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kvond

Graham Harman’s Bad Poetry

Harman makes a note of the criticism no doubt someone has directed towards his writing:

Another example is when people accuse a philosophical text of degenerating into “bad poetry” (this is a popular one). The people who use this phrase would be no more supportive of good poetry than of bad; they simply want to exclude all poetry from philosophical work. Yet they can’t say: “But that’s poetry!”

I have to say this certainly isn’t a criticism I have leveled at Harman’s writing, though I have been very cautious in aesthetically judging the quality of his sometimes profuse use of adjectives and sensuous illustrations. Honestly at times the verge on the edge of “bad poetry”, and Harman himself has laughed at some of the phrasing he uses in the Vicarious Causation essay. As a poet and a fiction writer I would never exclude the poetic from the expression of a philosophical discourse, but one does have to separate the argumentative claim from its rhetorical force expression, and if the rhetoric is bad poetry, overripe, indulgent, sophomoric, well…its just bad writing. But as well I believe that the metaphors one uses to convince most certainly should be both examined and critiqued, just as they would be in poetry, especially if the theory is of the opinion that metaphors mean something and are the primary ways that all objects interact (as Harman has suggested). I find Deleuze and Guattari quite poetic, and to very good effect. One is swept up in the materiality of the expression and the transformation. Foucault can be like this, and many others. What Graham likely hides in this minimization of the “bad poetry” critique is that he believes he is a better writer than most philosophy writers (he has said that he refuses to apologize for writing so well, when the question of his metaphors has been brought up). I would say that Harman’s writing rises to the level of “entertaining” but seldom breaches the realm of Poetry, and when it does, well, perhaps it is bad. Perhaps it would better to characterize it as bad sports writing.

In the same post Harman goes on a nice rant about the nature of Vampires and Grey Trolls and the usual bestiary of essentializations directed at those who critique him. In this effusion he extends his thesis that the poster named “Eli” who made a rather liquid denunciation of Harman’s philosophical skills. The comment appeared in the comments section of one of my posts, and I reproduced it here. Harman’s claims in the usual incoherent manner that this fine writer was me, as I was reeling from his recent attack on my person. Of course “Eli” is not me. If one even bothered to think about it much one would realize why. I suppose it is interesting when the people you critique start to fantasize about you, either turning you into monsters or persona of every stripe.

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9 responses to “Graham Harman’s Bad Poetry

  1. Mikhail Emelianov November 26, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    He seems to be mistaking the intended impact (good to know that he wanted to retaliate against you) and the actual impact. Clearly, you must have been very upset by his unmasking of you, therefore you were. That’s logic, my friend!

    • kvond November 26, 2009 at 6:03 pm

      I guess I’m sad that Harman thought he was hurting me in some way, as seems evidenced by his assumption that I had been adversely affected. I suppose this means he has to try harder. Nice.

  2. bryank November 26, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    I wonder if this is directed at my blog, where I posted that video of Bob Ross. In that case, it would be funny since we’re probably the only explicitly THEORY AND POETRY blog on the Internet.

    • kvond November 26, 2009 at 6:07 pm

      Hmmm. Who knows where he gets this. But yes, there is a kind of “bad poetry” implication in your “bad painting” reference. But Harman’s “poetry” seems only reserved for florid adjectives and extended analogies in lieu of arguments or explanations.

      When Harman says that his cut-off objects send “distant signals” to their sensuous vicars inside other cut off objects, is this being “poetic” or is this actually an explanation? Who cares?, he seems to say.

  3. Alexei November 26, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    Since we’re all indulging in our various narcissisms, I might mention that I made some similar claim in a comment that didn’t pass the filter (and rightly so) at LS some time ago, basically saying that an argument that does not take (its possible) truth or falsity as a touchstone amounts to concept-poetry rather than philosophy. The phrase actually comes from Carnap (or some other logical positivist), and I’ve always thought it was apt for some forms of thinking.

    So, anyway, my initial response to this line form Harman was simply, ‘pfft.’ Poetry isn’t philosophy, even though philosophy can be poetic, and poetry can be philosophical. There’s some kind of basic category mistake in Harman’s logic here. And there’s a really weird problem sorting out adjectives. Bad or good philosophy is one thing, bad or good poetry another. And I wouldn’t use the same standards of analysis in the case of poetry as I would in philosophy (and vice versa). And, as is often the case, good poetry can make for bad philosophy, and good philosophy bad poetry. So what’s Harman’s problem, exactly?

    • kvond November 26, 2009 at 10:17 pm

      Who knows what his problem is. A lot of Harman is a kind of ad hoc adoption of whatever avails him at the moment. If you want to criticize him its “I’m just Speculating” if you want to look at his use of metaphors, its “Hey, I can’t help it if I’m a good writer”, if you want to question his particular metaphors, its “Hey, I didn’t mean that”. If you think his writing is bad poetry, its “Hey, you need to broaden your concept of philosophy”. He’s all over the place, frankly, the only constant being how important he thinks his work is, I suppose.

  4. bryank November 26, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    I think it’s also humorous that Harman calls Derrida a “wanker” (Harman trying out his best quasi-aristocratic British voice that he dawns when dispensing his sage-like wisdom on his blog, but also a bizarrely violent kind of criticism…), when Derrida was the poet-philosopher par excellence. One is tempted to call it a classic case projection.

    • kvond November 26, 2009 at 10:19 pm

      Yes, his dismissal of Derrida is hilarious, not to mention, well, pretty rude. You are right, Derrida “the wanker” was indeed a poet-philosopher.

  5. Pingback: Humanities and Ponzi: Just What Secures the Investment of Thought « Frames /sing

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