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Slavoj Žižek – Objects, Objects Everywhere: A Critique of Object Oriented Ontology


We’ve come across an excerpt of Žižek’s new book, Slavoj Žižek and Dialectical Materialism, in which he graces us with his opinion on object-oriented-ontology. The excerpt below, the full piece via mariborchan.si.

The core of object-oriented-ontology (ooo) developed by Levi Bryant can be summed up by the formula from subject back to substance. And, in so far as subject is correlative with modernity (recall Lacan’s thesis about the Cartesian subject as the subject of modern science), we can also say that ooo follows the premise rendered by the title of Bruno Latour’s famous book, We Were Never Modern—it endeavors to bring back the premodern enchantment of the world. The Lacanian answer to this should be a paraphrase of his correction of the formula “god is dead” (god was always already dead, he just didn’t know it): we were always already modern (we just didn’t know it). The main target of ooo is thus not transcendental philosophy with its subject/object dualism, but modern science with its vision of “gray” reality reduced to mathematical formalization: ooo tries to supplement modern science with a premodern ontology which describes the “inner life” of things.

Bryant (who, before his engagement in ooo, was a Lacanian psychoanalyst) resorts to Lacan’s“formulas of sexuation” to articulate the basic difference between traditional (or modern) metaphysics and ooo: metaphysics follows the masculine side of universality grounded in a transcendent exception (god or subject who grounds or constitutes objective reality), while ooo follows the feminine side of nonall without exception (there is no transcendent exception, reality is composed of objects who are all on the same ontological level, and there is no way to totalize this multiverse of objects since they are withdrawn from each other, with no overreaching object to totalize them).2 This is why, when Bryant speaks about “the diference between ontologies of presence and transcendence and ontologies of immanence and withdrawal,”3 he couples the four concepts in an unexpected way: instead of bringing together immanence/presence and transcendence/withdrawal (which would be much closer to our spontaneous intuition: Is presence not by definition immanent, is transcendence not withdrawn from our reach?), he brings together presence and transcendence (the transcendent ground of being is fully self-present) plus immanence and withdrawal (there is no transcendent ground, all there is is the immanent multiverse of objects withdrawn from each other).

In his deployment of the ontology of immanence/withdrawal, Bryant begins by asserting the primacy of ontology over epistemology, and rejecting the modern subjectivist notion according to which, before we proceed to analyze the structure of reality, we should critically reflect upon our cognitive apparatus (how is our cognition possible in the first place, what is its scope and limitation?). Following Roy Bhaskar, Bryant turns around the transcendental question: How does reality have to be structured so that our cognition of reality is possible? The answer is provided by the basic premise of ooo: “It is necessary to staunchly defend the autonomy of objects or substances, refusing any reduction of objects to their relations, whether these relations be relations to humans or other objects.”4 This is why there is no place for subject in Bryant’s edifice: subject is precisely a nonsubstantial entity fully reducible to its relations to other entities.

From the Hegelian–Lacanian standpoint, the tension between the epistemological and ontological dimensions is resolved in a totally different way: the object is inaccessible, any attempt to seize it ends up in antinomies, and so on; we reach the object in itself not by somehow seeing through these epistemological distortions but by transposing epistemological obstacles into the thing itself. Quentin Meillassoux does the same with regard to the experience of facticity and/or absolute contingency: he transposes what appear to be transcendental partisans of finitude as the limitation of our knowledge (the insight that we can be totally wrong about our knowledge, that reality in itself can be totally different from our notion of it) into the most basic positive ontological property of reality itself—the absolute “is simply the capacity-to-be-other as such, as theorized by the agnostic. The absolute is the possible transition, devoid of reason, of my state toward any other state whatsoever. But this possibility is no longer a ‘possibility of ignorance,’ viz., a possibility that is merely the result of my inability to know . . . —rather, it is the knowledge of the very real possibility”5 in the heart of the In-itself:

We must show why thought, far from experiencing its intrinsic limits through facticity, experiences rather its knowledge of the absolute through facticity. We must grasp in fact not the inaccessibility of the absolute but the unveiling of the in-itself and the eternal property of what is, as opposed to the perennial deficiency in the thought of what is.6

In this way, “facticity will be revealed to be a knowledge of the absolute because we are going to put back into the thing itself what we mistakenly mistook to be an incapacity in thought. In other words, instead of construing the absence of reason inherent in everything as a limit that thought encounters in its search for the ultimate reason, we must understand that this absence of reason is, and can only be the ultimate property of the entity.”7 The paradox of this quasimagical reversal of epistemological obstacle into ontological premise is that “it is through facticity, and through facticity alone, that we are able to make our way towards the absolute”:8 the radical contingency of reality, this “open possibility, this ‘everything is equally possible,’ is an absolute that cannot be de-absolutized without being thought as absolute once more.”9

*Image of Žižek via Žižekstudies.com


Send ooo proponents implacably and irrevocably to the gulag of their own pseudo-ontological fantasies and wet dreams: to that impossible limbo of objects and only objects, devoid of everything else. So that the rest of us, incomplete, gap-full, soft, affected subjects can continue to try to inhabit the maze and enjoy or fail, relentlessly, stubbornly, within. Long live Barad, Haraway, and all the other feminist thinkers and scientists that have taught us to appreciate a universe of relations without relata. We are ‘just’ complexly and richly part of the maze. :smile:


The ooo is just another ivory tower club: egocentric and nihilist academics that like to create great theories about reality but don’t put any of that into practice in their own lives. I wonder how many anti-depressants these guys have to take to get by. I pretty much prefer Zizek and his honest quest to be a true free thinker: he’s not worried about making a fool of himself and doesn’t seem to be the kind that gets into the political world of hand-shaking, write on my journal and I write on yours, side of modern university life. Also, any philosophy that doesn’t have the guts to go beyond dualism is no more than Descartes in disguise.

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