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The Centers of Sensuous Gravity, and Their Relations: Shaviro and Harman

Turtlism and Other Quaint Difficulties

A few thoughts on Shaviro’s response to Harman’s appreciation for Turtles (and the problem of infinite regress). He mentions my thoughts on the matter, and seems to ponder such an answer, appealing to Schelling I think rightly so, rather than Hegel. There is a non-entity end of the backwards or beneath/between tracings of entity chains:

It may well be that an ungrounded infinite regress is not such a bad thing (as Harman says, for instance, here). There are, however, other ways to nuance the question of infinite regress. Kvond suggests as much here, raising the point that what stops the regress from being infinite might be of another nature than the entities among which the regress takes place. (This could be seen in a number of ways; I am inclined to think of it in terms of Schelling’s notion of a ground, as opposed to Hegel’s totalizing closure). But I need to think about this some more, so I will postpone further discussion until another time.

From my perspective though, it is Schelling’s Idealism that draws him down, and it is his Spinozism that makes such a concept of “ground” compelling. There is nothing that Schelling actually adds to the Spinozist solution to object-oriented Turtlism. There should be no ontological priority of mind (or subject/object binarism) in the analysis of either objects or their relations (I hope to post on this soon, under the concept of information). What is compelling about the Spinozist answer of Substance (against an Aristotelian concept of substances), is that each and every assemblage indeed retains its own inside/outside boundary, an epistemic concrescence we might want to say, but continually and ever this is an open relation, the interiors of recursivity being insufficient to define or “reduce” the object to any pure objecthood.

A Diversity and Richness of Relations

Shaviro goes onto praise the diversity of objects which Harman’s position brings into view, but decries the paucity of an appreciation of relations. He looks for a Realism (speculative or otherwise) which grants nobility to relations, as much as it does for said “objects”:

I am looking for a “speculative realism” that does justice to the multifariousness of relations, as well as to the multifariousness of things or substances.

As I have emphasized in the past, Harman’s love of objects isn’t I suspect really for objects at all, but rather the object is to serve as mere and empty anchor for the sensuous qualities, turning his philosophy into a QOP: The “sensuous vicar” of Causation.  Indeed, I think what distinguishes the framework that Harman provides is that, as Shaviro notes, it is a speculative mode of perception that leaves out the very connective material, the relations between such objects. The reality of those relations. One can see this symptomatically of course in his rather poor or insubstantive reading of causation. But it is more than this. Harman sees the world as fulled with objects because I think he wants to see it as filled with centers of activity. A center of activity here, a center of activity there, and the activities are sensuously confined behind the closed doors of the object’s surface. Harman’s is really a social theory of privatized interiors, in my mind anthropomorphically projected onto the rest of the Universe, a projection attempting to erase its social positioning of privatized sensuous inner realms.

But it goes beyond this, and Shaviro’s complaint is revealing. It comes to a question of openness vs. closeness. What a reality of relations (and not just closed centers of activity) gives us is a grammar of analysis for social relations themselves, the connective parts and forces that exist between located centers of activity. One might say the very fabric of what is real. In such a fabric, I suggest, is the very possibilities we have for self-direction and social increase, the very openness of our path-steering and trans-personal capacities of experience itself. Much is at stake when we are considering whether we should see the world as solely filled with centers of activity, or composed of activities, processes, etc., which sometimes cohere into centers better seen as boundaried.

The reason I suspect that objects must yield in turn to proceses or relations, in part is because this shapes the way that we encounter, change and participate in what we find, the way in which we blurr boundaries, cross over into objects, conjoinedly enflesh ourselves with pieces of the world, a view in which a primary sense of objects-under-retreat simply makes little sense.

 

Note

As a sidenote – and the reference may be non sequitur to some who have not been following my other posts – recent examination of the history of military strategy in the theories of John Boyd (on whom I also hope to post soon), I believe reveals the importance of reading the world as composed of solely centers of activity. When facing issues of an opponent (or a potential communicator)  the game of defeat or communication is won or lost in the very connectivity between centers (best not seen as centers themselves); while the evolutionary, preditor-oriented eye might readily travel to the centers of activity (the head, the heart, etc.), the warp and weft between the concrescences of pattern – those the seeming locuses of power, experience and mind – is where advantage is most played out.

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The “sensuous vicar” of Causation

Graham Harman makes a humorous point , asking himself if he ever did use the phrase “sensuous vicar” found in the suggestive illustration I provided in my reading of his essay “On Vicarious Causation” (pictured here):

Graham writes, “I was even laughing at some of my own words as I scanned Kevin’s post quickly. Did I really say ‘sensuous vicar’ in that article? I doubt anyone else has ever used that phrase before or since.”

Illustration of The Real Object of Intention

The Vicar Abounds

I did a quick google search for the phrase “sensuous vicar,” and only his and my posts came up, though I can’t help thinking that some translation of de Sade somewhere contains the phrase, perhaps in great repetition. I then perused his article and found though Graham did not use the phrase (now wishing he had, no doubt, breaking literary ground), he did use these  phrases and which I contingently turned into the concept “sensuous vicar,” moving from sensual to sensuous.

“sensual zebra”
“sensual profile”
“sensual tree”
“sensual vicar”
“sensual noise”
“sensual neighbors”
“sensual facade”
“…the various eruptions of real objects into sensuality lie side by side”
“The confinements of sensuality to the human kingdom must be refused.”
“inflicting their mutual blows only through some vicar…”

Aside from the jest, I think that there is a powerful, perhaps telling under-association working here in Graham’s interpretation of causation, and certainly not a bad one. I had drawn out some of the more Romantic phrases of his essay, and no doubt was led to the vivid image of the “sensuous vicar” as a representative of power because of this, in part because as I have mentioned before it is the qualities themselves that Graham is sincerely interested in ennobling (and not the objects which merely serve as empty anchor points). As I suggested, his Object-Oriented Philosophy (OOP) might be better considered Quality-Oriented Philosophy (QOP). Or, perhaps, Graham’s objects are the only things that allow these qualities, these profusions of sensuality, from running over into each other too forcefully, the things that “buffer” them, as Graham says. (I think that a very strong case can be made in this direction, but also one which then turns to the modulating “buffer” of causation itself which serves as a directional coursing for qualities so profuse: accidents of intentional essences prove themselves not to be accidents at all, but results of consubstantial and causal relations).

“Merkur und Herse” Caraglio (1527)

The Vicar In Vicarious

In fact though, I had consciously latched onto the curious conflation that can be found in the titular word Graham used for his theory of causation. I never before had thought of how a priestly “vicar” resided within “vicarious” and one cannot help but think of the most common use of the word vicarious these days, our voyeuristic tendency towards the Gaze, vicarious sex, or at least having the vicarious enjoyment through others. So I must argue, just this sort of priest, the “sensuous vicar” lies directly at the molten core of Graham’s theory.

This is no small question, for just what constitutes the power of a priest is the sense that he is connected to, enjoys a connection to some power – if not Godly power, certainly an earthly one – which we do not have. The priest in his person, buffered by the restrictions of his office, enjoys God/Church which courses through him, variously. When we come into contact with the priest, we come in contact with some mediated, causal connection to something much greater than ourselves.

So when the “vicar,” the sensuous vicar comes to us in the privacy of our otherwise isolated minds, our inner cores, he is adorned with all sorts of wordly sensual characteristics, (we can see his fine robery and jewels, thing to which we imagine he is not “attached”); but Graham is looking for the means, the mechanism by which we can strip him of his gold and robes, separate out his bare essence from his otherwise taken to be qualities (for what is a priest without his collar).  What is it that connects this fantasy priest to something outside of us/it, to the outer object he represents? Graham seems to say that through the power of allurement (and metaphor), through our seduction to his lovely accoutrement, when we disrobe the sensuous vicar of his profane phantasm he is destabilized, robbed of his wholeness, not even his conceptual nudity holds him together, and the buffering between things mental is broken down…thus enabling the “real” object to poke through…causation. (If I read him correctly.)

I have already argued before that this is a pretty elaborate and fanciful explanation for inanimate causation, for how can these inner lascivious priests work their benighted magic within the horizons of cigarette butts and soda cans. In fact I suspect that it is conceptually impossible to map most of these things aspects down onto the abiotic world, no matter how fantastically or abstractly we make our mapping. But if we stay at the level of the human and the social perhaps we discover something significant in Graham’s presentation of the inner priest: the sensuous vicar who enjoys the sublunar trappings of our mental incrustations and a real, destabilizing connection to an object exterior to us, ultimately a supralunar essence which in the world of real objects is forever in retreat.

The lesson seems to be that when we take apart the intentional sensuous vicar before us, removing the incrustations of phenomena, we realize its apparitional nature, i.e., it is only made up these phenomenal glitterings and the conceptual space he has resided in. This disintegration of the sensuous vicar though does a very strange thing, Graham tells us, it allows the real object of the vicar, out there in the beyond, to actually come through and causally affect us, connecting us to it. It is by destabilizing our visiting priest’s sensuous body, we allow his “soul” (for what else is an ever-retreating, immortal essence) to come through and contact us, our surfaces having been brushed just so. If any of this is what is behind the thinking of Graham’s theory of causation, what an extraordinary, enthralling (yet perhaps absurd) theory it is!

But we need to stay with this sensuous vicar, for there are sensuous vicars of power in the real world (and literature), and how we treat him in a proposed theory of causation may be telling of how we will treat him in the world. There are priests absolving our sins, I.R.S agents negotiating our debts, officers assigning our criminality, celebrities revealing the Good Life, newsmen passing on the truth (to talk only of a class). Our concept of causation, how power connects representatives, is in part of how we read our connection to these powers. In this vein consider the master of the sensuous vicar, Marquis de Sade. His aberrant priests enact an inversion of the representational powers of Church priests. Whereas Church priests through the bufferings  of their office connect themselves to, what for Sade is an illusionary  or at least hypocritical sanctity, his priests also are instruments of another kind of God…the purely sensual and destructive power of Nature herself. Sade sees Church priests as just not instrumental enough. Perhaps de Sade’s vicars expose something about representation and accident.

De Sade’s Vicar of Sensuality

This tension and connection between kinds of priest can be seen in de Sade’s famous Dialogue between a Priest and a Dying Man , which I only briefly quote here:

PRIEST: Wretched man! I took you for no worse than a Socinian – arms I had to combat you. But ’tis clear you are an atheist, and seeing that your heart is shut to the authentic and innumerable proofs we receive every day of our lives of the Creator’s existence – I have no more to say to you. There is no restoring the blind to the light.

DYING MAN: Softly, my friend, own that between the two, he who blindfolds himself must surely see less of the light than he who snatches the blindfold away from his eyes. You compose, you construct, you dream, you magnify and complicate; I sift, I simplify. You accumulate errors, pile one atop the other; I combat them all. Which one of us is blind?

Nazarín, Luis Buñuel, (1959)

De Sade has purified the inefficiency of the priest’s instrumentation, stripped away dreams and errors, pushing towards an even greater causal expression. The debauchery riddled priests in his stories (“The Bishop” in 120 Days, or the monks of Justine, though all active characters are intercessors) have ascended to a machinery of sensuous mechanism. No longer is the sensuality of a priest an accident of his presence before it, but rather the fullness of his means. In the de Sade priest Graham’s sensuous vicar meets is logical apex.

I want to juxtapose these two:

1.Graham’s sensuous vicar whose phenomenal character disintegrates through allurement into a kind of illusion, its wholeness no longer holding, allowing a mysterious and causal connection to the vicar’s distant soul/essence.

2. De Sade’s perversely sensuous priest who is maximized through the literalizations of his causal connections to the world and other bodies, who to the victim/viewer is made as real, machined traverses of instrumental intensity, each bit of phenomenal accident something he, the victim/viewer, experiences as modulated and directed sensuous-material force.

If my thesis is correct and what Graham is after is the ennoblement of qualities and accidents (which he has provided the positive anchor point of a twin pair of objects), it would seem that de Sade’s sensuous vicar of causation proves superior to his object-orientation path. Causal paths automatically becomes sensual paths of immediate destruction and becoming. There are no shadow objects hiding behind the trappings of the priest, but rather each and every indulging satin robe or bejeweled ring is a directional expression of causal power…one that can be traced. There is no tension with the sensual, no abstraction of the essence (thus no sublunar mental realm, or a supralunar essence beyond the reach of our hands). Each object expresses itself to the maximization of its sensuous capacities, just as representatives of power do. And our mental actions (including what Graham takes to be the sensual objects of our minds), are causally expressive determinations of our own being, representative of all the forces which press down and through us. The question is just one of best, maximal modulation.

Graham Harman’s “Evil Twin”, The Quality-Loving Positor

Shadow Jumping

Graham Harman’s embrace of what he takes to be a coin-flip reading of his project begins,

No one can jump over their own shadow, but it’s a feasible reading of me as my own “evil twin” (without the value judgment, of course).

I say, this impossibilty of jumping over one’s shadow notion may point the way forward, for one really can jump over one’s shadow if one simply moves in relation to a new light source (vocabulary set). One may then have a differently oriented shadow, but then understands the solution to such shadow-staring is keeping an eye upon a multiplicity of light sources, and the nature of their varying strengths.

I’m glad that Graham sees the possibilities of this redescription of his work, and love the notion of a philosophy Federation of “Evil Kirks and Spocks.” I say that we embrace somthing of this, but in fine Nietzschean fashion retain the value judgment, the BGE evil of it (if I recall, Evil Spock was able to think himself out of his evil universe, finding common ground with Good Kirk). What I hope is that if indeed Graham is only attempting to save Qualities, and is merely presenting an OOP as a means for a QOP intention, something more is being achieved than flipping a coin around by pointing out this fact. What Nietzsche wants us to know is that the thing that is evil, that seems like the dark side of something, is really its potentiality masked. Without Hegelian pretension, if indeed Graham is seeking to save qualities, and not objects, we can stop asking questions about the exact metaphysical nature of objects, and start asking questions about what is the best way to save, or as I say, ennoble, qualities. It may well be that positing empty, regressing objects IS the best way, that it does more for the stature of qualities than molten postmodern/post-structuralist fantasy, or even another approach, but until we get to the program itself, we can never properly frame the question.

In this way, I am saying more than the common place that makes of everything a coin. Rather, it is if we get to the real, or at least determinative motivation of a philosophical project, its “evil-twin” underside, we can then open up the project to possibilities that a blindness to that underside undershadows. In Graham’s philosophy this limit, as he admits, comes down the occasionalism-like collaspe of objects which fails to account for the nature of their change. What I would say is that it is of the very nature of the armature that Graham has passionately and insightfully constructed, so as to save qualities, that limits the force of their salvation. If he, I and others come to agree, if we make a value judgment that what we are really after is the esteem of qualities, then we can discuss more precisely the failures of esteem in others’ approaches, and invent better strategies for that esteem, rather than simply looking to shore-up and solve what we thought was the central focus of our attention.

Instead of making a nice pair of things, a doppleganger of inseperable concepts, such as those seen in Graham’s wonderfully titled Count Magnus Effect, one proposes a means for satisfying discourse, for finding agreement. There may be some fun in pointing out to others that they are accomplishing one thing when then thought they were accomplishing something else; Nietzsche had tremendous pleasure in this, and modern day Zizek just loves this game. Such a reversal is not really all that valuable unless one returns it to the question of valuation itself. Do we value the same things and just have different projects on how to achieve it? This is not to say that agreement is guaranteed, but at least the nature of disagreement changes.

Campanella: Knowing is Being

The essentializing dyads that Graham expresses himself in, come from a strong Heideggerian genus, retain a certain human-centric heritage which Graham is pushing against. But I suspect that it is the nobility of the quality that keeps Graham on this  side the panpsychist Gate. As I dig like a Latourian engineer attempting to meet up with the tunnel that Graham has dug in the same Ontological mountain, and trace out each of my excavation, and to the best that I can, his own, it is on the question of the salvation of the quality that I think we can find a common ground. What I will propose that instead of instantiating the rights of qualities upon the nothingness of a retreating and empty object, a consideration of Tommaso Campanella’s proto-Cartesian “Cognoscere est esse,” to know is to be. This a core, quality-directed principle which undercuts in history and object some of the founding theoretical dyads which inform a human-centered picture of consciousness. Much akin to the objects of Graham’s fascination with Late Scholasticism, and Late Renaissance theory (Bruno, Suarez), Campanella’s rationalization of Natural Magic, which is the attempt to synthesize the lived (Quality) emphasis of Telesio’s empiricism to the metaphysics of immanent and unified Being (Augustine), provides the substance of the rescue of Quality without the collapse into molten origins. Campanella’s metaphysics are rough-hewn, though voluminously written, and appear to modern commentators often as a hodgepodge of irreconsilable positions and influences. Campanella comes off as a pre-modern fantasticist, as confused by astrology as he was by the Political situation of which he was a victim. But rather, it is Campanella’s love for the world, its embodied, animal-like quality, its magic of effect, which produced the theoretical possibility for a contemporary salvation of qualites, of the sort that I think that Graham pursues. It is not so much that qualities are granted their rightful power because they are in a tension with Substance Objects which invariably retreat from all investigation, a mark of characterized experiences of human consciousness. It is rather, in surpass of any categorical reduction of human consciousness, that qualities has their own nobility and powers. Campanella wanted us to know that when I come to know something (an entity), I literally am transformed into it (an interesting pre-sage of Latour’s Principle of Translation). When I know a cold thing, I literally become cold. Or, if we want to postmodernize it, when I know Capitalism, I literally become Capitalism, I am transformed into that entity. How exactly to read this transformation I think comes from the notion of assemblage, of bodily (and therefore following Spinoza, ideational) combination, under a figure of power.

What I suggest is that once we identify the hidden, as Graham says, evil valuation behind his project, it is towards a panpsychism that qualitative embrace leads. That is, one needs not rent out high-priced object Real Estate on which Qualities are then permitted to live. Instead, qualities become the very mechanism for embodied agreement and power-assemblage, no more warring in tension with the landlord.