One of the questions that has haunted Object-Oriented Ontology since its early days is if it objectifies the subject in its ontology? Or does it even have space for subjectivity in the ontology? While it is an important question, and one that I will briefly open in this section, the question that I am interested in exploring is, whether there is any hint of realism in Freud and his voyages into the depth of mental space?

There have been numerous occasions when either of the group members of OOO have clarified this point. The clarifications have been basically to convey that there is no reason to abandon the subject in any ontology and what they are simply saying is that subject is one among trillions of other kinds of objects. Their basic premise is that for far too long philosophy has been concerned with the human /world relationships, while the claims on any other kind of relationship has been left to the hard sciences. What they simply want to do is to surpass the hegemony of the false ontotaxonomy of humans on one side and the world on the other -in order to be able to speculate on relationship between any kind of objects. To put it in other terms, OOO’s project is to move away from anthropocentrism and join hands with other thinkers in this effort -albeit with a metaphysics or ontology of an anthropomorphic, if not ‘de-anthropocentric’, philosophy. 

In an interview in 2010, Graham Harman says “Freud always claimed that psychoanalysis was the third affront to human dignity in modern times. Copernicus moved the earth out of the center of the universe. Darwin made us no more special than animals, plants, and fungi. And Freud made conscious thought derivative of less palatable underground currents in the psyche. As a fourth supposed affront to the dignity of humans, let’s add the notion to which you just referred: that the human is not metaphysically special either, so that my perception of fire is no different in kind from the relation of cotton and fire among themselves. Cognitive and causal relations all end up on the same footing.”

Not only that, in 2015, at a lecture in Sci-Arc Form and its Rivals, Harman proposed that we should consider Clement Greenberg, Marshal McLuhan, Martin Heidegger, and Sigmund Freud as among the most important 20th century thinkers of “background” who are among the most relevant today. We will consider this question of background as one of the poles of this short survey. 

In 2017, in an edit book titled The Neurotic Turn, Harman contributed a chapter titled  “Freud’s Wolf-Man in an Object-Oriented Light”. The focus of the chapter was to move Freud and perhaps even psychoanalysis away from its critique by Deleuze and Guattari and see it in the light of OOO (which in many ways means to see it in the flickering light arrangement comprising of Kant, Heidegger, and Husserl among others). 

Finally, Graham Harman, in his book Object-Oriented Ontology -A New Theory of everything, 2018, mentions in the very beginning that the model he chose for structuring the book is based on Frued’s Introductory Lecture on Psycho-analysis.

This only shows the admiration that Harman, as a philosopher, has for Freud as an important thinker for the 21stcentury. Any new philosophy will be subjected to doubts that demands clarifications. However, we are interested in turning the question around and asking, is there any realism in the mental cosmos of psychoanalysis? In other words, is there any place for mind independent existence of things and their relations? 

To be sure, psychoanalysis is an anthropocentric area of study. However, as already noted by Harman, Freud accepts Kant’s formulation of the thing-in-itself and that of human finitude. A few passages from Freud would suffice to demonstrate that not only does Freud accept Kant’s important idea, but he also manages to extend the same to several other living organisms:

Negation (1925): 
“The other sort of decision made by the function of judgement -as to the real existence of something of which there is presentation (reality-testing) -is a concern of the definitive reality-ego, which develops out of the initial pleasure-ego. It is now no longer a question of whether what has been perceived (a thing) shall be taken into the ego or not, but of whether something which is in the ego as a presentation can be rediscovered in perception (reality) as well… What is unreal, merely a presentation and subjective, is only internal; what is real is also there outside.” 

“The antithesis between subjective and objective does ont exist from the first. It only comes into being from the fact that thinking possesses the capacity to bring before the mind once more something that has once been perceived, by reproducing it as a presentation without external object having still to be there.” 

These three passages from Negation (1925) illustrate three things: 1) Subject is not the other of the object from first. The capacity of a psyche of organisms to re-present the real to the mind creates this distinction. This is in alignment with any realist ontology which claims that all objects are equally objects. 2) the presentations in mind are unreal and only internal. This could easily be one of the definitions of sensual objects in OOO. 3) What is real is always outside –outside of the mental space. This is the basic definition of real objects, things that are outside or beyond our perception. 

The Unconscious (1925): 
“Everything that is repressed must remain unconscious; but let us state at the very outset that the repressed does not cover everything that is unconscious.” (166)

“The psycho-analytic assumption of unconscious mental activity appears to us, on the one hand, as a further expansion of the primitive animism which caused us to see copies of our own consciousness all around us, and on the other hand, as an extension of the corrections undertaken by Kant of our views on external perception. Just as Kant warned us not to overlook the fact that our perceptions are subjectively conditioned and must not be regarded as identical with what is perceived though unknowable, so psycho-analysis warns us not to equate perceptions by means of consciousness with the unconscious mental process which are their object.” (171)

These two passages illustrate Freud’s consideration of the gap between reality in-itself and as perceived in our mind. More importantly in this passage, Freud also creates a rift between consciousness itself by hinting at the presence of an even deeper level of the psyche which he refers to as the unconscious -which will forever remain beyond the conscious and unknowable. This proposition by Freud creates an interesting reversal of the axiom of German Idealism: Instead of the tautology, since we are thinking about the thing-in-itself, it is already a thought. Following Freud’s idea of the unconscious we can even say, thought itself remains allusive as it emerges from the unknowable depths of psyche and hence, every thought is an object. 

Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1918) : Protection against stimuli is an almost more important function for the living organism than reception of stimuli.” 

It is characteristic of them that they deal only with very small quantities of external stimulation and only take in samples of external world. They may perhaps be compared with feelers which are all the time making tentative advances towards the external world and then drawing back from it.” 

These two passages from this essay illustrates a biological reason or necessity for the finitude of any living organism. This is very similar to what Timothy Morton has often said, death is nothing but a total integration with the environment. Hence, it is almost a characteristics of living organisms to cut-off and receive or deal with small doses of external stimuli. In philosophical terms, this extension of the idea of finitude to all living things already seems like one step further from the enlightenment thinkers for whom the taxonomy of the universe was humans on one side and everything else on the other side. However, this line of thought was not Freud’s project, so any further reading into this will be pure speculation.  In OOO, this quality of being cut-off from the environment and understanding the world through limited communication from the context is one of the primary characteristics of all objects, living or non-living (real or sensual). 

In this section we see that Freud does not discard the mind-independent reality of things and their relationship at all. In fact, reality for Freud acts like a bouncing board for the functioning of the mental apparatus to either affirm or negate, a.k.a functioning of repression itself. 

Useful links on this discussion:

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