Harman claims that the bedrock of OOO, and indeed of all philosophy, is aesthetic. That’s why a book directly addressing issues of art and art criticism is so fundamental to the OOO project. As he writes in a preliminary note in Art and Objects, what Harman means by aesthetics is “namely, the study of the surprisingly loose relationship between objects and their own qualities.… By art I mean the construction of entities or situations reliably equipped to produce beauty, meaning an explicit tension between hidden real objects and their palpable sensual qualities.”
This tension arises from the fundamental autonomy of objects. I’m reminded of the Simone Weil quote about an ugly girl looking in the mirror and realizing instantly that she’s more than she sees. Or the Pound quote that nothing suggests itself. Objects, according to OOO, are always “absent,” and we approach them only obliquely and with the knowledge of the tension that arises between them and their qualities. So what Harman’s latest book is, in fact, is a premodern (his phrase, via Bruno Latour) reclamation of aesthetic formalism. It’s an argument that art exists and engages in relationships with other objects, but that what makes those relationships possible is the fundamental autonomy of the art itself.
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