Curating the AUFS experience

Even after being definitively taken down, Object-Oriented Ontology appears to be going strong. Every day, it seems, we hear new stories of people rejecting correlationism and approaching objects as equals. In many ways, it’s inspiring.

To what can we attribute this success? I wouldn’t be too quick to assume that the ideas themselves deserve all the credit. After all, there are a lot of interesting ideas in the world, and few have managed to capture the heart of a generation. Why have these ideas found such purchase in the academic world, and indeed the world at large? I think it is instructive to ask a similar question about Radical Orthodoxy: out of all the many crypto-conservative theologians who claim that their idiosyncratic reading of the Christian tradition is the solution to all the problems of modernity, why have they been singled out for such attention?

The answer, I think, is clear: successful branding. And that is precisely where AUFS has consistently failed. In the five and a half years that AUFS has been in operation, it has achieved many things, and yet we have never quite managed to coalesce into a proper movement. Indeed, it would probably be more accurate to call AUFS something of a “sensibility” — if I had to name a shared tendency within what one might call our “group,” it is an interdisciplinary promiscuity, most often coupled with (or even mediated through) an ambivalent relationship to the Christian intellectual tradition.

Such a sensibility does not make for much of a brand. (Nor does it help, but the way, that the full name of the blog is difficult to type due to the umlaut.) Yet many other brands have thrived despite even less promising raw materials, and so I think it is worth pushing forward. First of all, it seems clear that we need some type of logo. Once we have that, I think everything will be a lot clearer. For the time being, though, I encourage you all to start randomly throwing #aufs hashtags into your tweets (look up the #nodads hashtag to get an idea of the technique) to start “generating buzz.”

21 thoughts on “Curating the AUFS experience

  1. (Delurking for perhaps the second time in three years.)
    Personally AUFS is a guilty pleasure of mine, pinned to my browser tool bar for rapid access, but it’s all about the acronym. I’m a card-carrying OOO member (albeit without the T-Shirt or mug) and thinking about taking out some shares in MOO too, but I just can’t be seen in public with AUFS yet. It just isn’t dynamic, punchy or sexy enough for me. Please consider rebranding. From the working definition in this post, might I suggest something like: ACT (Ambivalent Christian Theology), or PACT (Promiscuous and Ambivalent Christian Theology), or IMPACT (Interdisciplinary Mediations of Promiscuous and Ambivalent Christian Theology). Come on, get with the programme, act with ACT, make a pact with PACT, make an … you get the idea.

  2. I’ll admit that this is a stupid post, purposely so. But there’s an element of self-satire to it as well. Obviously OOO and Radical Orthodoxy have had a bigger impact on their respective fields than anything AUFS has done yet, and good for them. There’s a little ressentiment in calling it “branding” (although there is obviously some of that going on) — it’s more having a clear point of view and agenda. I make fun of the “correlationism” framing, for instance, but obviously it’s convincing for a lot of people.

    That kind of clarity can be taken too far — I think more than whatever hand we had in the “downfall” of RO’s influence, there was just a growing sense that they were not in a position to deliver on their claims that RO’s analogical ontology really was the most capacious, etc., as compared to the empty nihilism of modernity, since it was abundantly clear that the whole RO schema was getting more and more ossified (and incidentally leading to some politically unpalatable views as well). There seems to be a more inherent flexibility to OOO that lets it get taken up into a lot of different fields of inquiry, so they probably won’t meet a similar fate. (And really, the comparison is in many ways unfair since the only real commonality between the two is that they are self-consciously proclaimed “schools of thought” that have a big following in internet circles contiguous to ours.)

    I have evinced a kind of Beautiful Soulism with marketing, etc., when really I’m just incompetent at it. I’d love to sell as many books as Harman or Milbank, though. And I don’t know if I really have the disposition to be the “head” of a school of thought or whatever, since my strategy seems to be to take up residency in the margins. If I had a clear brand and marketing message, I’d probably feel like I was doing something wrong — and maybe that’s something wrong for me, a self-undermining behavior that’s keeping me from making the impact I’d hope to make.

  3. I hoped everyone realized this was a joke/self-satire…

    That said, I got to meet Levi Bryant in real life and I am thinking of carving out some time to read his Democracy of Objects next year. I have read some Harman and really wasn’t taken with it, though his discussion of the fourfold helped me deal with some things in my dissertation. But I have some real affinities with aspects of Bryant’s project, due in part to lots of shared coordinates.

    As for RO, clearly it’s over and only attracts very thin readers now. I don’t think much needs to be said there anymore.

  4. I should also add that the “definitive take-down” thing was always ridiculous hyperbole. It was fun that the post prompted such a huge response, but I always felt the methodology of claiming to have totally destroyed Harman’s philosophy by pointing out an unreflective attitude that he was in the process of saying he had rejected and was totally rethinking was… questionable.

  5. Quite appreciate the self-satire of the post, simply pushing the logic in an appropriate direction (e.g. rebranding with a sexy acronym).

    @Brad. I was, however, taking this claim of Adam’s seriously: ‘if I had to name a shared tendency within what one might call our “group,” it is an interdisciplinary promiscuity, most often coupled with (or even mediated through) an ambivalent relationship to the Christian intellectual tradition.’ But I appreciate one could separate ambivalent Christian theology from a certain kind of relationship with the Christian intellectual tradition.

    @Anthony. I’ll send you a copy of the paper. It was a little lightweight, and could have been rather different, especially as I’ve recently started to engage with Thacker’s dark pantheism. Very much enjoyed your paper.

    Ah well, back to lurking mode.

  6. Decadent perhaps, and perhaps I’m falling for the comment-thread peace-making which may be just as ironic as the post, but you’ll know yourself that book sales are relatively meaningless as a measure of influence and are certainly no guide to importance. Even if we accept this measure, and with the greatest respect, Harman versus Kotsko book sales is a little apples v. pears, no? Harman v. Zizek book sales will give a better idea of how peripheral the former is. And both pale in terms of the number of books sold each year on Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Wittgenstein, etc. The very small minority of adherents of OOO (20, 30 people?) is simply extremely vocal, have found a medium – an echo chamber – that lets them talk and self-advertise as if there is a movement. For the rest of us it’s a question of filtering out the noise if one wants to understand where philosophy is today. Mr Bryant is in one sense right to be paranoid – he *is* vastly outnumbered, though not by the straw man of ‘cultural studies’. That said, there will always be an audience for Romanticism in philosophy; there has been ever since the Enlightenment got going. Mr Morton finally achieves a moment of consistency when he enthuses about Wordsworth or Shelley. Given the blind trajectory of capitalist development the romantic reaction with its easy answer of re-animating the world or enthroning the noumenon will be a constant temptation. It would be surprising if this easy message *didn’t* sell well. And it can always reinvent itself every few years if sales are flagging.

  7. As I live in France I tend to give your acronym a French pronunciation: “au” is pronunced like a long “o”, the “s” is silent, so that gives us “oaf”. If you added the Christian fish symbol, that would give a nice rebus (AUF>) pronounced “oafish”.

  8. It does seem that our brand is crucially dependent on polemics. We’ve obviously done all we can with our previous targets, so I wonder if we should pick something else. Digital Humanities jumps out at me as a possible choice.

  9. @APS – don’t waste your time on The Democracy of Objects. Levi might be a good fellow in person, but he’s still a sub par “thinker” – I’m sure you have better things to do than to read that book – give us some more Laruelle, I’d hate to think you are taking valuable time from your translation duties reading what is essentially a complication of citations/names without much philosophy in between…

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