Graham Harman’s work overflows with metaphor. Never have I read so many metaphors used with such enthusiasm and lack of economy in philosophy since reading Nietzsche and Derrida. The use of metaphor is essential for Harman, stylistically and philosophically. As I commented in my last post, I see Harman’s appropriation of the McLuhan tetrad as the explanatory mechanism for change between media-beings, i.e. objects. The influence of the McLuhan’s does not end here, as metaphor as described in the ‘Media poetics’ section of Laws of Media, “presents one thing or situation dressed as or seen through another. A leap has to be made, across the interval between the two situations, each composed of a figure and ground” (p. 231). Figure is the message and ground is the medium, or in Harmanian, the eidos and essence. Thus metaphor reveals the transforming interplay between the essence and eidos of objects, which Harman’s work playfully encapsulates. The use of metaphor is a rhetorical strategy and for Harman it is the “presence of a surplus-jouissance animating the thought of a thinker that functions as the real aim of this thought” (Levi Bryant, larvalsubjects sept 18th).
Harman’s defence of metaphor stems from the desire for a philosophy to do “justice to a world where objects are always more than they literally state. Those who care only to generate arguments almost never generate objects. New objects, however, are the sole and sacred fruit of writers, thinkers, politicians, travelers, lovers, and inventors.” (On Vicarious Causation, p.212). Justice, here, appears to be the key concept that needs addressing, not because it is a standard philosophical conversation starter, but because it is a powerful motivating force behind Harman’s metaphorical articulations: Justice is one difference but it does not make all the difference. Calling for justice is not a new philosophical task, but on the scale and inclusivity of Harman’s object-oriented philosophy (OOP), there may never have been a call for justice of this magnitude before. It is for this reason that we should think about the desire for justice that propels forward our object-oriented musings, as it is not mere speculation, but a fundamental violence we wish to enact against unjust forms of thought.
A spectre is haunting philosophy, the spectre of the object. Philosophy has been a persistent failure in creating laws to do justice to objects. From the perspective of OOP, Plato was unjust to objects as all objects are merely a simulacrum of a transcendent ideality. Kant was unjust to objects, as objects become objects only through transcendental apperception, there is no object thing-in-itself. Heidegger was unjust to most objects, except those elevated to das ding. Even Whitehead, who doesn’t deny that there is a real world out there which is just as involved as any human being-in-the-world, doesn’t do justice to objects as such, only to in-process events of interconnected and fully relational substance. What does it mean to want to do justice to objects? Is justice something that can be said of anything other than from within humanity? What charges this call for justice if we are high upon our ontological tower of being at the ‘end of history’?
Organizations for environmental and animal justice continue to seek the elimination of speciesism in public discourse, while intellectually, arguments which challenge common doxa frame the hot debates of the 21st century. They bring forward a fundamental re-examination of objects, how we think, reduce, classify and use objects and what it means for us to be objects. Speciesism is rife in philosophy in what could be called correlationism, which privileges the human as the sight of all meaning and constitution of the world. Correlationism institutes a ‘species solipsism’ as Quentin Meillassoux (QM) suggests, such as Heidegger’s being-in-the-world, which eliminates all beings except for human Dasein from a world gathered by the logos. By challenging the tyranny of correlationism, OOP looks again at the unthought of justice.
If OOP could be said to articulate metaphysical and ontological principles (certainly Levi Bryant makes this claim especially conscious) we need to be attentive to what this means for justice, as the word ‘principle’ implies a quest for justice and law: principle – ‘a fundamental, primary, or general law or truth from which others are derived’ (dictionary.com). To propose new metaphysical principles is to desire the desedimentation of those existing principles one deems unjust. They are unjust because they conceal vested interests and false oppositions. Correlationism thus has a vested interest in the human and proposes the binary of subject in contrast to object. To ‘force’ the law of the subject.
If we use the Harmanian definition of metaphysics as the discussion of the fundamental traits of specific types of entities, Derrida can be understood as a metaphysician of language. Although Derrida reads Heidegger’s tool analysis in the ‘standard’ way, Harman and Derrida share the central tenant of the sway of ‘presence and absence’ inherited from Heidegger. It is here where the tetradic metaphorical moment occurs, as Derrida’s textual fetishism reverses not into obscurantism but into object realism. I believe that a large part of Harman’s own motivation for selecting such a path as realism comes as a reaction to limitations of deconstruction and hermeneutics which took Heidegger into the direction of inter-textual aporia.
In Force of Law, Derrida states that democracy “remains to come: to engender or regenerate” (p.46). Could this coming be the ‘democracy of objects’, as articulated by Buno Latour and looks to constitute the argumentative thrust behind Levi Bryant’s next book of the same name? For Latour, a democracy of objects means that all objects are mutually external and real in their own right: “an Adidas shoe is not just a shadow on a cave wall but an actor every bit as real as justice itself” (Prince of Networks, p.91). However, for Harman, he cannot accept Latour’s democracy precisely because it doesn’t recognise the genuine essence of objects as sustained through their non-relational withdrawn being. For Latour, all actors can only be because they relate, if they don’t relate they do not exist. This is why Latour’s ‘actors’ are not Harman’s ‘objects’ as they do not have independent essences. Consequentially, Latour places real and intentional objects on the same democratic ground. For Harman this gives away too much. So, as a supplement to Latour’s democracy of objects, Harman sees a polarization of objects, which isn’t the binary of natural or cultural worlds so eloquently disposed of by Latour in Politics of Nature, but recognition of a necessary split between the presence and absence that dictates how and why objects relate, change and assemble.
A flat ontology is an attempt at a base universality for all objects, while also respecting their subterranean withdrawn core, their essence and their individuality. It is this appeal to singularity amidst this universality that is the “experience of the impossible” – “Justice always expresses itself to singularity, to the singularity of the other, despite or even because it pretends to universality” (p.20). To even attempt to articulate the what is is a violence to the object, but a violence that is a liberation from the metaphysical and conceptual principles that must now be recognised as an injustice to objects. The recognition of the desire to bring justice requires decision not just to act but to act with urgency.
Derrida’s deconstruction showed how justice operates under the violence of the force of law. The problem arises from the moment of its apophantic articulation. To speak of justice, as Harman does, is to perform justice and to do violence to the existing order of justice, at the same time. “One cannot speak directly about justice, thematize or objectivize justice, say ‘this is just’ and even less ‘I am just’, without immediately betraying justice” (Force of Law, p. 10). Just as QM as a speculative materialist is trying to do justice to the absolute through acknowledging facticity not as a limitation towards thinking the absolute but as window that reveals the necessary contingency of the absolute, Harman is attempting to do justice to objects through the recognition of their untethered essence in an OOP. The desire is thus to make the discourses which sustain our everydayness, our symbolic life-world’s hierarchical stability, ‘tremble’. To want justice is to show the tension between the is and as. For QM, it is to radicalise the absolute by grasping events which are incalculable and unpredictable yet continue to be mathematical over the artistic, poetic or religious (‘After Finitude’: p.108). This is to do violence to the doctrines and principles of the paradigms which structure our intellect. These are not critiques for the sake of truth, but to force the law of subject over object to yield to what was always already revealed and concealed within the brutal attempts to think being.
OOP remakes the law to respond to the injustice of the object. This is not a demand for any justice. It is not the Heideggerian Dike, the harmonious conjoining of entities gathered together in accord and in-joint, the concealing-revealing movement of alethia. Heideggerian Dike for Derrida is droit, the law of association that risks repressing the relation to the other, as justice cannot be made present and perfectly in accord, but must be out-of-joint as it is always already an irreducible excess. To make time-out-of joint is the OOP imperative to view objects as their own time and space. They are not to be brought into any human bound teleology of cumulative history… the essence of any object sustains its own history within its ‘vacuum sealed molten core’. Justice is recognition of this dis-juncture of time, the other as other, the object as object.