Today I posted a reply to a mailing list which has been discussing OOO off and on. One complaint registered was that OOO is not “fuzzy” enough, and fuzzy or “soft” things are more desirable.

It may not seem a very substantive comment, but I think it hits on what’s really going on with many rejections of OOO on purportedly political grounds. OOO is threatening to many popular theories of art, culture, identity, politics, and so forth because it holds that a toaster is not an octopus. So much of poststructuralism deals with blending and bleeding borders. There is much to praise about such attitudes, which dampen our certainty about various kinds of borders and delineations. But somehow, we got so turned around in the last half-century, we took this idea so far toward its logical conclusion, that we decided that a toaster not being an octopus is oppressive and dangerous.

This is a fascinating lesson, one I will have to consider further.

published June 26, 2012


  1. Guest

    I don’t mean this in a nasty way, but it’s ironic that your descriptions of both the email critique and of poststructuralism are so fuzzy that it’s impossible to tell what you’re talking about.

  2. Ian Bogost

    Ha! Well, this is a blog.

  3. monki

    My stance of this has always been that a fast enough computation will seem fuzzy enough for a human while still remaining discreet.

    As a proof, my head often gets very fuzzy when there is too much activity on my IRC channels

  4. Adrian Forest

    So what you’re saying is, a blog is also not an octopus?

  5. Ian Bogost

    Startling, isn’t it Adrian.

  6. Cliff Gerrish

    I blame ‘tweening’ software. Select an octopus, select a toaster, choose the the ‘tween’ command and the interim steps between octopus and toaster are made visible.

  7. Marshal Payne

    Though the point may presume a certain amount of philosophical preparedness or context, it is just an observation as Mr. Bogost pointed out. In my perspective, the descriptions lain by OOO are particularly useful and help to drive thought forward, especially concerning our burgeoning prevalences for experience and depiction. In any case, social acceptance or preferential worldview aside (though it does have its own merit and ecological niche impact), the validity of these observances is surely there. However, it may be so, dare I say it, bleeding edge, that it may take time before it comes to be of more significance to non-philosophers, non-technologists and others alike. Note: this bears little significance concerning the actual muscle behind the ideas.

  8. Marshal Payne

    Lastly, if anything, OOO is a perfectly viable metaphysical research program. Let us glean what we can.

  9. Jim White

    That all sounds good as long as you know when an octopus is a toaster. If I ask you how many octopi in the above picture and then ask how many toasters then you’ve got trouble if you can’t answer ‘one’ to both questions.

  10. Jim White

    No, wait. That’s not the interesting question. The third question is then how many objects in the above picture? The trouble arises if you can’t answer “two” when the answer to the previous two questions are “one”.

  11. Erik A. Hanson

    Octopi are increasingly problematic, increasingly different from what we’d thought.

    And I can’t read “toaster” without thinking of Cylons.