The Society for Science Literature and the Arts annual conference is about to start up here in Atlanta. The program is online, and the SLSA folks have updated it with the abstract for my Friday evening plenary. I thought I’d reproduce it here for those of you who are interested in such things.
In recent years, a small cadre of rogue philosophers have assembled, thinkers who eschew both the analytical and continental traditions that drove most of twentieth century thought. Loosely grouped under the name “speculative realism” after a symposium by that name held at Goldsmiths College in 2007, key figures include Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Graham Harman, and Quentin Meillassoux. While none of these nor the others they have inspired adopt a unified approach, they do share one key principle: a critique of “correlationism,” Meillassoux’s name for the philosophical tradition since Kant. In his words, correlationism holds that “we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other.” Harman’s version of the critique of correlationism is more general, he understands it as a resistance to philosophies that privilege humans and human experience over other entities, a approach that he calls an “object-oriented philosophy.”
The speculative realists represent a type of neorealism, albeit a very strange sort. Object-oriented philosophy in particular owes more to A.N. Whitehead and Bruno Latour than it does to Plato or Carnap. Their perspective, particularly Harman’s, issue a challenge and an invitation to science studies and cultural studies. The challenge comes from the critique of correlationism, particularly the challenge it poses to the anthropocentrism of social studies of science (including those descended from Latour’s actor-network theory, despite the fact that Latour articulates an object-oriented philosophy) and cultural studies, since both of these fields focus almost exclusively on human experience. The invitation arises from speculative realism’s young and therefore still narrow approach. Harman and his colleagues are first principles philosophers; their work addresses fundamental propositions, particularly metaphysical ones about the nature of things and their existence. Harman, for example, extends the givenness of Dasein to every entity, not just humans. Despite the fact that Harman’s ontology allows many more sorts of objects into the party of being, it doesn’t give us much help in approaching *particular* objects.
This talk offers such an extension of speculative realism in general and Harman’s object-oriented ontology in particular, contrasting it with the ontologies of Whitehead and Latour, as well as my own ontology of “unit operations.” I offer a kind of “applied” speculative realism, one that would offer approaches to the speculative study of objects of all kinds, human, mineral, animal, inert, conceptual, and imagined. Building on Husserl’s epochÃ©, Harman’s theory of vicarious causation, and Whitehead’s panexperientialism, I devise an approach that I call “alien phenomenology.” To illustrate this method, I offer three modes of practice: ontography (the authorship of works that reveal the existence and perception of objects), metaphorism (the authorship of works that speculate about the unknowable inner lives of objects), and carpentry (the construction of artifacts that illustrate the perspectives of objects). Discussions of each of these modes are concrete and diverse, including examples from science studies, photography, literature, videogames, and computing.