28 March 2015

Manga PhD

"Remember—we are not reading the work of an overconfident undergraduate here, trying to find his way amid the complications of critical theory and thus protesting too much while understanding too little. We’re reading a book by the Rita Shea Guffey Chair in English at Rice University, whose previous two books were published by Harvard University Press. So what is going on here?

I’ve titled this review essay “The Nadir of OOO” because I think that the absurdities of Realist Magic are due at least in part to those it inherits from the incoherent ontology it wants to popularize and extend. In order to stake its claim to originality and supremacy, “OOO” has to fulminate against what it sees as a threatening field materialists, purveyors of “scientism,” process philosophers, Deleuzians, and systems theorists. It has to establish itself as “the only non-reductionist, non-atomic ontology on the market.” So Marx, as well, will have to be laid low. Since it would be prove difficult to mount a plausible or relevant critique of historical materialism from a perspective committed to a universe of objects withdrawn from relation, the object-oriented ontologist can only flail wildly at his target, hoping to construct arguments so preposterous that they can’t possibly be accused of trying to be serious. “Going ker-plunk or whatever”: the style affects an insouciance its desperation belies, and it amounts to self-parody.

What is the point, then, of talking about the book, even to criticize it? On a blog discussing Realist Magic, a reader says he wants to “dive deep enough into the object-oriented aspects of Morton’s thought to get some grasp of what he is trying to do.” The reader quotes a long passage concerning the essence of a cinderblock, which ends as follows:
You could explode a thousand nuclear bombs and you would not reveal the secret essence of the cinder block. You could plot the position and momentum of every single particle in the block (assuming you could get around Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle) and you wouldn’t discover the withdrawn essence of the block. Ten of the world’s greatest playwrights and film directors (let’s say Sophocles, Shakespeare, Garcia Lorca, Samuel Beckett, Akira Kurosawa and David Lynch just for starters) could write horrifying, profound tragedies and comedies and action movies about the block and still no one would be closer to knowing the essence of the block. (Timothy Morton)
“Something tells me,” the reader writes, “if I can understand the passage above I might just be able to pick up what Tim is putting down.” But take care, dear reader: in order to pick up what Morton is putting down, you would need to understand less, not more. The difficulty of getting “some sort of grasp on what he’s trying to do” is inherent to the book, not any deficit of your own comprehension. Yet many readers, perhaps trying to find an initial foothold in philosophy and theory, will find themselves in a position from which this might not be apparent. And the problem with obscurantism is that its strategy is to reinforce incomprehension, rather than alleviating it. To the extent that this strategy can itself be clarified, its effect—the cultivation of ignorance and error—is mitigated. That is why it may be worth noting some reasons why no one should hope to understand anything by reading Realist Magic.

“OOO” seems to be relatively popular at the moment. But obscurantism usually gleans the sort of popularity that does not last. Despite the present popularity of “OOO” the conceptual weakness, the scholarly irresponsibility, and the rhetorical desperation of Realist Magic offer ample evidence that it is not aging well. Academic theory will shortly try out a new flavor of the month—and the sooner the better, I suppose. It could not be more tasteless."

—Simon Brown, “The Nadir of OOO”

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