A well-written and useful book. For those of us who’ve been hearing about OOO for a few years now, and couldn’t quite get what it was all about, this book should clear things up.
On the positive side, it is great to see that there is some movement attempting to resume metaphysics, and get out of the dismal swamp of reductivism and extreme relativism. When we forget that “objects” really do have essences and structures that are more than just their enabling conditions, we forfeit any real hope of agency.
However, I’m not convinced at all that OOO is really going to overcome the reductivist-relativist problem.
For one thing, it is quite clearly just another form of Romanticism, recycling the same approach with new terminology and pretending to ground-breaking novelty. I mean, it’s not just the laments about the barren meaninglessness of reductive science, and not just the idea that all knowledge of reality is ultimately sublime aesthetics. Although this is enough to see this is nothing new, right? Of course, Harman seems blissfully unaware of the history of aesthetics, and so believes that his idea that the aesthetic experience of the unpresentability of the thing-in-itself is a radically new idea. It’s just the Romantic sublime. And we’ve known for decades (centuries?) that such aesthetic experiences are really just the mistaking of culturally-produced meanings for the object’s own deep essence. Such “sublime” effects are the misrecognition of ideology for deep ontology…and sure, they give us a “thrill” and all, but they don’t help us out of the trap of empiricism.
What’s even more strikingly Romantic is the section on “Society and Politics,” which is mostly made up of a discussion of the American Civil War. The war is discussed as an “object,” in the OOO sense. But what we can talk about, in OOO, is generals and battles and the importance of the Emancipations Proclamation. What is ruled out is discussion of the effects of economic practices or of the struggles and practices of masses of oppressed people. I can see, I suppose, why OOO might function as a useful heuristic, calling attention to feature of a thing we might otherwise miss. But it also seems designed to discourage attention to things Harman would rather not think about—like oppression, poverty, human struggles, and most of all capitalism.
The one thing that gets him irate is the suggestion that we humans might be able to work to make the world a better place. As he says in a YouTube video made just when he was finishing this book, he has no patience for “whining about capitalism”; after all, it is, he says, the same old complaint for hundreds of years now—with no imagination at all. Hmm, why would this be?
He does rely on some clever sophistry…in fact, relies on it a bit too much. As when he says that any suggestion that human thought is a different kind of thing than a non-human object is tantamount to dividing ontology in half, and insisting that human thought makes up half of all existing reality. Well, no, it isn’t. One thing can be different from all others without therefore counting as half of all things.
And many of his claims are just assertions of the form “OOO says that,” with no real convincing argument why we should believe what this personified entity tells us. Not all claims are mere assertions—he makes arguments for some of them. But why, for example, should we accept that an “object” can have only five or six “symbiotic” objects that constitute it? How do they arrive at that number? And why should we believe that humans can have no effect on politics, only objects like catastrophes or technology can (he insists on this, but doesn’t make a case for it).
The goal seems to be to insist, like Romanticism (see, for instance, Schopenhauer) that we shouldn’t bother to act in the world, and all we can do is have profound sublime aesthetic experiences. Haven’t we heard the call to aestheticize politics enough in the last two centuries?
I would suppose that any thinking person reading this book will be spared the time trying to engage with other OOO texts. So as an introduction, it seems to me exemplary.
- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; 1 edition (26 February 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0241269156
- ISBN-13: 978-0241269152
- Product Dimensions: 10.8 x 1.8 x 17.8 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 181 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 36,150 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)