the anti-political aesthetics of objects and worlds beyond - svenja bromberg

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    By Svenja Bromberg , 25 July 2013

    Politics / Philosophy /Art

    Image: Sanna Marander 'Solid Objects', installation view of The Return of the Object, at Invaliden1, Berlin, curated by Stefanie Hessler

    Now that immaterial and affective labour seem to be waning as subjects for art, a fascination with the radical

    contingency ofthe material world has grown to take their place. Through close readings of the speculative

    realist philosophy that so inspires contemporary aesthetics, Svenja Bromberg pin-points the anti-politics

    inherent in this turn

    What do we see when we linger for a moment on what is now celebrated as the turn towards objects in theoverlapping spaces of art and philosophy? At first glance, a colourful potpourri of theories that have gained widerecognition in an extremely short time span, especially through their presence in both the blogosphere and the

    classical academic sphere.1 The thinkers featuring most prominently are Graham Harman with his Object-OrientedOntology, and Quentin Meillassoux, who became best known for coining the critical term correlationism in his first

    major workAfter Finitude.2 In this term Meillassoux summarises the generalised antirealist stance of all ofcontinental philosophy in its understanding of all perception as being always already correlatedwith a human, andtherefore subjectivist, perspective. But first I want to touch on something that I started to consciously acknowledge inrelation to the publicity around the dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel in 2012, before before going deeper into thesetheories as such in order to disentangle and clarify their positions.

    The exhibitions curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev left no doubt as to the enormous impact object-orientedontology had had on the development of her aesthetic. Since dOCUMENTA there has been a real explosion in artexhibitions that explicitly centre around objects and articulate a relation to the philosophical strand of Object-
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    Oriented Ontolgy (OOO) / Speculative Realism (SR). Within this same cultural turn to the object we should alsoinclude a large conference entitledAesthetics of the 21st Centuryheld in Basel in September 2012, at whichHarman gave the keynote and an international array of artists, curators and theoreticians met with the shared

    objective of clarifying and discussing these philosophical currents.3 What has really motivated me to undertake thisinquiry is the fact that, while the continental philosophy scene seems to have retreated a bit from the initial frenzyaround these theoretical strands, it is now the art world with its artists, curators and critics that upholds a fidelity tothe promises of object-oriented theories. But what does it find in them and what do the theories themselves deliver interms of an aesthetics?

    The Turn Towards Objects: The hero is dead Long live the thing4

    There is at first a very material sense in which its advocates justify the turn to objects. We are at a point where ourfaith in the powers of the subject to critique and subvert reality, as grounded in Enlightenment theory, has been trulydefeated, not least by capitalisms now much discussed ability to demand precisely subjective emotional or

    affective investments in its exploitative machinery.5 Thus, it is not only the fact that subjects are always alreadysubjected, which we have learned from Foucault, Butler and other poststructuralists.6 But if capitalism wants us to

    be ever more alive, happy and truly engaged in shaping our own lives on the basis of the endless possibilities thisworld has to offer, then the critique offered by vitalist theories, aesthetic modes such as Bourriauds relationalaesthetics and more critical forms of emancipated spectatorship against an objectifying and alienating capitalist

    reality appear assimilated and defused.7 As Diedrich Diederichsen outlines in a recent e-flux article, it is preciselywhat was still antithetical to the Fordist assembly line different modes of dreaming dangerously or living authenticor alternative lives that seems to have become part of the post-Fordist imperative to produce a perfect self as a

    perfect thing.8 Smiles or grins, day-dreams and ways of being that could formerly help alleviate or escape thealienated existence of the labourer have themselves become reified as part of the requisite service we are

    compelled to provide.9 Diederichsen describes a sense, similar to the German theatre director Ren Pollesch in hisplay Love is Colder than Capitalin which all relations have become toxic and emotions have been rendered cold

    objects for capital.10 Thus, the primary concern seems to be with oppressive, exploitative and reified capitalist social

    relations and how to break out of them but the solutions were confronted with from the diverse strands of the newmaterialisms no longer lie in the critique of these relations, but rather in a nonrelational and un-dialectical gesture

    that posits the world of matter against the man-made disaster of a neoliberal existence.11

    The search for what Diederichsen calls de-reification ventures towards that which evades representation, which isnot rendered object qua instrumental reason but qua its own force, the dark, the mystic, the animate but soul-less something that is more truly cold and yet not cold at all. This line of argument, however which is echoed in HitoSteyerls emphatic call for us to finally accept the death of the subject and embrace the forces of construction anddestruction, of violence and the possibility stored within things problematically sidelines the classed, racialisedand gendered oppressions of capitalist reality. Within this, masses of people have never been granted any subject

    status in the first place and are, instead, rendered mere objects or even superfluous, because not productive, forcapital. From the point of view of these relations, the move towards accepting or even embracing objectification as initself emancipatory can be nothing more than a bad joke.
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    Image: Brian Jungen, Dog Run, dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, 2012

    This sentiment, which shares its focus with the new materialisms, tends to uphold a mind-body dualism in which thesubject is associated with the mind and the bad effects of Enlightenment rationalism, whereas the physical body withits pre-cognitive responses and movements is often, and rather miraculously, able to maintain a certainindependence from worldly subjections. Even if there is an investment in overcoming this dualism and a certaincaution against glorifying nature as the unchanging outside of the human world to be called upon when attempts toelevate culture fail, the new materialisms emphasis on pre-cognitive affects, feelings and touch in the realm of the

    natural, or as moments of matter receiving form, cannot escape the bodys prioritisation.12 This tendency towards

    an aesthetics through embodiment13, which finds its theoretical anchor in Brian Massumis work and other thinkersin the field ofAffect Studies, is still very much entangled with the human body and its ability to be drawn into new

    relational and animate fields through or as part of an artwork.14

    Under the influence of similar theoretical influences, especially Spinoza and Deleuze, paired with a Latourian notionof the actant, Jane Bennett pushes this aesthetico-materialist investment one step further towards properlyinorganic, nonhuman bodies. Interested in the material agency of natural bodies and technological artefacts,Bennett does not rest at a transindividual(ising) capacity of the vital forces that she finds in these things (thing-

    power), but thinks of them as impersonal, as being for themselves.15 Her project here is political, since she hopes toinduce in human bodies an aesthetic-affective openness to material vitality in order to give the nonhuman itsproper, equal place in the realm of the political in order to make possible a greener, more sustainable human

    culture.16 Politics must be thought, here, as an ecology that is made of human and nonhuman agents, which canequally shape and disrupt the common ground of existence. It is at this point that a vitalist-materialist aesthetics ofaffects and vibrations is paired with an overwhelming concern for a working environmental politics. This step from an

    ecology of human and non-human objects to the formation of a new political public that, together with worms, treesand aluminium as equally potent actants, is suddenly able to tackle formerly irresolvable problems such as climatechange, amounts to a nave attempt at redefining politics. One that sees its main challenge as defining the rightmeans and institutions of communication. While Bennetts fundamental assumption is that our current democracyfails because of an imbalance between nature and culture, or non-human and human participation, she fails to seethat any such horizontal relationship is foreclosed from a democracy that exists within a capitalist state in whichhumans, with their powers and needs, are necessarily divided from a relationship with nature and the political realm

    that is not mediated by capital and class.17

    What then are the specific contributions and promises of artworks that deal with the intersections between the world

    of matter and the human world, as demonstrated by the Blowup: Speculative Realities exhibition in Amsterdam,Kassels dOCUMENTA (13) and several other recent exhibitions?18 It is their radical inquiry into nature, non-humanmatter and life-forms that first strikes the eye. In these inquiries, whose serious concern for a re-opening of the dead-end of contemporary politics is often paired with an element of humour, nothing about natural objects such as clouds
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    or trees, or the life and communication of animals, or different lifeworlds and body parts is taken for granted.19

    Christov-Bakargiev defined this form of art, that has clear crossovers with the spheres of physics, biology andphilosophy as basic research [Grundlagenforschung] artists describe their activity as an inquiry into processesbeyond human control, into fields of possibility that have to do with poetics, wonder and mystery as opposed to

    mere reality.20 What matters is no longer that artworks have any direct critical or political meaning, as we haveplentifully encountered in the different forms of conceptual and explicitly political art of the last century, but that theassemblages and constellations of matter and worlds themselves might, as a progression, create discursivesignification.21 The gesture of object-oriented art is clearly one that does not allow for nature to remain the eternallyexcluded other of human existence, but makes it into something that art can investigate, situate, question and

    multiply re-imagine.22 This also challenges any straight-forward environmentalist approach that calls for theconservation of the what is, and renders questionable any easy translation into politics of the assemblagespresented by the artwork, such as those found in Bennetts work. In their partly humorous, partly sincere way, theseartistic ecologies call into question what really is and thus challenge any realist politics that is merely concerned withan immediate reality of subjects or objects. Moritz Gansen captures this artistic impetus sharply, when he names it

    an aesthetics of the strange art of cosmic dreaming.23 It is an aesthetics that is invested in exploring potentialities ofsingular objects and assemblages and in creating fundamentally new spaces of possibility.

    While Bennett is a well-established reference point for thinking the intersection of art and object-centered ecologies,it is, more than anyone, Graham Harman and Quentin Meillassoux, who have been referenced in relation to the

    various object-oriented art projects possibly based on their more openly speculative endeavours. This makes ittimely to investigate the space and quality of an aesthetics within Harmans and Meillassouxs own philosophicaltheories that allows us to speculate on how their theories intersect at a theoretical level with the art and aesthetics

    they have induced.24 Both start by fundamentally rejecting the consensus within continental philosophy to treat

    being and thought as one and the same.25 They thereby re-open the Kantian question What can I know? and theassociated grand ontological inquiries into the real that lies beyond its representations by the human mind, which

    Kant importantly named the in itself, to which the human transcendental subject has no direct access.26

    Harmans Object-Oriented Aesthetics

    In his object-oriented philosophy, Graham Harmans first step is to eliminate any Kantian gap between the world andthe subjects that perceive this world. Instead, all that exists are real objects as autonomous realities or individualsubstances. Humans themselves become objects, alongside fire, cotton and a tree. The real, as the realm of realobjects and therefore the realm of proper depth, exists independently for Harman. But, in contrast to many otherspeculative realists, it is simultaneously divided absolutely from any image or knowledge of it. The real, andtherefore real objects and their qualities, cannot be accessed or known directly. There is no direct relation but anabsolute rift between knowledge of the real and the real as such, which leads Harman to call his ontology a realismwithout a materialism. Part of his definition of objects as individual substances is that they do not stand in any directrelation with each other. The main question thus becomes how relations between objects occur at all and of what

    quality they are.

    With and against his main interlocutors Latour, Husserl, Heidegger and Levinas, Harman develops the answer of

    vicarious causation.27 Initially, real objects have no linkage and instead they withdraw from each other that is whycausation reappears as a question for philosophy in the first place. The only way objects can touch each other is bynot really touching, by developing a proximity that is close but never fully fuses with or exhausts the other substance:a vicarious relationship. They somehow melt, fuse, and decompress in a shared common space from which all are

    partly absent.28 Besides real objects and their qualities, there is a second category of objects sensual objects that rather than existing in a withdrawn state, lie directly in front of the perceiving agent as a unified whole: they aresurface appearances, the phenomena. But again, these sensual objects, even though they exist plentifully and in a

    shared perceptual space, do not fuse into each other, but endure a buffered causation.29 On the ground of thismetaphysical plane, no intentional agent, human or non-human, can ever exhaust an objects reality, neither throughtheoretical elaborations nor through practice. In his publication for the dOCUMENTA (13), Harman illustrates thisnon-relationship by utilising the image of Eddingtons two tables. But instead of siding with either a reality of the
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    physical, scientific table or the second table of everyday culture, Harman argues that [t]he real table is in fact a thirdtable lying between these two others, as it exists as an autonomous reality beyond any of its scientific or cultural


    Interaction, relationship, causation, linkage are finally the names for a complex process that can be initiated betweentwo real objects or two sensual objects only by a third intentional agent of the opposite type (in the first case sensual,in the second case real). Because, while real objects cannot touch each other, sensual objects always touch real

    ones, as they only exist for real objects.31

    Causality unfolds only on the interiority of minds, never in between thereal objects. That means, relations can only ever exist on the surface and never reach the depth of the real object anoperation in Harmans ontology that renders the surface the decisive realm, in so far as a sudden (mediated)appearance of a real object in between the many commonly residing sensual objects is always a potential forchange. Making the sensual realm the necessary mediator for any object relations is the step that renders aesthetics

    [] first philosophy32, because only the realm of aesthetics allows for the establishment of any relations betweensubstance and causation, which are divided by an ontological fission. Similarly, politics or ethics become forHarman questions of a specific form of coupling and uncoupling between real and sensual objects and therefore a

    question of the creation of new objects, which it is only ever possible to talk about on the level of aesthetics. 33

    Image: Sarah Ortmeyer, SAD EIS, installation view of The Return of the Object, at Invaliden1, Berlin

    The concepts that allow us to understand the specific position of art and artworks within Harmans metaphysicalaesthetics are sincerity and allure. Sincerity generally refers to the moment when a real and a sensual object enterinto a relation, when the former gets absorbed by the latter in order to reach a connection. As Harman shows withthe example of a person getting absorbed by the sensual object tree through an encounter with a tree, on the streetor in a forest, these kinds of relations occur all the time. But as this connection occurs within the general space ofintention, where several sensual objects and related qualities exist besides each other, the moment of sincerity,

    which seems to be temporally located before an accomplished connection, bears the chance of a real objectpiercing through the cloud of sensual objects and establishing a new relation, a new object. 34 With the concept ofthe allure, Harman describes a way in which such a newconnection, which is still to be understood as a relation,
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    not as an encounter with the real object itself, can be actively triggered:35

    The only way to bring real objects into the sensual sphere is to reconfigure sensual objects in such a way thatthey no longer merely fuse into a new one, as parts into a whole, but rather become animated by allusion to adeeper power lying beyond: a real object. The gravitational field of a real object must somehow invade the

    existing sensual field.36

    This means, the allure has the ability to separate an encountered, sensual object from its immediate qualities, andtherefore create an opening for a different level of reality to enter, a reality in which sensual qualities are not directly

    presented as the necessary part of sensual objects, nor sensual objects as unified wholes.37 The examples Harmanoffers for understanding allures are poetic metaphors, beauty, cuteness (of children or recently born animals) or moregenerally failure, hypnotic experiences, names and love encounters, which he sums up under the categories thecomic and the charming. Now, while he explicitly states that allure is not merely a theory of art, but a theory ofcausal relations in general, he nevertheless has clearly pointed to art and artworks as ideally equipped to activateforms of allure, because of the way that the real object (while partly removed) and the sensual qualities are fused

    within the work of art:38

    But a similar cutting of the bond between an agent and its traits occurs in beauty, in which a thing or creature isgifted with qualities of such overwhelming force that we do not pass directly through the sensual material intothe unified thing, but seem to see the beautiful entity lying beneath all its marvelous qualities, commanding

    them like puppets.39

    This space that is opened up, for example, by beauty is for Harman a critical space that allows for new relations toemerge, rather than for any elevated critique. While the spectator does not access the real object that is the artworkoutside the intentional space of his or her mind, the spectator and the artwork can fuse within the intentional spaceand can produce new relations that are always also new objects. On the side of the artwork, the responsibility seems

    to then lie with its creator, the artist, to find allures that forge new relations in interesting ways.

    It remains unclear though what kind of allures would count as better or worse, worthy of being created or not,because judgements do not exist in Harmans world of objects. Relations are either brought into existence or not.Objects exist anyway in their withdrawn states. Above anything else, this conceptual weakness is grounded onHarmans fundamental distinction between the real and the sensual, which reminds one of Bennetts politicalidealism in which the sole problem of democracy has become a question of the equal access and participation of thenon-human. While Harman overcomes Bennetts division of human and non-human actants by rendering everythingobjects, he creates a different fission the gap between the real and the sensual and thereby remains faithful toan idealisation of the now inaccessible and truly real as that which can interrupt and reconfigure its sensualrepresentations in the objects intentional spaces.

    There is no way in which Harman could account for the accumulation of powers and forces within specific objects orobject constellations that violate certain relations or even deny access to them there is no way in which objectsmight be distributed unequally in different networks of relations or in which relations might bind objects to conditionsof extreme suffering, of suffocation, of death and we could here speak of relations between people and their meansof subsistence as much as of the relation between a company that emits toxic fumes and its surrounding biosphere.For Harman, real objects, whose materiality is entirely removed from our sensual images of it, exist in theirindividualised, withdrawn states in which they can be touched by sensual objects without ever really being affected.

    Philosophy and simultaneously aesthetics have thus become extremely impoverished, as they have lost anyconcepts that could allow judgements that go beyond the question if a new relation has been forged or not. Withrespect to the spectator, Harman seems to remain extremely Kantian, in the sense that for him art is fundamentally
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    about the encounter between the artwork and the spectator and the emerging aesthetic reaction or judgement.Even though he makes clear that his conception in which the spectator becomes part of the artwork (of course onlyin the intentional space) is opposed to Kants necessary moment of disinterestedness when encountering thebeautiful, Harman remains close to Kants conception in that he is interested in a moment of awe and an expression

    of delight that the encounter between artwork and spectator can cause.40 But, instead of aiming at a Kantiandifferentiation of the possible aesthetic judgements and their potentially universal reach, Harman is mainly interestedin the slightly misty and oblique discovery on the side of the spectator that the subjective sensual world, which he-she-it had taken for granted, has actually many different facets, in so far as real objects do not exist in any unity.

    Disappointingly, this sounds like a new form of relational aesthetics that has exchanged people for objects41 and

    now contents itself as being just another, maybe slightly more potent, form of wine-tasting.42 Any sensual reaction ofawe or delight potentially holds the same value which, triggered by a different representation of the real, can forge anew relation, a new object.

    Meillassouxs Inaesthetics

    Lets then turn our focus now to Meillassoux, who leads us away from objects and towards an ontological discussion

    of worlds beyond. While Meillassoux has not actually developed an explicit aesthetics, he has recently publishedthe monograph The Number and the Siren, on Stephane Mallarms poem Un coup de ds jamais nabolira lehazard(A throw of the dice wil l never abol ish chance) that will help me ground my explorations. Meillassoux, incontrast to Harman and many other new materialists, fundamentally rejects any differentiation between the realm ofbeing of ontology and the realm of sense perception (the aesthetic realm oraisthesis). Because he not only alsorejects the correlationist claim that thinking and being is one, but wants to refute it from within, his project becomes ademonstration of the possibility of accessing the in itself or absolute, a reality absolutely separate from the

    subject.43 After Meillassoux has demonstrated the aporia of the correlationist approach and the scientific truth thatcan be reached via something like the arche-fossile, which was in existence long before any human species, heconcludes that what a non-correlationist philosophy needs to concern itself with is a reality beyond our given realityfor which there is no natural law, no ultimate cause, no reason and also no necessity: that is the meaning ofabsolute facticity, which is simultaneously absolute possibility and absolute contingency. The worlds of the real are

    non-totalisable.44 No necessity, as Meillassoux shows, implies the impossibility of contradictions, as we know themfrom Hegelian dialectics, because a contradictory entity always necessarilyimplies its other side, and thereforecontradicts absolute contingency. To end the purely conceptual recapitulation, what exists in Meillassouxs real issuperchaos (or formerly called hyperchaos) about which it is possible to speculate rationally. Following his

    teacher Alain Badiou, to speculate rationally means for Meillassoux to re-absolutis[e] the scope of mathematics.45

    The link between this theory and Mallarms poem is introduced by Meillassoux as follows:

    [P]hilosophy is concerned with a real and densepossible which I call the may-be [peut-tre]. This peut-tre[] is very close to the final peut-tre of Mallarms Un coup de ds.46

    By Mallarms finalpeut-tre, Meillassoux means the attempted, but forever suspended, toss of the dice of the

    drowned Master that now remains undecided in the eternal circumstance of a shipwrecks depth.47 The questionthat Meillassoux understands Mallarm to be asking with Un coup de ds and earlier poems is the question of if andhow poetry could become a truly great or configurative art that is able to open up human existence towards a futuresalvation. This grand question, which Meillassoux sees residing in a wager for poetry as an absolute and thesource of a new religion, and which also includes Mallarms unpublished project The Book [Le Livre]as one of itssources, is combined for Mallarm with a further pressing question. That of remaining faithful to the old

    collectivising metric verse as against a truly modern and individualised free verse poetry.
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    Against his master Alain Badiou, Meillassoux sees these questions not resolved in Coup de ds in relation to anevental configuration of the poem towards a newly emerging truth, but as precisely eternalised in a hypotheticalperhaps, by means of a metre that simultaneously exists and in-exists: the activity of fixer linfini. Meillassouxargues this on the grounds of the unique Number that we can find alluded to but finally suspended in the line of thepoem it was the number were it to have existed, but that nevertheless has an, albeit questionable, hidden

    existence via a code within the poem.48

    Without wanting to engage further in an interpretation of Meillassouxs extraordinary and not at all undisputed

    reading of the poem, I will end by reflecting on the status of numbers and art that Meillassoux attributes here.49

    Whereas in Meillassouxs philosophy mathematics can directly access the absolute without any detour via reason,Mallarm eternalises his poetry on the ground of a number whose existence is undecidable. The eternity lies thennot merely in the metre of the poem, not in the number itself, because that would give the poem a finite meaning andexistence. Via its proximity to both, language and numbers, the poem allows the reader to gaze into the space ofhyperchaos that is simultaneously the void, but only if he is attentive enough to discern the rather complex layersthrough which this telescope is constructed. If as readers of Badious treatises on art as inaestheticswe haveremained disappointed by his strange formalism in which the artwork itself became the subject of the event andtherefore the bearer of an eternal truth, which was then charged with the ability of emancipating humanity into newsensible relations with the world, it seems that Meillassoux may have delivered a possible answer to how this

    formalism could play out.50 This occurs via the route of mathematics as the access to the absolute, the worlds that

    exist beyond our reality. In his review ofThe Number and the Siren, Thomas Ford calls Meillassouxs interpretationa hazeof numbers that he opposes to the 20 th century haze of signification.51 And even though we might besceptical of binding art in this way to mathematical formulas and turning it into a highly intellectualised, yetsimultaneously mystic inquiry into a shadowy depth of being, it is difficult not to be intrigued by this idea. Of courseRancires critique that this understanding affirms an old modernist belief in the autonomy and specificity of the art

    object is here as much valid as when it was posed against Badious project.52 But if we were to embrace an art ofthe inaesthetic, i.e. an art that itself, and independent of the philosophical subject of aesthetics, can alert and directthe spectator to a truth that fundamentally differs from the subjective human reality, without trying to couple it to our

    political ambitions for art to be directly invested in our anti-capitalist struggle 53, it could perhaps become a source ofdreams, desires and comportments that might help us to understand this very world as contingent and thereforeopen to being altered.

    Image: Pierre Huyghe, Colony Collapse, dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, 2012

    At the same time the aesthetics of hope Meillassouxs philosophy offers us is not a Blochian not-yet-being that, inits utopian sense, is nevertheless directed in a very concrete way against the oppressive material conditions ofexistence under capitalism, and which is itself only generated by the participation in that very same struggle.Meillassouxs real of superchaos, which art might help us to access is, whilst radically contingent, also absolute,
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    containing in itself the equal contingency of order and disorder, of becoming and sempiternity. 54 Whereas this formof hope seems to offer us a new way of dreaming, the dreams themselves make capitalist social relations and ourhuman struggles appear equally petty, inane and merely from this world. It is a hope of the last resort that is nolonger invested in change, but in alleviation of the pain that comes with resignation.

    * I would like to thank Stephanie Hessler, Jenny Nachtigall and Moritz Gansen for their contributions and links alongthe way as well as Josephine and Ben from Mute for their encouragement to write this article in the first place and fortheir careful readership and great editorial care.

    Svenja Bromberg is a PhD student in the Centre for Cultural Studies at

    Goldsmiths College, London. She works on Marxist political philosophy, aesthetics and politics, and feminist



    1In the Philosophy Department at the Free University Berlin, there has just been an entire Hauptseminar dedicatedto Speculative Realism during the past academic year.

    2 As well as Bruno Latour for Harman the most important philosopher of the 20th century and Levi Bryant, RayBrassier, Steve Shaviro and others. But Meillassoux and Harman are the figures I will concentrate on in this articledue to their prominence in philosophical and artistic movements. A more general overview of thinkers and positionscan be found in Levi R Bryant, Nick Srnicek, and Graham Harman, The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialismand Realism, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia:, 2011.

    3 See: The Era of Ojbects (Blowup Reader 3) and the exhibitions it is based on, Speculative Realities, (Blowup

    Reader 6), V2_: Institute for the Unstable Media, ed., Rotterdam, 2013, a lecture series in Berlin organised by Armen Avanessian and Melanie Sehgal, and many more informal gatherings.

    4 See: Hito Steyerl, A Thing Like You And Me, 15 April 2010,

    5 See for some attempts to remain faithful to a modulated form of that subject in contemporary continentalphilosophy: Eduardo Cadava, Peter Connor, and Jean-Luc Nancy, Who Comes after the Subject? (London:Routledge, 1991) I have elsewhere written on the notion of affective labour and its problematic application in Hardtand Negris work.

    6 Steyerl, op. cit.

    7 See Benjamin Noys, The Persistence of the Negative: a Critique of Contemporary Continental Theory(Edinburgh:Edinburgh University Press, 2010) Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics ([Paris]: Les Presses du Rel, 2002).

    8 Diedrich Diederichsen, Animation, De-reification, and the New Charm of the Inanimate, 36 July 2012, . I am taking the definition of post-Fordist labour from Hardt and Negri as well as from Lazzaratoas meaning intellectual, immaterial, and communicative labor. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire,Cambridge, Mass London: Harvard University Press, 2000, 29 Maurizio Lazzarato, Immaterial Labour, in RadicalThought in Italy A Potential Politics, Michael Hardt and Paolo Virno (Eds.), Minneapolis, Minn. London: Universityof Minnesota Press, 1996, pp.132146.

    9 See A.R. Hochschild, The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling(Berkeley, Calif. Los AngelesLondon: University of California Press, 2003).

    10 Ren Pollesch, Liebe Ist Klter Als Das Kapital: Stcke, Texte, Interviews, C. Brocher (Ed.), Reinbek: RowohltTaschenbuch, 2009.
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    11 See for a general overview of the field for example, Diana Coole and Samantha Frost (Eds.), New Materialisms:Ontology, Agency, and Politics, Duke University Press, 2010 Rick Dolphijn and Iris van der Tuin, New Materialism:Interviews & Cartographies, Open Humanities Press, 2012.

    12See, e.g. Timothy Mortons The Ecological Thought, Harvard University Press, 2010, for a rejection of this notionin favour of ecology V2_: Institute for the Unstable Media, op. cit ., p.42.

    13See ibid., p.30.

    14 See Brian Massumi, Semblance and Event: Activist Philosophy and the Occurrent Arts, MIT Press, 2011, p.105.

    15 Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: a Political Ecology of Things, Durham: Duke University Press, 2010, p.xiii.

    16 Ibid., p.x.

    17 See: Karl Marx, Early Writings, London: Penguin, 1975, p.390. See also Alfred Schmidt, The Concept of Naturein Marx, trans. Ben Fowkes, New Left Books, 1971.

    18 For example, The Return of the Objectat the Berlin gallery, Invaliden1, curated by Stefanie Hessler in January2013.

    19See V2_: Institute for the Unstable Media, op. cit., p.26 and Kia Vahlands, Documenta-Leiterin Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev: ber die politische Intention der Erdbeere,, 8 June, 2012, sec. kultur,

    20 Vahland, ibid., p.15.

    21 Dolphijn and van der Tuin, New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies, p.91.

    22 See V2_: Institute for the Unstable Media, op. cit., p.40.

    23 Moritz Gansen, Cosmic Dreams: The Ecological Aesthetics of dOCUMENTA (13), presented at the Aesthetics ofthe 21st Century, Basel, n.d.

    24See V2_: Institute for the Unstable Media, op. cit., p.37.

    25 Graham Harman, On Vicarious Causation, Collapse 2, Speculative Realism, March 2007, p. 189.

    26In Hegels idealism there is of course something such as absolute knowledge.

    27 Harman, On Vicarious Causation, op. cit.

    28 Ibid., p.190.

    29 Ibid., 195.

    30 Graham Harman, The Third Table = Der dritte Tisch, vol. 85, 100 Notes - 100 Thoughts /100 Notizen - 100Gedanken (Ostfildern, Germany: dOCUMENTA 13/ Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2012).

    31 See also Harman, On Vicarious Causation, p.219.

    32 Ibid., 221.

    33 Here there seems to exist a certain proximity to the aesthetic politics that Jacques Rancire conceptualises onthe ground of his analysis of different distributions of the sensible, with the important difference that Rancire first ofall explicitly focuses on the aesthetics of art and that he further refuses to allow art as well as politics to have anymaterial reality beyond the subjectively perceived forms, practices and relations. For Harman on the contrary,materiality does influence the level of the sensual, but never directly, i.e. not in an unmediated way.

    34 See ibid., p.213.

    35 See especially Graham Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things, Chicago,Ill.: u.a.: Open Court, 2005, but also Harmans various recent talks on art.

    36 Harman, On Vicarious Causation, op. cit., p.220.
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    2013-08-01 The Anti-Political Aesthetics of Objects and Worlds Beyond | Mute 11/13

    37 See Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics, op. cit., p.179.

    38 See Graham Harman Art and Paradox, 2012, Harman, The Third Table = Der dritteTisch.

    39 Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics, op. cit., p.142.

    40 See Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgement, Oxford University Press, 2007, 2.

    41 See Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, p.85.

    42 A connection Harman himself suggests, see Graham Harman - Art and Paradox, 2012,

    43 See Quentin Meillassoux,After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, London: Continuum, 2009,Chapter 1-2, and Meillassouxs, Time Without Becoming / Zeit Ohne Werden, SPIKE35, 2013, p.92.

    44 Graham Harman, Quentin Meillassoux: Philosophy in the Making, Edinburgh University Press, 2011, p.159.

    45 Meillassoux,After Finitude, op. cit., p.204.

    46 Meillassoux, Time Without Becoming / Zeit Ohne Werden, 102.

    47 Mallarm, Un coup de ds48 Quentin Meillassoux, Le nombre et la sirne: un dchiffrage du Coup de ds de Mallarm ([Paris]: Fayard, 2011),pp.16.

    49 For discussions of the book see: Michael Reid, Ex Nihi lo, Mute, August 2012, Thomas H. Ford, Quentin Meillassoux, The Number and theSiren, The Canadian Society for Continental Philosophy, January 2013, Adam Kotsko, Quentin Meillassoux andthe Crackpot Sublime, The New Inquiry, May 2012,

    50Alain Badiou, Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art, Lacanian Ink23, 2004, Alain Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, Stanford, Calif.: Stanford UniversityPress, 2005.

    51 Ford, Quentin Meillassoux, The Number and the Siren.

    52 Jacques Rancire, Aesthetics, Inaesthetics, Anti-Aesthetics, in Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future ofPhilosophy, Peter Hallward (Ed.), London: Continuum, 2004, p.218.

    53See Alberto Toscano on the problem of converging speculation and materialism in Meillassouxs philosophy:Alberto Toscano, Against Speculation, or, a Critique of the Critique of Critique: A Remark on Quentin MeillassouxsAfter Finitude (after Colletti), in The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, ed. Levi R Bryant, NickSrnicek, and Graham Harman (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia:, 2011), 8491.

    54 Quentin Meillassoux, Time Without Becoming / Zeit Ohne Werden, 102.


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    JJ Charlesworth

    The sleep of subjects begets objects. Sort of.

    This is a welcome start to a proper critical examination of the Object Oriented Ontology-Speculative Realism

    flare-u . But what Bromber doesn't reco nise is that the disinte ration of the subect as a olitical and

  • 7/27/2019 The Anti-Political Aesthetics of Objects and Worlds Beyond - Svenja Bromberg


    2013-08-01 The Anti-Political Aesthetics of Objects and Worlds Beyond | Mute 12/13

    theoretical perspective is itself the grounding problem. If one takes the post-structuralist critique of subjectivity

    for granted - as Bromberg seems to - I'd argue that it can only lead to a prioritisation of objects. Bromberg

    doesn't have much to say on this - the shift from the discourse of the reified subject to the empowered object is

    only a matter of degree. Nor does Bromberg seem to know where she stands on environmentalism, and her

    commitment to 'anti-capitalism' is merely reactive; it doesn't question why OOO-SR should chime so readily at a

    time where the desire to transcend capitalism appears confused with a desire to transcend - or negate - being

    human. I'd argue that the political conservatism at the core of OOO-SR is only the logical progression of the post-

    structuralist degradation of the Subject.

    The initial concession that Bromberg makes is not to seriously question the credibility of the two 'totalisation'

    discourses she points to: the Foucault-Butler lineage that distrusts subjectivity as something which is only ever

    the 'effect' of subjection, on one hand; and the Immaterial/affective labour critiques which see Capital as all-

    encroaching on subjects, who are always, for some reason, totally incapable of generating any distance from its



    Diogenes Search Injun >

    Mr Charlesworth's comment is much more interesting than the article.

    In my view, so-called 'new' materialism looks more like, materialism ante-Marx, or even animism:


    I would say that it isn't just art, that is accorded exceptional capacities in an otherwise undifferentiated

    human objectivity. The very activity of academics' use of language to develop these ideas, discussing

    them, Ms Bromberg's writing this article, and metamute choosing to publish it, are all subjective, AND

    objective acts.

    I'm sure that numerous people, particularly those outside the artworld/academic theory racket, could

    readily name many other exceptions.

    The notion of 'post-humanism', associated with these ideas, is premature, given that so much

    theory/philosophy is an ongoing obstacle to understanding what is specifically human animality, namely, a

    psychophysical unity that uses language.

    Marx and Wittgenstein are much more useful for that.

    arthur bueno

    where are the footnotes from 8 to 53?



    Footnotes are back now! Sorry, we had trouble with the CMS on this article.

    jordi torrent

    This might be of interest to the readers of this article "...Even as the content and details of the proposals diverge,

    a common

    denominator among them is a revaluing of matter and objects, and a

    corresponding adjustment of the scale and centrality of the human



    see more

    see more
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    2013-08-01 The Anti-Political Aesthetics of Objects and Worlds Beyond | Mute