Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Galloway Affair 2: None left standing and kudos to Bryant

Galloway has posted something of a rejoinder to his critics: The Secondary Correlation — Further Thoughts on the Realism Kerfuffle. At the very end he offers an olive branch:
Let me add, and I think I speak for everyone involved, that this debate has gone on for too long. It’s lead to a lot of bad blood. I’m friends with some of the SR/OOO cohort, and I’d like to keep it that way. This article only appeared now due to the slow timeline of academic publishing. I’m on the record and I’m willing to defend my position. But I’m also interested in moving on to think about other things.
The comments did not, alas, go well for him. Even Adam Kotsko, no friend of object-oriented ontology and speculative realism (Galloway’s targets, remember?) though perhaps not quite an enemy, admitted after having read Galloway’s article and much of the criticism:
I have to say that his claim that math has “entered history” in some totally new way in post-Fordism such that it “no longer” can be ahistorical is simply baffling... Overall, I think people were right to react negatively.
John Holbo, no friend of contemporary Continental thought, weighed in from the analytic tradition:
This argument puns on ‘correlation’. Anti-correlationists are against correlation in a narrow, technical sense. (Quoting M. from the paper itself: “By ‘correlation’ we mean the idea according to which we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other.” For better or worse, and setting aside any differences amongst anti-correlationists, that’s a narrow-bore technical sense.) It clearly does not follow, then, that anti-correlationisms are conceptually committed to the preclusion or prevention of any and all correlations, even in the loosest (‘looks like’) sense. They don’t have to be opposed to things ‘looking like’ other things. Anti-correlation isn’t omni-anti-analogism. So, specifically, a realist anti-correlationism isn’t committed to the result that there shall be nothing analogous to realist anti-correlationism besides it itself. So the objection fails, I think.

In short, argument by correlation (argument by analogy) is not automatically appropriate, merely because the topic is correlation.
To which Galloway himself agreed: “point taken.”

Various commentators pointed out that Galloway’s assertion that object-oriented programming is THE key engine of capitalist domination badly misrepresents actually existing computing technology. There are many such comments, some fairly detailed, so I won’t attempt a summary. Instead I’ll offer the opening paragraph of one of these comments, by ben:
I’m very suspicious of a paper that takes Java as uncontroversial stand-in for object-orientation generally, or one that blithely asserts that it’s OO languages that allow big companies to “process millions of requests efficiently”. (Mightn’t it be Nginx, written in C, that allows them to do that? Or something written in Erlang, that rhizomatic and distributed language par excellence?)
So, 1) the analogy between object-oriented programming and SR/OOO either fails or is irrelevant to the argument and 2) the capitalist software infrastructure isn’t like that anyhow. Seems like there’s nothing left of Galloway’s argument, the one that was published in a prominent academic journal of literary criticism and cultural studies.

Meanwhile Levi Bryant has offered his own detailed and cogent critique of Galloway: Pluripotency: Some Remarks on Galloway. His basic argument is similar to the one Holbo offered, though stated in very different terms: Galloway has asserted a (possibly superficial) resemblance between capitalism and SR/OOO, therefore SR/OOO is a capitalist tool. Bryant observes:
the reason arguments by resemblance or homology are so weak is that everything resembles everything else. There are no two things that don’t resemble one another in some respect or capacity. Consequently, the critic sharpening his knives against something he’s not partial to for whatever reason will always be able to find some resemblance allowing him to insinuate complicity against the thing he does not like. It’s an easy game. You can always suggest that something contains some sort of ugliness or dirty secret.
I note that the reason everything resembles everything else is because things are complex, they have many properties, they are, in my terms, and Feyeabend’s, abundant. Objects are wells of abundance. Or, as Bryant says a bit later, “objects are pluripotent.”
If everything is defined by the historical setting in which it emerged, if things– above all people –are not pluripotent such that they harbor potentials in excess beyond the way they’re related and deployed in the present, then there’s no hope for ever changing anything. Everything will be tainted through and through by the power dynamics in which it emerged. Everything will be but an expression of those networks of power. It is only where relations can be severed and where entities are pluripotent that emancipatory change is possible.

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