflict as inherently futile and self-serving (hence, agreeing with you that war and ego seem to share a connection). I am just trying to consider practical uses of the theory, and thought this was a building point.

  4. jmdaven permalink

    I agree that there is at least interesting ground or room for dialogue between OOO and Psychoanalysis. Morton’s insistence on the withdrawal of objects and the equivalence of aesthetics and causality however seems to toe a difficult line. For differentiating why aesthetics and causality are the same instead of language and causality is difficult. And if he cannot explain the primacy of aesthetics over language, then Morton will have trouble explaining how his ontology is superior to any implied by those proponents of the linguistic or critical turn such as Lacan. Morton could even end up in an ontology that strongly resembles Kantian weak correlationism, the only difference being that he emphasizes that such correlation occurs between non-human objects as well as human. In the Kantian world one never has access to the thing-in-itself, but only access to things via appearance (causation being one of the categories that composes experience).

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