Can a distinction between ontological existence (‘is’) and political desires (‘oughts’) be bracketed apart and hence exist as separate concepts? Levi Bryant thinks so over at his blog Larval Subjects, and it’s proven to be a sticky argument over at Alexander Galloway’s facebook page (pretty much a public one here – he comments on a lot of things). I don’t know whether this is indicative of SR’s reputation of the philosophy for the digital era, but Ian Bogost then summarises the lively debate over at his blog in a post entitled ‘Let’s talk about politics and ontology again!’. If you’re still keeping up, Bryant then responds in another post (‘War Machines and Military Logistics’) at Larval Subjects, and Harman jumps in with a short post over at his OOP blog here.
If this is all a bit tl;dr, then let me summarise some key points to the argument. Bryant suggests, in short, that whilst ontologies can indeed be produced through political means (say, in the form of ideological bias), they are in themselves apolitical as they concern ‘being’ (or ‘what is’) ipso facto are factual concerns. He (says he) makes no claims to an idealized or preferred state of things in this passage (an ‘ought’ rather than an ‘is’).
In a relational form, then:
ontology/ies (‘is’) ——–> politics (‘ought’)
His critics in the fb post on Galloway’s wall, again, in summary, suggest that by making this claim of a partitioned apolitical ontology, he is in fact making a distinctly political claim. In the process one of the commenter’s charge him and other SRs with having a ‘depoliticizing stab at a new realism’ (see Jairus Grove’s first post).
Imho, I think the people who are responding to Bryant on Galloway’s page are making a few cheap shots, and Bryant himself actually underplays the construction of ontology which might have helped in get away from the criticisms angled at his approach to ontological and political separation. I probably agree on the points made by Grove especially, but argue that this doesn’t necessary detract from SR/OOO’s aims. I think Bryant would do well to accept the political nature of ontological claims (notice the small p) but be happy in refuting the Politics of ontology (with a capital p) on the basis of needing to act on a broader, transindividual plane that works with some (more?) solid claims (immutable mobiles, say?), i.e. an ontological basis. So it’s whether you give credence to the solidity of ontological claims as being ‘true’ as to whether or not you can agree with Bryant on this one.