Helping Mark Allan Ohm translate Garcia's magnum opus was probably the second hardest thing (after caring for a newborn) I've yet done, and it's tremendously validating to get a pat on the shoulder as well as to see that other people agree with me that it was not time wasted.
To be clear, if you had to translate a one hundred seventy thousand plus word metaphysics tome from its original French, you could not do better than to translate one by as preternaturally gifted a writer as Tristan Garcia. But it's still a lot of moving pieces you have to juggle for sustained periods.
Mathew David Segall has a great post on process versus object oriented ontologies here. The post makes me really excited about reading Steven Shaviro's new book. I find myself sympathetic both to Whitehead's variant of pan-psychism and Harman's anti-relationism and hope there is some way to make the two consistent.
Tristan Garcia might be read as presenting the start of a way out of this. For Garcia, objects are relational, as he expresses his anti-reductionism in terms an object being the difference between what it comprehends and that which comprehends it. Like Whitehead's "comprehension" is supposed to be invariant between epistemic sense and the broader French sense of containment* (think Frege's "axiom of comprehension"). For Garcia, if you try to reduce an object to the things it contains or to the things that contain it (as varieties of structuralism and relativism often do), the object actually disappears. All reductionism is eliminative for him. Supposing that's true, then what could an object possibly be? For him, it's the difference between that which comprehends the object and that which the object comprehends. But this is radically relational in the sense that Harman criticizes in Latour and Whitehead.
Garcia tries to get out of this by saying that there is a realm of things prior to the realm of objects. Each object corresponds to a thing, which is maximally dedetermined in the traditional (Cartesian) way. But these things aren't traditional substance bare particulars for Garcia, rather they themselves are merely the difference between what he calls no-matter-what (sort of like the empty set) and the world. How can we ever say that two things are distinct then? For Garcia we can't.**
It's pretty complicated and so systematic that I can't really explain it in a blog post. Mark Ohm and I are writing a book that I hope will explain how it works as well as how Garcia generates dialetheic regional ontologies via the framework and his other metaphysical primitive "intensity."
On this, please read Terrence Blake's really helpful recounting of a recent discussion between Mehdi Belhaj Kacem and Garcia here. From the post you get a clear idea of what's at stake with respect to whether Garcia's instensity can do the work he wants it to. From the Kacem I've read, I think he's possibly uncharitable to Garcia on this point. Garcia does have a model of intensity, and intensity is a metaphysical primative for him, just as primitive as things, object, no-matter-what, and world are. This being said, the discussion Blake describes is pretty interesting.
*As far as I can tell, Nathan Brown misses this in his otherwise very helpful review of Garcia's book. He also misses the way Garcia is trying to have it both ways with respect to relationism and atomism. To be fair, (1) Brown is following Garcia's own slightly misleading one-sentence descriptions of the primacy of things, and (2) Brown's task was almost impossible. Garcia's book combines Hegelian systematicity with Badiouan combination of analytic and continental themes. It doesn't lend itself to Siskell/Ebert style thumbs up thumbs down type reviewing, nor to pithy blog posts. My biggest hope is that the book I'm working on with Mark Ohm now will provide the kind of background to forestall these kinds of misunderstandings. Also see Harman's critical notice linked to in the next footnote.
**There's a serious cardinality problem here, one that Harman hints at in his early review of Garcia's book. For Garcia, being preceeds numerical identity. In fact, he endorses something very like the Geach/Kraut view that numerical identity is only relative to a sortal. It makes sense to talk about ten dogs, but no sense whatsoever to talk about ten things. Nonetheless each dog corresponds to a thing. I think Garcia gets out of this by actually holding that each enumerated dog actually corresponds to an indeterminate number of things, and that one can respond to Harman once this is realized. I've been working through vagueness literature (posts here) and coming up with a formal model of how this might work for Garcia, but it's still a little half-baked and Ohm and I are saving it for the book anyhow.]
Characteristically nice post about the analytic-continental divide from Graham Harman HERE.
Whenever Harman posts on this issue I find myself agreeing with everything he says. With Harman I think it is much more healthy than not that there are different traditions, and that they remain different
In place of thinking the division should disappear, I would instead make the following claims: (1) an a priori unwillingness from members of one tradition to learn from members of other traditions is problematic, (2) almost equally problematic are people from one camp who are only open to people from the other tradition to the extent that those people articulate views that seem to support those of the supposed pluralist's,* and (3) whatever you think about the different styles, the thinkers covered by continental philosophers should be taught in analytic programs (especially German Idealism and 19th Century more broadly, but also the things Leiter derides).
I should note in passing that one of the things I like about Speculative Realism is that its main practitioners do not embody any of the above vices. Analytic and Continental describe first and foremost training regimes for academic philosophers. But at a certain point you should put on your big boy pants just try to do philosophy, which requires following the muse wherever she wants to take you.
Avoidance of the above vices is not accidental, since Speculative Realists reject two substantive positions at the heart of the most significant continental and analytic philosophers, positions that started with the Positivists and Heidegger, and that rise up zombie-like over and over and over again.
This becomes crystal clear if one realizes that the divide between analytic and continental philosophers is much less philosophically important than a couple of other deeper divisions (1) between anti-metaphysical thinkers and at least anti-anti-metaphysical thinkers,** and (2) between naturalists and non-naturalists.
Weirdly, analytical philosophy's founding sin was combining naturalism and anti-metaphysics and continental philosophy's founding sin was combining non-naturalism and anti-metaphyiscs! But naturalism is false (see Michael Ruse HERE) and anti-metaphysics is incoherent (read the early critics of Kant or Graham Priest for that matter!).
In analytical philosophy anti-metaphysics is where naturalism goes to, if not die, continue some kind of a zombie-like existence. This goes all the way from Marburg School Neo-Kantianism to Robert Brandom, currently holding the office of the last positivist (after Bergmann then Quine and then Rorty before him). Brandom-type Pittsburgh Hegelianiasm, for all of its manifest virtues, almost constitutively returns to the kind of view that Heidegger derides in his very first (emergency war) lectures, of the universe as some valueless hunk with humans (in the guise of social practice) guilding and staining it. This is properly neo-Kantian, not Hegelian, as is the quietistic anti-metaphysics*** that obscures the basic move.
But, on the contrary, in continental philosophy anti-metaphysics comes from the Heideggerian view that science itself is a founded mode over something anti-metaphysics phenomenology reveals to be more originary. So while analytic naturalism leads to anti-metaphysics (because one must deride as meaningless questions that the natural sciences cannot answer), continental anti-metaphysics leads to anti-naturalism.
One is actually tempted to join the two above observations to make the following sort of argument. Analytic philosophy shows that naturalism refutes metaphysics. Continental philosophy shows that the refutation of metaphysics refutes naturalism. Therefore naturalism refutes naturalism.
In any case, I raise my flag with anti-naturalist anti-anti-metaphysicians. We're a tiny minority in both analytic and continental philosophy. With the possible exception of a non-trivial set of Christian apologists (usually working in a dialectical setting horribly tainted by either fideism or its opposition, IMHO), analytical philosophers who are not anti-metaphysicians are almost all naturalists (argument above notwithstanding)! And, with the notable exceptions of the Speculative Realists, Deleuzians, and some other heroic figures, continental philosophy by and large continues to chug along wearing the same old phenomenological straightjacket, with its attendent quietism and other forms of recycled neo-Kantianism. Note that this is perversely a straightjacket that any proper reader of the German Idealists would have thrown off long ago. Well with Quentin Meillassoux and Graham Priest's readings of this tradition,as well as Graham Harman's indefeteagable labor, at least some of us have begun to wiggle our way out of the damned thing.****
*It's very hard not to fall into this trap, perhaps impossible. Some strategies for an analytic philosopher who wants to be a "pluralist": (1) You must, must, must avoid the temptation to use your continental friends to give yourself a patina depth by simply adding a footnote when one of those continental friends tells you that someone you've never read has an idea kind of like yours, (2) You must go to talks about thinkers you don't like and be vigilently open to the idea that informed people of good will disagree with you about your assessment, (3) As much as possible, maintain an active reading life that has nothing to do with whatever current project on which you are working; this helps in all sorts of ways.
**The distinction between anti-metaphysics and anti-anti-metaphysics should not be confused with the distinction between anti-realists and anti-anti-realists. John McDowell is both an anti-metaphysician and an anti-anti-realist. See the next note.
***John McDowell is, like most continental philosophers, actually anti-metaphysical and non-naturalist. Brandom claims to be non-naturalist, but he really is not, at least in the important sense that the early Heidegger adumbrated. This is the entire reason, I think, that Crispin Wright famously put John McDowell down as not really being an analytic philosopher, but (as far as I know) has never said anything remotely similar about fellow Pittsburgh Hegelian Robert Brandom.
****Just because nothing above makes this sufficiently clear- I think Heidegger is one of the most important five philosophers in history and also that Brandom is easily in the top five of living philosophers.]