Not answers but… a response to Jussi’s OOQ

Jussi Parikka poses some interesting question about OOP. I’m fortunate enough to have Jussi as my  PhD supervisor and so the poor guy has 70 thousand words of OOP musing to wade through over his Christmas break so maybe he’s getting in his objections early… So in that spirit, my thoughts about his questions.

Firstly he says:

“I wonder if there is a problem with the notion of object in the sense that it still implies paradoxically quite a correlationist, or lets say, human-centred view to the world; is not the talk of “object” something that summons an image of perceptible, clearly lined, even stable entity – something that to human eyes could be thought of as the normal mode of perception.”

One of the things that has attracted me to OOP is precisely this decentering of the human or perhaps more correctly the renaming of the human as object. Whether in my thinking about distributed media, marketing and business or my practice as an imag(in)er, the opportunity afforded by allowing any object to be the starting point is very powerful. I have no problem with the idea of a “clearly lined, even stable entity” as long as that is framed in terms of a quadruple structure where withdrawn and sensual dimensions ensure a dynamic ontology. I see no need for processuality and potentiality to enable us to talk of change or relations. Jussi goes on to ask “what would a cat, bench, bus, trashcan, or a computer “see”, or sense?” As Ian Bogost talks about in Alien Phenomenology, to consider CCDs as seeing allows us to consider dimensions to scopicality, media and technology that are very powerful. As I hope I am struggling to argue, by engaging in a bit of anthropomorphism (cf Bennett) as far as protocol goes, we can open up ways into governmentality as well as media.

Jussi’s second question ask whether treating “humans and non-humans on equal footing […] risk[s] paradoxically stripping entities, the world of specificity?” He says:

“In mediatic contexts, what if we need to account for the non-object based realities of such media technological realities as electromagnetism – that hardly could intuitively be called an object. Would treating such entities as objects be actually just confusing, and lead to imagined concretenesses?”

Firstly I would, following Harman, ask why electromagnetism cannot be treated as an object, if of a particular variety. It has a unity. It has a presence. It has withdrawn and sensual dimension and… it does stuff. By approaching it as an object, we can map its relations as a matter of objects connecting within objects, such as devices or political-economic realities (to answer Sean Cubitt’s point about Bennett’s Vibrant Matter lacking an account of structure). I don’t see a problem with concreteness as long as that is not an excuse for stasis. The OOP I am struggling to develop looks for concreteness or materiality but one that is constantly remade as new objects come into being, connect and reconnect. In a mediaspace and technosocial business environment where data, subjectivities and indeed politics are de-concretised as Likes, Social Graph points, market share etc… a little bit of concrete ain’t such a bad analytical, creative and political tool.

Jussi makes the point that:  OOP advocates forget “that there is a whole long history of such thought; the most often forgotten is the radical feminist materialism of figures such as Rosi Braidotti and Elizabeth Grosz; this goes nowadays often by the name of new materialism”. He’s quite right and Harman in particular is at pains to look back, particularly into Islamic thought… where I think there is some more thinking to be done (and again I’m trying to work through this with my (creative) appropriation of Bennett) is in the connections between ‘new materialism’ and OOP. While I find Bennett’s work fits well with its willingness to deal with ontology and agentic capacity, I wonder whether others lumped onto that school bus are as happy following the logic of  their stress on material realities into questions of ontology and (as Jussi argues next, epistemology). As Jussi goes on to say: “Matter is not always about objects”. My point is it should be!

Jussi’s final question, “Is object oriented philosophy more akin to epistemology” is fascinating. I have said many times, and will open my Viva by saying – “I am not a philosopher…”, so I could be quite wrong here but why can’t OOP speak to both philosophical problems. Can a stress on objects not be about how we know things as well as what is the nature of being? By using OOP to understand global, distributed media (protocols) as well as a driver for my practice (and indeed business consultancy), I have found a framework that explains the nature of the meshes (cf Morton) or assemblages I am working with. It has given me an account of their (and my) being. It has also helped me map my understanding and its position, ethics and politics. It has framed and foregrounded the issue of what I know, how I know it and what I do with that knowledge. Maybe just as objects have (at least in Harman’s model) multiple dimensions, so OOP has more than one dimesnion.

I think Jussi’s final call for OOP to work with scientific research is spot on. He says:

“should we not read more of scientific research that constantly is the one who talks of such worlds, and actually offers insights into different worlds of durations and stabilities from that of the human?”

Tim Morton is of course great on this. I would take the challenge further and say that we should all be reading more engineering and technology too… as I’m trying to do (with a nod towards Ian Bogost and Platform Studies) by taking protocol seriously.