A question on correlationism: Or, Why I am not really into OOO

I will openly admit that I have not read very much on Object-Oriented Ontology, and that’s because I feel as though I have a very basic objection that isn’t the kind of thing further study or nuance would fix: the whole critique of correlationism basically makes no sense to me. From what I understand, correlationism seems to take the Kantian position that we can’t get at the things themselves apart from our human filters (the a priori structure of human experience) and then takes the next step and says that the only thing that’s important or even really real about things is what they are for us. So far, so good — I’m not 100% sure any major philosopher has actually held a correlationist position as described (though in practice obviously capitalism presupposes such an attitude), but I can agree that it’s a bad thing.

For me, the most intuitive next step to take is the Hegelian one: the apparent obstacle keeping us from the things is in fact inherent to the things themselves. This is a “negation of negation” insofar as the frame that rendered the gap a mere negation is kicked away. By contrast, insofar as I understand the OOO approach, it seems to be a simple negation of correlationism — instead of privileging the human-object relation, it wants to get rid of the problem altogether by going straight for object-object relations, and the human-object relationship is accordingly denigrated, so that even drawing analogies with human experience is somehow inherently correlationist.

So in our recent discussions, it doesn’t matter whether Derrida is actually talking about things outside of texts — he’s still correlationist because he uses language as a model. I don’t understand that objection, though. Shouldn’t the pattern of object-object relations and human-object relations be analogous, if humans really are just one object among others? Totally disqualifying human relations seems to just repeat the dyad between humans and everything else, only it reverses the valuation: object-object relations are what are really important, while human-object relations are scorned. Perhaps this is just a necessary initial gesture to get things moving and make sure that you don’t fall back into correlationism, and maybe if I delved into the literature I’d see that pointing all this out is unfair — but the fact that this is the pattern that reveals itself in conversation seems relevant.

From a basically Hegelian perspective, I would say — and maybe OOO advocates could ultimately agree on some level — that the fact that objects appear to us, if viewed rightly, doesn’t keep us from reaching the object, but rather shows us that the object is always already other than itself, always already split or inconsistent. The fact that we learn of this from human experience doesn’t necessarily submit objects to human ends and purposes (after all, where else could we learn it?) but rather shows us that we, too, are a particular kind of object, one that can never arrive at full self-consistency, can never master reality and make it conform to our plans. From this perspective, the very contrast of correlationism and object-orientation (or at least the contrast that announces itself in casual conversation, if not in the more rigorous investigations, etc.) ceases to make sense — the fact that we started from human experience isn’t the “smoking gun” showing that we’re still correlationists, but is rather the ladder that we climb and then kick out from under us in the mutual becoming of substance and subject.

13 thoughts on “A question on correlationism: Or, Why I am not really into OOO

  1. Did you find Meillassoux’s argument at all convincing? As an argument against the letter of Kant’s text, it seems pretty strong.

  2. I’m not familiar in detail with his argument — it falls under the broad heading of stuff that, due to these objections, I’m not sure is worth extended research. (Lest OOO advocates feel singled out, I feel the same way about Badiou.)

  3. The Meillassoux I’ve read is pretty cool. It’s definitely on a different level from the other S.R. stuff. After Finitude has to be the clearest work of continental philosophy I’ve encountered in years.

    Meillassoux isn’t all that concerned to show that objects are real (and he tends to reject the moniker “speculative realism” in favor of “speculative materialism”). He’s more interested in the claim that the limits of what we take to be the human standpoint–i.e., finitude–can be surpassed. In this sense, he’s fairly close to Hegel (and, I think, to Derrida, though for Derrida finitude obviously has a different role to play).

  4. Regarding “inconsistency”: It strikes me, insofar as i’ve followed OOO, Spec Realism, etc, that the intriguing silence is with regard to Deleuze, for whom subjects and objects are irreducibly inconsistent, such that correlationism as well as “realism” are equally false alternatives (i imagine they’d form a kind of fraternal rivalry). Also, regarding L.Auch’s latter point, Deleuze is absolutely in favor of thinking beyond the limits of the human.

  5. Meillassoux addresses Deleuze (through Bergson) in a nice piece in the third issue of Collapse (and he dedicates the reading to Francois Zourabichvili). Grant and Brassier both deal with Deleuze at length in their respective books. Harman is the only one who, to my knowledge, has never written on Deleuze. I assume that Bryant will deal with Deleuze a bit in his forthcoming book. And of course there’s Badiou’s work on Deleuze (if you associate Badiou with S.R.).

  6. I had Harman in mind, primarily, given Adam’s focus on the question of objects. I read Meillassoux’s piece and thought it was quite interesting, but if I remember correctly it was not a straightforward engagement with his thought as such. The insistence on a primarily Bergsonian reading seems inadequate to me. Do you see, in any/all of these pieces that you’re citing, a convincing claim that Deleuze is a “correlationist”?

  7. Only in the sense that he “absolutizes the correlate” in the way that Hegel does.

    There are probably two ways to make this reading stick.

    On the one hand, you can move Deleuze in the direction of some variation of vitalism. On the other, you can focus on the way that Deleuze passes through Kantianism (in the same way that, e.g., Maimon does).

    Either way, my sense is that Deleuze is less of a target for Meillassoux than Heidegger is. Again, I don’t think that Meillassoux has any great argument against absolutizing the correlate.

  8. Yes, it strikes me that Deleuze and (a certain reading of) Hegel inhabit the same locale in the philosophical world mapped by anti-correlationism. Which, to me, is precisely the interesting place to be. In other words, I’m not sure exactly what the appeal is of saying that “correlationism” is the enemy (even as i can understand wanting to get beyond a certain finitist horizon of the human). I would be fascinated to see a kind of “meta” argument/essay advanced as a plea of why desire should be invested in this as the enemy.

  9. Well, the reason why correlationism is the enemy is actually fairly accurately sumarised in Milbank’s intervention into the debate. The reason Kant is a problem for RO, is, of course, because he forecloses metaphysics (it’s interesting, or not, that the earlier milbank premised his calls for transcendence on rescuing the world from Pomo, which revealed the need for a faith behind the flux of analysis after Plato, whereas as continental philosophy has moved on it is a far more direct move via badiou or similar). The same is true of speculative realism proper, in it’s various forms. Critiquing correlation allows, in their view, permits access to the ‘great outdoors’ of highwire metaphysics, which is why they seem to like Deleuze as he was already doing this.

  10. This is excellent. “Ontology” has become a much misused term that is both nostalgic for and, unfortunately, in the service of obtuse epistemologies intended as “substitutes” for it’s original significance. “Ontology” ought to stand as a placeholder for philosophy’s “desire for” both, the experience of, and explication of Revelation and/or Grace. Ultimately “Ontology” is a category that remains incomplete, since it implies the alteration of self-awarenes and “communal-awareness” (think Pentecost) by the Divine. Ideally, “Ontology” and “The Ontological Argument[s]” correlate. An inverse of Anselm’s argument is, I think, present to us in the Modern and psychoanalytic “space”; that is: since humankind is Creature and Not Creator, and, Humankind is a knowing (thinking, cognitive), linguistic and communicative being (creature, NOT animal), we are, by default, in relation to an invariably greater person (and/or Mind, as in Alvin Plantinga) whose name is, God, and within whom both being, and, negation of being are integrated (Mystery). We are in this sense subject to both God and his Creation. What is Man that God should want Him? A rhetorical question stands before us: it is God’s Will (a perfect, holistic, Will) that he should want both us, and Creation, wherein, we are, as cultural and “Historic” beings. Our Salvation through Christ may have been preordained, but our awareness of this act of forgiveness (the forgiveness of Adam’s Sin) occurs both within the historical and cultural milieu. Thus we are bound (see Hegel on the Trinity) to God and His Sacrifice in our Saviour; a gratuitous, yet entirely Loving and benificent act, that is, and has been, God’s will; the contingent actualities of our perception of God’s action of Salvation in history (and, in Time) creates a dynamic tension: of the preordained, and, human experience; within this paradox, culture, worship and soteriology are revealed to us as manifest, and as Revelation
    —Donald Lindeman (D.W. Lindeman), NYC area

  11. ‘’I’m not 100% sure any major philosopher has actually held a correlationist position as described’’

    Sure but correlationism is, I think, his name for antirealism (the “…contemporary opponent of any realism” Time without Becoming, 1) and he is not out to reject it. His anti-correlationist argument he calls an aporia. He wants to show how a certain problem seems to upset the all too easy relationship of contemporary philosophy to the correlation in disbarring access to the absolute. His main goal is to think the absolute (AF, 1). He also claims that the various correlationisms are “…extraordinarily varied in themselves” so it is not meant as a blanket critique of some kind of string idealism and he takes different approaches depending on who he is critiquing and there is a distinction made between weak and strong correlationism (TWB, 1). It is raised as an aporia, not a refutation. To get a handle on it you’d need to look at the first chapter of AF (the ancestral argument) but even this is not the crux of his thinking.

    The correlationist critique all but disappears by the third chapter. He thinks you can think the in-itself but that the in-itself is purely/radically contingent. This is the only knowledge you can *demonstrate* about it. You are free to describe the world phenomenologically (he says this in relation to Harman’s OOO in the Collapse III proceedings). As Gratton recognized there is a division of labour open to Meillassoux between realism/antirealism, correlation/anti-correlation etc. You don’t need to take sides according to his schematic. The key move in his anti-correlationism is to show that when correlationist thinking decides that not only are sensible qualities determined on our side but also primary ones we find ourselves incapable of accounting for what he calls arche-fossils.

    These he claims can only be made meaningful if we allow for a non-correlated mathematical element or trace in things in the ancestral realm. So he wants to bring mathematics back into the picture and basically agrees with Badiou that with Hegel we end up with a kind of Romanticization of philosophy that evolves into our progressive severence from the sciences. Most of it is hinged upon the ‘bad’ notion of infinity one finds in pre-Cantorian philosophy and he critiques most correlationist and pre-correlationist thinking (Hume) on this basis i.e. probabilistic reasoning, chance etc. in relation to natural laws.

    So it is not really about objects at all although OOO has found an interesting way to bring correlationism to bear upon the articulation of what it sees as an over-emphasis on the human subject (I think their critique is more the *dominance* of these approaches. I am not sure they want to do away with them in toto). I really think you should take a look at AF. It is a stunning book. More broadly his work also deals with theological issues (in Spectral Dilemma), Deleuze (Subtraction and Contraction), and the latter half of AF is just plain fascinating.

    Hegel, who many claim is Meillassoux’s hidden influence, is not so much a problem in his phenomenological description, but in his positing of necessity (Meillassoux takes the teleological classic metaphysical reading of Hegel on board which is what Zizek pulls him up on). The disagreement between the two hinges on this alone for the most part since there is room in Meillassoux’s thinking for what Hegel does. He simply rejects Hegel’s privileging of human-temporal time (ditto for Heidegger of course). So let us say I am reading Hegel through Meillassoux. I agree with Hegel that substance has its own Wirkliches and this is an objective unity – the real. The operation of consciousness in that objective unity is an encounter between the two that generates Bewusstsein. Etc. etc. But I just claim nothing more than Hegel can never prove the necessity of what occurs here. This is the endless trope of Meillassoux’s thinking. T

    he only necessity he is willing to demonstrate (contra Hegel’s *description* here of how Substance and Subject interact) is found behind the phenomena and accessed by intellectual intuition. He says somewhere ‘I am a rational and so I believe what reason says.’ Quite Hegelian! But he wants to think what all this means in the absence of an absolutist metaphysics based on the principle of sufficient reason (so he accepts the destruction of metaphysics, and contra most Heideggerians, wants to provide us with a new one that does not rely on this principle). So his anti-correlaitonism is how he gets the ball rolling since, unlike Hegel, he cannot posit any kind of Anderswerden whose necessary reason is accessible to the human subject (and even here we could still continue our description of how that experience occurs to a subject i.e. correlationally, but he just wish not to privilege it any more. This to me would be the essence of his thinking so far).

    Sorry for rambling especially since I find making comments quite difficult!

  12. To add to what Paul said about reading After Finitude, it is so lucid (and brief) that I read almost half of it using search tricks on Amazon’s preview. While it certain warrants more time than this, it is easily read in an afternoon.

  13. ^Agreed. My first reading was a plane/train trip to Germany (around 3-4 hours). So worth picking up. It seems to me that most people that read it tend to have a positive view of it – even if only for Meillassoux’s writing style (a ‘philosopher’s philosopher’ if ever there was one).

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