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Isomorphism and Ideology

by on April 25, 2013

Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter makes an admittedly naïve push for anthropomorphism as a solution to anthropocentrism. I think I argued against this defense in class, but since Bennett seems to articulate this line of reasoning most thoroughly, I feel the need to spell out why I disagree. Admittedly, my disagreement probably falls along Althusser or Marxist reasoning against which Bennett polemicizes throughout her work.

Paying attention to things, one’s material surroundings as though they were human-like actants in their own rights might lead one to pay more respect to the dead rat, the plastic glove, the piece of wood, etc. For if one believes or chooses to think of these objects as operative upon the shared world in the same way humans are, then one might be inclined to treat these objects with more care, more respect. The issue lies not so much in the “anthropo” prefix, but in the “morphism”, that man and object are isomorphic, that we share a common morphology, a common shape or form. That the objects interact or operate upon the world in much the same way as we do, that they are not only fellow operators, but that they operate similarly. This practice only underscores the very ideological problematic that this speculation inevitably falls into. That as humans, we cannot even conceive of anything, any mod of operating that is not in some ways isomorphic. For Bennett, an actor’s gestalt is a human gestalt. And while considering objects as just as operant of the shared world as humans are might indeed yield more respect, its true basis is a kind of self-aggrandizement. We respect objects because in the end objects are not so unlike us. In the end this anthropomorphism is a reduction, an annihilation of the other, of the other object, that instead of respecting in its very difference, one might only respect as similar, as quasi-human. This anthropocentrism might reintroduce the very subject-object divide Bennett would seem to want to do away with. For saying that the table is anthropomorphic, that it is a subject-like in that it operates upon the world, only makes the world, or whatever upon which it acts at least temporarily the passive other, the object.

Deleuze’s monism more appealingly deals with this issue. The univocity of being does not reinforce the ideological interpellation of subject-object as much because just as things equally are, things are different; the univocity resounds in a plurality of modes.

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From → Quadruple Object

One Comment
  1. 7sshare permalink

    “In the end this anthropomorphism is a reduction, an annihilation of the other, of the other object, that instead of respecting in its very difference, one might only respect as similar, as quasi-human.” I’m leaning towards agreeing with you here. Lately I have been thinking that in all their talk of giving objects their proper due place in ontology, the OOO and SR thinkers are really paying them the ultimate disrespect. I’ve been going back and reading about Alien Phenomenology again for my project, and I started to get this strange feeling, like Bogost is just violating these objects and boisterously treading where he need not go. Perhaps a better stance would be to respectfully back away from objects? But there is no fun in that, and no satisfaction of Bogost et. al.’s admirably inquisitive and adventurous spirit. All in all I guess there’s no harm done…or is there? As you say in this post, we run the risk of annihilating the other. Which, as Lacan would lead us to believe, is not only harmful but asymptotic and impossible.

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