Graham Harman: Allure is the Engine of Creation for Objects

Like many others I’ve read the works of Graham Harman, Ian Bogost, Levi R. Bryant, and Timothy Morton. Even if I am an insubstantialist rather than a substantial formalist I can admire their work even as I disagree with it. One should still confront it and understand its basic premises.

Following up from yesterday’s post on the theme of Withdrawal I decided to enter another aspect of Graham Harman’s Object-Oriented Ontology with one of his main themes: the power of Allure. Wandering the blog world one can find both allies and enemies of Harman’s basic notions, but one thing I’ve discovered over and over is that many allies and enemies alike get it wrong – they give descriptions of Harman’s Objects that always seem to reduce them to some other flavor of philosophy. Nothing bad about trying to translate notions, concepts, ideas, etc. into one’s own terms I suppose, but most of the time when this is done one gets something other than the truth of the original. (And, no, I’m not going to burn down the web and find a bunch of examples of this. Why should I expose others to their own folly?)

But there is some truth in this – one almost needs an Object-Oriented Mechanics 101 course to understand and grasp the essentials of Harman’s, Bogost’s, Bryant’s, or Morton’s metaphysics or even meta-metaphysics. Realizing that the concept of Withdrawal came out of Harman’s involvement with Heidegger – not to say this was the only source of such a notion: just an educated guess that it was the main source – I move on to ‘allure’, which seems to be another concept that very few ever bring up in association with OOO. Why? Is it a difficult concept to understand? Or rather metaphor? Harman alludes to most people’s confusion in assuming he is a “pansychist”, and he assures them that no he is not a pansychist but is rather – to use a crude term, as he relates it: a “panallurist”:

Object-oriented philosophy is not panpsychist, but only “panallurist,” to coin a ridiculous and linguistically inept term. I have argued that allure exists in germinal form in all reality, including the inanimate sphere. This by no means implies that rocks can think and feel, just as it never entails that mulberry bushes have wings in germ or that sand grains tacitly know how to manage farms or fabricate stone tools. Allure is something far more primitive than any of these revolutions: indeed, allure is the principle of revolution as such, since only allure makes quantum leaps from one state of reality into the next by generating a new relation between objects. Without allure, we are trapped amidst the swirling black noise of any given sensual space. Even if the world were filled with nothing but dust, allure would already be present, and the whole of ontology would already be operative. Human consciousness, perception, language, or “death-drive” (Zizek) are certainly revolutionary in their own way, but they do not cause the sort of fateful rupture in the world that all idealists imagine. The ontological structure of the world does not evolve or undergo revolutions, which is precisely what makes it an ontological structure. Only objects undergo revolutions—and human beings make up just a few billion objects among others, and are not special guests at the table of Being whose absence would simplify the universe immeasurably. (GM, 244)1

It is in Harman’s conception of ‘allure’ that his sense of a need for Occasionalism or secular version of it in Vicarious Causation would eventually arise. But as he says, “Allure turned out to be the key to all causation, which is always vicarious, buffered, and asymmetrical” (GM, 245). Those three terms are critical: vicarious, buffered, and asymmetrical. But I will not tarry on them but will continue with allure itself, because ultimately allure is about communication – communication between objects, and also between levels of reality:

All consciousness is allure, but not all allure is consciousness. What we find in allure are absent objects signaling from beyond—from a level of reality that we do not currently occupy and can never occupy, since it belongs to the object itself and not to any relation we could ever have with it. Allure is the presence of objects to each other in absent form. It is the alpha factor of the universe, found in all objects from the ground up, but gradually built up into increasingly larger and more intricate shapes. While allure has no hope of ever getting us closer to the objects themselves, it can unleash objects that had been largely muffled in their relations with us, and can translate already recognized objects into more potent form. Allure is the fission of sensual objects, replacing them with real ones. It is also the principle of all concreteness, insofar as it points to objects apart from all relational impact that they have on us. In this way we invert the notion of concreteness found in Whitehead, who holds that an object is concrete only when we consider all of its prehensions or relations with other objects. Without this maneuver, Whitehead fears we will be left with an abstraction or vacuous actuality rather than a concrete object. But quite the contrary—the only truly concrete thing in the world is an object, and its relations with other objects can only reduce it to abstraction, even if new objects manage to be created in the process.(GM, 245-246).

One of the interesting things about any metaphysics is that sooner or later one enters a stage when it becomes cosmology. We’re all familiar with the metaphysics of modern cosmology and it four fundamental forces of Nature: strong interaction, electromagnetic force, weak force, gravitational force. We all accept the metaphysics of modern cosmology as science based on mathematical principles that have been tested in the laboratory of the universe itself. But most of the time we dismiss philosophical metaphysics because it is not science. Why? Is philosophy science? Of course most scientists think that philosophy is a quaint elder statesman who used to give us interesting ideas and conceptions about life and the universe, but have been replaced by the reductive naturalism of a set of theories and practices that actually do in fact fulfill that bargain. But is science all? Is our knowledge of the physical universe all there is to know? And is our actual physical sciences enabled to answer every last detail about reality, or is their an excess, a remainder outside of scientific control that has yet to be answered by experimental theory? Could there be a need for philosophy after all? Does philosophy tackle aspects of both the material and immaterial forces of nature and self that science with all its mechanical apparatuses still unable to deliver on its stated promises? Or is it just a little more time that is needed? A little more funding? Bigger Hadron-Colliders, better telescopes and microscopes, etc. ?

First let’s actually explicate the passage above of Harman’s, tease out strangeness of what he is truly saying and see if it works, if it tells us anything of import. He starts out telling us that “all consciousness is allure, but that not all allure is consciousness”. Just to get my head around that I had to stop, and like Socrates of old stand in the midst of a crowd on a street, hold to my thoughts and for hours think this through. The problem is that I’m still thinking but nothing is getting through. That’s not true either. If consciousness = allure, but (not all) allure ≠ consciousness or not all allure = consciousness, then if this is not some semantic knee-bender  then what is Harman getting at? In another passage he talks about allure as a power that splits, divides, cuts:

Allure splits an object from its sensual notes. It cannot split an object from its real notes, since this would require that the object be destroyed. By splitting apart sensual objects, allure generates two byproducts of almost radioactive intensity: the distant real object signaling from beyond, and the sensual notes that had previously been implicit and compressed into a single point of unity, but which are now fragmented and drawn toward the deep real object to which they seem to belong. We also saw that allure must occur even in the inanimate realm, since otherwise causation would be impossible, and the world would be made up of frozen and isolated monads. (GM, 245)

In this passage the Real Object seems to act like an attractor – a sort of magnetizing force, maybe a strange attractor? We know that an attractor is a region in n-dimensional space. In physical systems, the n dimensions may be, for example, two or three positional coordinates for each of one or more physical entities; in economic systems, they may be separate variables such as the inflation rate and the unemployment rate. Harman speaks of the Real Object as communicating (“signaling from beyond”), and describes this communication as a corollary to musical notes in the sensual realm in which the Real Object uses sensual notes (“Qualities”?) there were, before the great split, both implicit and compressed into a single point of unity (almost like a singularity in modern cosmology). And, we know that this force of allure works on both animate and inanimate matter as well.

So now if return to the original passage maybe we can make more sense out of his second sentence: “What we find in allure are absent objects signaling from beyond—from a level of reality that we do not currently occupy and can never occupy, since it belongs to the object itself and not to any relation we could ever have with it.” Ok what do we have here? A transcendental communication from beyond… as if we’d entered the Kantian universe of the noumenal/phenomenal divide, and we suddenly discovered that something from the noumenal (‘absent objects’) were suddenly signaling to us from the noumenal abyss through some mysterious as yet undisclosed medium strange messages of its objecthood. All of this done through the power of allure?

Well, let’s see if the third sentence clears things up: “Allure is the presence of objects to each other in absent form.” Ok, that was clear?  Absent form is the key in this communicative dynamics. As Harman tells us in a later passage: “For it must be noted that a level is a place from which objects are physically absent, but into which they phosphoresce all of their qualities, and by means of which they communicate with one another”(GM, 67). In another passage he remarks that the object-oriented model begins by providing us with a world of ghostly realities that never come into contact with each other, a universe packed full of elusive substances stuffed into mutually exclusive vacuums (GM, 75-76). Substances stuffed into mutually exclusive vacuums: almost sounds like atoms in a Void; yet, in this scenario there is a plurality of voids stuffed with an interminable sea of objects.

Now we can move on to the next sentences: “It is the alpha factor of the universe, found in all objects from the ground up, but gradually built up into increasingly larger and more intricate shapes. While allure has no hope of ever getting us closer to the objects themselves, it can unleash objects that had been largely muffled in their relations with us, and can translate already recognized objects into more potent form.” So allure seems to be a positive force, the alpha factor of the universe, almost like the old idea of the ‘ether’ that permeated everything in older cosmologies. Allure isn’t a medium of communication or physical relation, but seems to be a power of distancing, of separation, and a force that can translate objects from one medium to another ‘potent’ form.

As Harman relates in another passage: “The important thing is that any object, at any level of the world, has a reality that can be endlessly explored and viewed from numberless perspectives without ever being exhausted by the sum of these perspectives” (GM, 76). Trying to reduce these forms to one or another perspective or philosophical notion is superfluous, these objects will always be in excess of any description we might have of it at any one time. This is a dynamic cosmology of ever-changing or translating forms. Harman realizes all this is problematique, that the whole idea of translation is aesthetic: “The fate of language, as of perception and (we will see) of all relation, is forever to translate the dark and inward into the tangible and outward, a task at which it always comes up short given the infinite depth of things” (GM, 105). What this ultimately leads us to vicarious causation:

The root of vicarious cause is that every object is a private reality that withdraws from any attempt to perceive, touch, or use it. An object cannot be fully translated or paraphrased; it simply is what it is, and no other object can replace or adequately mirror it. But if an object cannot be touched in its full reality, some portion of its reality must still be open to contact: otherwise, we would be stranded in a world of mutually isolated monads, bridged by a vaguely defined god drummed up into existence for the sole purpose of linking them. Vicarious causation means that objects touch each other’s notes, or portions of each other’s essences. Yet we have seen that an object is really only a single note rather than numerous ethereal qualities bound together in one physical substratum. The plurality of an object’s notes does not belong to the object itself, but rises from the tension between an object and its multiple parts, which never fully commit to the object as whole. This tension plays out in sensual space, in the molten interior of an object or relation. Vicarious causation is possible because a thing’s full reality withdraws from the world even as its multiple notes do not recede. (GM, 222).

This leads us to the final commentary on allure from the passage we’ve been following: “Allure is the fission of sensual objects, replacing them with real ones. It is also the principle of all concreteness, insofar as it points to objects apart from all relational impact that they have on us. In this way we invert the notion of concreteness found in Whitehead, who holds that an object is concrete only when we consider all of its prehensions or relations with other objects. Without this maneuver, Whitehead fears we will be left with an abstraction or vacuous actuality rather than a concrete object. But quite the contrary—the only truly concrete thing in the world is an object, and its relations with other objects can only reduce it to abstraction, even if new objects manage to be created in the process.(GM, 245-246).” We know from Whitehead:

The answer given by the organic philosophy is the doctrine of prehensions, involved in concrescent integrations, and terminating in a definite, complex unity of feeling. To be actual must mean that all actual things are alike objects, enjoying objective immortality in fashioning creative actions; and that all actual things are subjects, each prehending the universe from which it arises. The creative action is the universe always becoming one in a particular unity of self-experience, and thereby adding to the multiplicity which is the universe as many. This insistent concrescence into unity is the outcome of the ultimate self-identity of each entity. No entity— be it ‘universal‘ or ‘particular’— can play disjoined rôles. Self-identity requires that every entity have one conjoined, self-consistent function, whatever be the complexity of that function.(PaR, 56-57)2

I think the key to Whitehead’s passage above is: “To be actual must mean that all actual things are alike objects, enjoying objective immortality in fashioning creative actions; and that all actual things are subjects, each prehending the universe from which it arises.” That is an central leitmotif running through Whitehead, and probably the central statement in Process and Reality.

Harman on the other hand “allure is always the allure of concrete objects”, as he remarks:

Throughout the ages it has been said that the uniquely human attribute is abstraction, that we humans can pick out universals from the fog of perception where dogs and birds see only specific cases. But allure is always the allure of concrete objects, not of universals. It is a process of concretion and not abstraction, as Hegel already knew when he wrote that the uneducated person thinks abstractly, not the educated one. Perception and relation are already abstractions; they are a reduction of the full reality of objects to a limited range of effects that they have on us or on other components of their surroundings. The concreteness of objects (as already seen in Aristotle’s primary substance) refers to something so real that no description or definition ever does it justice. Whatever it might be that humans do, it is not abstraction, but rather an exposure of their surfaces to an increasing variety of concrete objects—and concrete objects, like classical substances, are what always elude the senses. If paper and fire tend toward a kind of allure that exposes them to objects of direct physical effect on their parts, sensation is already a principle of distance. It creates a zone of safety, sensitive to objects but not immediately giving way to their force. It does this by annexing numerous organs or tools and using them to hoard the signals of countless objects in a single treasure chamber. An animal organism is the first great translation-machine, rendering the motleyest crew of objects into a single mother-tongue: the language of the soul, which Aristotle regarded as the ultimate organ of the senses. The tendency of any soul is to assemble a single holistic mass in which the sensual parts of objects mix together and unify. But this sensual tendency is countered from the start by the inverse movement of intelligence, which tends toward antiholism, chopping apart incarnate elements and leaving us with a forest of ghosts—phantom objects that never show themselves. If sensation is the principle of unity, intelligence aims to split the world into districts, into isolated objects flickering independently from beyond. And like every exercise of intelligence, philosophy is less a creation of concepts than a creation of objects. Ultimately, the phrase “object-oriented philosophy” is redundant. (GM, 247-248).

I think the center of this statement is: “Whatever it might be that humans do, it is not abstraction, but rather an exposure of their surfaces to an increasing variety of concrete objects—and concrete objects, like classical substances, are what always elude the senses.” And if allure is what splits, then as he tells us, and I repeat, “intelligence aims to split the world into districts, into isolated objects flickering independently from beyond. And like every exercise of intelligence, philosophy is less a creation of concepts than a creation of objects.”

So that, as he states it, and I confer: “Ultimately, the phrase “object-oriented philosophy” is redundant.” For Harman concepts are objects like any other object, material or immaterial. That Harman situates himself on the side of substance, and I on the side of the Void is only to say we agree to hold one side of a two-sided coin. For even objects have voids (vacuums)… but not all vacuums have objects!

1. Harman, Graham (2011-08-31). Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things (p. 244). Open Court. Kindle Edition.
2. Whitehead, Alfred North (2010-05-11). Process and Reality (Gifford Lectures Delivered in the University of Edinburgh During the Session 1927-28) (pp. 56-57). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

11 thoughts on “Graham Harman: Allure is the Engine of Creation for Objects

  1. Hi there. I’m really enjoying this series of posts on Harman’s philosophy/withdrawal. In particular I appreciate the respect with which you are writing about his work. I read too many posts that bash OOO (and its proponents) rather than trying to grapple with it (even if to ultimately disagree with it). This doesn’t mean at all that I agree with everything Harman (or other OOO-ers) are putting forward. But I find so much bashing of individuals tiresome – so thanks for broadcasting this thoughtful investigation!

    Regarding this passage: “All consciousness is allure, but not all allure is consciousness” – I take it to simply mean that consciousness is proper only to humans (or other entities with the capacity for cognition) and that consciousness is one way that allure manifests… but that allure is also something that works for non-humans, or those entities that lack consciousness, and so there is an ‘ocean’ of allure that is not human-centred. Perhaps I am making a terribly gross simplification here?

    I understood allure as the power of an object to sensually affect another object. In this sense allure must always be relational. Greater allure denotes the magnitude of one object’s ability to influence another and so is also a function of the sensibility (sensitivity?) of the ‘experiencing’ object to the experienced. In a sense then, allure demarcates the extent to which a particular object is foregrounded (however inaccurately) for another. I also understand that this foregrounding does not mean that the background objects have no effect. Indeed, I see vicarious causation as very specifically accounting for the multitude of backgrounded objects that are necessarily implicated in making any given causal interaction between objects possible – e.g. the circus setting (assemblage?) in which the clown is foregrounded for the spectator. I always worry that I am simplifying or missing the point, but this is the way that it makes sense to me.

    This take is also what makes me not entirely comfortable when Michael (of ArchiveFire) argues (if I understood him right) that OOO doesn’t consider the infrastructural/pre-cognitive inter-objective relations at work in a given situation. All the objects are fully at work even if they do not register in the domain of consciousness. Humans, and their susceptibility to being influenced by other entities, cannot be reduced to what is given to consciousness and I do not see that anything but a selective reading of OOO actually implies this. Linked to this, perhaps, is the notion of the unconscious – which posits an inner world of hidden meaning lurking deep within the subject that structures what is actually given to consciousness. How much of this is internal to the subject and how much of this is immanent inter-objective affectivity shaping whatever manifests as consciousness? And knowing that there is a sub-terranean world of primal (pre-cognitive, fleshy, etc.) affect (actually in OOO nothing is really any more sub-terranean than anything else except perhaps the withdrawn essence of an object… and doesn’t the very notion of considering the non-cognitive/pre-conscious dimension of affectivity as sub-terranean actually imply a priveleging of consciousness as ‘terranean’ or even ‘super-terranean’?), can we not simply consider this an invitation to stop privileging consciousness when we talk of sensual encounters (which I think is, at least in part, the point of OOO)?

    Apologies if this has become a bit tangential!

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    • No problem… I guess I’ve always felt one should keep an open mind to all possibilities… who knows what you’ll learn even from others if you’re alive to it! In some ways philosophy is the last great fiction: the one in which humans vie with each other for the most difficult prize: a life worth living!

      Your working out your share of that world as I am, as all are… the negativity and disparagement is something I try to distance my self from…. even when I question things I feel that even one’s enemies can teach us something of value. Shakespeare is the greatest teacher of that lesson… and, for me he is wisdom incarnate… in him the multitudes live.

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  2. I can’t help but this this post is directed somewhat at me. A few things to say in this regard: just because Harman says he’s not conflating basic metaphysical operations (primordial allure?) with attributes and activities and effects found primarily at the level of animal cognition (namely recursively or appearance) doesn’t mean it is the case. I’m not claiming that OOO admits to panpsychism, i’m claiming that some type of pan-epistemism or semiotic (thing-appearance, sigifier-signified) ‘gap’ is at the heart of their system.

    Even the notion of ‘allure’ is drenched with semantic connections to cognitive activity. And doesn’t Harman’s broad appeal to ‘intentional objects’ all the way down speak to the centrality to Husserlian phenomenology in setting up the metaphysics of withdrawal? If ever thing is aesthetic then there is some type of witnessing beholder in each thing, no? And for something to have a “sensual encounter” does’t it have to have a sensory system? Can a nail sense a hammer?

    Heidegger’s claim about unconcealment of the hammer was particular to human dasein’s apprehension and not at all a claim about causality generally. Harman takes a series of phenomenological observations re: epistemic problems and inflates them into a cosmology – which is fine and dandy as far as speculative surplus goes, but lets call a spade a spade here.

    If I’m missing something specific please enlightenment me.

    And Andre, it is not that “OOO doesn’t consider the infrastructural/pre-cognitive inter-objective relations at work in a given situation”, its that OOP injects into these relations an aesthetic quality that is simply anthropomorphic. All i’m saying is that infrastructural encounter include direct affectivity and levels below aesthetic appearance (of sensual or intentional objects) no matter how partial they may be.

    And let me be quite clear: I’m not attacking Harman, Morton or any other OOOer personally. As humans those guys seem ok. I like Tim’s style and I like Harman’s temperament and wizardry with prose, and I’m very supportive of Levi’s work generally. I have nothing to say about those folks as persons. I only struggle (and yes I mean struggle) with OOO theoretically. If any of those fellas take issue with my ramblings outside of simple critical engagement that is unfortunate.

    I’m just a interested explorer.

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    • Hi Michael, and thanks for responding. Sorry if it sounded like I was accusing you of bashing these people – my comment was too much of a mashup of several other things I have been reading as I processed some of my own thoughts – and to level this accusation at you in particular would indeed be very unfair. Others, I sense, have been bashing though (though perhaps this is also some kind of persecution syndrome). The last part of the post was me processing this post in relation to our earlier discussion – so yes in a sense it is directed at you (allure at work?). I think I understand where you are coming from and I can see how there is a gap. I’m not sure, however, that I am entirely comfortable separating out epistemic and direct relations (since both share the common ground of being). I am also not sure that the sensual requires a sensory system modelled on cognition, nerve endings, complex/coordinated responsive capabilities (like in plant metabolism) or some form of (however limited) artificial intelligence. I don’t think this is what you’re saying either and I’m also not saying I’m sure that I’m right here. I’m playing with the ideas. Somehow, I am not entirely uncomfortable with the idea that the direct physical relation between say a book and a shelf can be understood as ‘book’-for-the-‘shelf’ and ‘shelf’-for-the-‘book’ and that understanding this relation as aesthetic demeans it. It is clear that the ‘book’ and the ‘shelf’ exert mutual and asymmetric (the notion of equal and opposite forces not withstanding) effects upon each other. Similarly, pre-conscious or sub-conscious reactions (releases of hormones triggered by detection of pheromones for example) will affect what is given to my consciousness. Perhaps the OOO-ers have simply distorted/extended the meaning of aesthetic beyond what it really means. Perhaps it works (or fails to work) more as a metaphor. Given that I have come from a more materialist perspective to my current play with OOO, (a significant part of my MA research/dissertation was on embodied cognition and pre-conscious affectivity in organisational change processes), I sometimes wonder why I still tarry with OOO and find something in it. Perhaps the argument is that “direct affectivity and levels below aesthetic appearance” are still aesthetic ‘experiences’ for something else, in the sense that the metaphor of appearance taken from the very human domain of traditional aesthetic considerations is still useful for thinking about what happens at all these other ‘levels’. On the other hand, perhaps OOO/P (apologies for collapsing them) simply needs to use this metaphor to cope with its misplaced notions of withdrawal and all that is bound up with it (I am not closed to this possibility either).

      Regarding the nail and the hammer… Isn’t the nail translating the hammer in the ‘language’ of its own internal structure (vibrating lattices of naily-arranged iron atoms for example)? Isn’t that all a nail is capable of? I guess, as the above post highlights, it all comes down to whether we consider essences/substances (across all the diverse meanings these words seem to have taken on) as primary or as fictions. Maybe simply talking about objects as the primary units of being leads one down this object-oriented path. And talking about something else (matter, process, etc.) leads down others, with infinite permutations and combinations of all of these clearly being possible as acts of philosophical bricolage.

      Again, my apologies if I misrepresented you in my earlier comment. Please put it down to haste and my own inadequacy.

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      • are you sure, because my spidey-senses were tingling… 🙂

        Is what I’m saying above totally off base or do you see what I am getting at or both? If i’m missing the point re: OOP please explain. I trust your perspective.

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    • Yea, Michael, his pan-allurism is a tough nut to crack. My biggest problem with the use of the term ‘allure’ is all our usual common sense notions of this words unique usage in poetry, love, sex, pornography, etc. It’s an overloaded term… and the way Graham is using it is great, but overdetermined in meaning: he has it doing so many things that its more of a metaphor than concept, which I’m sure he finds fine; but for many of the philosophers out there this is the unique problem of such a system, that it is closer to poetry than to philosophy. Of course that’s exactly the point of some aspects of Graham’s involvement in aesthetics, Greenberg, McLuhan, Latour, all use differing frameworks heavily laden with metaphorics rather than metonymic rhetoric.

      As a poet, of course, I love metaphoric display in a high eloquent discourse… and Harman’s system is elegant and if closely read very methodical, each piece of the system building on the previous layer of understanding from book to book, from essay to essay. Although I’m closer to the return to subjectivity that Badiou and Zizek present, I still admire the substantialist tradition in all its gradations… to me, being a heretic, all philosophers have created grand fictions to help themselves and others get on with their lives, and projects… If you are looking for some absolute answer: I agree with Socrates… all we have is the pursuit of wisdom, not wisdom itself. And, knowledge and truth, ever-changing always restless as the brain/mind itself. This argument about who is right will never stop… Since I’m more of a comic and satiric, grotesque and macabre creature I leave breadcrumbs along the way to the disaster…. Harman offers parables for those who know, throws a net over the power of the void, and fills it with objects that are in themselves void enough. People who like the Hedeggerian heritage and phenomenology on the cutting edge will like Harman, those that don’t will go on attacking him without ever truly understanding him. I’ve tried to explicate his works many times before, but will always find those who for what ever reason see his words as opaque and slippery…. Graham will find his following and will remain. I’ve wandered around the web of late and have found a ton of new blogs posting things about OOO which is interesting, because so many of the old hands have written him off; but, that tells me that he must have something, if so many people seem to want to attack him.

      Look at Democritus… Plato thought he could bury him by simple not mentioning his name in any of his writings… but look at Slavoj Zizek… he bases his basic Less Than Nothing on Democritus, while his friend Badiou plays with fire in Plato… we all find our own fathers and progenitors …. haaa!

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  3. No apology necessary Andre. I have incredibly thick skin – especially considering I regard all these types of discussion as all so much language-gaming. I never understand why some people get so disgruntled with having their positions challenged.

    You write:

    “I’m not sure, however, that I am entirely comfortable separating out epistemic and direct relations (since both share the common ground of being).”

    The issue is complicated for sure. In short, thinking about something is a different sort of activity, involving different kinds of capacities and proximal relations, than touching it. If this minimum claim cannot be granted then why would we even make the kinds of distinction between these as found in all languages?

    The issue I have with claiming that all objects are simply an aspect of the same kind of Being is that this type of thinking levels the differences between individual things and reduces specific objects to a general type: as in ‘all objects are encountered as appearances’. And, contra to OOPs claims, this effective erasure of the particularity of encounters and the specificity of objects disrespects and undermines the unique powers of things – their individuality. Arguing that all objects can be reduces in character and affect to “being” is the What is truly important about objects and their encounters (relations) is how they are different from each other not how they are alike. Difference is what generates complexity. And tracking the variations in modes of existence (assemblies) and kinds of encounters is the aim of ontography as I see it.

    For example, epistemic activities (i.e., things ‘appearing’ to other things) involve emergent capacities such as recursion (mirror neurons) and biological memory. Regardless if I agree that such capacities are stem from more primitive operations of matter, such as catalytics and irritability and what-not, it does not change the fact that these capacities and the activities and relations they engender occur only in animals. Which is to say that animal symbolic reflection adds something to these more basic potencies: namely, appearance.

    You write:

    Perhaps the OOO-ers have simply distorted/extended the meaning of aesthetic beyond what it really means. Perhaps it works (or fails to work) more as a metaphor

    Exactly. For me this “distortion” or “extension” is problematic because it violates ‘the principle of onto-specificity’ I mentioned above (cf. Latour’s irreduction thesis), which does conceptual violence to the things-themselves. What do we lose in our theorizing the world when we overemphasize the commonalities between things (a reduction based on the observation that all things partake in Being or are all made of atoms) at the expense of their unique, contingent and complex efficacies? Such aggressive speculation demonstrates a will to metaphysics that may or may not be useful in application.

    You write:

    “the metaphor of appearance taken from the very human domain of traditional aesthetic considerations is still useful for thinking about what happens at all these other ‘levels’.”

    And, again, I respectively disagree. The metaphor of appearance anthropomorphizes the activities and entities at work on other levels, and decreases our ability to pay attention to the particular (onto-specific) force of things. We must seek to understand things on their own terms. The ‘usefulness’ of such a metaphor in this case is useful only for the game of metaphysics – which, again in this case, internal to the larger game of theory production and advanced pedagogy.

    You write:

    “Regarding the nail and the hammer… Isn’t the nail translating the hammer in the ‘language’ of its own internal structure (vibrating lattices of naily-arranged iron atoms for example)?”

    The importation of the analogy with “language’ here is part of the problem. No, nails do not ‘translate’ the encounter via their own ‘language’ because nails don’t have language. The vibratory affects between hammer-atomic-lattice and the nail-atomic-lattice is structural not epistemic. And the conflation between the two makes all the difference when actually dealing with such objects. Vibration is directly affective and translation is second-order recursive.

    What is at stake is the individuality of each. Our lack of precision in our ontographic accounts would thus diminish our ability to account for the unique powers of things and makes dealing with such things very difficult. This is what bugs me so much by the unintentional undermining of objects by OOP. There are technical, political and ethical problems with treating all things ‘as if’ there were completely withdrawn, and ‘as if’ objects only ever “appeared” to each other. My blog post on vulnerability and the some of the comments people made there should make clear what some of those issues might be. These are precarious times and we live in a precarious world, therefore we need philosophies that convey both our vulnerability and our individuality simultaneously.

    Often I find with OOO sympathizers (and in some respects I would count myself in this camp) there is a tendency to grant certain basic premises and entailments to OOO in ways that allow a total redefinition objects and relations, which ultimately legitimates their more problematic claims. I think such a “generous reading” is primarily motivated by people’s interest conceptual novelty than in trying to hold theory to a rigorous accounting of empirical conditions. OOO helps us to think differently, which is great as far as that goes, but what are the hidden silences lurk beneath the conceptual surface, and at what stage are we to be most suspicious of the types of magical illusions that lead us to become captured in metaphor rather than enthralled by the Real?

    [sorry i didnt have time to proof read – hope it’s intelligible]

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  4. the middle of the fouth paragraph should read:

    Arguing that all objects can be reduced in character and affect to “being” is like saying all things are merely bunches of atoms. It tells us next to nothing about their unique arrangements and emergent properties.

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  5. < on onto-specificity:

    “The plane of consistency is the abolition of all metaphor; all that consists is Real.” [D&G, A Thousand Plateaus, p.69]

    < on the difference betwenn 'strata' (emergence) and Being:

    "The plane of consistency knows nothing of differences in level, orders of magnitude, or distances. It knows nothing of the difference between the artificial and the natural. It knows nothing of the distinction between contents and expressions, or that between forms and formed substances; these things exist only by means of and in relation to the strata… [W]e cannot content ourselves with a dualism or summary opposition between the strata and the destratified plane of consistency. The strata themselves are animated and defined by relative speeds of deterritorializaiton; moreover, absolute deterritorialization is there from the beginning, and the strata are spin-offs, thickenings on a plane of consistency that is everywhere, always primary and always immanent." [TP: 69-70]

    < on the open wilderness (ecology) of Being and Becoming beyond conjured ‘gaps’:

    “The field of immanence is not internal to the self, but neither does it come from an external self or a nonself. Rather, it is like the absolute Outside that knows no Selves because interior and exterior are equally a part of the immanence in which they have fused.” [TP: 156]

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