Zizek and Harman: Strange Bedfellows

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[I]t is not possible to clearly distinguish the inconsistencies of our notion of an object from the inconsistencies which are immanent to this object itself. The ‘thing itself’ is inconsistent, full of tensions, struggling between its different determinations, and the deployment of these tensions, this struggle, is what makes it ‘alive’.1
—Slavoj Zizek

The basic dualism in the world lies not between spirit and nature, or phenomenon and noumenon, but between things in their intimate reality and things as confronted by other things.2
—Graham Harman

The passage above brings me back to someone Zizek never mentions except in regards to Levi Paul Bryant (Democracy of Objects) and Timothy Morton (Hyperobjects) in his new book Disparities. Here is Harman on Objects:

Object-oriented philosophy has a single basic tenet: the withdrawal of objects from all perceptual and causal relations. This immediately implies a single basic problem: how do relations occur? Despite the unsoundable depth of substances, their failure to express themselves fully even in physical collisions, objects do somehow manage to interact. These relations are the very carpentry of things, the joints and glue that hold the universe together. Given that objects never seem to enter into relations, what does enter into relations? If objects cannot affect one another directly, then perhaps they do so by means of qualities. The notion of free-floating qualities, stripped away from any underlying substance, is the central theme of a group of philosophers already termed the carnal phenomenologists. Following Husserl, they recognize that the objects aimed at by intentional acts never quite become visible. Nonetheless, we do not just float through a void, pointing sadly at the ineffable: we also live in the world as in a medium, enjoying juice and sunlight, suffering and dying from epidemics. We inhabit a sensual space in which, strictly speaking, objects cannot be present. Yet there are objects everywhere, like black holes or vacuums hidden from sight. By following the tension between these two moments of human perception, it may be possible to unlock the tensions found in the universe as a whole.(20)

In another place Harman will tell us that the notion of “tensions” is central: “We already know that Husserl departs radically from traditional realism, shutting out the existence of the natural world altogether and letting phenomena rule the cosmos. But even within this limited phenomenal sphere, we encounter a classical problem of philosophy that marks a central theme of the present book: the deep-seated tension between a single object and its manifold qualities.”(29)

This sense of the drama within an object, the tension between the real and sensual, the gap opened up that brings as Zizek says of it the full gamut of “tensions, struggling between its different determinations, and the deployment of these tensions, this struggle, is what makes it ‘alive’”. Strangely Zizek and Harman are gazing at the same thing from two opposing perspectives which seem oddly aligned in a perverse tension that one should not try to resolve, but rather hold onto and continue to keep hold of the gap between them while at the same time seeing in their diverse vision something akin to weird realism and materialism upon the same event.

Zizek prioritizes physics over biology and the neurosciences as a philosopher. For him the central motif of ontological dualism that is central to his dialectical materialism is derived by way of analogy to the quantum notion of decoherence:

to look at the precise ontological duality at work in decoherence, a duality totally foreign to classical metaphysical dualities (the sphere of Ideas in contrast to the ‘lower’ sphere of material objects, the sphere of actual life experience in contrast to the illusions it generates, etc.). Decoherence refers to the so-called collapse of the quantum field of oscillations, to the passage from quantum universe defined by the superposition of states (a superposition which forms a coherent multiplicity) to classic ‘realist’ universe composed of self-identical objects. In this passage, a radical simplification occurs: the coherent mulplicity of superposed states ‘decoheres’, one option is cut off from the continuum of others and posited as a single reality. (ibid. KL 1042)

This is where Zizek without realizing it comes close to Harman’s notion of withdrawal, applying the notion of subtractive act rather than Harman’s term ‘withdrawal’:

The paradox (for the metaphysical tradition) is here that our ordinary stable reality emerges as the result of the subtractive act (decoherence) out of the fluid quantum oscillations. (ibid. KL 1055)

In other words the objects in our universe come out of quantum flux by way of a separation that is at once a subtractive act and a withdrawal into singularities. So that our external universe is a fully deployed realm of objects withdrawn from each other, and yet as we learn there is a split within the objects themselves into real and sensual, invisible force and sensual appendage. What we perceive is the free-floating qualities used by the invisible forces of the objects much like dark matter and dark energy interact with the visible universe.

Obviously one can take this support of quantum physics only so far by way of analogy, and both Harman on Zizek use it sparingly realizing the pitfalls of such a path or methodology of linking disparities. In fact both thinkers pit the disparities and tensions among thought forms, both linguistic/descriptive and matheme/symbolic in a struggle without end. As Zizek will state it:

In our standard metaphysical (and commonsense) tradition, the primal reality is firm actual objects which are then surrounded by the aura of virtual waves that emanate from them. With regard to the distinction between subjective and objective, actual real things exist ‘objectively’, while virtual oscillations arise from their subjective (mis)perception. What ‘objectively’ exists in the quantum universe is, on the contrary, only wave oscillations, and it is the subject’s interventions which transforms them into a single objective reality. In other words, what causes the decoherence of these oscillations, what constitutes objective reality, is the subjective gesture of a simplifying decision (measurement). (ibid. KL 1056)

In other words the difference that makes a difference is the determination of perception whether of Zizek’s Subject or Harman’s Object, both agreeing that what constitutes an interaction between two objects is the mediation in-between; or, what both will refer to as the ‘vanishing mediator’. The point being that objects never directly act on each other, but only through a medium. When we look out on the world what we see is the medium, the sensual world of qualities: light, sun, water, mist, fog, heat waves, clashing gongs of sensual reality. We never perceive the underlying structures and forces supporting the sensual war of elements around us. And, yet, the structure is not of the Classical Aristotelian kind either. Not some substantial realm of Ideas, etc. (in the Platonic sense). As Zizek states it:

What this presupposes is a minimal gap between things in their immediate brute proto-reality and the registration of this reality in some medium (of the big Other): the second is in a delay with regard to the first. The agency which registers the collapse of the wave function is not in any sense ‘creating’ the observed reality, it is registering an outcome which remains fully contingent. Furthermore, the whole point of quantum physics is that many things go on before registration: in this shadowy space, ‘normal’ laws of nature are continuously suspended – how? Imagine that you have to take a flight on day x to pick up a fortune the next day, but do not have the money to buy the ticket; but then you discover that the accounting system of the airline is such that if you wire the ticket payment within twenty-four hours of arrival at your destination, no one will ever know it was not paid prior to departure. (KL 1061)

So in the above Zizek is stating that there is a brute dualism in our Universe that is imprinted on the very medium of our sensual objects of perception, and that such is registered through external processes that do not (as in Kant and anti-realists) construct or create the observed reality but rather register it retroactively while accepting the contingency of all events (i.e., they could have turned out otherwise).

What’s interesting and funny at the same time is Zizek comes close to Harman’s notion of Vicarious Causlity and the Occasionalist forerunners when he says:

What this presupposes is a minimal gap between things in their immediate brute reality and the registration of this reality in some medium (of the big Other): one can cheat insofar as the second is in a delay with regard to the first. The theological implications of this gap between the virtual proto-reality and the fully constituted one are of special interest. Insofar as ‘god’ is the agent who creates things by way of observing them, the quantum indeterminacy compels us to posit a god who is omnipotent, but not omniscient: ‘If God collapses the wave functions of large things to reality by His observation, quantum experiments indicate that He is not observing the small.’ (KL 1078)

Occasionalism  brought to the fore the problem of causality between things and operations or acts. Philosophers have long wondered about the nature of causality. Are there true causes at work in the world, and, if so, what makes them the causes they are? How do causes bring things about, and what kind of connection does a cause have to its effect? These questions took on another level of complexity when various religious and theological considerations were brought to bear on these issues. For instance, philosophers came to question how divine causal activity is to be understood, particularly, in relation to the natural causality of creatures. It is from this context, in which questions about the nature of causation intermixed with questions about the relation between divine and natural causality, that occasionalism emerged. Occasionalism attempts to address these questions by presenting as its core thesis the claim that God is the one and only true cause. In the words of the most famous occasionalist of the Western philosophical tradition, Nicolas Malebranche, “there is only one true cause because there is only one true God; …the nature or power of each thing is nothing but the will of God; … all natural causes are not true causes but only occasional causes” (OCM II, 312 / Search 448) As the Stanford article relates:

A full-blown occasionalist, then, might be described as one who subscribes to the following two tenets: (1) the positive thesis that God is the only genuine cause; (2) the negative thesis that no creaturely cause is a genuine cause but at most an occasional cause. Not all philosophers who have been identified as occasionalists, however, were full-blown occasionalists in this sense, since some argued that only a limited subset of creatures lack causal powers, and thus affirmed the causal efficacy of other creatures. In addition to this issue of the scope of occasionalism, we will, in the following sections, examine how these core theses of occasionalism address the issues aforementioned and what arguments are presented in their favor. 3

Harman would secularize this notion and subtract divine intervention from the equation. Levi’s article on Larval Subjects is probably one of the best expositions of Graham’s notion of Vicarious Causation (pdf). Levi will tell us that there are three characteristics of this notion: it is vicarious, asymmetrical, and buffered. By vicarious as Levi states it after Harman What he means by vicarious is that no entity directly interacts with or encounters another entity. As Graham writes, “I [speak] of vicarious causation. A vicar is the earthly representative of something that need not act in person. But the same must be true of causation itself” (48).  By asymmetrical Levi remarks “if it is true that objects only ever relate to sensual vicars and never directly with other real objects, then this no longer holds true. This for two reasons. First, because sensual objects only exist on the interior of a real object, when one real object affects another real object through the intermediary of a sensual vicar, it doesn’t follow that the affecting real object will be affected in its turn. Second, it does not follow that the affected object will be affected according to the nature of the affecting object. Harman writes, “…I claim that even the initial contact between two entities is only the contact of a real entity with a translated or phenomenal one” (50). What the object relates to is not the other real object, but rather the sensual object that exists in the interior of the affected object.” And,  Levi relates the third characteristic of vicarious causation is that it is buffered. As Harman writes, “[w]hat I mean is that things can be in contact with something else without being fully in contact with them, just as the philosopher loves wisdom without fully possessing it” (50 – 51).

As Zizek in his comic stance on occasionalism and vicarious causation from his atheist reasoning tells it:

The ontological cheating with virtual particles (an electron can create a proton and thereby violate the principle of constant energy, on condition that it reabsorbs it before its environs ‘take note’ of the discrepancy) is a way to cheat god himself, the ultimate agency of taking note of everything that goes on: god himself doesn’t control the quantum processes, therein resides the atheist lesson of quantum physics. Einstein was right with his famous claim ‘God doesn’t cheat’ – what he forgot to add is that god himself can be cheated. Insofar as the materialist thesis is that ‘God is unconscious’ (God doesn’t know), quantum physics effectively is materialist: there are microprocesses (quantum oscillations) which are not registered by the God-system. And insofar as God is one of the names of the big Other, we can see in what sense one cannot simply get rid of god (big Other) and develop an ontology without big Other: god is an illusion, but a necessary one. (KL 1084)

Strangely this aligns with R. Scott Bakker’s notion of Blind Brain Theory but on a Cosmic Scale of lunacy. The notion that this Big Other, the God or Symbolic Order is Blind to his/its own machinations and processes (disturbingly similar to the Blind God of the Gnostics, too.). But as Zizek will point out God is but a name for our objective Symbolic Order (Big Other).

On a final note we’ll let Zizek conclude:

The theory of decoherence is an attempt to explain the collapse of a wave function, that is, the passage from the netherworld of quantum oscillations to our ordinary reality, in an immanent way. The role of external observer in the theory of decoherence is therefore ambiguous, and therein resides its strength. Its basic claim is that decoherence (collapse of the wave oscillations) occurs only at the ‘higher’ macroscopic level, being registered by an observer – at the quantum level, nothing changes, coherence remains. This, however, in no way implies that we have to presuppose an external observer in whose eyes (in whose registering mechanism) decoherence occurs. One is almost tempted to claim that theorists of decoherence apply a new version of the old dialectical-materialist law of the passage of quantity into a new quality: when quantum interaction reaches a certain quantity, wave function collapses since the object in a way begins to ‘observe itself.’ Therein resides the strength of decoherence theory: it endeavours to articulate the purely immanent way a quantum process engenders the mechanism of its ‘observation’ (registration). Does it succeed? It is up to the science itself to provide an answer. (KL 1090)

It’s in this gap between wave and particle, coherence and decoherence that the oscillating tensions of Zizek’s and Harman’s philosophies touch base, collide and make contact. The duality between the symmetrical quantum level of pre-ontological chaos, and the asymmetrical realm of sensual appearance. And, as Harman will remark (relating to the epigraph I used at the beginning):

With this single conceptual step, metaphysics is freed from its recent pariah status in philosophy—supplanting all phenomenologies, hermeneutic circles, textual disseminations, linguistic turns, and other philosophies of access, and thereby regaining something of its former status as queen of the sciences. There is no question here of reviving the old style of metaphysics of presence criticized so vehemently by Heidegger, Derrida, and their various heirs. After all, the implication of the tool-analysis is that objects never become present—not even by means of some sort of gradual, asymptotic approach. All that really needs to be abandoned in the Heideggerian position is his unspoken assumption that the gap between Dasein and the world is the sole philosophically significant rift, the single chasm across which all of the problems of philosophy unfold. This assumption stems most directly from Husserl’s rejection of all naturalism, but is ultimately grounded in the Copernican Revolution of Kant. However, if we push the tool-analysis to its limit, we actually find that all relations in the cosmos, whether it be the perceptual clearing between humans and world, the corrosive effect of acid on limestone, or a slap-fight between orangutans in Borneo, are on precisely the same philosophical footing. (74-75)

In this sense both Zizek and Harman are moving philosophy back into the ‘things-themselves’, where everything is on the same footing and no one stance or observer (Big Other/Master Signifier) reigns.


  1. Slavoj Žižek. Disparities (Kindle Locations 998-1000). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  2. Harman, Graham. Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things. Open Court. Kindle Edition.
  3. Lee, Sukjae, “Occasionalism“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

The Folds of Horror: Notes on Ligotti, Lovecraft, and Philosophy

Unimaginable-Surreal-Artworks

I began this set of notes to bring in a specific philosophical concept (“Fold”) that struck me as pertinent in my recent reading of Thomas Ligotti’s book The Conspiracy against the Human Race. Thomas Ligotti in a side note speaking of Lovecraft’s model of the supernatural horror tale, which he portrayed in its archetypal form in the short story, “The Music of Erich Zann”, commented:

In composing the … work, Lovecraft came up with a model supernatural horror tale, one in which a subjective mind and an objective monstrosity shade into each other, the one projecting itself outward and the other reflecting back so that together they form the perfect couple dancing to the uncanny music of being.1 [italics mine]

When I read this passage I was struck by it’s uncanny resemblance to two notions of import I’ve read in the past few years. One referencing Deleuze’s notions surrounding the concept of the “Fold” in his work on Leibniz and the Baroque; and, the other concerning the notions of how objects relate to one another in Graham Harman’s Weird Realism. If in the passage above by Ligotti we replace “shade into each other” with “fold into each other” we begin to connect both Deleuze’s notion of fold with Harman’s notion of the objects relating through a third object of which they form and fold into one another. I’ll address a couple quotes from Harman, then move on to Deleuze’s work. Admittedly for Harman it’s about ontology in the real as it folds things into itself or is folded into the other; and, for Deleuze the fold is about the sensual epistemic and pervasive folds as the eye follows the surfaces through their becomings.

Graham Harman in Guerrilla Metaphysics tells us that the theory of objects “exists not just at some ultimate pampered layer, but all the way up and down the ladder of the cosmos, so that all realities gain the dignity of objects”. He continues, saying,

Objects have surprises in store as well: lemon meringue, popsicles, Ajax Amsterdam, reggae bands, grains of sand. Each of these things remains a unitary substance beyond its impact on others—and obviously, none of them is an ultimate tiny particle of matter from which all else is built. They are not ultimate materials, but autonomous forms, forms somehow coiled up or folded in the crevices of the world and exerting their power on all that approaches them. This is my definition of substance, a term well worth salvaging: an object or substance is a real thing considered apart from any of its relations with other such things.2 Commenting on Merleau Ponty he’ll also mention that to “have a body is already to be folded into the things rather than to stand at a distance from them: “the thickness of the body . . . [is] the sole means I have to go unto the heart of the things, by making myself a world and by making them flesh.” (GM, 53) [my italics]

I’ll leave this here and move on to Deleuze’s work.

From the Translator’s forward to Gilles Deleuze’s Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque we learn:

Focillon notes that the Romanesque and Gothic, two dominant and contrastive styles, often inflect each other. They crisscross and sometimes fold vastly different sensibilities into each other. The historian is obliged to investigate how the two worlds work through each other at different speeds and. in tum. how they chart various trajectories on the surface of the European continent. … The experience of the Baroque entails that of the fold. Leibniz is the first great philosopher and mathematician of the pleat, of curves and twisting surfaces. He rethinks the phenomenon of “point of view,” of perspective, of conic sections. and of things. folded are draperies. tresses. tesselated fabrics, ornate costumes: dermal surfaces of the body that unfold in the embryo and crease themselves at death; domestic architecture that bends upper and lower levels together while floating in the cosmos; novels narratives or develop infinite possibilities of serial form; harmonics that orchestrate vastly different rhythms and tempos; philosophies that resolve Cartesian distinctions of mind and body through physical means – without recourse to occasionalism or parallelismgrasped as foldings; styles and iconographies of painting that hide shapely figures in ruffles and billows of fabric. or that lead the eye to confuse different orders of space and surface.

 The key here strangely is not just the concept of the fold but rather the notion of causality as referenced in “without recourse to occasionalism and parallelism”. I’ll deal with this later. I still need to reread this work by Deleuze again and take notes…

Before I go any further I want to reference a post by Levi R. Bryant of Larval Subjects whose work of recent has taken him away from Object-Oriented philosophy and towards the notion of the “fold” as well. In a post in which he describes to his Barber the notion of the fold he has a discussion about bricks, saying,

Me:  A brick is a form of origami, like a crumpled piece of paper.

B:  Say what?

Me:  It folds the forces of the cosmos into it, invaginates them.  It folds the pressure of the other bricks about it into it, if it has lots of iron it folds the oxygen into it giving it that red color, it folds gravity and temperature in it, becoming brittle when it’s cold and molten when very hot.  Sound, light, pressures, air, all of these things are folded into it and it unfolds these things in the unique event that it is according to the structure that it has.  This conversation that we’re having, see those bricks over there on the wall?  The timber of the sound of our voices, the acoustics of this room, is an origami of our voices and those bricks.  Our voices have folded the bricks into themselves and unfolded it in a new vibration of sound.  Everything is a fold or folding, both individual and continuous with what it folds.

It might be better– I haven’t decided yet –to say that everything is a wave.  A wave is continuous with the water in which it occurs, yet distinct.  It both folds the currents of wind and water into itself and unfolds them in a rolling pattern across a plane.  It both arises from that plane but is distinct from it and changes it.  The dreams you told me about earlier are now a wave in me, folded into me, becoming something other yet remaining those dreams.

B:  [The scissors pause, stunned silence]  That’s so cool, man!  [He looks at his scissors and about the room]  It’s like everything is digesting everything else.  These walls have the past, music history [they’re covered with music posters], all these conversations and happenings folded into them.  That’s so cool, man.  Wow.

When the Barber said, it’s “like everything is digesting everything else” I almost croaked: this very notion that the universe is itself nothing but appetite, a great machinic feeding and ingesting machine, churning, grinding, folding, eating, regurgitating, etc. seemed more like one of Jonathan Swift’s satires; and, yet, much of the cosmic horror is of just that sense of a Darwinian blood and claw, predatorial universe of pure appetitive energy – and endless festival of death, the grotesque, and the macabre. Along with the notion or concept of fold one should bring in the sense of absorption, too.

In his work on Kabbalah, Absorbing Perfections, Moshe Idel in relating how texts and objects absorb each other we discover the absorbing quality of Shakespeare or of Joyce. Strong authors, like sacred texts, can be defined as those with the capacity to absorb us. To “absorb,” in American English, means several related processes: to take something in as through the pores, or to engross one’s full interest or attention, or to assimilate fully. Idel defines his use of “absorbing” as follows:

I use this term in order to convey the expanding comprehensiveness of the concept of the text of kabbalah or torah which, moving to the center of the Jewish society, also integrated attributes reminiscent of wider entities like the world or God. This expansion facilitated the attribution of more dynamic qualities to the text conceived of as capable of allowing various types of influences on processes taking place in the world, in God, and in the human psyche.3

In this he is conceiving his text as influencing what takes place in the world and in the human psyche (i.e., extrinsic and intrinsic relations), and even in God, if there is God. Shakespeare, like the Bible or Dante or the Zohar, absorbs us even as we absorb him, or them. Historicizing Hamlet or Lear breaks down very quickly: they themselves are the perfections that absorb us all.

This notion of being absorbed even as we absorb is a different twist on the old Gnostic notion or insight of knowing even as we are known which entails not a mental but appetitive act of intellect that both projects and introjects without dissolving the other, but rather as in digesting, mulching, thinking through and absorbing the sparks or vagrant fugitive thoughts – as substantive rather than immaterial – of the other, and making them part of one’s physical as well as mental being. One can imagine how this might play out in a supernatural horror scenario. One can as well think of the origins of life, cellular life of the membrane: the early introjection/projection of substance interactions that shaped the autonomy of a form necessary to both absorb and be absorbed; absorbing sustenance and nutrients, as well as expulsing them as byproducts to be absorbed by another substance. An endless mulching and scatological defecation is life at its raw minimal. One thinks of books like Nick Lane. The Vital Question: Why Is Life the Way It Is?; or, Johnjoe McFadden. Life on the Edge; or, David Toomey,  Weird Life: The Search for Life That Is Very, Very Different from Our Own… and many others.

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Such notions of absorption and folding make me think of a film from my childhood, The Blob, with Steve McQueen. The plot of this film depicts a growing corrosive alien amoeba that crashes from outer space in a meteorite and engulfs, absorbs, and folds in, and dissolves citizens in the small community of Downingtown, Pennsylvania. But before I get away with myself let’s hone back in on Levi’s post: the key here is when Levi says: “Everything is a fold or folding, both individual and continuous with what it folds.” That brings me by circuitous route back to Ligotti’s statement on Lovecraft’s model of supernatural horror as the shading or folding into each other producing this coupling of both in a dance of being; yet, not dissolving or fusing them together where their unique and unitary forms or substance is compromised beyond repair, but rather as a dark gnosis in which they both form a relation to each other that is itself a new (non?)knowledge of things and each other; or, a folding or absorbing or non-knowing even as folded, absorbed, non-known (i.e., think of Bataille’s System of Non-Knowledge rather than Laurelle’s concept), etc.. This sense of horror as the overcoming of fear through ecstatic enmeshing and folding between the known (subject) and the unknown (object); or, even object to object relations, is the central motif of Lovecraftian model of horror: or, as I want to term it after Eugene Thacker, model of abstract horror – a horror of ideas/concepts beyond the emotive drag of terror and fear; or, rather the end point or telos of which fear is the active defense measure of the body’s protective systems, and the abstract as thought’s resistance to the force or drag of the body’s own counter-measures – a way of overcoming the basic reactions of flight or death.

I’ll stop for now… I need to begin a new research project to trace this down, dig deeper into the notion of the fold, and develop this connection or disconnection between the various philosophies and notions of how it applies to the model of horror – or, even to philosophy as horror (Thacker/Land).

Things to research:

  1. The theme of fold itself across various philosophers, histories, usage, domains, etc.
  2. Absorption and its history and uses in various critical and scientific forms, etc.
  3. The notions of causality: fold vs. occasionalism/parallelism
  4. Further research on the model of horror (reread Lovecraft’s works and his book length Supernatural Horror), and Ligotti’s texts, Deleuze’s The Fold, and works of other philosophers…

  1. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (p. 210). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Harman, Graham. Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things (p. 19). Open Court. Kindle Edition.
  3. Professor Moshe Idel. Absorbing Perfections: Kabbalah and Interpretation (pp. xiii-xiv). Yale University Press (June 10, 2002)

 

 

 

 

On Land, Zizek, and Speculative Realism: The Mediation of the Real

What’s always been interesting in the current battles between materialist, vitalist, and speculative realist philosophies is that they all seem to dispute where to begin: the dialectical materialists and vitalists begin with the pre-ontological and formless void, then turn toward an emergent ontology arising out of it; while SR starts at that point when substance or form has already emerged, battling over just what it is that form and substance are without ever appraising the pre-ontological (or as Harman likes to put it: it’s objects all the way down).

I seem to float between Zizek and Land. Land begins in the formless ocean of energy – the vitalist stream of process and becoming he sees in Nietzsche and Bataille a non-dialectical process that never enters into any form of static substance, ever. Zizek seems to oscillate between form (Substance/Subject) and formlessness (Void) never resting in either world, always moving like a desperate thought between the two. Where Land is non-dialectical, Zizek is dialectical. For me there is a parallax view between the two that has yet to be assayed.

Or as Zizek says of parallax view:

“The common definition of parallax is: the apparent displacement of an object (the shift of its position against a background), caused by a change in observational position that provides a new line of sight. The philosophical twist to be added, of course, is that the observed difference is not simply “subjective,” due to the fact that the same object which exists “out there” is seen from two different stations, or points of view. It is rather that, as Hegel would have put it, subject and object are inherently “mediated,” so that an “epistemological” shift in the subject’s point of view always reflects an “ontological” shift in the object itself. Or, to put it in Lacanese, the subject’s gaze is always-already inscribed into the perceived object itself, in the guise of its “blind spot,” that which is “in the object more than object itself,” the point from which the object itself returns the gaze.” (http://www.lacan.com/zizparallax.htm)

In this sense it coincides with Nietzsche’s sense of Zarathustra’s statement that one must be wary of staring into the abyss lest “it stare back” (paraphrase). This sense of the object gazing back becomes in Graham Harman’s system the notion of when two objects gaze into each other a third object is formed in excess of the original objects, thereby forming something new that is neither one nor the other. In this sense they form a parallax view onto each other; or, as Harman would say “Every relation needs a mediator.” So that for Harman:

“My view is that this problem arises directly from Latour’s “flat ontology.” If all actors are equal, then you cannot avoid an infinite number of mediators between any two entities. Yet the solution provided by object-oriented philosophy is that there are two kinds of objects, not just one: there are real and sensual objects that mediate each other one at a time, much like the north and south poles of a magnet which alone can make contact, leading to a potentially endless chain of magnets. … As for “weird realism,” it denotes a kind of realism that is not simply a question of matching the contents of the mind with a real world outside the mind. My sort of realism is “weird” because it claims that the real is too real to be known, or too real to be accessed. I choose the word “weird” because of its desirable association with things that never fully appear insofar as they are not quite of this earth: Shakespeare’s “weird sisters,” H.P. Lovecraft’s “weird tales.”” (http://figureground.org/interview-with-graham-harman-2/)

So in this sense Harman when he says that “the real is too real to be known” he would take us back to Socrates; or, as Land says:

“By interpreting contact with the unknown as the deferral of judgment by the subject, translating the positivity of sacred confusion into the negativity of epistemic uncertainty, Socrates initiates the proper history of the West.”1

So in this sense it’s a battle whether one argues from and for an epistemic stance (Zizek) over the ‘ontic’ or reduction to some static known or physical substance, and rather opts for either a non-dialectical or dialectical parallax view onto the object that one relates to within the mediation. The problem that one must resolve is not that there is relation and mediation, but rather is this mediator conceptual or energetic? This seems to be the battle among current philosophies. We’ve discussed Zizek’s and Harman’s views, below are Brassier and Land.

Brassier opts for the concept as mediator. “…many philosophers follow Hegel in defining the ‘concrete’ as that which is relationally embedded, in contradistinction to the ‘abstract’, which is isolated or one-sided. In what follows, the terms ‘concrete’ and ‘abstract’ do not designate types of entity, such as the perceptible and the imperceptible or the material and immaterial. They are used to characterise the ways in which thinking relates to entities. As Hegel showed, what seems most concrete, particularity or sensible immediacy, is precisely what is most abstract, and what seems most abstract, universality or conceptual mediation, turns out to be most concrete.”  (http://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/wandering-abstraction)

Land says: “Everything is mediated by elucidations, re-elucidations, elucidations of previous elucidations, conducted with meticulous courtesy…” or “mediation assumes a kind of quarantine, whereby the interaction of organism-specific id and exo-organismic reality can be monitored and negotiated, collapsing libidinal circuitry into a polarity of the psychic and the extrapsychic, inside and outside.”2

Both Brassier and Land speak in almost Zizekian terms of oscillating between inside/outside, Brassier more formally reverting to the ‘concrete universal’ of Hegelian abstraction; while Land, energetic as always, moving among Freud’s libidinal dialectic; yet, both are in the end agreeing on a dialectical vision of mediation so that even Land succumbs to Hegel whether he will or no. Strangely, so did Bataille, who also struggled with and against Hegelian dialectics. Only Zizek would emerge from this battle with a notion of the Void within the Void – a return to Democritus’s notions that matter is void (“empty, immaterial”).

With Harman we come upon the notion of “vanishing mediator,” which strangely – due to his readings of Zizek would take an inverse relation to that philosopher’s use of the term. Whereas Zizek in The Ticklish Subject would bring to the fore is a thematization of the Subject as some kind of disjunctive “and”:

The key point is thus that the passage from “nature” to “culture” is not direct, that one cannot account for it within a continuous evolutionary narrative: something has to intervene between the two, a kind of “vanishing mediator,” which is neither nature nor culture—this In-between is silently presupposed in all evolutionary narratives. We are not idealists: this In-between is not the spark of logos magically conferred on Homo sapiens, enabling them to form his supplementary virtual symbolic surroundings, but precisely something that, although it is also no longer nature, is not yet logos, and has to be “repressed” by logos—the Freudian name for this In-between, of course, is the death drive. Speaking of this In-between, it is interesting to note how philosophical narratives of the “birth of man” are always compelled to presuppose such a moment of human (pre)history when (what will become) man is no longer a mere animal and simultaneously not a “being of language,” bound by symbolic Law; a moment of thoroughly “perverted,” “denaturalized,” “derailed” nature which is not yet culture.3

Harman in his first work would discuss this notion, saying,

Zizek is perfectly right to point to the impossibility of correlating ontic choices to the ontological gap between presence and absence. It should also be clear that human existence never occupies the point of either pure immersion or pure awareness: “the ‘specifically human’ dimension is thus neither that of engaged agent caught in the finite life-world context, nor that of universal Reason exempted from the life-world, but the very discord, the ‘vanishing mediator’ between the two.” This ambivalent discord goes by many names in Heidegger, among them geworfener Entwurf, thrown projection. I have argued in this book that projection is no more primary than the thrownness, and hence, that the future has no real priority over the past.4

This brings into play another agreement between Land and Zizek over Harman. Zizek’s notion of retroactive causation, or against Harman – the notion that the future does have a priority over the past. Playfully Zizek in Absolute Recoil will tell it this way,

The book’s title refers to the expression absoluter Gegenstoss, which Hegel uses only once, but at a crucial point in his logic of reflection, to designate the speculative coincidence of opposites in the movement by which a thing emerges out of its own loss. The most concise poetic formula of absolute recoil was provided by Shakespeare (no surprise here), in his uncanny Troilus and Cressida (Act 5, Scene 2):

O madness of discourse,
That cause sets up with and against itself!
Bi-fold authority! where reason can revolt
Without perdition, and loss assume all reason
Without revolt.5

Hegel uses the term “absolute recoil” in his explanation of the category of “ground/ reason (Grund),” where he resorts to one of his famous wordplays, connecting Grund (ground/ reason) and zu Grunde gehen (to fall apart, literally “to go to one’s ground”):

The reflected determination, in falling to the ground, acquires its true meaning, namely, to be within itself the absolute recoil upon itself, that is to say, the positedness that belongs to essence is only a sublated positedness, and conversely, only self-sublating positedness is the positedness of essence. Essence, in determining itself as ground, is determined as the non-determined; its determining is only the sublating of its being determined. Essence, in being determined thus as self-sublating, has not proceeded from another, but is, in its negativity, self-identical essence.6

In a final explication we quote from Zizek one last refrain:

To put it in traditional terms, the present work endeavors to elevate the speculative notion of absolute recoil into a universal ontological principle. Its axiom is that dialectical materialism is the only true philosophical inheritor of what Hegel designates as the speculative attitude of the thought towards objectivity. All other forms of materialism, including the late Althusser’s “materialism of the encounter,” scientific naturalism, and neo-Deleuzian “New Materialism,” fail in this goal. The consequences of this axiom are systematically deployed in three steps:

1) the move from Kant’s transcendentalism to Hegel’s dialectics, that is, from transcendental “correlationism” (Quentin Meillassoux) to the thought of the Absolute;
2) dialectics proper: absolute reflection, coincidence of the opposites;
3) the Hegelian move beyond Hegel to the materialism of “less than nothing.”7

Nick Land always an opponent to a certain type of dialectical thinking will harken back to Socrates to begin his attack, saying,

With Socrates, things are different. Philosophy becomes dialectical; which is to say justificatory, political, logical, plebeian. Truth is identified with irrefutability, evidentiality and educated belief, beginning its long subsidence into the forms of human credence, as if its acceptability were in any way a criterion.8

For Land Socratism is the mobilization of unknowing on behalf of knowing; subordinating irony to dialectic, confusion to judgments and the sacred to a subdued profanity.9

Land, favoring Maoist over Leninist/Stalinist Marxism and dialectics will offer an appraisal:

The Superiority of Far Eastern Marxism. Whilst Chinese materialist dialectic denegativizes itself in the direction of schizophrenizing systems dynamics, progressively dissipating top-down historical destination in the Tao-drenched Special Economic Zones, a re-Hegelianized ‘western marxism’ degenerates from the critique of political economy into a state-sympathizing monotheology of economics, siding with fascism against deregulation. The left subsides into nationalistic conservatism, asphyxiating its vestigial capacity for ‘hot’ speculative mutation in a morass of ‘cold’ depressive guilt-culture. (FN, KL  6110-6114).

Yet, in the end Land’s non-dialectical of base materialism begins in a rejection of physicalism or reductionary substantive formalist and scientific factuality:

A cosmological theory of desire emerges from the ashes of physicalism. This is to presuppose, of course, that idealism, spiritualism, dialectical materialism (shoddy idealism), and similar alternatives have been discarded in a preliminary and rigorously atheological gesture. Libidinal materialism, or the theory of unconditional (non-teleological) desire, is nothing but a scorch-mark from the expository diagnosis of the physicalistic prejudice.10

Land’s reading of Hegel unlike Zizek’s would see dialectical materialism as part of a redemptive system of saving the appearances, etc. as substantive formalism writ out in absolutist terms. Zizek’s Hegel is read through Lacan and vice versa as a non-substantive or immaterialist system wherein the Void or Less than nothing replaces substantive matter of physicalism. So that in some ways and by circuitous route both Land and Zizek are in agreement as to the dephysicalization of matter, but disagree over desire. Zizkek following Lacan sees in desire lack seeking the Object a; Land following Deleuze will see the unconscious as productive rather than lacking or needful, and will build an energetic or constructive notion of desire as desiring machines, as producer of desires.

In the end there will remain no reconciliation among these various philosophers, only open war and disparity.


  1. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 3310-3311). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 4489-4491). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
  3. Žižek, The Ticklish Subject, p. 39.
  4. Harman, Graham. Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects (pp. 206-207). Open Court. Kindle Edition.
  5. Zizek, Slavoj. Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism (pp. 1-2). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
  6. ibid. (pp. 3-4)
  7. ibid.
  8. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 3255-3257). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
  9. ibid.
  10. Land, Nick. A Thirst for Annihilation. (p. 26)

The Object Smasher; or, the Philosophy of Rubble

“Literature is about turning the pre-verbal — if not pre-linguistic — objects into verbal objects with symbolic meanings attached to them. Literature constructs a world in which the objects gain new significance.”
…..– Cengiz Erdem on May 26, 2010

For though in nature nothing really exists besides individual bodies, performing pure individual acts according to a fixed law, yet in philosophy this very law, and the investigation, discovery, and explanation of it, is the foundation as well of knowledge as of operation. And it is this law with its clauses that I mean when I speak of forms, a name which I the rather adopt because it has grown into use and become familiar.”
……– Francis Bacon, Novum Organum: Book Two, II

This is a republish and revised edition of an earlier post on Graham Harman’s Object-Oriented Ontology. Descriptions of materialism below are of those physicalists and reductionsists, rather than of the irreductionist dialectical materialisms of Badiou or Zizek, etc. Harman’s sense of vacuous actuality and Zizek’s notion of Democritean “den” as unsutured void of the sealed atom not as solid sphere, but rather as vacuous actuality: in my estimation the two are equivalent. Both remain undetected in the Real except indirectly through their effects on the sensual phenomenon of our perceptive existence or object-object relations. The distance between Harman and Zizek is over the notion of Subject or Object as having priority rather than any notion of relation or non-relation.

At the beginning of Tool-Being Graham Harman, in a style reminiscent of some of the greatest antithetical contrarians of the past two hundred years, says: “A philosophy is not some sort of private introspective diary to which the philosopher would have unique access. It is more fruitful to regard it as an experiment, a careful process of smashing fragments of reality together so as to see what emerges from the rubble.” Let’s call this rubble philosophy The Object Smasher, and let us not forget to smash all those dead philosophers and their vainglorious diaries too, because all “of us will be truer to what was admirable”  in them “if we take responsibility for our own thoughts instead of trembling deferentially” before their statues (TB: iv). [1]

One can imagine Harman, the Philosopher As Carpenter-Engineer, a sort of super-hero of objects with the hammer of Thor in his hands, crushing, smashing, pulverizing objects into rubble; and then, raising the protective goggles onto his forehead, the whisps of his greying hair falling down in his eyes, he begins to study the rubble of his latest experiment in object smashing, burrowing through the smashed excess of objects, watching, waiting patiently, for the emergence of something new – some indelible footprint in the sand of the Real that might mark the foundation of objects in the universe and thereby shake the very foundations of the real object itself out of the rubble and ruins of smashed tool-being.

Like one of those scientists in Geneva in search of that mythical entity – the Higg’s boson, which some have called the God particle that scientists theorize gives mass to other particles and thus to other objects and creatures in the universe, Harman excavates the rubble of philosophical thought seeking a description of the illusive real object that is based upon substantive form rather than any search for foundational particles of any kind. This real object hiding behind the façade of sensual profiles lives in vacuous actuality, a void of self-reflecting nothingness, much like that misrecognized negativity that Slavoj Zizek terms “den” after that famed materialist of Being, Democritus.

Democritus is the progenitor arrives at den (subtraction) by leaving out only me from meh’den (“not-one”) and thus creating a totally artificial word den. Den is thus not nothing without “no,” not a thing, but an othing, a something but still within the domain of nothing, like an ontological living dead, a spectral nothing-appearing-as-something. The rise of den is thus strictly homologous to that of objet a which, according to Lacan, emerges when the two lacks (of the subject and of the Other) coincide, that is, when alienation is followed by separation: den is the “indivisible remainder” of the signifying process of double negation— something like Sygne de Coûfontaine’s tic, this minimal eppur si muove which survives her utter Versagung (renunciation). The later reception of Democritus, of course, immediately “renormalized” den by way of ontologizing it: den becomes a positive One, atoms are now entities in the empty space, no longer spectral “othings”( less-than-nothings). (LTN, KL 1522-1527) Instead of the positive atoms of historical materialisms false history we should realign the ancient atomistic philosophy with its updated form of dialectical materialism’s spectral nothings, those vacuous actualities of withdrawn objects lost within the dormancy of their volcanic cores, split and violent powers at the heart of the Real. Zizek describes the Subject, saying,

“Substance is Subject” means that the split which separates Subject from Substance, from the inaccessible In-itself beyond phenomenal reality, is inherent to the Substance itself. […] The point is not that Substance (the ultimate foundation of all entities, the Absolute) is not a pre-subjective Ground but a subject, an agent of self-differentiation, which posits its otherness and then reappropriates it, and so on: “Subject” stands for the non-substantial agency of phenomenalization, appearance, “illusion,” split, finitude, Understanding, and so on, and to conceive Substance as Subject means precisely that split, phenomenalization, and so forth, are inherent to the life of the Absolute itself.3

Harman will shift this into the thing itself, describing a “Substance is Object” in which the split object separates the vacuous actuality of the voidic and volcanic real object from its sensual appendages in phenomenality. So that Harman’s real object stands for the non-substantial agency of phenomenalization, appearance, “illusion,” split, finitude, Understanding, and so on, and to conceive Substance as Object means precisely that split, phenomenalization, and so forth, are inherent to the life of the hidden world of real objects itself.

What we discover in Harman’s Object rubble is not the reduction of part to whole, no synecdoche of some totalistic complete universe of relations, but the composite non-relational system of objects themselves. And, do not say, “Oh, I’ve got you now! What of atoms?” Harman retorts that even if a time comes when we must discuss these, so to speak precious “atoms” that you hold so highly as a sign of your materialist foundation, I tell you that “these molecules are not inert specks of present-at-hand matter – they too are machines, grand totalities concocted out of sub-mechanisms perhaps still unknown” (TB: 285). Yet, if we follow Zizek, these atoms are not positive solid substance, but rather the vacuum filled nothings (“othings”) of Den. Or, as Harman might say: vacuous actualities.

What does it mean to say that physical things exist? George Berkeley one of those idealist few would remember – except as the butt of Samuel Johnson’s joke about rocks being real – pointed out that our immediate experience provides only two meanings of “to be”: to perceive (percipere) and to be perceived (percipi).  Simply to be perceived, however, is not to be actual but to be merely an idea in the mind of some perceiver.  Only “being a perceiver” (which for Berkeley included the notion of being an active agent) gives us a meaningful notion of what it is to be an actuality.

So how can something that we have not direct access too, that is withdrawn and away, hidden behind the surface texture of sensual profiles and qualia to be perceived? This is the central truth of Harman’s real objects: they exist in a vacuum, sealed away and withdrawn into their own solipsistic world; some even dormant awaiting their moment to be lured out of their volcanic cores, allured by some glamour from the realms of sensuous objects where it can reveal indirectly the powers of its active existence.

Returning to Berkeley who, of course, used this argument for his idealist view, according to which the physical world exists only as perceived (by divine and finite minds); but Leibniz, by positing “petite perceptions” in nature’s elementary units, showed Berkeley’s point to be compatible with realism.  As Whitehead (1967a, p. 132) says, Leibniz “explained what it must be like to be an atom”. Of course neither would have thought of atoms quite like Democritus (revised by Zizek) as vacuous actualities. Yet, reading Whitehead again in Process and Reality we discover just what this object in the void is:

…the notion of vacuous actuality, which haunts realistic philosophy. The term ‘vacuous actuality’ here means the notion of a res vera devoid of subjective immediacy. This repudiation is fundamental for the organic philosophy (cf. Part II, Ch. VII, ‘The Subjectivist Principle’). The notion of ‘vacuous actuality’ is very closely allied to the notion of the ‘inherence of quality in substance.’ Both notions— in their misapplication as fundamental metaphysical categories— find their chief support in a misunderstanding of the true analysis of ‘presentational immediacy’ (cf. Part II, Ch. II, Sects. I and V).2

As we can see for Whitehead such a concept had no place in organic process philosophy. So why does Harman (and Democritus if Zizek is correct!) take this up to describe his real objects? Let us add a further clarification from Whitehead before returning the Harman’s answer:

The difficulties of all schools of modern philosophy lie in the fact that, having accepted the subjectivist principle, they continue to use philosophical categories derived from another point of view. These categories are not wrong, but they deal with abstractions unsuitable for metaphysical use. It is for this reason that the notions of the ‘extensive continuum’ and of ‘presentational immediacy’ require such careful discussion from every point of view. The notions of the ‘green leaf’ and of the ‘round ball’ are at the base of traditional metaphysics. They have generated two misconceptions: one is the concept of vacuous actuality, void of subjective experience; and the other is the concept of quality inherent in substance. In their proper character, as high abstractions, both of these notions are of the utmost pragmatic use. In fact, language has been formed chiefly to express such concepts. It is for this reason that language, in its ordinary usages, penetrates but a short distance into the principles of metaphysics. Finally, the reformed subjectivist principle must be repeated: that apart from the experiences of subjects there is nothing, nothing, nothing, bare nothingness. (PR, p. 167)

Of course like Badiou, Whitehead preferred mathematics as ontology over language (poetry, rhetoric). And as is apparent in that last statement for Whitehead only subjects have perceptions and experiences, everything else is “bare nothingness”. Yet, one of Harman’s central insights is that real objects, these bare nothings or vacuous actualities devoid of subjectivity do have perceptions. We gain a hint when Harman tells us “conscious awareness can no longer serve as one of the basic orienting poles of reality” (TB, p. 225). Instead of direct access we have access to real objects indirectly as “actuality and relation” rather than “causation and perception”. So that for Harman it is important that we not understand “vacuous” according to the terms in a thesaurus, where we might read: “ignorant, nonexistent, stupid, thoughtless, trivial, vacant.” Instead, I take “vacuous” literally, as referring to the reality of tool-beings in vacuo, apart from any accidental collision with other objects. This is not as strange as it may sound; indeed, it is not even unprecedented. (TB, p. 228) Which aligns with Zizek’s revision of Democritus’s notion of “den” as the vacuum sealed atoms which is a concept developed to counter Parmenides notion of “thought and being” as the One. For Democritus like Harman the universe of things is made of a myriad and multiplicity of objects, real objects withdraw from all relation situated in the void of their own interior packages.

As Harman will relate by divorcing real objects from any actual causal relation, he may be defining it only as a center of potentiality for other relations that might someday exist but do not yet exist. As sensible as this might sound, real objects have no potentiality at all, but rather are sheer actuality.

Yet, for Harman philosophy is in no way a positive materialism but is closer to a “new sort of ‘formalism’ with Francis Bacon its unlikely predecessor” (TB: 286). As Harman states it: “I refer not to the vulgarized Bacon of the textbooks (“Do as many experiments as possible, and use the results to try to dominate nature .. .’), but to the forgotten Bacon of Novum Organum Book II, who, incredibly, lampoons efficient causation as ridiculous. Perhaps no great philosopher of the Western tradition has been so grievously misread, and with such self-serving aims in mind” (TB: 286). Yet, the materialism Harman rejects is the schoolbook history of Democritus as the father of positive atomistic science, not the new Zizekian philosopher of the Void and vacuous actuality.

Whitehead expresses things more directly than Heidegger, telling us that an actual entity  is not a durable unit that “undergoes adventures” in space and time. The reality of a being is confined to the thorough particularity of a transient moment. To give especial emphasis to this point, he often calls actual entities “actual occasions,” so as to erode any lingering connotations of a long-lasting substance. For Whitehead, what endures through time is not singular concrete things, but a community of closely related Thing-events strung along throughout the span of what appears to be a coherent individual life. (TB, p. 231) Process philosophy is based on these actual occasions of a community of events related through temporal activation.

Instead of entities such as atoms that materialists wish to reduce into their final constituent parts, who wish to discover some ultimate terminus, some end point or substantive entity, exempt from all internal composition, which would “amount to defining that entity as a sheer present-at-hand building block,” Harman explains that instead “by taking the tool-analysis to its logical extreme, we discover that no entity is irreducible, since each is a formal machinic effect of its elemental components” (TB: 286).  “But”, the materialist philosopher responds, “what of those larger structures in the universe?” Harman with a twinkle in his eye shakes his head, upturning his chin and laughing in mock display of such idiocy and says, “My friend, just as we exposed the smallest of objects as machinic, diving down into that tiniest of worlds, we must also pursue objects in the opposite direction.” As Harman states it: “Not only is each thing a galaxy of parts-each thing is also a part of the galaxy known as ‘world.’ Against Heidegger’s most vehement assertions, ‘world’ and ‘being’ really are just the set of all beings! The world is indeed a colossal referential machine, just as Heidegger suggests” (TB: 286).

Again, the materialist (read: physicalist) philosopher tries a new tact, “What of this relation of objects you tout so much? Just where is it in all this dipping and ascending into the machinic details of the micro and macro structure of this universe of objects?” Harman takes a moment, pausing to reflect upon the “troubling disappearance of relationality from the rough model of the world he’s developed” then responds, saying,

“I have already contended that every object can be viewed as the effect of a composite relational system (of many pieces, many atoms). Unless we want to have recourse to physical durability as an arbitrary criterion, it follows that a causal relation between two rocks is a system that forms an entity, and that hammer plus me is also a system forming an entity (“hammer-encounter,” we might call it). As a result of all this, is there anything now missing from the world that used to be at our disposal? Yet, and it is obvious what it is: any sense of a wide-open “clearing” is now abolished.

There is no longer a brute realm of effects destined to be transcended by some starry, windy space of explicit vision. For even a perception is now a new kind of entity, so that [our] face is always pressed up against subterranean reality as against a plate-glass window; there is no longer any ontological breathing room. We never manage to rise above the massive clamor of entities, but can perhaps only burrow around within it. For the moment, the mechanisms of this process remain obscure. But we at least know what is missing. The sanctuary of the human as-structure, with its free transcendence and partly liberated vision, has been jettisoned in favor of a dense and viscous universe stuffed absolutely full with entities. In this sense there is no vacuum, although in another sense every segment of this universe is nothing if not vacuous, in the literal sense of this term” (TB: 287).

Then the process-relational materialist thinks to himself, “Ah, Harman admits it, there is a process involved, a mechanism of process between objects, and that these processes are obscure. And, yes, we both agree that this anthropocentric vision of humanism that has locked philosophy in its correlationist anti-realist realm cut off from the real has got to go. But if there is no vacuum, no space for emergence of something new, then how is change possible in this vacuousness?” Then with a puzzling lear he jibes at Harman, “Okay, explain yourself, you object smasher, you master of the vacuous and of rubble…”

Harman delighted continues telling the materialist that there is a central distinction between objects in a system and objects in a vacuum. Genuine objects withdraw even behind causal contact. But now we discover that all systems are objects, and that there “is no system which is not also an entity,” so that even one’s perception of an object is in itself an object. And, he continues, here is the crux of the matter, the “perception is a tool-being, and as such, it resides in a vacuum uncontaminated by all relation, irreducible to all later introspection.

As we have already seen, the vacuum is threatened on both sides: a) by the systematic combination of the elements that allow it to exist (in this case, the hammer and myself as components of the hammer-encounter), and b) by the experience that objectifies it in some specific way (in this case, by the later introspection). Despite this dual threat, the entity (in this case, the full hammer-encounter) manages to be just what it is, undisturbed by the storms of relation that rage both to the west and the east of it” (TB: 288).

“Ah, hah,” says the materialist, “I have you, now: if the world contains no relations, as you suggest, and is nothing but entities from the tiniest levels of existence to the largest structures in the universe then how does anything ever get done in such a world? If everything is so densely packed as you suggest, then what you are telling me is that this universe would seem to be packed with non-communicative vacuous zones, none of them able to transmit energy or influence to the others? In such a realm there would be no windows, no doors into the great outdoors, and any contact between…” the materialist utters the impossible word, “objects, and more importantly any sort of alteration in the universe would seem impossible.” (TB: 288)

Harman reflects on this a moment, thinking to himself, “Is there any way to avoid these consequences by pointing to a medium through which tool-beings might genuinely interact? How can one vacuum impart its secrets to another? And what happens, ontologically speaking, when one entity perceives another, or lightly grazes it, or outright crushes it?” He admits to himself that there can be no definitive resolutions to these questions at the moment, but only a series of provisional analyses. (TB: 288).

Studying the impetuous materialist for a moment, he continues thinking to himself, if perception and the object form a unified object in its own right, and if we try to observe myself perceiving instead of the thing I’m perceiving, the object, a gulf opens up between the two: it is only one element of the experience that emerges into perception. It is no more possible to observe ourselves exhaustively than it is to observe the object exhaustively. Instead we must admit that what is going on here if “the terminology is stripped down to the bone, is that the perceptive entity (the system of thing and me) perceives not itself, but rather the elements of which it is composed.

This would remain the case even if I attempted to perceive in mystical fashion “the oneness of all things,” since the oneness thus focused upon and the meditative act that envisions it also cannot be one and the same thing. Perception is already a descent into its own particles. The system that includes myself and the hammer burrows down into itself, decomposing itself before our eyes in spite of its necessary status as a single entity” (TB: 289).

Watching the materialist begin to fidget, he asks himself a further question: “is this odd descent of perception into its own depths something that characterizes realities other than explicit human perception? For example, let’s say that instead of openly noticing [a] hammer, a specific human is related to it in the way of merely being tacitly affected by it. In the case of this miniature system of objects as well, is it true that the entire system is in contact with its parts? … The same question ought to be posed in the case of inanimate couplings of rocks and leaves and clouds. Even in these cases, is there a sense in which every systematic unity descends into itself and makes contact with its own interior elements? To express this once more, in something resembling layman’s terms: if [objects] are by definition non-relational, how can they ever touch one another? ” (TB: 289).

At this point the materialist philosopher looks him straight in the eyes, saying, “Well, what do you have to say for yourself?”

Harman smiles, and in an expository manner, recapitulates his arguments so far, saying, “the first difficulty lies in identifying the medium through which tool-beings can truly interact. If two rocks collide, then they must collide as these rocks themselves, not as loose surface-effects. And yet rock-in-itself is defined precisely by its impenetrability to any relation. We have also seen that any such relation as that between two rocks immediately generates a new hybrid entity: say, collision-system” (TB: 290). Harman also repeats that he suggested in previous arguments, saying to this proud materialist, “there may be a way in which every system is also a descent into its own elements in spite of the fact that it ought to be every bit as hermetically sealed from its component parts as it is from external entities” (TB: 290).

The materialist claps his hands, saying: “Bravo, bravo, you open a hole in being and let all the parts vanish within the darkness of its own irresolvable materiality;  bravo…”

Harman interrupts him, instigating a new set of questions, saying: “if the tool-being of each individual rock inherently lies beyond all possibility of contact with the other, is there a strange sense in which they can inflict blows on each other as parts of the collision-system rather than as individuals? Or is this only a sort of corrupt back door through which the same difficulties reenter the picture as before?”

The materialist, intrigued, urges him with a comic gesture of complicity to explicate just what he means by this. Harman delighted that the materialist is listening rather than opposing him, continues:

“In any case, we are left with the following scenario-the world as a duel of tightly interlaced objects that both aggrandize and corrode one another. As Bacon expressed… “For since every body contains in itself many forms of natures united together in a concrete state, the result is that they severally crush, depress, break, and enthrall one another, and thus the individual forms are obscured.” The movement of philosophy is less one of unveiling (which would rely on a sort of as-structure that I have argued does not really exist) than of a sort of reverse engineering.

Often, teams of industrial pirates will lock themselves in a motel room, working backward from a competitor’s finished product in an effort to unlock and replicate the code that generates it. In the case of the philosopher, the finished product that must be reverse-engineered is the world as we know it; the motel room is perhaps replaced by a lecture hall or a desert. Behind every apparently simple object or concept is an infinite legion of further objects crushing, depressing, breaking, and enthralling one another. It is these violent underground currents that one should attempt to counter, so as to unlock the infrastructure of any entity or of the world as a whole” (TB: 290).

The materialist dissatisfied with this explication retorts, “But is this not just a piece of rhetoric in the end? What have you really uncovered, unveiled within this so-to-speak ontology of objects you so highly espouse? Isn’t what your telling me that these objects demonstrate nothing more than that your prized concept of relation lies somewhere between the status of a substance and a universal network of significations? And,” he sneers, “what of that set of ambivalent currents running equally through all entities? What of this crushing, depressing, breaking, and enthralling action of things?” (TB: 290)

Harman in a quick comeback, says, “Yes, yes,” laughing uncontrollably, ” you are right of course, the isolation of entities suspended in their vacuums must be bridged, and the various facets of each of these objects must be concretely charted. The motivating force for shifting to a method of this kind lies in a resolve to end the discrepancy between our lives as professional thinkers and our lives as humans immersed in the system of objects. Rather than following still further the methodological suppositions of some currently dominant school of thought, rather than taking up some available ready-made problem and mulling it over for a decade, we ought to let the innocent fascination of the early morning hours spread over into the remainder of our mental lives. I refer to that half-awake and passive state that is dominated by the sounds of faint alarm bells, the smell of fruit outside the window, the needle-like rays of sun that begin to bore through the darkness of our rooms. (TB: 291)

The materialist confounded by this strangely evocative discourse from Harman throws up his hands in exasperation, mystified by this poetic entrancement of alarm bells, fruit, and sun rays exploding into dark rooms. Wandering toward the door, he turns back one more time to study this philosopher of rubble, this object smasher, quizzically he sees that Harman has one last thought on the tip of his meditative mind: “Okay, out with it… you, you, object smasher!

Harman in agreement says, “To a large extent we can thank Husserl and many of his French admirers for defining these transitory moments as a worthy philosophical subject matter. And yet, what we are really immersed in, in these situations and all others, is not a web of phenomena, but a world of objects. Quite apart from my indolent pleasure while lying in bed, steam genuinely scorches the air as it eddies from the stove, electrons from the sunlight pierce my skull like bullets, floorboards buckle under compulsive mutual pressure, heavy stone walls hold out the cold but poise themselves to destroy me in the event of an earthquake.

This sort of material reality, too quickly ceded by philosophers to the natural sciences, is what awaits any successful theory of objects. And if there emerges a philosophical method to unlock the secrets of hammers, steam, paper, citrus fruit, and salt-grains, who can rule out the rapid reappearance of souls and angels in the midst of philosophic debate?” (TB: 291)

The materialist atheist looks at Harman not only with disgust, but with a certain horror in his face as he turns and runs from the room screeching like a madman who has just been told of the death of all things, god and human alike, yet who still clings to the great substrate of process and reality he calls the material world.

Harman on the other hand returns to the glass of wine he is holding in his hand, sparkling in the sun’s rays, delighted by the richness of its ambient red light, the dark contours of its liquid presence sparking in the crystal glass, reminding him of the power of objects and their strange relations. Of the transparency of crystal, and the deep textures of the wine that seem to float within their own hidden life, yet behind the contours of glass and liquid are the deeper, hidden away, real objects whose power lies folded in a void of energetic delight never making contact with the human eye that might lure it out of its vacuum. Instead like some master magician the object relates to human perception indirectly through the sensuous profiles and qualia of its active appendages and representatives, the sensuous colors and textures the eye sees. Only the effects of these moving particles of light and sparkle reveal the truth hidden deep within these two objects now forming a third, the intentional object of wine, glass, and perceptive being.

(Note: revised and republished from 2013)


 

  1.  Tool-Being: Elements in a Theory of Objects by Graham Harman (TB) ( 1999 UMI Company)
  2. Whitehead, Alfred North (2010-05-11). Process and Reality (Gifford Lectures Delivered in the University of Edinburgh During the Session 1927-28) (p. 29). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
  3. Zizek, Slavoj. The Ticklish Subject. (Verso, 2009)

 

Graham Harman: An Ontology of Forces and Actions

quantum-jpg

Instead of exiling objects to the natural sciences (with the usual mixed emotions of condescension and fear), philosophy must reawaken its lost talent for unleashing the enfolded forces trapped in the things themselves. It is my belief that this will have to be the central concern of twenty-first-century philosophy.1

Philosophy as an engineering project or reclamation? Forces that must be awakened, brought to bare on the issues of our age, a revolution in those withdrawn and sleeping entities that seem to be forever waiting for something to happen. Is this the Philosopher as Hermes awakening the sleepers, or a software developer calling the hidden algorithms of some program awaiting its secret instructions. As I was revisiting Graham Harman’s early Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects it struck me again that his work is not so much about objects as it is about those invisible forces locked away from direct access to our philosophic and scientific reason. As if there is this world of forces just below the surface of things that none of us would believe or accept if we were to make them visible. And it is not just Harman, as I look back over many of the current trends in philosophy I see this antagonistic relation to the visible and the phenomenal traditions.

In the last century postmodern philosophies lead us down the path of a hyper-romanticism that took the inner turn toward mind to its ultimate limits in post-structural irony and endless disquisitions on the blindspots of mind and (inter)text(uality). What Dryden and Pope were to the neo-classical age the hyper-nihilists of late pomo-romanticism (cum post-modernist) crowd were to an era in obscurity to its own demise. It sought to further refine and embellish in baroque detail an already depleted and decaying tradition of Mind and Language. Dr. Johnson once remarked to his friend Boswell that it was the “weather in the mind” that caused all our problems, by which he meant we befuddle ourselves with ideas of the weather rather than the weather itself. If Romanticism can be considered the turn toward the inner life of Mind in both its Idealist and metaphysical materialist forms from Kant (Philosophy) and Wordsworth (Poetry) through Schelling, Fichte, and Hegel (German Idealism); and, below through Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bataille, etc. (German/French materialism-vitalism), then what we’re seeing today is the return of a renewed speculative realist and materialist retrenchment; or, at least the effort under way toward such a perspectival change. One that moves us toward the quantum worlds and the invisible forces that give birth to our visible universe of objects, and energizes us with the forces from alterity of being; the indirect realm of the invisible movement of the world itself that gives rise to the appearances and sensual realms we perceive.

Some will like Ray Brassier and Reza Negarestani follow Sellars/Brandom into a neo-Kantianism embellished with Hegelian dialectic producing a neo-normative ethicism that seeks to impose a new navigational system of negotiations between the ‘space of reason’ and its execution. While others like Quentin Meillassoux seek to bring Badiou and Hume into a universe of hyperchaotic time where sufficient reason is passé and our world can produce gods at anytime. And, even others like Iain Hamilto Grant would return us to a naturalist idealism allowing for a pertinent reflection on our current climate crisis, etc.. So Harman and his progeny would take us into a universe of bewildering forces, alien phenomenology, hyper-objects, and machinic entities plugged into or withdrawn from action. Philosophy isn’t what your mother taught in Sunday school by any means. One is tempted to say with Dorothy: “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto!”

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Tom Sparrow: On Graham Harman and Object-Oriented Ontology

HarmanPhoto

Returning once again to Tom Sparrow’s book on the various new realisms abroad in the philosophical scene we discover him in chapter four introducing us to Graham Harman and his brand of Speculative Realism termed Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO). Harman early own was indebted to both Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger and their respective approaches to phenomenology. Yet, Harman would find problems with this tradition of what he termed the “philosophy of access”. As Sparrow describes it “phenomenology is, in Harman’s eyes, metaphysically limited because it effectively holds that the totality of what exists is identical to the totality of what appears to human consciousness”.1 Sparrow reminds us that Harman’s method of “reading phenomenology for unexpected clues to the hidden lives of objects” is not without complications and attendant metaphysical puzzles.2

Sparrow touches base with those specific phenomenologists that have left their mark on Harman’s thought. He begins with the work of Husserl who out of his apprenticeship to Franz Brentano developed the phenomenology and ultimately the methodology of phenomenological description that yields ideal species, involving what Husserl would later (notably in Ideas) call the “eidetic reduction”.  Husserl developed the method of epoché or “bracketing” around 1906. It may be regarded as a radicalization of the methodological constraint, already to be found in Logical Investigations, that any phenomenological description proper is to be performed from a first person point of view, so as to ensure that the respective item is described exactly as is experienced, or intended, by the subject. This deep-structure of intentional consciousness of the subject comes to light in the course of what Husserl calls the “phenomenological reduction” (Husserliana, vol. XIII, pp. 432 ff), which uses the mentioned method of epoché in order to make coherent sense, in terms of the essential horizon-structure of consciousness, of the transcendence of objective reality. The most global form of epoché is employed when this reality in total is bracketed. There is still something left at this point, though, which must not, and cannot, be bracketed: the temporal flow of one’s “present” experience, constituted by current retentions and original impressions.

As Sparrow tells us what Husserl discovered is that intentionality does not aim at qualities; it aims at objects. Even when someone investigates an object from a series of angles that yields countless disparate profiles (even drastically disparate, as in the case of a subway system or funhouse), he always take those profiles to be perspectives on the same object.3 The point being that the subject intends a specific substantial form or object rather than – as in empiricism, a bundle of impressions or qualities. For Husserl empiricism was the enemy for which phenomenology was the solution. As Sparrow demonstrates what makes Husserl an Idealist is his acknowledgement that what intentionality aims at throughout any series of profiles is not a real object located in the physical world. Rather it is an “ideal unity” or unifying form that binds all the qualities of the object together into a substantial form that is “immanent to consciousness”; a product constituted within intentionality.4 The point is that Husserl still held onto the need for the mind/world correlation in which the object was not mind independent but was immanent to consciousness of the human observer. For Harman it is the opposite: there is no need for the human or consciousness for the simple reason that all objects, humans included are real. It has nothing to do with some form of immanence conscious or otherwise.

What Harman takes from Husserl’s intentional methodology is the notion that intentions are not just something enacted by humans. Intentionality comes to figure as the very core structure of an object.5 This is where Harman will define the object as a unit: the object is not a solid, hard thing, but a thing that has a unified reality that is not exhausted by any relation to it, so that the intention as a whole is one thing.6 For Harman intentionality has two separate functions: 1) an “adhesive function”, that brings subject and object together to form a cohesive unity capable of being analyzed as such; and, 2) a “selective function”, intentionality applies a distinctive specificity when brining a subject and object together, as well as it works to draw out objects from the background of the perceptual environment.7

Husserl gave the uncanny feeling that we could have direct access to objects, or as Sparrow tells us he “makes it seem like we live among real objects”. But Harman will show this to be an illusion and that instead what we access is not the real object but profiles of objects, in what Harman calls “a strange medium located somewhere between substances and qualities, unable to touch either of them.”8 Sparrow speaking of Harman’s project says

Harman’s entire project is by his own admission an attempt to radicalize two paradoxes of intentional existence. First, within an intentional act subject and object are fused together in a single relation while still remaining separate from each other and the other objects in their vicinity. Second, any intentional object bears within it a tension between its unified core and its sensuous surface.9

Harman would discover in Husserl’s work the notion of a split object, of a separation between the real inner core and its sensual appendages or features. Harman presents us with an eliminative realism in the sense that a sensual object’s essence is never revealed to any spectator but might be attained by “subtracting [all of its] adumbrations” through the intellectual exercise that Husserl calls “eidetic variation.”10 The difference between Harman and Husserl comes down to his belief that the reality of objects is something that is closed off from both the senses and the intuitive intellect. They are not immanent to intentionality or necessarily correlated with human consciousness, which can only cut them down to human size.11 For Harman a full-fledged realism must give an account of interobject encounters and causal interaction when no humans are around as witnesses.12

… in the next part I’ll take up Harman’s relation to Heidegger as Sparrow interprets it.

1. Sparrow, Tom (2014-06-30). The End of Phenomenology: Metaphysics and the New Realism (Speculative Realism EUP) (Kindle Locations 2563-2564). Edinburgh University Press. Kindle Edition.
2. ibid. (KL 2585-3586)
3. ibid. (KL 2606-2608)
4. ibid. (KL 2611-2613)
5. ibid. (KL 2629-2630)
6. ibid. (KL 2633-2634)
7. ibid. (KL 2648-2649)
8. ibid. (KL 2656-2657)
9. ibid. (KL 2665-2668)
10. ibid. (KL 2680-2682)
11. ibid. (KL 2695-2697)
12. ibid. (KL 2727-2728)

Speculations on the End of Time: Gratton, Harman, Barbour

The primary dualism in the world is not between matter and mind, but between objects and relations, and most relations will be unrecognizable as anything mental, just as objects turn out not to resemble what is usually called the physical.

– Graham Harman, Time, Space, Essence, Eidos

Harman’s work must deny the reality of time in order to make his own claims for a certain realism…

– Peter Gratton, Post-Deconstructive Realism It’s about Time

I suggest that our belief in time and a past arises solely because our entire experience comes to us through the medium of static arrangements of matter, in Nows, that create the appearance of time and change. Tensors relate different things and bring them into lawful connection.

– Julian Barbour, The End of Time

Recently Peter Gratton’s essay in Speculations IV (which I’ve already written of here) reminded me of Julian Barbour’s book The End of Time which I’d read a few years back and found some interesting parallel’s on the theory of Time within a metaphysics of presence. What you see below is just bringing out the comparisons, this is not a defense of Harman, Gratton, Barbour or anyone else. Time is a philosophical bombshell, and not a notions that has a perfect solution: at least, not yet, in my honest opinion.  Time is still one of the grand mysteries for science and philosophy, along with ideas on causality, and we need to be open to the strange and unfounded speculations even if they appear at first as counter-intuitive or against the grain of one’s common sense experience. Even Einstein’s conceptions on relativity were not accepted outright, but were debated for years before becoming central to physics. What I show below is just such a comparison between a working scientist, Julian Barbour (quantum gravity theorist), and the speculative philosophy of Graham Harman. To draw comparisons is not to defend either side of the coin. Quantum Gravity Theory is not even the most accepted theory in physics: that being String Theory at present. But all these ideas are hotly debated with no perfect solution. It is to tease out speculative thought and see things differently from our usual habitual modes of thinking. My attitude toward philosophy is to keep an open mind, to take off my ideological blinkers, my philosophical presuppositions, and let the philosopher bare his or her conceptual framework without some ultimate judgment. Judgment is for critique, not commentary. What I try my best to do on this site is commentary rather than critique. You’ll find plenty of critique on a thousand other blogs.  Time is a hobby for me, so I find things interesting in crossovers between systems, even if those systems are true or not true, its the strangeness of the ideas that fascinates. In fact Graham can and will defend his own position in a new book from a comment on this post and on Gratton’s conceptions: here.

* * *

Peter ultimately critiqued both Meillassoux and Graham Harman as metaphyscians of presence: philosophers for whom time is the cosmic illusion (my post on this: here). Harman considers himself a substantial formalist. In an early essay Time, Space, Essence, Eidos he lays out most of the themes that have from the beginning haunted his discourse on Objects and the fourfold tensions between real objects and real qualities, and sensual objects and sensual qualities. Every time I begin thinking about Harman’s system I want to pull out my nephew’s tinker set and start building objects in patterns that will somehow match his diagrammatic imagination.  Peter Gratton in his essay he remarks in otherwise frank terms tells us that neither Meillassoux or Harman believe in Time:

Meillassoux and Harman mark a return to the real that is anything but, as long as they treat the time of becoming as epiphenomenal, and thus deny the reality of time however aporetic it is, as we well know—at the beating hearts of thinkers they too quickly disparage while ignoring what were their central insights.

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Follow up on Speculations IV

I haven’t had a chance to read each essay in detail, but I’m discovering in this issue of Speculations IV that it seems to be a time for accounting, for taking stock of where SR started, who the players are, some of the directions for future appraisal, as well as a few critical appraisals that wonder if this is anything new at all. Reading Graham Harman’s introductory essay he lays out the differences among some of the original players: 1) Quentin Meillassoux, whose After Finitude sparked the initial conference in London back in 2007; 2) Ray Brassier, who has distanced himself from the ‘movement’ (If that is what it still is?), Iain Hamilton Grant, as well as Harman himself.

Harman mentions the battle-royal going on within Continental Philosophy between the new realists and the recent century of anti-realists, bringing up a comment by Paul Ennis who offers the succinct opinion that for most Continental philosophers SR and its anti-correlationism is just plain ‘silly’ and not a threat to the dominance of anti-realist traditions:

“Continental realism is the fringe of the fringe. It might be popular for now, but we can already see a sort of knuckling down by the antirealists…the backlash. Most of them find the whole anti-correlationism thing silly and I don’t think continental realism is actually a threat to the dominance of antirealism…”1

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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?)

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Slavoj Zizek and Graham Harman: On withdrawal…

Even though Slavoj Zizek and someone like Graham Harman are diametrically in opposing camps, there is something I’ve discovered along the way. Harman is an avid reader of Zizek even if he opposes his base line materialism. You can find scattered throughout his oeuvre references to Zizek’s works from Tool-Being onwards. I often wondered why he was so interested in Zizek, and confronted the ideas Zizek upheld.

Both philosophers were at one time deeply influenced either oppositionally or  friendly toward the work of Martin Heidegger. You find references to Heidegger strewn through both philosophers works. Of late I’ve seen many people castigate Harman for his use of the notion of ‘withdrawal’, and yet, in other respects, even as late as Less Than Nothing (LTN), I see Zizek intensely working that term as well in alternating passages. In one of the notes in LTN Zizek remarks on Heidegger:

When Heidegger speaks of the “concealment of concealment itself” or the “oblivion of oblivion,” this should not be reduced to a double movement of first forgetting Being in our immersion in beings and then forgetting this forgetting itself: forgetting is always also a forgetting of forgetting itself, otherwise it is not forgetting at all— in this sense, as Heidegger put it, it is not only that Being withdraws itself, but Being is nothing but its own withdrawal. (Furthermore, concealment is a concealment of concealment in a much more literal way: what is concealed is not Being in its purity but the fact that concealment is part of Being itself.)(Kindle Locations 25735-25740).

Is it too hard to hear in the above passage the echoes of influence in Harman of, let’s say, what is concealed is not the Object in its purity but the fact that concealment is part of the Object itself. And if Being withdraws itself as in Heidegger then what of the Object withdraws itself. Are these metaphorical ellipsis in movement?

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Timothy Morton: The Aesthetic Dimension

Phenomenology, then, is an essential cognitive task of confronting the threat that things pose in their very being. … After phenomenology, we can only conclude that a great deal of philosophizing is not an abstract description or dispassionate accounting, but only an intellectual defense against the threatening intimacy of things.

– Timothy Morton, Realist Magic

Peter Schwenger in his book The Tears of Things comes very close to the same central insight upon which Graham Harman has built his entire metaphysical edifice. We discover that for the most part the everyday tools that we use: hammers, rakes, pens, computers, etc., remain inconspicuous; overlooked by those of us who use such tools; noticing them, if at all, as necessities that help us get on with our own work. Yet, the paradox of this situation is that there are moments when the tool threatens us, becomes an obstacle to our enterprising projects, and it is at such moments that we suddenly awaken from our metaphysical sleep and notice these objects in a strange new light: when the hammer iron head flies free of the wooden handle, or the computer suddenly freezes, the screen goes black, then sparking and sending out small frissions of stench and smoke from the flat box that encases it; at such moments we become defensive, threatened by the power of these material objects that we no longer control, that in fact are broken and exposed, beyond our ability to know just what they are.

We also become aware that the tool is part of a larger sphere: it does not exist in and of itself, but is applied to materials in concert with other tools to make something that may then be seen in its turn as “equipment for residency” in parallel to Le Corbusier’s famous pronouncement that “a house is a machine for living in.” The full network of equipment’s interrelated assignments and intentions makes up what the subject perceives as “world.” The dynamic of this world, at whatever level, is one of care – care of the subject’s being. The business of equipment, then, is not just to build an actual house but as much as possible, and in the broadest sense, to make the subject feel at home in the state of existing.1

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Zizek on Speculative Realism: Thinking the Real

“The problem is not to think the Real outside of transcendental correlation, independently of the subject; the problem is to think the Real inside the subject, the hard core of the Real in the very heart of the subject, its ex-timate center.”

 – Slavoj Zizek, Less Than Nothing

Mapping the four players of the original SR movement onto the board game of squares, Greimasian semiotic square at that, Zizek manipulates the elements to test out his own interpretive strategies. A grid that aligns Quentin Meillassoux’s “speculative materialism,” Graham Harman’s “object-oriented philosophy,”  Iain Hamilton Grant’s neo-vitalism, and Ray Brassier’s radical nihilism along a divine/secular and scientific/metaphysical four-score transposition and permutation of elements that serves his commentary. As he tells us:

Although both Meillassoux and Brassier advocate a scientific view of reality as radically contingent and apprehensible through formalized science, Brassier also endorses scientific reductionism, while Meillassoux leaves the space open for a non-existent divinity which will redress all past injustices. On the other side, both Harman and Grant advocate a non-scientific metaphysical approach, with Harman opting for a directly religious (or spiritualist, at least) panpsychism, outlining a program of investigating the “cosmic layers of psyche” and “ferreting out the specific psychic reality of earthworms, dust, armies, chalk, and stone,” while Grant, in Deleuzian fashion, locates the meta-physical dimension in nature itself, conceiving the world of objects as the products of a more primordial process of becoming (will, drive, etc.).1*

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