Sunday 3 June 2012

Maelstrom of Nonsense

Comment on:

Wow. Quite a maelstrom of nonsense we've got going on here! Difficult to know quite where to jump in.

Might as well respond to Alex's last comment: "if ontology and politics are entirely separate domains" -- nobody seems to be making this claim. Ontology and politics aren't 'domains.' Ontology is the philosophical study of what is, politics is the process through which people form, contest and contest the formation of collective human being. 'Realm' [or domain] doesn't seem to be an appropriate term. It implies a divided spatiality that is difficult to conceive of and it implies a juridical separation that just misses the point. They are simply different practices practiced in different places for different reasons. They're different things.

The claim being made is that accounts of what is (i.e. ontology) should not (a) be determined by politics and cannot (b) determine any political position, practice or possibility.

This does NOT mean that ontology and politics are hermetically sealed realities, totally parallel to each other. In fact they meet in a variety of ways. To describe but a few:

-- Firstly, our accounts of what is profoundly shape how we understand ourselves, the world we live in and without an ontology all politics -- and all life, really -- would be literally unthinkable. Moreover, any political movement that lacked any grasp on reality would fail immediately. In fact it could never come together in the first place. Therefore, politics presupposes ontology.

-- Secondly, while accounts of being cannot determine any political thought or action that might derive from them there are certainly some ontological claims that are heavily politically loaded; e.g. Thatcher's claim that there is no such thing as society. Ontology can be politicised, it can be politically significant but that doesn't make ontology altogether political. You can only politicise something that isn't first of all political.

-- Thirdly, while we might say that there is being with no human beings there surely is no ontology without ontologists. Ontologists engage in ontology and produce this ontology, criticise that ontology, etc. Ontology is the name of their practice not their research subject (that's 'being'). Therefore, as fallible, embodied, emplaced, 'thrown' human persons no one should ever claim that their ontological pronouncements issue from a non-position, outside all social influence or historical particularity (or politics). Anyone claiming such a thing in this day and age would be a comical fossil at best and a tyrant at worst. Fortunately, neither Harman nor Bryant nor anyone affiliated with them make this claim.

Politics and ontology can be intertwined in many ways but they're still different things and one can quite easily talk all day about ontology without getting into politics. Ontology readily bumps up against politics and is easily politicised but that does not mean that it SHOULD be politicised -- and it certainly shouldn't be politicised all the time.

So, our accounts of what is (our ontologies) must be generated, influenced and informed by much, much MORE than politics alone. This doesn't make these things hermetically sealed discursive jurisdictions -- far from it. But it DOES mean that any given politicisation of ontology must be undertaken FOR A REASON. It is not the default position.

Ontology isn't always already political -- nothing is. Nothing is political which isn't first politicised.

And this isn't 'apolitical,' by the way. The really apolitical position is that which says that 'everything is political' as if politics were some smoggy, unbreakable shroud enveloping absolutely every being, everywhere from miserable cradle to wretched grave.

Politics is a pretty inglorious business most of the time. I really don't understand why so many people take it as the master signifier to end all master signifiers. I'm really rather GLAD that politics is not omnipresent. A world in which it was would be a true dystopia. Fortunately it only exists as a utopia of the foolish.

And as for the claims that granting reality to corporations justifies their political enfranchisement ... well, my mind boggles at that. That would only be the case if ontology and politics were fused. Only then would the granting of ontological thing-hood simultaneously be the granting of political personhood.

And they're not fused...