A lively discussion erupted from my post on philosophy and politics of a few days ago. Among other things, commenters revisited the relationship between ontology and politics, issues OOO proponents in particular have attempted to disentangle.

Among the many lengthy comments from David Rylance comes this snippet, which may have finally helped me understand something fundamental about the whole ontology/politics problem. Here’s Rylance:

Political agnosticism is nice and, again, this is not to say ontological fact is predicated on political truths—that I accept—but, beyond that, SR’s contention that not only should we “probably maybe ought to” but rather must be interested in the autonomy of ontological fact is certainly an ethical and political matter. The break with anti-realism—the urgency of this—is not based on whatever really composes ontology—which has done fine and will do fine without our sudden fascination with it. Such fascination then is grounded in an ethical edict—with political consequences.

First Rylance allows that ontology can stand as ground. But then he suggests that SR’s insistence that ontology be autonomous must be an ethical move, because it is one grounded in an imperative. Since ethical codes have political implications, David concludes (through implication) that the call for ontological realism is political.

The assumption I want to discuss here is this one: ontologies like those of OOO issue an imperative, and an ethical one at that. (There’s another assumption we could consider, but I’m going to leave it for now, namely that all imperatives are ethical imperatives.)

But as Rylance himself admits, the consequence of realism is that the world isn’t particularly concerned with us. As such, it’s wrong to construe realism as an imperative in the first place. Rather, it must be cast as an invitation: if things exist in multitudes, then perhaps it might be interesting and productive to consider them. It’s thus quite apt that Rylance uses the word fascination to describe the situation. For I’d suggest that it’s just this sort of attitude that motivates the object-oriented approach: fascination, curiosity, wonder, and other allures, rather than imperatives. The very idea of an imperative, we might conclude, is a symptom of correlationism itself.

Meanwhile, both in a comment on Levi’s post and on his blog, Jon Cogburn draws a connection between OOO and Buddhism.

You cannot really love without letting go in the way Heidegger suggests and the Buddhists learn to do. And I think correlationist thinking is something that has to be surmounted before this is possible. Otherwise humans are doomed to just love themselves.

Cogburn is suggesting that part of the move to realism also involves something similar to the Buddhist call to “let go” to the desires that we know drive us. While the Buddhist metaphor is just that, a metaphor, there’s some kernel of truth in the comparison: OOO and other counter-correlationisms also mount calls to let go of the idea of one correlation, be that a general one like human subjectivity or a more specific one like the critique of capitalism.

Imagine: it might be possible to pursue an interest in the world starting from an earnest curiosity about that world, rather than a predetermined idea of how it ought to be operated by the human beings living within it. That said, there’s nothing inherent to OOO that is incompatible with ethical questions, with a concern for that very way of living. Indeed, as Levi says in the post linked above, “the resources for thinking these things are already there in OOO.” But simultaneously, the motivation to pursue such thinking need not derive from ethico-political motivations. And unlike scientism, this position allows for a variety of conflicting and even contradictory accounts of worldly experience, rather than a single, depth-driven truth-for-humans.

For example, when Nick Montfort and I suggested the platform studies approach, one of our motivations was that of curiosity. The systems underlying digital media artifacts seemed often to be overlooked. What insights might we derive if we acknowledged them and paid them greater attention? The results were interesting on multiple registers: historical, material, aesthetic, cultural, economic, and even political. And of course beyond that one book, I’ve written extensively about politics and ethics and persuasion and remain interested in those topics. But they are not all that interests or motivates me.

In Guerilla Metaphysics, Harman discusses aesthetics as a type of primordial relation, not just one of human judgement. It’s this attitude that leads him to suggest that we might think of aesthetics as first philosophy. The idea of wonder or curiosity seems like a particularly productive way to reframe the ethico-political imperative Rylance and others assume motivates all motivation. In Clement Greenberg’s analysis of the avant garde, for example, he suggests that the formal exploration of painters like Rothko and Pollock represent attempts to pay pure attention to the medium rather than its representation. Likewise, in game design circles, we often prefer a creative approach that encourages the exploration of a possibility space. Surprising discoveries often emerge from such an approach, as I recently discussed in relation to the Isner-Mahut Wimbledon match.

In summary, the problem of a political precedence for ontology is really only a problem for those who already assume that politics undergird everything in the first place. It’s the same motivation that will, I’m sure, motivate its supporters to disagree with me on the grounds that my position is merely an ideological misconception of some sort of latent neoliberalism. Of course, that’s an example of the very problem with correlationism in the first place, one of many obsessions we must learn to let go of.

published July 4, 2010


  1. John Bloomberg-Rissman

    For me, the problem of separating OOO and politics is this: why OOO **now**? I guess I have the bad (?) habit of historicizing everything. Or, perhaps, better put, wondering “why now?” is my form of wonder/curiosity.

  2. Jesse F

    If I understand correctly, it seems you’re saying that the motivation of curiosity can stand apart–not be derived from, but also not necessarily lead to–from any ethical stance–including, I guess, the stance that curiosity is not essentially dangerous/evil, and that societies should not attempt to repress it for the common good, as many–notably theocracies, but not exclusively–currently do. Thus, being curious about something has no connection to any opinion one might have about whether the state having the right to imprison or kill its citizens for that sort of curiosity is a good or bad thing. I conclude from this that at least one of us is currently very confused.

  3. Ian Bogost


    It’s a valid question. But why is it a question that necessitates the fundamental coupling of OOO and a particular politics?


    Are you suggesting that curiosity is necessarily and solely connected to imprisonment, murder, and suffering?

  4. David Rylance


    Thanks so much for this post., and for the ongoing engagement. Iâ??ve been thinking over the exchange we had a few days back and wondering about what elements in it allowed us to communicate with one another in such good faith while encountering the feel of a distinct lack of traction.

    For my own part, I think my mistake was to try and model to comprehensive a response to points as they arose â?? so that I began to lose sight of why Iâ??d commented in the first place. This really only proves Graham Harmanâ??s point about the value of being succinct â?? though itâ??s always been something thatâ??s bedevilled me. In brief, why I was put off by that post was how presumptive it seemed to me about academic culture and how narrow and non-representational its view of â??Marxismâ?? or â??Leftismâ?? seemed to be. As you so correctly point out ideas of the neoliberal university logics can fog more the far more vexed, inflective reality, where good colleges abound (I should say: I live in Australia, where universities are majority public funded, so this makes a lot of sense to me). On the same grounds, however, I was proposing that assertions about academic Marxism are fogged by easy and old postulations about its insincerity, its hidebound lack of relevance, its inflexibility â?? things that the culture got to long before your own post got there â?? and it felt misguided in two ways: in the first, it really was taking the broadest and most caricatured view of a â??rivalâ?? position not only to make its own case but also to make it seemed rivalrous; and in the second, it was not designed to really be persuasive to the Marxists it castigates at all â?? largely because it has decided in advance that said Marxists are a back of inveterate correlationists who just, you know, donâ??t get it.

    This brings me round to the crux of your post here. Iâ??m not sure if you meant to include me in your closing statement that â??the problem of a political precedence for ontology is really only a problem for those who already assume that politics undergird everything in the first placeâ? but I kind of gather you do, by implication. But this is precisely it. Iâ??m not at all concerned about political precedence â?? although politics is certainly my passion â?? or the lack thereof as some kind of â??problemâ??. I donâ??t just allow ontology autonomy as a manoeuvre to get around the realist objection and back to politics. Itâ??s precisely that removal of politics from ontological precedence that Iâ??m on board with: not only for ontology but also for politics â?? which I really think can only be reanimated by the reservoirs of unconsidered realms opened by ontological discussions that do not comport to strategies of the now.

    But to re-state my point, and reargue it around your new concept of the â??invitationâ?? (a strangely Derridean-inflected concept, by the by): SR and OOO do not mount their case against anti-realism from an agnostic position towards the position that it argues anti-realism takes on the relation of politics to ontology. It is not â??invitationalâ?? on this issue: it insists ontology is not reducible to human politics. Now, let me absolutely clear: I am not making the anti-realist argument that such an attack is itself political. What I am arguing is that the insistence of the autonomy of ontology is an imperative, not an invitation. It applies, whether or not anti-realists deny it. But â?? and here we come to what I was trying to articulate the other day â?? the trouble is that why we should not be denialists is not accounted for by the fact of ontological autonomy alone. Itâ??s here where values enter in â?? and, I should add, not necessarily human values only.

    You write: â??The very idea of an imperative, we might conclude, is a symptom of correlationism itself.â? I know this is something of the provocative flourish at the end of a train of argumentation â?? and designed to challenge â?? but it seems very all-or-nothing to me â?? quite categorical, you might say. One of the things I find curious about it â?? and here we come back to my aside about Derrida â?? is precisely how much the â??invitationâ?? has presided over deconstructionism and Deleuzianism as a metaphor of its democracies-to-c0me and multiplicities and so on and so forth. Not to mention, in another realm, centre-liberal ideas of the community. It feels to me, that is, quite in vogue as it were â?? and I say this with due recognition that the combined forces of Badiou and Zizek have also brought the imperative into equal vogue. Here, the temptation would be to argue that we need to supersede the stale binary or some such, but Iâ??m wondering whether we might not defend the second with an especially object-oriented question instead: namely, what happens to the universal when it actually starts to include the universe?

    One thing I really loved about this post was how it clarified for me what it is that perhaps obscures our positions to one another when you place allure against imperative. If I might divine some of the premises that your use of allure depends on here, it strikes me that allure is intended as an ontological claim not only about why humans not only might, but will, be interested in the world, but also why this is not simply a human matter, but goes to the very way that things are in regard to one another: there would be an alluring relation (perhaps relation isnâ??t the right word â?? objectification, maybe) between sand, sea and stone, then, or electrons and positrons . So it is, comparatively, that any argument for imperative is cast as correlationism because itâ??s all about assuming ourselves as the actors that primarily count. To this, however, what I was trying to argue was that the â??earnest curiosity about the worldâ? you posit as opposite to â??a predetermined idea of how it ought to be operated by the human beings living within itâ? involves a question of what constitutes the involuntary expression of said curiosity and where it all starts to get all too human. In a weird way, what my argument for imperative was proposing was that curiosity, wonder, fascination and allure may demand of us a kind of discipline, that invitations may not be enough, and that said discipline may find great value and resource from the Left and the Leftâ??s interest in the infinite and also in the end â?? in what it means for things to die, most often unfairly. Because earnest curiosity may certainly be ontologically inescapable â?? and absolutely not predicated on political positions â?? but thereâ??s a certain circumscription around what we do with our interest â?? a millipede, for instance, will not experience the allure of contemplating bio-chemistry as object of study though it will find itself thoroughly involved with the allure of that field by course of its living and will live in ways that speak to its translation of that allure. Inside the idea of allure as youâ??re using it here, as such, is the imperative of interest sustaining itself in the aesthetics of objects and of the aesthetics of aesthetics as well: it isnâ??t just fascinated â?? itâ??s also focussed on its fascinations. Harman defines his own idea of allure as â??a special and intermittent experience in which the intimate bond between a thingâ??s unity and its plurality of notes somehow partly disintegrates.â? Key to me here is the framing of allure as special and intermittent: allure is not necessarily the reality of moment to moment existence: while the withdrawal of being conditions ontology always, it is something that is, for the most part, not recorded by my incurious self. The project of OOO is precisely to stir awake some specific consciousness to such allure and it strikes me that it is not aiming at doing so in the haphazard way that reality already does â?? when intimacy draws objects into disintegration â?? but in a rigorous, if exploratory, way. This, then, cannot but involve an imperative that goes to reason for an interest that is allured by allure itself.

    The thing is: while I argue this is an ethical edict with political consequences, I do not mean to say that the study of ontological reality is thereby an ethics and thus politics only. I should have been more definite on this point. I mean to argue that the study of aesthetics â?? as a primordial constituency of being â?? is the commitment to aesthetics and such commitment â?? while it may well be fundamentally extra-human â?? demands something anti-human as well to really make itself go. Such anti-humanism is not about the fact of an aesthetic condition that supersedes and subtends us but again the sense that there is a lot we really need to do with it. Such urgency may or may not be supplied by reality itself in given moments â?? a beautiful sunset may impress itself upon me, a beautiful painting, or a hot bod â?? yet such impress is not where OOO ends: it goes around and around and in and out and through and over the aesthetic it finds so astounding and it makes the case for the democracy of objects, to purloin Levi Bryantâ??s phrase. It seems to me this is less temptation than dedication â?? a seeing-through of the initially thrilling and a sustaining of an interest in allure that tends to flitter in and out.

    An invitation is not without attendant constraints. If Iâ??m invited to a party without the means to fulfil the dress code required to attend, Iâ??ll either refuse out of embarrassment or anger or perhaps show up and be turned back at the door. This is very much at the heart of the rhetorical posture that bothered me about the recent post and the arguments leading up to it. The tendency toward treatment of correlationism as the new benightedness and, moreover, the most benighted as them hoary-old latte drinkers and cultural cache compilers, the Marxists. In my earlier comments, I made the point that I was not trying to argue that SR and OOO could only be conducted by Leftists but, rather, to make the normative prediction that they mostly will be Leftists, and to suggest this means something. What it means to me is that the most receptive audience for the speculative realist turn has been â?? and will continue to be â?? that political crowd youâ??re styling into the greatest enemy of the wave. You assigned to me the position that an imperative, seemingly, must be ethical or political and that OOO issues an imperative: I argued the latter but not the former. I did certainly say OOO issued an ethical edict â?? and Iâ??ve accounted for my reasoning on that above â?? but thereâ??s something else to add: ethics, like all objects of speculation, may well be an object nestled in another, larger one. The imperative I was mainly arguing for in OOO was an attention to our aesthetic condition but â?? in the nihilist school â?? one might say the imperative is actually toward extinction and what isnâ??t â?? which, in the focus upon objects is, indeed, something which risks being entirely left out, what is not, what is made not to be, what is finalized and withdraws (or is made to withdraw) for good. The clash between values in between schools of speculative realist thought is my fundamental interest â?? and zone of curiosity â?? and it does not derive from my political orientation but has massive impacts on it and for it. However, it also tells me that those politics are not suddenly second-order, per se, to my own reality but, rather, find themselves starlit by the ontological and trying to factor what their energies can provision me to better understand a world that is fundamentally indifferent to whether I get to understand even a degree of its many manifestations or not. Precisely because the universe was not built for human brains, I need all my human brain can provide me to â??universalizeâ?? it â?? and such a demand on a brain that isnâ??t predisposed to such activity by a reality that exists but not for it is absolutely political in its consequences (time spent, what to explore, the limits of what I can know, how dumb or smart I am, how do the issues of the moment rank and what are the issues even), and all for the better.

    I always wanted to add a reply to your last post from the other day. In pointing out that it might be your own work read over lattes, I wasn’t meaning to ‘score’ a point off you. Nor simply be rhetorical. I mean it. Say you’re read over lattes by academics who wish to be radical – and maybe think they already are. Would they, in reading your appeal above and heeding it, perhaps replicating it with their own nuanced additions and quibbling subtractions, somehow become less ‘faux’ in their radicalism? More importantly, could any theory – even an object-oriented one – make them less ‘faux’ by virtue of its theory alone? If the answer is no, then it seems to me that you’re articulating a problem with attitude, one where the characterological nature of your apparent ‘opposition’ is what provides its very sense of being your opponent. I just don’t see you as all that different from the Marxists you spurn – except that SR and OOO is not yet quite as cache or Badiou or Zizek as yet. But it’s getting there. Note the cynical tone of these last two statements: they aren’t my own. If I have problems with theory becoming ‘installed’ in the university â?? institutionalized â?? it is not because of the theories – it’s because of the institutionalization. It’s very easy to rail against the first and interchange one attitude for another, harder to alter the context and conceits of intellectual reception. And, if the Left is guilty of making a monolith out of the neoliberal university, then surely this idea of the Leftist straitjacket is absolutely a monolith too – which is what I meant about polemicising on this issue being next to useless, as polemics are the key index of relevance for academics who feel they must be socially relevant at all costs in order to prove their professional value to a society that is, shall we say, sceptical in a way it is categorically not about economics, law and the sciences.

    Taking me to the second point: I’m not denying for an instant that people who consider themselves Left – and are, I won’t cut them out like they’re lepers – are prone to rely on reductionist models of neoliberalism. They are and do. But, again, it’s only intellectually fair, I believe, to take the most complicated and nuanced existing version of an argument as your target of critique, even if it strikes you as rare – especially if you’re trying to unlever ‘Marxism’ or the ‘Left’ from radicalism itself, without becoming reactionary in the process. I know media studies has a pedigree of being blasted for complicity with neoliberalism – but kneejerk Leftist, pseudo-‘Marxist’ ignorance of what media studies is can’t really be taken as the high-water mark of a critique of a philosophical, political and ethical commitment to Marxism or Leftism. Moreover, would I be wrong in imagining that the main medium you’ve found SR and OOO accused of neoliberalism has been the blog stream? Shit talk abounds on the net and, honestly, that’s what that kind of thing amounts to, shit talk, no matter how gussied up it may be. So, once more, it’s simplistic but it’s also the medium and also what the accuser hopes to convince him or herself of when they level the accusation. They might claim to be defending ‘the Left’ when they do that but if someone hits you with a baseball bat, does that call for a ban on baseball or prosecution of the hitter?

    I’d also add, as well, that such accusations of neoliberalism are also routinely levelled at Leftist humanities professors by the Right – in the form of being told they are a conservative, out of touch, irrelevant, bureaucratic elite. One of the weirdest ideas in all this is that ‘neoliberal’ character assassinations can only come from the Left. As Mark Fisher has well shown, in ‘actually existing capitalism’, one of the largest, looming contradictions is the amount of bureaucracy necessary to run capital vs. the ascendancy of a capitalist ideology that thrives on zoning all its woes and flaws onto private/state bureaucracy. So, while a hard Right-winger will not and cannot use the word ‘neoliberal’ in vain, they’ll displace their own anxieties about the neoliberal professional class onto the most politically convenient targets they can find: all manner of ‘bureaucrats’, but among which are that most damning example: the ‘tenured radicals’ – who exist for the Right as something like the zone of ‘truth’ of bureaucracy, the conspiratorial philosophical ‘Marxist’ core of the orchestrations of the left-liberal-bureaucratic state, the ‘do-gooders’. In that sense, every time a conservative blasts the academy, they’re blasting neoliberal professionalism but through the warped revaluation of it as actually a Marxist class. Therefore, it’s important to keep in mind that simplistic accusations of neoliberalism, in another guise, are used to tear holes in Marxists as well – who find themselves besieged on two sides, fake radicals for the ‘freethinkers’, real radicals for the ‘fakethinkers’. OOO might get clubbed with it now and then but the ideological uses of that club are far larger than OOO, and not constitutionally Leftist by any means.

    Still, even if I accepted that most did think the neoliberal university was a cut and dry fact, what are we to make of those who do commit themselves this generalization strikingly well? Is Mark Fisher’s work, for instance, on capitalist realism and the neoliberal university a case of your problematic leftism? If so, what defines the difference between sophisticated and poor instances of critique of nu-bureaucracy and university managerialism? Where do we leave off the Left? Correct me if I’m wrong on this but I believe the crux of your argument is that the university is not just subject to the forces of neoliberalism and resistance. Absolutely and we do need more recognition of that. I’m with you. But is this the way? Lambasting Marxism, I mean? ‘Resistance’ logic is carried over in your critique of the ‘critiquers’ (ditto Latour on this and his impossibly Modern critique of those impossible Moderns). This is why above I was saying that it really has to be about more than interventions on what we see as ‘bad theory’ – for the argument that ontology and politics have no connection wont stop people being political beings – and if its made to do that, it smacks more than a little of politics itself – mobilizing the autonomy of ontology to advance the idea that Leftist politics is only historically an illusory anti-realist conceit – a fake, a phony object – not a thing which has actually existed and which is now superceded by the reality of the new realism. If (as Harman is fond of citing) Rorty once said “it turns out that what’s beyond realism and idealism is – idealism!”, Leftists have always been realists – beyond their idealism and their realism. In that case, to make radicalism anew cannot be about calls to conscience (‘faux-Marxists, disperse!’) but actual addressal of contradictions: if we’re talking academic production, it has to be about attending to how we work, what we do when we work, what we work for, what other objects we might produce from our work. And if we’re doing it right, these are matters which will conflict with the quota of publications or classes taught that managements rely on. Of course, we’ll need new types of management too – and maybe we’ll be able to move existing systems to get the reforms we need: this is where I find Latour’s ANT or compositionalism immensely useful. But reform is a strangely advanced affair: you already have to be ‘modern’ in a weird way to reform things, not revolutionize them – despite the fact that revolution is considered such a modern term and not of our distant ancestors. And so we’ll also need environments, tools, zones, new publics even – I’m reminded of Zizek’s great inversion of Brecht: that we do indeed need to dissolve the people and elect a new one. Calling on Marxists to lose their attitudes are not enough; in true Marxist style, and even when they have a lot to lose, they have to be shown they have nothing to lose but their chains, which, in this case, is their chairs.

  5. John Bloomberg-Rissman

    Ian, I don’t know that OOO must = a **particular** politics, or, if it does, I don’t know what that would be. But I do agree with Levi when he writes (today) that “difference in perspective is not without concrete consequences.” And I think that the flat ontology I have come to associate with OOO is a particular perspective … and I do think that answers (there are probably many) to “why now” might go some way towards helping me understand what’s possible (and what’s impossible) from such a perspective. And therefore what its political ramifications might be. I’m not a philosopher, so I hope this makes sense.

  6. Ian Bogost


    I think your comment is well over 3x as long as my post 😉 Let’s see what I can do here… I’m going to cherry-pick a few specific things and respond.

    On the closing statement:

    It was meant generally. In fact, the post is more inspired by your comment than meant to respond to it directly. Which is just to say, I didn’t conceive of it as a rebuttal.

    On Derrida:

    I see why you make the comparison, and I’m not sure what I think of it. I think the fundamental difference is one of action, for me, instead of deferral, for Derrida. In any case, just because I use words or ideas that Derrida has done, doesn’t mean they need carry the same tenor, yes?

    What I am arguing is that the insistence of the autonomy of ontology is an imperative, not an invitation:

    Right, this is my main reproach. I’m reframing the imperative, because I find it to be too tainted with a particular brand of human interest.

    On allure and correlations:

    Just to be clear, and forgive me if I’m making assumptions, but I’m borrowing the former term from Graham Harman directly. The latter, it’s worth reminding ourselves, isn’t a problem as such, i.e., correlation is inevitable. The problem is in assuming there is just one correlation.

    On discipline and the Left:

    I think I understand your point, but I am of two minds about it. On the one hand, certainly changing habits is hard and requires discipline. On the other hand, wonder seems like a particularly easy resource to find in human beings, provided we get to them before the blindered Leftist academy does 😉 In this respect, I’m still not convinced that SR/OOO is “by and for Leftists,” nor what it would mean for such a thing to be true, except as tautology.

    On anti-humanism:

    You’ve said this a few times and I’m not sure I’ve yet understood. Maybe you can help me.

    On reading my work over lattes:

    I know you’re not playing argument-pong with me; I just thought it was a particularly pleasingly biting point (that’s a compliment). In that regard, “If I have problems with theory becoming ‘installed’ in the university— institutionalized—it is not because of the theories—it’s because of the institutionalization”: indeed, it is a problem.

  7. Ian Bogost


    Certainly the context in which a particular thought exists does help situate its affordances, constraints, rhetorics, potentials, blindspots, and so forth. I think you’ll find much in this regard in both Levi and my forthcoming books on OOO.

  8. David Rylance

    Ian: it’s worth reminding ourselves, isn’t a problem as such, i.e., correlation is inevitable. The problem is in assuming there is just one correlation. This is really intriguing. I’ll have to reflect more on this point but I wanted to thank you for voicing it. But I do have a question on this: would other correlates be something along the lines of what Latour means when he talks of composed assemblies of human/non-human interactions (which would be kinds of correlate relative to the x we might think of as the totality of all objects and factors that might mark reality, were we ever able to assume that god’s eye view).

    As to anti-humanism: I was thinking this over and I’ve been having some difficulty in trying to express what I mean. What it goes to is what kind of philosophical precepts or attitudes we would need to maintain as humans to be receptive to the extra-human – a thing that it seems that we – and possibly even beings generally – are not very adept at intuitively doing. The best way I can think to get at the heart of it is a quotation from a book by Theodore Sturgeon: “He slept like an animal, well and lightly, faced in the opposite direction from that of a man; for a man going to sleep is about to escape into it while animals are prepared to escape out of it.” That directionality is what my argument about anti-humanism goes to – and for me that argument is inflected not only by Marx and Luxembourg but the transgression of theorists/experimentalists/artists like Lacan or Bataille or Lovecraft or Artaud or Plath or Blanchot or Robbe-Grillet or Cioran or Warhol and so on – who were not strictly anti-correlationist in the sense we’re talking now – but had a very powerful concept of opposing the habituation into the human – or even the standardization of what’s human. But anti-humanism has many strands and inflections so I’m not trying to implicitly legislate my reading list as what’s needed. It’s much more about the counterintuitiveness of many aspects of OOO and SR – in a weird way, the insistence it places on spectatorializing humanity and agentializing things – that makes me speak of an anti-humanism being something of a requisite for the extra-human focus of OOO and SR.

    Sorry for the bloat, Ian: you could say I’m so much a speculative realist that I can’t leave a word out of a comment for fear its a vital object! =p

  9. Ian Bogost


    would other correlates be something along the lines of what Latour means when he talks of composed assemblies?

    A correlation is a being-for relationship. The current assumption, the one the critique of correlationism addresses head-on, is that being entails being-for-humans. Once we open the ontological floodgates, all sorts of being-for relationships, or correlations, spill out: sunlight-for-ferns, bread crumbs-for-catfish, toenails-for-socks.

    I think I see what you mean about anti-humanism. Indeed, there are many ways already voiced to address correlationism, and many more will emerge. For me, there’s some impossibility in really ever escaping our anthropocentrism, and this is where speculation arises as a tool. I think your account of anti-humaism here is actually quite a bit gentler, if you will, than the term might imply. Anyway, thanks for clarifying.

  10. CirclingSquares

    I hate to always bring it back to Monsieur Latour but he has a nice take on this issue: we must, he says, “detect politics â??everywhereâ?? when some group formation is at stake [but] nonetheless … avoid the empty claim that â??everything is politicalâ??.” (Taken from What if we Talked Politics a Little?.)

    1: Politics is everything.

    2: Politics is everywhere.

    The broader part of contemporary ‘continental’ political philosophy and its associated ‘theory’ in the humanities and social sciences (along with most of the graduate students I know) would subscribe to the former; and they do so with good intentions. It is, however about as empty a claim as empty claims come.

    If everything is political then writing ‘deconstructions’ that nobody will read about things nobody cares about can be construed as being politically ‘active’.

    I’ve thought in the past that this odd, paralysing stance of ‘everything is political’ mirrors exactly the scientistic notion of truth: that something is true because of a transcendent attachment to how things really are rather than a whole assemblage of attachments to heterogeneous actors who, altogether, make something true. Mirroring this, many people consider themselves to be ‘politically active’ because they think that ‘everything is political’ and thus that their ‘critiques’ are of worth simply by virtue of existing, not because they have any actual effect on anyone or anything whatsoever.

    If politics is everywhere rather than being everything then what does this mean for the politics of ontology/philosophy debate? I think it means that we can never pretend that our discussions are completely outside politics but that does not mean that we should always be agitating for a particular political programme.

    A Latourian response to politics is to admit that ‘we don’t know’. We don’t have the answers. All we have is some questions that, to put it in a Deleuzian way, we have to reformulate until we have the right questions (because without the right questions you can’t arrive at the right answers).

    I don’t think that any participants in these debates would place philosophy or ontology outside politics as such but it just doesn’t automatically follow from this that all philosophical debates must be explicitly political ones. We cannot ‘escape’ politics (because it is everywhere) but we should not be lured into overestimating our own importance by assuming that everything is politics (and thus that our fairly esoteric discussions are of any political importance).

    That is to say: philosophers should be free to speculate. (Politicians aren’t free to speculate. Their jobs are too important for that.) This gives philosophers a certain amount of freedom – the freedom to be a bit apolitical if this is what will allow us to think differently (which is ultimately the goal of both philosophy generally and political philosophy in particular).

    Every philosophy has political implications and I’d be highly critical of any philosopher who rejected political philosophy tout court but to assert that ‘all philosophy must be political otherwise its just complicit in A, B, C and D’ presupposes that any of us know what politics is or that any of us know what anything is for that matter.

    In the name of politics this argument forecloses philosophy.

    Or: if ‘philosophy begins in wonder’, political philosophy must begin with admitting that we don’t really know what politics is.

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