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Daniel Spaulding on the emergence of Speculative Realism and Object-Oriented Ontology


In Mute magazine, Daniel Spaulding offers a compelling theory for why Speculative Realism and Object-Oriented Ontology emerged in the historical moment when they did, and why they’ve become so popular. He suggests that it has something to do with the increasingly precarious labor conditions of late capitalism, especially in academia. An excerpt is below, but you really should read the whole piece.

My hunch – with the caveat that it is preliminary and anything but ‘rigorous’ – is that it is possible quite simply to invert Adorno on Kierkegaard in order to arrive at an effective characterization of Speculative Realism and Object-Oriented Ontology. How so? By taking note of changes in the reproduction of the class relation between Kierkegaard’s time (or Adorno’s) and our own. Kierkegaard was a rentier. He stood at the side of the emerging antagonism between labour and capital in the early nineteenth century. We, however, stand at the opposite end of the classical workers’ movement; at the opposite end, too, of the growth and subsequent dismantling of the welfare state that had emerged, in part, to blunt the onslaught of that movement. Kierkegaard wrote from a position in which it was not necessary to worry about the means of one’s own reproduction. It was possible for him to live from a store of accumulated wealth that was essentially static. The philosophers of SR/OOO, on the other hand, for the most part occupy the fringes of academia. They have made themselves known through blogs rather than peer-reviewed journals; they shuffle from grad school to the adjuncting treadmill to footholds in programmes under threat of defunding and casualisation. More than a few have day jobs in other lines of work, such as programming. (Granted, all of this is not necessarily true of the biggest names, but I am speaking of the field as a whole now.) These specifically academic circumstances are only a variant of conditions that have taken hold in the field of social reproduction at large. Where the Accelerationists dream of a revived mid-century social democracy (but with 3D printers, one supposes), SR/OOO turns to a different ‘other’ of contemporary capitalism: its included exterior, or immanent outside. The Great Outdoors, that is.

I am arguing that the Outside of SR/OOO ‘plastically reproduces,’ to use Adorno’s phrase, the progressive exteriorisation of social reproduction in the long crisis of the postwar welfare state since the 1970s. Vast populations are being ejected from the compact reproductive unit that is family; they are also being ejected from the system of social reproduction that was once the welfare state, or at least its promise. The wage, too, has become a more tenuous mediation, as secure full-time employment becomes ever more the exception than the rule worldwide. But the effects of these trends are not distributed equally. They are especially acute for graduate students and young academics now facing the horrors of the job market – the class fraction from which SR/OOO’s younger enthusiasts have for the most part been recruited. The ‘Great Outdoors’ is perhaps nothing other than this social exteriority raised to the level of theory. The movement itself, it is worth noting, can be interpreted as an improvisation meant to secure mutual intellectual if not material aid in the ruins of the tenure-track world. Blogging is easy; living is not.

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