The interviewer, Thiago Pinho, a PhD student, dived straight in and asked Harman how he would define Object Oriented Ontology (OOO), a term that Harman himself did not conceive. It was Levi Bryant in 2009 who labelled Harman’s approach as such. Harman had chosen to label his work as Object Oriented Philosophy in 1999. Harman replied by talking about two features of OOO. The first feature being the idea of a flat ontology – that all objects are considered equal and human-beings are not different in kind from other objects. The second is that there are two dualisms governing the universe. The first being the withdrawn reality versus the accessible perceptive reality and the second between objects and their qualities. I found this a very helpful summary of the key takeaways of OOO from Harman himself, and a succinct way of explaining it to my PhD supervisors.
Pinho then asked Harman in what ways he agreed with Bruno Latour’s Actor Network Theory and where they differed. Harman indicated that he believed that Latour’s key contribution was in recognising that modernity defines reality as two pure zones – human beings and everything else – rather than Harman’s flat ontological view. However, Harman did not consider Latour’s solution to this modern duality by suggesting a hybrid model, where human and non-humans are present everywhere and at all times and reality can only exist through human intervention, is tenable.
Harman was asked about whether he believed his ontology to be too radical in terms of comparing human beings to all other objects. Harman said that this was his starting point and that metaphysics must begin without any pre-existing views of the world. In this regard, he used the example of pre-Kant philosophers’ who assumed that the Creator and the created were different in kind from each other.
And finally a question from Pinho about the art world’s centrality to OOO – what role does art play in your theory? Harman replied by referring back to David Hume who reduced apples to bundles of qualities and humans to bundles of perceptions – so reducing an object to the sum total of its properties. Harman on the other hand believes that an object is more than a sum of its parts. He argues that aesthetic experience drives a wedge between objects and their qualities, thus requiring the beholder to step into the objects’ shoes. Artistic experience leads to the withdrawal of the object and requires us to replace it.
A very useful article and some interesting questions and answers. I think the short question and answer format encouraged some succinct summaries of the key points of OOO from Harman.
So the moral of this story is don’t judge a book (or magazine) by its cover!
PINHO, Thiago. 2020. Graham Harman in Philosophy Now, August/September 2020.