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Heidegger “Never says…” and Harman says…

The Ghost of Kant

Graham Harman wants us to pay very close attention to what a metaphysical thinker says, and not what his framework for thinking implies:

What sorts of relations, then, would inanimate things have amongst each other? Well, “Heidegger never says.” But does this mean we can draw no conclusions about it? After spending so much time talking about how entities are both veiled and unveiled for human Dasein, it would have been quite easy for Heidegger, if he had thought of it, to say that “even cotton is both veiled and unveiled for the fire that consumes it.” If he ever had such a notion, why wouldn’t he have said it? It would have been a wonderfully shocking statement, and he would have wanted to draw attention to such a theory. And if it’s really so compatible with his philosophy, then why do orthodox Heideggerians treat me like I have three heads whenever I say it?

The reason is simple… Heidegger works within the framework of the Kantian philosophy of human access to the world (more)…

[update: the material quoted and quoted below no longer exists as Harman deleted his entire blog wherein such discussions and comments occurred]

In this “methodological” move, it seems to me that he conflates two things. There is the very framework that a thinker is thinking in, and then there are the cares and concerns of that philosopher, the perhaps the very reasons why he is using particular assumptions and assertions. And while we do go about imagining that we as philosophers are attacking merely the “structure” of thought, quite honestly we are doing so because of the intentions that it is put to (either consciously by the philosopher, or to some quiet degree, its social effects in history).

The Shock of Claims

So when Graham asks, it would have been quite easy for Heidegger, if he had thought of it, to say that “even cotton is both veiled and unveiled for the fire that consumes it.” If he ever had such a notion, why wouldn’t he have said it? The very plain answer is simply that Heidegger did not care about objects in this way. It likely was meaningless within his interests to point out the possibility, even if there are aspects of it buried in his approach. Perhaps it would be something like pointing out to the writers of the Declaration of Independence that “All men are created equal” implies that in their proposed country blacks should hold equal rights with whites, and the Jefferson might consider freeing his slaves. It simply wasn’t the point of the equality.

(It is notable that Graham sees as a very good reason Heidegger might have for making a philosophical claim (the one Graham has been currently making), “It would have been a wonderfully shocking statement, and he would have wanted to draw attention to such a theory.” Call me naive, but making a splash and turning heads really isn’t what drives most large scale thinkers, though I can see Graham’s love for Nietzschean style showing through here. He does not seem to consider as essential factors other than the “shock value” of an idea. And in Nietzsche’s defense, at least the Nietzschean outright methodology of shock was coupled with a metaphysical valuation of shock…said he trying to “save” Europe. For some reason the argumentative point, “Philosopher X certainly did not believe Y, for if he did he would have made the claim because it would have gotten him so much attention,” seems more self-revelatory than critical.

Evidence of Harman’s over-sensitivity to shock value can be seen in the introductory comments of his talk “Intentional Objects For Non-Humans”. There he faced the problem of how to alarm an audience of panpsychists:

Normally, a panpsychist theory would be the most shocking part of any lecture- but at a conference on “non anthropological subjectivity” like this one, listeners will already be prepared to grant subjectivity to beings such as flowers and grains of dust. The part about objects will be the more surprising of the two parts today.

Perhaps this is key to understanding the motivations behind Graham Harman’s otherwise entertaining characterizations of the world. They are meant to be surprises, and possess a kind of surprise-value. The problem with “surprise-value” is that it can either point to a radically new idea, or simple incoherence of concept, the difference to be made in explication.)

Taking this into our stride, Chris [Graham’s interolcutor] was confused by Graham’s foreclosure against extrapolations upon a thinker’s beliefs,

“I cannot tell if you’re claiming that philosopher X thinks no relations happen between inanimate objects that are isolated from humans (IOTAIFH?), that philosopher X may think they do but can’t account for them, that philosopher X may think they do and maybe could account for them but thinks they are uninteresting, that philosopher X may think they do privately but metaphysically excludes the possibility, at least implicitly, that philosopher X is more concerned with access, or what. I’d like to respond a bit about Heidegger at some point but I’ve lost a sense of what you’re claiming.” (here)

It seems that we can get closer than this and broadly say that Graham wants to be credited with an invention of the possibilities of Heideggerian thinking, and not let them be attributed to Heidegger himself. But he would also like to use in whole cloth the Heideggerian object-orientation that he does feel largely Heidegger carried out. In a sense, he wants to take Heidegger out beyond the orbit of his own human Dasein planet. We can see this in his clarification to Chris,

But here’s the simplest form of my claim…it’s not so much a matter of whether things can exist apart from humans (it’s all too easy to stave off the solipsism charge by conceding that there might be some uninteresting lump of something out there beyond us), but of whether things can relate apart from humans. And furthermore, whether this relation is taken to be ontologically of the same order as the relation between human and world. Kant and his heirs are typified above all else by putting the human/world relation at the center of the picture.

The question for me is, Heidegger is clearly in Harman’s view one of the heirs of Kant, Is Graham one of the heirs of Heidegger? He certainly methodologically puts the “human/world relation” at the center of the picture, for he works exclusively with Husserlian and Heideggerian concepts, and explicitly states that we must “think down” from “human cases”. Is he trying to keep the authenticity of traditional concepts, yet declare himself immune from their critique? He wants to be Kantian, but then excuse himself from such by projecting such “relating” onto all things (to my ear largely without any rigorous explanation).

The Question Answered

While he wants us not to think along with Badiou or Heidegger and credit them with aspectsof authorship of his own position, (he distinctly does not want any allies to his claims that would threaten their originality), he also wants us not to press too closely similiar critical attributions to his own work. He got very upset when I suggested that as an heir to binarizing Idealism and thus importing optical analogies of hiddenness, his concepts and colorful metaphors for the exotic inner world carry with them a problematic eroticization of the “sensual other”. This is a problem which is distinctly political in consequence in terms of real people in the world.  His counter-claim, “I never said that!”

One really has to acknowledge, apart from dramatized appeals to originality, that the great joy and significance in philosophy come in investigating just what philosophers “never said”. We want to uncover the implicit possibilities with the horizon of a philosopher’s thought. Part of this comes from the decided fact that philosophies arise in answer to specific questions. All the terms, concepts and illustrations are pulled into resource to address questions that pre-exist that philosophy, and in some sense work to re-frame the question as it had been previously answered. “He never said…” is often a product of “The question being answered did not require it”. But when we engage a particularly interesting philosopher, not only do we want to see if he/she answered the question that they have redescribed well, but we want to think along with them and see, imagine for ourselves, how they would then answer this other question? And while there may be a division between how would the “person” answer this question, and how would the philosophy itself answer the question, it is the latter of these two that is perhaps the more interesting.

And there is a further aspect of investigating a philosophy. We also ask, what questions is the philosophy repressing, keeping from being asked? What is being hidden by the very form of the answers given?

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33 responses to “Heidegger “Never says…” and Harman says…

  1. iheartfilm March 1, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    Well, every philosophy is, to a degree, a refutation of every philosophy ever conceived, even those of which the thinker is unaware. Sort of like Eliot’s thoughts on tradition – everything we produce from our mind automatically changes the body of knowledge.

    Chris

  2. kvond March 1, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    Hey Chris,

    I particularly liked Rorty’s take on this. In his attempt to turn all of philosophy into a genre of literature that philosophy is an adventure in re-description. In this vein “what a philosopher meant” is ever up for re-evaluation, as a fact. I particularly enjoy for instance the growing movement to reconsider Descartes as a Natural Philosopher, and to read his skepticism as merely pedagogic. But I sense that Graham Harman has a personal investment in not allowing Heidegger himself to be read as inanimate friendly. Perhaps this is due to the suffering he experienced in the rejection of his interpretation at the hands of mainstream Heideggerians who preferred terminological mystification and breadth of implication. It seems that for Graham Heidegger (and Badiou, or so many others) must not be read as saying what he is saying. This is his claim, his invention.

    I find it more valuable to see how we can invest the tradition itself with new possibilities, to change the tradition from within. And whether it is the tradition that is doing the thinking, or us as originals, really doesn’t matter.

    I’m not sure though if every philosophy is a refutation. Many philosophies not only act in refutation of a line of thinking, but do so by turning to a lost, or underdeveloped line of historical thinking. In this way, the historically reclaimed (for instance, I am interested in the possibilities of Campanella, or Plotinus, or Augustine’s semiotics), is renewed and not refuted. It reappears in a new Avatar in the midsts of history.

  3. Mikhail Emelianov March 1, 2009 at 5:55 pm

    I don’t think Harman knew what he was getting in when he started blogging – you are clearly now among the “severe critics” since you dared to challenge some of the master’s ideas. I had the same sense about Harman’s relationship with Heidegger, at least from what he himself claims. Plus, for all the talks about originality, I wonder how anyone can simply start doing philosophy? In this sense, Harman gets going with Heidegger, then burns the bridge, and then tells all the young kids to try to think for themselves and abandon the Continental model of secondary commentary, a model that produced him and others in SR group.

    It sounds a bit like an old (somewhat racist) Russian joke about two Burats (Siberian natives discriminated against by ethnic Russians) who wanted to become Russians – they are told to go to a place where they can jump over a wide ravine, once they do that, they’ll be Russians. The fellows go to the place, the first one runs and jump right over the ravine, instantaneously becomes ethnically Russian. His friend runs, jumps, doesn’t quite make it and is holding on to the edge crying out for help: “Please, pull me out!” only to hear back: “Screw off, you dirty Burat!” I know there’s a version of such story in many other situations – once you become what you wanted to become, the way you got there is irrelevant. This is a main reason Harman got pissy with me – I was trying to tell him nicely that he’s setting up too high of a goal for many graduate students who read his blog, statistically it is very unlikely that a half of them will even get warm tenure-track jobs like him. Plus, most have families to take care off, he sounds like a single bachelor without a care about the realities of everyday life.

  4. kvond March 1, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    Mikhail,

    Thanks for your comments.

    M.E.: I don’t think Harman knew what he was getting in when he started blogging – you are clearly now among the “severe critics” since you dared to challenge some of the master’s ideas.

    Kvond: You know, the thing is that I actually found myself on the wrong side of the “surprise” value. I think that Graham spent so much time shocking Heideggerians, he adopted this as the kind of identity of his thought. I rather found that he did not go far enough, was not “surprising” enough, one might say. If anything was surprising it was that he was still working with outright humanist concepts, those strictly derived from humanist orientation. But as I tried to build bridges from my thinking to his, to see where they aligned, I met with an odd kind of resistence, a vague disqualification. It was as if one had to speak literally within the tradition that he was objecting to in order to qualify as making a valid point. It was like playing chess with someone who had memorized the Sicilian Defense and got upset when you opened the game P-Q4.

    But part of my “critique” is that this for me is how one comes into close contact with a thought. One pushes it in every direction, in particular directions it was not designed for.

    M.E.:In this sense, Harman gets going with Heidegger, then burns the bridge, and then tells all the young kids to try to think for themselves and abandon the Continental model of secondary commentary, a model that produced him and others in SR group.

    Kvond: Very interesting point. For some reason it reminds me of Joyce’s comment about his Ulysses, as it was under attack by American censors. He claimed that they can burn all the bridges they want, he had already marched his troops across. The curious thing is that Graham himself burning the bridges behind him. I find in this duplicity towards one’s origins something intellectually suspect. (But I also find Bloom’s “Anxiety of Influence” intellectually suspect.)

    M.E.: This is a main reason Harman got pissy with me – I was trying to tell him nicely that he’s setting up too high of a goal for many graduate students who read his blog, statistically it is very unlikely that a half of them will even get warm tenure-track jobs like him. Plus, most have families to take care off, he sounds like a single bachelor without a care about the realities of everyday life.

    Kvond: I too had trouble with this, but elected to remain largely silent on the matter. There is a kind of odd social Darwinism in the thinking, a kind of “look, I somehow thrived after many years of toil (there must be something special about me, a specialness that you too could have/be)”. Part of the problem is that the entire critique of the system/s is missing, not only its human requirements, but its valuations, what it draws out in persons. What it extracts and makes.

    I think something important can be said about Graham’s notion of cauasal “allure” (and its completely underdeveloped nature). In many ways Graham simply does not know what got him to “succeed”. Somehow he tickled the world just right, almost accidentally, produced a bunch of productive changes, and now retroactively is attempting to assemble the reasons why in keeping with his best values in the world. This is in a certain sense admirable, and something we all do, pulling through the best thread we can in a largely contingent process. But I think that there is something more to be done. One cannot resort simply to “allure” or the “surprise value” of one’s ideas. Its best to look to the very nature of our causal interactions, the values of the system as it produces them. It is really for this reason that I find his cloaking of causation under the vague subheading of “allure” most objectionable. “There are no real explanations for causes and effects” means that there is no path to self-determination, nor a justifiable means for an architecture of social critique.

    I loved your Russian joke. You are on this side of Zizek, master of the revealing logic of humor, closing in fast.

  5. Mikhail Emelianov March 1, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    This is in a certain sense admirable, and something we all do, pulling through the best thread we can in a largely contingent process.

    Most certainly, I’d hate to sound all pessimistic and determinist about the process, there’s clearly a sort of a contingent side to the deal and a pro-active hard-working side, but in the end, to suggest that it’s all simply a matter of hard word is misleading at best and crushing at worst. I don’t remember the exact quote, but there was an essay in The Chronicle that was making rounds in the blogosphere written by someone who argued that universities lure graduates students with a variety of myths like “All the geezers are soon to retire and there will be plenty of jobs” because they need the students, yet with some notable exceptions, they then don’t really prepare them for the realities of the job-market and basically abandon them as soon as they get their desired PhDs. I mean there’s nothing wrong with the model, as long as it is an honest one, you know? Get all the students together on their first day and show them the statistics in their fields: so many graduates got so many jobs etc etc. I’m sure most will think twice entering a field where – and this is a confirmed experience – they will have to compete against 100-150 candidates for the same job! I mean I don’t think the most elite institutions ever have such competition. I mean the odds are very much against the young graduates who for the most part spent a decade or so in school. I think my main shock at the situation comes from the fact that Russian educational model is very different – one gets “chosen” to continue to do graduate work at a university and then to teach and do scholarly work for the most part at the same school, it depends on the work and the adviser and all… It’s very difficult for me to talk to a young excited undergraduate asking me if they should major in philosophy – what am I suppose to say? we need majors and I can’t really go around saying: “And what are you planning to do with that degree?” because I will inevitably sounds like a jerk who is suggesting that even though I am doing it, you’re not good enough…

    In any case, I think Harman’s doing a great job of advising the youth, but you’re right about his retrospective legitimation of his own originality – I mean we all do that, right? who wants to think of their lives as a series of meaningless encounters?

  6. kvond March 1, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    All good thoughts.

    M.E.: I don’t remember the exact quote, but there was an essay in The Chronicle that was making rounds in the blogosphere written by someone who argued that universities lure graduates students with a variety of myths like “All the geezers are soon to retire and there will be plenty of jobs” because they need the students, yet with some notable exceptions, they then don’t really prepare them for the realities of the job-market and basically abandon them as soon as they get their desired PhDs. I mean there’s nothing wrong with the model, as long as it is an honest one, you know?

    Kvond: I have an even bigger problem with “the system” and that is that there are very few PhDs, those who actually have their desired jobs, have struck me as actually happy persons. (At least Graham seems to be an exception to this, though one never knows.) Even if you reach the hoped-for mid-level positions, these have seemed to me to be sadly filled with people greatly disappointed with what they are doing, and who they are doing it for (or at least dulled by it). The “real” work of teaching, writing, philosophizing, communicating is actually the shadow of the REAL work of classroom control and tenure pursuit. I can’t tell you how many professors privately (in very low voice) advised me about the waste of time in pursuing an “academic” career, and some of these were rather privileged in the place they had earned. It is not just a question of “getting a job” but the values implied and exersized in doing the job.

    There is a very real sense that the environment geared to academic placement is a species selection process which at its very best might produce a “winner” like how Graham may or may not be this month or year, grateful for the hardship, but by-and-large simply produces “nook-dwellers” (as Neitzsche called them I believe), those that can carry out the protocall they never dreamed would make up the essence of their life’s work. (In Philosophy I think that this is particularly difficult because your position is being an authority on “nothing” except the assumption of a line of thinking. Your job usually is to disqualify the thoughts of others so as to maintain your own. Sad. It becomes the passed on skill of professors to their students, a skill that if perfected, along with a great threshold for tedium of consequence, may get you a job.)

    I was particularly saddened by Slawkenberius’s comment on your blog,

    “the modern university model was dubious to begin with, and now it’s a rotting hulk. My only hope is that I can get a PhD and tenure before it disappears completely.”

    http://pervegalit.wordpress.com/2009/02/28/re-branding-humanities/

    not because it was so damn self-contradictory, but rather that this struck me as the acme of removal inspired by the process itself. The distain and detachment is the very thing that helps the “rotting hulk” model perpetuate itself. It is precisely because one wants to rush into the collapsing structure and “get some” that it isn’t collapsing at all, but rather thriving quite well, churning out texts at a mad rate, developing subsidiary industries of great dependence.

    M.E.: In any case, I think Harman’s doing a great job of advising the youth, but you’re right about his retrospective legitimation of his own originality – I mean we all do that, right? who wants to think of their lives as a series of meaningless encounters?

    Kvond: I agree, and in many ways this is the best he can do from the position he finds himself in. It is really for those who have not been “named” properly to speak and act, even as we are doing now.

  7. Carl March 4, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    I’ve always liked Nietzsche’s line in Beyond Good and Evil about philosophies really being autobiographies. It’s reductive and snarky, but in an illuminating way. Along those lines does either of you get the feeling that when Graham talks about objects being sealed and receding, he’s talking about himself?

    It’s quite common, of course, for philosophers to find ideas more real than people and things; a certain mild autism may even provide an othered perspective that enables ‘original’ thinking. And the ideas deserve consideration outside the frame of the diagnosis no matter what. It just strikes me in this case that there’s a particularly systematic opacity to the mucky details of the lifeworld, and aggressive defenses against any impingement therefrom. Also, consequently, a remarkable lack of any kind of purchase or traction in the ideas themselves, sealed away from anything tangible as they are.

    So Graham does offer lots of friendly and helpful advice, but it’s not well informed by anything but his own experience; and as you’ve both said, his experience doesn’t generalize very well. He seems to think that the philosophy industry is infinitely elastic, rather than a highly conditioned minor niche within larger systems with economic, political, cultural etc. dimensions. It may be he actually understands this and sees no value in dwelling on what we can’t control, but it looks more to me like he’s hit the jackpot and wonders why everyone isn’t getting rich that way.

    It may well be that the object-rich environment of bloggery has taken him aback, but it’s looking to me on growing evidence like quite the opposite is true. He just ‘seals off’ the objects that don’t feed back confirmation and energy to support his own project. What does it mean to affirm the universe of objects in general when they’re so unsatisfying in particular?

  8. kvond March 4, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    Thanks for the comments Carl.

    Carl: “Along those lines does either of you get the feeling that when Graham talks about objects being sealed and receding, he’s talking about himself?”

    Kvond: Well, this is a sensitive thing for me, for while I have crticized his philosophy, he has specifically taken my criticism personally of himself, and grown offended. So one has to say that Graham himself finds his philosophy to be an expression of himself, to be autobiographical.

    But also, in my framing of his recessed objects which in their absolute isolation, which I qualify as “white”, the particular ways that such isolated and retreating objects are not even connected to their own qualities and accidents (in tension with them) did strike me as incredibly “Northern” in value. It is precisely the problematic relationship with the body, the coldness towards others and even oneself and that the “sensuous objects” which Graham eroticizes, work to and serve to connect, that raises one’s eyebrows. I did not want to go so far as to say that this is Graham’s personal experience, for I don’t know the man. But it does seem like me to be a cultural expression.

    Carl: ” He just ’seals off’ the objects that don’t feed back confirmation and energy to support his own project. What does it mean to affirm the universe of objects in general when they’re so unsatisfying in particular?

    Kvond: I cannot really judge the man, for I have had little personal contact with him, and most of it has been pleasant and generous on his part. Yet it is indicative that he does do quite a bit of “sealing off” in such a way that enacts the very forbidding of contact between real objects in his own theory. Remember, real objects cannot ever touch each other, but rather can only find causal relations through the “allure” of effecting the “inner sensuous” vicars within. The strategy of sealing off enacts the very conditions theoretically preposed, setting up an “allure me with the vicar” or else. And Graham did finally tell me that my criticism had ceased to “charm” him, for what that is worth.

    But one has also to say that sealing off is part of nuturing the power of a thought to act. One wants to set the temperature just right. You need criticism to strengthen your ideas, and you want to invite the attention that comes with criticism. But too much, or too effective a criticism, and your idea does not endure. He made something very much of this point in his forthcoming “Prince of Networks”. A person’s theory survives as a Black Box, and Black Boxes are threatended in two ways:

    “Black boxes face two primary and opposite dangers: too much attention from other actants, or too little. When a black box receives too little attention, it is simply ignored. This is actually the fate of most of the objects in the world. We are surrounded by trillions of actants at any given moment, and overlook the vast majority of useless flies and beetles that swarm amidst our more treasured objects. Most patents are for inventions that never catch on in the marketplace, or are never even built. Most novels and scholarly articles go entirely unread: not criticized, but simply overlooked. Black boxes go nowhere if they fail to become obligatory points of passage for other entities. The second danger for black boxes is the opposite one—that of gaining too much interest in the form of skepticism and scrutiny.” (unpublished PDF, 45)

    Graham, in that he subscribes to Latour, is looking it seems to Black Box his theory, trying to keep others from prying the lid off. And perhaps understandably so. The theory is currently (or even endemically) weak from a number of directions: for instance it has built up fortifications against Heideggerians, Kantians and Delandians, but has very little to say to Spinozists or panpsychists, and is rather inarticulate as to what must be going on in the very inanimate objects he is trying privilege; perhaps it is best to remove it from those kinds of critiques right now, until it grows stronger, or to forever secure it from them. One also Black Boxes a theory by using it to attack those it is best suited to attack, and by positioning it with a larger Black Box. As long as he can place himself as one of the four horseman of Speculative Realism, the details of his theory becomes absorbed in a movement, and swept along for the ride. No one thinks to ask, who here should be part of this movement. He automatically is given a 25% share, and in a way to question him, is to question Quentin Meillassoux.

    This strategy of inclusion is also followed up with a stategy of intra-school debate. [https://kvond.wordpress.com/2009/02/28/the-coming-medieval-scholastism-of-sr/ ] Hence there is imagined by him that there is going to rise up a split in his SR school, the eliminativist “wing” against which those on his side must valiently fight. With the two squad fighting each other over a shared territory, he is even further able to Black Box his ideas.

    Of course all this is in keeping with Latour’s political take on how theories are maintained and “win”. A theoretician is nothing but a politician. But it has much less to do with the idea that philosophical theories and their assertions primarily have to give reasons and support for their claims.

    This being said, I certainly do like his advice tendencies, and have even send them along to a close friend who I thought would benefit from them.

  9. Carl March 4, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    You’re quite right to hesitate before the leap to ad hominem and to keep as much as possible to the philosophical merits of the case. Nothing makes me feel barbaric quite like speculative philosophy, I’m afraid.

    I really agree with your point about setting the temperature just right; I said something similar to Mikhail back when he was pressing Levi hard at one point. Yet it’s interesting that the metaphor of choice is the black box. I used it in my own dissertation to characterize marxist theories of revolutionary consciousness; in that particular case, failures to pry the lids off contributed to some world-historical atrocities. Not that anything like the gulag or the cultural revolution is at stake here. But a little more effective skepticism and scrutiny might have done some good there. Then again those marxists were very well defended against attacks on their treasured objects.

  10. Mikhail Emelianov March 4, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    I’d join Kevin in my hesitation to make any personal conclusions, but there’s a sense of importance attached to Harman’s insistence on originality…

  11. kvond March 4, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    Carl: “I really agree with your point about setting the temperature just right; I said something similar to Mikhail back when he was pressing Levi hard at one point.”

    Kvond: If I recall, you made the same point to me regarding my premature attacks on Levi’s inventive bricolage from the junkyard or pawnshop of Philosophy’s past. (Humor.) The problem is that I don’t subscribe to Black Box theory, nor consider it to be ideal to philosophical practices. One is not trying to “get one over on someone” including oneself, when one philosophizes, as clever a diagnosis as that might be. The reasons for this might be suggested by your next very interesting point:

    Carl: “Yet it’s interesting that the metaphor of choice is the black box. I used it in my own dissertation to characterize marxist theories of revolutionary consciousness; in that particular case, failures to pry the lids off contributed to some world-historical atrocities.”

    Kvond. Instead of Black Boxes, if we have to stay in the realm of analogical objects, I consider theories to be much more like transparent spheres, spheres that seem to help you see, working as lenses perhaps. Now these are material creations, and our interactions with them are material, but it is not the case that they operate “well” via hidden mechanisms, so much as they operate well because they appear transparent, we extend ourselves into them effectively, and the world appears with them, clear and productive. One changes spheres by examining their connections to other things (not by opening their dark exteriors up), or by simply providing better spheres, more luminous seeming, more transparent seeming.

    Carl: “Not that anything like the gulag or the cultural revolution is at stake here. But a little more effective skepticism and scrutiny might have done some good there. Then again those marxists were very well defended against attacks on their treasured objects.”

    Kvond: With this I agree, there is something to be said about the tempo of the development of a theory. You don’t want to stop it before it gets its primary, thematic bars played. You want to hear the music. But Graham’s theory is not new-born. It has been in development for years. One tries on the theory, one looks through it. One notices the way that the world looks different and the same. And where there are incongruities, one becomes skeptical and looks to the nature of assumptions, and asks questions. I don’t think black box philosophy is very good philosophy.

    And yes, I do feel that the “treasured objects” of philosophies need to be checked. I also have to say that when Graham got completely offended when I made a criticism of his philosophy that any number of people (think Judith Butler perhaps) have made of Hegel’s philosophy, that it unjustly positions “the other” I could not help but feel that I had stumbled upon one of these objects, for better or worse.

  12. kvond March 4, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    M.E.: “I’d join Kevin in my hesitation to make any personal conclusions, but there’s a sense of importance attached to Harman’s insistence on originality…”

    Kvond: I find this insistence an anathema to me. It is not that I do not consider myself an original thinker, but if there is any originality to my thought (God knows), it isn’t likely where the important stuff is. The important stuff is in the conquences, and valued consequences can come from bringing back to life all kinds of “old stuff” that you never would have thought of in the first place.

    I suppose that this is part of the problem that I have with at least Graham’s version of “Object-Oriented Philosophy”. The word “object” appears to be a codeword for “subject” and the subject is really the agentizing author. What I mean by this is that it is always THE OBJECT, (one caught in a dyad) not objects as they generally relate, the complexities between objects. It is a personalized object. If it were really about “objectS” then the author would simply be another object, part of a series of connections. I see interesting aspects of this in Graham’s problem with Latour’s lack of meriting of the rightness of Pasteur. The author has to have some kind of privileged hue or aura, not not be merely a connecting point between other objects. The author has to stand out. (See Graham’s recent postive appraisal of philosophical boasting: http://doctorzamalek.wordpress.com/2009/03/03/on-tone-and-boasting-in-philosophy/ ).

    Not to analyze the person, but the philosophy, it is that the philosophy itself seems to forward not at all what it claims. It claims to be “object-oriented” to provide a “democracy of objects” but the valuations that seem inherent in it are those which privilege intimate, one-on-one considerations of interaction, and a search for the importance of THE object, per se.

    Now I’m not one who thinks that all egotism should be suppressed. In fact I think self-interest guides ethics. But “objects” in Graham’s philosophical hands seem to simply be projections of one-on-one interpersonal relevance, and a search for an anchor point for the subject’s inalienable self-justification, as authentic. It seems to start and stop with the subject, not the object. And certainly doesn’t strike me as post-human.

  13. Carl March 4, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    Oh yeah, I guess I’ve been spreading my wisdom all over the place. Hm. Well, Levi’s a different critter than Graham. Not nearly so sealed, therefore much more vulnerable.

    Your point about orientalism seemed interesting and well-founded to me. It’s not a conclusion to jump to but a valuable focusing question for so many possible audiences and discussions. Given the opacity I’ve mentioned above I can sort of believe that Graham has never run across this lens before, or never seen himself through it. But you gave him a great opportunity to do so, in a blogging context where that’s just the sort of revisioning we can contribute to each other, and rather than being curious or responsive he just brushed it off. So with nothing else to go on (that black box again) I also was tempted to consider the interaction diagnostic.

    The thing is, Graham has found/constructed an audience that doesn’t make him think any thoughts outside his box. This is a very good thing for the furnishing of the box, which may end up being something quite magnificent but ultimately always a box among many others. I’m with you in preferring to use theories as lenses to see with.

  14. Mikhail Emelianov March 4, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    Carl, it’s good to see that I’m not crazy then in my assessment of some of Harman’s reactions. I do think he does have an audience he wants and I personally don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with that – of course, it’s strange when you are the one who’s excluded, but it’s fair, I think, since it’s his blog and he’s free to construct whatever experience he’s looking for (notice the constant hesitation about comments, should he close them off or not) – they don’t have graduate students in philosophy there, if you teach intro courses to undergrads all the time and you’re not looking to move to a different school, it might get kind of lonely, plus it certainly seems like he has a lot of love to give in terms of advising students and all. So why not? If he wants to do it this way, that’s his right…

  15. kvond March 4, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    Carl,

    I like and respect your observations (though I actually have not experienced Levi to be less sealed than Graham, just, because in theoretical flux, he’s much more a Chin na handfighter, fending of objections as they come; Graham actually was very open to my criticism, posting links to my objections, until I touched on the wrong subject matter).

    As to the good that blogging, full-spectrum critique can offer, one of the very nice things about it is that if you do not respond immediately to an objection (perhaps it is not in tempo), because it is historically preserved it may come to you again at a later time. Aside from other bloggers who may find a critique of interest and take up to commenting upon it in public, in the future surely there will be researchers into the blogged interactions in the development of philosophical ideas, just as scholars have studied to extreme detail the correspondences of Descartes. For a thinker who does not grant merit to objections raised, if their philosophy gains any weight, these registered objections will come back to them in the form of researched criticisms.

    I am not really aware of the full extent of Graham’s constructed audience. I never heard of him before two months ago (which is probably a criticism of me, rather than him), and I can’t see the reach of his thought, as he has constructed it (as much as I have theoretical affinities for many of his stated his aims). I can only say that my interaction with it has been a benefit for me.

  16. Carl March 5, 2009 at 3:14 am

    Whoa there, Mikhail, I wouldn’t say it’s safe to use me as confirmation of your sanity. But yeah, I admire lots of what Graham’s doing. And yeah it’s his sandbox, he can play in it however he likes.

    Kvond, Graham tells us loads about his audience himself, just one of many offerings rich in countertext (I’ve just posted on another). You make a great point here about how the blog/comment mode creates an awesome sedimentation for future excavation. It will take much more careful and patient readers in the future to catch what we have missed in our haste today.

  17. kvond March 5, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    Carl,

    Yes, when it avoids the trivial (but who decides that?), it makes an interesting recording surface which changes the texture of “dialectic,” where a point made in archive can float back in force. But we have yet to see if weighted philosophy will come out of the medium, or one antecedent to it (given its profusion and creative importance, hard to deny the possibility). Recently though I believe Graham declared that writing is best done alone. I supppose that he also imagines that the same goes for thinking. There may be a truism to this, or it just may be his love for isolated, recessed objects that then later come need the sensuous ones so to touch other real objects. You stand in isolation, cooking something up in your inner realm, almost in hibernation, and wait until something outside mysteriously tickles you just right and causes you to act. An odd form of alleviated solipsism. Beautiful, but I’m not sure that its how the universe works, nor even how philosophy works.

    Counter to this isolation of objects, perhaps Balibar’s improvisation is in order:

    “If no man ever thinks alone, then we might say that to know really is to think ever less by oneself”

  18. Carl March 5, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    This is making me think of Wittgenstein’s private language problem. Perhaps we’ve come full circle and back to your original post. In with the not-said is all of the rules and tools that any particular language game makes available to take for granted. These are the conditions for any intelligible and communicative statement. In practice they arise out of discourse communities, which are associated with ways of life, which are conditioned by all sorts of things starting with food and up through durable institutions. I trust I can wave my hands like this and convey a gist.

    We make our own worlds, but not in conditions of our own choosing, as Marx said. So I couldn’t agree more when you say “I find it more valuable to see how we can invest the tradition itself with new possibilities, to change the tradition from within. And whether it is the tradition that is doing the thinking, or us as originals, really doesn’t matter.” Except I’d say it’s both, always both, and the particular ways that’s true go a long way toward accounting for the reception of the black box.

  19. Mikhail Emelianov March 5, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    I think when one is forced to think alone – and Harman did give out that piece of personal information, so it seems fair to reference it – and for a long time, one naturally develops a habit. I can’t read and concentrate on my ideas unless I’m in a slightly noisy place like a coffee shop, just a matter of habit and experience, but it’s a different matter to then project my personal style and declare it a standard of some kind. People think alone, people think in groups – which one is “better” (what is better or worse in thinking anyway?)? I think agree with the notion that blogs allows for some new form of thinking-together, I’ve said that many times and I think in the past year or so, I’ve come across many interesting ideas, books, hint etc etc due to reading blogs, but I think the classical model is still strong: one gets hints from others, then one thinks them through in a cabin in the woods…

  20. kvond March 5, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Carl,

    Yes, I specifically had the Private Language Argument in mind when I typed that out, but the deleted the reference because I wanted it to be read as broadly as possible without interpretation, so it is nice that you thought along, so to speak. And there is always the interesting, and vexing question as to when and where a new language game is being played, or recently as I have been thinking, how does one “cheat” at a language game (something Wittgenstein offers no proviso for).

    As to the tradition and originality, sure I can see that both are part of the equation, but I have a strong suspicion that with claims to “originality” come entrenchments of the human subject (particularly problematic for any post-human philosophical claims). The original human author becomes the anchor point for all kinds of projections, like a carved stone statue. Such projections may very well be part of the process of invigorating thought, but as a theoretician I refuse to allow them to organize importance. In a sense, where the projection falls, there should examination follow.

    In this way “true” becomes truly intersubjective and negatiated process, not one that allows too much shine to fall in any one place (without keeping it from falling on the author either). True becomes an aura for mutual action, one might say, and who or what is acting is open to revision.

  21. kvond March 5, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    M.E.,

    It’s funny, but I too enjoy the busy atmosphere in my thinking process, so I sympathize. The clutter of effects can stimulate my brain. And perhaps sometimes blogging atmospheres can have this effect. But it is natural to ask, when does “personal style” become expressed in a philosophy meant to describe all events in the universe.

    “but it’s a different matter to then project my personal style and declare it a standard of some kind.”

    Related to this, there was that very odd moment when Graham mentioned that he has immense respect for Nietzsche’s style, even though his ideas are full of whooe. I simply do not see a disjunction between style and content that he seems to. Style works to express content. Such is the same for his own metaphorical forays into the sensuous.

  22. Mikhail Emelianov March 5, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    I did see that exchange, Kevin, and I was rather surprised that for someone who spend some time discussion the importance of metaphor Harman simply dismissed your reading as “It’s just metaphors, man, c’mmon”… I thought the whole point of much of 20th century thought was that there’s no such things as “just metaphors, man” – or am I off?

  23. kvond March 5, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    M.E.,

    Yes, it struck me as nearly bizarre, the internal contradiction, but as exhibited in his opinion of Nietzsche, he at times sees a strong dysjunction between style and content. And in many respects he does want to throw off much of 20th century thought in his appeal to the difference between Realism and Materialism. He wants “real” ultimately to have something of a Medieval anchoring, that way his “real objects” can recess forever. But I think there is something more going in here. Metaphors for him are part of the weapons that a theory uses to seduce others into sensuous compliance, they are part of the politicians tools. And as such somehow operate with critical impunity. A thinker does not think through metaphors, but rather uses them to affect and control others through means not immediately available. This kind of double book keeping, (mechanisms of power vs. mechanisms of truth) in my view is highly problematic.

    For someone like me with strong Spinozist leanings but with affinities for the developmental powers of metaphor, I think that it is best to keep track of exactly the metaphors being used (often hidden metaphors or analogies such as those I find in Heidegger’s opticality of Being), and then in Ceteris Paribus fashion see what happens to the thought when you change the metaphor or remove it altogether, (does the thought still cohere).

    For someone like Graham, I think he wants to have it both ways. I find it interesting that he seems to dread the most poetic flights of Heidegger (he can’t stand his poet laureate Holderlin), having reduced all that nonsense to mere mediation on essential obect kinds, but then in his own writing beats his own sometimes purple, sometimes moving, wings. All in all, it seems that like his recessed objects, he too is not comfortable or reconsiled with the poetic in himself, and thus cannot find a proper place for it within his theory.

    This being said, I do find the notion that the metaphorical is that by which we do connect to others, and at the same time can become alienated from ourselves. Though perhaps not for the same theoretical reasons that Graham provides.

  24. Pingback: Shopping at the black box store « Dead Voles

  25. john doyle August 18, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    Ego issues aside, it is pretty unlikely that Heidegger, at least in Being and Time, would have considered non-human objects to be both veiled and unveiled to each other. If he’d thought about the relationship of cotton to fire, would he have considered it comparable to the relationship of a human to a tool? Doubtful. But if Harman had been around to discuss it with him, would Heidegger have granted the possibility that human Dasein is a special case of a more general situation, and that a fire might actually be regarded as taking care of things in the world and using cotton as a fuel-tool in so doing? Maybe.

    I personally think it’s faulty analogical anthropomorphizing to regard the fire’s tool-using agency as comparable to the human’s, failing to acknowledge a difference that makes a difference separating the human from the inanimate. (I also think this whole business of veiling and essences retreating from interaction is the wrong way to go, preferring a more direct realism in which interaction reveals essences rather than obscuring them.) But Harman’s extension to inanimate objects is an interesting speculative proposition, and it seems to me to be a significant difference from Heidegger. So what? Well, that’s another matter altogether.

    • kvond August 18, 2009 at 5:36 pm

      John: “But Harman’s extension to inanimate objects is an interesting speculative proposition, and it seems to me to be a significant difference from Heidegger. So what? Well, that’s another matter altogether.”

      Kvond: Well, for me the “so what” is that if you are trying to build a non-human centric vision of the world wherein human beings are simply one set of objects among so many others, you don’t Start with human centric observations (Husserl, Heidegger) and then “extend” them, as you say, to objects. You start, as best you can, from other cloth than Idealism.

    • john doyle August 18, 2009 at 5:55 pm

      Like Spinoza perhaps, or Deleuze? Maybe Harman already bought into their flat ontologies, but Heidegger’s object-orientedness got his creative juices flowing. Inspiration comes from unexpected sources.

      • kvond August 18, 2009 at 6:14 pm

        If it were only the case of inspiration, we would be talking about poets. For philosophers though (and I know you are less interested in this), the cloth we begin with is that out of which we weave our justifications. Our arguments are made of the “stuff” of our assumed categories. So, Harman argues (and justifies) a non-human object world, with human-centric categories, with, at least in my view, disasterous results. (For instance, he almost never is talking about real objects in the world with any detail or analysis, but is almost always simply using objects as an anchor-point for his senusous, very human qualities.) One huge philosophical hypocracy.

  26. john doyle August 18, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    I agree with you about Harman’s anthropomorphizing, as I mentioned previously.

    • kvond August 18, 2009 at 6:29 pm

      My point is that it is not an accident of his philosophy, but rather comes from the “inspirtation” as you call it. Or, to put it another way, he and the flat-ontologists are doing very different things, though they both share a love for objects and their relations. Harman wants more than anything else the preservation of his senusous inner goo of human dualism. He wants this as a separate realm, something that he then can project upon everything. In a strange way, all this talk about objects for Graham is a huge mis-direction, something that takes the eye off of his inner concerns. This is what makes his philosophy so bothersome for me. It is actually doing the opposite of what it claims, both in stated aims, but also in his much broadcast brandname. It has very little to do with objects at all, at least in my opinion.

  27. john doyle August 18, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    “It is actually doing the opposite of what it claims.”

    That does seem to be the case. I think I’ve mentioned elsewhere that Harman seems not to be escaping or dismantling The Correlation but rather expanding and generalizing it. Humans encounter the world only inside the interactional goo, and the same can be said of other objects besides humans. Likewise he expands and generalizes anti-realism: humans never encounter the Real directly, and neither do other objects. It’s speculative, but why is this realism?

    • kvond August 18, 2009 at 7:09 pm

      John: “It’s speculative, but why is this realism?”

      Kvond: I suspect that its realism in the same way the Emperor’s New Clothes are “clothes”.

  28. Pingback: The Intial “Brilliant” Exaggeration: Mongering Brilliance « Frames /sing

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