Graham Harman and Andrew Cole at Artforum:
THERE ARE SEVERAL strange elements in Andrew Cole’s recent polemic against speculative realism and object-oriented ontology [Artforum, Summer 2015]. First, in a piece written specifically for Artforum, Cole never bothers to address our views on art, choosing instead to treat the magazine’s readership to a long lesson on the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Second, after trying to make us look disrespectful by likening us to vandals who spray-painted “Kant is a moron” on a house in Kaliningrad, Russia, Cole himself takes a crude and macabre dig at Kant’s personal life: “Yes, Kantian moral philosophy leaves something to be desired, as when the philosopher exemplifies the categorical imperative by asking readers to imagine having sex near the gallows—easy to say for a person who never got laid.” It’s also strange that while Cole only cites one of my publications (The Quadruple Object ) by name, he laments unanswered questions that are addressed not only in other publications, but even in the one book that he seems to have read.
Forgetting for now these unsettling signals, let’s briefly consider Cole’s argument, which is really an attempted counterpoint of two separate arguments. The first is that we have either misunderstood Kant or deliberately distorted his ideas to conceal the fact that we have stolen most of our insights from him. The second—always a crowd-pleaser—is that object-oriented philosophy is hopelessly complicit with capitalism and the “commodity fetishism” that Marx linked with the capitalist system. Cole handles the second point more impressionistically than the first, and a similar argument was already made by his sometime collaborator Alexander R. Galloway in a widely read but dreadful 2013 Critical Inquiry article entitled “The Poverty of Philosophy: Realism and Post-Fordism.” In what follows, I will therefore focus on Cole’s remarks on Kant.