Thursday, July 12, 2012

Whither OOO? – A Plea for Description

Thinking is hard work. It uses up neurochemicals at a fierce rate. It’s draining. A dull ache in the body.

And object-oriented philosophy, I don’t know, I just don’t know. Or maybe I do and keep trying to deny what I suspect.

The thing is, these folks profess something between respect and admiration for Bruno Latour and what does he say? “No scholar should find humiliating the task of description. This is, on the contrary, the highest and rarest achievement.” That’s what he says.

Have they not read that? Do they not take it seriously? Or maybe they think it’s not for them. That passage, after all, is taken from Reassembling the Social, which is more a social methodology handbook than a metaphysical treatise. So maybe it doesn’t apply to them, the philosophers. Latour, the anthropologist, he’s done the describing, he’s gotten the lessons.

And kindly written them up. Being is flat. All objects count and so must be accounted for. The philosophers have read Latour, they’ve gotten the message, they don’t need to describe. After all, they’re not anthropologists. They’re philosophers.


They perhaps think they’re standing on Latour’s shoulders, seeing the new vistas, articulating the new truths.


They’re still climbing. Their objects, their metaphysical objects, are thin and watery. They’ve not yet caught up with Latour, that’s what I think.

Has it not occurred to the philosophers that Latour arrived at flatness through years of descriptive slogging? Has it not occurred to them that having flatness handed to you is not the same thing as discovering it for yourself, in the trenches as it were?

* * * * *

Truth is in the details. Truth is patterns over details. But to see the patterns, you must first grasp the details. Description is a grasping tool. Describe with instrument readings, with photographs, with lists and lattices of numbers. But describe. And describe again. Let your mind wander over the details, details you have painstakingly assembled.

Yes, it’s boring, it’s not rocket science. But it’s necessary. It’s the only way to see the world. If you don’t see the world, what’s the point of philosophizing?

Ah, the philosophers say, you’ve missed the point. We’re philosophers, not physicists, nor sociologists, nor biologists, nor literary critics, chemists, musicologists, or even geologists. They handle the details. We form the grand generalizations.

The problem, say the disciplinarians, is that we don’t need your grand generalizations. We can’t use them. We’re looking for details. No, patterns over details. And your grand generalizations don’t tell us where or how to look.

So perhaps philosophy is only for philosophers? That’s how things appear now.

Or perhaps philosophers can attend to details, higher order details, details the disciplinarians have missed. Perhaps these object orientalists are searching for those details so they can see new patterns.


But I’m not holding my breath. If they ARE searching for new details, then they need to be describing things. And they don’t do description. They won’t find new patterns.


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