On the Impossibility of Object-Oriented Film Theory
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On the Impossibility of Object-Oriented Film Theory
Theaetetus:

How, Stranger, can I describe an image except as something fashioned in the likeness of the true?

Stranger:

And do you mean this something to be some other true thing, or what do you mean?

Theaetetus:

Certainly not another true thing, but only a resemblance.

Stranger:

And you mean by true that which really is?

Theaetetus:

Yes.

Stranger:

And the not true is that which is the opposite of the true?

Theaetetus:

Exactly.

Stranger:

A resemblance, then, is not really real, if, as you say, not true?

Theaetetus:

Nay, but it is in a certain sense.

Stranger:

You mean to say, not in a true sense?

Theaetetus:

Yes; it is in reality only an image.

Stranger:

Then what we call an image is in reality really unreal. [End Page 197]

Theaetetus:

In what a strange complication of being and not-being we are involved!

Stranger:

Strange! I should think so. See how, by his reciprocation of opposites, the many-headed Sophist has compelled us, quite against our will, to admit the existence of not-being.

Plato, Sophist

Though the rise of object-oriented philosophy’s (OOP) popularity seems to have recently lost some of its momentum, there remains the fact that this new philosophical trend has in the last few years managed to gather quite a following in the philosophical community, the art world and its curatorial circles,1 and academic disciplines ranging anywhere from medieval to new media studies. OOP’s recognition across the different fields in the humanities is perhaps not surprising. It can be understood as part of a desire that has taken shape in the context of a more general reconfiguration of knowledge and ideological constraints in our historical moment. The most general contour of this process assumes the fashionable gesture of turning away from the problematic of “the human” toward that of “the inhuman”—an operation distinguishable from the various past critiques of humanism and human-centered thought, which sought to either expand these notions beyond the recognizably human or to show humanity as itself engendered by a series of conditions that constitutively exceed and destabilize it. An alternative way to capture the current ideological realignment would be to describe it as the movement from the subject to the object, from a focus on language and discursivity to the foregrounding of materiality and reality, from deconstruction and what it often stands for (“French theory”) to a seemingly less problematic relationship to metaphysics, or, we might say, from critique and constructivism back in the direction of a more affirmative and conciliatory, if not simply positivistic, image of thought. OOP’s approach, which sees itself as embodying all these traits, now guides people in several nonphilosophical disciplines, some of which, such as media and literary studies, exist in relative proximity to the field of film studies.

Yet there has hardly been an attempt from the side of film studies to explore the possibilities that OOP, or object-oriented ontology as it is also known, might have to offer. Why is this so? Why are there so far no encounters of note between OOP and film studies? The question is worth pondering, especially when one takes into account the interest that the discipline of film studies typically exhibits for new theoretical tools. As will hopefully become clear, [End Page 198] I believe that the nonexistence of an encounter between OOP and film theory is not simply a matter of chance. It cannot, for instance, be explained away by some accidental lack of interest for cinema among OO philosophers. Nor can an ignorance of recent philosophical trends by film scholars be posited as a reason. The absence of the encounter—this is the claim I wish to advance and explore here—stems instead from a set of fundamental impediments (a denial of the reality of images, the exclusion of time and movement from aesthetic experience) that render the standpoint of OOP incapable of producing constructive effects in the domain of film theoretical research. It is absence in this sense—absence resulting from a certain structural incompatibility, a necessary absence—that is the subject of the present essay...