Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Saturday, July 31, 2010


...By Odyssey.

Toon Zizek

You know you've made it big when someone makes a CARTOON of your latest talk. Thanks Peter Gratton.

Cartoons (according to Zizek's Lacanianism) reveal the real far more than photographs, since they embody fantasy.

Harman on time

It's about his first encounter with Heidegger. But it also talks about time. There's a golden line:

The intellectual reflex of our time is still to say: “static and essential = bad; changing and becoming = good.”

It reminds me of a half finished thought I posted on Bryant's post on construction. I wrote that the prejudice is to think "object = static."

Graham jumps further in to the core of the problem: this stasis is thought pejoratively.

It made me realize that ironically it's the process view that reifies time into an external container. The trumpery of "you would be a fool to think objects as static" masks an underlying prejudice that is not well worked out.

The prejudice is the default mode in which "everything flows." Now he mentions it I hear the ticking of a clock inside this meme. It's so easy to hold it in an age of ubiquitous time measuring devices.

Ironically then the process view codes for thinking time as a succession of instants. Which is why I find Harman's reworking of occasionalism so refreshing.

"Of course you would be a fool to think that things are static" is trumpery, and that it might mask a deeply held prejudice about time as an external container, just ticking away regardless.

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Levi on agents

Profoundly good thinking from Bryant. "The environment does not exist."

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Expressionist Ecology

Graham Harman has a wonderful post up about Pierrot Lunaire. My favorite is “Der Kranke Mond”:
You nocturnal moon, sick to death,
There on the black cushion of the sky
Your face, so swollen with fever
Enchants me, like a strange melody.

An unhealing love wound
Kills you, with longing, deeply smothered,
You nocturnal moon, sick to death
There on the black cushion of the sky.

The lover, who in sensual delirium
Goes without thinking to his lover
Delights in the play of your beams,
Your bleached, agony-wrenched blood
You nocturnal moon, sick to death.
I just finished yet another essay on dark ecology that quoted this one by Gottfried Benn:
Oh that we were our primordial ancestors
Small lumps of plasma in a sultry swamp.
Life and death, conception and birth—
All emerging from those juices soundlessly.

A frond of seaweed or a dune of sand,
Formed by the wind and bound to the Earth.
Even a dragonfly's head or the wing of a gull
Would be too remote and mean too much suffering.
In my view there needs to be more ecological poetry like this—expressionist, “decadent” and gothically dark.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tolliver in Beautiful Decay

Beautiful Decay magazine are doing a feature on Comora Tolliver, whose work you should know. I'm writing about her for a British arts paper as I write this. The issue is entitled “Exquisite Corpse”...


Graham Harman's post earlier today about the cover of his new book (nice violet with huge letters—good one) made me think of teaching Whitman last year and how much I truly enjoyed it, for the first time, because I was working towards something that I now see as OOO.

Meanwhile Levi Bryant has been posting on the mesh and his analysis of lawn grass is bang on.

So I started thinking I would put something down about Leaves of Grass. What an alluringly simple yet cryptic (withdrawn?) title for a book of poems.

Since traditionally flowers are tropes (“the flowers of rhetoric,” which goes back at least to Aristotle), all flower poems are inherently fascinating because they're about language. (An “anthology” is a collection of flowers.) Moreover, titles about flowers and plants are playing on this linkage. So a title I really like from the Romantic period is Leigh Hunt's Foliage. It's beautifully offhand, like titling your book Some Poems. And it brings to mind the folded density of a book itself (folio being a way of making a book with only one fold—the most high-end, expensive luxury product kind of book).

It occurs to me that the flower-as-trope trope actually refers to the rhetorical flower as an object, in the OOO sense: independent of human minds and withdrawn from itself and from other objects. Its meaning is irreducibly hidden, and hiddenness is part of its meaning.

The title Leaves of Grass talks about the paper the poems are written on, doesn't it? It brings the paper into the poetry. Leaves means pages, of course.

A blade of grass is long and slender, like a line of Whitman. One of his genius innovations was very long lineation, as in the prophetic works of William Blake. These lines are hard if not impossible to take in all at once. The very long poetic line is an object that decisively withdraws.
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass
The long, slender blade of the fifth line of Whitman's poem removes the grass from the observing “I” even as it links them semantically. The “I” is itself withdrawn from the quotidian round of labor. In this sense the line is part of the extended phenotype of grass! (Hat tip to Levi there.)

(Of course this is maybe a counterintuitive way of reading a “Song of Myself”...)

A trope in this OOO sense is not simply a linguistic object, if by that we mean something linguistic turn-y. It's a curve (the literal meaning of trope, sort of like “spin”), like the gentle crescent of a blade of grass.


Alistair Rider, whose work looks fascinating, put this review up of The Ecological Thought. It's not every day that one encounters displays of such kindness so I thought I would acknowledge it here.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Jiggery Pokery Trumpery

Graham Harman has found a perfect term to describe a maneuver that's only too common in our world: trumpery. I tell you that your ideas are far less sophisticated than mine by pulling out a pseudo-counter-intuitive trump card. Viz. my favorite (least favorite) one from Continental philosophy: “Of course you would be totally naive to think that there is a continuity between humans and animals. That would be mere Darwinism, a dreadfully unsophisticated mistake.” I can also think of dozens of examples from Dennett and Dawkins et al.

“Trumpery” is a great term. It has a hint of something like effrontery or mockery (because of the sound of the word), a kind of affected importance.

Harman holds trumpery responsible for some of the terrible pickles we've gotten ourselves into and I think he is definitely on to something. His example:
“Contrary to the gullible masses of readers who all think Heidegger is straightforwardly anti-technology, it’s not really that simple.” This is trumpery: a deceptive, misleading trump card based on false sophistication.
Or this from phenomenology:
Correlationism does this as its essential gesture: “The naive are trapped by the pseudo-problem of ‘real’ and ‘ideal’ or ‘outer’ and ‘inner’, when in fact we are already outside ourselves in our very inwardness.”

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Survival kit

Here's a link to a good post over at Planomenology on the subject of survival.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Black holes, poetics, objects

This piece in New Scientist is about how every black hole may hold a hidden universe. General relativity equations plus Roger Penrose's idea of twistors (that warp space time under certain conditions) will get you there. The point being—we may be inside a black hole. This would be like the possibility that we are objects in a dream. (See my previous.)

The thing is, you can't peer inside them. “As you approach a black hole, the increasing gravitational field makes time tick slower and slower. So, for an external observer, any new universe inside would form only after an infinite amount of time had elapsed...” The black hole, in other words, is operationally closed.

Graham describes objects as black holes: so dense that no information can escape from them...

(Which by the way, is how I like to think of poems by Keats, who inaugurates what I and others call the objectivist mode of avant garde poetics...Keats's whole strategy is to create poetic black holes that are just so intensely pleasurable that they stick to you and you melt off them.

Dreams as Objects / Objects as Dreams

If one were to add Solaris (the Russian version) to The Matrix the result would probably be a hell of a mess. Or it might be Inception, the must-see movie of the summer. Of course one doesn't want to get involved in plot spoilers (and I believe this post doesn't).

It's also a film noir version of Cronenberg's Existenz, which in some ways is a less successful version of Videodrome. Personally I have a huge affection for noir and in the spirit of thinking that movies are philosophy by another means, I've thought some about how noir is the aesthetic mode of dark ecology. It certainly feels like a noir plot to realize that you are implicated in an emergency that is of your own making. I preferred Inception to Existenz, perhaps because I don't get out too much, but maybe also because the noir framework made the film more thoughtful, less of an assault, and less nihilistic. (I believe there is something rather than nothing, to be sure—and in any case, nihilism is a form of belief that CLAIMS not to be, which makes me suspicious.)

In any case, Inception is an OO movie, folks. Dreams are objects, no? And in Levi's wonderful adaptation of Varela and Luhmann, they're operationally closed. You can't know what someone is dreaming about, you can only know that they're dreaming.

Inception wraps dreams in dreams in dreams like Graham Harman's thesis that objects are wrapped in objects wrapped in objects...

Graham also talks about objects that are having no outer relations as sleeping (e.g. Prince of Networks, 214). This movie got me wondering—are objects actually dreaming? This is not much more than a poeticism at present.

But it got me thinking about how objects in dreams have their own withdrawal, their own operational closure. This is precisely how Freud describes dreams: their images are rebuses made out of other objects. Like a bee plus a leaf spells belief...

Inside a dream, correlationism might mean what Levi calls Malkovichism: thinking that everything in the dream is about me, me, me. Where “me” is actually a projection onto the objects in the dream. (This is a major theme in Inception.)

Waking up from the dream involves some kind of “kick,” a stimulus from outside that ruptures the operational closure of the dream. It's then that you realize that you're dreaming and the whole thing collapses.

There's another possibility, which is explored in the movie: lucid dreaming, alias realizing that you're in a dream. This realization would be like waking up in the dream as such. (For some reason I've had this experience reasonably frequently.) This would be the equivalent of dissolving what I've called beautiful soul syndrome (BS!). (A theme not unconnected with ecological thinking, as I've discussed in various places.) In beautiful soul syndrome, you are trapped in the reality-effect of your own projections. The way to dissolve it is not to fight it but to become responsible for it. Evil, Hegel argues, is the GAZE that sees the world as an evil object.

There seems to be a strong distinction between Malkovichism and lucid dreaming. In Malkovichism, one is oppressed by one's own ego as an evil object. In lucid dreaming, one realizes that the objects in the dream are not all about “me,” they are just objects in a dream, which is also an object...

What dissolves in the experience of lucid dreaming are precisely correlationalist phenomena that one thinks are attributes of objects as such, like solidity, time as a linear succession of instants, “matter” versus “mind” and so on.

Seeing life as a dream, then, would not necessarily mean seeing reality as a solipsistic VR experience or idealist event in one's head. It might be just the opposite—allowing objects to be rather than seeing them as mirrors of “me.”

I'm very, very interested in all this as I'm writing an essay on Buddhism and OOO for Levi right now. These thoughts are just sketches really. And I haven't done anything with the (at present) poeticism that objects dream. Maybe this is what Levi means by the virtuality of objects?

Poems by Claire

My daughter Claire (six) just came up to me with these incredible poems.
My mind as clear
As flowing water
My song as beautiful
As the dancing wind

My thought as powerful
As dragon's breath my
Mind the holder of
The Universe

My body a friend my
Joy Earth

Beautiful Soul Syndrome

Harman gets at the issue of the beautiful soul (or BS as I sometimes call it). This is a big problem with how environmentalism poses itself. Although I'm not sure the solution is to kick the beautiful soul—it seems to make it more beautiful...So in Ecology without Nature I argue we have to tunnel further in and find out what's there.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Survival 2: Nonlocality

There's another problem with picking survival as foundational: the fact that you can entangle particles. You can then tell one particle to do something, and the other one will do it simultaneously. This holds for arbitrary distances like, say, the other side of the street, or the other side of the galaxy.

Time as a succession of moments is epiphenomenal to this fact. It very much depends on the fact that humans are traveling way slower than photons.

So from this point of view time-as-succession is also correlationism.

Not convinced? Here's physicist Julian Barbour explaining how time as a succession of instants is produced by deeper causes. (Thanks Peter Gratton.) Now, Barbour doesn't have to be right. It's simply that you need not believe in time as a succession of instants to be an eliminative materialist.

Time is not necessary to eliminative materialism. So you can't use eliminative materialist arguments about survival to beat up on other views. Your weapon turns out to be a styrofoam bat at best.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Darwinian survival means “happening not to have died before you pass on your DNA.” This is a very minimalist definition. Evolution is a cheapskate—it always chooses the cheapest way of doing anything.

So anything like a sermon on why survival is the basis of all our ethical decisions is very strictly secondary to stuff that my DNA is taking care of in any case. So I don't have to...

I make plenty of ethical decisions not based on survival. In fact, sexual selection (another Darwinian mechanism) is pretty tough on sheer survival (as any lovelorn human can tell you).

Looking at survival as anything more than a generalization based on self-replication (does a molecule “want” to survive?) is, in short, just another spin of the correlationist wheel. Survival inevitably becomes a teleological reason to do things. And if you want to be a Darwinist, you have to kiss all forms of teleology goodbye.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Democracy of Objects

Graham Harman has a post on Levi Bryant's forthcoming book (Levi posts the chapter summary here). We both agree, I think, that it's going to be very important. If you've been following Levi's blog for any length of time you will see that he is

1) Very generous with sharing his ideas
2) Extremely eloquent
3) Extraordinarily synthetic, ranging across huge swathes of philosophy

Friday, July 16, 2010

Jon Cogburn on objects and competence

This very interesting post by Jon Cogburn argues that children will become more reluctant to perform tasks (like helping feed the dog) the more “competent” they become at that task. This sparked an insight which I'll reproduce here (I posted it as a comment):
Very interesting. I have a 6 year old daughter and a 1 year old son. The son for sure "helps" when I cook by emptying the drawers of all the napkins and cooking utensils--same thing as yours, yes?

I wonder whether there is actually an OOO reason why "competence" generates reluctance. If you don't know what you're doing with an object its withdrawnness is much more evident, no?

I was thinking about this apropos of children's book illustrations and tv shows the other day. The newer ones--horribly didactic and plasticized--are much less satisfying for all concerned than the ones that are a little bit "crappy" (even) or suggestive of hidden depths. The tv shows from the 70s in the UK when you could see the animation technique or the puppet strings were so much better (I'm not just being nostalgic I think).
This has a fascinating aesthetic implication. “Bad” art and “good” art with hidden depths have more in common than “bad” art and “good” art without hidden depths. Put that in yer pipe and smoke it!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Marjorie Levinson: Hymn to Intellectual Beauty

It's about time I posted on perhaps the one key seminal figure in my work: Marjorie Levinson, the incomparable Romanticist, Spinozist and radical materialist.

I knew her work by the time I attended my first MLA conference (usually not the place for an epiphany). But nothing prepared me for the time bomb she laid out in a characteristically dense, lucid and brilliant talk. Flanked by a historicist (“There is no Nature”) and an ecocritic (“There is a Nature”) on what I believe was the very first ecocriticism panel at the MLA, Marjorie talked about Spinoza, and about a materialism without subject or object.

I recall thinking Wow, That Idea...I was into my first spell around the Deleuzian mulberry bush. But you have to realize that where I was at that point these sorts of ideas were far, far out. Everyone was doing deconstruction or nascent postcolonial studies, ecocriticism was bravely burying its head in the sand...If you said "body without organs" only about three people got it.

And there was Marjorie transmitting on an adjacent frequency, loud and clear to me but maybe like a dog whistle to some others in the room.

I realized then that I wanted to study philosophy. It took about fifteen more years to figure out what I wanted to say about ecology, with Marjorie's talk still buzzing in my head like those radio signals at the beginning of Contact.

Required reading: "A Motion and a Spirit: Romancing Spinoza," Studies in Romanticism 46.2 (Winter, 2007), 367–408. There's so much there it's shocking...

"Pre- and Post-Dialectical Materialisms: Modeling Praxis without Subjects and Objects," Cultural Critique 31 (Fall, 1995), 111–120. (This was what I heard in 1992 plus more.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Levi Bryant

Levi Bryant's The Democracy of Objects will be a foundational text of OOO. It's just extraordinary how far and how deep this investigation goes, and how many other fields it brings to bear, from systems theory to Lacan.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Comora Tolliver

For a long time I've been a huge fan of Comora Tolliver's work. If you don't know about it you should. I've discussed it a bit in the last chapter of The Ecological Thought. I saw Pod and was transfixed by her covering of the installation space with mylar, down which she dripped paint. It was a very uncanny experience being inside this oozing mirror. The only things I can compare it to are extremely powerful sheets of guitar such as the ones by the inimitable Kevin Shields on Experimental Audio Research's Beyond the Pale. Pod is "about" preserving seeds in seed banks...

Her new work is just incredible. Look at the one called Death Eater. (It sounds like a blood drinking goddness of Vajrayana Buddhism...) I'm not sure yet but there's something Medusa-like in the “floating hair” (Coleridge) that wafts around the bird like a material halo. You are forced into intimacy with this life form, no doubt a strange stranger...

If you mouse over the pictures, you will see details.

Mystic Chicken must be a mascot for speculative realism...It goes beyond even Bacon's chicken/human eye/bandage in the Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion.

There are other paintings here which I'll post on soon.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

We're Talking about L.A.N.G.U.A.G.E

In this masterpiece from 1989, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie (who later starred in House) send up literary theory, Chomskyan sentences, and structural linguistics. I think I will never grow tired of “Hold the newsreader's nose squarely, waiter, or friendly milk will countermand my trousers.” It's particularly good for breaking the ice in a literary theory class. I had the good fortune to teach pre-twentieth-century theory most recently (Plato, wow, seriously), so there was no need to wheel this out.

But the skit is so much more than that. The examples Fry (dressed in classic Cambridge-style turtleneck) gives of “what language is” remind me not so much of Saussure as Heidegger. (In particular I'm thinking of the essay “Language.”) “Language is a spluttering match held to a frosted pane ... It's cobwebs, long since overrun by an old wellington boot.” The surprise of the final image is not only to do with the catachretic inversion (it should of course be the boot overrun by cobwebs)—a clever play on words that decisively separates human language from anything like reference to the actual. It has to do with the way the sentence is a kind of allegory for language as such—that in speaking it becomes “overrun” with the strangeness of a thing-like presence whose heavy shadow looms into it.

Fry's list of things is also, of course, a Latour Litany...

“Language to you is more than a form of communication?” asks Laurie. Isn't this the wager of L.A.N.G.U.A.G.E poetry, which tries to hold up to the light the object-ness of language itself, the fact that it withdraws ...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Non-human worlds

G.E Moore:
Let us imagine one world exceedingly beautiful. Imagine it as beautiful as you can; put into it whatever on this earth you most admiremountains, rivers, the sea; trees, and sunsets, stars and moon. Imagine the all combined in the most exquisite proportions, so that no one thing jars against another, but each contributes to increase the beauty of the whole. And then imagine the ugliest world you can possibly conceive. Imagine it simply one heap of filth, containing everything that is most disgusting to us, for whatever reason, and the whole, as far as may be, without one redeeming feature...The only thing we are not entitled to imagine is that any human being ever has or ever, by any possibility, can, live in either, can ever see and enjoy the beauty of the one or hate the foulness of the other. Well, even so, supposing them quite apart from any possible contemplation by human beings; still, is it irrational to hold that it is better that the beautiful world should exist, than the one which is ugly?
Jon Cogburn:

We can extend Moore’s thought experiment in a Meillassouxian direction. Suppose that you are the last human being, and you can trigger a doomsday device after your death to destroy the humanless ecosystem. Wouldn’t it still be wrong to do so? (This is a future oriented and ethical version of Meillassoux’s arche-fossil, and I think it’s just as valid!) Of course it would be monstrously wrong to do so and any ethical system that suggests otherwise is at best radically incomplete.

The big point for me is that only the kind of metaphysics you guys [such as Levi Bryant, Graham Harman, Ian Bogost and, I find to my delight, myself] are defending [OOO] can make sense of these ethical facts.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ecology as Text is out

The new OLR is here: “Deconstruction, Environmentalism, and Climate Change" is the theme.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Bees and Cell Phones

Graham Harman has posted on the possibility that bees may be affected by cell phones. Yikes.

In a study at Panjab University in Chandigarh, northern India, researchers fitted cell phones to a hive and powered them up for two fifteen-minute periods each day.

After three months, they found the bees stopped producing honey, egg production by the queen bee halved, and the size of the hive dramatically reduced.

The last explanation I read was that pollution was scrambling their sense of smell.

This link is fascinating because of the quotation from Andrew Goldsworthy of Imperial College London, speculating on what it is about electromagnetic waves. In brief, they disrupt other wavelike phenomena. In particular, cell phone waves may disturb cryptochrome, a chemical bees use that is sensitive to the Earth's electromagnetic field, and which we use to determine circadian rhythms:

[A]ny weakening of the amplitude of these rhythms means that at no time will any process controlled by them ever function at maximum power. In particular, the immune system may never be able to summon up the overwhelming power that is sometimes needed to overcome pathogens or to destroy developing cancer cells before they get out of control.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Milton was a Speculative Realist

Exhibit A: Milton was an adherent of ex deo creation. Quite a Spinozan view. Chaos consists of God's “dark materials to create more worlds”... Hence the title of Philip Pullman's trilogy.

Exhibit B: Raphael's conversation with Adam in Paradise Lost. Don't worry too much about things outside of Eden, says Raphael. Who knows, up there there may be all kinds of alien worlds, inhabited by all kinds of extraterrestrial life, maybe even conscious life—maybe there's an alien Raphael and an alien Adam having this same conversation. But don't worry about it...

Don't think of a pink elephant! (I talk about this part of Milton a bit in The Ecological Thought chapter 1.) Isn't “amplitude immense” a beautiful phrase to describe the Universe?

Nathan Brown has a very good essay on SR in Descartes and Hume coming out (“Absent Blue Wax”). Could Milton be another forerunner?

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Wow. David Reid just sent me a link to his archive. What a good page. There is a video of Keith Rowe, guitarist of groundbreaking improvisation band AMM—jaw dropping. Hyperobjects!

Rowe has a fantastic term for silence in music: “un-intention.” I talk about it a bit in my writing. Good idea, yes?

Syd Barrett saw AMM and started using a Zippo lighter on his guitar. Then Pink Floyd toured with Hendrix. Hendrix saw Barrett using the Zippo...the rest is history.

Pink Floyd, “Interstellar Overdrive,”
Tonite Let's All Make Love in London.
Syd starts playing the zippo about 10 minutes in.