Erasure and Objects

Lately, I have been wondering status of objects.

Levi Bryant over at Larval Subjects posited that correlationism implies the erasure of objects, and in Graham Harman’s Tool Being, the time for relational ontologies is now past.

The issue is not some hackneyed attempt to champion the sciences and objectivity over meaning, but to draw attention to the material dimensions of how we dwell and live. Today, more than ever, we need to reflect on whether the tools of deconstruction, phenomenology, psychoanalysis, Marxist critical theory, and semiotics are adequate to thinking the world we dwell in and how these theoretical orientations might erase the fundamental materiality of existence. This erasure is so thorough that it’s difficult to even discern when working within these theoretical frames for, after all, one can only see what one can see, and being is here reduced to meaning. This critical reflection is not undertaken to erase these methodologies– quite the contrary –but to mark their limits, note their blindspots, and develop a theoretical frame capable of both preserving what is vital in these forms of thought and of moving beyond those limitations. This is what is at stake in the critique of correlationism. Materiality is not phenomenality, a lived experience, a meaning, nor a text– though it can affect all of these things –but something with its own dynamics and forms of power. We need a form of theory capable of thinking that and that avoids the urge to treat everything as texts, meanings, and correlates of intentions

For those not in the know, correlationism is a loose term to encompass all philosophies in the Post-Kantian European tradition in which the reality of an object correlates to consciousness, and this relation reduces meaning of an object to meaning-for-us. This is especially true for phenomenology. Now, phenomenology was meant to overcome an excess of materiality in which the natural attitude was thought to be all encompassing. The subject got lost when the constitutive function of intentionality was forgotten and the natural attitude of what motivates, I think, Bryant’s emphasis on materiality, sought to reduce all things to the third-personal natural attitude of science itself.

Could it be that the inverted excessiveness of materiality got lost with the exhaustive skepticism of phenomenology? Could it be that phenomenology concealed the object as Harman is indicating in Tool Being and does that really speak to complete erasure? Does that erasure, even if true, mean that we then swing the pendulum of our philosophical concern to again the same excessiveness of the natural attitude that calls for materiality?

Initially, the above post of Bryant linked an article by Clive Hamilton on how some philosophies promoted an ontological separation between human beings and nature. This ontological separation is damaging when it comes to linking the responsibility human beings have in reshaping the planet completely. Moreover, the dangers of these metaphysical distinctions promote culturally, as in climate change, pose a significant danger. No pragmatist can argue with that.

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