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  • Departments of Language
  • Nathan Snaza (bio)


In a review of Timothy Morton’s Realist Magic (2013), Nathan Brown diagnoses two crucial problems with Morton’s book, and by extension object-oriented ontology in general. The first is that a certain style (“a style so effusive, so strenuously goofy and flippant” [2013, 64]) covers over a conceptual incoherence about what an object is, an incoherence that Brown sees as arising out of Graham Harman’s claim in Tool-Being that objects are “vacuum sealed” and non-relational. I will return to this below, as it has an important relation to the problems of disciplinarity I’ll want to address in this essay, in relation to the vogue for systems theory and its deployments of “autopoeisis.” More to the point for the moment, Brown also takes Morton to task for how he (ab)uses scientific theories, especially those drawn from quantum physics. Brown calls Morton out for picking and choosing accounts of physics that resonate with his own interests without accounting for how these ideas are “a matter of debate both in quantum physics and in philosophy of science” (2013, 65). Put most simply, Morton’s rhetoric relies a great deal on claims about contemporary scientific research that, as Brown sees it, he gets wrong: “Morton’s version of ‘OOO’ denigrates the same evidence of science and mathematics that it relies upon elsewhere—in some unrecognizably mutilated form” (2013, 65).1

While Brown’s critique can undoubtedly be read as applicable to Morton’s work alone and his “dabbling” (66) in science, I’d like to pause to note a particular resonance with a problem diagnosed by Lyotard in The Postmodern Condition, a problem with which we can hardly claimed to have dealt with in the intervening years and which, I think, is forced upon us again [End Page 91] by the rise of the posthumanities. This problem is, as Lyotard describes it, that no discourse can legitimate itself. This has always already been true, but the rise of postmodern incredulity toward metanarratives removes the widespread narrative legitimations which once secured scientific, philosophical, and political arguments. There is, in Lyotard’s scheme, no final way to convince anyone of the truth or falsity of any particular position, but he does not abandon the need for practices of discursive legitimation. Instead, he calls for “paralogies,” limited and context-bound agreements among actors about what the rules of a particular (academic or not) language game will be.

As the posthumanities spread forth, ideas from the humanities and social sciences are intertwined with concepts and theories from biology, cybernetics, mathematics, systems theory, computing, neuroscience, geology, physics, and other “scientific” fields. If the promise of this research is that it enables new forms of cross-disciplinary work, Brown’s review of Morton reminds us that we may be back in a differend: a scenario where there can be no agreement or even conversation between two opposing sides (let’s say, the scientist and the posthumanist) because they do not actually share a language in which to converse. Morton, says Brown, only pretends to speak with scientists and this pretense betrays a lack of serious engagement. One question I will raise, therefore, is how this differend relates to particular ways of institutionalizing thought in the university (and in education more broadly). I raise it in order to consider what institutional means might be available, strange as they may be, to support the emergence of paralogies, paralogies that require, in my view, antidisciplinary (as opposed to inter- or cross-disciplinary) commitments. I take my lead here from J. Jack Halberstam, who, in The Queer Art of Failure, nudges us toward antidisciplinarity, “in the sense that knowledge practices that refuse both the form and the content of traditional canons may lead to unbounded forms of speculation, modes of thinking that ally not with rigor and order but with inspiration and unpredictability… we may, ultimately, want more undisciplined knowledge, more questions and fewer answers” (2011, 10).

Discipline and Power

In Masks of Conquest, Gauri Viswanathan notes that “English literature appeared as a subject in the curriculum of the colonies long before it was institutionalized in the home country” (1989...


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