Little Dramas Staged / Plotting from History / Projective Theory of Technology

Object Oriented Philosophy (OOP) – or turning the Style of Neue Sachlichkeit into a philosophical Doctrine ?

This post ist stimulated by a recent lecture given by Gilles Retsin at the CAAD Chair at ETH in Zurich entitled “Object Oriented Design”. It raised an interesting thought regarding this new and highly popular theory wave called Object Oriented Philosophy or Object Oriented Ontology (associated with Graham HarmanLevi Byrant, Timothy Morton a.o.), which is emphatically welcomed by many of my collegues who are interested the contemporary political/economical situation, contemporary technology and its impacts on “reconsidering” some very old philosophical legacies. A great interest in questions of ontology, metaphysics, in short, issues of the most fundamental order, are coupled with an interest to overcome all diagonality (incommensurability) gaping between assorted compartments in whatever model whoever might come up with. In the application of the capacities of parametric programming undoubtedly yields an alien and striking aesthetics in architecture, design and gaming environments (cf the sample images below). But in its philosophical implications, it is quite  a different matter. The problem of incommensurability might be overcome, OOP and OOO seem to think, if only we consider the generic objectivity which is suggested to be common to all things existing as a sort of a continuous substrate. This, of course, would introduce grounds for shifting the tiresome debates of existence and differences in nature to a generic level of a common subsistence – generic object-orientation. This interest in a generic objectivity is shared in architecture for the same reason of the same technology driven developments as in OOP and OOO. Parametricism is the label coined by the architecture office of Zaha Hadid, and especially put forward in its theoretical backing up by Patrick Schumacher. In a two volume Ouevre on Parametricism Schumacher is postulating it as “the New Global Style” in continuation of the Neue Sachlichkeit (translated into english as New Objectivity/Sobriety) of the mid-war period Germany. Neue Sachlichkeit too was highly engaged with the changes in technologies of production and fabrication. It is a movement of the 1910-1930 (roughly) which is seen today as the expression of impatience with Historicism in art, architecture and literature, where the protagonists of this movement eventually broke the way for modern Industrial Design and the International Style in architecture. The declared ambition was to end, once and for all, any debate about Style (in the Nietzschean sense) and the building of Collective Identity which, as they realized, was strongly entangled with questions around the ethos of a people (Volk) and nationalism, and as such clearly opposed to a commitment to socialism and internationality as the future form of politics. Neue Sachlickeit was carried by radical “Protagoras-ism” which consisted in putting a normalized notion of the human at the center of its metrics proposing (in architecture) social standards in its programmatics of the Existenzminimum, subsistence dwelling in terms of minimally-acceptable floorspace, density, fresh air, access to green space, access to transit, and other such resident issues. This affirmation of violent “normalization” (which must be understood in its historical context of emerging industrialization etc) resonates awkwardly with the key interest of OOP etc to counter “anthropocentrism” (cf a post by Steven Shaviro on this). One can easily draw a parallel between this current impatience with “anthropocentrism” and the impatience prevalent in the Neue Sachlichkeit against the Bürgerlichkeit of Jugendstil, Expressionism and Historicism. The radicality of this impatience today, which wants to treat stones, political policies, credit cards or the symbolic form of a triangle within one and the same philosophical register, as a parametrizable objects, while leaving the question of incommensurability unaddressed, or, perhaps, answered by declaring it irrelevant –  I can understand this as political and architectonic activism, but not as philosophy or theory. I understand that  OOP and OOO, and Speculative Realism are labels accommodating quite diverse directions of thought, and not at all in agreement in all the aspects involved. But they all attempt to achieve an abstraction (would they call it “concretion”?) that allows to overcome the gap between Universe(s) of Discourse and Reality (the attention to this gap as a gap Quentin Meillassoux calls “correlationalism”, which is the medium for another related movement called Speculative Realism – cf the journals speculations–a journal of speculative realism and collapseas well as the book series New Metaphysics edited by Graham Harman and Bruno Latour at Open Humanities Press). Yet, it seems to me, if there is any genuine philosophical interest in OOP and OOO or Speculative Realism, would not such an abstraction from the gap between Universes of Discourse and Reality, epistemology and political activity, need to accommodate the devastatingly difficult question of incommensurability in a more robust and settled manner than the heated impetuousness of the pre-World War II period managed to do? To this aspect, I can find little considerations in the rather agitative literature around. Hence my question in the title of this post: is not this new “theory wave”, despite its declared “ethics to overcome anthropocentrism”, mainly an attempt of turning the Style of Neue Sachlichkeit into a Philosophical Doctrine? I would like to cite a crack-nut passage from another contribution to the issue at stake (objectivity and philosophical incommensurability) by Jean-Yves Girard, who finds a very elegant (and very abstract) – but equally impatient! – form of putting it. His reference point is not the intuitive café du commerce (as he might say it in the French way) of instantiated technology and its effectively performed power and aesthetics (object-oriented programming, parametrics, etc), but the status and understanding of the mathematics behind this technology. “The Phantom of Transparency”  is the title of an article from which I want to cite here, where Girard argues the math behind the (generic, algebraic) technology of today is ill-conceived if we consider it as leading to “another side of the mirror where all questions one might reasonably ask are already answered”. It is not hard to make a relation here between the phantom of transparency and the generic substrate of objectivity common to all things equally (to paraphrase the postulates of  OOP and OOO). The interesting thought that arises from making this relation between Girard’s critique on viewing Logics as a Path to the Land of Transparency, and what we could allegorically call OOP’s “Socialist Utopia or Promised Land lying in an Ontology of Actual Continuity” is the following: Would not OOP’s Utopia promise to come into reach for those who follow a logic which is committed exclusively to the arithmetic form for continuous progression (summation), just like the logics which is supposed to be a Path to Transparency thematized by Girard? In terms of philosophical ontology, this means to conceive of different potentials in terms of summation as well – by discretion of potentials into possibilities which can be added. And it is here where the arithmetics of continuous progression is bluntly insufficient for dealing with the symbolic abstractness of the algebraic constitution proper to generic forms – Girard has the following easy and illustrative example of the potential of money to make the point (his point would undoubtedly increase in complexity if here were using money as handled in IT logistics with Credit Cards, Micro Banking etc, but it is difficult enough as he puts it here):

For instance, can one say that a 200 Euro bill is the catalogue of everything we can buy with it ? Even neglecting the variability of price, one should make room for discontinued merchandises, or those not yet produced ! No, a 200 Euro bill is a question whose answer belongs in its protocol of circulation: one can exchange it against a merchandise of nominal value 200 Euro, but also against two 100 Euro bills. The merchandise can, in turn, be partially implicit, witness this DVD reader which requires a disk to proceed. We discover on the way that the explicitation need not be total: it can be purely formal, or even partial; in other terms, the implicit may refer, totally or partially, to other implicits.

More generally, throughout his entire text Girard makes an important point regarding a certain hegemonic dynamics of such a “realist” (in the “number theoretical” sense of “actually continuous”) logics of summation and (semantic) concreteness:

Kripke models do crystallise this vision of the potential as a sum of possibilities, thence their paradoxical importance: although faulty, this idea is indeed difficult to refute, since of quasi universal implementation. Thus, (thanks, Brouwer !), a function will never be a graph, but an implicit structure, a construction, given, for instance, by a program: “give me an input, an argument n and I return you F (n)”. It turns out that one can, nevertheless, “define”  F through the associated graph {(n, F (n)); n ∈ N}, which is, stricto sensu, a monstrous reduction, but what is also incredibly efficient. Thence the success of set theory and the concomitant washing up of Brouwer’s ideas which became subjectivistic, “intensional” (after “meta”, yet another swear word).

Gilles Retsin

Zaha Hadid Architects

Patrick Schumacher’s Parametricism

[cf my post on The Integrity of Objects – Design, Information, and the Form of Actuality where I try to develop something like the inverse to the generic notion of objects, by considering it in terms of artifacts. On the intellectual space that I think might perhaps accommodate such a generic notion of artifacts cf my post and lecture Articulating Quantities – When Things Depend on Whatever May Be the Case; and on thoughts about an architectonic form for a world Where Things are Public (as Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel put it in their exhibition and anthology) – cf. my post Within the Republic of Things – What Architectonic Form Would the Roman Capitol Have if it Were Transformable Today into a Philosophical School?].

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