Me on Harman on Green on Harman on literary criticism

This is a post about a post about a review about an article, so cutting edge stuff clearly. From Graham Harman’s blog, where he writes

There’s an interesting critique by Daniel Green, HERE, of my recent article in New Literary History. It’s quite refreshing in the sense that I wasn’t expecting anyone to critique that article from the standpoint of New Criticsm, which many regard as old-fashioned and long since buried; what I was expecting instead was a lot of resistance from the New Historicist and Derridean camps.

It’s a weirdly 1980s view of the state of literary criticism, with these three schools posited as the only rigorous options for an engagement with what he is attempting to do for/with/to the literary text. By implication, queer theory, feminisms, eco-criticism, etc., are insufficiently serious to be considered as sources of critique.

He quotes Daniel Green as follows:

“This project is not an exercise in criticism but a further experiement in object-oriented ontology, a philosophical, rather than a critical, move. Harman seems to want to prove that OOO is correct, using the literary text as vehicle. How is this different from using the text to do politics or sociology?”

To which he responds with the following:

This isn’t it. No literary analysis can “prove” that OOO is correct; instead, I simply think the non-relational, non-holistic methods of OOO might be usefully applied to literary analysis.

The fact that Green thinks this is no different in kind form sociological or political analysis shows his basic presupposition, which is the literary text is a holistic unit that must be taken as precisely the whole that it is– with all the exact wording that it currently has, for instance.

By contrast, I think the literary text is something deeper than its current holistic configuration in the form of how the author chose to publish it, or the best available scholarly version of a text available at any given moment, or whatever is usually taken to be the real text.

Harman’s “this isn’t it” is a lazy rhetorical dodge. He picks the salad of Green’s argument (!), but leaves the meat of it intact. The use of the word “prove” by Green was not the killer kernel of his argument, and to treat it as such is self-serving. On top of this, Harman then appears to engage with  Green’s main point about the text being used as a means of doing something else, but instead goes to discuss how this is indicative of Green’s theoretical limitations. It’s a Komosol move, to accuse a member of a movement to be insufficiently committed to that movement: “In other words, I think I’m giving an even stronger critique of authorial intention than is usually the case. ” Comrade Green is insufficiently committed to the revolution, and his textual analysis is reactionary.

This post by Harman gets back to the root of many of my difficulties with him (such as here and here – I have dealt with some of the more detailed problems I have with Harman there, and I will not repeat them here). He claims to see insurmountable difficulties in spreading an ontology wider. Thus he uses the word holism as a stick with which to thwack dissenters. His exclusion of eco-criticism, queer theory, and feminisms here becomes a corollary of his philosophical position. They disagree with OOO in that they emphasise both difference and interconncetion, so they are not to be taken seriously. Only the philosophers who hold such ideas are to be engaged with – if at all. By contrast, instead of widening ontology, he sees few problems with deepening ontology. Connections are fictions; it’s objects/turtles all the way down.

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