What are the problems with OOO? Isn’t it the funky philosophical panacea that everyone’s talking about? Well it is, a bit, and in large measure it isn’t (in my opinion). I find it strange to argue as the insights of manifestationism reveal me to be a Narp-agent for other philosophy. A priori OOO isn’t coherent but then neither is any system I might espouse. This sounds like grist to the OOO mill, incoherence=withdrawal. This though is my struggle with it because I think I’m so close to being an OOO ally and yet I’m not (I think). Whether I read Morton or Harman there is always something nagging at me about it. One issue is a linguistic one. I think there is a lot of sloppy writing in OOO that is unnecessary (not rhetorical invocation).
I don’t believe we can just forget the linguistic turn, I think it generated important approaches (most notably from Wittgenstein) that we have to continue to take seriously. The standard poor phraseology is when the OOO theorist says ‘n experience of the cup is not the cup’. This is a such a simplified jumble of the situation it doesn’t tell us anything. There is a confused conflation of two types of withdrawal embedded in this. One is the Husserlian profiles withdrawal (I cannot see the far side of the cup) and the other is the ‘what else it may be’ withdrawal which is more Heideggerian in flavour, though Wittgenstein extends this more effectively.
The latter problem concerns a missing meta-term (that frankly is up for grabs). This is a linguistic confusion, I cannot say ‘the cup does not show me all of its being’ in the second sense because in its use disclosure it has showed itself as cup. Morton shows this kind of mess up nicely with his breeze block description in Realist Magic. Here he conflates breeze block ‘a use term’ with the x that he wants to talk about. What he believes are the fruitful rewards of OOO reasoning in fact are just a linguistic confusion perfectly exemplified here “An architect makes an exploded view of a cross section of the block. But a cross section of a cinder block is not a cinder block. A finger’s impression of a cinder block is not a cinder block. A butterfly’s touch on a cinder block is not a cinder block.” (Morton p50). In the language game of architecture if I say ‘what are we looking at here?’ and the architect replies ‘a breeze block’ the answer is cogent: it is a breeze block, this is meaning of being in this instance. If I do not know what I am touching, then no, that’s not a breeze block. But if I am perfectly aware and you say ‘what are you running your finger along?’ and I say ‘a breeze block’ then actually it is a breeze block. He says but the sensation isn’t the breeze block but he’s asking too much of language. Consider: ‘I’m feeling a sensation but not the breeze block itself.’ No the butterfly’s touch on a breeze block isn’t a breeze block because now there isn’t any breeze block because that’s a use term from a Narp perspective. Of course I know what he means but it’s badly written. OOO has withdraw to some kind of meta-term to stop talking in this muddle.
What is meant is the x that discloses itself as a cup (or breezeblock) has other possible modes of being. This is true. This whatever it is ‘x’ might be rediscovered in a cupless world and take a new name and useage. I know it seems nit-picking but isn’t this what we’re supposed to do? This is what Heidegger means in a sense and why the critique of Heidegger’s correlationism is difficult (frankly all correlationist critique is up against it still) and wrong. Dasein (Narps) names the cup, it calls it into being, it isn’t a cup without Dasein. When we examine it at a molecular/phenomenal level we must pay attention to the language game. ‘Is that cup made of plastic?’ ‘Yes’. This tells me something about the cup and its breakability. But a pure molecular analysis of it in one sense just reveals plastic, it doesn’t reveal a cup made of plastic, it just reveals plastic. Only the use and language game reveals the cup as cup. The cup is the information not the plastic, or the pottery its made of etc. Unless (and if you agree with this you’re letting the magick bit in btw) the cup lying part broken under the hedge for many years is somehow actually imprinted with some nebulous cupness (the incoherent pneuminous accretion as I would call it) then it makes no sense to call it a cup in its relation to these putative other relations that are happening to the thing. This x is not a cup to the bacteria on it, or the slugs in it, it is the cup itself that has withdrawn. This standard list of endlessly viewing the cup, smashing it up, x-raying as a kind of proof that the cup withdraws is all nonsense. The meaning of the cup is the usage cup, that somehow despite the work of the last century everyone seems to have forgotten. The thingness is being conflated with the spatio-temporal objectness.
As for profile withdrawal, it isn’t a feature of cups as such, it’s a feature of any spatio-temporal object of a grammatically dubious nature. Do I see the other side of the tree? No. What does it matter philosophically? Well it matters if you have criteria to raise an epistemological problem with the umbratic part, if not what grounds do you have to play this game. Do you believe the ontological status of the shadow part may be different to the visible front part? If you do then you are a correlationist (that’s fine, this is also one consequence of magickal thinking) if you don’t: what do mean by it’s withdrawn? You point out that you can’t see it but you’re perfectly happy that it’s exactly the same as it is when you’re not looking at it? This of course is related to the notion that objects translate one another. There is something here. There is something fascinating in pondering various unnameable objects pressing against others. This does of course presuppose the discretion of these things though. The very profile trick the OOO theorist uses to point out withdrawal does in some sense work against them. If one subscribes to recognising the shadowy parts are of an unknown ontological status compared to the visible parts then of course no one knows what’s going on in these depths. The discretion of things itself could be a way in which our perception is working and in this dark umbra maybe there is no differentiation, hence this OOO speculation is nothing but the anthropomorphisation of the objects and not the breakthrough it wants to be.
Bigger than this picture of course is where I started. OOO is a manifestation (a philosophy of the world). It is a picture presented to us that has a good many Narps attached to it as agents. It continues to accrete informational tentacles across the philosophical globe as it battles promethenianism and the advocates of the great twentieth century philosophical tendencies: phenomenology (I don’t consider OOO as an extension of Heidegger, it’s a misunderstanding of him) and post-structuralism. I place Wittgenstein with an unknowing foot in both these camps. I think OOO is too epistemologically unsound to be a decent theory of objects. It’s a reaction to a certain perception of extreme correlationism, which is really just good philosophical skepticism.