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Monthly Archives: January 2009

Graham Harman’s “Evil Twin”, The Quality-Loving Positor

Shadow Jumping

Graham Harman’s embrace of what he takes to be a coin-flip reading of his project begins,

No one can jump over their own shadow, but it’s a feasible reading of me as my own “evil twin” (without the value judgment, of course).

I say, this impossibilty of jumping over one’s shadow notion may point the way forward, for one really can jump over one’s shadow if one simply moves in relation to a new light source (vocabulary set). One may then have a differently oriented shadow, but then understands the solution to such shadow-staring is keeping an eye upon a multiplicity of light sources, and the nature of their varying strengths.

I’m glad that Graham sees the possibilities of this redescription of his work, and love the notion of a philosophy Federation of “Evil Kirks and Spocks.” I say that we embrace somthing of this, but in fine Nietzschean fashion retain the value judgment, the BGE evil of it (if I recall, Evil Spock was able to think himself out of his evil universe, finding common ground with Good Kirk). What I hope is that if indeed Graham is only attempting to save Qualities, and is merely presenting an OOP as a means for a QOP intention, something more is being achieved than flipping a coin around by pointing out this fact. What Nietzsche wants us to know is that the thing that is evil, that seems like the dark side of something, is really its potentiality masked. Without Hegelian pretension, if indeed Graham is seeking to save qualities, and not objects, we can stop asking questions about the exact metaphysical nature of objects, and start asking questions about what is the best way to save, or as I say, ennoble, qualities. It may well be that positing empty, regressing objects IS the best way, that it does more for the stature of qualities than molten postmodern/post-structuralist fantasy, or even another approach, but until we get to the program itself, we can never properly frame the question.

In this way, I am saying more than the common place that makes of everything a coin. Rather, it is if we get to the real, or at least determinative motivation of a philosophical project, its “evil-twin” underside, we can then open up the project to possibilities that a blindness to that underside undershadows. In Graham’s philosophy this limit, as he admits, comes down the occasionalism-like collaspe of objects which fails to account for the nature of their change. What I would say is that it is of the very nature of the armature that Graham has passionately and insightfully constructed, so as to save qualities, that limits the force of their salvation. If he, I and others come to agree, if we make a value judgment that what we are really after is the esteem of qualities, then we can discuss more precisely the failures of esteem in others’ approaches, and invent better strategies for that esteem, rather than simply looking to shore-up and solve what we thought was the central focus of our attention.

Instead of making a nice pair of things, a doppleganger of inseperable concepts, such as those seen in Graham’s wonderfully titled Count Magnus Effect, one proposes a means for satisfying discourse, for finding agreement. There may be some fun in pointing out to others that they are accomplishing one thing when then thought they were accomplishing something else; Nietzsche had tremendous pleasure in this, and modern day Zizek just loves this game. Such a reversal is not really all that valuable unless one returns it to the question of valuation itself. Do we value the same things and just have different projects on how to achieve it? This is not to say that agreement is guaranteed, but at least the nature of disagreement changes.

Campanella: Knowing is Being

The essentializing dyads that Graham expresses himself in, come from a strong Heideggerian genus, retain a certain human-centric heritage which Graham is pushing against. But I suspect that it is the nobility of the quality that keeps Graham on this  side the panpsychist Gate. As I dig like a Latourian engineer attempting to meet up with the tunnel that Graham has dug in the same Ontological mountain, and trace out each of my excavation, and to the best that I can, his own, it is on the question of the salvation of the quality that I think we can find a common ground. What I will propose that instead of instantiating the rights of qualities upon the nothingness of a retreating and empty object, a consideration of Tommaso Campanella’s proto-Cartesian “Cognoscere est esse,” to know is to be. This a core, quality-directed principle which undercuts in history and object some of the founding theoretical dyads which inform a human-centered picture of consciousness. Much akin to the objects of Graham’s fascination with Late Scholasticism, and Late Renaissance theory (Bruno, Suarez), Campanella’s rationalization of Natural Magic, which is the attempt to synthesize the lived (Quality) emphasis of Telesio’s empiricism to the metaphysics of immanent and unified Being (Augustine), provides the substance of the rescue of Quality without the collapse into molten origins. Campanella’s metaphysics are rough-hewn, though voluminously written, and appear to modern commentators often as a hodgepodge of irreconsilable positions and influences. Campanella comes off as a pre-modern fantasticist, as confused by astrology as he was by the Political situation of which he was a victim. But rather, it is Campanella’s love for the world, its embodied, animal-like quality, its magic of effect, which produced the theoretical possibility for a contemporary salvation of qualites, of the sort that I think that Graham pursues. It is not so much that qualities are granted their rightful power because they are in a tension with Substance Objects which invariably retreat from all investigation, a mark of characterized experiences of human consciousness. It is rather, in surpass of any categorical reduction of human consciousness, that qualities has their own nobility and powers. Campanella wanted us to know that when I come to know something (an entity), I literally am transformed into it (an interesting pre-sage of Latour’s Principle of Translation). When I know a cold thing, I literally become cold. Or, if we want to postmodernize it, when I know Capitalism, I literally become Capitalism, I am transformed into that entity. How exactly to read this transformation I think comes from the notion of assemblage, of bodily (and therefore following Spinoza, ideational) combination, under a figure of power.

What I suggest is that once we identify the hidden, as Graham says, evil valuation behind his project, it is towards a panpsychism that qualitative embrace leads. That is, one needs not rent out high-priced object Real Estate on which Qualities are then permitted to live. Instead, qualities become the very mechanism for embodied agreement and power-assemblage, no more warring in tension with the landlord.

A New Aesthetic For Objects: Photosynth Defies Gravity

The above is from a Photosynth of the Muay Thai training room where my wife learns the nuances of the art under the striking personage of Master K, a 70 year old man who flies about his basement weightlessly, Cheshire cat-like with the smile he had when fighting as a young teen in Thailand. (One has to go to the site linked below to view it.) The room is a special place for us. Almost holy, made of pads and simulacrums of human bodies. An intimate space of sweat and person if there ever was one.

We made a Photosynth of it because it is precious, something to be preserved, and because the software promises to be so new, so radically different, some form of it may become a mode of human engagement and contemplation over the next decades. Profound. When choosing the place, a thing, that we should primordially record, it would be this place, before the artform becomes too honed, too inhabited, practiced, in the manner that old daguerrotypes are the only real photographs ever taken.

Muay Thai Training Room Photosynth Here

I believe you may have to download some software from the insidious-to-some, Microsoft, (and it will not work on platforms other than XP and Vista), to see our particular photosynth, but it may be worth it. There are also examples of the technological seeing here, check out the pomnik powodzianina; Floods monument.

But here I would like to post some philosophical musings about the software, in particular how the dynamics touch upon the powers and validity of my latest preoccupation, Graham Harman’s Object-Oriented Philosophy. So I will veer for a moment away from the product.

The Nostalgia for Objects, the Seating of Qualities

The more I come in contact with Graham’s ideas, in particular how they are expressed in his blog, I’m coming to realize that he is not really interested in objects at all, despite the moniker of his project. It is not objects, but qualities that fascinate Graham, the nobility of the quality, the profound substantialness of them, the way that events which are sometimes in philosophy read only at the surface of objects are significantly creative of new things. I think that there is a sense in Graham’s philosophy that qualities do not get their due in philosophy. They are merely passively “bundled” like so much loose paper, or by others turned into mere ephemera which zip into and out of existence, intensities of an unnamable moltenness. I think that (and this sense may change with further readings) for Graham the qualities of objects, if they are to maintain their nobility have to be doing something, something significant and not just passing like sheen on the surface of the soap bubble of Existence. And for this reason he postulates these infinitely disappearing “objects”  with which qualities are fundamentally, and continually in “tension”. An intuition tells me that what is behind this tension, which he has spread to the entire universe, what gives it its gravitas, is the existentialist, and very human, picture of the Self in constant struggle with its non-Being.  The stories of Sartre suddenly becomes the stories of all things. It is a human-centric, and I might say, negatively enriched, picture of personal struggle which ennobles the substantive reality of qualities. And at the center of this is the drama of the gravity of objects.

The thing is, this is something that he and I share, the real attachment to the authority of the quality, so to speak. It is just that I seem them much more redeemed and attaining their force by other conceptual paths, and part of this may be that I do not buy into the essentialized dyads of negativity and non-Being which have characterized modern Existentialism. The appeal of the quality I think is what is behind Graham’s slippery-slope resistance to panpsychism, especially of the postmodern or post-structuralist varieties. The qualities of objects cannot be simply bubbling up of intensities, or lines of force from a molten floor. They have to have something to hold onto, to pertain to. This is what lies at the “bottom” I believe of his gravity of infinitely retreating objects.

Now back to Photosynth. It would be no exaggeration to say that the history of the means of representation is the Urwork of philosophy. That is, with each historical development of a representational form in the West, philosophical concepts (and their ontologies were soon to follow). Figure/ground vase painting in Greece, a painted Acropolis, the plasticization of man in marble, or the invention of linear perspective in the Renaissance (Panofsky), optical precision and the camera obscura in the 17th century, and eventually the camera proper and cinematography. One need only look to the extraordinary Bergsonian metaphysics Deleuze invents just for the artform of film, and one must admit that the metaphysics which DeLanda puts forth, th0se which Graham finds essentially dissatisfying, are born out of the rapidity and surface of contemporary representations. In a way, there is a ubiquity of the image, and Graham is saying something like, “Hey, wait a second, we need to tie these things down to something, and not just some vast flow of amorphous Capital”  (Where in the human?, I hear, or at least, where is the Old Way, despite his position against human-centric philosophy.) Cinema did something to the image and its world. It made it flat. Out of the richness of a dimensional objectivity we were given the “recording surface”. Even a child knew that film is flat (though this is surely changing.) And not just flatness, but succession, eruption of effects, compositions, a primordial of Time over Space.

In answer to these I feel that Graham’s Object-Oriented Philosophy has some legitimate concerns, and there is something dearly Rilkean in the way that he embraces the world of hidden objects. I believe that Photosynth has an answer to Graham’s concerns, but I’m not quite sure which way the answer cuts, for it is an aesthetic answer. What Photosynth does is take our flat photographs (we still seem them as “flat” no matter how pixelated we understand them to be), the Old Fashioned way of looking at and framing the world so as to memorialize it, as spatialize them by assembling them into a weave of “recognitions”. Flat image upon flat image appears, only to be toggled around the objects (and the lived experience) that created them. It is really an extraordinary effect.

Further, they are presented in a format that is inter-active, or one might say enter-active. In a videogame-world aesthetic one traverses the object space so that there  is a legitimate experience of discovery. For instance, in the Synth of Master K’s training room (top) there is a close up of an old photograph of master K when he was a youth. You can get closer and closer to the face of the young man that is behind the entire room, until you are staring right into the past. One does not encounter it in the usual arrow-by-arrow jumps left and right, into and out. It is buried in there, behind objects, can you find it, I missed it the first few times crossed the space? The presentation is one of paths. Each time one looks at the synth one has had signficantly different experiences, and difference leads to meaning. The photograph I spoke of is the lone photograph remaining of this Thai Boxing master’s fighting days of over 70 professional fights, and here it lies within the layers of aesthetic space in a way analogous to the history which had constructed it. It is a recognizable Blade Runner effect.

I wonder how this aesthetic experience of an old form of flatness (there is no jabberwocky of Youtube camera shake) would touch upon Graham’s preoccupations with hidden objects. There is the real sense that Photosynth performs just what Graham is poetically/ontologically describing, the hiddenness of objects. Through a flat-space of real qualities one encounters objects that one feels are ever in retreat, while new objects are constantly being revealed. The entire spaces is eruptive and recessive. Further, unlike in video clips, it is not temporality or even subject matter that seem to make the best thing to capture, but objects themselves, and the space around which events happen. When thinking about what to synth, how you would point your camera if you were to film and edit something, or if you were to frame a single and telling “shot”, one realizes that these are different things.

The Aesthetic of Quality

But if I were to allow myself to consider Graham’s Object-Oriented Philosophy through Photosynth I have to say that while the aesthetic experience deals with the same concerns that Graham has, a return to the Old Fashioned photograph, like a  return to Late Scholasticism, the result is somewhat different. What one feels I think is that Photosythn makes even more apparent that lack of a need for Graham Harman’s hidden objects. Objects that recede, much as in lived life, are recoverable. They do not vanish, but rather proceed. In fact, not only are the surface effects of flat-projections (here assumed to be qualities) shown to be substantive, but rather than being engaged in a struggle with their hidden objects, are part of a spatiality of wholeness. This comes through because the view is entered into the space itself. It is a very different experience if you watch the synth that someone else is toggling through, than if you explore it yourself. This I believe is what is key to understanding the nobility of the qualities of things. This nobility is achieved not through some posited wobbling between hiddenness and manifestation (projected from our own self-negating experiences under a particular philosophy of negation), but through crafted (that is directed) combinations with the world itself, through assemblage. What one is struck with in Photosynth is how actuating and real image is, and this is come from the richness of our own bodies.

[Note, there is another sense in which Photosynth performs something of Graham’s democraticization of objects, that is, his thought that all objects are in a tension modeled on own human experiences of essentialized subjectivity…a philosopher of dyads. Obama, the first Internet President, will have his Inauguration covered by Photosynth in a dramatically ideological aesthetic of democracy. CNN and Microsoft have combined to produce a “synth” document from all the images sent from all the camera phones and video cameras of those in attendance. The phenomenal struggle with hidden objects is transferred, or one might say, translated, into a new and enactive political whole.]

Heidegger: He Who Doesn’t Enjoy God

Not a Tool

I’ve run into a wonderful article which elucidates Augustine’s and Davidson’s theories of discourse in terms of each other,  Stephen R. Yarbrough’s “The Love of Invention: Augustine, Davidson, and the Discourse of Unifying Belief,” one which I want post something of substance soon. But today it comes to me, through Yarbrough’s explication of Augustine’s De doctrina, that Heidegger’s is a world where he uses everything, but doesn’t enjoy God (perhaps too obvious an observation, but I think it has subtle consequences). We know that Heidegger was influenced by his early study of Augustine, but it is Graham Harman’s uncovery of the hidden objects of Heidegger “tool-beings” that really lead me to think in this way. Yarbrough brings out that in De doctrina everything in the world is something to be both enjoyed and used, but only one thing is only to be enjoyed, and not used, and that is God. In a provisional sense, the entire world is full of tool-beings (which we enjoy and use), but there is only one thing that is not a tool-being, only to be enjoyed, God. And it is this that makes the entire use/truth of signifying discourse function. It grounds it, and makes it immanent. This is not something I”ve thought through, but more a morning thought worth tracing, the intersection of Graham’s eternally isolated objects falling back into their own darkness, and Augustine’s signifying world. Heidegger, the thinker that does not enjoy God.

I’ll have to look at De doctrina  more closely, and become more familiar with Graham’s objects, but something to be pursued. Comments or paths welcome.

[Addendum, Graham responds: But one possible difference is that for me, God would be the ultimate example of a “tool-being”- not as a useful pragmatic instrument who helps us more than anything else, but as an especially stunning example of a withdrawn entity.

And I exchange: But Graham, that would be a kind category mistake, at least that is how Augustine, and possibly Plotinus, would like to say. It would be like saying, well, I kinda see this object and that object, but I can’t see the Light. Because God/Light, in this metaphor, is the only thing that is not truly “Looked At” (that is it is by category, the only thing not used — tools being used), it would be a mistake to talk of it as being withdrawn. In a certain sense, it is the only thing NOT withdrawn, because it is not an “object”. As Plotinus tells us, don’t look “by” light, look “with” light.

This is also a large problem in trying to interpret Anselm’s Ontological Proof. God is not a thing, but the means of things, one could say.]

The Harmanic Impassibilty of Monism…Spinoza Sails Through

Late last night Graham Harman posted his objections to monism, a Spectre that haunts his sleep. When I saw the post I was greatly relieved because I thought that finally I was to understand why Graham Harman’s Cartesian-constructed project of  post-humanism would not be better served by a turn to pre-Kantian Spinoza. It has seemed to me that this is really where Graham is heading, dragged by the specific current of his philosophical ambitions. But he has told us that he has great distain for the popularity of Spinoza who seemed to be hidden behind all kinds of postmodern metaphysical imaginations, he resists that robust, salty sea. Further, he has come down the Rhine River’s Idealist tributaries, he likes the beer-houses in local town ports where objects duck and hide, and thus has worked toward wending Intentional object-defined conceptions of consciousness, once solidly in the service of human-centric ontologies (Descartes, Husserl, and even Heidegger), out towards a post-human future. Can it be that all of the nobility of the object will be lost in a philosophical absorbtion into Deleuze and DeLandian “molten slag”? I mean where will the rights  of the object (formerly postulated as the rights of man), stand, if we cannot make objects themselves (and their consciousness partner) the ontological center of philosophy? I was excited because I felt I was really going to have an answer to the question, Why should the “hiddenness” of the object stop there, at the object, and not be read more fully in the hidden Immanence of Spinoza’s Substance, especially if we are going to propose a post-human philosophy that does not privilege the specific conceptual phenomenological reductions of human experience. Is it true that the Rhine only flows into the sea (and if in the sea, does that mean that all is lost, or are there some very good things one can do at sea, as any good maritime adventure knows)?

Here I’d like to take up in more detail the objections I raised in response. My comments there were quick-fire and I believe that restating them with greater context them will bring their argumentative force into even greater relief. Mostly at the time I simply was responding to the disappointment I felt that when Graham took on “monism” he seemed to be taking on everything but Spinoza. He somehow steered either right into the Scylla of undarable Parmenides (the only “real” monism he would grant), or the Charybdis of Spinoza influenced  post-structuralist thinking like Deleuze and DeLanda (D & G’s Thousand Plateaus is actually quite far from Spinoza, though he does get mentioned in interesting ways there, while his monographs on Spinoza are fairly close to text). Straight through, between these rocks, he never goes.

This may be because he is most familiar with both the pre-Socratic and the “molten slag” versions, and less with Spinoza himself, but I suggest, in that as Spinoza offered the most incisive correction of Descartes right at the root of Descartes human-centric theorizations, it is really to Spinoza, to Spinoza’s Monism, he should go. Here I’d like to present his points against monism, piece by piece, and put them in juxtaposition to Spinoza himself, and see how they stand.

1. There are two ancient monisms, that of Parmenides and that of Plotinus.

Graham counts between these only Parmenides’s “being is, non-being is not” the only real monism of the two. The Hen (One) of Plontinus is not a true monism in Graham’s mind because the Hen is only  the source of things. I’m not sure that I follow his thinking here. The way that Plontinus argues his point, the Hen radiates out like a light source, ebbing as it goes, the closer to the source (the greater the Nous union of things as one thing), the greater reality one has, but in many ways there is no Being other than this light, radiation. The relatively isolated parts of the world that appear to not be part of the One, indeed are part of the one, as its emanation. Their isolation from the One is really a kind of illusion of perspective (despite Graham’s insistence that they are not). That is, their existence is that of entirely being an emanation of the One, and as distinctly separate things, this separation is an expression of their non-Being. Thus, insofar as there is One thing, only one thing has being. Separations from the One are simply compositions of Being and Non-Being, a kind of relative, non-Noetic illusion. It is a real noetic difference, expresses as the nature of the radiation of the One, but in terms of Being itself, the separation is an illusion. Now is this a “monism”? Well it depends how you define monism. There is only one thing that has Being, and non-Being has no Being (it works like the outer reaches of the ebbing of the One). But Plotinus puts the One even above the Being/Non-Being distinction (this would already involve Nous), and he is inconsistent as to how he treats matter, either as a kind of substrate of absolute (metaphorical) darkness, or as an illusion of non-Noetic perception, for there is only the One. So let us say, a kind of monism, depending on how you qualify Being.

I go into the nature of Plotinus’s monism because it will be within the concept of a Degree of Being ontology that Spinoza will operate. I don’t know if he picked up the fundamental idea from Augustine who made strong use of it to defend against essential, heretical Dualisms, or from other Neo-Platonic sources, but Spinoza leverages his entire metaphysics upon a degree of Being (expressed as the power to act, the adequacy of idea, a degree of perfection) conception of modal expression. But he does this through an inclusion of the old-fashioned Parmenidean claim, “Being is, non-Being is not,” which in Spinoza reads as the illusion of privation and all determination is negation (letter 21), or “There is nothing positive in ideas on account of which they are called false” (E2p33), “falsity consists in the privation of knowledge…” (E2p35). It was Hegel who was struck by the power of the phrase “all determination is negation” as found in Spinoza’s letter 21, and it was he who took up the reality of the negation into a progressive, and human-centric concept of Consciousness, leaving behind the other half of Spinoza’s Plontinian proviso, that all privation is illusion. As I will mention later, Hegel feared that without a progressive march toward the powers of negation human beings simply would not be significant in their conscious powers when placed before the universe. The small compliment Spinoza pays to Man, that he is relevantly more active (and real) than tables and rocks and mice, was simply not enough. Man must be the center of the entire march of history’s progress. Failing this centricity and direction, it was for Hegel that all of Spinoza collapsed into an acosmism, all of creation being merely an illusion.

2. Levinas proposes a qualitiless “there is” (a version of monism perhaps).

“1940’s. Emmanuel Levinas. Insomnia (from which I now suffer) reveals that the world itself is an inescapable, rumbling il y a (“there is”) without any specific qualities.”

Well in terms of Spinoza, this is simply not the case. Right away Graham has passed from ancient monisms to postmodern vagaries of Being, steered from Parmenides into the whirling Abyss. While Spinoza’s Substance does not have “qualities” per se, it expresses itself in Attributes (of an infinite number), and through those Attributes, in an infinity of real modes. And all of these modes are fully actualized, concrete things (though like with Plotinus, their conceptual isolation from Substance which “exists and acts” through them, can bring on a perspective of relative non-Being). Even the remotest speck of particle in the furthest reaches of the universe has complete Being, but when considered apart from Substance and other modal compositions of cause, its Being is to a very small degree.

Graham’s objection to Levinas’s indeterminate “lump”: “For if the il y a is a single lump, how is it meaningful to say that the mind can break it into parts?”  is answered by Spinoza by saying that we can break the world into parts because it is expressed in the two Attributes of Thought and Extension, and the mind as a determined, thinking thing, following from that order, through the affects of its body/ideas, its imagination and rational thought can distinguish the determinations of Being.

3. Jean-Luc Nancy, “Corpus¨:  Reality itself is an indeterminate “whatever”…

Clearly these two matching points are Graham’s personal engagement with the outer-reaches of what really is not much of a monism at all. They are quite far from Spinoza, and even quite far from Deleuze’s imaginative refashioning of Spinoza. The incredible unexplainable, one might say non-Noetic, character of this thinking perhaps explains the great trepidation Graham holds for monism (and its swarthy postmodern cohorts).

4. There is an intellectual momentum against “objects”.

This may be in the circles that Graham has come from, clearly the moiling Continental waters of the Rhine dumping into the sea, but if we understand “intellectual” to include scientific pursuits, and even Analytical philosophy, the war against the “object” does not have quite the same character. As far as Spinoza goes, indeed there are objects, what he calls bodies, as Substance is expressed into two discernable Attributes, Thought and Extension. Every body has its parallel idea (and may have ideas which are expressions of its power to act). In a certain sense, because it is not clear at all that any human being can have a completely adequate idea, the adequate idea of any object whatsoever, even the idea of one’s own “object” (body) is actually to some degree hidden from the mind of human beings, one might say that the idea of the object retreats (this proposes a heretofore unmentioned close parallel perhaps to Graham’s hidden object, in a different systematic context).

5. The world is either homogeneous or it is heterogeneous, you can’t have both.

Because this is the most substantial of Graham’s claims against monism, at least insofar as they can be directed against Spinoza, his point is worth quoting in full:

*If the world is a whole, then either it is utterly homogenous, or it is not. If yes, then particular things will tend to be viewed as delusions.

*If the world is *not* viewed as homogeneous, then it must consist of various zones that differ from each other in some way. These can either be called individual objects, or something pre-individual. If they are objects, then my point has been conceded and monism has been rejected.

There are two ways that Spinoza counters this emphatic either/or. The first is that there is both a homogeneity and a heterogeneity built into the expression of Substance. (Remember, Substance does not float out there beyond actuality for Spinoza, but “exists and acts” modally.) Spinoza argues that Substance is expressed in only two Attributes that the human Mind can comprehend, as mentioned, Thought and Extension. In the hands of the modern Analytic philosopher Donald Davidson, who professes a monism of Concept Dualism (Anomalous Monism) these are simply the two concepts of the physical and the mental. They are not reducible to each other, and there is no causation between the one and the other. Spinoza tells us that there is a fundamental homogeneity between Attributes (understanding the actual number of these to be infinite), and that is “the order and connection” of their expression (E2p7). In the case of the two Attributes we can perceive, things and ideas are expressed in parallel. This is a fundamental homogenity in the expression of Substance, it is the same across  Attributes. But, this Attributive expression is distinct in the very differences of the Attributes themselves, that is, the conceptual order of the mental, descriptions of thoughts, beliefs, ideas, is different from the descriptions of objects, things, bodies. And even greater than this, Substance expresses itself in the real determinations of an infinity of modes, granting full reality to any aspect of existence, no matter who flimsy you want to make it. 

6. There is a tendency these days to find some comtemporary philosopher who tries to have it both ways.

This is an odd sounding point. I assume that he is referring to the dissatisfactory “molten slag,” ‘intensity” versions he has already dismissed. But one wonders if merely by trying to solve Graham’s proposed dilemma disqualifies the solution? It seems to me that it is not some contemporary philosopher who solved this cake and eat-it-too  difficulty of monism, but Spinoza himself, who closed the Idealist, human-centered breach right after Descartes opened it. There are of course many contemporary, creative things being done with Spinoza, and I can see why some of them collapse in a dissatisfying way for Graham, but these are not properly Spinoza’s thought. (I should add as well, that the monist Analytic philosopher Davidson, who has some largely unstated metaphysical differences with Spinoza, also seem to evade both horns of Graham’s impossibility: there is one kind of thing: matter; and two different fundamentally conceptual kinds of ways of describing it, concepts that are a product of our evolution). 

7. The status of pre-individuals needs to be explained.

Another point worth quoting in full:

*But the status of these pre-individuals needs to be further explained. Either they are fully deployed in their mutual relations, or they hold something in reserve that is non-relational. If the latter, then they are objects and you’re simply trying to avoid using the name; my point has been conceded.

As Spinoza answers this question of the pre-individual, if I read him correctly, the essence of any modal expression already is in Substance (the Mind of God), but has not necessarily come into existence through the mutuality of (horizontal, transitive) modal causes (causes that will be extrinsic to it). To qualify this existence in the Mind of God sub specie aeternitas  as a kind of “reserve,” I’m not sure what this means, other than to say as Spinoza does, that God is the efficient cause of the essence of things and not just their existence. In a sense, the “reserve” is the immanent, causal power of Substance itself.

But if they are fully exhausted by their mutual relations, then there are really no firewalls of any sort between the various zones of this “pre-individual” kingdom, and you end up with monism. You can’t have an intermediate position.

Spinoza’s ends up with monism. Individuals, objects, thoughts, ideas, relations, each thing, is explained by (which means understood through) both a reference to horizontal transitive causation and Substance’s immanent causation.

8. Latour holds something that might appear to be an intermediate position.

As Graham explains, this appearance is undone by the fact that any change produces a change in object:

Even though Latour is a relationist, his actors are always trapped in a specific set of relations, here and now. A thing cannot change even the least important of its relations even one iota and still remain the same thing.

Now the first aspect is the very same thing for Spinoza’s monism. Each modal expression is (well, not trapped), but determined, expressed, in a very specific set of relations. This determination is both a delineation and an expression of its power. There is not any vagary to this in the least. The question as to whether something remains the same thing or not in Spinoza is an open one. There is the theoretical framework though to argue that Latour’s position is tenable. Spinoza defines a body as a ratio of moving parts that stay in communication with each other, expressing an essence (conatus). The sameness of an object is a factor of both this ratio and the communication (not very Latourian at face value, though one could call this communication a network). The status of this ratio is indeterminate in Spinoza, for ultimately there is only one thing that persists and that is Substance (so any ratio of parts in communication is part of a far greater ratio 0f parts in communication). The ratio of “same” is both real (that is determined and reference-able), but ultimately is it explainable in term of other parts. In this way perhaps (and others) Spinoza is able to achieve something Latour’s occasionalism cannot.

9. Graham’s Model involves an intolerable retreat of every object  into darkness.

The problem with my model, of course, is that with so many different entities withdrawing from each other into an apparently non-relational darkness, one wonders why anything happens at all. But I spend lots of time trying to solve this problem- the problem seems to me inevitable.

I appreciate Graham’s candidness here. But to my ear this is a huge problem for a model that wants to explain the nature of reality. If you can’t explain why anything happens at all, the entire explanatory apparatus of your model is paralyzed. Instead one is left with something perhaps more poetic and epiphanic, than explanatory. In confessing that it is inevitable, one assumes he means of his philosophical position, and perhaps this why he is haunted by monism, the instinctive appeal that if he is ever going to get his cut-off, darkness imploding objects to go anywhere, and do anything, for any reason, he has to fundamentally connect them.

For Spinoza, as I wrote in my response to Graham, “This is not a problem at all…for the change between concrete states is a function of the conatus of each essence striving to persist, the contingency of modal transitive causes, and the degree of power which is expressive of its adequacy of ideas. Nothing is in isolation of anything else, events, objects, bodies, thoughts, emotions are understood through the knowledge through their causes, so the path towards more powerful change is always open, ready to be caused.” What it comes down to is the power and real freedom of a good, rational explanation of events, understood as a linking action, or the consideration of explanation as some kind of contingency, some bubbling up of events.

10. Monism is the cheap way out.

This is how Graham expresses the dodging the snatch-and-run  of monims, (something to be contrasted with his very expensive inability to explain why anything happens at all):

Monism, in short, is a cheap way of trying to avoid the communication problem that may be the central paradox of philosophy: ” a thing is itself, yet it is also another insofar as it affects others and becomes something other.” Monism is a way of saying “it’s a false problem; everything’s already interconnected anyway, so why do you artificially divide it?”

I still can’t tell if when Graham mentions “monism” he is thinking of the most vague of all Being declarations, like “there is something there” or of a particularly rigorous monism. But if we take up his objection, I would tell him that Spinoza’s philosophy would suggest that the path forward is not just that a thing becomes “something other” when it effects others, but that in understanding how it combines with others, that it cybernetically becomes something more, when it effects others (or they affect it), the thing becomes more powerful and free. This change is a real, ontological change, and it is achieved through explanation. Spinoza’s monism is a far cry from some kind of loving, “Hey man, we are all one big piece of Somethin’,” rather it provides the conceptual framework for a cartography of Being, inviting the very particular study of the exact ways in which determinatively we are connected (and determinatively not connected). Only by understanding your causes do you leverage yourself into combination with more things, actively. It is learning to cut so as to not dull your knife, at the joints of Being, so to speak (as the Daoist said, and then Lacan). 

I appreciate Graham’s thoughts on monism, and he has expressed in the past fundamental resistance to Spinoza’s thinking. There may be grounds for his disfavor, but none of them fall on his so-far-expressed  objections to monism. In fact, by my lights, Spinoza slips right through the two fearsome dangers that he poses on each side of the monist tendency, and he does so with Plontinian aplumb, that swashbuckler! Oh, Spinoza, the Odysseus of Being, polútropos ! Perhaps he has never been better described. Now only if I write the Achilles of Being, that is really what I will someday do.

[I thought I would return to the vital question of Hegel’s accusation of Spinoza’s acosmism, but the post did not lead that way, as I have put forward before, following Gatens and Lloyd, Hegel’s accusation stems from his only thinking of Spinoza vertically, and failing to understand the full horizontal reality of the modes for Spinoza: determinations by which God “exists and acts”. I bring something of this argument to bear in my earlier post Harman Brings Central Clarity to the Issue (wink, nod), coupled with a nice diagram]

Downunder: Central Clarity Consciousness (CCC)

The Series of Objections to “Object” Consciousness

Larval Subjects posted a round-up of the latest OOP (Object-Oriented Philosophy) weblog discussion, as everyone seems to be seeking the “New” metaphysics (one if reminded of Nietzsche’s clever, and unfortunately philosophical reminder that one should hate the “Good” that is in the mouth of one’s neighbor [BGE 43]). Cordiality all around, but metaphysics (the logical necessities) in the mouth of another invites objection. These were my three posted objections, in their order:

1. The “Picture” behind Intention: What Lies at the Center of Perception

2. The Bounce of the Being of Beings

3. Harman Brings Central Clarity to the Issue (wink, nod)

Larval Subjects though finds my main objection to Graham Harman’s ontology of necessarily hidden objects as they are caught in a Husserlian/Heideggerian Four Fold, not even remotely applicable, (how can hidden objects be a product of optical metaphorization?). This is surely a clue that I have done a very poor job of making the nature of my point clear for each time I see it summarized, the nature of my point seems to not be there in the mouths of my summarizers. This is my fault. The purpose of this post is to set some of the history backdrop for the nature of my critique, a backdrop which may make my critique more plain, at least in concept. Then, when plain, it can be debated whether it applies.

Part of the problem with my critique is that it cuts so broadly across the swathe of Philosophy, hitting at all the fibers of terms that have developed from Descartes on, that arguing about it within the vocabularies of those derived terms is counter-productive. It touches such elementary philosophical analytics dyads Self/World, or subject/object, and even Being/Non-Being, overturning something of the each of these terms even when separated out from their traditional dyad partner.

And part of the problem is that my point is a historical one, that is, I am tracing the genaology of a thought back to a moment in theory, and perhaps it requires that one understand this moment in theory in order to understand the subtle perniciousness of the continuity. It is for this reason that I’ll summarize something about what was going on when the exact anatomical nature of the eye meet the Cartesian idea of the ideal shape of a lens, all brought in metaphor to a concept of consciousness itself, the Cartesian concept of Will organized around the idea of a Central Clarity of Object.

The Hyperboliod Lens, Bending Rays Toward the Center of the Eye

Come out of the Perspectivist Tradition of a Theory of Vision which for centuries thought that vision consisted of a point by point correspondence of rays coming from a place in the object directly to the back of the eye, like so many uninterrupted strings, Kepler was the first to make rigorous discovery of how rays radiated out in all directions from all the points of an object, and were generally refracted and refocused on the back of the eye (to over-simplify the history). Part of this discovery was his proposal/discovery that the lens of the eye was hyperbolic in shape, a shape which focused dispersing rays from a central point toward a perpendicular which was the lens’s axis, as the illustration shows:

This meant that by the very nature of the hyperboloid lens of the eye (it turns out it is not a hyperbola), rays coming from a central point are most perfectly focused, and those coming from cones at angles which are not on the axis of the lens, are confusedly focused to the edges of vision, as he explains in his Paralipomena:

All the rays of the direct cone are gathered together at one point in the retina, which is the chief thing in the process; the lines of the oblique cones cannot quite be gathered together, because of the causes previously mentioned here, as a result, the picture is more confused. The direct cone aims the middle ray at center of the retina; the oblique cones aim the rays to the side…

…so the sides of the retina use their measure of sense not for its own sake, but whatever they can do they carry over to the perfection of the direct vision. That is we see an object perfectly when at last we perceive it with all the surroundings of the hemisphere. On this account, oblique vision is least satisfying to the soul, but only invites one to turn the eyes thither so that they may be seen directly (174).

As you can see, he goes further than simply stating this relative confusion of the border, but tells us that the sides of the border “carry over” their measure of sense to the perfection of the central vision, a central object. And this physics of sense is seen in the very satisfactions of the soul. That is, the soul and Nature are in agreement.

Descartes though was the first scientist/philosopher to actually do the mathematical work which shows the refracting powers of hyperbolic lenses (having discovered the Law of Refraction, a fact of discovery still under dispute). The precise gradation of hyperbolic lenses were impossible to make the time, and Descartes became fairly obsessed with making an automated machine which would be capable of grinding them, a doomed endeavor. Spherical lenses suffered from aberrations, which after Descartes were generally presumed to be solved with the Ideal Hyperbolic Lens. But Descartes did something more to Kepler’s notion of natural, hyperbolic center of object focus. He made the benefit of the periphery a quantitative measure (one sees more things via the periphery), but not a qualitative measure. He attaches to a concept of qualitative central clarity his most important concept of Will. The relatively confused border only serves help us direct our free Will in the right direction (oddly, this contradicts the sheerly quantitative measure of the periphery, for numericity alone is not helpful); the clarity in a way seems to speak for itself:

There is only one other condition which is desirable on the part of the exterior organs, which is that they cause us to perceive as many objects as possible at the same time. And it is to be noted that this condition is not in any way requisite for the improvement for seeing better, but only for the convenience of seeing more; and it should be noted that it is impossible to see more than one object distinctly at the same time, so that this convenience, of seeing many others confusedly, at the same time, is principally useful only in order to ascertain toward what direction we must subsequently turn our eyes in order to look at the one among them which we will wish to consider better. And for this, Nature has so provided that it is impossible for art to add anything to it. Seventh Discourse

One can see that Descartes rather easily transfers this notion of central object clarity to central idea clarity. The quelling of confusion comes from separating out the lone clear thing (object/idea) from the many things you might be confusedly taking in. Interestingly, he appeals to the precision vision of the craftsman whose “delicate operations” are supposed to reflect this intentionality principle of consciousness clarity. Ignored is that the craftsman is able to narrow his/her attention due to the very clarity of perceptions of the entire border of the process (the process borders are not confused, but stable); and even more so, it should be pointed out that if one really notices what a craftsman is attending to, it is not a central object, or a central idea, but rather the potentiating dissonance at the center of the project. At the center of the craftsman’s gaze is not a clarity, but an eruption:

Rule 9: We must concentrate our mind’s eye totally upon the most insignificant and easiest matters, and dwell upon them for long enough to acquire the habit of intuiting the truth distinctly and clearly.

…We can best learn how mental intuition is to be employed by comparing it with ordinary vision. If one tries to look at many objects at one glance, one sees none of them distinctly. Likewise, if one is inclined to attend to many things at the same time in a single act of thought, one does so with a confused mind. Yet craftsmen who engage in delicate operations, and are used to fixing their eyes on a single point, acquire through practice the ability to make perfect distinctions between things, however minute and delicate. The same is true of those who never let their thinking be distracted by many different objects at the same time, but always devote their whole attention to the simplest and easiest of matters: they become perspicacious.

– Descartes, The Regulae, Rule 9

Narrow or Broad?

That is the historical stage. From here I will move faster. While many did embrace both the physical theory that hyperbolic lenses would solves all the aberrations of spherical lenses, and the metaphysical theory that central clarity of an object/idea is constitutive of a directed, Willing consciousness, and key to truth pursuits, Spinoza who was a lens-grinder, and designer of optical instruments and as he will become known as, a metaphysican, did not.

In two letters Spinoza discusses the insufficiency of Descartes’ hyperbolic lenses (which again, did not exist). From his objections we get a firm clue into the nature of his metaphysical objections to Descartes, objections which cut the very nature of how consciousness, the mind, and the Will is conceived. Spinoza’s objection to the hyperbolic lenses is simple:

“Moreover, it is certain that, in order to see an entire object, we need not only rays coming from a single point but also all the other rays that come from all the other points” (Letter 40).

He draws a diagram to illustrate the problem, and its solution. A hyperbolic lens can concentrate rays only come perpendicular to its axis, a spherical lens has an infinity of axes, so despite a small amount of aberration, clarity is achieved broadly, by bringing as much relational clarity together across the full breadth of the retina. (I superimpose a red-line hyperbola to illustrate Spinoza’s point.)

Now the facts of optics are not ultimately important here. Indeed Descartes and Spinoza were both wrong for a variety of reasons. What is significant is the way that opticality and focus as they are theoretically conceived work to ground fundamental conceptions of how consciousness is. As we can see, Descartes notion of an object/idea centered free Will and consciousness was foregrounded upon first Kepler’s idea that the eye itself had a lens of the shape that Descartes had theorized would be best for the improvement of magnified vision. The question is, once this anatomical, naturalizing foundation is kicked away, and once Descartes’ theological imperative for an essentialized Freedom of the Will is let go of, what has come of the picture of consciousness itself as essentially a Central Clarity Consciousness. Spinoza, as he does away with the Freedom of the Will, does so by dismissing the notion of a pictorial Mind, in which Ideas of varying clarity play like objects of varying clarity:

E2p48 – In the mind there is no absolute, or free, will, but the Mind is determined to will this or that by a cause which is also determined by another, and this again by another, as so to infinity.

Scholium – We must investigate, I say, whether there is any other affirmation or negation in the Mind except that which the idea involves, insofar as it is an idea – on this see the following Proposition [49] and also D3 – so that our thought does not fall into pictures. For by ideas I understand, not the images that are formed at the back of the eye (and, if you like, in the middle of the brain), but concepts of Thought [NS: or the objective Being of a thing insofar as it consists only in Thought]; – trans. Curley

Ultimately for Spinoza as he minimizes the human in the universe, an idea of the mind is only an expression of Substance, and has for its object a state of its body. It is not composed of something that is Intentionality, an object of thought. But more than this, Spinoza’s panoramic understanding of clarity, that object clarity comes from the relative clarity of the entire field of vision, and not from some core surety, reveals the very comprehensiveness of his metaphysical approach. It is not that a single, central proposition “Cogito ergo sum” or any other that could provide real clarity, but rather the entire interlocking breadth of coherence (it is for this reason that some contemporary philosophers have found Spinoza to be a Coherence Theorist of Truth). The clarity comes from abroad, so to speak. It is for this reason that he calls his propositions of the Ethics “the eyes of the mind” (in a very rare metaphor). No one proposition could function as a clarity, just as no central rays from an object could. It is the width of them that brings clarity (and it is for this reason that he argues that one in reasoning must pass as fast as possible to the Idea of God, Substance, and Idea of comprehensivity of cause and explanation, a field upon which any proposition then considered may receive its own sharpness).

How Can Not-Seeing the “object” Come from CCC?

Now briefly Larval Subjects (and probably Graham Harman and many others) does not see how Cartesian Central Clarity Consciousness pervades Graham’s hidden object ontology. As a brief answer, one must not just look at Graham’s conclusions, but also the constituent parts of his conclusion. As Graham himself put forth, he relies upon Husserl’s Cartesian “intentional object” to make up his Four Fold, from which his “hidden objects” are derived:

My own concept of objects is of a fourfold tension that erupts into view most clearly when you look at the two domains of intentional objects (Husserl) and real objects (Heidegger, in my reading at least).

Perhaps this is a misreading on my part, but I do not consider Husserl’s split of the object within consciousness to have removed him from the Intentionality of Consciousness composed of a Central Clarity picture which Descartes put forth. By my accounting, to rely upon this conceptual designation, even in part, is to partake in a mistaken and oversimplified view of the nature of Mind. (And to no small point, in partaking of it, one brings the human-centricist aspects which brought it into view in the first place.) So, for those confused as to why I could claim that Graham is offering up a wrongful optical metaphor when he is asserting objects which cannot be seen at all, one has to keep track of the foundations of the “hidden object” (its place in the Intentionality reduction of Consciousness). It is not just that Graham’s ontology is caught up in an opticality (a general metaphorization of mental clarity with optical clarity), but rather is caught up in a specific model of opticality and consciousness, that clarity is CENTRALIZED (sorry for the caps, but his point seems to be slipping out summaries). This problematic central object of consciousness be it a phenomenological object, or an idea, composes several again essentialized dyads. Upon it is grafted a primary (clear) figure/(confused) ground distinction, a Being/Non-Being binary, and ultimately even a Self/World problematic (to name a few). Once Consciousness is assumed to be CCC, much binary machination can be performed. By simply crossing out the object, through the reflections of Non-Being, pointing to its insufficiency, saying that the object is forever in retreat from this constitutive relations (and thus “hidden”) becomes simply a product of the this mistaken object-centered characterization of consciousness itself.

It is to the periphery that philosophy must look, I suggest, to the connectives. Much as in Spinoza’s diagram of the optics of the human eye, it is the field of (mental) vision which provides any such clarity experienced to be towards the center. And beyond this, if one is to embrace a post-human, or pre-post-Kantian philosophy of mind and object, one really should look right towards the center of vision, where a functioning dissonance, a living eruptive line forces itself up, in the midst of the object and between them. Attentiveness to the phenomenology of consciousness, the nature of the center, is what displaces the very essentialized notion of object (as privileged ontological unit), and as Spinoza would tell us, this living line is constituted by the very thought to thought affirmations of our Body under fluctuating degree of Being and Power…In a sense, Graham retreats from the human, but stops at the object because of a mistaken (and historically human-centricist) conception of consciousness. He simply does not go far enough. There is no reason to stop at the object as the final ontological stop. The fullness, the breadth of what we can do under that trajectory toward the ultimately unknown X, is not the hidden object, but Spinoza’s Substance.

Graham though now suggests that he is coming closer to embracing panpsychism (I believe he restricts his position to an essential dyad endo-panpsychism), so it may be that we will eventually come to find ourselves in agreement, perhaps as I come to better understand him.

[Addendum: Graham responds:

“Kevin thinks the periphery is where the action is. But I’m not sure what to say in response to this aside from what has already been written… Within the intentional sphere, it is simply the case that we do perceive objects and not fuzzy horizons. And within the real sphere, it can be logically deduced that the world is object-oriented, since the alternative is a slippery slope through fields of pre-individual intensities all the way to outright monism.”

My thoughts: The problem is not whether we do perceive objects, of course we do. The question is what is the means by which we do so, and what is their metaphysical grounding. That is, not only do we perceive objects, but our cognition is composed of many other aspects, and reliant upon a wide coherence of beliefs (and ideas are not clear in the same way that objects are clear).  And as I point out, unless you want to pre-posit the “intentional sphere” as defined by its object, a category of reduction that I challenge, a close attention to the phenomenology of what we are aware of is not SIMPLY an object, but a dissonance within and across objects, not to mention aspects of the entire field. My entire point that the concept of the “intentional spheres”  is miscontructed, both in terms of concept and in terms of phenomenal observation. By invoking the “intensional sphere” as a self-evident, and self-defined essentialization of consciousness, Graham simply performs the point I am making, that is, his “hidden objects” ontology is based upon the CCC conception, inherited from Descartes, and cannot operate without it.

As to the other horn of the dilemma that Graham proposes, “Either accept my hidden objects or slide into lump intensities (or monism)” the general conflation of lump intensities, what he elsewhere calls a “molten slag”, and monism is unwarrented, for Spinoza’s monism is not molten and not much of a slag. In fact it contains a vertical dimension carefully constructed along a degree of Being analysis along a vector of power. I don’t know if “Outright monism” is supposed to carry the rhetorical weight of something like “Outright Anarchy” or worse “Outright Balderdash,” but I would think that outright monism is preferable to implicit or only evocative monism. I have yet to read his objection to Spinoza’s notion to Substance, so I cannot really respond to this deadend. There are objects in Spinoza, and they even have essences. It is just that they have no ontological priority, as objects, over the expression of Substance, which they are.]

Here is Spinoza’s much neglected optical letters with commentary, if interested:

Deciphering Spinoza’s Optical Letters

And a Word.doc version: Spinoza’s Optical Letters: Redux

Latour’s Translation? Everything is….

I have a weakness of the critique of the critique, that is the meta-turn that applies the picture of the world presented by a philosopher to their own work. Thinking about Wittgenstein’s normatives as if they too are language games, the Willing of Nietzsche’s Willing, the epistemic standing of the Propositions of Spinoza, so on and so forth. It can be considered a cheap trick, but still a compelling one. I woke up this morning having the first 28 pages of Graham Harman’s Prince of Networks in my head, and asked myself, given the Principle of Irreducibility and that ever reduction requires and exact tracing of equivalencies, carefully documented, to the degree that I am becoming refamiliarized with Latour through Harman, I have to ask, what is it that is lost, where is the translation, when Latour reduces everything to actants and networks? For instance, is even the term “actant” traceable? What change would occur if everything became reducible to Suppliants and Networks [a touch less Nietzschean, a touch less Democratic]. The color of the concept has changed. Everything is a Suppliant…Augustine tells us that things that do not know, wish to be known. What is the “translated” standing of Latour’s reduction?

The Difference Without a Difference…What?

Spinoza to the Rescue

Reid over at Planomenology made a very interesting series of points on Larval Subject’s “difference that makes a difference” take on Graham Harman’s Object-Oriented Philosophy, points which read in a direction that at first blush seems to come from a different tack than the one that I employ. Reid finds as key to finding an ontology of things which may not make a difference is looking for the non-difference that does not make a difference. A creative approach.

Yet there is a third reading of the ontic principle that could undermine the apparent consistency of the Deleuzian approach, and I believe it is a reading that would fit Harman’s own variant of object-orientation. If there does not exist a difference that does not make a difference, that nonetheless means that there could exist a non-difference that does not make a difference. Levi’s ontic principle says nothing about the non-existence of non-differences.

It was only a passing thought at the time, but Reid’s non-difference making non-difference richly struck me as exemplifed in the formal relationship between Attributes in Spinoza. That is, there is a fundamental non-difference between them that allows them to reveal differences, and make the mind work. Reid gave a positive reaction to this line of thinking, so I thought that I should post the comment here as well.

As it turns out,  I had to appeal to Spinozist distinctions in my last response to Graham Harman so as to get a positive notion of the my lay of the ontological land, and perhaps by providence it seems that my associative thoughts on Reid’s thinking about difference may have more legs than first imagined. For in the end, what I argue to Graham, is that the depth of his Heideggerian objects is better served as the depth of Spinoza’s Substance, which is all the deper (and a degree of Being conception of Being). This may very well have grounds in the non-differential point that Reid was making. What is interesting is that Reid uses this distinction to undermine Deleuze who is in some sense operating under Spinozist influence.

My comment on non-difference:

The non-difference which makes no difference would be the order and connection of things and ideas as they are expressed in parallel Attributes (actually an infinity of Attributes)as found at the Ethics 2p7. The differences between Attributes are the same in terms of order and connection (thus a non-difference which makes no transitive transitive). Across Attributes non-difference pertains.

The difference that makes a difference is simply the horizontal modal and transitive causation, wherein differences between modes cause the differences between other modes. Each modal difference is “seen” by other modes (Berkely’s esse est percepi).

But, the non-difference which makes no difference, actually does make a difference (but not in the transitive sense of modal expression), but in terms of suturing the very immanence of the Mind’s ability to read the essence of Substance. That is, because the order and connection between things and ideas is the same (undifferentiated unto each other), the mind through the expression of the Attribute of Thought can establish the relative differences between modes. It can read along a vector of same and change. Relational defitions of objects are given a kind of depth. This does not mean that the objects themselves, (merely the expression of Substance in the Attribute of Extension), harbor or hide some “in-itself” (internalized relation) buried in its heart, but only that the immanent-same (non-difference)across Attributes makes possible the grasp of objecthood.

One might be tempted to say that the “order and connection” itself is already a differentiation, from one thing to another, one thought to another, but sub specie aeternitas, it can just be considered one great fixed articulation.

As mentioned in my last comments to Graham, it may be this depth that saves one from the undifferentiated slag of a DeLandian universe, a depth leveraged upon a non-difference which makes no (transitive) difference, the force of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR), and Being as the capacity to act.

Perhaps of interest is a brief discussion I had with David Chalmers in which I attempted to introduce him to the notion that Spinoza presented a “zombie world” as our world (and not just a the logical possibility of it), and that Spinoza held a position that had great affinity to Chalmer’s idea of a protopanpsychism. Because Chalmers did not come from a typical philosophical pedagogy he was admittedly less than familiar with Spinoza, but considered the issue.

Loosely related to this: The Reality of the Affects: Spinoza’s Plotinian Real and Some Experiments in Re-translation, “idea” as “information”

Harman Brings Central Clarity to the Issue (wink, nod)

 

Looking Beneath Being

When reading Graham’s latest thoughts on the nature of my objection to his Husserlian/Heideggerian universe I got the warm feeling that we are getting closer to the crux (a Four Fold extraordinare) of our incommunication. And I am very glad that he quoted my email to him, as it really did a better job of honing my much broader conceptualization. The best part of his post is where he again characterizes my own position, for here is where I think we can find valuable differences (what he thinks I am saying, and what I think I am saying), which might open up what is possible between our thoughts:

But on to one other issue… Kevin’s main point, if I understood him correctly, is that the concept of objects per se is implicated in presuppositions of a lucid human clarity. He sketched an alternative model, which seemed to hold that qualities or accidents were the real stuff of the world and objects were merely posited in that stuff by a human. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding, but that’s what I made of his model. Assuming that that really is his model, I oppose it for two reasons…

 It has caused some problems in the past when I too exactly take apart a claim, people can get a sense that I am being uncharitable, but I know no other way as to get right to what is being said, by literalizing it. The first correction I would make is that the concept of objects is found in the presumptions of a “lucid human clarity”. This deviates from a very particular analytic wedge that I would like to drive into both the Continental and the Analytic schools. It is not simply “human clarity”, but it is specifically “central clarity” that I read as an inheritance of Descartes. As I have pointed out elsewhere, Spinoza, perhaps the ultimate philosopher of clarity, and a grinder of lenses, maker of optical instruments and theorizer of dioptrics, built his entire philosophy on the notion of clarity. But as he argued in his treatment of lenses and vision, it is not from a “central clarity” that truth comes, but through a composite clarity. For Spinoza human beings are clear to the degree that they participate in and express clarity (if we can say it that way). We are lucid to the degree that we think from a greater lucidity (hence his PSR rationality). The objects that I critique in Descartes, and then Husserl and lastly in their negation in Heidegger, are products of, presuppositions of “central clarity” (and this central clarity is upturned if we pay attention to either the phenomenological quality of perception and thought, attending to exactly what is at the center, or to the way that clarity stretches out conceptually beyond any border).

But more important than this correction is his summation:

He sketched an alternative model, which seemed to hold that qualities or accidents were the real stuff of the world and objects were merely posited in that stuff by a human.

I can’t really see where I called anything the “real stuff of the world”. I know of a fair number of positions which might say this, some of them very interesting, but I did not put them forth. (I must also clarify that talking of “qualities” or “accidents” in dichotomy to “objects” is already granting a distinction I don’t find helpful, since the very notion of “object” is one that is under critique from my side). I have two responses in mind to this. The first is that I am pretty comfortable with a Spinozist vision in which the “real stuff” is seen as first of all Substance (which is the totality of nature in all its manifestions), and that all of modal expressions of the “real stuff” are themselves real TO THE DEGREE (forgive the caps), that they are active. Being is best seen as Being in terms of Degree (an idea derived from Plotinus). So to speak of the “accidents” or “qualities” being the “real stuff” is a very odd thing to say in my model. But the second point, which is where I think that Graham got this characterization, is that it is what he wants to call “accidents/qualities” which are the important stuff, that is, what consciousness attends to are the eruptive aspects which then direct the mind to various states of the world or itself (also part of the world). The reason why we care about an object (in the loose sense of the word) is the way that it interacts with the rest of things (among which we are included), and this interaction is found in its “accidents/qualities”. But in no way do I want to ontologize these features as more or less real. The mind attends to them, but their ultimate reality is constitutive of complexes. As to the reality of objects, indeed there are objects. But they are not hidden (what is behind an object is not another hidden, shadow object which refuses to disclose itself to our central clarity), they are there, manifesting. Objects are what is related to “objectivity”, and objectivity requires a sharing of criteria and is largely based on ostensive defintion.

That is a “object” because we can we can both point to it, and if we cannot point to it already starts to lose its literal objecthood (it becomes more and more a metaphorical object). When we set up criteria which we agree on, we can point to, or refer to, the criteria when discussing a non-present object (but we can set up criteria for all sorts of things /conditions which are not best thought of as objects). When criteria breakdown, so too does objecthood. But there is another sense of object, and that is that we necessarily assume that states in the world cause us (and others) to experience things. This is an anchor point for object as well. That very epistemologial grounds by which we read the world and others is that mutally the world that we share has causal effects upon not only us, and our friends and enemies, but also causal effects on other parts of the world. So “object” has a double sense to it, typified by criteria reference and causal effect. That thing there is a table, not only because we can reference shared criteria which make it a table, but also because it is taken to have a causal effect on criteria users (giving them experiences, causing their beliefs), and also upon all other living things and otherwise considered inanimate states of the world (colloquially). To ask if it is the objects that are being referred to or their qualities is to divide something that has no need to be divided. Its like asking if mathematical objects are real and trying to separate out the state of the world from its description or effects, I don’t think a fruitful enterprise (its outcome influences little). To talk of internal objects is to risk playing too close to “central clarity” metaphors which assume that the world is made up of nouns alone, and that noun perception is what makes up what consciousness is (centrally so). One should also point out that the conceptual causal relationship to objects is not only a human capacity, that is a great majority of animal life regularly organize themselves through an understanding that states of the world cause experiences in themselves and others, and that orienting themselves in the world depends on this coherence. To speak of the “mere positing” of humans would have to include the “mere positing” of sentient life. Again, the very notion of “object” starts to break down and one gets the sense that we are starting to use the wrong word, perhaps even generally.

It must be admitted that there is a sense in which Graham’s characterization of the “concept” object as human is right, that is, as linguistic beings, following Davidson’s Conceptual dualism, there are two main conceptual ways of describing the world, the physical and the mental. These coincide with Spinoza’s two Attributres of Extension and Idea (and might have parallel in Latour’s material and semiotic, I have not looked deeply into it). As I have begun to suggest elsewhere there is a sense in which there may even be a third, found in the way that Spinoza treats the conatus and joy, and the way that Davidson ends up with a “prescription proceeds description” ethics which undercuts Hume’s Fork. But I cannot see that this ends up with the conclusion that objects are only conceptual posits of humans, but rather with the sense that the distinction of the physical and the mental (and the moral) which runs through language is perhaps better understood ontologically, as modes of expression in the Spinozist sense, and as such only understood by humans by degree.

When it comes to the reasons why he objects to critique then, I think each of them fall to a misunderstanding of my point and position (perhaps understandable, because I have not presented everything at once). His first objection is an objection to Hume, whose position I do not hold at all. I sense though that he is heading towards the horns of a bull that cannot be avoided unless one embraces his objects beneath objects. His second objection is more interesting to me, for it does touch on the nature of my position:

2. On the level of withdrawn reality itself, if you deny objects, then you’re probably headed toward either the doctrine of the monolithic world-lump, or a subtler variant that argues for a field of pre-individual intensities arranged in a continuum (Manuel DeLanda defends such a model fairly well). My claim is that neither of these work. Both of them will tend to fuse the world into a ball of molten slag without parts, and once that’s done, individuals can never be accounted for. They are buried in the rubble.

From my Spinozist position this is essentially Hegel’s critique of Spinoza, calling his view an acosmism. The entire universe does not even really exist, but is only collapsed into an undifferentiated Substance (or indeterminately in the DeLanda version, a “molten slag”. We know that Hegel applied this critique of Spinoza because he was driven by the need to have human consciousness (and Germany) at the center of an ontological development. Spinoza gave no special place for the human being, the human being was like a stone that thinks it is free, flying through the air. And one wonders has Graham reaches towards a de-centralization of the human why he has an instinctive appeal to Hegel’s objection (reliant upon the the newly acclaimed reality of the negation, the one thing that Spinoza missed).

But what Hegel missed, because he was thinking in terms over verticals, was the horizontal dimension of causation (term drawn from Gatens and Lloyd), that is, the modes as they transitively cause each other are God as it “exists and acts”. That is, the reality of comisism, is God seen under horizontal causation, and a product of its vertical causation. When Graham sees only the “lump” world of DeLanda (objected to though fairly well defended, in Graham’s point of view), perhaps we can join him in some of this criticism. Much as Hegel missed the reality of horizontal causation, perhaps DeLanda misses (or minimizes) the reality of the vertical causation. This is the missing “depth” that I believe Graham wants to bring to Latour. But while Graham would like to instantiate it at the level of a ubiquitous object that forever hides (under an opticality metaphor), each objecting being an eddying pool of objecthood, in my view this partakes too much in the Central Clarity conception of conciousness, or in another vein, too much in the reality of the Negation which Hegel supplied in the service of centralizing human beings. How Heidegger loves his non-Being. Instead the solution is, I suggest, that the depth that Graham calls for is supplied not in pockets, but in Substance, the reality of  which is discerned in degrees of Being which reveal the power of explanation and communication. Stopping at objects is does not seem defensible.

Lastly, I want to return to the very useful reduction that Graham supplies of his own point about the kinds of objects he believes in,

My own concept of objects is of a fourfold tension that erupts into view most clearly when you look at the two domains of intentional objects (Husserl) and real objects (Heidegger, in my reading at least). Each of those kinds of objects turns out to be involved in an analogous thing between its unified reality and the plurality of its traits. My thesis is that all of what we know as the universe is generated by the fourfold tension between these two kinds of objects- artworks, emotions, causal relations, time and space, essence and eidos, etc.

Firstly, his complaint that it is the difference in object between Husserl and Heidegger which makes him immune to my criticism of Central Clarity Consciousness seems to have no play here, for distinctly he builds his view using Husserlian intentional objects wholesale. IF my objection to Husserlian objects indeed has deep traction (a point that need have nothing to do with Heidegger which is another question), then the fundamentally inclusion of these objects in his model would be highly flawed. That is, if Husserl’s objects are conceptualized through the retention of a mistaken view of consciousness come from Descartes’ treatment of hyperbolic lenses and doubt, their employ for me us under acute questioning.

But following this, Graham sets up a kind of analogy for perception, that is real Heideggerian objects (as he find them) are doing something analogous to what intensional Husserlian objects are doing (both exhibiting a tension), and one presumes that perception is constituted by a seconary analogous process, or even deeper symmetry, a reflection, of these two objects upon each other. Well, we all love symmetry (or at least I do). It compells our thought. But the primary reduction of consciousness to a kind of object-staring (as it seems to be) is highly problematic. As mentioned, Graham imports the Cartesian metaphor of central clarity, upending one half of the analogy process. (And I still call Heidegger into question on the same issue, seeing a negation of object which perhaps also is the very thing that helps Graham make this analogy between inside and outside objects in the first place.)

I like very much Graham’s extension of his categories to the realm of the arts and the emotions but it is precisely here, where Graham expects to find primordial objects, buried beneath objects that I think that the very problem of presumed central clarity of consciousness becomes unhinged. Can the world of the arts and emotions be a world only of nouns, of names? What of verbs, adjectives, conjunctions, gasps, sighs, pauses?

The Bounce of the Being of Beings

 All things Great and Unmeasured [anaríthmêtos] Time

Births [phúei] unseen & having appeared [phanénta], hides [krúptetai];

(Sophocles, Aias; lines 646-647) 

Graham Harman’s Response: The Lock on Objects

Sorry that I have been out-of-computer for a day or so, for when I first read Graham Harman’s response to my earlier questioning of his work and term “Object-Oriented Philosophy,” I wanted to enter in quickly so that the tempo between us could produce some clarity, for it seemed off-hand that Graham did not address my thought too directly, and a quick up-take of his points would prove light-shedding. But given that circumstances have driven some distance, it was my sincere hope that by spinning his response over in my mind, turning its being-of-being center, looking at every angle, I could come clear to a positive relation to what he is saying.

But this has not happened. That is, as I have more than absent mindedly contemplated his response, this thoughts remain distinctly apart from much of the point I was making, not only about Husserl’s notion of intentionality, Heidegger’s opticality, but most importantly, his own return to object-centrality…that all stem from one Cartesian picture of how consciousness operates, a picture come at least in part from the new science of dioptrics and the metaphors of lenses.

What is nice though is that I have time now to engage his response piece by piece, and as is sometimes the case with a text, by teasing out its directions, woof and warp, one may come to feel what is being said more directly, more positively.

A Trinity of Points

The best thing is perhaps to begin with Graham’s three-point assessment of my questioning. As an excellent writer he gives me something to hold onto right off. And if we are to find the source of a misunderstanding, it likely would be here. These are the three points he feels that I am making:

1) Harman’s focus on objects represents a typical rut of the tradition that needs to be overcome

(2) it comes from a desire for a “central clarity” (rather than, I suppose, a comfort with the inevitable lack of such clarity)

(3) instead of the “game” of trying to recapture the essence of things, we should realize that accidents are the name of the game

Right off at number one it seems that we are in the same ballpark. But something in the rhetoric, in the words, tells me that he is hearing something I do not intend. “Rut,” what a wonderful word. Do I mean that those sons of Descartes that have taken the Central Clarity image of consciousness are in a rut? We can see the groves worn into the path, as the centuries of wagons carrying their ontic weight to argument market, the praxis of human habit has philosophical steered just where such wagons can go, is this what I mean? Yes, I can see that. But I do not see this “rut” as typical  in the sense that it is somehow mindlessly banal, as in the phrase, “oh, he’s so typical,” and nor do I want to be thinking of “types” or even of “the tradition” as if there is a necessary iconoclastic movement that has to be started. It is rather for me that there is an inheritance of an image, an expectation of the sufficiency of a take, what Wittgenstein would sometimes call a “picture,” and that this picture of consciousness (though it has its roots in the misty past of Greek Ur-texts, the kind of which Heidegger loved to play with) at modern times grounds itself in a particular moment in history: the development of optical prosthetics, and the experience of images seen through theoreticized lenses, which were taken to be models of consciousness itself. That is, the over-riding optical metaphors of Western Philosophy, in the person (and scientist) of Descartes, took on a very specific character as to how consciousness was to be “pictured,” carried forward through his metaphysics. When one realizes the origin of such framing, then the framing itself can at least be questioned. And I would say that at least as far as I read him, Harman’s work seem to be tensioned both inside and outside of this frame.

That is, like the tension that I read within Harman’s own work (soon to be noted), Descartes’ centrality of focus notion of consciousness was actually a concept which ran counter to his much wider semiotic Realism treatment of mind wherein ideas were thought of as actions. His philosophy of a sensing, communicating mechanism grew out of his main ambitions as a natural philosopher which likely superceded his interest in metaphysical grounds. It was Descartes’ theological need for a free, independent Will, (that is, an accountable soul), which lead him to insert into consciousness this notion of central clarity. The central clarity is what the Will (Soul) focuses on. And so too, as Graham Harman strains towards a post-human Husserl and Heidegger, one that does not privilege the human relation above all others, he (at least in my opinion) drags with him the heritage of the prime metaphor of consciousness as optical central clarity which Descartes originally inserted in order to privilege the human in the first place. Descartes’ semiotics of mind wherein the mind perceives the world directly through its bodily senses in the same (decentralized, non-optical) way that a blind man perceives the world through a stick, becomes a human soul which directs its Will, like a spotlight, on some core clarity…or really object.

His secondly summation,

(2) it comes from a desire for a “central clarity” (rather than, I suppose, a comfort with the inevitable lack of such clarity)

I like Graham’s second point, at least how it starts, but I am unsure where he got the sense that I am arguing for an inevitable lack of clarity (though I may suggest that in theories which I did not include in my response to Object-Oriented Philosophy). I suppose though this may be due to me not putting proper emphasis in my disagreement. My problem was not with a reduction of consciousness to Central Clarity, but to Central Clarity. Indeed there is clarity in consciousness (Descartes’ trope would not even function if there were not), and there may even be a Central Clarity (that is, there is a figure/ground feature to consciousness that is quite significant, and we say things like “can you make your point more clear?” or, “I can’t quite make out the bird in the bush”). But consciousness is not reduced to (or even super-achieved by) this centralization: no object constitutes it. The reason for this is primarily two-fold. The first is that I contend that if one looks to the very center of consciousness (that is, under the spotlight picture which imagines that consciousness is like something that shines out onto the world in some fashion, and reveals Being of whatever status at its center, leaving Non-Being at its wake or at its border), there in the center, the point of attention, is not a “clarity”. And there at the center is not an “object,” or even a “concept”. There is not even the apideîn of Heidegger’s Platonic abstractive seeing. If we are to think in terms of centers, the center of consciousness is a dissonance, an eruptive line. The second reason is that even if we cluster this dissonance center (might we say a laser center) with a broader object or concept center (the spotlight), this contrast in clarity is dependent upon the sense of all the lies beyond it…that is, the “clarity” would not even be restricted to this center (its object), but is spread upon a web of perceptions and beliefs, from which no dividing line can be taken. It is my point, at least insofar as I respond to Graham’s orientation towards the “object”, is that centrality itself (intention) when applied undermines the pure notion of clarity, but also, insofar as there is clarity, it is not centralized. The very character of consciousness is lost in the push towards central clarity.

Graham’s third point is an important one, because here at least I get the sense that he understands the very crux of argument against his treatment of “accidents” to essence, what he approvingly says Husserl calls the “gems” of a object:

(3) instead of the “game” of trying to recapture the essence of things, we should realize that accidents are the name of the game

What I would like to bring out is why the “accidents” are the name of the game. They are not the name of the game because they are more important than the essence (against which we are supposed to realize their very accidentally), but rather because in Graham Harman’s very dichotomy, the significance of what he calls accidents becomes lost. It is not that the accidents are what we should philosophically keep our eye upon, though I do insist that what Graham calls “accidents” are what our living line of consciousness is already on. It is that our very epistemic way of understanding bodies and relating to the world is one in which the contingent effects upon things in the world, and our ability to read those effects sensibly and make powerful, meaningful determinations, arises out of those effects. When a tree shakes unexpectedly, this is not an occasion of the essence of the tree suddenly exhibiting a new “gem”. We look into the air and at other trees, and may even attend to our own skin, searching for breeze. Then we narrow our gaze up into the branches, perhaps change our position unto the tree, and then see a squirrel flitting its tail energetically, perhaps territorially. We are not engaging a “real” object that is ever in retreat from us. The shaking of its leaves was not some apparitional shimmer of an essence caught on the intentional object of our minds. The shaking of the trees leaves was what directed our attention towards the shared world, towards a cause that has a bearing upon us (what shook the tree could shake us). The sound and spasm of the tree caught our attention because it was dissonant to our expectations and beliefs; not because the essence of the tree had acquired new gems. The accidents are the name of the game because events that catch our attention are those same events which direct us toward understanding the world better. Our “clarity,” far from being centralized, is composed and provisional. The world is largely transparent to us. We are not cut off from it, but are part of it.

Are Two Kinds of Objects Still Objects?

After these three digestions Graham goes onto make some important points, unfortunately these are directed more towards interpretations of Husserl and Heidegger, and spend less time on his own notion of the importance of “objecthood”. But because I link my trouble with his philosophical aim to a continuity in a tradition, perhaps this is fair. It is best then to see to what degree Graham is sipping from the Cartesian waters of consciousness as a Central Clarity insofar as he leans back on Husserl and finds objects in Heidegger.

He first finds a difficulty in a tendency he sees in me to treat “the theme of objects as if it were the same strategy” in both Husserl and Heidegger. Try as I might, I can’t quite see where he finds this, for I did not speak of the strategies of each thinker. Clearly Heidegger is in response to Husserl, and is not using the same strategy. What I do claim though is that the same fundamental optical metaphor for Being is exhibited in both, and this metaphor is one of central clarity. In Husserl this metaphor is taken to be definitive for consciousness (however then analyzed), in Heidegger, in a kind of Negative Theology, it is indicative of the failings of consciousness. The spotlight of the mind cannot see under  being. In both cases the metaphor is that which sets the pragmata, the issues at hand.

Graham wants to tell us that the “objects” in Heidegger (which he himself as unearthed) are very different than Husserl’s. Of course they are. We are in infinite agreement. The point is that the very characterization of object as object, (that is, in some implicit way as the central focus of a clarity of consciousness), whether it be the intentional “over-arching” object or the object/thing/being that hides, is an adoption of this rutting motif. Even where Heidegger crosses out the object altogether in its hiddenness, as he toggles optically between alêtheia and lêthê (preferring the outright visual trope of “coveredness” rather than the more readily “forgottenness” or even dull “obscurity” which are perhaps closer to the feeling of the word in the Greek), he is still enrapture by a primary aim of consciousness that is of Central Clarity. It is just a Central Clarity which is perpetually denied of us…we can never really see the object before us. I think that Graham is quite right to rescue the notion of object from Heidegger and to place it in front and center, but in so doing, I believe he is calling attention to a history of thinking about consciousness as defined by a Central Clarity (perhaps CCC). By crossing out this Central Clarity, imposing Non-Being over its Being, so to speak, one is still in the game of CCC. That Heidegger’s objects hide and that Husserl’s objects don’t hide at all really are effects of the same diagnosis.

Edge of Philosophy

Graham then says something else which puzzles me a bit,

But what I most object to is the idea that Husserl’s eidos is some sort of traditional game, and that rejecting it immediately stations one on the cutting edge of philosophy in our time.

First of all, I have not so much interest of getting to the “cutting edge” of philosophy, if by this one means a newness that is marked by its newness. I am interested in philosophy that is germane to our time, and as he knows, my reinvigoration of Campanella (via Spinoza) means for me that the “cutting edge” may involve some very sharp edges from the past. (Nexus points of historical change often involve philosophical branchings which were not taken up in the mainstream, branching which may prove rich in conceptual possibility when paths taken deadend: argued for in terms of Spinoza here.) Graham here seems to feel that I think that just by making iconoclastic gestures, jettisoning some tradition, one gets to hop their place to the front of the line. My critique of Graham’s Object-Oriented Philosophy (again, still a surface critique), is not that it is not “on the cutting edge of philosophy in our time,” but that the very post-human aims of his philosophy are not served well by the object-orientation he wishes to retain, in fact, emphasize. That is, historically and conceptually, the centrality of the object is what has been most in the service of centralizing what is human — as I said, this can be dated back to a fundamental tension between Descartes Natural Science and his Christian Theology. Where Graham identifies the object buried in Heidegger, and returns to Husserlian intentionality to speak of a fundamental dyad of the intentional and real objects to give the Heidegger objects life, he takes with him the poisoned-pawn of human centrality (despite his every intention not to). When Graham speaks of these objects, or the tool-beings which are never seen fully, as they hide from our spotlight consciousness, the dyad is set up once again, one which fundamentally mischaracterizes (or oversimplifies into a picture) consciousness. And there are two levels of this problem, the first is the presumed authority of the optical metaphor in the very concept of “hiddenness,” and secondly that the very nature of opticality as a central clarity is already flawed, because at the center of optical perception is a living line of dissonance.

For me, at least insofar as I share Graham’s post-human aims, the very notion of a hidden tool is missing what is happening in tool use. When using a tool we inhabit a tool, we join a tool, we become it… we do not strictly “use” it (wherein at some level we are “beholding” it, or attempt to “use it up”). Drive a car and the car is not “hiding from us”. In fact, the car and us become a pansensual revelation of the states of the road, an assemblage of collaborative and really cybernetic perceptions. The fullness of the car is there, as well as the fullness of the road. Because we leave behind opticality, it is not that the road is hiding from us at all, but rather, the road, the car and us are expressing themselves in a consonance, one might say, a degree of power. Could the expression be more powerful? Sure. But opticality, the missingness of the rest of the object (be it the road, the car or me) is not the best characterization of the optimalization of an expression. Our communications can be increased. The shocks could be replaced, I might have studied a map before I left, I might wear glasses, the road engineers might have banked the turns more, I might obey the speed limit, I might have put better gas in the car, I might have better driving music on the mp3 player, but none of these increases have to with whether the object of the road is more or less hidden from us. Opticality simply is not the best trope. In fact, the accidents of the road, the “phenomenal qualities” of it are the very things which direct us to a conceptual understanding and increase in our ability to act. If ice is clinging to the trees in a beautiful glassiness about every branch, as it was here last week after an Ice Storm, I am notified that the road might have “black ice”. I touch my break, I feel the road. I slow down, I drive more freely, with greater control and expression. Where there is a philosophical concern it is how taking a position, an orientation towards these qualities which compose the very changes in power and freedom that make up the most important things in our lives. I believe though that indeed it is in the direction of tools and use we must turn, as Graham tells us, but our very notion of tool must change from an object used (which remains hidden from our view) to an thing inhabited and combined with, to a degree of power.

Graham claims that the “upper-hand” tradition is the tradition of empiricism, and it is this tradition which Husserl leads us away from. (Is there the suggestion that if we overcome this tradition we have come to the cutting edge?) But this is an odd response to my claim that Husserl is in the Cartesian tradition. In fact, both the empiricists and the idealists are largely under the Consciousness as Central Clarity picture, come from Descartes. The idealism/empiricism divide (with Graham firmly, and properly, replanting Husserl in the Idealist camp) is already structured by the CCC. Husserl is argued by Graham to have been the very first to have placed a schism that formerly fell outside the Idealist realm, within the Idealist realm itself, what he calls a “true distinction”. This may well be that Husserl invented a distinction within the distinction, but my point is that he is already operating within a mistaken conception of consciousness itself, the very notion of central clarity as reductive of consciousness. To divide a mistaken category is not in my view helpful.

But because Graham spends so much time speaking about Husserl (and Heidegger) and not his own notion of the Objects which should make up the orientation of Philosophy, I am left unsure if he is defending their positions or his own (insofar as he has appropriated them). I have no desire to get bogged down into Husserlian and Heideggerian hermeneutics, two thinkers, on which if 9/10ths of the literature written were lost in a fire I’m not sure how much would be lost to Western Civilization (one can say this about any of the heavy weights, Spinoza included). I would much rather entertain what Graham means by the importance of the Object, at least enough for me to dispel my strong suspicion that by rescuing the object from Heidegger and combining it with Husserlian Intentionality, he has also rescued an implicit CCC and homo-centricism, which he then hopes to throw back out. Or at the very least, the way that he is going about it is the long way around, one which will eventually leave him with no choice but to embrace a panpsychism of such objects.

The Central Paradox of Objects?

Graham then ends with the imagination of the ironic:

The irony is that all the people who reject objects because they think they’re beyond traditional notions of identity, or whatever, are thereby missing the central PARADOX of objects: that they exist in constant tension with their accidents, relations, qualities, and moments. Objects are always sliding away from themselves in two directions along two separate axes. It is those who reject objects who lessen the tension and offer some crude simplicity in its place

I cannot tell if this is directly precisely towards me, for I am unsure what “crude simplicity” I would have put in place of objects. Rather I embrace the very eruptive qualities of things when engaged, but certainly deny that it is objects themselves that are either “splitting” or “in tension with” something or “sliding away” from themselves. It is a beautiful, indeed poetic picture. But it is a picture that is misleading in two ways. The first is that it is the eruptive that is the indicative of consciousness. The center of consciousness is the living line of dissonance. Nothing is ontologically sliding away from itself, there is no object wobbling which works as a cause directing our attention to something important (one might say conditions can wobble, erupt, fraction, expections, tempo, loose emotions, textures, so many things that are not proper objects of consciousness). It is not a paradox of objects, but a fabric of the very nature of what perception (and conceptualization) is. Our attention is directed towards things, features, elements, qualities, events, differences, and these differences indicate (sêmainein), they direct our attention outwardly towards the causes of these events. The book has that color now because of the angle of the sun. The room has that sound now because a book just fell from its shelf. That face has that expression because he just heard the news. To locate these accidents within the very object, as a kind of tension, a paradox is to loose what “accidents” do…they indicate and expand. Part of this reading of objects through their accidents (or qualities) is also a fundamental ability to place ourselves in the bodies of them. I understand why you are saying the things you are saying, why your arms are moving the way they are moving, because I know (as Wittgenstein would tell us) that you are in pain, or that you believe such and such to be the case (as Davidson would say). I inhabit you, and read the world through you, as you do through me, and it is this very readability, this affective reflection or imitation which becomes truly cybernetic, which denies the ultimate opacity of objects. Objects combine with us, and we to they. If they only combine to a certain degree of optimality at a certain moment, this degree is what is possible at that moment in time (strictly, there is no such thing as the McCain Victory Coalition, I would say). If we are to speak of optimal combinations of objects, or, simply things, res, then the very distinction of objecthood (in any notion of hiddenness) is forced to vanish. That is, it is only One Thing that is combining with itself, what Spinoza would call Substance, Nature or God. In a sense, it is not the object which is wobbling or splitting, but our very degree of the power to act freely. The second thing wrong with this picture is that the very notion of a central object that does all these things [before our implicit and floating, unstated gaze] trades upon a notion of consciousness as Central Object Clarity. The reason why the object bucks and sways is that the very frame under which we look to uncover the nature of such an object is a simplification.

As opposed to what Graham calls “lessening the tension” that is supposed to exist in every object [a kind of jouissance of the object perhaps], I suggest that one recast one’s eye to where this tension lies. It is not in the object itself (whatever its status), but in the living line of dissonance at the center of consciousness. What this does is open up the direction towards which the eruption points, and I might say naturally points, It points to other things, to other persons (there is a reason why Heidegger’s obsession with the peek-a-boo object never lead him to any theory of friendship or an richly interpersonal groundings of meaning). When the tension is taken out of the object (which is either rattling around eruptively in our heads, like a piece of radioactive yellow cake, or incandescing there in the grass), it is redistributed in our relationship to the world, the choices we make, the alliances we form (epistemic and otherwise), the bodily assimilations we bring about. The vibrancy of the object is our vibrancy, across domains. Graham, yes, I agree, the object shimmers. In fact the world shimmers. But its shimmer is always indicative, opening, expanding, couched in our felt combination with other things and people that we read as inhabited.

Essential Dyads, May They Never Die

Lastly Graham makes an appeal to the soterial benefits of his dyads, something that preserves something at the heart of objects:

In Prince of Networks, the final chapter (which no one but me has seen yet) begins with a criticism of “radical” philosophies, where “radical” means the attempt to reduce one aspect of entities out of existence. The “dyads” criticized by Kevin are not fossilized relics of olden times, but are the only way to preserve the weird ambiguity in the heart of objects.

Beside the obvious appeal that the heart of something should always be saved (we even, or especially, wince when the vampire gets the stake driven in), there is a curious recursivity to this thinking. One must have fundamental dyads because they save the heart of objects. This is suppose to counter my claim that the very notion of a (split) heart of object is generated by the dyads themselves, itself a product of Central Clarity Consciousness. It is not the case that such dyads are dead bones, but rather they are living generators of the very thing that are necessarily imposed to protect. In fact, Graham’s choice of words here is I believe telling. I think he does see the dyads as relic-ous, or at least, he sees them as preserving a heart of things which resistant to what we can say about them, turning objects into relics. The saint’s finger bone has something in it other than all the properties that seem to be external to it. The whole world is filled with saint-finger bones. I don’t even wish to reduce this resistance quality out of existence. I wish rather to place it in a living service of ever-renewed combination, the increase of our power to act and understand ourselves and things in the world. Perhaps we can say that objects are not living-dead secret-keepers, but living secret-tellers. Because I see this tension not as an irreducible property of objects (or of consciousness), locked in a eternity of ontology, but as part of the connective between bodies, the very notion of entities has changed. The dyad between me and my car is productive of a reading of a triad me-car-road. But me-car-road can become part of a dyad me-car-road/rain, which in turn can read eruptively into a third. There is no limit to the dexterity or subtlety with which these combinations can be, and are daily, momently being made. The wanted resistant holiness of saint-bones is spread everywhere in directions of power, freedom and knowing. If one is argue that there are the saint-bones of “real objects” in tension with their qualities, and then the unreal saintbones of “intentional objects” which ally uneasily with their accidents, and somehow our getting along in the world is explained, made more vivid, more dynamic through these two “objects” furtively matching up, one is really left to explain the role these objects play in the mechanism by which knowledge as power enables us to become more free, more transparent, more fathomable, but also more dexterous, more articulate, more resonant, more intense, more maliable by degrees, and the question of complete transparency falls to a change in the picture of consciousness itself.

This being said, I do consider Graham’s philosophy to be on the cutting edge, in the positive sense. It is engaging. I have to confesss that I did not matriculate (at) through endless quibbles over Continental texts as Graham has endured. His vision is no doubt hard-won, and I do not aim, nor even suspect I would be able to shake it. But discussions are fruitful. What is one to do when one has found their own “tool analysis” concept of Being quite apart from Heidegger when discussing things with someone who traces nearly every philosophical position theyhave back towards Heidegger’s influence? Unlike Graham (at least it seems) who traces the path forward on mainly  Continental terms, I see an synthesis of Analytic and Continental as the most opportune way forward, to work both before and after the breach. My encounters with Heidegger and Husserl were personal encounters. And like Graham, I was put off by the human-centric auras of these philosophers. And when I read Latour I too was struck by the deep metaphysical possibilities of his work. (But admittedly I was largely taken by the sense that all of this could be put in a much more usable philosophical framework, and Heidegger was not the philosopher I thought of, Spinoza was.) In fact I admire Graham’s renewal of Heidegger through a vigorous post-human inter-indices. I have yet to read his Prince of Networks to see fully what he does with it, perhaps it is convincing. I would want to add to all these thoughts that there is a very real and artistic sense in which objects do defy us, that they radiate, perculate, evanesce. I do not find this to be an ontological category, that is, a category which we must logically consider real in order to make sense of how we make sense of the world. The sculpter feels the radiation of the grains of marble, the traffic controller feels the tremble of the computer grid at a vital moment, just before snow fall there is such a terrible silence. Even a common water glass, if we hold it in our hand can strike us so weirdly. None of these do I mean to deny. This is a product of our cathexis of objects, that is the affective way we extend ourselves to them (and they to us). But instead of stopping their, and thinking, feeling that the “swerve” is in the object, pay closer attention to where your attention is going. It is not that the object is jumping, traveling away, wrargling, slipping. Your attenuation is traveling. And to where it is specifically going is something that is lost when it stops at the object, at something the object itself is doing. One can of course use the soft-focus of an emanating object as a crafting tool. One can get accustomed to its presence, its rise and fall. Like seeing gods in all things, there is something to it, but non-being is not there. Take it in your hand and do something with it, I say.

[Followed up here: Harman Brings Central Clarity to the Issue (wink, nod) ]

The “Picture” behind Intention: What Lies at the Center of Perception

Some Considerations of Objecf-Object Oriented Philosophy

Recent engagement with Graham Harman’s “Object-Oriented Philosophy” as it stems from Brentano and Husserl, stirs in me a terrible disagreement (I use “terrible” in the Greek sense). It comes from the “picture” that for me lies behind phenomenological preoccupations with the object, and I think also is core to Heidegger’s, at least rhetorical, notion of hiddenness (dear Sophocles, your Aias  meditation on Time!)…this is the intensely visual metaphor for how the mind works, and thus how we are to orient ourselves philosophically towards the imagined “object”, philosophically equated with Being. The entire heritage in my view suffers from this essentialized orientation to the object, the thing that reveals itself only in part.

In a soon to be published text Graham Harman quotes to some effect Husserl’s object orientation in Logical Investigations:

“every intention is either an objectifying act or has its basis in such an act.” 

“whether I look at this book from above or below, from inside or outside, I always see this book. It is always one and the same thing, and that not merely in some purely physical sense [which plays no role in Husserl’s philosophy- g.h.], but in the view of our percepts themselves. If individual properties dominate variably at each step, the thing itself, as a perceived unity, is not in essence set up by some over-reaching act, founded upon these separate percepts.”

As I have argued elsewhere (linked far below), and found in my research into Spinoza’s optical theories and practices, this modern conception of a picture of consciousness as somehow oriented towards the object, in a sense, being composed by its object, is something that has its modern origin in optical metaphors drawn from the rise of dioptics, the science of the lensed refaction of rays. The transition from the Perspectivist tradition which matched linear rays from points on an object to points in the back of the eye, to the philosophical meditation on what it takes to have “clear and distinct” ideas (Descartes), led us to understand consciousness itself as oriented towards a central clarity, a clarity which, however obscure the borders, as the object of the mind composes a kind of “truth”. Under such a view it is the very nature of consciousness to be somehow defined by this centrality, this clear picture, and the obscure boundary spaces do nothing more than “serve” this center (Kepler, Descartes).

The “Clear and Distinct” Center

As just suggested, Descartes is responsible for bringing to the fore this notion of consciousness through a pursuit of the “clear and distinct” idea. It is important to note that this phrasing comes directly from dioptrics where it carried a specific meaning. In an age wherein refraction was barely understood (the law had just been identified), the quality of glass incredibly fogged and bubble-ridden, and methods of glass grinding unsettled and under continual invention, an image in a lens that was “clear” (clare) was one which was bright, and one that was “distinct” was one which, if bright enough and the properties of the glass and curve optimal, all the parts could be made out. A bright idea was one that struck one with obviousness, a distinct one one that struck with detail, that is, as being sufficiently differentiated. When looking through a microscope a “clear and distinct” image was a good image. In keeping with his preoccupations with the future science of the dioptrics of microscopes and telescopes, Descartes felt that mentally the “clear and distinct” idea was the focus of mental perception, just as the clear and distinct image is the focus of visual perception. Emotions and sensations were indistinct quite often. A pain might be very “bright” (obvious) but indistinct as to its cause or nature.  

 

In my studies I find, following Graham Burnett’s inspiration, that Descartes’ hyperbolic lens, designed as it was to bring a central object into view as clearly and distinctly as possible, was related to his hyperbolic doubt, which was meant to help focus the mind on the most bright and disguishable ideas. In both Descartes hyperbolic lens and imagination, it is the visual center of consciousness which stabilizes truth. It is the object of one’s eye and mind. I argue that Spinoza’s objection to the efficacy of Descartes’ optical hyperbolic lens contains also an objection to the notion of a central clarity, a clarity that works to anchor the mind to truth.

The Dissonance Hole

Now back to the inheritors of a concept of consciousness which finds at is center an (object) clarity. These are the phenomenological sons of Descartes’s preoccupations with the optical metaphor. To this inheritance I would like to raise a deeper question than simply exposing a central metaphor (and its possible contingent relationship of the validity of arguments that depend on it: chose another metaphor, like for instance how Plotinus uses sound, and possibly end up with different conclusions). I want to suggest that if one attends to consciousness itself, and looks to the very center of consciousness, one doesn’t find a stability there at all. In fact, there is hole at the center of vision.

Richard Sennett’s recent, and thought-provoking The Craftsman  includes the importance of this “hole”:

The capacity to localize names the power to specify where something important is happening…Localizing can result from sensory stimulation, when in a dissection a scalpel unexpected hard matter; at this moment the anatomist’s hand movements become slower and smaller. Localization can also occur when the sensory stimulation is of something missing, absent or ambiguous. An abscess in the body, sending the physical signal of a loss of tension, will localize the hand movement…

In cognitive studies, localizing is sometimes called “focal attention.” Gregory Bateson and Leon Festinger suppose that human beings focus on the difficulties and contradictions they call “cognitive dissonances.” Wittgenstein’s obsession with the precise height of a celing in one room of his house [citing that the philosopher had a ceiling lowered 3 centimeters in a house he had designed just the construction was being completed] derives from what he perceivedj as a cognitive dissonance in his rules of proportion. Localization can also occur when something works successfully. Once Frank Gehry could make titanium quilting work [citing the design of a material of specific relfective and textural capacities], he became more focused on the possibilities of the material. These complicated experiences of cognitive dissonance trace directly, as Festinger has argued, from animal behavior; the behavior consists in an animal’s capacity to attend to “here” or “this.” Parallel processing in the brain activates different neural circuits to establish the attention. In human beings, particularly in people practicing a craft, this animal thinking locates specifically where a material, a practice, or a problem matters.

Pay attention to the dissonance that lies at the center of one’s attention. As the eye plays over the surface of an object, the gaze is not upon the “object” but at the living line which erupts out of the sense of it.  If we take up Husserl’s book, we don’t even have to look at its inside, outside and bottom. We merely need to look at its cover. The eye flits across it, an electric line that traces out the variations of its color, its choice of title typeface, its wear on a corner, its color that reminds us of a dress we saw. Yes, we are “seeing” the book, but it is an eruptive book. These are not accidents to the essence of the book, but rather are produts of our engagment with it. But more than this, the “book” is not a center of our consciousness, it is is not the “object” of our consciousness, or even intentionality. In fact there is no object at all which is the focus of our altering gaze. But it goes further than even this, for if the living line does erupt from the book, we understand that the book itself is present to us as a ground of sense for which this line depends. It is not that the book is somehow constructed out of these in some “over-reaching act” but rather that the book already serves as a ground, an under-reaching ground. The dissonance of our awareness depends upon an awareness of consonance. And this consonance is not though made up of the object of the book either, for the book is perceived as a book against (or in coherence with)  a vast array of other boundary perceptions and beliefs (I see that it is a book because that is a table, and I am in a room, and “I believe that writing exists, that there are authors” etc.). Not only is the “object” not at the center of our gaze, but neither is it the whole of the sense from which we do derive our center. Our awareness is a breadth. We say that we are “looking at the book” or “thinking of the book” as a kind of short hand for mutitudnal effects which are only understood as layers or degrees. And we also “picture” (retroactively) a stability of what we are looking at, paying less attention to what it is that we are attending to (a living line of dissonance, and a counter-boundary of outer sense) .

Intentional and Other Objects

When “object-orientation” concepts of Being flow from this notion of central apparition (and also for Heideggerians necessary hiddenness), the full sense of what the mind does, what consciousness is, I think gets lost. I have not read Graham Harman extensively (only an unpublished essay, a lecture listened to, and some informative comments), but I cannot help but have the sense that there is something of a central clarity conception of consciousness that he has taken from the sons of Descartes. What is interesting to me though is that tool orientation, a craft understanding of consciousness, actually is what calls our attention to the very hole at the center of vision. A craftsman is the one that focuses on the eruptive amid an organized sense, plan or workability.

So when we consider what Graham Harman takes to be the “object” of philosophy…

1. Intentional objects (such as phenomenal trees) exist in uneasy alliance with their accidents

2. Real objects (such as real trees) exist in uneasy alliance with their qualities

3. Real objects are deeper than the phenomenal qualities that emanate from them in relations

4. Intentional objects are unreal but are made up of real moments

This fourfold of accidents, relations, qualities, and moments can be restated in cosmologically more interesting fashion:

1. The tension between an intentional object and its accidents is precisely what we mean by TIME

2. The withdrawal of a real object from any relation is what we call SPACE

3. The duality between a real thing and its own real qualities can be called ESSENCE

4. A merely intentional thing’s possession of genuine qualities can be called, in a Husserlian sense, EIDOS

I feel that we need to ask how much of this falls back upon the essentialized notion of central clarity, the idea that our minds should be directed (philosophically) towards the focus upon “intentional objects” or “real objects” (or the interplay between them); how much does this direction rely upon a mistaken over-simplified “picture” of consciousness, and the historical inheritance of conceptions derived from Descartes fascination with refraction and the correction/enhancement of vision? It seems that when we realize that it is rather the “accidents” of an object that actually compose our intentionality, the eruptive semiotics of a dissonance that flows out from a ground of sense-making, the game of recapturing the buried “essence” of an object, the “real” object, apart from its intentionality loses its footing. It is the accidents themselves that connect us to the object, the flash of light across a surface that redirects our orientation to the object and causes us to care about it in a new way, to encamp it with a cathexis of our informing affects, and understand the world differently through these connective effects. When the intentionality of consciousness is understood not directed towards a clarity, an object (however present or hidden), but rather towards the breakdown of that object, not through an attention to the regain of an eidos behind it, but through a bodily reconfiguration of ourselves in orientation to the world itself wherein there is no accident for each accident signifies, then we understand the mind much more as an activity rather than a representation device (an important step I feel). It is in this constant re-vectorialization of the self through reporting others and a world that gives knowledge its uumph, its power and freedom. I am unsure how far Graham Harman’s Object-Oriented Philosophy deviates from my thoughts on this, for we share a distinct interest in the post-human, a sense that flat ontologies should be in some ways deepened, and would work toward a cybernetic understanding. I look forward to a continual and edifying communication with Graham Harman’s writings, in particular the coming book on Latour, Prince of Neworks. These thoughts come out of what for me was a strong sense that he yearns for a solidity behind (or in front of) the orientation of philosophy, a solidity which he reads as “depth”, yet an anchor point which by my brief reading takes its cue from a tradition that pursues a central clarity in what for me are misleading metaphors of vision, a tradition which works to stablize and centralize the human self (soul) which he looks to de-centralize.

In addition to this, as a last remark, there is in modern philosophy a tendency to think in irreducible dyads, that is: How do we get from here (let us say, that intentional object) to there (the real object); or how do we get from here (a true proposition) to there (a state of the world); or how do we get from here (thoughts in my mind) to there (thoughts in your mind); or most generally, how do we get from here (the self) to there (the world). This binary thinking which haunts much of representational analysis is a continuation of the primary problem of much of theology, how to get the soul back to God. All kinds of mediating paths are offered to what is imagined to be a fundamentally binary relationship (we expect the mediations to vanish). Many of these philosophical conundrums disappear when the dyad turns into a triad (and not a Hegelian triangle), that is, when the A/B line becomes a triangle of orientations. This is part of Latour’s philosophy of the “same”, but also central to Donald Davidson’s triangulation. It is not self/world, but self/self/world. I think part of the problem of thinking in terms of mind/object-essence dyads is that the triangle does not become properly emphasized. What happens when we find a fissure at the center of consciousness is that the third term (be it another informing person/object, or a causal state of the world) comes into view to help consolidate the fissure, bringing it into a clarity which then erupts. The fullness of a philosophy should be directed towards the necessity of the third term in any binary preoccupation, the way in which the third completes the sense. Not Object-Oriented Philosophy, but Oriented Object Philosophy, perhaps.

As Plotinus tells us:

If they are two, the knower will be one thing, and the known the other, and contemplation (theõria) has not yet made this pair akin to each other (õieiõsen) (Enn. 3.8.8). 

For thoughts related to these:

1. A Diversity of Sight: Descartes vs. Spinoza

2. The Hole at the “Center of Vision”

3. Deciphering Spinoza’s Optical Letters