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kvond

Throwing A-causal Stones From Theoretical Glass Houses

I don’t read Harman’s blog, but directed there by Steve Shaviro I noted this rather odd criticism given toward Shaviro’s theoretical embrace of becoming, apparently only the mere illusion of change in lieu of a real explanation:

GH: “Shaviro claims that his position explains change, but all it really gives us is the illusion of change: like those card decks with stationary cartoons which, when flipped through in rapid succession, give the illusory impression of a dynamic event.”

This of course should be contrasted with Graham’s own theory of “vicarious causation” which not only possesses almost no explanatory value of what causation might be, but actually invents in perhaps a non-Occamian profusion, a host of objects imagined to interact in ways that are yet revealed by their author. The objects are posited, but they are still waiting for their theory. Indeed Graham’s thinking ALLOWS cars to be crushed and ice cream to be eaten, as he proudly proclaims, but his theory of cause and effect seems to fall even below the threshold of “illusion” when it comes to change itself. Instead vacuous objects retreat into ghost worlds connected through subterranean mojo mixed with the mysteries of intention, becoming all the more inapplicable at the level of bowling-ball type objects that the theory is supposed to rescue.

Adventures in Incoherence

Graham recoiled from Steven’s description of his (general) theory as incoherent, and Steven apologized for the word choice, and in fact praises to a strong degree the effect the criticism he has received. But at least in this aspect of Harman’s thinking – his explanation of cause – to this reader, the Harman account is incoherent. Which is not to say that I disagree with it, but rather, it lacks applicable coherence: the theoretical parts match up (Harman’s importation of Husserlian Idealist objects exotically fused to a Heideggerian matrix), to be sure, but they do so in an utterly non-productive way, leaving one to feel that one is just making categories up in some kind of meta-love of the Husserl-Heidegger tradition. There doesn’t seem to be anything to actually disagree with other than that the notion of “allure” (unexplained and largely undifferentiated) explains what causation is, especially given its anthropomorphic projection of human experience onto largely inanimate objects that are supposed to make up our orientation.

There is a thin line between “incoherent” and “the supposed coherence between concepts does not do the explanatory job”. “The hand of Zeus makes it rain” is both coherent (at least I understand what the sentence means), and also incoherent as an explanation. All the explanatory connectives are missing. As far as Whitehead’s causation as becoming I feel we are at least closer to having concepts that when understood contain a kind of explanatory value that is more satisfying. I find it very odd though that Graham would chose causation as the house from which to throw his stone.

In the comments section to the linked Shaviro post I offered a sketch of how Spinoza’s metaphysics might address the breach between these two camps, for what it is worth.

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15 responses to “Throwing A-causal Stones From Theoretical Glass Houses

  1. Mark Crosby November 6, 2009 at 12:21 am

    Yes. It’s rather amazing how he the cool can be lost to entropy (somewhat like your comments to Michael’s recent thread 😉 Maybe someday my notebook will be online, but here’s what i wrote a few ours ago:

    Graham Harman complains: “I have little idea what Shaviro means by ‘absolute existence, in and of itself’. Really? It’s perfectly clear to me that he’s referring to Levi’s claim that “All objects are INDEPENDENT of one another”, and to Graham’s own claim that “by no means do I exist solely as a function of my relations” (uh, who brought the sole into this ?)

    You pick exactly the right quote to cite. The cartoon flip-book seems the perfect metaphor for change as immanent generation (in the Whiteheadian sense that Steve highlights). The alternative seems to be almost Badiouian. GH wants exactly what the “continental avante garde” wants; namely, a difference that makes a difference only to this hypostatized, rationally-formed identity that is supposed to be frozen by an evnt, or in ‘fidelity’ to select conscious choices..

    Was also rereading your 9/27 post on Stonier today, in conjunction with the above, and it seems that the OOP insistence on fixed boundaries is as illusory as the distinction between “causal and ontological dependence”.

    • kvond November 6, 2009 at 12:29 am

      Hey Mark,

      Thanks for sharing your notebook here. Glad there is some kind of coincidence. I’m not quite sure what you mean by “Badiouian” unless you mean something like the “count-as-one” which is a bit Idealist in my view (perhaps in parallel to the buried idealism in Harman’s dreamworks of objects). Perhaps though you can expand on that – and the coincidence between what the jr OOPists want, and what the “avant garde” wants.

      I also found Graham’s incomprehension of Shaviro’s phrasing curious.

      I do appreciate you rereading my Stonier piece. It is precisely these fixed boundaries (born of optical metaphors of consciousness, and of representationalist thinking) that I find most troublesome (together with the idea that these boundaries are in some kind of retreat, rather than fundamental participation).

      I cannot help but think how much immanance solves much of this mystification and projection of abstract entities.

      • Mark Crosby November 6, 2009 at 9:19 pm

        I’m not sure what I meant by “Badiouian” either, other than my sentence following that word: “rationally-formed identity that is supposed to be frozen by an evnt, or in ‘fidelity’ to select conscious choices”. This is probably not an accurate description of either Badiou’s or Harman’s projects, and I shouldn’t have suggested that it was. I am simply not well-read enough to understand the distinction between “causal and ontological dependence”.

      • kvond November 6, 2009 at 9:23 pm

        Well, causal and ontological dependence are mutual in Spinoza’s thinking, so I’m probably am not well-read enough either.

    • kvond November 6, 2009 at 12:48 am

      p.s. Mark, I’m glad you mention entropy and cold. I’m working on a tentative but radical post on Absolute Zero in relation to D and G’s BwO and Spinoza parallelism of thing and Idea. Should be good if I can drive it out of me.

      • Mark Crosby November 6, 2009 at 9:36 pm

        That would be interesting.I’ve recently been considering Schopenhauer and the differences between “Spinoza’s parallelism of thing and Idea” and WORLD AS WILL AND REPRESENTATION. I don’t suppose you’ve posted on anything like this before?

        I’m not familiar with “Absolute Zero”, but have been trying to grasp some sense of Nihilism (if that is not an oxymoron).

        Also, I think my re-mixed(up) mind may have been conjugating Badiou and Agamben a bit too intimately, since I had been reading Alexander Galloway’s CTHEORY review of Mehdi Belhaj Kacem’s _L’esprit du nihilisme_ (which is also available at http://post.thing.net/node/2843 — and MBK is, as someone once mentioned, “a novelist, philosopher, filmstar and, er, Badiou’s mate” ; )

        To aggravate / aggregate this mashup beyond where someone using a real name should be going, I was also reading Lorenzo Chiesa’s “Georgio Agamben’s Franciscan Ontology” (in THE ITALIAN DIFFERENCE) just the other night and it struck me, this morning, when I first saw the news, that we now have a nearly perfect example of Agamben’s MUSSELMAN..

      • kvond November 6, 2009 at 9:47 pm

        Mark: “That would be interesting.I’ve recently been considering Schopenhauer and the differences between “Spinoza’s parallelism of thing and Idea” and WORLD AS WILL AND REPRESENTATION. I don’t suppose you’ve posted on anything like this before?”

        Kvond: No, not big on Schopenhauer, but I do recall reading in Spinoza recently that because he defines the conatus as both striving (or willing) and also as essence, he admits in a sense that everything is willing, or the essence of everything is willing. I can’t recall the passage, but it is in the Ethics, and seemed to be in a scholium in one of the 3rd or 4th parts.

        But the notion of representation instead of immanent expression pretty much falls on the wrong side of the philosophical divide. I hope to touch on this in the next post on thinking through Cold.

  2. parody center November 6, 2009 at 10:11 am

    Indeed Graham’s thinking ALLOWS cars to be crushed and ice cream to be eaten, as he proudly proclaims, but his theory of cause and effect seems to fall even below the threshold of “illusion” when it comes to change itself. Instead vacuous objects retreat into ghost worlds connected through subterranean mojo mixed with the mysteries of intention, becoming all the more inapplicable at the level of bowling-ball type objects that the theory is supposed to rescue.

    Kvondique the brilliance of this is why I have always singled you out as my favorite bitch even when dr. Sinthome was disapproving.

    The worst part however and related to our previous conversation is the interpretation of ANIMATION as the ”illusion of movement”

    • kvond November 6, 2009 at 12:07 pm

      Perhaps you can appreciate the title of my blog more now.

    • kvond November 6, 2009 at 1:21 pm

      To add, I always wondered why “animation is the illusion of movement” should trump “animation is the illusion of objects”, and why one should not drive a wedge right down the middle of these two.

  3. Pingback: Criticizing Graham Harman : Mormon Metaphysics

  4. the voice of parodic reason November 6, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    kvondique i don’t have the academic backing to follow your kind of language, but i intuit what you mean, so that doesn’t really matter

  5. Utisz November 7, 2009 at 4:23 am

    Thanks Kvond, now you’ve mentioned ‘mojo’ I’m unable to think of Harman without thinking of Austin Powers. “I must go back in ancestral time, to a time before humans, to rescue the radioactive isotope containing my mojo!”

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