on 9 July 2013
An entertaining rollercoaster of incoherence and contradiction. Don't pay too much attention. But then again; do. It's thoughtless, incoherent fun. Bogost admits as much himself: `..speculative realism must also make good on the first term of its epithet: metaphysics need not seek verification, whether from experience, physics, mathematics, formal logic, or even reason.' And so he doesn't concern himself with these. Like John Law, whom he quotes, Bogost promotes `mess to a methodological concept.' Stripping his text [as he does objects] of relationality even to itself, structure and coherence over a larger scale can be disavowed. He teases such pedants: `Among the consequences of semiotic obsession is an overabundant fixation on argumentation, such that pedantry replaces curiosity.' This is an in joke running through the book, to catch out anyone who imagines this might be other than a jaunting romp.
Bogost grants all objects the same ontological status - as objects! And so demonstrates the ridiculousness of presumptive, self serving definitions. The book is a deliberately profuse bricolage, a random pile of gewgaws like the lists of things he fetishizes and pretends have nothing to do with him or his particular social environment and political context or personality. He is rife and undisciplined in his own speculations, going wherever his objects [whatever they are] take him; one moment apparently siding with things, the next abusing them as dumb, but always as a winking paraphrase of someone else he has skimmed and taken on board perversely. He evidences philosophers like CP Snow in a parody of appealing to authority to justify what he's saying. What he's actually saying doesn't matter because, `Things are independent from their constitutive parts while remaining dependent on them.' He's an anarchist and this verbiage is his parodic aim; disruptive of coherence or anything beyond the singular. He complains about the zoo-centrism of animal studies. He asserts, `all things equally exist, yet they do not exist equally,' and describes this as a tautology. Very funny. He similarly miscategorises and deliberately wrongly understands other ontologies. But he is free to contradict himself because, as he says, `anthropocentrism is unavoidable.'
Bogocentrism seems pretty much unavoidable too. The book is humanly affected and inflected throughout, not just anthropocentric but circumscribed by its author's particular viewpoint, which finds a transcendent access to things inherently impossible and yet equally denies their relational constitution. Perhaps precisely because the author is not reflexively aware of its own conditioning as an object in a particular political environment. Surrounded by ontological individualism, the author has difficulty accessing shared, subjective experience. He repeatedly characterises people and things [objects and subjects and the subjectivity of objects] as mutually inaccessible.
Bogost gives a comic and key metaphor of the author's entertaining struggle with the head-bound-ness of his own ego, which separates him from the experience of others and the objects he finds so inaccessible yet simultaneously rambling: `The embroiderable shorthand for tiny ontology might simply read, `is,' but only because semantic coherence cannot be contained in the tittle atop the i alone.'
When he mentions the object's withdrawal from others, he's obviously talking about himself - in spite of his appeals to how `we' experience the world; `we never understand the alien experience, we only reach for it metaphorically,' his is a circumscribed experience - generally of course, it is this projected use of the `we' which, by avoiding relativizing experience, keeps folks contained in their absolute alienation. `Units are isolated entities... rubbing shoulders with one another uncomfortably, while never overlapping.' His own inversion into a black hole, which he often refers to as a metaphor of the world's inaccessibility to his constitution, becomes his ontology. `I arrived at my metaphysics by way of inanimacy rather than life... A tiny, private universe rattles behind its glass and aluminium exo-skeleton.'
The `being-with' of Heidegger is overlooked in the appropriations of object oriented ontology, which repeatedly enplaces the independent subjectivities it can neither escape nor access: `object encounters are caricatures,' `objects recede from one another, forever enclosed in the vacuum of their individual existences.' This is very much an American experience; `One can never entirely escape the recession into one's own centrism.' Yet, even so: not the experience of all Americans. This book is a comic psychological study and valediction, showing how the author is transparently obsessed with his own particular human viewpoint, trapped like the things around him in their [to him] apparent self-containment, recession and small headedness in an air-conditioned nightmare. In this exculpatory confession, he demonstrates the exact neurosis that must be overcome. It's a practical book about alienated subjectivity. Bogost demonstrates the trap of imagining an independent existence. `All objects recede interminably into themselves.' This is his experience as a computer scientist involved with the objectification of ideal objects. This is a book in which an individual's psychology is revealed as their ontology. He experiences himself as a thing, with a thing's interiority, hoarding its own independent existence, like a sufferer at a Buddhist convention. `Things [including people] never really interact with one another...'
But self-explanation or sustained interpretive understanding is not his purpose, or, perhaps, he has decided that his theory is carried out best by demonstrating projective description as the foundationally presumed objectivity of objects - and purported object-subject/ subject-world independence which underpins every digression of the book and his thinking. It's the exact demonstration of a gerbil in a wheel or a neurotic in a consulting room or refried beans at Taco Bell.
Ironically, those moments in which Bogost does seem to transcend his much touted isolation are those in which he speaks about the sorts of objects he is most familiar with - so familiar that he seems [mysteriously to him no doubt!] to have actual sympathetic access to them [as if knowledge were all!] Once explained, these things seem to offer themselves as accessible and not self-hoarding. His descriptions of the inner [therefore no longer inner] workings of the Foveon sensor or the Television Interface Adaptor are tours-de-force in which he demonstrates OOO instead of bemoaning its inaccessibility. Equally, the injunction that next time you watch TV, watch the objects in a show and not its characters, is salutary. Bogost has sympathy for neglected things. Yet: `To acknowledge the garbage truck as object is to acknowledge the real object that isolates, while refusing to hold that it must always connect to any other in a network of relations.' As Margaret Thatcher said, `There's no such thing as society, only individuals.' OOO is a reactionary ideology which misunderstands its own derivative nature.
In a further contradiction, which further demonstrates his anthropocentric humanity, at the other incoherent extreme of this dualist bi-polarity, his work is richly sensual and indulges in a poetic replication and fetishization of things, which is a pleasure to read, though slightly disturbing. The first three pages and his general love of things are so patently demonstrative of him that they undermine the decentering project.
So, in sum, it's a comic, clever and incoherent ride which demonstrates the diverse ways in which things have written themselves on him - in that way that they have without you knowing it. He demonstrates how too much self-obsession, interiorisation and western-socialised outlook inhibits actually reaching objects or other subjects in their subjectivity -and this is the primary contemporary western social experience stripped of the relationality of humanism. The assertion of ontological individualism demonstrates the experience of the society that authored the work and represents that society's attempt to individuate and confine objects while simultaneously spouting their equality.
The analysis patently comes from a contemporary American perspective. What Bogost is talking about is his own access to himself and to things, as an American. This is constructed and delimited entirely by the understanding that it is - and so that's how things appear to be. The delimitations advocate the correlationism of the social construction of all reality.
Bogost fails to see that what he most describes is patently himself. He claims to be writing about the world and yet, at every moment, what he most reveals is his own conditioned subjectivity - perhaps it is the objects of American society that are avowing themselves and their view through him. The book's a contemporary product - rather cheap paper for the thirteen quid. From the isolation of this subjectivity, he repeatedly does the opposite of what OOO espouses; the outlook is not just anthropocentric but confined to that of a citizen circumscribed by the perspective of just one human culture.
`A fundamental separation of things is fundamental to OOO,' yes, and to contemporary consumer capitalism in its diversification of products and purchasers. This re-objectification of things and people is an attempt to re-establish the right-wing ontology that Adorno and Horkheimer critiqued in the Dialectic of Enlightenment; ratiocination as the alienated subject. In re-instating the inaccessibility of things-in-themselves, object oriented ontologists demonstrate a failure of sympathetic imagination [demonstrative of their position] which they flail in - drowning with lack of communion and fellow feeling; alienated by the consumer capitalism they simultaneously fetishize appealingly in their lists of commodities. Even after so may years of deconstruction of such a presumption, Bogost hangs on to the ideal that objectivity is a non-anthropocentric way of looking rather than a man-made thing.
A pity, because, if they were able to get out of this scopic fetishism, the fundamental project of OOO [the equality of all beings and the ground of being, taking up the relativity of all perspectives] could be a fruitful one. But they are condemned to consider this an outside and inaccessible world which they merely speculate about, with no access to its reality. `Speculative realism names speculative philosophy... that takes existence to be separate from thought...' and thought from existence. Poor things.