This introductory guide to Object Oriented Ontology is an on-going collection of central theses and surrounding debates. If you’d like to submit a text, blog, or discussion thread that you think is particularly useful to the would-be OOO scholar you can post a link in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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“Ontology is the philosophical study of existence. Object-oriented ontology (“OOO” for short) puts things at the center of this study. Its proponents contend that nothing has special status, but that everything exists equally—plumbers, cotton, bonobos, DVD players, and sandstone, for example. In contemporary thought, things are usually taken either as the aggregation of ever smaller bits (scientific naturalism) or as constructions of human behavior and society (social relativism). OOO steers a path between the two, drawing attention to things at all scales (from atoms to alpacas, bits to blinis), and pondering their nature and relations with one another as much with ourselves” – Ian Bogost
OOO is not correlationist: “The correlationist strategy consists in demonstrating that the object can only be thought as it is given, and it can only be thought as it is given for a subject. In drawing our attention to givenness for a subject, correlationism thus demonstrates that we can never know what the object is in-itself, but only what it is for-us. In short, any truth one might articulate is not a truth of the world as it would be regardless of whether or not we exist, but only a truth for-us” – Levi Bryant
If you’re interested in OOO then there are few scholars better equipped to guide you than Levi Bryant, Ian Bogost and Timothy Morton. In 2010 all three scholars presented on a panel at the RMMLA conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This 90 minute recording offers an accessible introduction to OOO (Bryant – 0-36:37), the influence of OOO philosophy on scholarly practices (Bogost – 36:27-105:44), as well as the resonance between object oriented ontology and climate change (Morton – 105:44-134:31)
If you’re interested in the fundamentals of OOO look at Bryant’s essay “The Ontic Principle” found in The Speculative Turn.
Intrigued? Consider the books, blogs, and discussions below as a primer.
Book Oriented Ontology
The Democracy of Objects by Levi Bryant
Accessible. That’s the one word I would use to describe Bryant’s comprehensive expansion of OOO philosophy. Not only does Democracy of Objects make OOO accessible, Bryant even presents lucid readings of Žižek, Deleuze & Guattari, and Luhmann. And he does so while clearly distinguishing his own interpretations (Bryant’s attempt here is not to revise existing philosophy but, similar to Harman in Tool-Being, he is primarily defining OOO by what it is similar but not equal to). This past summer I read a number of OOO/speculative-realism texts and I wish I’d started here.
Tool-Being by Graham Harman
Much of OOO scholarship attempts to demonstrate that philosophy (at least, the phenomenological/ontological variety) moves much too fast. For at high-speeds, a simple unexamined conclusion can propagate at an alarming rate. In such cases, the syllogism becomes an enthymeme and the solution that follows solves a false problem. This is one way of summarizing Harman’s Tool-Being, which claims that Heidegger committed an oversight early in his career that then propagated throughout the rest of his work. Harman revisits the tool/broken-tool dichotomy, reversing the enthymeme back into a syllogism to demonstrate just where Heidegger veered off course. The result is a slowing down of ontological inquiry. This simple change of pace suggests that other philosophers should look back, back towards the initial premises that establish the relationship between vorhandenheit and zuhandenheit.
Alien Phenomenology by Ian Bogost
One way to summarize this book would be to state that, in a way, Alien Phenomenology is to the everyday visual experience as John Cage was to the everyday acoustic experience (bear with me!). Bogost draws heavily on photography, specifically the work of Stephen Shore, in revisiting the commonplace from the perspective of the objects themselves. Bogost uses Shore’s work to deconstruct the artifice of the constructed photograph, demonstrating the pervasiveness of meaning, as Cage did with his work on the fallacy of silence. Indeed, the fallacy that OOO wishes to expose is that of correlationism and so Bogost focuses on mediations of the everyday, such as McDonald’s packaging and the unique characteristics of light sensors in various digital cameras, in order to propose alternative phenomenologies, thereby decentering that of the human. The book as a whole challenges its readers not to adopt OOO wholesale but to become an explorer of the everyday, an amateur carpenter of commonplace things.
Blog Oriented Ontology
OOO is one of those rare projects to unfold, one might even say gestate, in the open forum of the world wide web. Below is an updated list of texts, blogs, articles, and interviews concerning the evolution of OOO.
Larval Subjects – Levi Bryant
Bryant is the most prolific of the OOO bloggers and so you might be a little overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content on Larval Subjects. Here are a few points of entry I found particularly inviting:
The Materiality of SR/OOO: Why Has It Proliferated?– Bryant looks at the rather rapid spread of OOO, its place outside of academic journals, and its use of social media + the blogosphere
Yellow Submarines and Operational Closure – OOO meets systems theory/autopoiesis
“Operational closure is not a happy thought. It presents us with a world in which we’re entangled with all sorts of entities that we can hardly communicate with yet which nonetheless influences our lives in all sorts of ways”
Is There a Politics of OOO? – The intersection between OOO and Ranciere’s political theory, where OOO de-centers the human
“OOO, by contrast, makes the strange claim that humans are objects among other objects (they have no ontologically privileged position and are not the crown of existence) and proposes the strange idea of active objects (objects that aren’t merely passive recipients of the acts of other entities but which are agencies in their own right).”
Blog – Ian Bogost
Bogost has a rather diverse CV and while OOO seems to inform most, if not all, of his other works, his blog is a hodge-podge of gaming, rhetoric, and philosophy. Here are some OOO-specific posts that introduce you to Ian’s thought:
Seeing Things – A video and transcript covering OOO, ontography, and the everyday
“Object-oriented ontology is thus not only the name for an ontology oriented toward objects, but a practice of learning how to orient toward objects ourselves. And, mise-en-abyme-like, how to orient toward object-orientation.”
OOO and Politics – A pointed response to the criticism that OOO 1) downplays ethics, especially human-centered ethical conundrums, and 2) that OOO scholars have failed to grapple with human relationships
“Sometimes I regret having gotten back into the “traditional humanities” after spending the last ten years in a weird hybrid of liberal arts and engineering at a technical institute. For it deals with the greatest irony of conservatism: a conservatism whose hallowed tradition is a purported progressive radicalism. Things are changing in philosophy, and that change is terrifying to some and liberating to others—perhaps it should be both”
Ecology Without Nature – Timothy Morton
Morton’s blog offers an immense amount of OOO content, so much in fact that this guide is, in large part, an attempt to collate and organize large portions of that rich repository of philosophical material. That said, Morton’s site is a veritable treasure trove with many hidden gems, like past talks or links to free(!) ebooks. What’s more, its frequently updated and includes past, present, and future talks from Morton, as well as previously taught grad courses.
Object-Oriented Philosophy Blog – Graham Harman
I find it quite useful to observe any idea or philosophy taking root in someone’s thoughts, and that’s what Andre Ling offers when he blogs about object-oriented ontology:
- Infra Being – Andre Ling: An Ode To OOO, Object-Process mashups, Toward an OO Ontography of Intra-being
- An Un-canny Ontology – Nate Gale: BwOs and Fractal Thinking
Literature Oriented Ontology
Graham Harman, Timothy Morton, and Jane Bennett discuss OOO and literature, all within a single issue of The New Literary History. Special thanks to Kris Coffield over at Fractured Politics for collecting the articles.
“The Well-Wrought Broken Hammer: Object-Oriented Literary Criticism” by Graham Harman
Summary: In typical Harman fashion, OOO is discussed in terms of how it is similar to but fundamentally distinct from three influential theories of literary criticism: New Criticism, New Historicism, and Deconstructionism. Harman then proceeds to outline an OOO form of literary criticism, advocating in the process a kind of understanding through deformation–that is, a form of analysis where the critic actively distorts a text in various ways until it becomes unrecognizable as that text. The point being that changing a single word (say, a typo) has little impact on the identity of Moby-Dick (to borrow Harman’s example) but what about changing the name of a character? The omission of a particular conversation? A complete reorganization of events? In other words, Harman proposes analyzing literature by determining how much play we have with the parts before the whole constitutes a different object entirely.
“An Object-Oriented Defense of Poetry” by Timothy Morton
Summary: Morton picks up Percy Shelley’s A Defence of Poetry in order to grapple with literature as a unique, nonhuman object. For Morton it is crucial that objects are not determined by a fixed frame or medium but rather they produce the frames in which they exist–they frame themselves in their own space-time. The connection here with literature is that poems, novels, biographies, etc. each create their own space-time through their unique narrativization of events (which reminds me of Shklovsky’s “Art as Technique”) . As with all OOO writing, Morton is concerned with describing a different kind of relation between an object and its parts. This begins by recalling that OOO steadfastly maintains that an object cannot be reduced to (or strictly constituted by) its relations–it will always escape any and all relationships, even from itself. Following this point Morton remarks that “We are too accustomed, argues OOO, to seeing things as patterns and not as objects” (219) (a statement that echoes Hayles’ pattern-over-presence argument in How We Became Posthuman). The distinction Morton is making is between the poem as effect and the poem as cause–if each text creates its own space-time, its existence as a unique object is overwritten or erased by suggesting it is merely a cultural product. Both Harman and Morton seek to allow texts to exists as texts; that is, to explore the effects of an object rather than the object as the site of inscription for the effects of other objects (namely, cultural, social, political, and psychological systems). [PDF]
“Systems and Things: A Response to Graham Harman and Timothy Morton” by Jane Bennett
Summary: Here Bennett offers a rebuttal against the preceding essays, defending systems, bodies, and relationism in general against OOO. Central to the debate here is where the scholarly gaze should be directed. OOO maintains that for too long we have remained fixated on relations, thereby denying the objects themselves their rightful ontological existence. In other words, relationality denies what I would call, following McLuhan, the effects of objects. Objects, like media, are often mistaken for their relations (i.e. content) and thus they risk being figured as blank slates on which culture is inscribe. Bennett is very much aware of this fear, this imbalance in scholarship, however, her response is to ensure that this reaction isn’t an over reaction.
Discussion Oriented Ontology
Here are some buzz words for you: speculative realism, object oriented ontology, new materialism, new aesthetics, correlationalism, continental philosophy. A Venn diagram of where these fields overlap would look more like a Rorschach test than anything else. Below is an on-going collection of conversations concerning OOO, its variants, detractors, and outright deniers.
“OOQ – Object-Oriented-Questions” – Jussi Parikka
Bryant’s Response: Some Responses to Jussi
Bogost’s Response: Object-Oriented Answers
OOO U (as in university) is a collection of podcasts, videos, and conference papers on object-oriented ontology. Think of it like a semester in the life of an object-oriented grad student, minus the assignments.
During his spring 2012 term, Timothy Morton live-streamed and podcasted his grad course on object-oriented philosophy. Below are the eight classes that cover a wide-range of topics in, on, and around OOO. From armchair philosophers to dissertation drafters, the pacing and accessibility of the material, as imparted by Morton and his students, is ideal for any interested party.
Class 1: Introduction
Class 2: Correlationism
Class 3: Phenomenology and the Thing
Class 4: Husserl, Heidegger, and the Descent
Class 5: Withdrawal
Class 6: Causality
Class 7: Flat Ontologies
Class 8: Materialisms
A collection of conference papers presented on OOO. Unless otherwise stated, all recordings were made and uploaded by Timothy Morton.
Graham Harman – A History of Speculative Realism and Object-Oriented Ontology – [Download][Embedded]
In this paper Harman takes us through the philosophical origins of speculative realism and OOO, noting the shared frustration with continental philosophy and the inability to discuss realism in the face of materialism and other forms of correlationism. If the border between SR and OOO is at all fuzzy for you, Harman draws a clear distinction here. (Hello Everything Symposium 2010)
Timothy Morton – Sublime Objects – [Download][Embedded]
In this playful paper Morton uses a children’s tale to preface his talk on rhetoric and OOO. Here Morton proposes that OOO necessitates the inverse of Aristotle’s five-part structure of rhetoric (invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery), thereby elevating delivery in order to support the thesis that “rhetoric is what happens when there is an encounter between any object, that is, between alien beings.” The target here is the privileging of style over delivery and the limited role of rhetoric in philosophy. (McLuhanists will likely see this as a privileging of content over medium). (Hello Everything Symposium 2010)
Ian Bogost – Object Oriented Ontogeny – [Download Audio][Embedded]
The ontogeny presented here by Bogost is an autobiographical sketch of a visually-impaired father and a young man’s growing interest in quotidian objects. Over the course of the paper we encounter lives that are, for lack of a better phrase, object-oriented. This history provides a basis for Bogost’s object-oriented research, including this extended look at the Atari VCS (as discussed in detail by Bogost and Nick Montfort in Racing the Beam). There’s not a lot of new OOO here but Bogost’s self-reflection on his interest in the particularity of objects is refreshing and definitely worth a listen. (Hello Everything Symposium 2010)
Graham Harman – Real Objects and Pseudo-Objects: Remarks on Method (Starts at 28:46) – [Download][Embedded ]
Graham presented this paper on the same day as his “History of Speculative Realism” (above) and thus it’s more of an elaboration on those finer points of OOO not covered there. (Hello Everything Symposium 2010)
Levi Bryant – On the Reality and Construction of Hyperobjects with Reference to Class –[Download][Embedded]
Bryant extends the concept of Morton’s hyperobjects to readings of social classes, bringing together Sartre (antipraxis) and Latour (sociology of the social). Hyperobjects inherently refer to a scale of objects beyond human comprehension (in regards to their scope). The aim here is to 1) address the existence of class (Bryant uses Margaret Thatcher’s claim that ‘there are only individuals and families’ in order to counter that classes themselves are also individual objects) and 2) articulate the role of classes as objects that cannot be the sum of their technological/social/cultural parts but nevertheless influence and are influenced by these other objects. (Hello Everything Symposium 2010)
Timothy Morton – Dark Ecology – [Download][Embedded]
In this talk Morton sets his sights on the ‘anthropocene’ as he attempts to convey the nearly unfathomable reality that humans have profoundly altered the planet on a global, geological scale. To that end Morton remarks on the coincidence of the anthropocene (an event marked by a marked increase in carbon levels that began with the Industrial Revolution) with Kant’s Copernican revolution (whereby the study of the real is rendered inaccessible by the influence of the mind). Thus, just as human beings begin to alter their global environment, human inquiry begins to study the world as it exists for humans alone. For Morton, the ‘Copernican revolution’ is incapable of addressing the large-scale implications of human actions and thus “what is required then is a philosophy and a corresponding social ethics and politics that can think the nonhuman.” For those searching for an ethics to OOO, Morton makes a strong case that it meets this social and environmental exigency. (Lisbon 2012)
Katherine Hayles, Tim Morton, Patricia Clough, Katherine Behar – Object-Oriented Feminism – [Download][Embedded]
OOO and feminism seem like a perfect match. After all, OOO is about the irreducibility of an object a single ‘reading,’ the plurality of meanings that risk being erased if one single model overrides or underwrites all others. But you won’t find much Kristeva or Butler here. The OOF panels tend to avoid overt references to feminist theory. That said, this panel is well worth a listen. (SLSA 2012)
Graham Harman – Art and Paradox – [Watch]
Graham breaks down aspects of this philosophy in a very well paced and lucid presentation. More specifically, the origin of OOO in relation to ‘mathematism,’ ‘scientism,’ and postmodernism is discussed here, as well as an explication of sensual and real objects/qualities, in accordance with Harman’s Quadruple Object. (The Matter of Contradiction: Ungrounding the Object 2012)