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

Sunday, October 31, 2010

More on Health Care Hating

Joshua Mostafa, who lives in Australia and who has a very good blog, makes a good comment on my recent post on health care reform:

Bracketing the emotive rhetoric, aren't you mischaracterising the criticism? I'm not aware of anyone criticising the healthcare bill from the left who is also arguing for the status quo ante.

But that's the whole point, Josh. The OBJECTIVE result of their criticism, especially if they refuse to vote, is that we go back to that. Moreover, the rhetoric of the haters is NEVER “Well it's quite good actually but we wish it had been different.” It's “He should never have tried / It shouldn't have passed.” So my daughter gets zip. To preserve feelings of ideological purity.

If the rhetoric WAS “Well it's quite good,” then their argument fails. Because the content of their argument is, “It's a total scam.”

Obama by nature is a Latourian. He isn't interested in being a perfect beautiful soul sitting on the sidelines being RIGHT. As an ex-Zizekian, all I can add is, been there, done that.

I also note that some of my interlocutors in this debate don't live in the States, and furthermore, in countries with excellent health care. What are we, some ideological testing ground, or a group of real people really suffering?
I suggest to so called progressives who oppose Obamacare: you obviously grew up too privileged to lack health care at any point.

Still having trouble thinking about it? Here's my schizophrenic brother.

Try your argument vs Obama care on my schizophrenic brother (he lives in London). Imagine he lives in the US. Try saying your argument to his face. Helpful hint: over here, schizophrenia would constitute a “pre-existing condition” that would prevent you from getting health insurance. Have at it.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Challenge to Health Care Haters

Okay, I had no idea of the extent of the cynicism until I heard from some Twitter friends about the “debate” on the “left” about US health care reform.

So here's my challenge to all those of you with fervent beliefs that prevent you from endorsing Obama's health care reform in any sense.

I want you to look my daughter in the eye and tell her: “Sorry Claire, but you'll be off your dad's insurance when you're eighteen. Because it hurts our feelings that Obama's health care reform wasn't perfect.”

Still unsure? Try it with my eighteen month old son.

Before You Don't Vote

I called over 1000 voters in 2008 and donated over two grand to Obama's campaign in small donations over several months. So I have something invested in next Tuesday's election.

Listen to Van Jones break it down. Basically, you can be part of a group that does critique. What you produce is a lot of criticism. OR: you can form new affiliations, Latour style. Which is better? (There is a correct answer.)

Seriously, if you are a progressive of any kind, watch this before you solidify your intention not to vote on Tuesday.

Still not convinced? Wow. Okay. Try this.

Pierrot Lunaire as Object-Oriented Music

I'm listening to one of the several versions of Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire I have on iTunes. The sparseness of the instrumentation emphasizes each musical object starkly. The music has that menacing yet ridiculous, menacingly ridiculous quality of really good clowns. Menacing intimacy. It's like sitting in a very small theater, right up close to the performers. (There's something about Lucy Shelton's version that's razor sharp in this respect, by the way.)

What are we listening to when we listen to Expressionist music like this or look at Expressionist art? It's on the edge of beauty and the grotesque constantly. It's the most mysterious music I've ever heard in my life.

It's not really just conveying a human inner state, is it? In some sense that human state has been reduced to a menacing caricature, as in the paintings of Otto Dix. We're also hearing the clarinet as clown, the piano as high wire artist.

I think it might be object-oriented music. Music from the carnival of things.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Deleuzo-Guattarian Beauty Products on Special This Weekend

Arbor-essence, now with real tree extract
Wasp Orchid eau de cologne: be yourself
The Schizo Stroll beard trimmer
Overcoding, now in passion fruit flavor
Dogon Bath Eggs: just drop one under running water
Becoming-Intense: the fragrance for men

Deleuzian Fun for Ages 8+

Mechanosphere: build your own one in the safety of your own home! Batteries not included
Striation: the game of dexterity and wits as you try to out-striate your opponent!
Deterritorialize It: decode the flows, sit back and watch the madness unfold!
Molar and Molecular Building Blox
E-Z Pus: watch it explode. Now with Anti-E-Z Pus remover
Assemblage: the ultimate jigsaw—no straight edges!
War Machines!
BwO Barbie: with detachable limbs and lip sewing kit
Nomadology: Now anyone can go camping, it's easy!
My Many Wolves: now with wolf hair styling kit!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Great New Range of Deleuzian Modular Shelving

Flow: just fit them together for that perfect look
Breaks-in-Flow: what you need to keep your stuff separate

Use them with our Plane of Consistency wall fixtures and you can't go wrong.

The Deleuze Sale at Target is Now On!

Thanks to Peter Gratton, I was able to visit Target today, where I checked out the following fantastic new items, all designed by Gilles Deleuze:

Memory foam (he may have stolen the idea from Bergson's original bedding design)
The Thousand Plateaus memory foam mattress
The Rhizome Probehead, a vacuum cleaner with detachable nozzles
The Cozmic Nomad, a robot vacuum cleaner
Faciality, the new skin cream for men
Refrain! A great party game for all the family
Time Crystals. Just pop one in your toilet and let the magic begin
Spinoza, the all purpose gel: it's a cleaner, it's a pet's chew toy, it's a deity

There were so many products it was hard to keep track. Can you recall any?

JR's Eyes

Adrian Ivakhiv has a very helpful post on JR, who won the TED prize this year. The most interesting JR image, for me (he's a French street artist) is the one Adrian chooses for the frontispiece on his post. It's an image of a train with eyes. Deleuze and Guattari's “Faciality” chapter springs to mind (how little do you need to convey a sense of face? Just ask a car designer). It's interesting for me now precisely because it departs from the admonitory images of human faces to suggest, momentarily, that the train itself is looking, like in Merleau-Ponty.

Hello Everything Song Sheet (OOO event at UCLA)

Here's the rough schedule for our panel at UCLA on December 1, Hello Everything:

10:00 Coffee

10:30 - 11:30 Graham Harman on SR/OOO

11:30 - 12:00 Questions/discussion

12:00 - 1:00 Lunch

1:00 - 2:00 Group of two short talks (@ 20 mins) + 20 mins questions

2:00 - 2:15 Break/coffee

2:15 - 3:15 Group of two short talks (@ 20 mins) + 20 mins questions

3:15 - 3:30 Break/coffee

3:30 - 4:30 Group of two short talks (@ 20 mins) + 20 mins questions

My talk is called “Sublime Objects.”

It'll be at The Redwood Room in the Faculty Center.

Of Babies and Bathwater

Adrian Ivakhiv just posted this interesting comment on my post “On Not Knowing Anything”:

"Ontology is always ontotheology? Wrong. Phenomenology old hat? Wrong. Aristotle just a boring old duffer who dictated terminology to bored students? Wrong. No essence anywhere to be seen? Wrong. Humanities the handmaid of science? Wrong. The list goes on and on."

Tim, I wonder whether Deleuze, Whitehead, Latour, Peirce, Haraway, Barad, Connolly, Varela, Thrift, and others like them couldn't have also been vehicles for realizing the wrongness (or at least incompleteness) of these things... But whether it's OOO or anyone else, I'm glad about the shift.

Will this mean we should stop teaching Ecology Without Nature (as representative of the deconstructivist wing of ecocriticism) and wait for your new books?

Well there are several responses to the final question.

1) Keep teaching them! I need the money (only kidding—just : ) )

2) I don't know, it's up to you! Some people have very rigid categories. Like they rigidly distinguish between different forms of techno. I don't do business like that myself but I can see why others might.

3) They are good books no matter whether I may have new ideas now. Would you stop listening to Beethoven's Third because Beethoven's Ninth was better, he said arrogantly?

4) What's good about them are their strong affinities with OOO. I backed into OOO via deconstruction, not in spite of it. OOO is the only view out there that's truly non-ontoetheological (sorry, all the guys on Adrian's list). In Ecology without Nature I demolish the concept “nature”: OOO also holds this to be an “ontic” prejudice smuggled into philosophy (viz. Aristotle's “some objects are more natural than others”—a textbook case of ontotheology).

In The Ecological Thought I develop the idea of the strange stranger, which can easily be generalized to non-life. This is how I got into OOO actually. When Levi started talking excitedly about the strange stranger I saw my reflection.

As for the other thinkers, well I love Whitehead like Graham but I'm not a Whiteheadian. I'm an object-oriented ontologist. Stengers, not sure yet. Barad, disagree on quantum theory (OOO reasons). Deleuze, used to be Deleuzian but now I think he's in the “new and improved nature” crew. Varela, Jedi mind tricks using Spencer-Brown, not convinced yet. Latour, he's one of us! Connolly, see Deleuze but I like him and he's a good guy. Thrift, not enough experience to know.

Haraway, well Donna and I have a disagreement going. For my money, Donna is way too heavily invested in world, a concept that fails in the same way that Nature fails. (Hear my talks here and here for my argument on this.)

I also think shoving the highly woolly words “nature” and “culture” together to get “natureculture” is not an argument. It's a classic example of what I call “new and improved” Nature ideology. My book could easily have been called Ecology without Natureculture.

For her part, Donna thinks I'm an “exterminist,” getting entities oven-ready for destruction. To which I reply, how can you destroy something that doesn't exist?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dancing about Architecture

Harman's recent post on music got me thinking. People love to churn out that old chestnut, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” Especially on National Public Radio. In any case, I always thought dancing about architecture sounded like a good idea.

And in OOO terms, this is what all objects are doing with each other. After all, no object truly contacts another one. They really only share what Graham Harman calls their “notes.” So architecture columns (or whatever it does) about human relationships. And dogs sniff about trees (nicely, “about” can also mean “around”). And pencils pencil about pencil sharpeners.

Imagine a world where we could ONLY play music if we wanted to “talk about” music. It would be like John Malkovich's nightmare world, as narrated by Levi Bryant, with music as Malkovich. Music musics about music. Or as Joyce writes somewhere, “love loves to love love.”

No. We clap about music, we dance about music, we play music about music, we write about music—all these things are not the very same music about which we are performing.

Alvin Lucier's long thin wire
vibrates about the people walking through the installation. The storm storms concerning the chimney it blows through (Heidegger's nice example). The calculator calculates concerning the bank balance I'm anxious about. The birds bird about the BP oil slick, telling us about it in bird metaphors. And writing writes about music. Just like dancing about architecture. How nice.

No on Prop. 23

It should be stunningly obvious to everyone concerned why Proposition 23 in the CA election should be voted down. Prop. 23 freezes California's global warming policies until unemployment is lower than 5% or hell freezes over.

One thing not many people seem to know, however, is that jobs in the wind power industry now FAR outnumber jobs in the coal industry. The idea that protecting the environment is a zero sum game against jobs is totally absurd.

If you've ever driven past that big oil refinery on the way to SF, and rolled up your windows, you'll know the Texan business that's investing the most in passing Prop 23.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On Not Knowing Anything

A few months ago I was a happy go lucky deconstructor, and quite frankly I thought I had everything licked. It was just a matter of writing what I thought I was going to write, which would probably take care of itself more or less, because I was pretty sure of how the land lay in the kingdom of Ideas.

Then I discovered OOO, or more accurately, it discovered me. Thanks to Levi's original posts about The Ecological Thought, I found myself investigating a thrilling new school of thought with which I had definite affinities. Then I realized I WAS an object-oriented ontologist, and that much to my delighted amazement, I had been wrong about a few things.

So I'm writing this post in the not unpleasant—but most definitely weird—place of realizing that I know jack. I've gone from thinking I had it all licked to wondering whether I'm going to lick anything ever again. And I've done this in the space of a few months. OOO really has been that powerful.

It really is rather disconcerting. There really was part of me that thought that for the most part, how to do philosophy was pretty much covered. Part of what's wonderful, and disturbing, about OOO is that it opens up whole new dimensions of philosophy. I truly believe that it's something new in the world.

Ontology is always ontotheology? Wrong. Phenomenology old hat? Wrong. Aristotle just a boring old duffer who dictated terminology to bored students? Wrong. No essence anywhere to be seen? Wrong. Humanities the handmaid of science? Wrong. The list goes on and on.

So to be honest, here I am, forty something years old, being introduced to a genuinely new experience (I mean even going back to my schooldays—you know how arrogant teenagers can be): not having a clue. It reminds me of beginning my Ph.D. (don't make me go back there!) So I look at the students in my grad class and I feel like a fake. Or a fake in a chrysalis state.

It's not that bad, not knowing anything. But it really is a little odd. Sometimes I catch myself thinking about something that would never have occurred to me a few months ago, and I do a sort of inner double-take.

I have this renewed, tremendous desire to read things and think about things. But I have a hugely diminished sense of confidence in my ideas or my thinking power. I really didn't think I'd be here (wherever that is) a few months ago.

I just trust that it's all right. Why? Because OOO is, quite simply, one of the best ideas anyone ever had.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ivakhiv on Buddhism (Object-Oriented Buddhism 28)

I'm so glad Adrian is weighing in on this with another excellent post. This really is his bailiwick.

Take-home line (of many):

I would simply point out that Zizek doesn't seem to have conducted any studies, or even referred to any studies, showing that Western Buddhists are any less socially or politically engaged than anyone else. If anything, I'm pretty sure that research would show, and has shown, that that isn't the case.

I was hoping someone would add some empirical spice to the proceedings. Cheers Adrian. More soon.

Adrian is one of those people it's a treat to think with.

In Defense of Phenomenology

Phenomenology gets a bad rap these days what with the legacy of deconstruction, the predominance of Lacan, and the new kids on the block, the speculative realists. Until I read Graham Harman's work I'd written off Husserl altogether. Heidegger I could manage, highly modified.

But as we'll soon see Ian Bogost's Alien Phenomenology out there I thought I'd pitch in with something like a defense of phenomenology.

The clue is in Ian's title. If you take the human ego out, what's not to like? Of course some people think this is strictly impossible. But lest we reinvent the wheel, I think we should make a slight return to phenomenology. It's already a way beyond what we think it is.

My critique of lifeworld can easily be staged within an expanded phenomenological view, not outside of it. This has to do with what Ortega y Gasset calls ingenuousness and with what Levinas calls sincerity, which means that intentional objects are themselves all the way through, or, in OOO terms, sensual objects just are what they are. Or in the words of Buckaroo Banzai, “Wherever you go, there you are.”

If we throw out the baby of phenomenology with the bathwater of correlationism, I'm afraid all we're left with is the latest science. Philosophy becomes an adjunct to that, and in a sense collapses back into the correlationism it was trying to escape, by providing some kind of experiential take on science, a take that isn't even phenomenological.

Any literary analyst worth her salt is going to do something like phenomenology whenever she reads a poem. My first questions have to do with things like “What are the experiential laws in this text? What's up, what's down? What does it feel like to walk through it?”

The age of global warming brings about the end of irony qua absolute distance towards reality. Reality becomes viscous (see my previous post). Hyperobjects stick to us the more we try to exit their gravitational field. We find ourselves unable to be disingenuous. Sincerity eats irony. Pheomenology is back.

Musical Hyperobjects—Jarrod Fowler

Enjoy these wonderful pieces of non-music. The first one is a cascade of harmonics that emerge like bells ringing the changes from within the sound. The second one is more tinkly and drippy. The third one is more viscous still.

If you haven't heard him already, Jarrod Fowler has got it very right.

Hyperobjects are Viscous

Hyperobjects are objects that are massively distributed in time and space: Plutonium (half-life of 24 100 years), global warming (7% of effects still occurring 100 000 years later), the BP oil slick. This massive distribution does various things to our perception of them, and to our ideas about what constitutes an “environment” and the significance of being human—among others.

Oil (my main topic in New Orleans next week) made me develop the metaphor that hyperobjects are viscous. Viscosity here means that the more you know about a hyperobject, the more entangled with it you realize you already are.

Hyperobjects thus push the reset button on what phenomenology (Levinas, Graham Harman) calls sincerity. Sincerity means that in the words of Buckaroo Banzai, “Wherever you go, there you are.” When I'm typing this, I'm totally absorbed in the typing. When I'm experiencing irony, there I am, feeling ironic. Sincerity eats irony! In Lacanian, “there is no metalanguage.”

This is a very curious phenomenon, one that confirms my suspicion that we have entered an ecological era. A few moments ago we were delighting in our ironic free play. Now it seems we're stuck to the mirror, like Neo in that scene in The Matrix.

We are caught in object-ive existence whether we like it or not.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

New Orleans Talk Details

Dr. Timothy Morton, "Hyperobjects"

Tuesday, November 2, 4:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m. in Nunemaker Auditorium

Dr. Timothy Morton, Professor of Literature and Environment at UC Davis, will be giving a talk entitled "Hyperobjects," in which he explores how to address the challenges hyperobjects pose. Dr. Morton is the author of "Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics" (2007) and "The Ecological Thought" (2010), both from Harvard University Press. Copies of his latest book are available for purchase from the Loyola University Bookstore. For more information, or if you would like to discuss any of Dr. Morton's work before his visit, please contact Dr. Janelle A. Schwartz and Dr. Christopher Schaberg in the Department of English. The event is sponsored by Loyola's Biever Grant Guest Lecture Series, the Department of English, the Program in Environmental Studies, the Office of the Dean of the College of Humanities and Natural Sciences, and Loyola's Center for Environmental Communication.

Proverbs of Buddhaphobia (Object-Oriented Buddhism 27)

I was taking a stroll in the icy depths of the Cold Hell yesterday afternoon, when I encountered the soul of a sophisticated intellectual of our age. Spinning around in circles, he was desperately trying to kill his own shadow. In words of ice that fell upon the rocks with a dull clink, he told me the following proverbs.

•Nothing in Buddhism compares with St. Paul, the greatest guy ever to have changed his mind. Ever.
•We killed God in 33AD. These Western Buddhists are spoiling my Hegelian plot.
•SHE is a New Ager. YOU are a Buddhist. But I am a Zizekian.
•There is no big other. But these Western Buddhists they tell me about are a piece of work.
•In the intellectual life, NOTHING is as important as cultivating the ULTIMATE attitude towards everything else.
•Sadistic probing is my Kantian duty.
•The sight of Western Buddhists trying to solve their pain in a confused way fills me with contempt.
•From my Fortress of Ironic Solitude, I WEEP WITH PITY for the hypocrite fools beneath me.
•My sense of irony is superior to your crude emotion. I FEEL superior, sophisticated.
•This ironic stance gives me x ray vision of others' inner states. I FEEL tremendous sadistic curiosity about that.
•There's no point in doing anything unless you do it perfectly. Practice what you preach I always say
•I FERVENTLY BELIEVE that cynicism must expose hypocrisy. It's far more sophisticated than you stating your feelings.
•Buddhists should have no feelings. And communists should have no possessions.
•Enlightenment is merely subjective destitution. Been there, done that.
•Coldness and hate are more real than softness and warmth.
•Why practice compassion or mindfulness when you can thrill to the pitiless cynicism of Agent Smith?
•The most precious aim of life is to SEE THROUGH EVERYTHING
•I will not succumb to sadness or tenderness. Dualism requires merciless guilt and shame.
•I sneer therefore I am.
•The most important thing you can ever feel is "X is none other than Y." That is your mantra
•The mind is hell. Heaven and earth are illusions.
•Ontology is nothing. Howl! Howl!
•I am an atheist. There is nothing. Believe in nothing.
•At least I never committed to anything
•My epitaph: I SUSSED YOU ALL

Saturday, October 23, 2010

My Friend's Mom in V&A!

A Medieval Forest

The Victoria and Albert Museum is one of my favorite places in London. My friend Heitham's mum won a prize for a picture she exhibited there. I think it's really powerful. Heitham has manifold musical projects, one of which is Senser.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Gratton on Wetern Buddhism

Here. He raises a lot of questions for me to think about. The one on quietism needs to be addressed very soon so I'll tackle that first.

Plants Want to Live Too

From Antennae's blog:

Plants “forage” for resources like light and soil nutrients and “anticipate” rough spots and opportunities. By analyzing the ratio of red light and far red light falling on their leaves, for example, they can sense the presence of other chlorophyllated competitors nearby and try to grow the other way. Their roots ride the underground “rhizosphere” and engage in cross-cultural and microbial trade.

“Plants are not static or silly,” said Monika Hilker of the Institute of Biology at the Free University of Berlin. “They respond to tactile cues, they recognize different wavelengths of light, they listen to chemical signals, they can even talk” through chemical signals. Touch, sight, hearing, speech. “These are sensory modalities and abilities we normally think of as only being in animals,” Dr. Hilker said.

Plants can’t run away from a threat but they can stand their ground. “They are very good at avoiding getting eaten,” said Linda Walling of the University of California, Riverside. “It’s an unusual situation where insects can overcome those defenses.” At the smallest nip to its leaves, specialized cells on the plant’s surface release chemicals to irritate the predator or sticky goo to entrap it. Genes in the plant’s DNA are activated to wage systemwide chemical warfare, the plant’s version of an immune response. We need terpenes, alkaloids, phenolics — let’s move.

Antennae blog

Antennae, a great zine on visual art and biology/ecology, now has a blog.

Levi Adds Some Heft to Well-Being

This is very fine stuff. No wonder he'll be talking in Liverpool on religion in 2012.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Skholiast on Objects and Buddhism (Object-Oriented Buddhism 27)

Here. There's a good discussion going on in the comments.

Well-Being Is Really Okay (Object-Oriented Buddhism 26)

I was inspired by these posts by Levi to think some more about well-being (Greek, eudaimonia). Levi is right on the money when he wonders why Lacanian analysis expresses such contempt for happiness, considering

the compulsive nature of the consumerist lifestyle, the manner in which it often seems to be searching for something it can never find, as well as the low-grade alcoholism and depression that seems to haunt this way of life. (Levi, “Some Remarks on Eudaimonia and Psychoanalysis”)

Is it true that religion is the opium of the masses? What does Marx mean by that? What should we mean by it?

All opinions also code for an attitude. The attitude that “religion is just the opium of the masses” often codes for is "My effed up psyche is the norm. My cynicism is realistic." Many colleagues now believe inner life (euphoric OR dysphoric) is a myth. Precisely because they feel so numb inside that they think they don't have an inside. (Sorry to get all genuine and soppy on you—but that's the point as you'll see in a moment.)

One colleague recently dismissed "psychic reality" as "mere representation"—with a tone of contempt. He FELT strongly that feelings were UNREAL.

Another colleague writes a book about how ANGRY he is that people take their feelings SERIOUSLY.

Zizek supplies perfect cover for those who FEEL STRONGLY that their inner state is IRRELEVANT. See the problem?

Inner life is now an optional belief. Soon it will be a mere myth like the story of Persephone. Vajrayana Buddhism calls this a symptom of a dark age (Kaliyuga).

Our cynical disbeliever in “psychic reality” would cite Derrida and Foucault. To me, this is not just an intellectual game: it's cynical reason trying to go further than ever into NIHILISM—the cool kids' religion. This is one more reason I find OOO so enticing. For once a kind of simplicity is back on the table, or as Graham puts it in his disarming way, OOO is “a haunting new realism more compellingly naive than any that has come before” (Guerilla Metaphysics, 174).

Religion is only opium if first and foremost it makes you feel shit. As smack-rockers Spiritualized put it, you need “Just enough to make me sick” (“Let It Flow”). Real bliss is far more threatening to your ego than feeling shitty. But you can only download real bliss on the basis of well-being.

Even Agent Smith knows this:

Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was re-designed to this: the peak of your civilization.

Zizek's big mistake lies in reading this passage naively (ironically) as a sophisticated statement of truth—when it is in fact just a wind-up, Agent Smith's verbal torture of Morpheus. There is nothing in our operating system that says we can't experience bliss or well-being. That somehow those states are evil or taboo. What the heck convinced academics that Agent Smith was cool? The sunglasses?

Back to this notion of an inner “life.” I like the word inner because it freaks people out and sounds outdated ...but does it mean dimensionally "in"? No, that's still outer, in my view. What I'm talking about is a Harmanian substance with a metaphorically "molten" core. It's intrinsically a difficult area. In the West we only have "outer" vs "essence"—"inner" is a middle term that gets lost between them. And if you don't believe in essences at all, too bad for your inner life. But the subtle body is also hard in the “East”: not everyone can feel their subtle body.

Ever had acupuncture? That system has prana, nadi bindu (the Chinese version).

I claim this subtle body is irreducible to the endocrine system or the nervous system—another reason to like OOO, which doesn't discriminate a la eliminative materialism. And it's not simply a cultural construct. It's an OBJECT. You can feel it.

I don't mean to freak you out or anything, but your subtle body gets pretty unmoist by the time you're about 40 years old if you live in the go-go speed freak fiber optic fast lane. You can always remoisten it. But “burnout” is a real sensation, isn't it? One of the best ways to remoisten is to do meditation. But you don't believe me do you? I'm just a woo woo Western Buddhist.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Levi nails it on writing

Here. Nuff said.

Arisotle Weighs in on Recent Funding Cuts

Are you listening, crass utilitarian free marketeers?

At first he who invented any art whatever that went beyond the common perceptions of man was naturally admired by men, not only because there was something useful in the inventions, but because he was thought wise and superior to the rest. But as more arts were invented, and some were directed to the necessities of life, others to recreation, the inventors of the latter were naturally always regarded as wiser than the inventors of the former, because their branches of knowledge did not aim at utility. Hence when all such inventions were already established, the sciences which do not aim at giving pleasure or at the necessities of life were discovered, and first in the places where men first began to have leisure. This is why the mathematical arts were founded in Egypt; for there the priestly caste was allowed to be at leisure.
Metaphysics Alpha

In Praise of “Western Buddhism” (Object-Oriented Buddhism 25)

It seems like everyone who argues with Zizek on Buddhism at least concurs with his assault on what he calls “Western Buddhism,” a New-Agey paradigm that Joe Clement describes well as “ideas of detachment, chakras, karma, impermanence, re-incarnation and past-lives, meditation, and non-duality [absorbed from] from the litany of pop-psycho-therapeutic-new-age-mystic-neopagan-transpersonal-naturalist-buddhist garbage now available.”

So I'm going to go out on a limb here and address the scapegoat on to which everyone seems willing to pile, “Western Buddhism.”

In particular, it's the general idea that “well-being” is a good thing and something to aim for. Hence some criticisms of the Dalai Lama for muddying the waters by talking about what Aristotle would call eudaemonia. Let's face it, what Zizek hates about Buddhism is that it seems so lax and easy. The Pope is all crusty and dogmatic—that makes him great.

I'm beginning to suspect that the term “New Age” is like the term “weed.” It's something that you don't want around, just as a weed is “a flower in the wrong place.”

Now don't get me wrong. I've read the most devastating attack on Western (and Eastern actually) forms of “spiritual materialism,” Chögyam Trungpa's Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. Ironically I gave a copy to Slavoj but he may not have read it. So I know the difference between pursuing spiritual things because you want POWER and pursuing them because you want something else. Like well-being. Not enlightenment, but well-being.

And now to let rip a little.

What the heck kind of a twisted attitude led us intellectuals to harsh on eudaemonia? It's in OUR traditions too. We have a MAJOR hangover from Christianity, which is that religion is supposed to make you feel BAD.

When teachers come from Nepal and Bhutan (and so on), they very often remark how much mental illness they see in the west. They put it in their terms, the terms of the subtle body (prana, nadi, bindu). Does this make them New Agey?

So many self-proclaimed Buddhists are so anxious not to appear New-Agey that they skip the vital phase of TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF and achieving what my teacher, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, calls a “healthy human being level.” Okay, it's not becoming a Buddha. But you can use that well-being as a platform to transcend. And you better had, because actual Buddhism is not therapy and it won't necessarily make you feel good.

But there is SOME level (at least one) on which Buddhism IS about feeling good. Charles Whitfield calls avoiding this level “spiritual bypassing.” On retreat you meet plenty of self-righteous people who think they don't need therapy. They will tell you this with great smugness and arrogance, betraying themselves in their very tone.

There is something wonderfully “lame” and low key about realizing you have to become a decent human being first. Think about Siddhartha. He figured out that he really wanted that bowl of rice pudding from that passing woman. He became KIND to himself. That was the beginning of enlightenment.

I reckon you can just about talk about Buddhism in the academy now. But if you say “prana” or “chakra” you are an idiot or insane. But esoteric Buddhism is NOTHING BUT prana and chakras...

And prana and chakras are NOTHING BUT psyche and psychosomatic symptoms. We really don't have good terms for this in the west.

If you read Aristotle's Poetics (as I've been doing for a class), you read about catharsis. The accepted translation of that is “purgation”—somehow tragedy produces, then relieves you of, pity and fear.

But the actual word means “flowing down,” and an equally good if not better translation is “release” or “purification.”

In Hinduism, Buddhism, Bön, you name it, there are channels and “winds” (prana) and there is a downward-flowing wind. You know, the tingle you feel when you hear a beautiful piece of music that stirs you. It goes DOWN, right? Into your legs if you're lucky. (So they say.)

THAT'S what Aristotle is talking about, I claim. His eudaemonia is well-being, not some abstract happiness. And well-being is some kind of soothed, warm, flowing body state. I want to say “subtle body state” but the Big Other won't let me.

This subtle body is an OBJECT in the OOO sense. It's not reducible to the endocrine system or the nervous system. (Another great reason to like OOO. It doesn't beat up on what billions of people take for granted. Ever had acupuncture?)

The problem is not mind–body dualism, so much as it is the total erasure of the subtle body. Only New Age fools believe in that, right?

If we're really going to go after Zizek, we have to reject his scapegoating of “Western Buddhism.”

Object-Oriented Buddhism 24--Jeffrey Bell weighs in on emptiness

...with this fine post at his excellent blog.

Ride those oily waves

My dad's friend the inimitable Banksy (yes he knows him) has just installed this on Brighton Pier. B-righton P-ier. B- P- ...

For sure it's going in my New Orleans lecture.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sublime Objects 3

I just posted over at Arcade on OOO and rhetoric. I'm sorry to tease but this idea is

1) very new, at the prototype stage and subject to failures and gaffes
2) very good and not to be spread lightly
3) or not very good and to be avoided at all costs

So I'm going to have to be a little quiet about it. Let's just say that I found a way to generalize from Longinus to Aristotle's Rhetoric. Then I threw Kant in just for good measure. Trying to retool him for object orientation...

I'm going to unleash it at the UCLA bash, “Hello Everything” on 12.1.10.

Stanley Fish, do yourself a favor and cram it

This is an excellently argued piece by Joshua Landy on why Stanley Fish got it spectacularly wrong in the NYT. I'm pretty sick of the bowing competition over which humanist can diss humanism the most. Time to stand up, folks!

Fish's piece shows you why Graham Harman is spot on about the way the avant garde has become the new oppressive normal. (He makes this argument many times in many media.)

Fish's piece is a symptom of contemporary nihilism. You better believe this is an ontological war.

One big reason why I love OOO is it gives us another choice, a potentially post-capitalist choice I believe, via a return to Aristotle remixed for the twenty-first century. It gets us out of the current Sophie's choice between:

1) The essence is elsewhere (capital, heaven, the other, the beyond)
2) There is no essence

Stick that in yer pipe and smoke it Fish!

Joe Clement on Zizek vs. Buddhism and Jouissance (Object-Oriented Buddhsm 23)

Joe Clement chimes in with this excellent paper here. Fascinating, detailed and right on the money. Take-home line: the passive nihilism Zizek fears disguises a terror of feminine jouissance.

Jouissance is one heck of a withdrawn object.

Buddhism vs. Zizek—upcoming talk (Object-Oriented Buddhism 22)

There seems to have been some activity involving Buddhism and Zizek of late—much of emanating from my fervid brain. I'm preparing a talk at the MLA in January (LA) called “What's Eating Slavoj Zizek?” as it goes so maybe that explains it.

It's for a panel called
“Buddhism and Critical Theory: New Approaches” and it will be at 12 noon in room 404A, LA Convention Center. I will of course be recording it for your pleasure.

I'm going to be arguing that Zizek makes some fair comments about “Western Buddhism,” but that these devolve into generalized attacks on Buddhism itself. These generalized attacks are in stark contrast to the manifest content of Zizekian philosophy, which in many respects is strikingly Buddhist.

Zizek thus finds himself in the position of a closeted gay man. It would be so much easier for everyone concerned if he just came out and admitted that he was a Buddhist. To the extent that he doesn't, he's got a bad case of what I call Buddhaphobia.

What is Zizek really afraid of? What he's afraid of is isometric with what he's afraid of in speculative realism...the possibility that “subject” is an object-like entity that is not posited in a self-grounding moment of total freedom. Just one object among many...His fear of emptiness (“nothingness”) masks a far deeper fear of Buddhist substance.

Here's my full proposal:

Contemporary humanism is in a double bind where Buddhism is concerned. On the side of the fence that is reasonably sympathetic to Buddhism, phenomenology and Beat (and post-Beat) poetics create touchy-feely versions of the dharma that can't help but appear a little quaint. These versions espouse forms of presentism and rhetorics of immediacy, and tend to inculcate hostility to intellectuality. These features of “dharma-positive” discourse make it an efficient vector for various forms of hostility to the dreaded “theory,” by which is meant (mostly) deconstruction and Lacanian psychoanalysis. The unsympathetic side of the fence includes ideas ironically very close to what Buddhism would call non-self or egolessness. The “dharma-negative” side is, also ironically, the “theory” side.

The division I outline in this paper is unfortunate to say the least, because, perhaps through some form of implicitly orientalist self-policing, contemporary humanism (including so-called post-humanism) confines an entire philosophical and spiritual (and cultural) manifold of traditions to a heavily demarcated area, cordoned off from crucial spheres of scholarly propriety. Even deconstruction seems happier talking about Christianity, Islam and Judaism than Buddhism (or Hinduism for that matter). Why?

In particular, Lacanian ideology analyst Slavoj Zizek betrays an extraordinary hostility to Buddhism that comes close to a phobia—that is, precisely, an intense desire disguised as intense antipathy. My paper investigates some ways in which Zizek's thinking would be more cogent if he simply “came out” as a Buddhist.

The central issue of Zizek's current analysis—the current ecological catastrophe—makes us aware of timescales and spatial scales on which forms of non-self ethics become vitally important. It would be good for humanism to think more seriously and more centrally about Buddhism, right now.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

OOO Rhetoric Breakthrough

Watch this space--it's a bit top secret right now but I think OOO can retool Aristotle--and even Kant!

I'll be livestreaming our event at UCLA, "Here Comes Everything" with Graham Harman. Will unleash the rhetorical theory there. 12.1.10.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Jeffrey Bell on Sleep

Jeffrey Bell has a good post and an unusual video of Yogananda—whom I've never seen outside of photographs, though like all Yes fans I know his Autobiography of a Yogi.

Jeff makes the point that academics lack a culture of switching off from productivity or as Deleuze puts it, “becoming imperceptible.” I like this formula very much and it made me think about libraries, especially since I'm the system wide library rep. for UCD this year. We have a meeting coming up in Oakland.

I'm going to say that libraries aren't simply delivery services. They are huge piles of books that no one reads. And a good thing too.

1) We lack public spaces for introversion

2) OBJECTS lack spaces for introversion. There should be old things preserved from destruction, let alone new things like Ataris and Salman Rushdie's Amstrad computers (at Emory). New media is also fragile and ephemeral.

3) Imagine how we would feel if we realized that some head librarian at Oxford had decided, back in 1550, to convert all the manuscripts into printed books—and then burned the originals, in the name of space/progress/service/access/vomit.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Hyperobjects 2.0

Nice poster for my upcoming talk at Loyola U in New Orleans. Thanks Chris Schaberg.

Promiscuous Ontologies mp3

RMMLA panel featuring Levi Bryant, Ian Bogost and Tim Morton, moderated by Jeffrey Bell. Discussions of object-oriented ontology, structuralism, holism, voids, Badiou, global warming, software, carpentry, cow clicker, writing, and rat neurons. October 15, 2010, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Peter Gratton has a nice discussion and picture here. Levi weighs in here. Ian adds some thoughts and another good pic here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Treat Yourself to Lingis

Thanks to Graham's writing I've been discovering Alphonso Lingis. I read his translations of Levinas, of course. But the man himself is very special, it's clear. He's obviously the best prose stylist in philosophy alive today—maybe his best-ness goes back a way too.

When you read a book like Dangerous Emotions you will keep having to pinch yourself to remember that this is philosophy. It could be narrative or “non-fiction” (yuck, he deserves a better term than that). You can get the Kindle edition for the price of a couple of caramel frappucinos from this not bad Starbucks at LAX, where I'm sitting. Curse the muzak!

It's philosophy that makes you feel glad to be alive. I hope that's okay with you.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Darth Vader Pops Open a Coca Cola

I think my undergraduate theory class is going quite well, mostly because people are laughing and paying attention.

I had some insights while I was teaching (this always happens).

1) For Plato the problem with art is not the blatant lies, it's the lies in the form of the truth. So lightsabers and hyperspace are kind of fine, because we know they're lies, but what Star Wars says about how to parent could be suspect.

2) When Aristotle talks about the unities, unity of action has to do with (as you know) probability and necessity. A student asked about realist fiction—wouldn't gritty realism always fall within the category of unity of action?

I replied no, not always. Take Star Wars again. Imagine a scene that broke with the “necessity” part of the equation. Imagine Darth Vader having a moment of exhausted angst, opening a fridge one evening in his inner sanctum on board the star destroyer, popping off his helmet and pressing a nice cold Coke against his boiled-egg brow. And sighing.

It's always good to laugh in class...

Unknowing Animals—Nicola Masciandaro

Nicola Masciandaro has an excellent post up on animals and the medieval contemplative text The Cloud of Unknowing. I must say the speculative medievalism that's emerging seems very exhilarating.

I was teaching in my graduate class on rhetoric about the real loss that post-medieval rhetoric experienced—that is, post-Ramist rhetoric in which logic and rhetoric are sundered. This broke metaphysics from rhetoric and ultimately from philosophy itself, until it became a dirty word. Everyone up to De Man is living in a Ramist world.

This is why we need speculative realist rhetorical theories and why Masciandaro's material on apophasis is very encouraging.

I'm more of a Sunn O))) guy than a black metal guy but only perhaps through ignorance.

Hyperobjects 2.0

My next presentation on hyperobjects will be in New Orleans. I'm going to change the paper substantially to discuss quantum nonlocality rather than global warming.

I'm working on a book on hyperobjects so the more variation I can generate at this stage, the better.

As before I'll upload the talk here. (Incidentally the mp3 are all downloadable from the menu on the right.)

Sublime Objects 2

I just posted this over at Arcade. I'm having some intuitions about Kant that might be too far out to work but I'm very interested in them. I think I can make Longinus work. Thanks to Michael Austin (Complete Lies) for the encouraging words on this project.

Read the post and let me know what you think.

The point is, I'm interested in showing that objects can “experience” the sublime, and maybe also the beautiful.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Alien Phenomenology

Ian Bogost sails through OOO like a knife through butter in his forthcoming book Alien Phenomenology. I had the pleasure today of reading it. You can easily read it over a bowl of spicy udon soup at Oshio Café in Davis. I like what Bryant's and Bogost's books are doing with OOO. The Democracy of Objects is a baroque cathedral replete with fold after fold of antechapels, side chapels, whispering gallery, crypt—what else would you expect from a Deleuzian? You can find almost everything worth knowing in that book somewhere.

Ian's book on the other hand is, well, densely encapsulated. Somehow it smooths out OOO and pats it down and cuts it into tasty chunks. This is no summary, though. There are some really new ideas in there. One I like a lot (of many) is the notion of carpentry, as you may have seen from my posts on Buddhism. It's the idea that “humanists” could make things as well as write about them.

One student in a class on ecology and theory many years ago made an intriguing box, which I still have, which she called Dark Ecology. It was painted on the outside to resemble a scene from some weird Expressionist deathbed conversion narrative. Or is it a birth? Inside is a pile of sand, sticking out of which are various objects like a tiny starfish. You can't help moving the sand and the object around as you handle the box. I thought it was incredible. Still do. It was her final “essay” project.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Uncanny Valley's not a location in Maine but a hypothesis in robotics. Just before total likeness with human behavior we experience strong revulsion in robot simulations. Thanks Nick Guetti for reminding me about this.

It proves Jackson's point another way actually. We are weirded out because we glimpse that WE are a form of artificial intelligence. Of course the scientists will tell you it's our mating instinct or something.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sublime Objects

I started posting on my next iron in the fire over at Arcade. It's an essay for Speculations 2 called "Sublime Objects."


Peter Gratton excerpts Jackson telling it on the subject of worlding and correlationism:

Consider AI technology; why is it that for reasons only known to the correlate, AI technology fails to achieve its aim until it reaches the dominance of human reference or self-awareness? Technological objects should, and are, regarded as strange anyway; in AI, researchers want to change their procedural structure until they ‘magically’ reach the capabilities of mimicking and hiding in our world. In reality, all objects are familiarly strange.
Spot on. Even I, a human, can't mimic and hide in my world. Why? It doesn't exist.

Robert and Peter are quite right that the takeaway from the talk was that everything is a hyperobject.


I find it ironic that the so-called Copernican turn in philosophy since Kant achieved precisely the opposite effect of the actual Copernican turn. It made humans central to the cosmos.

The greatness of the actual Copernican turn was its humiliation of the human.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Robert Jackson on hyperobjects

Robert Jackson, who has a beautifully detailed and crystal clear blog on all kinds of issues pertaining to algorithmic art and speculative realism (and some very fetching pics of his Heideggerian cat posing with numerous philosophical works of our age), has this post up on hyperobjects.

There is a very compelling analysis of John F Simon's Every Icon, an algorithmic piece that executes what it says in the title over the course of 10 trillion years. Jackson concludes that what hyperobjects do is make us acknowledge the reality of what OOO calls execution. I think this is a truly essential part of the argument and I'll be talking about his insight next time I do the talk in New Orleans. Making it very clear, of course, that it's his idea (you'll be be able to check since I'll upload the talk here). Thanks Robert.

One thing I find striking about Jackson's work is his refusal to kowtow to systems theory in an age where it appears to be swallowing everything.

Jarrod Fowler

I'm in dialogue with several artists and musicians concerning things ecological. Recently I've begun to appreciate Jarrod Fowler's work very much. There are a growing number of sound artists taking cues from new directions in philosophy. At least two pieces on Jarrod's page refer to OOO. Have a look--or, rather, mouse over space until you hit the right's a very ambient page...

Object-Oriented Buddhism 21—Indra's Net or, Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Relation?

On the inside, [an object's] unity is threatened by the swarming combination of interior tool-beings that enable it to exist, and which unifies it with its living action. On the outside, its integrity is threatened by the innumerable networks that draw it into themselves, dissolving it into the ether of a sleek, unified reality. Despite this dual threat, the entity somehow manages to be itself. (Graham Harman, Tool-Being, 295, the penultimate page, emphases mine)

We can specify objects as such precisely because they do contain and take place within a “galaxy” of relations (Graham’s word). Yet despite this, they exist. This is a paradox identical with the Buddhist description of the chariot. The chariot is made of parts. Yet those parts do not constitute a chariot. Buddhism like OOO is a form of irreductionism.

Don’t throw out the baby of relation with the bathwater of antirealism.

This brings me on to the image of Indra's net, a traditional Buddhist description of reality, the sort of one designed precisely to stop you from thinking in terms of presence-at-hand. Can you imagine anything more relationist? Leibnizian even?

At every connection in this infinite net hangs a magnificently polished and infinitely faceted jewel, which reflects in each of its facets all the facets of every other jewel in the net. Since the net itself, the number of jewels, and the facets of every jewel are infinite, the number of reflections is infinite as well. (Mingyur Rinpoche, The Joy of Living, 174–5)

And yet, and yet. Why is there this dazzling, infinite reflectivity? Because there are jewels. Jewels, in the net! Jewels, not totally dissolved into their elements or into the ether of context! Infinite jewels with infinite facets!

And as Graham would argue, even the reflections would be objects.

Object-Oriented Buddhism 20—Mind Carpentry

It's not enough simply to perceive or understand things. You have to practice them. The sequence is traditionally described as hearing, contemplating and meditating:

Hearing: allowing the facts to sink in
Contemplating: working on them by chewing them over and ruminating (as Christian monks used to do, and cows)
Meditating: doing them, enacting them, integrating them, being them

The fact that Buddhism enshrines technique at its heart is a symptom of how object-oriented it is. Why? Because the mind is a tool. Not simply in the sense of presence-at-hand (a tool for...) but as ready-to-hand (tool-being). Buddhism works with the tool-being aspect of the mind. You can't really know it if you just think about it. Understand?

That's the trouble with Buddhism. In order to understand it properly, you have to practice it. Most non-practitioners' ideas about Buddhism are just caricatures, perhaps more so than for other religions, because of its central emphasis on a carpentry of the mind. See this Ian Bogost post for more.

“Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.”

Friday, October 8, 2010

Bryant, Bogost, Morton at RMMLA

We'll be uploading an mp3 of Levi's panel on OOO in Albuquerque next Friday. Expect to see it here at the very least.

The program is here.

Promiscuous Ontologies: Object-Oriented Philosophy and the New Realism


Chair: Levi R. Bryant, Collin College

Levi R. Bryant, Collin College. "Parts and (W)holes: Object-Oriented Ontology and the Crisis of Structuralism."
Timothy Morton, University of California Davis. "We Aren't the World."
Ian Bogost, Georgia Institute of Technology. "Why We Should Stop Writing: Carpentry and the Future of Philosophy."

Object-Oriented Buddhism 19--Consciousness

I must needs be brief as I'm too excited about this to write much. There's a lot more where this came from in my essay for Bryant's and Bogost's OOO anthology.

What if we've been looking for consciousness in the wrong place, as I argue in The Ecological Thought? What if we've been neglecting Darwin in this crucial area and treating consciousness as a prize for being highly evolved--an idea that has so much wrong with it I don't know where to begin?

What if OOO were to show us, along with Buddhism, that consciousness was actually lower down than we expect?

Buddhism talks about "resting the mind" on some x such as the breath, where in the west we'd talk about holding x in mind or being conscious of x, and so on.

What if there were more to the metaphor of "resting on" than just metaphor?

What if, in other words, this teacup resting on the carpet were resting on it just like my mind resting on some x, in every meaningful sense?

I take my cue from Graham who rightly lays in to the "usual cavalier explanations of human superiority" where consciousness is concerned (Tool-Being p. 289). This comes in a paragraph in which he talks about perception as identical to physical encounters between objects (which is why he adapts Whitehead's prehension to replace "perception").

Not only would this be a deep affinity between OOO and Buddhism, for whom worms and in some traditions even non-life has Buddha nature. It would also mark a decisive step in current research on consciousness, a step not considered in science and in scientism, even by the many neuroscientists working on Buddhist meditation.

As if by magic, Sogyal Rinpoche chimes in via his Glimpse of the Day feed for today:

One of the greatest Buddhist traditions calls the nature of mind “the wisdom of ordinariness.” I cannot say it enough: Our true nature and the nature of all beings is not something extraordinary.

The irony is that it is our so-called ordinary world that is extraordinary, a fantastic, elaborate hallucination of the deluded vision of samsara. It is this “extraordinary” vision that blinds us to the “ordinary,” natural, inherent nature of mind. Imagine if the buddhas were looking down at us now: How they would marvel sadly at the lethal ingenuity and intricacy of our confusion!

I'm not claiming the cup has feelings. I'm claiming that consciousness is like a cup.

OOO you amaze me.

Object-Oriented Buddhism 18--Siddhartha/Harman

Graham Harman says it more compactly than the Arhat Nagasena:

On the one hand, even a raw piece of silver is already an integrated network of assorted tool-beings. On the other hand, even the most pointlessly eclectic machine possesses a formal unitary tool-being distinct from that of its components and withdrawn from every attempt to sound its depths. (Tool-Being, 283

Love that OOO you know?

Hyperobjects Presentation

From my talk yesterday.

Cal Arts Talk

Hyperobjects Lecture mp3

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Object-Oriented Buddhism 17--Zubiri to the recuse

He's talking about chairs, which are only one syllable away from chariots. What he says is strongly in line with Gautama Bryant:

the chair ... qua chair, is not real, because "chair" is not a character which belongs to it "of itself"

This is from Of Essence, which arrived a few weeks ago. Graham Harman talks about this in Tool-Being, page 248.

Buddhists are likewise not nominalists: a chariot isn't a chariot because you call it one. Furthermore--there it is!

Thus OOO comes closest to profound theories of emptiness. The superficial understanding is that "form is emptiness"--modernity, from capitalism to scientism to process philosophy, kind of has that bit down.

What OOO grasps better than anything I've yet seen, the next proposition, which nicely reverses the polarities, like Graham's reading of Levinas and Zubiri:

Emptiness also is form

This is the future folks!

Two Hyperobjects Converse

I just found this on the Long Now blog. It's by Tom Gauld.

Object-Oriented Buddhism 16—Om Levi Levi Ah Hum or, Buddhist Irreduction

Strolling through Levi Bryant's magnum opus, The Democracy of Objects (too slowly for him, unfortunately, as he's nearly done with editing), I came across the following:

the subsets of a set, the smaller objects composing larger objects, are simultaneously necessary conditions for that larger object while being independent of that object.

This is in a really banging section on the “strange mereology” of OOO. Mereology is the study of relationships between parts and wholes. The mereology is strange because analyzing objects into parts doesn't get rid of those objects. Yet the object is not “more than the sum of its parts” (holism).

I then realized that this is precisely what Buddhism says concerning a chariot:

And the venerable Nâgasena said to Milinda the king: 'You, Sire, have been brought up in great luxury, as beseems your noble birth. If you were to walk this dry weather on the hot and sandy ground, trampling under foot the gritty, gravelly grains of the hard sand, your feet would hurt you. And as your body would be in pain, your mind would be disturbed, and you would experience a sense of bodily suffering. How then did you come, on foot, or in a chariot?'

'I did not come, Sir, on foot. I came in a carriage.'

'Then if you came, Sire, in a carriage, explain to me what that is. Is it the pole that is the chariot?'

'I did not say that.'

'Is it the axle that is the chariot?'

'Certainly not.'

'Is it the wheels, or the framework, or the ropes, or the yoke, or the spokes of the wheels, or the goad, that are the chariot?'

And to all these he still answered no.

'Then is it all these parts of it that are the chariot?'

'No, Sir.'

'But is there anything outside them that is the chariot?'

And still he answered no.

'Then thus, ask as I may, I can discover no chariot. Chariot is a mere empty sound. What then is the chariot you say you came in? It is a falsehood that your Majesty has spoken, an untruth! There is no such thing as a chariot! You are king over all India, a mighty monarch. Of whom then are you afraid that you speak untruth? And he called upon the Yonakas and the brethren to witness, saying: 'Milinda the king here has said that he came by carriage. But when asked in that case to explain what the carriage was, he is unable to establish what he averred. Is it, forsooth, possible to approve him in that?'

When he had thus spoken the five hundred Yonakas shouted their applause, and said to the king: Now let your Majesty get out of that if you can?'

And Milinda the king replied to Nâgasena, and said: 'I have spoken no untruth, reverend Sir. It is on account of its having all these things--the pole, and the axle, the wheels, and the framework, the ropes, the yoke, the spokes, and the goad--that it comes under the generally understood term, the designation in common use, of "chariot."'

'Very good! Your Majesty has rightly grasped the meaning of "chariot." And just even so it is on account of all those things you questioned me about--the thirty-two kinds of organic matter in a human body, and the five constituent elements of being--that I come under the generally understood term, the designation in common use, of "Nâgasena." (text available here)

“Is there anything outside of [these parts] that is a chariot?” “No.” The chariot just is these components. Not a frying pan, some batter and a slotted spoon. Yet there is no chariot-ness in the components themselves. So the word “chariot” and the present-at-hand chariot are both present-at-hand objects that inevitably fail to do justice to the components. Yet surely the King rode in on something.

Now before you confuse this with atomism (which the early Buddhists did, in fact), stop to reflect. First, we could apply the same principle to the wheels and the axle etc. They are also composed of parts. It turns out that there are far more objects that compose a chariot, the closer we examine it. OOO and Buddhism suggest that the set of objects that compose a chariot might be infinite.

Claiming, on the other hand, that the chariot is the sum of its relations would inevitably involve a holistic illusion of a set that was greater than the sum of its parts. Here, however, we have a set whose parts are larger than itself!

What Levi and Buddha are talking about is what Levi calls the principle of irreduction. You can't reduce an object to its parts. Even more paradoxically, both Levi and Buddha argue in addition that the object is not some holistic amalgam that is somehow “greater than the sum of its parts,” meaning either 1) that, if you took all the parts away, the object would still exist or 2) that chariot-ness is to be found in parts of the chariot. If you take a chariot apart, there is no chariot. Furthermore, the chariot is made of just these parts. As in Aristotle, where formal causes (of the four causes) are the most evocative of what he calls substance, you need certain shapes to make a chariot—wheels, axle, seat and so on. You could of course make them out of wood, stone, bananas or mandrill hair. But the chariot-ness doesn't reside in the wood. It doesn't even reside in the wheels! And yet, here we are, a chariot.

Early Buddhists did tend to reduce objects to atomic relations that were not analyzable further. Yet as this example demonstrates, the truth is far stranger than that, as later Buddhists argued.

The inescapable conclusion from all this is that emptiness does not mean “reduction to parts or relations.” Emptiness is precisely the principle of nonholistic irreduction.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Qui Parle contents look good

Doesn't this look like a good roster for the forthcoming Qui Parle on ecological criticism?

Qui Parle, “At the Intersections of Ecocriticism,” Spring 2011, Issue 19.2


- Introduction by Katrina Dodson

- Stephanie LeMenager, “Petro-melancholia: the BP Blowout and the Arts of Grief,” which takes a larger ecological, historical, and social view of the ecological catastrophes to hit the Gulf Coast and charts attempts to collectively grieve through various art responses to these events (in poetry, television, film, comics, blogs, and social networking)

- Alenda Chang on video games as environmental texts

- Lawrence Buell on emerging and historical trends in ecocriticism

- Karen Barad on “Nature's Queer Performativity”: thinking through the material entanglements performed by lightning, stingray neuronal receptor cells, killer dinoflagellates, and atoms

- Timothy Morton on reorienting ecocriticism's relationship to materialism through the emerging philosophical movement speculative realism and object-oriented ontology

- Sunaura Taylor on the resonances between disability studies and animal rights frameworks, along with color plates of her animal paintings

- Alastair Hunt on destabilizing the human subject of rights that emerges from Enlightenment and Romantic discourses as a way of opening up this ethical terrain to the animal subject

- Jonathan Skinner, translation of selections from In Praise of Vagabonds (Eloge des Vagabondes), a reflection on weeds/invasive species by the French landscape architect Gilles Clément, with an introduction that considers Clément's work in relation to environmental poetics Book reviews:

- Queer Ecologies anthology, reviewed by Melinda Chen
- Vibrant Matter by Jane Bennett and Cosmopolitics I by Isabelle Stengers, reviewed by Katherine Chandler
- Climate Refugees (photography), Collectif Argus, reviewed by Yates McKee

- Throughout: Selections of ecopoetry by Harryette Mullen, Craig Dworkin, Brenda Hillman, Joan Retallac, Jonathan Skinner

Talk at CalArts Imminent

I'm talking here on Thursday at 7.30pm in Café A if you're interested. It's in a series with Catherine Malabou.

I'm preparing a mega post on Levi Bryant and the Buddha—strange mereological bedfellows.

Monday, October 4, 2010

How to Get That Elusive Academic Job 5—space: it shouldn't be the final frontier

Good ikebana only works when there's lots of SPACE. You don't have time to join all the dots, dot all the i's and cross all the t's in your letter or at interview--you have to start TRUSTING that the space will invite the reader to do that.

Wolfgang Iser, the reader-response theorist, has a great idea that the experience of reading a text is sort of a moving blank. Good realists (the novelistic sort of realism I mean) are very good at exploiting this blank to achieve detail by getting the READER to do the work. Jane Austen is a consummate pro.

So: no walls of words. No thickets of quotation marks. After you've drafted your letter, try to see how much you can CUT and still say the same thing. Then try saying it even more straightforwardly. In particular, there's no need to overdo the Heaven aspect. We need a big bang of color. This gets diluted the more bangs you have.

Earth needs to be crunchy underfoot. Lots of implied detail. Don't just say “Well, I use philosophy and history”—talk SPECIFIC. You will have the space to do this if you let your ikebana breathe.

The ideal job letter starts with a brilliant light. Then we realize that this brilliant light is actually sunlight, shafts of it, pouring through trees onto a thick bed of pine needles. Soft dusty resin floats in the sun shafts, invitingly. The smell of pine and sap rises from the forest floor. A twig snaps underfoot.

Then up comes a squirrel with a single nut—he holds it out to you as if to offer it. Curious, you bend down to inspect it. What could it be?

(Our squirrel's nut is the Child. The squirrel needs to give NO explanation as to the origin of the nut—it came from a bloody tree for Christ's sake! He leaves that up to YOU, the reader...)

A job letter, an interview—even a writing sample—have FAR LESS to do with intellect and FAR MORE to do with aesthetics than you think.

Object-Oriented Buddhism 15—The Five Heaps

Okay, let's go back to atomism...Even that level of Buddhism is quite advanced. The atoms we're talking about are already phenomenological in some sense.

Early Buddhism (Theravadin) describes the “self” as a composite of five “heaps”—rather wonderfully rudely (the five “skandhas”). These heaps are basically collections of objects. We have form—the physical body. Feeling—the nervous system, subtle body (whatever you want to call it). Perception—eyes, ears, hearing etc. Formation—concepts. Consciousness. Clearly all “sentient” beings have these.

Later Buddhism ascribes these skandhas to ALL objects.

What Buddhism calls “ego” is what Heidegger and Graham Harman call Vorhandenheit or “presence-at-hand.” All objects treat themselves and all other objects as present-at-hand, retroactively positing them as this or that. A rock grazes another rock. Rock 2 becomes “that rock grazed by rock 1.”

Presence-at-hand is a kind of caricature.

This is precisely what happens with the skandhas. Consciousness looks at them and goes “Hey—that's me.” This “Hey—that's me” then becomes an object in the fourth skandha (conceptual formations). Sooner or later you are taking your world very personally.

Buddhism holds that ego is a caricature in precisely this way.

It also holds that it's possible to think of and imagine a reality beyond ego. This is what Graham calls the “zero-person” view.

Why is this possible? Because the caricature does not truly exist.

Hyperobjects Excerpt

I'm mostly talking about plutonium and drone music (good combo!) but here's an excerpt from what I'm going to say. It involves what Derek Parfit calls the “no-self view”—which he discovers by examining inconsistencies in self-interest theories. Parfit realizes this is very close to Buddhism. OOO would call it the “zero-person view.” Buddhism and OOO agree totally on this point: it's perfectly possible to achieve this view.

Intimacy and the no-self view come together in ecological awareness. The proximity of an alien presence that is also our innermost essence is very much the structure of feeling evoked by ecological awareness. Consider symbiosis, as explored by Lynn Margulis and others. One feature of symbiosis is endosymbiosis, the fact that life forms do not simply live alongside us: they are within us, so much so that on many levels the host–parasite distinction collapses. Our mitochondria, for instance, are symbionts hiding from their own catastrophe, the environmental disaster called oxygen. Many cell walls are double, hinting at some ancient symbiotic coupling. To a great extent others are us: or as the poet Rimbaud put it, “Je est un autre.” On a non-phenomenological level (not dependent on experience), a level an extraterrestrial with a microscope could validate, we are strangers to ourselves. That is how close the other is. Ecology is about intimacy.

Object-Oriented God

Thinking about withdrawal and Buddhism, I remembered this fascinating line from a post of Levi’s on 8.19.10:

“Like any other object, an object-oriented theology would have to argue that God is withdrawn from both itself and that all other objects are withdrawn from God (i.e., that God has no privileged access to creatures).”

This is precisely the Buddhist theory of god (whoever that is). Some being was reincarnated as a formless god (no articulated body, just sheer extension+awareness). Formless gods live for billions of years. This formless god was around when our Universe emerged. He thought he had created it…out of himself, since having no body it appeared as if the big bang was happening “inside” him...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Object-Oriented Buddhism 14—A Buddhist Fourfold

Antirealism has had its fling with Buddhism. But Buddhism asserts that things are real—in particular, Buddhas!

Deconstruction has claimed Buddhism as its own. But the only aspect it's really like is the cutting edge of Madhyamika reasoning (Prasangika style to be exact). And as Nagarjuna said, if you believe in that as a system, you are incurably insane. It tend towards nihilism—as does deconstruction.

The eco crew claimed Buddhism, believing that phenomenological “embeddedness” in a lifeworld constituted a blow to Cartesian dualism. But Harman and I agree that this kind of talk is just a “new and improved” version of anthropocentric dualism.

The process crew wants a turn too. But process philosophies are materialisms: the processes have to be of something. Essentially they are forms of atomism in a rather gooey guise. They can maybe have the first two forms of Buddhism (the ones that developed egolessness and interdependence), which developed forms of atomism.

But for sure process philosophies have trouble with the other seven or whatever the number is (I'm counting all the different tantras as separate forms of Buddhism here). If there's one thing these Buddhisms aren't, it's materialism.

But OOO? We've got realism: check. We've got objects but not matter as atoms or goo: check. We've got irreductionism: Buddha himself says a chariot is not reducible to the sum of its parts—check. We've got emptiness: check—because objects are withdrawn and not what they appear to be as present-at-hand. We've got a critique of relationism: check—that's what emptiness is, a critique of relationism, because if you have relations then you have atomism in some form. We've got a critique of cause and effect: check—because the Middle Way (Madhyamika) sees it as absurd. We've got a noncorrelationist view—because correlationism is what Buddhism calls “ego.” (Buddhism agrees with Harman that phenomenological “embeddedness” is just a touchy-feely upgrade of the lucid Cartesian ego. What a shame most people see Buddhism as an “embeddedness” philosophy.) We've got anti-anthropocentrism, because a wallaby, heck even a peanut or even a neutron star could become enlightened (
why not? at least in the Vajrayana they could). What else?

Graham Harman's Tool-Being provides the first detailed and straightforward interpretation of Heidegger's notorious das Geviert (fourfold), an account of the thing that has baffled and embarrassed many a Heideggerian for decades. I like this account very much, not the least because it's isometric with an esoteric Buddhist account of objects! I only figured this out today so bear with me if this post contains errors. But Harman encourages us to dream about the fourfold and be in a fever about it—this pretty much describes my feelings right now.

I must say I find this among the more stunning aspects of Harman's OOO, especially insofar as it makes a good deal of sense out of what is often dismissed as a poeticism. Moreover, the parallel with esoteric Buddhism is uncanny. Caveat: I am by no means suggesting you have to be a Buddhist to be an OO philosopher. I am however suggesting that Buddhism is a kind of OOO.

In Harman's view of the quadruple object (the title of his imminently forthcoming book), and in Buddhism, each entity has four different aspects. Harman derives the model from Heidegger's fourfold: Earth, Gods, Mortals, Sky. Rather than each of the four being a specific ontic being, each aspect is included in every single object in the Universe. Hold that thought since Buddhism says the same thing.

(Graham Harman, Tool-Being, p. 203)

Earth and Gods correspond to objects as concealed, “subterranean” entities. Mortals and Sky correspond to objects in their “as-structure” sense, as present-at-hand (as they appear, in Buddhist-ese). So concealed and revealed is the first axis.

Now comes the second axis—something specific vs. something at all (beings and being). Earth and Mortals pertain to objects in their something-at-all-ness. Gods and Sky pertain to objects in their specificity. Got that?

Harman uses the example of a goblet filled with wine. There is the goblet as a something at all, apart from my access to it (Earth); the goblet as specific something, apart from my access (Gods); the goblet as it appears to me as something at all (Mortals); and the goblet as it appears to me as something specific (Sky). When I say my access I might as well say “this bottle of wine's access” or “this table's access”—just to be clear.

It's not easy at first but I suggest you play with this model to become acquainted with it. It's actually not hard to fall in love with it.

Okay, now for the Buddhist parallels.

Earth. In esoteric or Vajrayana Buddhism (and the most esoteric school, Dzogchen) this is known as ground, which is as near as anything to “earth,” particularly in Harman's sense. Earth or ground is not soil and roots, not under your ontic feet, not even “an” Earth, but the withdrawn matrix (ground Tantra) in which everything occurs, or as Harman puts it, the total contexture of being. Tantra comes from the same word as “text” so Harman's “contexture” comes very close to this. Not as in “writing” qua language but as in weaving.

Gods. Harman takes this to mean specific things that arise out of the matrix. Again, in esoteric Buddhism an object as such is called a deity. Same term! The practitioner acknowledges this by considering human and non-human entities alike as “gods” and “goddesses.” Thus water is Mamaki, a female Buddha, and so on. I know it sounds freaky.

Mortals. The withdrawn aspect of a specific entity. The “experience” of being (Harman, “something at all”), which in Buddhist-ese is emptiness. It finds a good though limited human analogy in Heidegger's Angst. Sometimes referred to in Buddhist-ese as “baby rigpa.” Could easily apply to nonhuman and nonliving entities if you think “experience” as “encounter.” The manuals do say that you experience it automatically when you experience a massive shock (such as dying or being born…) so the uncanny creepiness of Heidegger's Angst is quite close. It's just that for Buddhists, the experience is much more open than that. But yeah, panic kind of puts you there. Pity you snap out of it in 0.001 seconds.

Sky. Specific entities in their luminous or appearing aspect (Harman, “something in particular”). Heidegger writes quite beautifully about the sparkle of things, “the wandering glitter of the stars”—a sparkle that concurs intimately with esoteric Buddhist language. In Buddhist-ese, sky is luminosity. Esoteric Buddhism is full of sky imagery, imagined as a kind of luminous canvas on which things appear.

So as you can see, this is a remarkable state of affairs. What we have are two ontologies that are exactly isometric in their appeal to a fourfold structure.

For fun let's venture into even more uncharted territory a little. Actually, esoteric Buddhism already has a FIVEFOLD structure. These are five Buddha families. Every single entity in the Universe contains all five simultaneously yet one is foregrounded in any specific situation. The five are called Buddha, Vajra, Padma, Ratna and Karma. You can read about them here and here. They correspond to the five wisdoms, which are five aspects of enlightened mind: all-encompassing space (Buddha), mirrorlike wisdom (that reflects emptiness, Vajra), discriminating awareness wisdom (picking out details, Padma), the wisdom of equanimity (Ratna, associated with the realm of the gods), all-accomplishing wisdom (Karma). They also correspond to confused states of mind and to elements: space, ignorance (Buddha), water, anger (Vajra), fire, desire (Padma), earth, pride (Ratna), wind, jealousy (Karma).

The following is totally made up by me on the spot and it could be wrong. But this looks like a good fit to me.

Buddha = Earth.
Vajra = Mortals.
Padma = Sky.
Ratna = Gods.
Karma = [?] The blank stands for the way all of these go together, spontaneously perfect. Technically unless you're enlightened you don't ever experience enlightened Karma energy. So maybe that would be a Buddhist explanation for why objects appear to have a fourfold rather than fivefold structure.

The “higher” Buddhism goes (sorry I'm biased), the more like OOO it seems. There is a rather rough and ready fit between Pratyekabuddhayana interdependence and tool-being. There is a much better fit between Mahayana emptiness and withdrawal vs. as-structure. And there is an almost perfect fit between Vajrayana emptiness–luminosity and the fourfold object.

I find this coincidence remarkable. OOO is the ONLY non-Buddhist view I've ever seen that can cope with the depth and vastness of Buddhist ontology. And with the magic.