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In Praise of Aesthetics over Philosophy? The Metaphors of Projection

Dreaming Up The “Insides” of Objects

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

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

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

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


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.



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.