The Anti-Political Aesthetics of Objects and Worlds Beyond

By Svenja Bromberg, 25 July 2013
Image: Sanna Marander 'Solid Objects', installation view of The Return of the Object, at Invaliden1, Berlin, curated by Stefanie Hessler

Now that immaterial and affective labour seem to be waning as subjects for art, a fascination with the radical contingency of the material world has grown to take their place. Through close readings of the speculative realist philosophy that so inspires contemporary aesthetics, Svenja Bromberg pinpoints the anti-politics inherent in this turn


What do we see when we linger for a moment on what is now celebrated as the ‘turn towards objects’ in the overlapping spaces of art and philosophy? At first glance, a colourful potpourri of theories that have gained wide recognition in an extremely short time span, especially through their presence in both the ‘blogosphere’ and the classical academic sphere.1 The thinkers featuring most prominently are Graham Harman with his ‘Object-Oriented Ontology’, and Quentin Meillassoux, who became best known for coining the critical term ‘correlationism’ in his first major work After Finitude.2 In this term Meillassoux summarises the generalised antirealist stance of all of continental philosophy in its understanding of all perception as being always already correlated with a human, and therefore subjectivist, perspective. But first I want to touch on something that I started to consciously acknowledge in relation to the publicity around the dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel in 2012, before going deeper into these theories as such in order to disentangle and clarify their positions.


The exhibition’s curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev left no doubt as to the enormous impact object-oriented ontology had had on the development of her aesthetic. Since dOCUMENTA there has been a real explosion in art exhibitions that explicitly centre around objects and articulate a relation to the philosophical strand of Object-Oriented Ontolgy (OOO) / Speculative Realism (SR). Within this same cultural turn to the object we should also include a large conference entitled Aesthetics of the 21st Century held in Basel in September 2012, at which Harman gave the keynote and an international array of artists, curators and theoreticians met with the shared objective of clarifying and discussing these philosophical currents.3 What has really motivated me to undertake this inquiry is the fact that, while the continental philosophy scene seems to have retreated a bit from the initial frenzy around these theoretical strands, it is now the art world with its artists, curators and critics that upholds a fidelity to the promises of object-oriented theories. But what does it find in them and what do the theories themselves deliver in terms of an aesthetics?



The Turn Towards Objects: ‘The hero is dead – Long live the thing’4


There is at first a very material sense in which its advocates justify the turn to objects. We are at a point where our faith in the powers of the subject to critique and subvert reality, as grounded in Enlightenment theory, has been truly defeated, not least by capitalism’s now much discussed ability to demand precisely subjective – emotional or affective – investments in its exploitative machinery.5 Thus, it is not only the fact that ‘subjects are always already subjected’, which we have learned from Foucault, Butler and other poststructuralists.6 But if capitalism wants us to be ever more alive, happy and truly engaged in shaping our own lives on the basis of the endless possibilities this world has to offer, then the critique offered by vitalist theories, aesthetic modes such as Bourriaud’s ‘relational aesthetics’ and more critical forms of emancipated spectatorship against an objectifying and alienating capitalist reality appear assimilated and defused.7 As Diedrich Diederichsen outlines in a recent e-flux article, it is precisely what was still antithetical to the Fordist assembly line – different modes of dreaming ‘dangerously’ or living authentic or alternative lives – that seems to have become part of the post-Fordist ‘imperative to produce a perfect self as a perfect thing’.8 Smiles or grins, day-dreams and ways of being that could formerly help alleviate or escape the alienated existence of the labourer have themselves become reified as part of the requisite service we are compelled to provide.9 Diederichsen describes a sense, similar to the German theatre director René Pollesch in his play Love is Colder than Capital in which all relations have become toxic and emotions have been rendered cold objects for capital.10 Thus, the primary concern seems to be with oppressive, exploitative and reified capitalist social relations and how to break out of them – but the solutions we’re confronted with from the diverse strands of the ‘new materialisms’ no longer lie in the critique of these relations, but rather in a nonrelational and un-dialectical gesture that posits the world of matter against the man-made disaster of a neoliberal existence.11


The search for what Diederichsen calls ‘de-reification’ ventures towards that which evades representation, which is not rendered object qua instrumental reason but qua its own force, the dark, the mystic, the animate but soul-less – something that is more truly cold and yet not cold at all. This line of argument, however – which is echoed in Hito Steyerl’s emphatic call for us to finally accept the death of the subject and embrace the forces of construction and destruction, of violence and the possibility stored within things – problematically sidelines the classed, racialised and gendered oppressions of capitalist reality. Within this, masses of people have never been granted any ‘subject status’ in the first place and are, instead, rendered mere objects or even superfluous, because not productive, for capital. From the point of view of these relations, the move towards accepting or even embracing objectification as in itself emancipatory can be nothing more than a bad joke.


Image: Brian Jungen, Dog Run, dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, 2012


This sentiment, which shares its focus with the new materialisms, tends to uphold a mind-body dualism in which the subject is associated with the mind and the bad effects of Enlightenment rationalism, whereas the physical body with its pre-cognitive responses and movements is often, and rather miraculously, able to maintain a certain independence from worldly subjections. Even if there is an investment in overcoming this dualism and a certain caution against glorifying ‘nature’ as the unchanging outside of the human world to be called upon when attempts to elevate culture fail, the new materialisms’ emphasis on pre-cognitive affects, feelings and touch in the realm of the natural, or as moments of ‘matter receiving form’, cannot escape the body’s prioritisation.12 This tendency towards an ‘aesthetics through embodiment’13, which finds its theoretical anchor in Brian Massumi’s work and other thinkers in the field of Affect Studies, is still very much entangled with the human body and its ability to be drawn into new relational and animate fields through or as part of an artwork.14


Under the influence of similar theoretical influences, especially Spinoza and Deleuze, paired with a Latourian notion of the ‘actant’, Jane Bennett pushes this aesthetico-materialist investment one step further towards properly inorganic, nonhuman bodies. Interested in the ‘material agency of natural bodies and technological artefacts’, Bennett does not rest at a transindividual(ising) capacity of the vital forces that she finds in these things (‘thing-power’), but thinks of them as impersonal, as being for themselves.15 Her project here is political, since she hopes to ‘induce in human bodies an aesthetic-affective openness to material vitality’ in order to give the nonhuman its proper, equal place in the realm of the political in order to make possible a greener, more sustainable human culture.16 Politics must be thought, here, as an ecology that is made of human and nonhuman agents, which can equally shape and disrupt the common ground of existence. It is at this point that a vitalist-materialist aesthetics of affects and vibrations is paired with an overwhelming concern for a working environmental politics. This step from an ecology of human and non-human objects to the formation of a new political public that, together with worms, trees and aluminium as equally potent actants, is suddenly able to tackle formerly irresolvable problems such as climate change, amounts to a naïve attempt at redefining politics. One that sees its main challenge as defining the right means and institutions of communication. While Bennett’s fundamental assumption is that our current democracy fails because of an imbalance between nature and culture, or non-human and human participation, she fails to see that any such horizontal relationship is foreclosed from a democracy that exists within a capitalist state in which humans, with their powers and needs, are necessarily divided from a relationship with nature and the political realm that is not mediated by capital and class.17


What then are the specific contributions and promises of artworks that deal with the intersections between the world of matter and the human world, as demonstrated by the Blowup: Speculative Realities exhibition in Amsterdam, Kassel’s dOCUMENTA (13) and several other recent exhibitions?18 It is their radical inquiry into nature, non-human matter and life-forms that first strikes the eye. In these inquiries, whose serious concern for a re-opening of the dead-end of contemporary politics is often paired with an element of humour, nothing about natural objects such as clouds or trees, or the life and communication of animals, or different lifeworlds and body parts is taken for granted.19 Christov-Bakargiev defined this form of art, that has clear crossovers with the spheres of physics, biology and philosophy as ‘basic research’ [Grundlagenforschung]; artists describe their activity as an inquiry into ‘processes beyond human control’, into ‘fields of possibility’ that have to do with poetics, ‘wonder and mystery’ as opposed to mere reality.20 What matters is no longer that artworks have any direct critical or political meaning, as we have plentifully encountered in the different forms of conceptual and explicitly political art of the last century, but that the assemblages and constellations of matter and worlds themselves might, as a progression, create discursive signification.21 The gesture of ‘object-oriented art’ is clearly one that does not allow for nature to remain the eternally excluded other of human existence, but makes it into something that art can investigate, situate, question and multiply re-imagine.22 This also challenges any straight-forward environmentalist approach that calls for the conservation of the ‘what is’, and renders questionable any easy translation into politics of the assemblages presented by the artwork, such as those found in Bennett’s work. In their partly humorous, partly sincere way, these artistic ecologies call into question what really is and thus challenge any realist politics that is merely concerned with an immediate reality of subjects or objects. Moritz Gansen captures this artistic impetus sharply, when he names it an ‘aesthetics of the strange art of cosmic dreaming’.23 It is an aesthetics that is invested in exploring potentialities of singular objects and assemblages and in creating fundamentally new spaces of possibility.


While Bennett is a well-established reference point for thinking the intersection of art and object-centered ecologies, it is, more than anyone, Graham Harman and Quentin Meillassoux, who have been referenced in relation to the various object-oriented art projects – possibly based on their more openly speculative endeavours. This makes it timely to investigate the space and quality of an aesthetics within Harman’s and Meillassoux’s own philosophical theories that allows us to speculate on how their theories intersect at a theoretical level with the art and aesthetics they have induced.24 Both start by fundamentally rejecting the consensus within continental philosophy to treat ‘being and thought’ as one and the same.25 They thereby re-open the Kantian question ‘What can I know?’ and the associated grand ontological inquiries into the real that lies beyond its representations by the human mind, which Kant importantly named the ‘in itself’, to which the human transcendental subject has no direct access.26



Harman’s ‘Object-Oriented Aesthetics’


In his object-oriented philosophy, Graham Harman’s first step is to eliminate any Kantian gap between the world and the subjects that perceive this world. Instead, all that exists are real objects as autonomous realities or individual substances. Humans themselves become objects, alongside fire, cotton and a tree. ‘The real’, as the realm of real objects and therefore the realm of proper ‘depth’, exists independently for Harman. But, in contrast to many other speculative realists, it is simultaneously divided absolutely from any image or knowledge of it. The real, and therefore real objects and their qualities, cannot be accessed or known directly. There is no direct relation but an absolute rift between knowledge of the real and the real as such, which leads Harman to call his ontology a realism without a materialism. Part of his definition of objects as individual substances is that they do not stand in any direct relation with each other. The main question thus becomes how relations between objects occur at all and of what quality they are.


With and against his main interlocutors Latour, Husserl, Heidegger and Levinas, Harman develops the answer of ‘vicarious causation’.27 Initially, real objects have no linkage and instead they withdraw from each other – that is why causation reappears as a question for philosophy in the first place. The only way objects can touch each other is by not really touching, by developing a proximity that is close but never fully fuses with or exhausts the other substance: a ‘vicarious’ relationship. They ‘somehow melt, fuse, and decompress in a shared common space from which all are partly absent.’28 Besides real objects and their qualities, there is a second category of objects – sensual objects – that rather than existing in a withdrawn state, lie directly in front of the perceiving agent as a unified whole: they are surface appearances, the phenomena. But again, these sensual objects, even though they exist plentifully and in a shared perceptual space, do not fuse into each other, but ‘endure a buffered causation’.29 On the ground of this metaphysical plane, no intentional agent, human or non-human, can ever exhaust an object’s reality, neither through theoretical elaborations nor through practice. In his publication for the dOCUMENTA (13), Harman illustrates this non-relationship by utilising the image of ‘Eddington’s two tables’. But instead of siding with either a reality of the physical, scientific table or the second table of everyday culture, Harman argues that ‘[t]he real table is in fact a third table lying between these two others’, as it exists as an autonomous reality beyond any of its scientific or cultural qualities.30


Interaction, relationship, causation, linkage are finally the names for a complex process that can be initiated between two real objects or two sensual objects only by a third intentional agent of the opposite type (in the first case sensual, in the second case real). Because, while real objects cannot touch each other, ‘sensual objects always touch real ones’, as they only exist for real objects.31 Causality ‘unfolds only on the interiority of minds’, never in between the real objects. That means, relations can only ever exist on the surface and never reach the depth of the real object; an operation in Harman’s ontology that renders the surface the decisive realm, in so far as a sudden (mediated) appearance of a real object in between the many commonly residing sensual objects is always a potential for change. Making the sensual realm the necessary mediator for any object relations is the step that renders ‘aesthetics […] first philosophy’32, because only the realm of aesthetics allows for the establishment of any relations between substance and causation, which are divided by an ontological fission. Similarly, politics or ethics become for Harman questions of a specific form of coupling and uncoupling between real and sensual objects and therefore a question of the creation of ‘new objects’, which it is only ever possible to talk about on the level of aesthetics.33


Image: Sarah Ortmeyer, SAD EIS, installation view of The Return of the Object, at Invaliden1, Berlin


The concepts that allow us to understand the specific position of art and artworks within Harman’s metaphysical aesthetics are ‘sincerity’ and ‘allure’. Sincerity generally refers to the moment when a real and a sensual object enter into a relation, when the former gets absorbed by the latter in order to reach a ‘connection’. As Harman shows with the example of a person getting absorbed by the sensual object ‘tree’ through an encounter with a tree, on the street or in a forest, these kinds of relations occur all the time. But as this connection occurs within the general space of intention, where several sensual objects and related qualities exist besides each other, the moment of sincerity, which seems to be temporally located before an accomplished connection, bears the chance of a real object ‘piercing’ through the cloud of sensual objects and establishing a new relation, a new object.34 With the concept of the ‘allure’, Harman describes a way in which such a new connection, which is still to be understood as a relation, not as an encounter with the real object itself, can be actively triggered:35


The only way to bring real objects into the sensual sphere is to reconfigure sensual objects in such a way that they no longer merely fuse into a new one, as parts into a whole, but rather become animated by allusion to a deeper power lying beyond: a real object. The gravitational field of a real object must somehow invade the existing sensual field.36


This means, the allure has the ability to separate an encountered, sensual object from its immediate qualities, and therefore create an opening for a different level of reality to enter, a reality in which sensual qualities are not directly presented as the necessary part of sensual objects, nor sensual objects as unified wholes.37 The examples Harman offers for understanding allures are poetic metaphors, beauty, cuteness (of children or recently born animals) or more generally failure, hypnotic experiences, names and love encounters, which he sums up under the categories ‘the comic and the charming’. Now, while he explicitly states that allure is not merely a theory of art, but a theory of causal relations in general, he nevertheless has clearly pointed to art and artworks as ideally equipped to activate forms of ‘allure’, because of the way that the real object (while partly removed) and the sensual qualities are fused within the work of art:38


But a similar cutting of the bond between an agent and its traits occurs in beauty, in which a thing or creature is gifted with qualities of such overwhelming force that we do not pass directly through the sensual material into the unified thing, but seem to see the beautiful entity lying beneath all its marvelous qualities, commanding them like puppets.39


This space that is opened up, for example, by beauty is for Harman a critical space that allows for new relations to emerge, rather than for any elevated ‘critique’. While the spectator does not access the real object that is the artwork outside the intentional space of his or her mind, the spectator and the artwork can fuse within the intentional space and can produce new relations that are always also new objects. On the side of the artwork, the responsibility seems to then lie with its creator, the artist, to find allures that forge new relations in interesting ways.


It remains unclear though what kind of allures would count as better or worse, worthy of being created or not, because judgements do not exist in Harman’s world of objects. Relations are either brought into existence or not. Objects exist anyway in their withdrawn states. Above anything else, this conceptual weakness is grounded on Harman’s fundamental distinction between the real and the sensual, which reminds one of Bennett’s political idealism in which the sole problem of democracy has become a question of the equal access and participation of the non-human. While Harman overcomes Bennett’s division of human and non-human actants by rendering everything ‘objects’, he creates a different fission – the gap between the real and the sensual – and thereby remains faithful to an idealisation of the now inaccessible and ‘truly’ real as that which can interrupt and reconfigure its sensual representations in the object’s intentional spaces.


There is no way in which Harman could account for the accumulation of powers and forces within specific objects or object constellations that violate certain relations or even deny access to them; there is no way in which objects might be distributed unequally in different networks of relations or in which relations might bind objects to conditions of extreme suffering, of suffocation, of death – and we could here speak of relations between people and their means of subsistence as much as of the relation between a company that emits toxic fumes and its surrounding biosphere. For Harman, real objects, whose materiality is entirely removed from our sensual images of it, exist in their individualised, withdrawn states in which they can be touched by sensual objects without ever really being affected.


Philosophy and simultaneously aesthetics have thus become extremely impoverished, as they have lost any concepts that could allow judgements that go beyond the question if a ‘new’ relation has been forged or not. With respect to the spectator, Harman seems to remain extremely Kantian, in the sense that for him art is fundamentally about the encounter between the artwork and the spectator and the emerging aesthetic reaction or ‘judgement’. Even though he makes clear that his conception in which the spectator becomes part of the artwork (of course only in the intentional space) is opposed to Kant’s necessary moment of ‘disinterestedness’ when encountering ‘the beautiful’, Harman remains close to Kant’s conception in that he is interested in a moment of awe and an expression of delight that the encounter between artwork and spectator can cause.40 But, instead of aiming at a Kantian differentiation of the possible aesthetic judgements and their potentially universal reach, Harman is mainly interested in the slightly misty and oblique discovery on the side of the spectator that the subjective sensual world, which he-she-it had taken for granted, has actually many different facets, in so far as real objects do not exist in any unity. Disappointingly, this sounds like a new form of relational aesthetics that has exchanged people for objects41 and now contents itself as being just another, maybe slightly more potent, form of wine-tasting.42 Any sensual reaction of awe or delight potentially holds the same value which, triggered by a different representation of the real, can forge a new relation, a new object.



Meillassoux’s ‘Inaesthetics’


Let’s then turn our focus now to Meillassoux, who leads us away from objects and towards an ontological discussion of worlds beyond. While Meillassoux has not actually developed an explicit aesthetics, he has recently published the monograph The Number and the Siren, on Stephane Mallarmé’s poem Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hazard (A throw of the dice will never abolish chance) that will help me ground my explorations. Meillassoux, in contrast to Harman and many other new materialists, fundamentally rejects any differentiation between the realm of being – of ontology – and the realm of sense perception (the aesthetic realm or aisthesis). Because he not only also rejects the correlationist claim that thinking and being is one, but wants to refute it from within, his project becomes a demonstration of the possibility of accessing the ‘in itself’ or absolute, ‘a reality absolutely separate from the subject’.43 After Meillassoux has demonstrated the aporia of the correlationist approach and the scientific truth that can be reached via something like the ‘arche-fossile’, which was in existence long before any human species, he concludes that what a non-correlationist philosophy needs to concern itself with is a reality beyond our given reality for which there is no natural law, no ultimate cause, no reason and also no necessity: that is the meaning of ‘absolute facticity’, which is simultaneously absolute possibility and absolute contingency. The worlds of the real are non-totalisable.44 No necessity, as Meillassoux shows, implies the impossibility of contradictions, as we know them from Hegelian dialectics, because a contradictory entity always necessarily implies its other side, and therefore contradicts absolute contingency. To end the purely conceptual recapitulation, what exists in Meillassoux’s real is ‘superchaos’ (or formerly called hyperchaos) about which it is possible to speculate ‘rationally’. Following his teacher Alain Badiou, to speculate rationally means for Meillassoux to ‘re-absolutis[e] the scope of mathematics’.45


The link between this theory and Mallarmé’s poem is introduced by Meillassoux as follows:


[P]hilosophy is concerned with a real and dense possible which I call the ‘may-be’ [peut-être]. This peut-être […] is very close to the final peut-être of Mallarmé’s Un coup de dés….46


By Mallarmé’s final peut-être, Meillassoux means the attempted, but forever suspended, toss of the dice of the drowned Master that now remains undecided ‘in the eternal circumstance of a shipwreck’s depth’.47 The question that Meillassoux understands Mallarmé to be asking with Un coup de dès and earlier poems is the question of if and how poetry could become a truly great or ‘configurative art’ that is able to open up human existence towards ‘a future salvation’. This grand question, which Meillassoux sees residing in a wager for poetry ‘as an absolute and the source of a new religion’, and which also includes Mallarmé’s unpublished project The Book [Le Livre] as one of its sources, is combined for Mallarmé with a further pressing question. That of remaining faithful to the ‘old’ collectivising metric verse as against a truly modern and individualised free verse poetry.


Against his master Alain Badiou, Meillassoux sees these questions not resolved in Coup de dès in relation to an evental configuration of the poem towards a newly emerging truth, but as precisely eternalised in a hypothetical ‘perhaps’, by means of a metre that simultaneously exists and in-exists: the activity of ‘fixer l’infini’. Meillassoux argues this on the grounds of the ‘unique Number’ that we can find alluded to but finally suspended in the line of the poem ‘it was the number – were it to have existed’, but that nevertheless has an, albeit questionable, hidden existence via a code within the poem.48


Without wanting to engage further in an interpretation of Meillassoux’s extraordinary and not at all undisputed reading of the poem, I will end by reflecting on the status of numbers and art that Meillassoux attributes here.49 Whereas in Meillassoux’s philosophy mathematics can directly access the absolute without any detour via reason, Mallarmé eternalises his poetry on the ground of a number whose existence is undecidable. The eternity lies then not merely in the metre of the poem, not in the number itself, because that would give the poem a finite meaning and existence. Via its proximity to both, language and numbers, the poem allows the reader to gaze into the space of hyperchaos that is simultaneously the void, but only if he is attentive enough to discern the rather complex layers through which this ‘telescope’ is constructed. If as readers of Badiou’s treatises on art as ‘inaestheticswe have remained disappointed by his strange formalism in which the artwork itself became the subject of the event and therefore the bearer of an eternal truth, which was then charged with the ability of emancipating humanity into new sensible relations with the world, it seems that Meillassoux may have delivered a possible answer to how this formalism could play out.50 This occurs via the route of mathematics as the access to the absolute, the worlds that exist beyond our reality. In his review of The Number and the Siren, Thomas Ford calls Meillassoux’s interpretation ‘a haze…of numbers’ that he opposes to the 20th century ‘haze of signification’.51 And even though we might be sceptical of binding art in this way to mathematical formulas and turning it into a highly intellectualised, yet simultaneously mystic inquiry into a shadowy depth of being, it is difficult not to be intrigued by this idea. Of course Rancière’s critique that this understanding affirms an old modernist belief in the autonomy and specificity of the art object is here as much valid as when it was posed against Badiou’s project.52 But if we were to embrace an art of the inaesthetic, i.e. an art that itself, and independent of the philosophical subject of aesthetics, can alert and direct the spectator to a truth that fundamentally differs from the subjective human reality, without trying to couple it to our political ambitions for art to be directly invested in our anti-capitalist struggle53, it could perhaps become a source of dreams, desires and comportments that might help us to understand this very world as contingent – and therefore open to being altered.


Image: Pierre Huyghe, Colony Collapse, dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, 2012


At the same time the aesthetics of hope Meillassoux’s philosophy offers us is not a Blochian ‘not-yet-being’ that, in its utopian sense, is nevertheless directed in a very concrete way against the oppressive material conditions of existence under capitalism, and which is itself only generated by the participation in that very same struggle. Meillassoux’s real of superchaos, which art might help us to access is, whilst radically contingent, also absolute, containing in itself ‘the equal contingency of order and disorder, of becoming and sempiternity’.54 Whereas this form of hope seems to offer us a new way of ‘dreaming’, the dreams themselves make capitalist social relations and our human struggles appear equally petty, inane and merely from this world. It is a hope of the last resort that is no longer invested in change, but in alleviation of the pain that comes with resignation.


* I would like to thank Stephanie Hessler, Jenny Nachtigall and Moritz Gansen for their contributions and links along the way as well as Josephine and Ben from Mute for their encouragement to write this article in the first place and for their careful readership and great editorial care.


Svenja Bromberg <svenja.bromberg AT> is a PhD student in the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths College, London. She works on Marxist political philosophy, aesthetics and politics, and feminist theory.





1In the Philosophy Department at the Free University Berlin, there has just been an entire ‘Hauptseminar’ dedicated to Speculative Realism during the past academic year.

2 As well as Bruno Latour – for Harman the most important philosopher of the 20th century – and Levi Bryant, Ray Brassier, Steve Shaviro and others. But Meillassoux and Harman are the figures I will concentrate on in this article due to their prominence in philosophical and artistic movements. A more general overview of thinkers and positions can be found in Levi R Bryant, Nick Srnicek, and Graham Harman, The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia:, 2011.

3 See: The Era of Ojbects (Blowup Reader 3) and the exhibitions it is based on, Speculative Realities, (Blowup Reader 6), V2_: Institute for the Unstable Media, ed., Rotterdam, 2013,; a lecture series in Berlin organised by Armen Avanessian and Melanie Sehgal, and many more informal gatherings.

4 See: Hito Steyerl, ‘A Thing Like You And Me’, 15 April 2010,

5 See for some attempts to remain faithful to a modulated form of that subject in contemporary continental philosophy: Eduardo Cadava, Peter Connor, and Jean-Luc Nancy, Who Comes after the Subject? (London: Routledge, 1991); I have elsewhere written on the notion of affective labour and its problematic application in Hardt and Negri’s work.

6 Steyerl, op. cit.

7 See Benjamin Noys, The Persistence of the Negative: a Critique of Contemporary Continental Theory (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010); Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics ([Paris]: Les Presses du Réel, 2002).

8 Diedrich Diederichsen, ‘Animation, De-reification, and the New Charm of the Inanimate’, 36 July 2012, . I am taking the definition of post-Fordist labour from Hardt and Negri as well as from Lazzarato as meaning ‘intellectual, immaterial, and communicative labor’. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire, Cambridge, Mass ; London: Harvard University Press, 2000, 29; Maurizio Lazzarato, ‘Immaterial Labour’, in Radical Thought in Italy – A Potential Politics, Michael Hardt and Paolo Virno (Eds.), Minneapolis, Minn. ; London: University of Minnesota Press, 1996, pp.132–146.

9 See A.R. Hochschild, The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling (Berkeley, Calif.; Los Angeles; London: University of California Press, 2003).

10 René Pollesch, Liebe Ist Kälter Als Das Kapital: Stücke, Texte, Interviews, C. Brocher (Ed.), Reinbek: Rowohlt Taschenbuch, 2009.

11 See for a general overview of the field for example, Diana Coole and Samantha Frost (Eds.), New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics, Duke University Press, 2010; Rick Dolphijn and Iris van der Tuin, New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies, Open Humanities Press, 2012.

12See, e.g. Timothy Morton’s The Ecological Thought, Harvard University Press, 2010, for a rejection of this notion in favour of ‘ecology’; V2_: Institute for the Unstable Media, op. cit., p.42.

13See ibid., p.30.

14 See Brian Massumi, Semblance and Event: Activist Philosophy and the Occurrent Arts, MIT Press, 2011, p.105.

15 Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: a Political Ecology of Things, Durham: Duke University Press, 2010, p.xiii.

16 Ibid., p.x.

17 See: Karl Marx, Early Writings, London: Penguin, 1975, p.390. See also Alfred Schmidt, The Concept of Nature in Marx, trans. Ben Fowkes, New Left Books, 1971.

18 For example, The Return of the Object at the Berlin gallery, Invaliden1, curated by Stefanie Hessler in January 2013.

19See V2_: Institute for the Unstable Media, op. cit., p.26 and Kia Vahland’s, ‘Documenta-Leiterin Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev: Über die politische Intention der Erdbeere,”, 8 June, 2012, sec. kultur,

20 Vahland, ibid., p.15.

21 Dolphijn and van der Tuin, New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies, p.91.

22 See V2_: Institute for the Unstable Media, op. cit., p.40.

23 Moritz Gansen, ‘Cosmic Dreams: The Ecological Aesthetics of dOCUMENTA (13)’, presented at the Aesthetics of the 21st Century, Basel, n.d.

24See V2_: Institute for the Unstable Media, op. cit., p.37.

25 Graham Harman, ‘On Vicarious Causation’, Collapse 2, Speculative Realism, March 2007, p. 189.

26In Hegel’s idealism there is of course something such as absolute knowledge.

27 Harman, ‘On Vicarious Causation’, op. cit.

28 Ibid., p.190.

29 Ibid., 195.

30 Graham Harman, The Third Table = Der dritte Tisch, vol. 85, 100 Notes - 100 Thoughts /100 Notizen - 100 Gedanken (Ostfildern, Germany: dOCUMENTA 13/ Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2012).

31 See also Harman, ‘On Vicarious Causation’, p.219.

32 Ibid., 221.

33 Here there seems to exist a certain proximity to the aesthetic politics that Jacques Rancière conceptualises on the ground of his analysis of different “distributions of the sensible”, with the important difference that Rancière first of all explicitly focuses on the aesthetics of art and that he further refuses to allow art as well as politics to have any material reality beyond the subjectively perceived forms, practices and relations. For Harman on the contrary, materiality does influence the level of the sensual, but never directly, i.e. not in an unmediated way.

34 See ibid., p.213.

35 See especially Graham Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things, Chicago, Ill.: u.a.: Open Court, 2005, but also Harman’s various recent talks on art.

36 Harman, ‘On Vicarious Causation’, op. cit., p.220.

37 See Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics, op. cit., p.179.

38 See Graham Harman – Art and Paradox, 2012,; Harman, The Third Table = Der dritte Tisch.

39 Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics, op. cit., p.142.

40 See Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgement, Oxford University Press, 2007, §2.

41 See Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, p.85.

42 A connection Harman himself suggests, see Graham Harman - Art and Paradox, 2012,

43 See Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency , London: Continuum, 2009, Chapter 1-2, and Meillassoux’s, ‘Time Without Becoming / Zeit Ohne Werden’, SPIKE 35, 2013, p.92.

44 Graham Harman, Quentin Meillassoux: Philosophy in the Making, Edinburgh University Press, 2011, p.159.

45 Meillassoux, After Finitude, op. cit., p.204.

46 Meillassoux, “Time Without Becoming / Zeit Ohne Werden,” 102.

47 Mallarmé, Un coup de dès

48 Quentin Meillassoux, Le nombre et la sirène: un déchiffrage du Coup de dés de Mallarmé ([Paris]: Fayard, 2011), pp.16.

49 For discussions of the book see: Michael Reid, ‘Ex Nihilo’, Mute, August 2012,; Thomas H. Ford, ‘Quentin Meillassoux, The Number and the Siren’, The Canadian Society for Continental Philosophy, January 2013,;; Adam Kotsko, ‘Quentin Meillassoux and the Crackpot Sublime’, The New Inquiry, May 2012,

50Alain Badiou, ‘Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art’, Lacanian Ink 23, 2004,; Alain Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2005.

51 Ford, ‘Quentin Meillassoux, The Number and the Siren.’

52 Jacques Rancière, ‘Aesthetics, Inaesthetics, Anti-Aesthetics’, in Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy, Peter Hallward (Ed.), London: Continuum, 2004, p.218.

53See Alberto Toscano on the problem of converging speculation and materialism in Meillassoux’s philosophy: Alberto Toscano, ‘Against Speculation, or, a Critique of the Critique of Critique: A Remark on Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude (after Colletti)’, in The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, ed. Levi R Bryant, Nick Srnicek, and Graham Harman (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia:, 2011), 84–91.

54 Quentin Meillassoux, “Time Without Becoming / Zeit Ohne Werden,” 102.