I am a fairly regular reader of Graham Harman’s blog Object-Oriented Philosophy. Partly, of course, because his philosophy interests me, especially its implications for thinking about media, even though I certainly couldn’t claim to be doing object-oriented media research (there’s a lot of that, e.g. soon-to-be-former Birkbeck student Paul Caplan, and several of the contributions to a recent conference on The Nonhuman Turn) It is also that I just find he has generally interesting viewpoints, notably his regular reflections and advice on writing, research and academic life in general which I am quite sure has a large following amongst PhD students in philosophy and beyond.
With the elections taking place in Egypt, where Harman is based, recent posts provide some glimpse of Harman’s ‘politics’. Which is to say, a glimpse of the fact that Harman does not feel compelled to have an overbearing ontology of the political like many philosophers do. He reflected on his quite deliberate avoidance of grand politics in a recent interview with Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan – an episode of the interesting Cultural Technologies podcasts. Harman has been blogging about the events in Egypt because he has some unique insights into events on the ground, based as he is in Cairo. In short, these events are his ‘local politics’. Reading his posts, you’ll find few traces (some indirect, perhaps) of an object-oriented approach to politics. Instead, you’ll hear of conversations with taxi drivers, brief details of recently viewed television interviews, contextualised links to news articles, perspectives from staff and students at the American University in Cairo, and very occasionally, an account of something more dramatic, such as being tear-gassed.
Somewhere in there, perhaps there is a sort of politics of particularities, or of distributed contingencies. From my own perspective, as someone interested a lot more than Harman in the constitution of politics and public life as an object of research, I don’t necessarily consider that to be adequate grounds for a holistic political philosophy. That is, if we ever wanted such a thing, and maybe we do not. But neither does Harman. What I value in his approach is the denial – as a well-known philosopher whose ideas are increasingly seen to be at the cutting edge, even fashionable – of offering a grand Žižek- or Badiou-like interpretation of events and their political significance, which often seem thin on philosophy and rather large on strategic proclamation.