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

Thursday, September 30, 2010

How to Get That Elusive Academic Job

Over the last few months I've come to appreciate Graham Harman's writing advice. It's spot on. I share his mindset on this. I thought I'd add my ideas on applying for jobs (tis the season).

I'm the absolute worst at getting jobs, ever. I had 100 rejections before I landed one. I kept all the letters in a folder until I realized I could just chuck them away.

I know exactly how NOT to do it, therefore, I know how to get you a job. Go over to Twitter where I'm dispensing advice to all and sundry. I'll give it a shot here too.

Horror Head



Curve, “Horror Head”

That was an incredible Glastonbury I played at. Senser, My Bloody Valentine, Lush and Curve all had female lead singers. Still unsurpassed, maybe. Watching these guys was a big highlight. John Peel got me into them.

Object-Oriented Buddhism 9

Adrian Ivakhiv and Fabio Cunctator (Hypertiling) chime in on Buddhism and OOO.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Object-Oriented Buddhism 8

AH...I see Professor Bryant has another excellent post, this time on Buddhism. How does he do it?

Levi raises the crucial question. How the heck do I even begin to think that something as seemingly relationist and process oriented as Buddhism could be amenable to OOO? Adrian Ivakhiv chimes in very helpfully on this issue in the comments section of Levi's post.

This requires serious work on my part. But for now...it's true that the Theravadins developed a theory of interdependence they called pratityasamutpada.

In this view Buddha gives a teaching that says "This is like this, therefore that is like that." So even on this level there is a "this" distinct from a "that." It reminds me a little of some things Graham Harman says about tool-being constituting a vast horizonless "world."

Then the Mahayana crew showed up with their teachings on emptiness. They have some interesting arguments about this precise area. One of them is known as "the tiny vajra" because it's so cute and small and devastating. One aspect of the tiny vajra's fourfold (!) argument is that if things are indeed reducible to other things, nothing would exist, which is absurd on the face of it.

The examples include a seed and its sprout, and (shout out to Al-Ghazali fans) a candle and its flame.

Sounds like a part of OOO to me...but there's more...stay tuned! Clue: I translate "empty" as "withdrawn."

Aristotle

Along with OOO, Aristotle was a major (re)discovery of the summer. So I'm very glad that Levi Bryant has an excellent post up on his weirdness. I couldn't agree more. I actually found Aristotle's examples—paleness and being educated show up a lot—laugh-out-loud funny on more than one occasion. I see Levi matches Aristotle in this respect—very nicely done.

Graham Harman has a corresponding post up about the trouble with reading Aristotle as an authoritarian who likes putting things in rigid boxes. I couldn't agree more with this too. I have heard more than one Derrida-inclined thinker repeating this and felt so strongly about it that I decided to talk against it in my history of criticism undergrad class yesterday. Funny synchronicity.

For me Aristotle seems to exude a relish for actually existing THINGS. He very skilfully tugs your mind away from wanting to find some material substrate that underpins them all or some transcendental Idea or other umbrella under which they all fit (Graham's undermining and overmining). His critique of matter in general is totally riveting. I rather like the punchy demotic of the new Penguin edition of the Metaphysics.

So much so that Aristotle will provide the architecture for my talk on Levi's panel at RMMLA. Title: “We Aren't the World.” I'll be talking about global warming as an Aristotelian substance.

Do yourself a favor: read the Categories, the Physics and the Metaphysics.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

New Layout

Adrian Ivakhiv, whose blog I admire very much, just posted a very nice comment on this one's new look. I'm happy with it. It points away from Earth, a paradox I like. There is for sure something extraterrestrial and un-worldly about things, as Harman argues in Tool-Being. The white text background means things show up on a phone, in the absence of Wordpress's elegant mobile solution.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Karmapa on video

Here he is talking about vegetarianism and ecology among other things.

Yiyun Li wins a MacArthur

The extraordinary novelist Yiyun Li works kitty corner to me. And she just won a MacArthur Fellowship.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pteranodon

Just listening to my friends' Shannon and Jeff's music, Pteranodon. It's really really extraordinary. Speculative realist music evoking pre-human times and spaces: one piece is called “Ancient Air Space.” You can easily find some on iTunes.

Music that is heavy with wonderment, melancholy, evolutionary time—it seems static yet it oozes on. The time of the arche-fossil. Jaw dropping.

Pteranodon

Just listening to my friends' Shannon and Jeff's music, Pteranodon. It's really really extraordinary. Speculative music evoking pre-human times and spaces: one piece is called “Ancient Air Space.” You can easily find some on iTunes.

Music that is heavy with wonderment, melancholy

Object-Oriented Rhetoric Class

I'm teaching rhetoric as a graduate theory class this quarter and would really appreciate any advice anyone has to give me, so feel free to comment on my choices, topics and so on. As you can see the conclusion will be OOO, which I find very exciting. Throughout we're going to keep testing to see how far we can bend things away from human reference.

So far my syllabus is:
1) Introduction.
2) The pre-Socratics.
3) Language and Idea. Plato and Neoplatonism.
4) Technique. Aristotle, Quintillian, Horace.
5) God. Maimonides, Augustine, Eckhart, Milton.
6) The sublime. Longinus, Burke, Kant.
7) Production. Nietzsche, Marx, Freud.
8) Deconstruction. Heidegger, Derrida.
9) Objects. McLuhan, Bogost, Harman, Bogost, Barnett, Gale, Reid.

Object-Oriented Buddhism 7

I just wrote this to Ian Bogost but it bears repeating here.

My aim isn't to persuade people to become Buddhists so much as it is to show
a) a way to think OOO that may not have occurred to people yet;
b) to show the flexibility and scope of OOO; and
c) to raise some questions about that whole Marxism–Christianity axis that seems to have assembled itself.
d) provide an alternative to said axis.

Friday, September 24, 2010

My Blog Took Acid

Christopher Mayhew, is that you?



Richard Long



Alistair Rider, an art historian whose work I'm enjoying discovering at present, sent me a card from St. Andrew's University in Scotland. It's a piece by Richard Long. I like it so much I decided to show it here. You can find it here. Long's site is good too.

Long's A Line Made by Walking was the very first environmental piece I'd ever really seen. I saw it when I was about twelve and it made a very striking impression. I always think of it when I think of certain texts by Heidegger. I remember thinking something about how empty and open the image was, and something like “Weird—it's in a field, the field became part of it, this is just the photo.”

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Object-Oriented Buddhism 6

The Tibetan Kagyü, Nyingma and Shakya lineages (at least), along with Japanese Zen and many other forms of Buddhism, have developed an approach to studying the mind that reminds me of Ian Bogost's concept of “carpentry”—sort of hands on philosophy (it takes up a whole chapter his excellent forthcoming Alien Phenomenology, which is about 20% of the book). Learning things by making things.

As Heidegger argues it's simply not the case that praxis is untheoretical, and theorizing is impractical. Sometimes you can only really find out about something by using it.

Instead of studying the mind (inevitably as an object “over there,” present-at-hand in Heidegger's terms, laden with the baggage of “common sense” prejudices), these traditions study the mind by doing something with it, by using it to meditate.

The idea that meditation is useless navel-gazing is an absurd mistake.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Object-Oriented Buddhism 5

Buddhism has developed thousands of techniques to enable a very important tool—your mind—to look at itself. This looking can be done in all kinds of ways, from studying and analyzing through direct experience.

What happens when your mind looks directly at your mind?


Clue: not infinite self-reference, thinking about thinking about thinking ... This sort of hall-of-mirrors thing would be mere presence-at-hand multiplied, i.e. just stereotyped pictures of your mind in your mind, NOT your mind as such. (“Presence-at-hand” is Heidegger's phrase.)

What happens? Your mind disappears! Yet it keeps functioning perfectly!
(Trust me, I know.)

There is a perfectly good OOO explanation for this. Which as far as I'm concerned puts OOO way up there—many philosophers have tried and failed to wrap their heads around Buddhism, Heidegger included...

Want to know more? Well get hold of Levi Bryant's and Ian Bogost's Object-Oriented Philosophy Anthology.

Karmapa on Ecology



The Kagyü lineage emphasizes practice rather than study—of course they go together but the point is to meditate, meditate, meditate. Here's Orgyen Trinley Dorje, the Karmapa, the head of the lineage, talking about ecology:

Discussing the tremendous kindness of others, the Gyalwang Karmapa extended the previous days’ presentation to include all the kindness we receive from the natural environment as well. His Holiness pointed out that every single breath we inhale is the product of countless anterior causes and conditions coming together. We are the beneficiaries not just of a single lungful of the oxygen that is essential to our survival, but of a continual supply throughout our lives. The Gyalwang Karmapa then went on to relate a personal experience he had while circumambulating Gyuto some time back, in which he felt the enormity of all that nature is offering us at all times, and was filled with a sense of wonder at this fact, and with wellbeing and happiness. Often, the Gyalwang Karmapa commented, we focus on all our personal goals and projects, and on what we have failed to accomplish with our own efforts, rather than opening our perspective to the tremendous richness and goodness that nature is offering us at all times, with no effort whatsoever. Maintaining an awareness of this ever-available goodness could bring far greater contentment and joy to our lives.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Karmapa on Vegetarianism





The Karmapa is to the Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism what the Dalai Lama is to the Gelugpas. He's in his twenties. Here's an extract of his recent teachings.

Continuing the theme introduced yesterday of human cruelty to animals, His Holiness commented that because animals cannot express their feelings in human speech, somehow we feel entitled to ignore them. He then offered an imaginative exploration of what might ensue if fish, chicken or other animals whose flesh we consume unthinkingly might suddenly be endowed with the power of human speech. Surely they would hire lawyers and take us to task for our actions towards them, he said. Should we have to face them in court, what explanation could we possibly give for our treatment of them, His Holiness wondered. When required to account for our repeated killing and cruelty, the best we might be able to do is reply, “But you taste good!” or “Well, you just look like food to me!” These would obviously not hold up in court as justifiable reasons for our actions, the Gyalwang Karmapa wryly pointed out. Yet humanity’s acts of cruelty towards one another, up to and including genocide, develops from precisely this habitual willingness to enact our selfish and aggressive impulses, and ignore the suffering of others in the process, His Holiness cautioned.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Object-Oriented Buddhism 4

Traditionally the Buddha is said to have given three cycles of teachings, or “turnings of the wheel of dharma”:

1) First turning. Theravada teachings. Egolessness of self.
2) Second turning. Mahayana. Emptiness (of self and other).
3) Third turning. Luminosity.

Tibetan Buddhist schools are divided as to whether 2) or 3) is the highest teaching, the definitive one. (Sorry not enough space or time to go into the full intensity here. But there is a very good book: Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso, Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness.)

One group, which reminds me of deconstruction, say it's 2). Any positive statement about reality whatsoever contains traces of ontotheology. 3) lapses into theism.

Another group, which reminds me of OOO, say it's 3). Things exist, but not in an ontotheological way. Emptiness is the basis for their existing. 2) lapses into nihilism.

If we were Tibetans living in about 1800 the recent discussions of Derrida would be precisely about whether luminosity was just a way for less smart people to understand something about Buddhism (the position of (2) types) or whether it's the shizzle (3).

(2) considered (3) a regression to ontotheology. (3) considered itself a progression from nihilistic tendencies.

We'll leave the final word to Nagarjuna, the philosopher who devised the Middle Way (Madhyamika), very very close to deconstruction, commenting on (2):

“Whoever assumes my philosophy to be a belief system is incurably insane.”

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Object-Oriented Buddhism 3

Another reason why Buddhism is object-oriented?

Objects are not the problem. Your mind is the problem. Mostly the fact that you see yourself as special and different from other objects.

Talk at Calarts

I'm talking at CalArts on 10.7. See this very nice postcard—you are free to download and distribute it. My talk is called “Hyperobjects.”
AP Postcard

Object-Oriented Buddhism 2


AH


In my essay "Object-Oriented Buddhism" (for Bryant, Harman and Bogost's OOO volume) I shall argue that Buddhism develops not only arguments but techniques for studying the mind as an object.

At first this mind object appears to be an object in the subject-object sense. Basic meditation slows you down enough to see that mind is at least an object in this sense.

Later on, however, mind is experienced as an object in the Harmanian sense--as a "sparkling" presence (his word) that is also totally withdrawn from access.

"But don't you need a subject to experience this object? Isn't this an infinite regress?"

If you have this worry you are simply confused by the traditional presentation of objects as "for" some subject. Buddhism argues that this is not simply a philosophical issue but is endemic to existing as such (samsara).

Simple yes?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Qui Parle essay

My first essay on OOO is away to the copy edit stage at Qui Parle. It was a little bit of a balancing act writing it. I was asked to address ecology, and I had some thoughts of my own on OOO. So it's somewhere between a survey and an in-depth study.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tim's Conference Notes

The conference forum isn't letting me post right now so I'll post my notes here fyi.

Values of environmental writing
Timothy Morton

Looking for inspiration in strange places.
Evolution, ecosystem: interconnected in time and space
Trying to evoke the reality of interconnectedness (ecosystem on the program)
Scale (hyperobjects, decentering), habitats (and the unheimlich)
Openness of art has a shot at doing this
Cocteau Twins: environmental form. The timbral
Irony--subject is included (Wordsworth poems). Not that the subject constructs her world or that the world lights up because of the presence of a human subject--no, in fact the absence of this is why there IS irony
The uncanny: strange strangers. Kathleen Jamie, “The Tay Moses”
Coexistence, logos (mesh), as uncanny
Heidegger, human being as uncanny
Horror, gothic, melancholy
Inspiration as happy happy face or as awakening us
Breathing in, spirit(ual)
Unhomely—homelessness
Weird picaresque realism--could be comedy, tragedy
Not a Burkean nor a Kantian but a Longinian sublime

Values of Environmental Writing

(NB updated address) If by chance you are near Glasgow tomorrow (September 17) I'm talking "there" by videoconference at 4.15 (UK time) in The Hetherington Building (Rm 118), behind the University of Glasgow Library.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fragile

I recently posted on fragility, chunks of Greenland, the movie Avatar and the rock group Yes here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Polygraph 22 on Ecology

A great new issue of the journal Polygraph (22, available on amazon), is now out, featuring me, Ben Woodard, Anthony Paul Smith, Imre Szeman, John Bellamy Foster, Kim Stanley Robinson, Kathy Rudy, Ariel Salleh, Slavoj Zizek and Michael Hardt (and many others). All this and a review of Graham Harman's Prince of Networks. The editor, Gerry Canavan, provides a useful summary here.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Where I Was



Crestone, Southern Colorado, Western Slope of the Rockies.

Grave

Graham Harman has a post on Hawking's new project. I think it's admirable for philosophy to question scientists, often and early. Off the top of my head, I see two problems with Hawking's basis for atheism:

1) Gravity has to exist in his view—the Universe is thus not strictly arising from “nothing” as he specifies. Some kind of object(s) already existed.

2) Gravity may well be epiphenomenal to the Universe. New research at Berkeley is wondering whether quantum level phenomena are a kind of picture of the very early Universe, just as deep rocks are pictures of the early ages of the Earth. Gravity, famously, doesn't square with the other three fundamental forces one finds there. If you treat gravity as emergent, you get rid of a lot of other problems such as the massive imbalance of dark matter to matter.

3) (addendum) This means that space–time is not a continuum all the way down. Strike one to Aristotle...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Energize





Guru Rinpoche dissolving into rainbow light. Why not?