Volume 58, Issue 4, Fall 2014
Ricoeur, Justice and Institutions / Ricoeur, la justice et les institutions
Beyond Ousiodic Ontology
Reflections on John McCumber’s On Philosophy: Notes from a Crisis
John McCumber's book On Philosophy: Notes from a Crisis challenges the key dichotomy of the Western philosophical tradition— the distinction between form, or οὐσία, and matter. This basic ontological distinction, first formulated by Aristotle, appears under different guises throughout the history of Western thought, making oppression integral to philosophy, and leading the discipline into the situation of a major crisis, in which, as McCumber eloquently argues, philosophy and philosophers find themselves today. In this essay I argue that by developing the notion of the speaking of matter McCumber subverts the oppressive history of Western philosophy. I explore this rich concept, showing how it successfully undermines ousiodic ontology. By drawing on McCumber’s text, and also on the works of Gilles Deleuze and Gloria Anzaldúa, I argue that a non-ousiodic ontology has to prioritize anomalous, or seemingly contradictory beings. I discuss one possible direction such ontology could take—it could focus on the internal stranger, or the metic, to use an ancient Greek term.