Graham Harman thoughtfully replied to my previous post on his article, "The Well-Wrought Broken Hammer: Object-Oriented Literary Criticism," and I would like in turn to make a few comments about his response.
Harman thinks that my insistence the New Critics simply contended that the reading experience required no "context" outside the text to be fully satisfying fails to address "whether they sufficiently accounted for the context in their theory." But my point is that they did not need to "account" for context. At its core, New Criticism holds that my reading of poem X can proceed entirely without reference to context and still be a perfectly coherent and self-sufficient reading. It's not required that I do this, and to the extent the New Critics maintained it is, they were wrong. The true "logical consequence" of the "theory" of New Criticism is that context need not be considered in reading poems and novels, although it could be. However, since, as OOO itself tells us, context is always incomplete if not finally inaccessible, bringing in the context does not make for "better" or more thorough reading. Pragmatically speaking, the context-free reading is good as any other, and, since its purpose is actually to stick as closely as possible to the actual experience of the text as read, it's a more concerted effort to do justice to the "literary."
Thus the reading experience itself is really the only "context" the critic needs. Harman cites the "paradox" that New Criticism rejects "rules," but this isn't paradoxical. If one strategy works better here and another there, this is because they each occur in a different context--the context of reading that work or looking at that painting.
I do think of the literary text as a "holistic unit," but I don't think it "must be" taken as such, as Harman alleges. You can certainly think of it in some other way if you want, but if you're thinking of it as a way of validating a particular philosophical perspective, I really don't understand how it's different from thinking of it as a political document or a sociological "case." Nothing prevents you from doing this, and I can't plausibly say you're wrong to do it, but if the goal is to read literature more sensitively, I can't see how a "counter-factual literary criticism" accomplishes that. Perhaps we don't finally share the same goal, and if so, I'm fine with that.
I confess that when Harman says that "Not only do authors fail to master the infinite dissemination of their texts, they probably don’t even put the text in the right shape in the first place," the discussion has gotten altogether too mystical and metaphysical for me. If these authors actually "should have written better texts," then those texts must exist in some Platonic realm to which I neither have nor desire access. I still accept that OOO can be usefully applied to literary analysis, and for that matter I'm actually looking forward to reading Harman's new book on Lovecraft in which he apparently defends some of these more radical claims, but for now I'll stick to the text at hand.