Disclaimer: This post is an attempt to synthesise some recent conversations in the OOO blogosphere and does not contain much original thought! I just needed to work my way through it and thought it may be of interest to some readers. Please bear with me!
I have been following the unfolding exploration of politics and OOO these last few days (mainly on the blogs of Levi Bryant, Timothy Morton and Graham Harman, the three philosophers I have been following most closely for some time now) with great interest and excitement as it’s essentially one of my biggest questions at the moment. Not that I believe that metaphysics needs to have political relevance to be worthy of attention, just that this world is in a mess and it’s hard for me to imagine a way out that doesn’t involve both objects and politics.
The first round of the exchange originated in a fascinating discussion about Zizek’s treatment of Assange/Wikileaks (GH here, LB here and here), the critical question being one of whether the making public of information that revealed what everyone ‘already knew’, constituted a significant political act and, if so, why or how. For GH Wikileaks did not merely reveal what everyone already knew: genuinely new information was released, which implies that it could have a radical potential. However, GH is turned off by the argument that says “the whole system is rotten to the core”, thereby sweeping away important differences between say a liberal democracy and a totalitarian regime. For LB, however, with his evident cynicism toward liberal democracy (which he sees as fundamentally corrupted), it is rather the making public (the re-remark) of what everyone pretended not to know that makes the leaks so politically significant, as it fundamentally destabilises the image of order: “The radicality of Assange’s act is not what he revealed to us, but that he revealed it.”
The debate then moved on to what, as I understood it, were two contrasting themes: cynicism and incrementalism (see TM here and LB here). Cynicism (opposed to hypocrisy – a dyad I discovered to be credited to Deleuze, thanks to this excellent reply from David) according to Morton is framed mainly as resignation and leads down a path of reactionary conservative right-wing idiocy. I think I agree with this. But TM then suggests that critiquing incrementalism (i.e. the radical left view that if it’s not overthrowing capitalism then it’s not worthwhile) ends up perpetuating the same kind of cynic mindset, leading, for example, to inaction on critical environmental matters (e.g. cutting carbon emissions).
To this, Levi responded in a rather passionate diatribe explaining that it is the rhetoric or discourse of incremental-ism that is problematic (just sit down, keep quiet and choose from this small set of inconsequential options) not incremental change per se, since changes are, most likely, always incremental in their very nature (even revolutions take time to ferment; what looks spontaneous probably isn’t – we just have trouble with our conception of time). I think this is really how I see it too, but I must admit that left cynicism is a real issue. Why does it all have to be either or? Levi would probably answer that to demand only incremental change can never be enough, therefore noise must be made in favour of more radical changes beyond the incrementalists’ menus.
Levi’s next post, Is there a politics of OOO? describes OOO as an essentially non-hierarchical ontological system (as evidenced, for example, by its emphasis on object-object relations rather than subject-object relations). The rest of the post explores Rancière’s political philosophy which, in brief, articulates politics as what happens when people who have been excluded from society (or politics more generally) demand to be heard (through whatever means). In Rancière’s system, all people are equal, even though some may be excluded from the formal/official political arena. By making themselves ‘heard’, they create a rupture in the order that normalises their silence and it is this that constitutes politics. In this sense politics implies a radical departure from the limited (and inevitably incrementalist) options proposed to us by the powers-that-be to an articulation of a new reality as politics. Levi suggests that rather than limiting the sphere of legitimate political subjects to humans, we could instead open it up to the wider world of objects. As I read this post I had Bennett’s Vibrant Matter going through my mind; she also looks to Rancière’s conception of the political and of the public/demos and wonders whether restricting the capacity for disruption (“overthrow[ing] the regime of the perceptible”. p.107) shouldn’t be opened up to non-human agencies too. To me there is little doubt, that both Levi and Bennett are onto something critical here.
Meanwhile Morton remained largely outside of the debate, almost infuriatingly refusing to participate. And I followed the ‘conversation’ as it unfolded in its own lop-sided way with an almost disturbing hunger. Of course, it is quite clear from Morton’s work that the non-human has no minor place in politics (since hyperobjects like climate change and nuclear radiation are real political actors). Levi is frequently at pains to insist that Morton ‘practice’ (what he has actually done/been saying) is not as contrived as his ‘speech’ (in this case, his critiques of radical left politics).
Levi’s subsequent post (here) then go on to critique political realism (“that despicable ideology whose name is necessity”), which seems to be very similar to the ‘infernal alternatives’ that Stengers and Pignarre attribute to capitalism in Capitalist Sorcery: Breaking the Spell. The establishment of a necessary and inevitable choice (i.e. between ‘bad’ and ‘worse than bad’) is made possible through the systematic denial of alternative realities along with those who might articulate them by those in positions of authority. Hence, under political realism, the the citizen turned activist (aka the hysteric, à la Freud) and whatever they might say is framed as illegitimate, animal-like nonsense worthy of no further consideration. Whether we attribute these ‘infernal alternatives’ to capitalism (Stengers and Pignarre) or political realism (Levi), it is clear that the forging of practical alternatives is absolutely key to any real engagement with politics. While disruption à la Rancière is clearly vital for changing what can be thought, practically enacted alternatives are what prevent this from being simply brushed aside as mere hysterical psycho-babble.
The practical enactment of alternatives is something I have been looking at in some of my recent posts, specifically from the perspective of what it means to be a partial part of a hyperobject and the range of possibilities this opens for a radical non-capitalist praxis. Since relations between objects always exist on the interior of another object, the forging together of new objects (into new hyperobjects?) is the crucial task of our age. But is the creation of more virtuous hyperobjects that diffuse and subvert rather than reinforce structural injustices actually possible? My gut feeling is that it is… but this obviously requires plenty more thinking!