Ontological Reflexion

Urban Future is merely scavenging irresponsibly around the edges of the Speculative Realism meltdown, attracted by turbulence, and connected tenuously to some of the figures involved. The greatest advantage of such detachment is that it allows for a free framing of the issues at stake, and these are becoming truly fascinating. The battle over the New Ontology (aka ‘Speculative Realism’) is spiraling into the question: does it — itself — actually exist?

Pete Wolfendale summarizes the problem clearly:

The essence of [Ray Brassier’s] point is simply that the mere existence of Speculations (which is explicitly labelled ‘A Journal of Speculative Realism’) isn’t sufficient to establish SR’s existence, and that declarations of the latter’s existence from within its pages don’t change this. This is part of a broader argument, but if you want to understand it you’re going to have to read the postscript yourself.

There’s a lot I could say in response to Jon’s claim that SR obviously exists, and that to say otherwise is either trivially false, or worse, contradicts my claims about the collapse of the SR blogging community. There’s no doubt that there are people who self-describe as speculative realists, and that there are CFPs, conferences, and art exhibitions where it gets referenced liberally. However, if all SR means is a renewed concern with metaphysics in the Continental tradition, then there’s no clear reason why it doesn’t include people like Deleuze, Badiou, Zizek, Stengers, and the like. If nothing else, this is amply demonstrated by the extent to which these figures (and people influenced by them) form the most natural interlocutors of those who count themselves as speculative realists. What is it about the work of Meillassoux and Grant that warrants them being categorised separately from these other figures, as somehow more appropriately listed beside Harman than any of the others, other than the fact that they attended a workshop together in 2007? There are others who have come to the SR label later, such as those interested in Whitehead, Latour, and various strands of so called New Materialism, who genuinely have more in common with OOP/OOO than these figures, but if SR is taken to index these commonalities, then it has by far more to do with OOP than any of the other work it was originally supposed to index (hence the inevitable slippage to ‘SR/OOO’).

The claim that SR doesn’t exist is simply the claim that there isn’t any distinctive philosophical common ground indexed by the intersection of Meillassoux/Harman/Grant/Brassier. However, this is entirely compatible with the claim that at one point it looked like there might be, and that this promised a potentially new philosophical trajectory that would be genuinely distinct from extant trends. The sense in which SR can be said to have ‘died’ is simply the sense in which this promise proved to be false. This sort of thing happens. It’s precisely what Badiou tries to capture in his account of fidelity, wherein one simply has to commit oneself to the existence of an Event despite its occurrence being indiscernible. Sometimes the fidelity pays off, and sometimes it doesn’t.

This is, therefore, a true existential question. The sensational micro-sociological trappings might have been designed to distract from the ontological performance underway. SR has become an examplary object (within a reflexive loop that has surely to be considered unintentional). We might be tempted to conceive it as a self-dramatizing ontological contingency, or an object-oriented occurrence.

We find ourselves invited to entertain the question: Could this thing or event that appeared to have been happening, determined by a distinctive revival of metaphysical speculation about the nature of reality (and in fact ‘the being of beings’), in reality never have been anything at all? Rephrased with additional vulgarity: Could auto-disontologization turn out to be a thing? Any imaginable answer will teach us something strange.

Note: The provocative preface to Pete Wolfendale’s book is available for perusal online. (I say ‘provocative’ mostly because it has demonstrably provoked.)

ADDED: Ontological Argument, def.
1. The theological assertion of existence as a real predicate.
2. The 2014 Internet circus around Pete Wolfendale’s preface to Object-Oriented Philosophy: The Noumenon’s New Clothes.

3 thoughts on “Ontological Reflexion

  1. In Wikipedia’s entry for ‘meontology’ (research stimulated by @qwoned):

    ‘For Emmanuel Levinas, what was meontological was what had meaning beyond being, beyond ontology; for him this was the ethical, the primary demand of the other in the face-to-face encounter.’

    The typically poor phraseology of moralists (the ‘demands’ of the other etc.) unfortunately suggests a kind of ongoing ‘crisis negotiation’ at the expense of more desireable (passive) diplomatic situations, and I prefer the barely pronounceable partially-reflexive ‘auto-disontoligization’ rather than a theo-mystic (and ‘demanding’) Levinasean meontological ‘other-than-beingness’, which arguably effaces encounters even as it facializes them. However, the idea of a ‘remainder’ outside of onto-performativity alludes to the ‘substantial unknown’ as a kind of (dis)ontoligical attractor in the ‘bleak’ a-theology of ecological love relations. These relations are ungrounded precisely in the sense that any ‘bond’ (or ‘unbounded metaphysical influence’) requires attentive renewal through continuing consequentialist interventions (‘fidelity’). Primatologically speaking, the new social media(tion) of relations substitutes written language for the more direct and traditional ‘touching’ of monkey business. Words can touch the reader in astonishing ways both like and unlike physical nearness, but at times ‘demanding’ (primitive) impulses towards intimacy can feel somewhat jealously and tragically neglected…

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