Graham Harman’s Vicarious Causation
Here is a proposed solution, a critique in sympathy, to Graham Harman’s attempt to connect the cut-off but dynamic inner-cores of objects to one another.
I have just read Graham’s “On Vicarious Causation” a marvelous, twisting essay found at his weblog, loaded with original terminology and imaginative construction; not easy to read for its painted universe in which assumption after assumption follow upon each other in a fantastically stacked argument, one in which every page a reader wants to cry out, “But wait, what about…” and yet finally has to relent and just let it carry its somewhat unsatisfying course. And finally, I see what he is trying to say/construct about causation. Enchanting but perhaps absurd.
Despite my many reservations the composite of it comes into view exposing a topography not at all very foreign to my own, so as I pull back I feel that I can glimpse something of an answer to the “unicorn” that Graham seeks, and additionally how his deeply thought distinctions help guide my own attempted synthesis of Campanella toward Spinoza and then post-post-modernity.
If I were to be general about it, Graham, because he is deeply influenced and carries over along with the terms much of Husserl’s Cartesian Idealism, is concerned with the traditional problem of how the inside of our minds connects with real objects out there (just what Descartes thought on); but because he wants a de-centered, non-human ontology of effects, he is at pains to find terms which graft the poetically powerful descriptions of our internal experiences onto a concrete and real, outer-object consubstantiality. (There is also the traditional Idealist question of “other minds” haunting his project.) He wants to drive down into the vivid distinctions we can make about our internal sensuous worlds, and somehow come up on the other side in such a way that what he is saying about human beings can be said, objectively, about all things, down to the merest speck of dust.
The problem of this, the hard current he swims against as far as I can see it, is Representation (the Idol of Idealism). One gets the feeling that if he can work himself free, off from this coat-hook, he might really find a way down through the worm-hole to the inside of objects, making a poetically rich and rigorously dynamic philosophy for the world.
This difficulty of Representation, which I will return to below, is further encased by Graham in a wonderful binary which not only preserves the difficulty, but also gives it its greatest facility. Pictured above we have the two halves of an affinity, or really a complementarity between the kinds of objects that Heidegger played with (on the left) and the kinds of objects Husserl enjoyed (on the right). Deep down in the Ur-Spring of his study Graham realized that these two, Heidegger’s tool-object and Husserl’s Intentional object in a way mirrored each other (something I argued in critique of an essentialized optical centrality metaphor that they shared). What Graham faces in his prospective theory is how to reconcilethesetwo primary and incompatible world objects such that the every day sense of the causal world that we experience remains intact, but even more richly described (such that the underbelly of its relations becomes exposed, as metaphysics). What Graham realizes is that if indeed we are trapped with the still Cartesian sphere of the mental (intention), yet insideour bodies, how is it that we come in contact with the outside “real” world.
Instead of taking an approach that undercuts the very problem itself, as many lines of philosophy have arisen to deal with what has been perceived as the Cartesian problematic, we should do as Graham does, and burrow in, to the heart of the difficulty, attempting to take on as many of the assumptions and terms as possible, and see if we can come out on the other side. If we assume a Husserlian-like zebra (on the right), and a retreating Heideggerian zebra (on the left), how is it that we can drive deeply enough into the one so as to reach the other – and, to do so in a way that our description fits neatly with what non-human zoas, and inanimate objects alike all do the same thing?
I think though, the place to begin is Representation. I have written a few times recently on the question of Representation vs. Signification ( Spinoza’s Notion of Inside and Outside: What is a Passion?; The Problem with Spinoza’s Panpsychism; The “ens reale” and the “ens rationalis”: Spelling Out Differences), and much of my reading will come out of the fullness of this distinction. But I think it can be granted that fundamentally Graham’s take of causation is on based on a Representationalist conception of mental activity. This no doubt comes from his Husserlian heritage. Consciousness is defined by its capacity to form a mental “object” (its intentionality), and this object in some sense is taken to be a representation, a Re-Presentation as some emphasize, of the external, real world. Graham is not far from this at all, and in fact seems to be at least from the start, right in the mainstream of this scheme of mind. And this representation for Graham is called a “vicar” or a “deputy” (with satisfying poetic license that nicely undercuts any pretension to a psuedo-scientific language), someone of course represents someone or something else. The mental object, what is called here also the “sensuous object” comes to be used as something of a representative in the political sense, and one cannot help but think of him as some kind of bejeweled intercessor, some decadent of the Church (or at least I cannot help it). Graham allows us to think that the external object is in some sense projected into, crossing the external boundary of the object that is “you” (or a rabbit or a tree), and enters into this rich inner realm in a specular way. The language he uses is inordinately suggestive, and I think that this is a strength of his philosophy on causation, and key to what he is driving after. He does not want simply to explain, but evoke.
So when I see a zebra (we must begin with the ideal human exemplars of consciousness, he tells us), the zebra somehow enters into our private, richly embued world, as a vicar-zebra, a representative. As such it/he is a fantastical kind of creature under Graham’s description. It shares the same “perceptual space” as the effects that seem to cover it, a shimmering “encrustation” of “accidents”, all of which could change and yet the vicar who has come to interact with us would remain the same (he gives the Husserilian example of the angles of a chair). These accidents frost over this representation, swirling in a delightful way, but due to their sharing of a “space” they do not retreat from the essence, but rather are almost magnetically attracted to it, clusting about its unique essential gravity (at least that is how I read the evocations Graham provides). These faceted accidents are to be distinguished from the vicar’s “qualities,” things that if they did change might threated the coherence of vicaras this vicar, so really we have a stabilized essential representation that has come to us, in our private inner universe, and there is a halo of effects which circulate about it at varying degrees of essentialization, until we get down to a bare sensuous core object which is composed of this interaction of satellites and encrustations.
Something should be said about the meeting of this vicar within us. It is not clear to me whether we met the vicar through the proxy of our own inner vicar (let us say, Freud’s Ego), face to face in some kind of virtual pow wow, or if it is simply a question of the vicar of the zebra interfacing with the totality of my real object. It seems to be the case of the latter for Graham, for he calls this relation an “assymetrical confrontation,” a kind of hybrid object consisting of the real object that is me, and the deputized zebra within me, but then again, he insists that there is something particular about how the zebra-duputy object and “me” remain distinct, segmented, which connotes a sensuous separation:
“For in a first sense, I clearly do not fuse with the tree in a single massive lump; it remains distinct from me in the perception. This give the strange result that in my intention of the tree, we both inhabit the interior of the total intentional relation.”
As far as I can tell, there is a strange conflation of the “real object” me and the “sensuous object” me in the relation that Graham proposes, or at least he does not fully discuss status of the mechanism of this interaction. In a kind of inside-outing of the glove the vicarious object and the real me are folded into a composite third object, “the intention as whole,” a whole that itself forms a real object:
“The pine tree and I are separate objects are residing on the interior of a third: the intention as a whole…we have a real intention whose core is inhabited by a real me and a sensuous pine tree.”
In this inversion there are several potential problems here, especially for a philosophy that is looking to decenter human importance. Graham seems to privilege (or at least not problemize at all) the human Subject (“me”) as an unified whole object (qualifed as”real”), residing on the inside of an asymmetrical object, also real. Why this “me” is qualified as “real” and not sensuous in its own right, I cannot tell, other than it allows Graham to construct a meeting ground of two realms he would otherwise like to think of as wholly distinct (thus this “real” status of the “me” plays something of the role that Descartes’ hallowed pineal gland, where the two symmetries of Idealism’s twin realms “touch”, albeit still locked within a third object, “the intention as a whole”). At the very least this unproblemized “me” as unified object, and then this status of “me” as real object create openings for strong critical currents for this model of the world. (A further and perhaps quite compelling consequence of this looping is that if the intention-as-a-whole is itself a real object, and every real object also can have an intentionality, what would it mean for an “intention-as-a-whole” object to itself have an intention? Perhaps I missed it, but I do not see this obvious consequence of the terms addressed.)
But if we grant Graham this apparatus of an “asymmetrical confrontation” with the real object of the intention we can go further to explore. The difficulty Graham has with his own account is the explain just how, even given the touching of two different kinds of objects (the proxy zebra and the real “me”), how is it that the real zebra actually effects the real me (a traditional problem of Idealism). That is, even if the intention is indeed an asymmetrical combination of a real “me” and a vicar zebra, how ever does the real me interact effectively with the real zebra? What is the mechanism, the means? In the political world when I interact with various deputies of power there are real channels which connect me to those that the deputies that represent real authorities. And there seems to be something of this that Graham has in mind. He does not say it but there is the sense that because I am a citizen and thus can act vicariously in that legal world of rights and procedures, my “me” can connect to things that are not of my nature, for instance, as a citizen I can vote and thus register effects on the political process. Or, I can, represented by an attorney in court sue the legal aspect another person or corporate entity. This connectivity through what-you-are-not, representatively, is what seems to be beneath how Graham is imagining the way that “real objects” connect. And one cannot help but feel that as such he beautifully sees them as burrowing under, wormholing to the insides of each other, leaving their real object exteriors untouching. I sue you in court, legal entity to legal entity, but our real objects never come in contact, or so it goes.
I think the poetics of this are fructifying, but there are some substantial conceptual barriers. So let us go further. In order to understand this worm-holing causation, a reaching into the inside of another object, one has to see the complementary notion of real and sensuous objects that Graham assumes. Sensuous objects are rich in connections which multiply across each other on the interior, though they do not fuse into a huge blob of phenomenal effects, they are “buffered” even in their interaction we are told. Real objects though, taken from a Heideggerian notion that Graham has excavated from the German Existentialist, are marked by a failure to interact with other objects. Unlike the senuous vicars within us, clustered about with accidents and qualities, the real objects that we engage with in the world retreat ever from their qualities and accidents, tumbling away from us. As we reach for a thing, a marble, an ice cube, a woman’s hand, it falls away from whatever surface interactions we bring about with it, a blackhole of a sort. Thus, the only way that we do actually engage with it is in a subterranean fashion, from within our border. In his descriptions he is much not all that concerned with the other sideof the relationship, if indeed we do bubble up on the other “inside” of the object or not, for he is much more concerned with the problem of how our insideconnects to the outside itself, the real object, thus a question of causation and not communication (two issues I take to be inter-dependent), although he uses metaphors of communication (signals) to describe what happens in “contact”. Graham seems to have an investment in an essentially “cut off” existentialism which creates real islands of objects, each a poetic micro universe, something he would not even come out of if he didn’t have to explain something as pressingly elemental as “causation”.
For this reason he speaks of the problem of causation mostly in terms of how real objects pierce the veil of our sensous inner worlds, as he beautifully puts it:
“We must discover how real objects poke through into the phenomenal realm, the only place where one relates to another. The various eruptions of real objects into sensuality lie buffered from immediate interaction. Something must happen on the sensuous plane to allow them to make contact, just as corrosive chemicals lie side by side in a bomb – separated by a thin film eaten away over time, or ruptured by distant signals.”
Or, drawing on the burrowing metaphor, but neglecting just what happens on the other (in)side, in the hermetic quarantine:
“There is a constant meeting of assymetrical partners on the interior of some unified object: a real one meeting the senuousvicaror deputy of another. Causation occurs when these obstacles are some how broken or suspended. In seventeenth century terms, the side-by-sideproximityof real and sensual objects is merely the occasion for a connection between a real object inside the intensionandanother real object lying outside it. In this way shaves or freight tunnels are constructed between objects that otherwise remained quarantined in private vacuums.”
One can see this one-way vision of the problem in Graham’s notion that causation can occur in simply one direction. For instance in his recent lecture on DeLanda he talks of what he imagines happens when a semi truck slams into a mosquito at high speed. Presumably the truck sends a rather powerful vicar into the internal universe of the insect, but the insect sends noneat all into the sensuous realm of the truck, for Graham. It is a one way communication. The problem as it is set forth in Vicarious Causation really seems to be: How do we get outsideofour locked in realm of richly endowed vicars and deputies, how do we get outside of the videogame of our inner worlds?
Vital to this path is the realization that there must be a bond between my inner sensuous experiences and some outer really, i.e., I am not just existing in a solipism of phenomenal affects, the swirling of frosted objects and their accidents. There must be a “connection” (one of the five kinds of relations proposed: containment, contiguity, sincerity, connection, and none), and it is this “connection” that Graham is having difficulty explaining:
4. CONNECTION. The intention as a whole must arise from a real connection of real objects, albeit an indirect connection. After all, the other possible combinations yield entirely different results. Two sensual objects merely sit side by side. And my sincere absorption with trees or windmills is merely the interior of the intention, not the unified intention itself. Hence, a real object itself is born from the connection of other real objects, through unknown vicarious means.
At this point I’m going to try to work myself free from the imposed restrictions in order to solve this fundamental barrier, while at the same time trying to preserve as much as possible the poetics of Graham Harman’s worm-holed connections between objects. The first thing to say is that part of how we constitute mental objects is that we not only perceive them as essences under this apparition or that, but we also perceive that a real object is actively causing our “vicar” to take on one aspect or other. That is, the zebra in our mind takes on a substantive coherence due to the implicitly causal relation it has to us, in a shared world. Events that happen to the real zebra could also happen to us, the real us. If a lion leaps out at the zebra who is on the grass plain that we share, we cringe and duck not only because there is a sympathy between us, but because we also could be attacked, and we understand that. This organizational triangulation between the real object out there, and our real object out there is consubstial the core of what sensemaking is. In other words, the “connection” that Graham is trying to find in the “jigsaw puzzle” of his terms and realms is woven into the essential animal natures of nearly all living things, the understanding that “that thing out there” is reporting in an informing way about the world because it is in some vitally important way “like us” (if only capable of being attacked by a lion). This at least goes for human beings to rodents, and should form a cornerstone of any conceptual attempt to bridge the connections between inside and outside, not to mention human to lower forms of life as mutual actors in the world.
In answer to this a fundamental and imaginary perception of causation is put forth by Spinoza in his principle of the “imitations of the affects,” upon which the social realm is founded. This principle may go a ways to enrich just what causation means to us and other things:
“If we imagine a thing like us, toward which we have had no affect, to be affected with some affect, we are thereby affected with a like affect” (EIIIp27)
To this effect and additionally, this same triangulation of report, the way that we confer importance and coherence upon objects in the world (and one would say in the Harmanian sense, their vicars in our molten, cavernous worlds), is also put forth in terms of human beliefs and the translatabilty of others in Donald Davidson’s Principle of Charity and Triangulation of Three Knowledges, something I will return to below. Objects means something to us largely because they report or reflect back significant forces in the world which pertain to us. We might allow that such objects might retreat from us ultimately in the Heideggerian sense (tool-analysis) in a vaccuum packed vertigo of essence as absence, but our attraction to them, the particular way in which they do “allure” us, is not simply that they sparkle, but that they sparkle and shine with determinations which point us to other significant aspects of the world (there is a lion in the grass with us).
This voluminous factor of just what does “matter” about an object or a situation is utterly absent from Graham Harman’s hunt for the connection between our inner worlds and real objects, the very thing that helps constitute us as real objects in the first place. I sense that this is largely due to the Idealist, binary assumptions of his starting point, one which imprisoningly conceives of knowledge as some form of representation or reflection of the world, and thus, the epistemic problematic as how to connect these two world, spirit/matter, mind/body, and now for Graham, sensuous-object/real-object. What is needed is to break out of these splitting binaries, give up the imaginative algebras that wish to balance out both sides of the equation so that we can cancel out enough of the variables and end up with what “x” is. And the first step of this is to realize that other objects appeal to us, matter to us, due to a primary assumption of connection through veritable report, as cause: events in the world (lion’s leap) co-ordinate between that object over there (zebra) and this object over here (my body). The connection is implicit and necessary (though ever under revisement and interpretation)
But this is not to say that Graham’s architecture of metaphysics does not have profound possibilities for development in my view. For one, I find his fusion of the sensuous object and real “me” into a new real object “the intention as a whole” an instructive one. While I have been perplexed why, under the categories imposed, within the intention as a whole the “me” is a “real object” and not a vicarious representation of me, creating the asynmetry that Graham wants, I believe that asserting the real object status of this “me” interaction is the right step (leaving behind any notion of the Subect though). The reason for this is that by virtue of our internal relations, the “sensuous” realm, we make real-object changes in ourselves which alter our dynamic relations with the world. The things we think are actually real material changes in our bodies, and then consubstantially change our connections to other objects (it is this connection of the connection that Graham is after).
Here I would like to bring in another Spinoza concept that is well-fitted to the question so to use it as a launch point for a possible Harmanian solution. Spinoza too asserts an entirely privatized world of inner experience and affect, one in which we do not really know objects in the world directly, but only know events within ourself, what he calls the ideas of the affections of our bodies. If I know the gentleman Peter, it is really only that I know my body as it is in various states, under certain affections, one might say, only the vicar of Peter (but not a picture of Peter). What guides us from this hermetic realm of vicar Peter to powerful action in the world? There are two things that form Spinoza’s answer. The first is Joy or Pleasure. That is, we imagine things, we form the vicar of things driven by a guideline of what feels best. The real pleasure we are feeling, as even the simplest of organisms, is that which pushes us towards the real connections with world, and in fact for Spinoza constitutes a change in these connections. There is very little of this discussed in Graham’s treatment, but there is one way in which he touches on this aspect of guiding pleasure in the vital concept of “allure”. Allure is the thing, the aspect, that erupts out on the vicar so encrusted with accidents which separates out an otherwise inseparatable “quality” from the essence of the object.
“The separation between a sensual object and its quality can be termed ‘allure.’ This term pinpoints the bewitching emotional effect that often accompanies this event for humans, and also suggests the related term ‘allusion,’ since allure merely alludes to the object without making its inner life directly present. In the sensual realm, we encounter objects encrusted with noisy accidents and relations. We may also be explicitly aware of some of their essential qualities, though any such list merely transforms the qualities into something accident-like, and fails to give us the unified bond that makes the sensual thing a single thing. Instead, we need an experience in which the sensual object is severed from its joint unified quality, since this will point for the first time to a real object lying beneath the single quality on the surface.”
Here Graham is playing with the two aspects of allure: to seduce, and to allude. We are asethetically seduced, thrown forward in pleasure toward the “real object” (we realize a disjunction, and we do so through a connection). But for Spinoza, it is not just that Pleasure and Joy push us towards the connection, but also that such experiences also form real changes in our bodies. We are given to think this thought after that thought, this rather than that because we are actively affirming aspects of our own bodies (General Defitions of the Affects), affirmations which directly confer alterations in our degrees of power, Latourian changes in degrees of Being. I have great affinity for the linking of our ability to act in the world and be constituted as objects through the power of metaphor, being allured and alluding to something beyond; but something more than this has to be at play (and the very tenousness of Graham’s solution testifies to this). For a thinker like Spinoza there are two kinds of improvements in the capacity to act. There are the moment to moment fluctuations of pleasure and pain, random increases and decreases in connection (which may fall to the feet of good and bad metaphors or jokes for Graham), a happenstance fortune, but then there are the comprehensive increases in the capacity to act which come from possessing more adequate ideas about oneself and other things in the world – connecting and building on our knowledge of those connections. The speculative imaginations and interplay between vicars and deputies all frosted over with gems or patinas of an inner world, a comes-and-goessea of rich affections, is also supplimented by a fabric of operative cohesion, the way in which we can systematically and bodily combine with other objects forming more powerful living wholes.
Containment: The Closed Loop of Mental Acts
In this way the principle of containment that Graham puts forth is an embodiment of Spinoza’s parallel postulate, that all our material constructions are also mental ones:
1. CONTAINMENT. The intention as a whole contains both the real me and the sensual tree.
As I pass from thought to thought, affirming one aspect of my body or another, giving me more or less reality than before, the “containment” of the sensuous vicar within me is simply the vectorization of the real ontological change that occurs by virtue of my intentional shiftings. And these, though enriched by metaphorical allusions to object states beyond my inadequate pictures of them, are re-anchored, are given traction by the very mutuality of world, and the power of causal explanation in the first place. The vicars of my world are vivified through their expression of the matrix of my real interactions with the world (they stand not only in the place of the real object they supposedly represent, like a local priest does the Pope, but also stand for the constitutional relations which make up that object, beyond that object). In this sense, it is not just the allure of the separation of the quality of the whole, destabilizing the vicar, that leads us forward, but also the powerful signification of accidents themselves. For as Graham states of the accidents of a sensuous object, they have a “dual status”:
“Accidents alone have the dual status of belonging and not belonging to an object, like streamers on a maypole, or jewels on a houka. Accidents are tempting hooks protruding from the sensual object, allowing it the chance to connect with others and thereby fuse two into one.”
But accidents do not simply happen, they point, they indicate. Their dual status directs us to connections and allows us to see that they are not accidents at all. The look of fear and tension that ripples across the body of the zebra is the vibrant, electric line which connects the lion mid-air to our own own selves, not to mention the vivacity of the grass plain. It is through the accident that we realize that we are already composed as a multi-object in which the accident was no accident at all, but an indication. So when Graham lays down the very reach of what his conclusion can provide, the suggestive depths of the object exposed by allure:
“The key to vicarious causation is that two objects must somehow touch without touching. In the case of the sensuous realm, this happens when I the intentional agent serve as vicarious cause for the fusion of multiple sensual objects: a fusion that remains only partial, encrusted with residue accidents. But in the case of real objects, the only way to touch a real one without touching it is through allure. Only here do we escape the deadlock of merely rolling in the perfumes of sensual things, and encounter qualities belonging to a distant signaling thing rather than a carnally present one. The only way to bring real objects into the sensuous sphere is to reconfigure sensual objects in such a way that they no longer fuse into a new one, as parts into a whole, but rather become animated by allusion to a deeper power lying beyond: a real object.”
what is not grasped hold of firlmly enough is the positive bodily assemblage of our bodies with other bodies that is continously going on through an essential perception of causation and reflectional report. If it is true that other real objects indeed retreat ever away from their qualities, and that allure and accidents to the essence of internal vicars constantly destablize our mental objects, this only provides a base ground of a much more conscienable construction of our bodies as affectively in combination. The retreat of other object/bodies provides the occasion for our mutual co-construction.
Campanella: To Know is to Be
It is here that I would like to introduce Campanella’s golden contribution to modern epistemology, a principle that has been long excluded from having influence. To know something, Campanella tells us, is to become it…literally to become it. What is happy about Graham Harman’s reclamation of the word “essence,” rescued from its various deconstructions, is that it puts us back in touch which Late Renaissance and Late Scholastic thought which worked imaginatively and constructively with the concept. And although I have complained that Graham’s operation from pure Idealist and Representationalist assumptions, it is his embrace of the concept of “essence” that reanimates the possible importance of Campanella’s thought. In fact, his wonderfully designed “asymmetrical confrontation” between the sensuous object and the real me in a new “whole intentionality” comes very close to Campanella’s notion that we indeed, when we come to know something actually are transformed into it. In Graham’s version we are transformed into a hyper-object which is constituted of a real “me” and the sensuous vicar of another object.
Let me present a few select quotations which include the presentation of the idea so as to give some occasion for a comparison:
“cognoscere est esse” – “Everything knows itself to be, is contrary to non-being, and loves itself. Therefore, everything knows itself through itself, and it knows other things not through itself, but inasmuch as it becomes similar to them. This similarity is so great that one thing perceives other things by perceiving itself changed into, and made, the other things, which are not what it is itself.”
– Del Senso pp. 83-4
So then with sensation [sensatio] would be assimilation, and all knowledge [cognition] is possible because of the fact that the knowing essence of a thing becomes [facio] the object to be known. Having become the object itself, it knows it perfectly, for it already is the object, therefore to know is to be; therefore anything that is multiple, the multiple knows, and what is few, few.
– Met., II, 6, 8, 1, p. 59a
“I admit that in all created things such a reflexive knowledge [of the soul], as well as the knowledge [that the soul has] of other beings, is only an accident. It comes from the outside, and the intellect understands them [i.e. other beings] insofaras it knows itself changed into, and made, them. But as far as the essential and original knowledge of one’s self is concerned, I firmly hold with Augustine that the intellect, in its act of understanding, does not differ in any way from the object of its understanding.”
– Met. II, 6, 6, 9, p. 36b
There are a few immediate challenges of vision to Graham Harman’s two-kinds-of-objectsworld, at least in terms of the direction of thought. The first is that Campanella’s process of assimilation seems to run at cross current to the Heideggerian idea of objects forever in retreat from their qualities. Instead of a world where real things tumble back into an infinite depth, human beings (and for Campanella all things) instead actively combine with and literally become the things that they come to know. Their entity is transformed into the entity of other things, thus in some sense their essence into those essences. But while this process of ontological transformation seems quite alien to Graham’s Heideggerian absences, there does seem some affinity to Graham’s inner-world sensuous/real object combinations through whole intention. At the very least we combine with and become in composite the vicars of other things, and thus to some degree with other things. In fact, I think that Graham and Campanella are saying very similar things when they talk about the creation of a change, a new intentional object. Like Graham, Campanella asserts a distinctness between oneself and what one has come to be (called by Campanella the difference between “innate” knowledge of one’s essence and “illate” knowledge of other things, including oneself reflexively), but this does not foreclose genuine transformation, the way that I combine through self-tranformation. But contrary to the difficulty of an unbridgable chasm between one’s own object and other object (how does the real touch the real), this new composite transformation, the assimilation, has genuine powers of awareness of its own, a new essence if you will. One has already become the object under contemplation and is already perceiving the world through its horizon. The separation between real objects thus in Campanella is lapped over.
Commentators have been confused by the seeming contradictions in Campanella’s metaphysics of assimulative becoming. How can one remain oneself, an essence with innate knowledge, and yet be transformed into a new thing, accidentally, forming illate knowledge, a transformation which itself has perfect knowledge. The answer to this contradiction I believe in part lies within just Graham’s own composite object he calls “the intention as a whole”. But also in part in the Spinoza advisement that such an intention-as-a-wholeis itself a real change in reality in relation to all other things. Its very affectures vectorize in real connections to other real things, and this vectorization expresseses itself in both the organisms experiences of Joy and Sadness, and in real world capacities to act. The reason why this is so is that the human boundary (or the human Subject) provides no priority of boundary in the world. It is always cross-cut and in combination with other bodies/objects with which it is in assimilation. Campanella’s view is one of expansive corporation, given the ground that each thing is already part of one great animal existence, the animal of the world.
An illustration may suffice. Instead of Heidegger’s hammer, let us speak of the surfer and his wave (the same dynamics occasion themselves). When surfing a wave to talk of the essence of the wave which is forever in retreat from its qualities is superfluous of the act. In the act, even to speak of the absolute separation of the surfer and the wave does not realy help, for, in a certain regard the surfer and the wave have become one thing, expressing mutually a series of dynamic forces. To put it in Harmanian terms, the real object of the surfer has combined through its intention with the vicar of the wave which is clustered with various accidents and qualities such that these deputized effects produce a new object real surfer/sensuous wave. I sugggest that the example shows what disservice the model does to actual human interfaces with the world. It is much more that the surfer has entered into and become the wave, been transformed into its entity to the degree that it is now reading the world beyond their combination through what Graham would otherwise call its accidents. In fact though the surfer does not likely have the object of the wave at all in his/her mind, but rather is concentrated solely on the patternings of these accidents, their readable, expressive rhythms and force which do not really constitute an object of their own. These “accidents” instead express the dynamic relations within the mutual object wave/surfer/board such that a relative stability and forward progressing vector is sought. They are internal to that kind of object, where the boundary of where one is, and through what one is reading (a limit of the board, one’s toes, one’s hamstring strength, a counter current tugging of the wave form, whitewater upsurge) is ever under negotiation, passing in and out.
This readability through other objects as also actively engaged in the world, and our ability to combine with them in telling, epistemic assemblages (harkening back to Spinoza’s notion of the imaginative imitation of the affects which grounds the social) points not only to the revelatory capacity of objects as they necessarily express their own interiors (making pale the significance of a Heideggerian retreat), but also points to the very insufficiency of the notion of “sensuous object” itself. Last night I was laying in the dark and listening to my cat purr in the dark. My mental activity was not composed of “listening to an accident of my cat’s essence” and the purr itself did not constitute own object (for it had no accidents or qualities that I held in juxtaposition), I simply was traveling along with the sound, riding out on its cadence. This turns our eye back to a criticism with which I opened this post, the idea of Representation as the exemplar of mental activity. As I have criticized elsewhere, this object-orientation of Graham’s grows from an Idealist rooting, Husserl’s outright Cartesianism, a philosophical assumption I call Central Clarity Consciousness [ Downunder: Central Clarity Consciousness (CCC) ]. Out of the presumption that intentionality is essentially the creation of a representing object comes Graham’s thinking of the vicar of some external, real thing. The true difficulty though comes in Graham’s ambition to work his metaphysical priniciples down out of the human world and end up with a world in which human actors, or even biotic actors are not the only things which have standing. If Graham would have stayed simply in the human realm he would perhaps be satisfied with something like Kant’s Idealism. But he does not:
Whereas Kant’s distinction is something endured by humans alone, I hold that one billiard ball hides from another no less than the ball-in-itself hides from humans. When a hailstorm smashes vineyards or sends waves through a pond, these relations are just as worthy of philosophy as the unceasing dispute over the chasm or non-chasm between being and thought.
The mental activity that cuts human beings off from all other objects is not to be something which only human beings are burdened with. All objects suffer from this original sin of “hiding essences”. The entire universe is alienated from all of its other parts, and the only problem is the problem of “caustion” (wherein clearly we see that the entire Universe is actually in some sense connected to the rest of itself). In this way has simply taken the chasm between human beings and all things and distributed it down through the layers of animation. And has set up for himself not only the difficulty of describing the connection between human beings and other objects (a connection which he can only allude to), but then takes this difficulty of connection down into the depths of all objects, inanimate or otherwise. How can we be generous enough notto say that Graham has begun with a simple problem, an essential conception of knowledge as representation, and then multiplied it to near infinity. Well, the answer seems lies in the obverse of Graham’s chasm, that things (and human beings) are already connected, and that the nature of this connection is key to understanding just what mental activity is. If we are to have a post-human, de-centered philosophy which does not privilege human “access” to the world, we really must let go of the notion that mental activity itself, even human mental activity, is not essentially a question of representation, and thus not certainly a question of “object”. What this does to Graham’s project I cannot tell, but if one does not make this move, one is forced to answer such questions as, “What does it mean for a oak desk to hold the ‘vicar’ of the fountain pen that lies upon it?” or, “How does a tree ‘represent’ the breeze to itself?” or “What composes the ‘accidents’ of the ‘deputy’ of my person in the rag doll I am holding?” As long as we confine ourselves to a primary notion of inner, senuous objects which either do or do not match up with external real objects we are forced to an incredible projection into depths of all kinds of inanimate materials in which there seems to be no means of giving them conceptual anchorage. Unless one pulls back into the Idealist human-centered world of Kant or Husserl or Hegel, it seems one has to give up the notion of object as representation altogether.
The Sincerity of Objects
Graham is not numb to this problem, and in his essay on vicarious causation seeks to overcome it. And he does so in an admirable way in the notion of “Sincerity”. Sincerity is the Harmanian word for Intentionality, and it is through sincerity that Graham hopes to sink the human experience of objects down into the animal world, and hopefully down into the abiotic world of material inanimate things. He defines sincerity variously, but generally as a kind of directed absorbtion, at the categorical minimum of the contact between a real object and a sensuous one (instantiating his own terms in a near defintional circle):
“For our purposes, intentionality means sincerity. My life is absorbed at any moment with a limited range of thoughts and perceptions. While it is tempting to confuse such absorption with ‘conscious
awareness,’ we need to focus on the most rudimentary meaning of sincerity: contact between a real object and a sensual one.”
I am not clear at all how “sincerity,” as it is defined as asymmetrical touching differs from “conscious awareness” for Graham, but perhaps this attempted distinction is an artifact of Graham’s resistance to panpsychism. Generally though, sincerity is a projection of human experience, marked by the expense of energy in some kind of directed attention:
3. SINCERITY. At this very moment I am absorbed or fascinated by the sensual tree, even if my attitude toward it is utterly cynical and manipulative. I do not contain the sensual tree, because this is the role of the unified intention that provides the theater of my sincerity without being identical to it. And I am not merely contiguous with the tree, because it does in fact touch me in such a way as to fill up my life. I expend my energy in taking the tree seriously, whereas the sensual tree cannot return the favor, since it is nothing real.
The question is, just how far down can the concept of sincerity go on the biotic and inanimate ladder. Is it robust and facile enough a concept to travel far enough so as to grant full nobility to (and thus also explain) the mechanism of causation of even the simplest actors in the world. In my “The Problem with Spinoza’s Panpsychism” I speak of the difficulties of reading the prospectively panpsychic actions within the most inert objects, and there seek to define these internal events semiotically, that is, as horizon-defined indications. So when there is a causal effect upon a body, events within that body perform a kind of double duty. They mutually signify actions within the horizon of the body, but also these events can be read as directed to (or the result of) external events. Do we have the barefaced minimum of Graham’s asymmetry of contact at the simplest level? Would a body defined by its horizon of closure (by Spinoza imagined to be either a ratio of motion and rest, or a pressed together layer of parts) constitute both a real object, and events within it also possess a “sincerity” of directed re-action, what Graham calls the sensuous object? There seems to be some traction here, but still the concept of internal object tugs against the grain.
This traction is not without consequence for when Graham considers the ultimate question of where or how the connection occurs, he idntifies it as sincerity, the directed expenditure of energy, that must be the site of the answer:
This must be the site of change in the world. A real object resides in the core of an intention, pressed up
against numerous sensual ones. Somehow, it pierces their colored mists and connects with a real object already in the vicinity but buffered from direct contact. If light can be shed on this mechanism, the nature of the other four types of relation may be clarified as well.
But right here at the cusp of the inanimate Graham draws back from the potential sufficiency of this dynamic, for he finds in the human realm the allure of the aforementioned “allure,” turning to how metaphor breaks down the whole of senuous objects in a liberating sense, allowing the real object of the human being to “poke through” its senuous veil and reach the distant signals of other real things. This is a tremendously poetic and beautiful description and full of potential analysis of the relationship between metaphor, image and thought (reminding us of Nietzsche’s essay“On Truth and Lie in the Extramoral Sense”) But while we may make epistemic inroads to internal events of tennis balls, goldfish bowls and airport tarmacs using the widest notion of “sincerity” one finds it quite conceptually unlikely that the same could be said of some concept of “metaphor”.
The reason for this is obvious, and already mentioned. Mental activity, especially the breadth of which that Graham would like to populate the world, simply cannot be characterized by “objecthood,” certainly not sensuous objects of the kind that their “quality of being a whole” which metaphorical allure works to disrupt is an essential character. Here lies the poisoned pawn of Central Clarity Conciousness (CCC), an assumption which will drive Graham’s actor-theory ever back toward the realm of linguistically endowed human beings. Further complicating the issue is that Graham would like to link the disruptions of our essential objects via “allure” to the very mechanism of causation itself. As he describes them, such disruptions almost waken us from our dream of swirling, wind-blown, Lucy-In-The-Sky-of-Diamonds, accidents and strangely buffered objects, to the jutting through of the signals from afar which produce real causation. Just how does Graham see this happening? How do the metaphorical increases of connection between our own internal sensuous objects bring contact with other external objects?:
“….just as two sensual objects are vicariously linked by a real one, two real objects must be vicariously linked by a sensual one. I make contact with another object, not through impossible contact with its interior life, but only by brushing its surface in such a manner as to bring its inner life into play. Just as only the opposite poles of magnets make contact, and just as the opposite sexes alone are fertile, it is also the case that two objects of the same type do not directly touch one another.”
By bringing about the linking of sensuous objects in our own mental life, we so to speak stir the inside of other objects so as to inspire (I can think of no better word) internal connections of other objects which would result in causation…real contact. How a bullet seduces our bodies unto death only brushing our surface.
But what a fantastic theory. If we are to augment it to allow it to cover something more than even only a portion of human articulation we are going to have to unchain it from its object-hood bonds. When I chop at a piece of wood with my axe, I am not “brushing its surface” so as to nudge it into a metaphorizing allurement action which then opens it up to the possibility to being cleaved in two. Even as lovely a conception this might be, there simply is not enough argumentative ligature to make it remotely hold as an explanation. If indeed we want to maintain the worm-hole conception of causation of inside of object to object, as suggestive as a metaphorical theory of causation is, we are going to have to turn to a much more polyvalent conception of internal senuous event.
First of all, in a bit of digression, we have to admit that aside from the mental object orientedness that drives Graham’s philosophical position, we are really subject to an infinity of causations continuously. We are being radiated by solar activity, drawn to the earth in gravitous fields, struck by photons that allow us to see, soundwaves allowing us to hear, just to name a bare few of millions upon millions of forces and effects. Even in the confines of a strictly human realm, to view causation as a kind of eruption in the veil of sensuous closure, a special event of allurement, one would have to admit that this is a regular and continous process. Further so, all objects would be undergoing such sincerity driven allurements at such an enormous rate that our bodies (and all bodies) would be semiotically ripping open at the seams. Such a picture would do much to destablize any real “me” object that Graham imagines founds my causal connections to the world. The sites of “sincerity” are everywhere.
But I would like to take up another aspect of Graham’s use of Sincerity and its rather obvious psychological and ethical freight. To call a directionality of an object “sincere” is not just to distinguish it from insincerity, for how can a rose garden be “insincere,” or a dog, as Wittgenstein would like to tell us. It is also to allude to the way in which the directionality of others, and not just human others, allows us to make powerful sense of the world. Because we can see the directionality of the zebra as it reacts to the leap of a lion, the surface evidence of the expenditure of energy in orientation, we too can make ourselves directional towards an important external event. The sincerity of one object links our sincerity to the world, so that the lion, the zebra and I all are sincerely focused and in a certain kind of agreement. Interestingly the same kind of psychological/ethical frieght is carried by another philosopher’s analytical term, Charity. Donald Davidson in his theory of the radical interpreation of others (human beings), argues that we can only make sense of their behaviors if we charitably grant that they are making the most sense possible (and that they are in some way sincere). We must assume the coherence of their thought in order to be able to interpret it. [Here is a fantastically performed ten minute video explanation of the Principle of Charity, entertainingly argued if you have not seen it: Skeptism refuted in Under Ten Minutes]. I would argue that Graham has chosen just the right type of word when he is looking for what it is that reveals the mechanism of connection between sensuous and real objects. The coherent directedness of attention which marks sincerity is intimately related to the coherence of explanation which marks our charitable capacity to interpret others (even if others are lying, we locate their “lie” within a sincerely directed behavior of some kind, even if it be unconscious).
This leads us back to Campanella I believe, the way in which we literally become the things that we know. Our directed intentionality which for our purposes is not composed of objects, but merely of vectors of distinctions, directs us from within to the internal contact with other objects in such a way that we can literally feel because we are one new entity, their internal directedness. We have epistemically subsumed them, changing our own borders. In lived contact, as they are so directed, sincerely, by the order of their own internal coherence toward extra-horizon events, through our mutality of bodies we perceive through their sincerity with the world. In this way causation shoots through the entire assemblage and transformation, through the prosthetic becomings which extend our real bodies out to the furthest reaches of their terminus.
Descartes of all people (who may have been vastly misread as a Representationalist by the Idealist tradition that followed) gives us a very good example of such this kind of mutality of seeing in the figure of the blind man and his cane:
It sometimes doubtless happened to you, while walking in the night without a light through places which are a little difficult, that it became necessary to use a stick in order to guide yourself; and you have then been able to notice that you felt, through the medium of the stick, the diverse objects around you, and that you were even able to tell whether they were trees, or stones, or sand…(Treatise on Diotrics, first discourse)
…just as when the blind man of whom we have spoken above touches some object with his cane, it is certain that the objects do not transmit anything to him except that, by making his cane move in different ways according to their different inherent qualities, they likewise and in some way move the nerves of his hand, and then the places in his brain where the nerves originate. Thus his mind is caused to perceive as many different qualities in these bodies, as there are varieties in the movements that they cause in his brain…(fourth discourse)
Objects Without Sincerity
If we are to grant a sensuous relationship between a stick and its enviroment, then we must be able to say that the sincerity of a blind man’s directional attention is linked to, and signficantly knows the sincerity of the stick. In a very real sense the blind man has become his cane in knowing it. (Descartes uses this analogy to actually explain how vision works, as the rays of light which enter our eyes operate as a kind of prosthetic extension of the human body out into the world, something close in theory to a Semiotic Realism.) In this way, speaking of the cavernous retreat of the stick is a bit obscurant. Yes, the stick can break or fail and much of its reportability disabled, but because our perceptions are not object dominated, this can simply be read as a change of essence. In the end Graham’s essences of objects that fall back into vaccuums never reachable, hiding from every kind of eye, are simply objects without sincerity. And what are objects without sincerity? They are either the spectral creations of philosophers preoccupied with a CCC optical metaphor of what consciousness is, the sense that because what we think is primarily a visualization “parts” must hide, or it is merely the capacity of think of things as fundamentally distinct, made of difference, a groudwork for our own ability to make and distinguish differences.
What I propose, and I do realize that Graham could never accept this because the core inspiration of his philosophy is the matching inversion of objects accomplished by Husserl and Heidegger, one must keep sincerity by discarding the essentialization of mental activity into objects. Seeing them both as two kinds of objects, two sides of a coin, each locked away from each other simply exposes the fundamental problem of Idealism, a problem that Graham himself is locked within his philosophy when begining, rather creatively, with these ingredients. As mentioned above, if Graham were to remain within Idealism and its human-centric philosophy of access, there would be no problem with this at all. In fact he would have on his hands a beautiful, poetic ontology of animate metaphorization which would productively enrich human discriptions of themselves. The problem is that as we leave the capacities of human beings the very picture of mental activity as object representation with confined borders and bejeweling accidents breaks down (if it ever was sufficient in the first place, which I contend it was not). If we want to reach down into the authenticity of non-human and even abiotic actors and regard their own sincerities as actorly and also maintain a vigorous, vivid sense of what causation is, the illusive white shadow of un-sincere object essences as products of Representationalism must leave the stage. We can retain a strong sense of essence in the manner that Campanella and Spinoza discuss it, but this is under a process of self-transformation and assimilation (in terms of real contact, the assimilation goes both ways!). We regularly and emphatically read the world through our embodiment of others, our prosthetic/cybernetic combination with others, divining the world, so to speak, through our sincere reading of their sincerities.
There is certainly more than enough room for Graham’s concept of Allure, the way that seeming accidents which are part of our patterned coherences and also not, the sparkle of something that catches our eye, the dark stain spreading inordinately. In fact I argue that our consciousness is not at all directed towards objects marked by their quality of wholeness, but rather is composed of the attention to allure itself. The pure center of attentive direction, of sincerity, is not an object, but a living line continually breaking open bringing the forces of coherence into play. Such allurement is not the condition for causation (for phsycial interactions is not mind-dependent), but rather the operation of dynamic coherence itself, that which makes a body a body, the way that it endures, seeking a homeostasis amid change. Thus I can embrace Graham’s praise for metaphor as means for productive connection; it is just not the only means for building the connection between objects or bodies [I discuss the possible place for metaphor in the otherwise taken to be unfriendly philosophy of Spinoza in these two posts: Spinoza’s Confusion of Ideas, and then, Metaphor ; Spinoza and the Metaphoric Rise of the Imagination ]. Metaphor, or detaching allurement, is simply not the only path to connection, and certainly not its precondition in the abiotic world. In this way we have to disagree with Graham’s ultimate conclusion that all causal events are founded upon an occasion of allurement, an allure that opens the door to causation:
The separation of a thing from its quality is no longer a local phenomenon of human experience, but instead is the root of all relations between real objects, including causal relations. In other words, allure belongs to ontology as a whole, not to the special metaphysics of animal perception. Relations between all real objects, including mindless chunks of dirt, occur only by means of some form of allusion.
We leave this conclusion as insufficient not because it is too poetic, but because it is not poetic enough, it does not touch at the heart and power of what poieõ, what “making”, is. It does not go deep enough into the object nor the object’s composition, or the full embrace of sincerity driven down into the abiotic, non-representational levels.
Do I believe that in-animate objects can and do “read” the sincerity of other objects, and thus in some sense “become” them. I do. Air molecules that reverberate and carry a sound in some sense sincerely express their own directionality such that they read the sincerity of molecules near them. I do not include Graham’s notion that the outsides of these objects do not touch because really under these circumstances the borders of things is ever under dispute or change, and so the notion of “touching” or “contact” also is under revision. I do think though that his concept of asymmetry of intentionality, taken as a whole (I would simply prefer a horizoned direction) gives strong light to just what perplexing thing Campanella meant when he said “To know is to be” and that our entity is turned into the entity of another thing. What I would amend is that this assimilation is best seen as cybernetic/prosthetic, a communication of sincerities across bounds within new epistemic and still ontological horizons. It is not just that I am able to hear the distant signals of real objects through the veil of sensous ideas, poked through. Real power is simply not that isolative, not so pale. It is rather that my body is directly composed of such connections, the transferal of sense-making coherences, cause on cause, composed of in part my capacity to read the causal links and sincerities of others. And as a human being this consists of the very real ontological difference that causal explanation makes in my own person. If I know how something works, know it through its causes, my own capacity to act in the world is also increased.
Related to this is something that Graham only slightly touches on in his essay, that there must be a real object on the other side of the connection otherwise it is not a connection at all. This is the important vector which distinguishes mere mental pro-fascinations from real changes in the capacity to act. If I were a racist I could be trapped in the various fantasies I generate about a particular person of color. What is it that disguishes these “sincerities” from genuine contact? This is vital distinction, one that cuts to the bone of real power in the world, but as far as I can tell it is not one that Graham wants to link to causation itself. This missing discernment is I believe related to Graham’s almost poetic notion that the real object of us is somehow always cut off from the effects of others, or that real connections are somehow mind-dependent. There is no sense from him that we are already causally bound to not only our environment and to others in such a way that our identification of the nature of these bounds is paramount in any path to greater activity or power. It is rather a philosophical picture, perhaps the picture of an artist, of how it is that I can get my isolated, cavernous, retreating self connected to the distant signals of other things. For this reason I suspect that the mechanisms for distingushing real contact from simple sincerity of attention is quite undeveloped in Graham’s theory of causation. Causation which in many normative descriptions of the world assumes a cornerstone placement if only as a barrier or limit one runs up against, in Graham’s approach becomes one of the very last things explained (and as yet remains so at least in terms of the inanimate). But this is important because we want to be able to distinguish between our mere fantasies about the world and others, and concrete possibilities of change. As such, in need of such, we cannot simply turn to the allurement of accidents of essences, or a metaphorization of sensuous objects, for such imaginative creations on their own no more lead to an assured connection with the real objects we think we have before our Cartesian eyes.
If we are going to talk effectively about changes of power and activity in the world it is principally to the difference between a non-connective sincerity and a connective one, a difference which can only be thought of in terms of degree, for all sincerities are connective to something I would contend (there are no brains in vats). I will leave the development of this aside, only to suggest that when we turn to what causation is, our approach to sincerity necessarily involves a charity which makes the sincerity of others readable, and if readable to any degree, inhabitable and transforming in the very real Campanella sense. Interpretation of others and the world is bodily assemblage in which what is internal to other things in some sense becomes internal to use, thus indeed, the molten centers of objects do touch.
[I want to say thank you to Graham Harman for providing one more latch-point for the thinking of Tommaso Campanella whose philosophy I seek to renew.]