An Ontic Appreciation

I'm going to be doing a project with Emma Cummins about the "Ghost Estates"of Ireland. Emma asked me if I'd like to be involved in writing a two handed publication: an essay by her, and an essay by me. It will be published as an e-book. Though actually, as it's a new series, and it hasn't been launched on their website, I better not mention who's publishing it.


I'm trying to think of a different way to approach the subject. Urban development, politics, and the fallout from the recession were topics that I came back to again and again in 2012. I guess I've been writing seriously about this stuff since 2010, with my residency at The Royal Standard.

Actually, the "Ghost Estates" (I'm putting that in quotation marks because Emma and I aren't really happy with the term) are in rural areas, and most of my writing has been about cities, but the underlying social and political narratives are the same. Or rather, they could be the same if I allowed myself to focus on them.

Emma's essay will be a thorough critique of the failings of planning and finance at a local and government level through an exploration of what she has termed Pathological Geographies. Emma knows her shit, and she has been thinking about this stuff for a long time.

The fact that she'll be taking on the social and political aspects of the situation frees me up a little. We can do the same physical research - visiting these barely populated, often unfinished housing estates - but I can focus on other things, take a different angle.


I've been reading bits of Speculative Realism and Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO [how cool is OOO for an acronym?]) for a few years, but only recently has it come to feel practically applicable. It suddenly feels very relevant to how I write and make artwork. In the essay I'm not going to foreground the technical philosophy of this stuff, because the publication is meant to be accessible to non-specialists. Its influence on the text will be more like a shift of perspective, or emphasis.

I'm going to take elements of OOO and use them as inspiration for literary techniques that allow me to read the architecture of the "Ghost Estates" as objects, rather than signifiers of human-to-human relations. My essay will be worked from the outside-in. I will begin with the sheer, objecthood of the "Ghost Estates" as my starting point. My first question will no longer be 'What can I see?', but 'What is there?'. I want to make the switch from epistemology to ontology: from a study of what we can know, to a study of what is.


This is not to say that my writing is going to become more empirical. Philosophy doesn't help you access the physical world in a more direct way. It's more like a shift in the way I approach the subject. By the end of last year I felt pretty drained by walking around cities and talking about the recession. The same conversations about the failings of the political and financial system could be had in whatever city/country you happened to be in.

If before the crash of 2008 we suffered a delusion that we had learnt enough from previous recessions to stop the boom-bust cycle, we are currently in the process of imagining ourselves into a new, but similar position of knowledge: that somehow, now, we must be in possession of "the facts" because we failed to prevent the boom-bust cycle.

I'm just starting again, from what is there, which are the ruins, these architectures without function. I'm working from a basic assumption that I won't know anything about these estates until I get there. What I hope to do is strip away what I would normally bring to a text, and instead focus on an ontic appreciation of the "Ghost Estates".