Last week at the Society for Literature Science and the Arts conference, Katherine Behar organized two back-to-back panels on Object-Oriented Feminism (OOF). There were six papers total, and a response to each panel by Katherine Hayles and myself, respectively.

To participants, Behar posed the question, “What would a program for Object-Oriented Feminism (OOF) entail?” The first panel attempted general responses, and the second dealt specifically with the theme of the body.

The participants’ responses to that charge were very good, and the talks were all uniquely unsummarizable in their own ways. Given that sense, I’ve been trying to determine the best way to report back on my experience of the panels, and I’ve finally decided on this: below I’ve included the abstracts for each, which you can show or hide individually. The abstracts don’t adequately capture the talks, several of which were really more like performances than papers (Patricia Clough’s in particular). But they’ll give you a sense of what each speaker covered.

After that, I’ve transcribed as best I can from my session notes the response I offered at the end of the second session, to which I’ve added a bit of coherence as well. As you’ll see, I tried to respond to both sessions, so hopefully it also serves as reasonable (if incomplete) coverage of the talks for those who couldn’t attend.


Wendy Hui Kyong Chun
“Programmed Visions: Software and Memory”
show abstract

Patricia Ticineto Clough

“Let us Stipulate that What is Left in a Point of View is a Subject: Language and Object-Oriented Ontology”

show abstract

Katherine Behar

“Facing Necrophilia, or “Botox Ethics”

show abstract

Anne Pollock

“Heart Feminism”

show abstract

Adam Zaretsky

“Object-Oriented Bioethics: gene application technology, trans-normative bioethics and posthuman(e) sacrifice of Transgenic Devices”

show abstract

Frenchy Lunning

“OOF! The Corset: An Anamorphosis of Ambiguous Objects”

show abstract

My Response

I was talking to my OOO brethren before these sessions, and several among us expressed curiosity and intrigue regarding what “Object-Oriented Feminism” might mean. “I don’t know,” I said. “I guess we’ll find out.”

Today I realize that this response itself may have been a masculinist conceit. I had the expectation that today’s speakers would define “Object-Oriented Feminism. That they would pin it down, that they would domesticate it, if you want.

But instead, we saw a fascinating exploration around a theme. A tour of sorts, a kind of Heideggerian pastoral stroll on which aspects of object-oriented ontology were introduced to aspects of feminist theory.

So in response. I’m going to try to lasso all six talks together by noting what I took away from this tour… what objects I collected along the way.

From Wendy Chun, I took away the idea of habituation. Speculation, she suggested, is a daily practice. She reminded us that the very idea of objects rich beyond our comprehension is not a special condition, but a constant one. Her metaphor of “softwarification” offers one model of how everything we do is implicated with objects already.

From Patricia Clough, I took away the idea of indifference. Despite the couplings of sensual objects, real objects are disinterested in one another (this is what Harman calls withdrawal). We learned this lesson in her powerful and startling illustration of abuse. When we think of abuse, we tend not to think of the hand or the bruise or the memory as separate from human experience. Yet they exist too, and equally.

From Katherine Behar, I took away the idea of participation. She made the observation that while OOO theorists, myself included, spend a lot of time insisting that the human object is indeed on equal ontological footing with everything else, but we don’t practice that principle ourselves. She made the provocation that OOO thinkers ought to be their own first objects of study.

From Anne Pollock, I took away the idea of non-orientability. She showed us that the heart is not only an actor in the network of the human body, or the pharmaceutical industry, or health policy, but it is also a thing in its own right, literally subject to pressures, and literally seeking relief. In this respect, going into the body also means going outside of it, like a möbius strip or a klein bottle.

From Adam Zaretsky, I took away the idea of appropriation. We can abscond with biological materials for our own purposes. We can consider objects through the practice of working with them as a medium. We can make “plant/animal devices,” to use his words, out of fish and chloroplasts. This idea is related to what I call carpentry, doing philosophy by making things.

And from Frenchy Lunning, I took away the idea of anamorphosis. Through the example of the corset, she retrieves anamorphosis as a way of performing analysis on an object. By using the sharpened distortion of a new perspective, she “picked open the scab” of another object. Indeed, Harman argues that all relation is caricature, and I’ve suggested that the practice of meetaphor is the only way we can deal in object experience. In Frenchy’s example, the corset also metaphorizes future versions of itself, in relation to earlier ones.

All this still does not help us answer the question, “what is object-oriented feminism?” I’ll admit that despite myself, I still seek such an answer.

From the perspective of flat ontology, the more we isolate ourselves in theoretical modes, the less of the world we attend to (whether those modes are feminism, or Marxism, or deconstruction, or whatever). It’s possible to say, at least, that OOO and feminism share an interest in affirming the inherent equality of being. But there must be more to OOF than just a feminist-friendly ontology.

In his indictment of idealism since Kant, the speculative realist Quentin Meillassoux rejoins us to re-join “the great outdoors.” Normally when I invoke Meillassoux’s metaphor, I use it as a lever to show how big and great the world is outside our tiny, forlorn minds. But today I think we’ve also been shown the value of looking for the outdoors inside. Indeed, one of the goals and victories of feminism involves making insides and outsides accessible and welcoming, whether they involve rights, ideals, identities, or everyday practices. And when we go outside, we track that world’s dirt back in, and vice versa. Perhaps then we can undersand OOF as a perturbation of human and world, as a freedom to move through that door between inside and outside at will, noting the differences but not being limited by them.

published November 5, 2010


  1. Tim Morton

    Best line:

    But today I think we’ve also been shown the value of looking for the outdoors inside

    (In my humble ecocritical opinion…)

  2. Joseph C Goodson

    Thank you for this post — I, too, was wondering where this idea of object-oriented feminism might go, and this is both provocative and promising. It sounds like it was a very fascinating conference!

  3. Paul Reid-Bowen

    Thanks Ian, a very interesting summary. I think for the moment we can simply content ourselves with OOF as what feminists start to do with OOO in an applied, experimental and speculative mode. Feminism as a unique qualifier and contributor to the theories of OOO is likely to emerge more slowly. The main problem for a feminist version of OOO will probably remain the focus on the human. Many feminists certainly carry commitments to a flattened ontology. However, there is also a strong correlationism present in most feminist philosophy that is likely to be a barrier to an easy partnership. One wonders if one can posit and develop a radical extension of feminist standpoint epistemologies to embrace the perpectives of botox injections, corsets and coffee mugs. But I strongly suspect that your Alien Phenomenology is doing something very similar.

  4. Ian Bogost


    Right, for starters, OOF is “OOO for feminism,” so to speak. But as you say, the big question is how critical approaches like feminism (and political economy, and psychoanalysis, and many others) will deal with OOO’s charge to extend beyond human interests. The name “radical” would truly be an earned one for a feminism that managed to wrestle free entirely from correlationism.

  5. Michael H. Ducey, Ph.D.

    Patricia Clough is a “post-structuralist”. She continues the tradition of out-of-body thinking that reached its high-water mark in post-war French thinkers such as Derrida and Deleuze. Her epistemology clones that of Derrida. She made this clear in her twice-published The Ends of Ethnography.

    Today in America we donâ??t find much post-structuralism in sociology proper. Its home is more in literary criticism and cultural studies.

    Post-structuralist epistemology suffers from dissociated personality disorder. It is â??out-of-body thinkingâ?. Clough is very candid about her disembodiment. She wants us to â??disprivilege the organic bodyâ?.

    “Realist” epistemology on the other hand forthrightly privileges the organic body and takes the position that not to do so is dissociated. A common expression to indicate dissociation is the phrase, â??out-of-body experienceâ? or â??leaving the body”. Such phrases refer to leaving the social engagement state of consciousness and going into either emergency response or shut-down.

    Biological science has identified the social engagement state of consciousness: â??[It] has a control component in the cortex (i.e., upper motor neurons) that regulates brainstem nuclei (i.e., lower motor neurons) to control eyelid opening (e.g., looking), facial muscles (e.g., emotional expression), middle ear muscles (e.g., extracting human voice from background noise), muscle of mastication (e.g., ingestion), laryngeal and pharyngeal muscles (e.g., prosody) and head tilting and turning muscles (e.g., social gesture and orientation).â?

    The problem with out-of-body thinking is that it confuses perception and imagination. It finds perception and fantasy interchangeable. It is somatically illiterate: completely ignorant of the mechanisms by which our bodies function as a vehicle of communication and a platform for emotions, and tends to become dreamspeak: metaphorical, mysterious, spooky.