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Harman’s Commodification of Paper Writing

The blog has long since been deleted, but this trace of it remains in the discussion one of the posts inspired. Carl over at Dead Voles brought up the ethical issues associated around Harman’s insider-type advice for how philosophers should write scholarly papers: How Ideology Works, pt. 2 . For those following the recent discussion of the Capitalist-like deferral of the debt of explanation in Graham Harman’s thinking, a kind of Speculative Bubble and the tendency to commodify one’s philosophical productions, this trace makes interesting evidence. Harman is very strong on learning how to produce and “do work” very much in keeping with University as text producer needs. Philosophizing becomes a fulltime project of how to produce ideas that through their allure, and good old-fashioned elbow-grease, end up in texts and a circle of readers.

Most symptomatic of Harman’s sizzle-and-not-the-steak approach is his advice that it is always good to put an old forgotten philosopher in the “mix”:

Always good to bring an older classic thinker into the mix. My choice in this case is Giordano Bruno, who has so much in common with Grant. A critical analysis of Bruno’s Cause, Principle, and Unity would work perfectly here. Put it on the smaller bookshelf where I keep books currently in use for projects, where I will see it each day as a reminder to reread it when I have the time.

This post of Harman’s, given our past personal discussions on Scholastic philosophers and my reading of, what I have found to be his somewhat deceptive essay on causation “On Vicarious Causation”, really ended up convincing me of Harman’s disingenuous METHOD of philosophizing (despite enjoying his simplification of Heidegger as Tool-Being). The blog is now deleted along with all its helpful hints and clues on how to get ahead in the philosophy world, but at least this past discussion over at Dead Voles points us in the direction of much of Harman’s “allure” thinking about what makes good philosophy. In this his theory of causation and his methodology coincide. Personally I find this production-line thinking combined with Harman’s  “shock value” and “great idea” esteem to be antithetical to what philosophy should be about, and carries with it some substantive comparisons to Capitalist Speculative Bubble debt deferral. As such it draws our attention to the problems with the underlying theory itself, and the values that underwrite or inspire it. This is only to say that both his thinking and his methods should be shown in a more socially critical light, a light that ultimately goes to the question of cause and to the purpose of philosophy itself. Is philosophy ever anything more than “black box” making as Harman claims?

Aside from the questions this raises about a metaphysics of “allure” and the allure of rhetorical forces in philosophy paper writing, in the general sense that philosophers are in the business of selling their texts, one has to think about the “genuine” products of philosophers, what it is about the philosophical endeavor that gives it its importance, its foothold amid our more commercially vested institutions. When we write a paper, any such paper, what is it that we really would like to show? That is what matters.

As I wrote in a parallel discussion:

The answer to this is not to come up with One Great Idea, One Great Exaggeration, as Harman claims…It is to genuinely explore the past of our community discussions for the relevance that REALLY matters now, and to articulate that relevance convincingly. I do not consider this a matter of “repackaging” nor of repeating a past point, nor straining for “originality”. It is making persons of the past who answered questions quite well, answer OUR new questions, a far cry from simply bringing a classic philosopher into the mix for some paper-writing effect. It’s a question of engagement.

* More follow-up of the past discussion at Dead Voles here.

“Talk to me about the Ontology of Commentary” (Illumined)

Some Thoughts on the Glossator Roundtable

If any of you have simply put the radio on in order to structure the aural world about you, I suggest listening instead to this roundtable at the Glossator conference from this past April, hosted by Nicola over at The Whim. Each of three speakers was a favorite voice , and only one person seemed to be disappointingly repeating well-rehearsed positions from their past, not actively thinking with the possibility of learning something from those they spoke with or the subject matter itself. As such the genuine aura of the conference discussion really brought home how nice it is to have creative, bright minds come together. And playing at least the first hour of the discussion where voices rhythm with more alternation and variety, simply burgeons.

The speakers are: Ulrich Gumbrecht, David Greetham, Jesús Velasco, and Avital Ronell, and they loosely organize their comments upon Nicola’s questions on the Future of Commentary, of which there are five:

1. What is the sense of asking the question of the future of commentary?

2. What are the hermeneutics of commentary?

3. What is the ethical potentiality of Commentary?

4. What is the ontology of commentary?

5. What is the pleasure (ludi) and pain (labor) of commentary?

Aside from the almost certain conflict of interest in four professional Commentators discussing the importance and (ontological, political) necessity of commentary, there is a pleasure in hearing these perspectives. (I most enjoyed the reference to slides which illustrated different marginal or commentary spaces, forcing me to imagine my way through.)

The Mp3 file of the roundtable is here, originally found over at wrætlic: the notebooks of egil on the trammes of tresoun where Dan offers a paper from the conference “Affects and Their Gravities: Commentary as a Capacity of Care”

In addition, as a modest though not inconsiderable sidenote, it was so pleasant to hear an erudite voice – I think it was David Greetham’s - say the line: “”…,or to turn it around….I don’t say ‘dialectically’ because I don’t ever know what that means…”.  Thank God someone can disrobe such an abused and mystifying word in a conference context in such a light manner, and without commentary.

Too Much Binary, Not Enough World

As to commentary itself, I could not help but think as I listened to these compelling speakers, that they had a wrong, or let us say, over-determined sense of what Commentary was. Focused on the primary binary of Text/gloss, and no doubt filled with their decades of bodily engagement with commentary and text, eyes moving backward and forth, commentary quite often took on the graft of the Being/non-Being, Presence/Absence, Text/Margin dynamic, in which we struggle to “sharpen” just what the relationship between that which fills the empty space and that which dominates the centrality of vision, seemingly so we can escort it successfully into the future (where it can be maintained as an object for our disciplined and professional examination).

What came to mind as each thinker sought to corral commentary was the defiant example of Lindisfarne Illuminative Manuscript, which I have written upon here.

The illuminative script of the anonymous monk seems to have fulfilled yet exceed nearly all of the provisos and descriptions offered by the various thinkers (or at least presents an adjunct exemplification which complexifies their categories). This immanent scripting, which lay not in the margins, but is woven of semiotic, iconographic, syntactic, conceptual and historic elements in commentary, directs our vision to an underpinning of what commentary COULD be. That is, commentary, aside from the binaries of Presence/Absence (fill), may be best seen as out-growth, or over-growth, or even a seeding. It flows out from the text, from its very form and reproduction. And then, is it not, that commentary cannot be severed from its text, any more than the scholia of Spinoza’s Ethics can be cut off from the propositions and proofs, without a certain amputation?

When you look at the Lindisfarne illuminations and view them as commentary, perhaps even taking them as models of what commentary is, I think we come up with a different sense of both the great wealth of possible commentary forms, but also its coming future. One should not think of  or look to the blank space (which invites the binary), but to the nexus shore, the touching ground where text and gloss brush up onto each other, making any strict delineation between the two impossible, or unwanted. To read the commentary is to feel the affective connection, the unfolding of the truth of a practiced mutuality. The very materiality of a text, its re/production, already presumes a certain thickness of continuity, even to a word scribbled in the margin.

I would go a bit further, if we are to insist that there is a binary operant here. At most, text works as mimetic (objective) product, and what we read as commentary as deitic screen, to the degree that we experience a certain sourcing of the former to the latter, a causal effect to which we too can be joined. In this sense, the object and the ostensive finger are always intimate to each other, and cannot be divorced. 


Alternately, think of a text as a garden, and its commentary the diversity of weeds, border bushes, pollinators both organized and summoned by the plot of land. Flora and fauna and realm both support and direct our vision to the effect.

The Finishing of the Web with Text

The Space Left Behind

I provide (in two translations) this wonderful image of the bold spider who in defilement fills in the unfinished portions of Persephone’s weaving loom, with a “text” of its own. Demeter has rushed in to find this Natural World, dark completion of her daughter’s lost life. It is a spectacular inversion of divinity, humanity, text, nature.

Challenge to Panpsychism

Any panpsychist who denies a firm, categorical divide between nature and culture must find a way to embrace the way in which text and web cross to fill each other’s spaces.

1. When she saw the gate-keepers fled, the house unguarded, the rusted hinges, the overthrown doorposts, and the miserable state of the silent halls, pausing not to look again at the disaster, she rent her garment and tore away the shattered corn-ears along with her hair. She could not weep nor speak nor breathe and a trembling shook the very marrow of her bones; her faltering steps tottered. She flung open the doors and wandering through the empty rooms and deserted halls, recognized the half-ruined warp with its disordered threads and the work of the loom broken off. The goddess’ labours had come to naught, and what remained to be done, that the bold spider was finishing with her sacrilegious web.

2. …the web [telas] half-destroyed with confused threads, she recognized, the art of the loom interrupted. That divine work had been lost; a bold spider was filling in the space left behind with a blasphemous weave [textu].

Claudian, De raptu Proserpinae (3.146-158)

Ut domus excubiis incustodita remotis

et resupinati neglecto cardine postes,

flebilis et tacitae species apparuit aulae,

non exspectato respectu cladis amictus

conscidit et fractas cum crine avellit aristas.

Haeserunt lacrimae, nec vox aut spiritus oris

redditur, atque imis vibrat timor ossa medullis.

Succidui titubant gressus; foribusque reclusis,

dum vacuas sedes et desolata pererrat

atria, semirutas confuso stamine telas

atque interruptas agnoscit pectinis artes.

Divinus perit ille labor spatiumque relictum

audax sacrilego supplebat aranea textu.


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