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In Praise of Aesthetics over Philosophy? The Metaphors of Projection

Dreaming Up The “Insides” of Objects

Steve Shaviro has a post up in praise of Harman’s use of aesthetics (metaphors and whatnot) over philosophy, offered in the wake of his recent criticism of Harman’s philosophy: Object Oriented Aesthetics?. I posted a comment on Harman’s creative insertion of human experiences into objects as an explanation for what causation is, and it grew to a length substantive enough to post here.  I’ve written on the problem of Harman’s theory of causation in the past: Vicarious Causation DiagrammedDownunder: Central Clarity Consciousness (CCC), The “sensuous vicar” of Causation and even treated the specific cultural and political problems of the Orientalism of his aesthetics: The White and the Colored In Heidegger (and Harman), The Allure of Graham Harman’s Orientalism and Flaubert, Binaries, Orientalism and Harman on the Exotic. But drawing the scope at its widest, the problem with Harman’s “aesthetic” solution to the question of causation is that he has just performed one great Anthropomorphic projection of human experiences into all objects in the name of some kind of “object-orientation”. He has, in short, turned objects into caricatures of human beings, and in so doing, not only reduced objects but also mischaracterized human beings. 

“While I would agree that the powers of the aesthetic judgment, the non-“content” weighing of complexity and balance which allow us to recognize a good metaphor or a funny joke, are an extremely useful tool if not our only tool forwards towards new knowledge, but this is not to say that our aesthetic projections INTO objects other than human, AS a theory is a meaningful way to go. When Harman projects intentional objects into dust balls and microwaves, and imagines that because human beings have mental pictures of how the world is (or some feature in it) ALL objects must, as a matter of logic, is straight out absurd (“vicarious causation”). But not only absurd, an outright anthropomorphization of the said objects that are supposed to get their rescue from the reported evils of correlationism. It might make a pretty hallucination that when my car window is crashed into by an errant baseball, or when a butterfly wing is torn off by a be-dumbed child, each receiving object is visited by a “sensuous vicar” that enters its inner realm and allures it into destruction, but this is sheer fantasy space.

When Harman puts aesthetics before philosophy in his thinking on causation, he is simply saying, Hey I don’t even have to make much sense, I can just dream up and project my inner processes (as I categorize them via Husserl) into every object and call it “object-orientation”. To my taste Whitehead does a bit of this, but to a much much lesser degree (thankfully). If indeed what makes Correlationism so bad is that it makes human knowledge the center of importances when thinking about the world (like upper-class aristocrats exploiting poor worker objects everywhere), spreading the fantasies of the human (“Hey, teardrops and microchips are just like us! They receive little sensuous visitors from the outside world.”) and introjecting them into the cores of objects isn’t the salve. Firstly, it simply transmutes the “rights” of our objects into fantasy zones of our own device. Secondly, it mistakes the very fundamental nature of what is human in the first place, imagining that human thought and interaction with the world is accomplished solely through the “sensuous vicars” of intentionality. It replicates an error to infinity. If there is going to be a real esteem for objects, a real ontology that tests the boundaries of the human, it will be one in which the operations of objects, their powers of action in the world, are those that defy our easy assumptions about ourselves, the stretch what we even mean by “human”. In such cases, in such an aesthetic, we discover ourselves to be objects capable of something more objectile than we ever thought. Otherwise we are just spreading the Myth of the Human everywhere, under the auspices of Philosophy, but with the freedoms of a fiction.”

I do feel that the powers of aesthetic judgment are core to human way-finding – it is key to my Chaoplexic approach – and even that much of what is most real in human political, legal and moral fields is accomplished through the organization of the affects, but philosophy is not art, for a reason.

9 responses to “In Praise of Aesthetics over Philosophy? The Metaphors of Projection

  1. Bryan Klausmeyer November 9, 2009 at 10:33 pm

    Kvond, these are interesting so-called “critiques,” but I don’t think you’ve properly gone about engaging Dr. Graham Harman, Prince of SportsExtra and reigning King of the object-oriented blogosphere. You should really check out his blog for more information on how to properly disagree with him (i.e., heaping praise upon his genius, while perhaps entertaining a few minor squabbles here and there to make things fun for him).

    • kvond November 10, 2009 at 1:09 pm

      Thanks for directing me to more Harman lunacy. Yes, I don’t quite get the “All your points are brilliant but for this one little problem” ethic that Levi (and it seems Shaviro) and Harman share. I tried to have something of the sort of conversation that Harman recommends when in first interaction, but he first told me that Spinoza’s “stock was overated” (at the moment in the philosophy market), a bizarre non-attempt to have a discussion, and then when pressed for some coherence, that it would take him an ENTIRE book to explain why Spinoza’s philosophy doesn’t solve the problems he is facing. A whole book, and not a few sentences. The guy is just plain goofy sometimes, and I wonder why a handful of philosophy types find him or his theories interesting. I mean, I just don’t get. But if someone gets you to think, or dream, what’s to explain, I suppose. But when Shaviro opines, after having presented a critique of Harman, that it is perhaps only aesthetic differences between his and Harman’s thought, the difference between a Picasso and a Titian perhaps, this is sheer silliness. I think Shaviro was much closer when he said that Harman’s thinking is incoherent.

  2. anodyne lite November 10, 2009 at 10:38 am

    I have a similar negative read on Harman’s “withdrawal” of objects (what I know of it, anyway, which I’ll admit is somewhat limited). This sort of language smacks of Heidegger at his most ludicrous, fascistically dedicated as he was to the “authenticity” of being. I suppose some people like to take those weird and wacky points in a philosopher’s work and try to wrest something great and novel out of them.

    I’d be content to leave the weird and wacky points in Heidegger’s work alone, myself, and consigned to the dustbin of someone else’s bad memories. (To mix metaphors…)

    • kvond November 10, 2009 at 1:17 pm

      If you think that Heidegger is wacky in this way, you have to read Harman’s essay on causation. It was a non-essay, something a freshman student on hash would dream up, write half of, and then forget to finish. Hey, I’m all for speculative combinations of ideas. I do it all the time here. It is just the parading around as if you are somehow in the possession of the “truth”, that you have penetrated the veil, so to speak, that you are doing “real work” a “real project” with your musings (as opposed to so many others), this is what is foolish. Does anyone, and I do mean ANYONE, even an impressionable grad student, hell, a freshman student, actually think that Harman is describing objects correctly? Does ANY human being advocate his causation? Even Levi who tries to be as close as possible to Harman for it seems alliance reasons is practically embarassed to discuss Harman’s actual theory and its obvious ridiculous theory of causation. Guys, the Emperor has no clothes, and this nudity is not an “aesthetic” difference.

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  4. Hunt November 12, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    I always assumed Levi didn’t discuss Harman’s actual ideas all that much because, aside from some vague talk of “difference” and labeling it “onticology,” there is no difference. Levi’s recent talk of black boxes everywhere really is just Harman’s anthropomorphization of objects with a strange (in so many ways) computationalist metaphor.

    At some point, the only people who take OOO seriously will be the OOOers, and everyone else will treat it as an interesting blogospheric phenomenon, one of those things you get when conversations become too insulated and have so little at stake.

    • kvond November 12, 2009 at 5:14 pm

      Levi was quite critical of the vaccuousness of Harman’s objects when he first encountered it, saying that he had no idea at all what purpose the concept served. Then it seems that this gave way to a kind of “polite” avoidance of the subject for the sake of alliance building. The black box metaphor is taken from Latour, not Harman (I believe), and is given to the notion of required translation, which really does nothing to require the kind of absurd concepts of causation that Harman dreams up. I agree though that “black box” does have a computationalist tone to it.

      As to who will take OOO seriously, it just strikes me as a kind of branding specifically geared to the internet, much as you say. Lets set up our own pretend “peer-review” “journal”, lets talk of OOO as a “splinter group” broken from a supposedly non-splinter OOP or SR, or whatever. Its like D&D for a few outlying philosophy professors and grad students.

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