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Tag Archives: Objects

Birth of Sandman: the Pulverization of Material, the Inversion of Man

Recently I read in connection to Latour that there has been a pulverization of the material, somehow, and that this somehow points us towards a world of objects. It calls to mind for me that for Spinoza the world itself too is pulverized, or must be pulverized unto a microstate, so as to become fully active (that leap, that direction). Individual things must be grasped, not abstractions, or generalizations, not the ens rationalis. That is, there is a kind of degree-zero intensification of a thing into its raw, state of potentiated energy (Deleuze and Guattari’s Body Without Organs perhaps). It also reminds me of the very poetic rendition of the birth of sandman in Spiderman 3, wherein he gets pulverized, one of the most moving scenes of animation ever assembled. Pulverization occurs in a field, we are reminded. Nostalgia and wound last across persons, and objects are summoned into orbs of direction not always benign. It is not the pulverization of matter, but the context into which it is done, the motivations and inflammation that occur around such acts. I’m reading an essay as well that suggests that Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern should be read as We Have Never Been Socialist. Interesting. We turn things into “objects” so that forces can act upon and through them. We make ourselves into objects for the same. We  give them to the field. Think of what has been made. Think of the field.

The poetry starts at the 2:26 mark.

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Networks and Spatialized Information

 

The Relations of Relating

Levi has a nice post up, I believe repeating he has made before, that networks express themselves in terms of a structure that is both material and for want of a better word, positional: Spatio-Temporal Topology– A Brief Remark. I like his graph of networks, but it is exactly this kind of point he is trying to bring to the “object” world that is much better served by treating information itself as a constituent, structuring element of the Universe, such as I argued adopting Stonier’s theory of information to Spinozist terms in Information, Spinoza’s “Idea” and The Structure of the Universe. It is in just this way that the human-oriented world that Levi and others are trying to flee is most easily surmounted, as information as “productive work” not only describes the organizational properties of human/non-biotic networks, but also of non-biotic structures as well (a crystal, or the informational properties of light being fine examples). Information (much like Spinoza’s “idea”), cuts across the whole fabric of the Universe, creating the edges of what is possible. Why object-oriented ones do not seize onto this idea is perhaps a product of their very “object” consciousness, they want an optical “final constituent of the world”, a piece of the world they can float in their mind’s eye. Our eyes see objects, but our ears, or sense of smell, hearing even our sense of touch, and even our kinesthetic sense do not primarily perceive “objects”. It is just this desire to “think in pictures” as Spinoza put it, that characterizes much of object-consciousness, that restricts the kinds of solutions one would naturally pursue. And it is precisely in the nature of networks, and therefore processes, that information takes its more obvious stand: where relations are juxtaposed to the work needed to create and maintain them. So much better, I think, it is to see as Stonier offers, that matter, energy and information are the three constituents of the world.

As Stonier argues, it was the computer’s invention that gave rise to the awareness of information being constituent, just as the steam engine gave rise to our awareness of universal energy. Network thinking also has grown out of computer relations and powers of organization, there could be no more historically natural connection that could be made than between networks and information. It would seem, at least historically, until the next great conceptual device is invented, that for those who want to think in networked fashion, and beyond the merely human, information is a bedrock of interpretation, and projective “objects” whose prominence grew out of Renaissance linear perspective (Panofsky) and the invention of the camera obscura, perhaps much less so.

 

Related posts: From Ideal Networks to Real Ones: Al Qaeda and Chaoplexic Warfare and Is Spinoza a Cyberneticist, or a Chaocomplexicist?

The Attraction of “Phase Space”, Levi’s Missing Objects

In his usual grasp at the sciences for metaphors Levi has touched on something of interest I think, as I have been reading Stonier’s extremely compelling book Information and the Internal Structure of the universe  (1990), upon which I hope to post soon. In his still vestige symptomatic Lacanianism, Levi uses the “matheme” (the desire to “talk” in the analogy of an algebra) of the crossed out “O” to indicate the “object” that is ever in retreat. In a very nice passage we get a sense of the sense he is trying to make of the idea that objects retreat from their interactions:

At any rate, some differences between Harman’s ontography and my onticology are readily evident in the second paragraph quoted above. With Harman I argue that objects withdraw from other objects, however I arrive at this position for a very different set of reasons. In my view, the withdrawal of objects is the result of the difference between dimensions of objects or Ø and O1. Within the framework of onticology Ø or the matheme for the split or barred object refers to the endo-relational structure of the object. This endo-relational structure consists of a system of attractors defining the phase space of an object or all possible ways in which an object can actualize itself. Attractors are states towards which a system tends, whereas a phase space consists of all possible states a system can occupy. Thus, for example, if you roll a marble down the side of a bowl, the final point at which the marble comes to rest is a fixed point attractor of this system. By contrast, the phase space of this system is all the points the marble can occupy as it rolls up and down the sides of the bowl. I argue that objects are split or divided– or in Harman’s parlance, that they “withdraw” –because no object actualizes all possible points within its phase space. In this connection, O1 refers to an actualized point within a phase space that the object currently occupies.

I think that this is an excellent place to start, but there are a few problems with the borrowing of these analogies from statistical mechanics. The first is these descriptors are used to describe very specific things, “closed systems”. In order for Levi to apply such a thought to his idea that everything is an object, EVERYTHING would have to be a closed system. My passing thought of my grandmother and a combustion engine would BOTH have to be a closed system, each with its own phase space and attractors. Under current understanding such a position would be more than pure invention, it would be, I think, wild analogy. Does the monetary policy of Brazil, and my dog scratching at a tick each have a “phase space”? Does “the flying spaghetti monster“? I suspect that Levi is conflating two things: one, the Idealist oriented notion of whether something is the “same” because we perceive it to be the same, giving it an idenity (something implicitly imported into Harmanism from Husserl), and the very specific energy and informational designations that cause us to regard something as a “system”.

But I do not think that this conflation is unimportant or unhelpful. There does seem to be something interesting about putting these two things into one box “identity” and “phase space”. From my perspective what is compelling comes from Spinoza’s view that a thing is a thing, and remains a certain thing due to a certain ration of motion and rest that persists over time. I think that some rough, but perhaps still very substantive comparisons can be made between this notion and the informational and energy requirements to regard something as having a “phase space”. The notion of “closure” is somewhat missing (a part of which that imports from his Idealist, Lacanian heritage). What makes things “closed”? Is it our perception of them as closed, the subjective boundary that we drawn around them, seeing them as we do, or is it some essential “phase space” and “attractor” that forces them to have a ghost-life beneath our view? This notion of closure is an important one, and the way that Levi plays with both the psychological/perceptual sense of the word and the scientific sense is problematic.

Because this is problematic ground I have been and would like to tread, this analogy to phase space is something worth paying attention to. And while I find difficult (or unhelpful) the notion that “the twinkle in her eye” is a closed system, and would like to treat closed systems as very specific things that can be considered “closed” because such an analysis yields valuable information about them (and not because they solve our philosophical question of identity), Spinoza’s definitional idea of what a body is makes the comparison between individuals and such spaces appealing. I have argued elsewhere that the closure of objects is best seen as “Semiotic” that is, making differences that make “the” difference rather than simply “a” difference: The “ens reale” and the “ens rationalis”: Spelling Out Differences, The Necessary Intersections of the Human Body: Spinoza and Conjoined Semiosis: A “Nerve Language” of Bodies. In each I take up the consequences of Spinoza’s definition of a body that I have referred to here:

Definition: When a number of bodies of the same or different magnitude form close contact with one another through the pressure of other bodies upon them, or if they are moving at the same or different rates of speed so as to preserve an unvarying relation of movement among themselves, these bodies are said to be united with one another and all together to form one body or individual thing, which is distinguished from other things through this union of bodies. E2p13a2d

What is key in our consideration is, I believe, the notion of communication, that the parts communicate their motions to each other (this can be found in the Latin phrase ut motus suos invicem certa quadam ratione communicent, translated by Curley as “that they communicate their motion to each other in a fixed manner”). This idea of communication is an important one because it opens up the “informational” dimension of what makes up a closure. What makes up a thing so as to be an “individual” is not only its material existence, but also its energy (motion/rest) AND its information (!), its communications. And yes, I do think that there are reasons to speak of the differences that make “a” difference in the world, and differences that make “the” difference (internal to a system or a taken to be recursive relationship).

But this is the thing that I think that Levi is missing, and missing rather dramatically, in his question to make objects retreat from all their relations (and gain some sort of affinity to Harman’s Idealism). Although it pays to treat objects as separate from others, because their “phase space” is informational phase space (if we even grant the more wild aspects of the analogy from Science), and as such there is no reason to suppose that such a space of relations is closed off from the rest of the universe, or composes a difference that makes NO difference to other things, other systems, other phase spaces (Levi Uses Greek Fonts Nicely, but…). In fact, such a phase space, I would suggest, is necessarily understood to be permeated (and interactive) at several levels. I think I would deny that there is ANY system that is completely closed (that although it pays to treat them as closed, they never are entirely closed at all). This is the case in terms of scale (smaller component events can have consequences both on larger component scales, and thus across boundaries that would otherwise define the system), and also in term of the boundary itself. A political population of citizens can and will intersect with a population of disease, metallic elements in a machine will be effected by magnetic fields, etc., etc, etc. IF there is going to be a “phase space” analogy of the possible distribution of material elements in any “object” it is going to be a phase space that is so complex and interwoven with others (amenable to other vectored descriptions) that the ultimate solution of the “identity” problem in philosophy will never be found. Someone like Levi would like to simply deposit the identity of objects over time in such a system space, really for almost aesthetic reasons (the desire to cross out the “O” in objects), without significantly considering what a “phase space” is and what such a reality of objects would mean for identity itself. It seems that far from making objects have a “ghost” existence outside their manifestations, an existence which would make no difference to other objects, it seems to be much the opposite. Indeed objects may be described as specific manifestations of matter, energy and information that express the possibilities of their distribution, but such a phase space actually connects them to all other objects and all other phase spaces, and has a determined effect upon them.

(A sidenote: There is the additional problem from Levi whose objects are forever in retreat that if indeed each object has a phase space, a mathematical description of such a space – using the statistical mechanics from which the analogy is derived – itself becomes an “effect” of the space itself. That is, far from being in retreat, such a space is not only expressing itself in the “object” that it underwrites, but also it is expressing itself in the mathematics, and the mathematician, that is describing it. It does not compose a difference that makes no difference, as itself has expressive properties. And one has to ask, does a “phase space” constitute an “object” as well, and have its own phase space and attractors – this is an interestng question?)

Much as in Spinoza view in which essences are expressed modally, but also remain somehow latently immanent to any one manifestation, the information space within expressions is actually that which connects things to all other things, and to take it to be in continual retreat is, I believe, a fundamental mischaracterization. If anything such a space is what, in Deleuzian fashion can be called a “distaff” space, an information space out of which all things can be and are woven. It is ultimately a space intersected with all other spaces, undermining just what the Idealist notion of “objecthood” is (a notion founded upon Brentano’s Intentionality Thesis and Descartes opticality of consciousness). At the very least, and in the most obvious fashion, because entropy is defined in statistical mechanics as the tendency of a system to pass through all the phrase space that constitutes it, an “object”, what Levi wants to call O1, by virtue of its supposed Ø phase space status, could pass into a state of extreme element distribution, all of the atoms that might constitute it floating in an entropy soup O2, and still be regarded as the same object Ø (beyond any common sense of identity). A tornado passed into mere breezes. This is somthing that might only be meaningful to say of one thing, Spinoza’s Substance. I hope to post on information, Stonier and Spinoza soon.

Loxogonically, The Picture, the Path and the Hand

 

The recent orientation towards objects in philosophy which has been sponsored by Graham Harman’s radical claims has definitely got me thinking about how objects have appeared to me, have entered into my experience as a thinker over the years. Always they ripped apart at the seams and showed so many dangling strings I never really understood the philosophical concentration on them, as principal.

Loxogonospherical Moods

This preoccupation has caused me to consider again something undeveloped, my drawing style, if it can be called that. For as much as we like to grasp the situations in the world through our language and relaying concepts, when one takes pen and ink into hand and “copies” the world, or some corner in it, generally one realizes that “representation” is not fully what is happening. The hand itself begins to speak and tell. There is a commuity between the supposedly distant object, the host of our affections, and the concretization of the living line at pen’s tip. It is never the case of a “gap” unless exact, mythological reproduction is your aim (there is no such thing). There is just a question of grades, intensities, dullings, pointednesses of continuity in communication. The product is immediate, and its connection sensed as sharp and true (even if the drawing is felt to be a failure by the artist or a viewer). There is always the causal connection of the link, the sense that what is produced is evidently there due to the effects of the thing drawn and the sedimentary effects of the drawer (intentions, histories, skills, physiologies, phenomenologies, ideas, beliefs, etc.) Something comes through. And none of it cloaks.

Topography

So with these thoughts I’ve begun a new topographic space, in parallel to this one, where merely drawings of objects will be placed. The meaning is two-fold. For one, I would like to investigate what my hand might tell me at this stage. What about objects is it that I may learn. I am hopeful that my rudimentary style will develop my eye and show me something more about objects and my body. It is a type of phenomenological investigation, not internally directed, but rather connectively produced. The intensional object being the extensional one, folding the viewer into the viewed. This is related to the secondary and perhaps much more minor hope, that those who have read my philosophical critiques might by seeing “how I see” (and I really do see in this way), might come to weigh my philosophical points a bit differently. And lastly, I have a number of friends who are not very conceptually driven, and this alternate weblog will give them perhaps a way into my abstractions which for me are extremely concrete, and significant realities.

I hope to be posting pen and ink investigations into objects there frequently. It is a place for very few words.

A New Aesthetic For Objects: Photosynth Defies Gravity

The above is from a Photosynth of the Muay Thai training room where my wife learns the nuances of the art under the striking personage of Master K, a 70 year old man who flies about his basement weightlessly, Cheshire cat-like with the smile he had when fighting as a young teen in Thailand. (One has to go to the site linked below to view it.) The room is a special place for us. Almost holy, made of pads and simulacrums of human bodies. An intimate space of sweat and person if there ever was one.

We made a Photosynth of it because it is precious, something to be preserved, and because the software promises to be so new, so radically different, some form of it may become a mode of human engagement and contemplation over the next decades. Profound. When choosing the place, a thing, that we should primordially record, it would be this place, before the artform becomes too honed, too inhabited, practiced, in the manner that old daguerrotypes are the only real photographs ever taken.

Muay Thai Training Room Photosynth Here

I believe you may have to download some software from the insidious-to-some, Microsoft, (and it will not work on platforms other than XP and Vista), to see our particular photosynth, but it may be worth it. There are also examples of the technological seeing here, check out the pomnik powodzianina; Floods monument.

But here I would like to post some philosophical musings about the software, in particular how the dynamics touch upon the powers and validity of my latest preoccupation, Graham Harman’s Object-Oriented Philosophy. So I will veer for a moment away from the product.

The Nostalgia for Objects, the Seating of Qualities

The more I come in contact with Graham’s ideas, in particular how they are expressed in his blog, I’m coming to realize that he is not really interested in objects at all, despite the moniker of his project. It is not objects, but qualities that fascinate Graham, the nobility of the quality, the profound substantialness of them, the way that events which are sometimes in philosophy read only at the surface of objects are significantly creative of new things. I think that there is a sense in Graham’s philosophy that qualities do not get their due in philosophy. They are merely passively “bundled” like so much loose paper, or by others turned into mere ephemera which zip into and out of existence, intensities of an unnamable moltenness. I think that (and this sense may change with further readings) for Graham the qualities of objects, if they are to maintain their nobility have to be doing something, something significant and not just passing like sheen on the surface of the soap bubble of Existence. And for this reason he postulates these infinitely disappearing “objects”  with which qualities are fundamentally, and continually in “tension”. An intuition tells me that what is behind this tension, which he has spread to the entire universe, what gives it its gravitas, is the existentialist, and very human, picture of the Self in constant struggle with its non-Being.  The stories of Sartre suddenly becomes the stories of all things. It is a human-centric, and I might say, negatively enriched, picture of personal struggle which ennobles the substantive reality of qualities. And at the center of this is the drama of the gravity of objects.

The thing is, this is something that he and I share, the real attachment to the authority of the quality, so to speak. It is just that I seem them much more redeemed and attaining their force by other conceptual paths, and part of this may be that I do not buy into the essentialized dyads of negativity and non-Being which have characterized modern Existentialism. The appeal of the quality I think is what is behind Graham’s slippery-slope resistance to panpsychism, especially of the postmodern or post-structuralist varieties. The qualities of objects cannot be simply bubbling up of intensities, or lines of force from a molten floor. They have to have something to hold onto, to pertain to. This is what lies at the “bottom” I believe of his gravity of infinitely retreating objects.

Now back to Photosynth. It would be no exaggeration to say that the history of the means of representation is the Urwork of philosophy. That is, with each historical development of a representational form in the West, philosophical concepts (and their ontologies were soon to follow). Figure/ground vase painting in Greece, a painted Acropolis, the plasticization of man in marble, or the invention of linear perspective in the Renaissance (Panofsky), optical precision and the camera obscura in the 17th century, and eventually the camera proper and cinematography. One need only look to the extraordinary Bergsonian metaphysics Deleuze invents just for the artform of film, and one must admit that the metaphysics which DeLanda puts forth, th0se which Graham finds essentially dissatisfying, are born out of the rapidity and surface of contemporary representations. In a way, there is a ubiquity of the image, and Graham is saying something like, “Hey, wait a second, we need to tie these things down to something, and not just some vast flow of amorphous Capital”  (Where in the human?, I hear, or at least, where is the Old Way, despite his position against human-centric philosophy.) Cinema did something to the image and its world. It made it flat. Out of the richness of a dimensional objectivity we were given the “recording surface”. Even a child knew that film is flat (though this is surely changing.) And not just flatness, but succession, eruption of effects, compositions, a primordial of Time over Space.

In answer to these I feel that Graham’s Object-Oriented Philosophy has some legitimate concerns, and there is something dearly Rilkean in the way that he embraces the world of hidden objects. I believe that Photosynth has an answer to Graham’s concerns, but I’m not quite sure which way the answer cuts, for it is an aesthetic answer. What Photosynth does is take our flat photographs (we still seem them as “flat” no matter how pixelated we understand them to be), the Old Fashioned way of looking at and framing the world so as to memorialize it, as spatialize them by assembling them into a weave of “recognitions”. Flat image upon flat image appears, only to be toggled around the objects (and the lived experience) that created them. It is really an extraordinary effect.

Further, they are presented in a format that is inter-active, or one might say enter-active. In a videogame-world aesthetic one traverses the object space so that there  is a legitimate experience of discovery. For instance, in the Synth of Master K’s training room (top) there is a close up of an old photograph of master K when he was a youth. You can get closer and closer to the face of the young man that is behind the entire room, until you are staring right into the past. One does not encounter it in the usual arrow-by-arrow jumps left and right, into and out. It is buried in there, behind objects, can you find it, I missed it the first few times crossed the space? The presentation is one of paths. Each time one looks at the synth one has had signficantly different experiences, and difference leads to meaning. The photograph I spoke of is the lone photograph remaining of this Thai Boxing master’s fighting days of over 70 professional fights, and here it lies within the layers of aesthetic space in a way analogous to the history which had constructed it. It is a recognizable Blade Runner effect.

I wonder how this aesthetic experience of an old form of flatness (there is no jabberwocky of Youtube camera shake) would touch upon Graham’s preoccupations with hidden objects. There is the real sense that Photosynth performs just what Graham is poetically/ontologically describing, the hiddenness of objects. Through a flat-space of real qualities one encounters objects that one feels are ever in retreat, while new objects are constantly being revealed. The entire spaces is eruptive and recessive. Further, unlike in video clips, it is not temporality or even subject matter that seem to make the best thing to capture, but objects themselves, and the space around which events happen. When thinking about what to synth, how you would point your camera if you were to film and edit something, or if you were to frame a single and telling “shot”, one realizes that these are different things.

The Aesthetic of Quality

But if I were to allow myself to consider Graham’s Object-Oriented Philosophy through Photosynth I have to say that while the aesthetic experience deals with the same concerns that Graham has, a return to the Old Fashioned photograph, like a  return to Late Scholasticism, the result is somewhat different. What one feels I think is that Photosythn makes even more apparent that lack of a need for Graham Harman’s hidden objects. Objects that recede, much as in lived life, are recoverable. They do not vanish, but rather proceed. In fact, not only are the surface effects of flat-projections (here assumed to be qualities) shown to be substantive, but rather than being engaged in a struggle with their hidden objects, are part of a spatiality of wholeness. This comes through because the view is entered into the space itself. It is a very different experience if you watch the synth that someone else is toggling through, than if you explore it yourself. This I believe is what is key to understanding the nobility of the qualities of things. This nobility is achieved not through some posited wobbling between hiddenness and manifestation (projected from our own self-negating experiences under a particular philosophy of negation), but through crafted (that is directed) combinations with the world itself, through assemblage. What one is struck with in Photosynth is how actuating and real image is, and this is come from the richness of our own bodies.

[Note, there is another sense in which Photosynth performs something of Graham’s democraticization of objects, that is, his thought that all objects are in a tension modeled on own human experiences of essentialized subjectivity…a philosopher of dyads. Obama, the first Internet President, will have his Inauguration covered by Photosynth in a dramatically ideological aesthetic of democracy. CNN and Microsoft have combined to produce a “synth” document from all the images sent from all the camera phones and video cameras of those in attendance. The phenomenal struggle with hidden objects is transferred, or one might say, translated, into a new and enactive political whole.]

The Bounce of the Being of Beings

 All things Great and Unmeasured [anaríthmêtos] Time

Births [phúei] unseen & having appeared [phanénta], hides [krúptetai];

(Sophocles, Aias; lines 646-647) 

Graham Harman’s Response: The Lock on Objects

Sorry that I have been out-of-computer for a day or so, for when I first read Graham Harman’s response to my earlier questioning of his work and term “Object-Oriented Philosophy,” I wanted to enter in quickly so that the tempo between us could produce some clarity, for it seemed off-hand that Graham did not address my thought too directly, and a quick up-take of his points would prove light-shedding. But given that circumstances have driven some distance, it was my sincere hope that by spinning his response over in my mind, turning its being-of-being center, looking at every angle, I could come clear to a positive relation to what he is saying.

But this has not happened. That is, as I have more than absent mindedly contemplated his response, this thoughts remain distinctly apart from much of the point I was making, not only about Husserl’s notion of intentionality, Heidegger’s opticality, but most importantly, his own return to object-centrality…that all stem from one Cartesian picture of how consciousness operates, a picture come at least in part from the new science of dioptrics and the metaphors of lenses.

What is nice though is that I have time now to engage his response piece by piece, and as is sometimes the case with a text, by teasing out its directions, woof and warp, one may come to feel what is being said more directly, more positively.

A Trinity of Points

The best thing is perhaps to begin with Graham’s three-point assessment of my questioning. As an excellent writer he gives me something to hold onto right off. And if we are to find the source of a misunderstanding, it likely would be here. These are the three points he feels that I am making:

1) Harman’s focus on objects represents a typical rut of the tradition that needs to be overcome

(2) it comes from a desire for a “central clarity” (rather than, I suppose, a comfort with the inevitable lack of such clarity)

(3) instead of the “game” of trying to recapture the essence of things, we should realize that accidents are the name of the game

Right off at number one it seems that we are in the same ballpark. But something in the rhetoric, in the words, tells me that he is hearing something I do not intend. “Rut,” what a wonderful word. Do I mean that those sons of Descartes that have taken the Central Clarity image of consciousness are in a rut? We can see the groves worn into the path, as the centuries of wagons carrying their ontic weight to argument market, the praxis of human habit has philosophical steered just where such wagons can go, is this what I mean? Yes, I can see that. But I do not see this “rut” as typical  in the sense that it is somehow mindlessly banal, as in the phrase, “oh, he’s so typical,” and nor do I want to be thinking of “types” or even of “the tradition” as if there is a necessary iconoclastic movement that has to be started. It is rather for me that there is an inheritance of an image, an expectation of the sufficiency of a take, what Wittgenstein would sometimes call a “picture,” and that this picture of consciousness (though it has its roots in the misty past of Greek Ur-texts, the kind of which Heidegger loved to play with) at modern times grounds itself in a particular moment in history: the development of optical prosthetics, and the experience of images seen through theoreticized lenses, which were taken to be models of consciousness itself. That is, the over-riding optical metaphors of Western Philosophy, in the person (and scientist) of Descartes, took on a very specific character as to how consciousness was to be “pictured,” carried forward through his metaphysics. When one realizes the origin of such framing, then the framing itself can at least be questioned. And I would say that at least as far as I read him, Harman’s work seem to be tensioned both inside and outside of this frame.

That is, like the tension that I read within Harman’s own work (soon to be noted), Descartes’ centrality of focus notion of consciousness was actually a concept which ran counter to his much wider semiotic Realism treatment of mind wherein ideas were thought of as actions. His philosophy of a sensing, communicating mechanism grew out of his main ambitions as a natural philosopher which likely superceded his interest in metaphysical grounds. It was Descartes’ theological need for a free, independent Will, (that is, an accountable soul), which lead him to insert into consciousness this notion of central clarity. The central clarity is what the Will (Soul) focuses on. And so too, as Graham Harman strains towards a post-human Husserl and Heidegger, one that does not privilege the human relation above all others, he (at least in my opinion) drags with him the heritage of the prime metaphor of consciousness as optical central clarity which Descartes originally inserted in order to privilege the human in the first place. Descartes’ semiotics of mind wherein the mind perceives the world directly through its bodily senses in the same (decentralized, non-optical) way that a blind man perceives the world through a stick, becomes a human soul which directs its Will, like a spotlight, on some core clarity…or really object.

His secondly summation,

(2) it comes from a desire for a “central clarity” (rather than, I suppose, a comfort with the inevitable lack of such clarity)

I like Graham’s second point, at least how it starts, but I am unsure where he got the sense that I am arguing for an inevitable lack of clarity (though I may suggest that in theories which I did not include in my response to Object-Oriented Philosophy). I suppose though this may be due to me not putting proper emphasis in my disagreement. My problem was not with a reduction of consciousness to Central Clarity, but to Central Clarity. Indeed there is clarity in consciousness (Descartes’ trope would not even function if there were not), and there may even be a Central Clarity (that is, there is a figure/ground feature to consciousness that is quite significant, and we say things like “can you make your point more clear?” or, “I can’t quite make out the bird in the bush”). But consciousness is not reduced to (or even super-achieved by) this centralization: no object constitutes it. The reason for this is primarily two-fold. The first is that I contend that if one looks to the very center of consciousness (that is, under the spotlight picture which imagines that consciousness is like something that shines out onto the world in some fashion, and reveals Being of whatever status at its center, leaving Non-Being at its wake or at its border), there in the center, the point of attention, is not a “clarity”. And there at the center is not an “object,” or even a “concept”. There is not even the apideîn of Heidegger’s Platonic abstractive seeing. If we are to think in terms of centers, the center of consciousness is a dissonance, an eruptive line. The second reason is that even if we cluster this dissonance center (might we say a laser center) with a broader object or concept center (the spotlight), this contrast in clarity is dependent upon the sense of all the lies beyond it…that is, the “clarity” would not even be restricted to this center (its object), but is spread upon a web of perceptions and beliefs, from which no dividing line can be taken. It is my point, at least insofar as I respond to Graham’s orientation towards the “object”, is that centrality itself (intention) when applied undermines the pure notion of clarity, but also, insofar as there is clarity, it is not centralized. The very character of consciousness is lost in the push towards central clarity.

Graham’s third point is an important one, because here at least I get the sense that he understands the very crux of argument against his treatment of “accidents” to essence, what he approvingly says Husserl calls the “gems” of a object:

(3) instead of the “game” of trying to recapture the essence of things, we should realize that accidents are the name of the game

What I would like to bring out is why the “accidents” are the name of the game. They are not the name of the game because they are more important than the essence (against which we are supposed to realize their very accidentally), but rather because in Graham Harman’s very dichotomy, the significance of what he calls accidents becomes lost. It is not that the accidents are what we should philosophically keep our eye upon, though I do insist that what Graham calls “accidents” are what our living line of consciousness is already on. It is that our very epistemic way of understanding bodies and relating to the world is one in which the contingent effects upon things in the world, and our ability to read those effects sensibly and make powerful, meaningful determinations, arises out of those effects. When a tree shakes unexpectedly, this is not an occasion of the essence of the tree suddenly exhibiting a new “gem”. We look into the air and at other trees, and may even attend to our own skin, searching for breeze. Then we narrow our gaze up into the branches, perhaps change our position unto the tree, and then see a squirrel flitting its tail energetically, perhaps territorially. We are not engaging a “real” object that is ever in retreat from us. The shaking of its leaves was not some apparitional shimmer of an essence caught on the intentional object of our minds. The shaking of the trees leaves was what directed our attention towards the shared world, towards a cause that has a bearing upon us (what shook the tree could shake us). The sound and spasm of the tree caught our attention because it was dissonant to our expectations and beliefs; not because the essence of the tree had acquired new gems. The accidents are the name of the game because events that catch our attention are those same events which direct us toward understanding the world better. Our “clarity,” far from being centralized, is composed and provisional. The world is largely transparent to us. We are not cut off from it, but are part of it.

Are Two Kinds of Objects Still Objects?

After these three digestions Graham goes onto make some important points, unfortunately these are directed more towards interpretations of Husserl and Heidegger, and spend less time on his own notion of the importance of “objecthood”. But because I link my trouble with his philosophical aim to a continuity in a tradition, perhaps this is fair. It is best then to see to what degree Graham is sipping from the Cartesian waters of consciousness as a Central Clarity insofar as he leans back on Husserl and finds objects in Heidegger.

He first finds a difficulty in a tendency he sees in me to treat “the theme of objects as if it were the same strategy” in both Husserl and Heidegger. Try as I might, I can’t quite see where he finds this, for I did not speak of the strategies of each thinker. Clearly Heidegger is in response to Husserl, and is not using the same strategy. What I do claim though is that the same fundamental optical metaphor for Being is exhibited in both, and this metaphor is one of central clarity. In Husserl this metaphor is taken to be definitive for consciousness (however then analyzed), in Heidegger, in a kind of Negative Theology, it is indicative of the failings of consciousness. The spotlight of the mind cannot see under  being. In both cases the metaphor is that which sets the pragmata, the issues at hand.

Graham wants to tell us that the “objects” in Heidegger (which he himself as unearthed) are very different than Husserl’s. Of course they are. We are in infinite agreement. The point is that the very characterization of object as object, (that is, in some implicit way as the central focus of a clarity of consciousness), whether it be the intentional “over-arching” object or the object/thing/being that hides, is an adoption of this rutting motif. Even where Heidegger crosses out the object altogether in its hiddenness, as he toggles optically between alêtheia and lêthê (preferring the outright visual trope of “coveredness” rather than the more readily “forgottenness” or even dull “obscurity” which are perhaps closer to the feeling of the word in the Greek), he is still enrapture by a primary aim of consciousness that is of Central Clarity. It is just a Central Clarity which is perpetually denied of us…we can never really see the object before us. I think that Graham is quite right to rescue the notion of object from Heidegger and to place it in front and center, but in so doing, I believe he is calling attention to a history of thinking about consciousness as defined by a Central Clarity (perhaps CCC). By crossing out this Central Clarity, imposing Non-Being over its Being, so to speak, one is still in the game of CCC. That Heidegger’s objects hide and that Husserl’s objects don’t hide at all really are effects of the same diagnosis.

Edge of Philosophy

Graham then says something else which puzzles me a bit,

But what I most object to is the idea that Husserl’s eidos is some sort of traditional game, and that rejecting it immediately stations one on the cutting edge of philosophy in our time.

First of all, I have not so much interest of getting to the “cutting edge” of philosophy, if by this one means a newness that is marked by its newness. I am interested in philosophy that is germane to our time, and as he knows, my reinvigoration of Campanella (via Spinoza) means for me that the “cutting edge” may involve some very sharp edges from the past. (Nexus points of historical change often involve philosophical branchings which were not taken up in the mainstream, branching which may prove rich in conceptual possibility when paths taken deadend: argued for in terms of Spinoza here.) Graham here seems to feel that I think that just by making iconoclastic gestures, jettisoning some tradition, one gets to hop their place to the front of the line. My critique of Graham’s Object-Oriented Philosophy (again, still a surface critique), is not that it is not “on the cutting edge of philosophy in our time,” but that the very post-human aims of his philosophy are not served well by the object-orientation he wishes to retain, in fact, emphasize. That is, historically and conceptually, the centrality of the object is what has been most in the service of centralizing what is human — as I said, this can be dated back to a fundamental tension between Descartes Natural Science and his Christian Theology. Where Graham identifies the object buried in Heidegger, and returns to Husserlian intentionality to speak of a fundamental dyad of the intentional and real objects to give the Heidegger objects life, he takes with him the poisoned-pawn of human centrality (despite his every intention not to). When Graham speaks of these objects, or the tool-beings which are never seen fully, as they hide from our spotlight consciousness, the dyad is set up once again, one which fundamentally mischaracterizes (or oversimplifies into a picture) consciousness. And there are two levels of this problem, the first is the presumed authority of the optical metaphor in the very concept of “hiddenness,” and secondly that the very nature of opticality as a central clarity is already flawed, because at the center of optical perception is a living line of dissonance.

For me, at least insofar as I share Graham’s post-human aims, the very notion of a hidden tool is missing what is happening in tool use. When using a tool we inhabit a tool, we join a tool, we become it… we do not strictly “use” it (wherein at some level we are “beholding” it, or attempt to “use it up”). Drive a car and the car is not “hiding from us”. In fact, the car and us become a pansensual revelation of the states of the road, an assemblage of collaborative and really cybernetic perceptions. The fullness of the car is there, as well as the fullness of the road. Because we leave behind opticality, it is not that the road is hiding from us at all, but rather, the road, the car and us are expressing themselves in a consonance, one might say, a degree of power. Could the expression be more powerful? Sure. But opticality, the missingness of the rest of the object (be it the road, the car or me) is not the best characterization of the optimalization of an expression. Our communications can be increased. The shocks could be replaced, I might have studied a map before I left, I might wear glasses, the road engineers might have banked the turns more, I might obey the speed limit, I might have put better gas in the car, I might have better driving music on the mp3 player, but none of these increases have to with whether the object of the road is more or less hidden from us. Opticality simply is not the best trope. In fact, the accidents of the road, the “phenomenal qualities” of it are the very things which direct us to a conceptual understanding and increase in our ability to act. If ice is clinging to the trees in a beautiful glassiness about every branch, as it was here last week after an Ice Storm, I am notified that the road might have “black ice”. I touch my break, I feel the road. I slow down, I drive more freely, with greater control and expression. Where there is a philosophical concern it is how taking a position, an orientation towards these qualities which compose the very changes in power and freedom that make up the most important things in our lives. I believe though that indeed it is in the direction of tools and use we must turn, as Graham tells us, but our very notion of tool must change from an object used (which remains hidden from our view) to an thing inhabited and combined with, to a degree of power.

Graham claims that the “upper-hand” tradition is the tradition of empiricism, and it is this tradition which Husserl leads us away from. (Is there the suggestion that if we overcome this tradition we have come to the cutting edge?) But this is an odd response to my claim that Husserl is in the Cartesian tradition. In fact, both the empiricists and the idealists are largely under the Consciousness as Central Clarity picture, come from Descartes. The idealism/empiricism divide (with Graham firmly, and properly, replanting Husserl in the Idealist camp) is already structured by the CCC. Husserl is argued by Graham to have been the very first to have placed a schism that formerly fell outside the Idealist realm, within the Idealist realm itself, what he calls a “true distinction”. This may well be that Husserl invented a distinction within the distinction, but my point is that he is already operating within a mistaken conception of consciousness itself, the very notion of central clarity as reductive of consciousness. To divide a mistaken category is not in my view helpful.

But because Graham spends so much time speaking about Husserl (and Heidegger) and not his own notion of the Objects which should make up the orientation of Philosophy, I am left unsure if he is defending their positions or his own (insofar as he has appropriated them). I have no desire to get bogged down into Husserlian and Heideggerian hermeneutics, two thinkers, on which if 9/10ths of the literature written were lost in a fire I’m not sure how much would be lost to Western Civilization (one can say this about any of the heavy weights, Spinoza included). I would much rather entertain what Graham means by the importance of the Object, at least enough for me to dispel my strong suspicion that by rescuing the object from Heidegger and combining it with Husserlian Intentionality, he has also rescued an implicit CCC and homo-centricism, which he then hopes to throw back out. Or at the very least, the way that he is going about it is the long way around, one which will eventually leave him with no choice but to embrace a panpsychism of such objects.

The Central Paradox of Objects?

Graham then ends with the imagination of the ironic:

The irony is that all the people who reject objects because they think they’re beyond traditional notions of identity, or whatever, are thereby missing the central PARADOX of objects: that they exist in constant tension with their accidents, relations, qualities, and moments. Objects are always sliding away from themselves in two directions along two separate axes. It is those who reject objects who lessen the tension and offer some crude simplicity in its place

I cannot tell if this is directly precisely towards me, for I am unsure what “crude simplicity” I would have put in place of objects. Rather I embrace the very eruptive qualities of things when engaged, but certainly deny that it is objects themselves that are either “splitting” or “in tension with” something or “sliding away” from themselves. It is a beautiful, indeed poetic picture. But it is a picture that is misleading in two ways. The first is that it is the eruptive that is the indicative of consciousness. The center of consciousness is the living line of dissonance. Nothing is ontologically sliding away from itself, there is no object wobbling which works as a cause directing our attention to something important (one might say conditions can wobble, erupt, fraction, expections, tempo, loose emotions, textures, so many things that are not proper objects of consciousness). It is not a paradox of objects, but a fabric of the very nature of what perception (and conceptualization) is. Our attention is directed towards things, features, elements, qualities, events, differences, and these differences indicate (sêmainein), they direct our attention outwardly towards the causes of these events. The book has that color now because of the angle of the sun. The room has that sound now because a book just fell from its shelf. That face has that expression because he just heard the news. To locate these accidents within the very object, as a kind of tension, a paradox is to loose what “accidents” do…they indicate and expand. Part of this reading of objects through their accidents (or qualities) is also a fundamental ability to place ourselves in the bodies of them. I understand why you are saying the things you are saying, why your arms are moving the way they are moving, because I know (as Wittgenstein would tell us) that you are in pain, or that you believe such and such to be the case (as Davidson would say). I inhabit you, and read the world through you, as you do through me, and it is this very readability, this affective reflection or imitation which becomes truly cybernetic, which denies the ultimate opacity of objects. Objects combine with us, and we to they. If they only combine to a certain degree of optimality at a certain moment, this degree is what is possible at that moment in time (strictly, there is no such thing as the McCain Victory Coalition, I would say). If we are to speak of optimal combinations of objects, or, simply things, res, then the very distinction of objecthood (in any notion of hiddenness) is forced to vanish. That is, it is only One Thing that is combining with itself, what Spinoza would call Substance, Nature or God. In a sense, it is not the object which is wobbling or splitting, but our very degree of the power to act freely. The second thing wrong with this picture is that the very notion of a central object that does all these things [before our implicit and floating, unstated gaze] trades upon a notion of consciousness as Central Object Clarity. The reason why the object bucks and sways is that the very frame under which we look to uncover the nature of such an object is a simplification.

As opposed to what Graham calls “lessening the tension” that is supposed to exist in every object [a kind of jouissance of the object perhaps], I suggest that one recast one’s eye to where this tension lies. It is not in the object itself (whatever its status), but in the living line of dissonance at the center of consciousness. What this does is open up the direction towards which the eruption points, and I might say naturally points, It points to other things, to other persons (there is a reason why Heidegger’s obsession with the peek-a-boo object never lead him to any theory of friendship or an richly interpersonal groundings of meaning). When the tension is taken out of the object (which is either rattling around eruptively in our heads, like a piece of radioactive yellow cake, or incandescing there in the grass), it is redistributed in our relationship to the world, the choices we make, the alliances we form (epistemic and otherwise), the bodily assimilations we bring about. The vibrancy of the object is our vibrancy, across domains. Graham, yes, I agree, the object shimmers. In fact the world shimmers. But its shimmer is always indicative, opening, expanding, couched in our felt combination with other things and people that we read as inhabited.

Essential Dyads, May They Never Die

Lastly Graham makes an appeal to the soterial benefits of his dyads, something that preserves something at the heart of objects:

In Prince of Networks, the final chapter (which no one but me has seen yet) begins with a criticism of “radical” philosophies, where “radical” means the attempt to reduce one aspect of entities out of existence. The “dyads” criticized by Kevin are not fossilized relics of olden times, but are the only way to preserve the weird ambiguity in the heart of objects.

Beside the obvious appeal that the heart of something should always be saved (we even, or especially, wince when the vampire gets the stake driven in), there is a curious recursivity to this thinking. One must have fundamental dyads because they save the heart of objects. This is suppose to counter my claim that the very notion of a (split) heart of object is generated by the dyads themselves, itself a product of Central Clarity Consciousness. It is not the case that such dyads are dead bones, but rather they are living generators of the very thing that are necessarily imposed to protect. In fact, Graham’s choice of words here is I believe telling. I think he does see the dyads as relic-ous, or at least, he sees them as preserving a heart of things which resistant to what we can say about them, turning objects into relics. The saint’s finger bone has something in it other than all the properties that seem to be external to it. The whole world is filled with saint-finger bones. I don’t even wish to reduce this resistance quality out of existence. I wish rather to place it in a living service of ever-renewed combination, the increase of our power to act and understand ourselves and things in the world. Perhaps we can say that objects are not living-dead secret-keepers, but living secret-tellers. Because I see this tension not as an irreducible property of objects (or of consciousness), locked in a eternity of ontology, but as part of the connective between bodies, the very notion of entities has changed. The dyad between me and my car is productive of a reading of a triad me-car-road. But me-car-road can become part of a dyad me-car-road/rain, which in turn can read eruptively into a third. There is no limit to the dexterity or subtlety with which these combinations can be, and are daily, momently being made. The wanted resistant holiness of saint-bones is spread everywhere in directions of power, freedom and knowing. If one is argue that there are the saint-bones of “real objects” in tension with their qualities, and then the unreal saintbones of “intentional objects” which ally uneasily with their accidents, and somehow our getting along in the world is explained, made more vivid, more dynamic through these two “objects” furtively matching up, one is really left to explain the role these objects play in the mechanism by which knowledge as power enables us to become more free, more transparent, more fathomable, but also more dexterous, more articulate, more resonant, more intense, more maliable by degrees, and the question of complete transparency falls to a change in the picture of consciousness itself.

This being said, I do consider Graham’s philosophy to be on the cutting edge, in the positive sense. It is engaging. I have to confesss that I did not matriculate (at) through endless quibbles over Continental texts as Graham has endured. His vision is no doubt hard-won, and I do not aim, nor even suspect I would be able to shake it. But discussions are fruitful. What is one to do when one has found their own “tool analysis” concept of Being quite apart from Heidegger when discussing things with someone who traces nearly every philosophical position theyhave back towards Heidegger’s influence? Unlike Graham (at least it seems) who traces the path forward on mainly  Continental terms, I see an synthesis of Analytic and Continental as the most opportune way forward, to work both before and after the breach. My encounters with Heidegger and Husserl were personal encounters. And like Graham, I was put off by the human-centric auras of these philosophers. And when I read Latour I too was struck by the deep metaphysical possibilities of his work. (But admittedly I was largely taken by the sense that all of this could be put in a much more usable philosophical framework, and Heidegger was not the philosopher I thought of, Spinoza was.) In fact I admire Graham’s renewal of Heidegger through a vigorous post-human inter-indices. I have yet to read his Prince of Networks to see fully what he does with it, perhaps it is convincing. I would want to add to all these thoughts that there is a very real and artistic sense in which objects do defy us, that they radiate, perculate, evanesce. I do not find this to be an ontological category, that is, a category which we must logically consider real in order to make sense of how we make sense of the world. The sculpter feels the radiation of the grains of marble, the traffic controller feels the tremble of the computer grid at a vital moment, just before snow fall there is such a terrible silence. Even a common water glass, if we hold it in our hand can strike us so weirdly. None of these do I mean to deny. This is a product of our cathexis of objects, that is the affective way we extend ourselves to them (and they to us). But instead of stopping their, and thinking, feeling that the “swerve” is in the object, pay closer attention to where your attention is going. It is not that the object is jumping, traveling away, wrargling, slipping. Your attenuation is traveling. And to where it is specifically going is something that is lost when it stops at the object, at something the object itself is doing. One can of course use the soft-focus of an emanating object as a crafting tool. One can get accustomed to its presence, its rise and fall. Like seeing gods in all things, there is something to it, but non-being is not there. Take it in your hand and do something with it, I say.

[Followed up here: Harman Brings Central Clarity to the Issue (wink, nod) ]