There’s been a ‘discussion flurry’ on the topic of OOO and politics. Intra Being has a decent summation on it, riffing on Morton’s posts (HERE) and Levi’s posts (HERE) and (HERE). Can a egalitarian position be articulated in OOO, can a restoration of democratic values be reworked by the plurality of object behaviour? I for one, sense that the scope should not be focusing on units completely, but focusing on the situations inherent to OOO that emphasise determinacy over indeterminacy.
The first thing about OOO, which strikes me as being politically useful is that it is an altogether different type of determinate metaphysics. Whilst Levi’s mediations on Ranciere’s political schema are noteworthy and promising, the outcome of Ranciere’s manoeuvres, (particularly in his, very current and influential visual aesthetic criticism: see The Emancipated Spectator and The Politics of Aesthetics) are not only contingent on human behaviour (which Levi notes) but are also contingent on a wholly relational indeterminate system. This isn’t directed at Levi; it’s an aesthetic gripe with Ranciere, who actively mingles with relational aesthetics. For those who aren’t familiar, relational aesthetics is term given to a contemporary form of aesthetics which exists (and are critiqued) as an active relational, ‘hands on’ form of art production. There is no work, in the ‘traditional’ form of painting, sculpture, video, performance, but the work is entirely contingent on audience participation in the form of communities, actions, happenings and dramatisation.
Ranciere’s mapping of relational aesthetics and relational politics is conflated in an attempt to not only democratise the spectator, but to also simultaneously dismantle, what he calls the a priori ‘distribution of the sensible’ (e.g. the dominant structure of the police to keep the sensible in order). Like politics, Ranciere tracks the notion (both historically and critically) that art makes new communities and emancipatory situations: which is all very well and good, but I sincerely detest the idea that the artwork is nothing but relations between communities – a dominant ontological strategy in contemporary aesthetics that OOO manages to healthily dispatch with.
Getting back to the politics question, I will rehearse an argument from a previous paper [HERE -PDF] (which is likely to be book chapter – more on that when it is confirmed), I think the correct road here is to analyse political thinkers who have critiqued the metaphysical form of politics as being insidious. Heidegger’s critique of onto theology is a starting example here of course, but the main thinkers who are particularly good at analysing the stance of metaphysical politics are Gianni Vattimo and the relatively unknown Austrian media theorist Wolfgang Sutzl. For both of these thinkers, the operation of a dominating political regime, works by negating exterior perspectives in so far as, the metaphysical stance focuses solely on one entity as an explanation for everything else.
In fact, Sutzl is noteworthy here, for he suggests that negating exterior perspectives is the main preoccupation behind the Western infatuation with ‘security’, post 9/11, along with a rigorous update of Heidegger’s critique of technology [He argues this in the essay Languages of Surprise (2009), which is a must read, PDF HERE]. And as a media theorist, he also suggests (following Agamben) that the metaphysical security stance (one that secures presence) plays into the hands of every day mediation in general; police troops measure and ‘secure’ dissident public demonstrations, governments (such as Mubarak’s) perpetuate ‘state of emergencies’ to secure criminals in exceptional circumstances, security software secures malware code and suspicious keywords into a state of ordering. Politics doesn’t have to be a straightforward “take down capitalism at all costs” kind of situation, which the humanities seem to be particularly adept at repeating (thats not to say it shouldn’t be like that), but it could be as simple as questioning the reasons behind the increasing presence-ing of security.
But the key element behind OOO, especially Harman’s variant, is the commitment to a metaphysical stance that does not negate exterior perspectives whatsoever. In fact, it is the total opposite; OOO actually exemplifies exterior perspectives and seeks them out, wherever they may be.
What does this mean? You get something similar to Latour’s compositionist manifesto [PDF] – and in particular, something similar to his ethical quip that one should search for universality, without presuming that universality exists in the first place. From my own perspective, I think that if an OOO politics is worthy of the task, it should track the heterogenous composition of determinate regimes like security, but it should also be aware that some serious work is needed if one wants something like democratic justice. Like anything in this world, to compose something tangible takes an enormous amount of work to compose, even if its for evil. Evil structures have an essence, along with gooseberries, milk and nail varnish. One could take Sutzl’s challenge of searching for security structures in the world of objects – boards securing windows during a hurricane, chains securing dogs outside shops, the sun secures planets around its orbit. A true OOO politics would find issues such as security to be fairly ubiquitous in ontology.
And crucially, one should stress that political regimes, or even the ‘distribution of the sensible’, take an enormous amount of work to upkeep. There is nothing more alien than thinking that a regime just exists as a grounded thing. More and more, the correct approach to this, and I relate to the composition of artworks as well, is not to compose a political situation by way of indeterminacy, but precisely the opposite; one should compose an determinate unitary entity of execution and submit to it fully, and not only that, it should ward off any indeterminate outlook.