I went to Graham Harman‘s talk at Columbia University, 8 March 2013. He gave his usual spiel arguing for object oriented ontology and then discussed this in relation to art criticism. Bettina Funcke gave a reply, and they had an interesting discussion about Duchamp’s readymade Fountain.
One unexpected thing Harman said was that the most important experiences and changes don’t occur when we are familiar with our surrounding objects, but when they are unfamiliar. This seemingly prioritizes the relation of objects over the objects themselves. He also said that symbiosis was something important to this kind of change.
I had been waiting all week to ask how he could separate objects from their surrounding systems. These comments about important change only under certain relations and symbiosis handed me my arguments on a platter. I asked him how, if the most important change occurs because of a relation, then how does he prioritize the object over the relation? He said he didn’t: he emphasizes objects, but they are equally fundamental as their relations. This undercut my first objection by simply agreeing with me.
Then I pressed him about the symbiotic relation. He understood that objects in this kind of relation are special. I said, so this is more of a ‘Symbiotic Object Ontology’ and he also agreed with this. This seems to be something new for Harman and maybe object oriented philosophy (or at least I hadn’t heard anyone say anything about this before). If he continues with it, it would move him significantly closer to my position, which takes non-reducible interdependent objects as basic. Symbiosis is an instance of such an interdependence and hence a symbiotic object ontology would fit right into my philosophy.
The talk was recorded, I believe in both audio and video. Towards the end the audio recorder cut out — the talks and discussion went on for 2.5 hours — but the video camera looked like it was still rolling. I was dead last to speak, so it is possible you could hear my questions and his answers if the full video becomes available.