January 23, 2009

Speculative Realism/ Politics/ Ontology

I'm still frustratingly busy, but just want to give a quick nod towards the discussion of speculative realism and politics reignited by a tremendous post from Nick at The Accursed Share., sparking responses by Jon at Posthegemony and Graham Harman (Object-Oriented Philosophy: high quality blogging at Twitter speed... Graham's frequency of posting has the effect of massively speeding up the already accelerated time of cyberspace, so this discussion already seems ancient.)

Nick begins like this:

    It seems to me that one of the most contentious and unremarked upon effects of speculative realism has to do with its attack on a piece of continental dogma – namely the presupposition that ontology is necessarily political. This idea is seen in any number of continental works, from Deleuze’s constructivism, to Derrida’s deconstructions of presence, to the social constructivists, gender and identity theorists, among others. The basic idea being that ontology is always constructed through a political battle, a conflict over what exists.

My instinct would be to reverse this, i.e. it's not that ontology is always constructed through a political battle, but that politics is always constructed through an ontological battle. Politics certainly presuppose ontology - to take a glaring example, the key slogans of Thatcherite capitalist realism, for instance ("There is no such thing as society, only individuals and their families" and "There is no alternative") were explicitly ontological claims, claims about what sort of entities can be said to exist in the world. But that isn't to say that all ontologies presuppose a politics.

Graham puts it like this:

    Surely an ontology has political implications, but it seems more likely to me that those implications are polarized as to content – think right or left Hegelians, Nazi or Marxist Heideggerians, free-love or bourgeois Freudians, reactionary or anarchist Nietzscheans.

    At the other extreme are authors like Chomsky, who (at least in his non-linguistic work) is offering pretty much nothing but specific political content, and as a result I doubt Chomsky has any following on the Right– whereas in principle Zizek could.

    I’d be careful of going too far with this, of course. I wouldn’t want to claim that explicit content is entirely irrelevant to a thinker’s position, which would be a sort of hyper-McLuhanite gesture— and a rather troubling one since it would reduce all political oppositions among thinkers to surface fluctuations in the ontic.

This connects with Graham's claims about style and philosophy, which in turn chimes with his interest in formal cause and its theorists (McLuhan, Baudrillard). But that's another story...

So I'm left with the question: are there any necessary political implications of Speculative Realism, then, or is its role in this respect simply to scorch the earth, to make uninhabitable the ontological territories which continentalists had colonised with their versions of politics?

Posted by mark at January 23, 2009 03:23 PM | TrackBack