Tuesday, November 30, 2010
I think I might be an extremophile. At least in terms of the music I like. Here's an endolith, a life form that enjoys living inside crystal. Jarrod Fowler's music and emails are provoking these thoughts.
Maybe it's simply that the acid hasn't worn off yet but I'm convinced that onomatopoeia can cover a lot more than mere sound. Why not? If language can translate objects, then sound can translate smell etc.
So I'll start off this list, which I hope we will all expand (to make this post into a monstrous hybrid far bigger than any other post on this blog). I'll start with what I'm calling visual onomatopoeia:
Of course this also leads to fascinating interstitial onomatopoeia. Here are some between seeing and hearing:
Come on readers, it's fun!
Monday, November 29, 2010
I'm not sure what to say about it yet. Instead I'm listening to Music to Play in the Dark 2 (and it's pitch black in here).
Here is a good interview with Coil. They talk about the early days of acid house:
JB: We've been taking MDMA since 1980 when it was first brought into the country. Our circle of friends were taking it constantly — there was no context to take it in. It took to 88 for a context to arrive or 87 maybe. . . it was a sacred situation and some sort of sacred ceremony was happening, for a while anyway. Then the focus shifted and the scene dispersed.
PC: It's like there was a moment when album covers were art and then they became packaging and I kind of feel the same about the Acid House scene. There was a time when it was sacred and then there was a time when it was packaging - getting bums on filthy floors.
Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas is about Halloween objects translating Christmas objects. With disturbing and hilarious results. Simple as that. It's rather wonderful to see these stop-motion objects, magically uncanny as stop motion so often is, encountering one another so bizarrely and intimately. Burton's delightfully moody goth expressionism fits these objects perfectly and the melancholia never fails to make me smile. My favorite: Jack's girlfriend, who sews herself together when her creator rips her arms off...
The protagonist, Jack, here sings his amazement at the primordial fact of object withdrawal. The withdrawal is modulated through his puzzlement as to their telos: what are they for?
Jack makes two mistakes. The first is a real mistranslation: he thinks Santa Claus is Santa CLAWS. The second is a correlationist mistake. He gets it into his head that Christmas will be all about him, just as Halloween is all about him (he supposes).
This song, “What's This?” is as close to anything to musical comedy bliss. It's That Song in any musical, the one Eric Idle calls “The Song That Goes Like This” in Spamalot.
The OOO translation thing works on many levels here. There is the horrifying sensuality of Halloween and Christmas both—what Graham calls allure. Christmas Land is everything, in all its detailed particularity, sensual and real objects jumbled together in Burton's fantasy. So is Halloween, necessitating the fiction that these worlds inhabit different dimensions accessible through doors in trees in a strange forest.
And it is of course marvelous fun to see a death's head bursting out of a snowman and so on... Totally weird juxtaposition.
It was mooted that “Hello Everything” should have a Squarepusher-like cover (viz. the above). So Levi, Graham, Ian, Nathan Brown and I submitted images.
Graham: a raspberry and the Boston Celtics
Levi: a Women's Suffrage march, an underwater Roman shipwreck viz:
Ian: 4K Mask ROM with Board, The Cook Out
Nathan: the atomic IBM logo and Malevich's Black Square and Red Square
Tim: the chunk of ice that broke off of Greenland recently and Jupiter's Great Red Spot
Sadly it wasn't to be. But we can dream...and we have Photoshop...
The big conclusion is “You are what you eat”—something that we've been saying to ourselves since the Romantic period (the phrase was invented twice, separately, like all good things, once in France and once in Germany). Stir in some Lacan (your identity is looped through your jouissance) and you have the recipe for things as they are.
This is precisely what we need LESS of, not more. It turns eating into fetishistic identity politics and it's a big reason for anorexia and the kind of beautiful soul environmentalism against which I've been arguing.
Here he is with some useful language about how science, if pressed to justify itself, couldn't do it:
If the sciences were not seen ... from the outside and in terms of their progress and results, i.e., according to a merely apparently proper but in fact wrongheaded theory of science, then it would have to become clear that every science, at its birth, has made a decision of principle and now lives on that basis, and conversely, from there each science also derives its characteristic way of going astray. It is never asked whether the sciences, either in general ... or in particular ... can actually furnish the idea of concrete research.
What does this mean? For starters it means that the pressure put on humanism to justify its existence all the time would easily cause science to collapse if the same pressure were applied.
Also unmissable: his critique of “worldview philosophizing,” in particular scientistic genres. Respect!
Another great reason to do this: the “meta” syndrome and trumpery evinced by Zizekians and Badiouians.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Saturday, November 27, 2010
[Lacan] has more respect for Buddhism than you or Slavoj. Your attempt to go meta has also been noted. “Anything you can do I can do meta” is indeed classic Zizek. “Engagement and generosity”? I think not. Classic nihilist one-upsmanship? Why yes. Here's a thought: les non-dupes errent.
In any case, the attempt to go meta fails as you only produce synonyms for letting go of clinging (or whatever)—ding! Correct!
There's a very good reason why Buddhists tell you that it's not desire they are getting rid of—desire in that blurry Zizekian sense is not on their cognitive map. They're not evading your cleverness. They are simply pointing out that they're talking about apples and you are talking about oranges. Or bad photocopies of apples.
You could easily argue that “never give up on your desire” is quintessentially Buddhist. Theravada Buddhism included, Buddhism is not about “getting rid of desire”—that may be Schopenhauer (a classic orientalist misprision) but it's not Buddhism.
All forms of Buddhism are about letting go of ego clinging. It's an elementary fact of Buddhism, the Third Noble Truth. Not the same thing as “getting rid of desire.”
If you want to be Theravadin about it, “desire” is way back on the Nidana chain from grasping—dig? You can desire all you want, as long as you don't cling. An action becomes karmic when you grasp. Not when you desire. This is first grade Buddhist logic. You want to drink that bottle of whiskey but you refrain? Great. You created zero karma. Those who don't understand the difference have simply not examined their minds closely enough. From a meditator's point of view “desire” a la Zizek is a blurry, vague concept.
All Buddhists agree on this. Check the Vajrayana version: “It's not perceptions that bind us, but clinging to perceptions—so cut your clinging, Naropa.”
The burden of proof is on your good selves to convince me that you know anything about Buddhism worth arguing with. I have studied all forms of Buddhism for thirty years. I've known Slavoj for about twenty and I've read all his books.
But none of this is why you are arguing. The reality is that you think that Buddhists are “inscrutable” faceless robots. If you don't, say so. Or perhaps they are too touchy-feely (rather than not enough)—provoking you with subtle phenomenological distinctions between states of mind you color uniformly as “desire.” And heaven knows we've all been trained that phenomenology is bunk...
Buddhists, in short, are queer.
I'm more convinced than ever that Buddhaphobia is a timely project.
Friday, November 26, 2010
Tech problems led to the talk being split into four. Sorry about that. If you hit Play the player will automatically cycle through the recordings.
The title is “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Animals but Were Afraid to Ask Vegetables.”
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Plant plankton are tiny creatures that live in the oceans and carry out a job you and I depend on to stay alive. They produce half the world's oxygen, and suck up planet-warming carbon dioxide. Yet this year, one of the world's most distinguished scientific journals, Nature, revealed that 40 per cent of them have been killed by the warming of the oceans since 1950. Professor Boris Worm, who co-authored the study, said in shock: "I've been trying to think of a biological change that's bigger than this and I can't think of one." That has been the result of less than one degree of warming. Now we are on course for at least three degrees this century.
Note that “begins” takes place before 1950...
Marina Zurkow gave me permission to post links to the animations that comprise Mesocosm here. Enjoy.
I'm intrigued by the relationship between the dark abstract zero space around the “nature” obelisk--it could be a kind of inner space, couldn't it? Or an in-between space? The Tibetans call it bardo, which is actually Tibetan for mesocosm. But more “cosmic” (or mesocosmic...).
Zurkow was inspired by some thinking in Ecology without Nature on mesocosms, an intriguing ecological concept.
Here. It would be a big shame if all we ever thought about was how to attack the other. This kind of thing is what turns academia into what the Buddhists call an asura realm, a realm of paranoid fighting demons who are constantly about to unleash violence, like characters in a kung fu movie. Or a Jane Austen novel.
Some of my colleagues look like old scarred samurai warriors covered in blood. On the inside.
His name is David Prothero and I'm sorry to tell you that he's dead. He died in 2001. I found this out while listening to Martin talking about how mere survival was the ground of everything real.
David had the longest fingernails I'd ever seen and always wore his pretty much full on goth gear everywhere. To him it was a matter of “determinacy,” his favorite concept. When I am cut, I bleed. Somehow this was also a defense against his schizophrenic mother, who I imagine as frighteningly boundariless. He was the author of several essays on horror and an unfinished dissertation on Blake and horror. And he published a horror fanzine, Bloody Hell: The Horror Fanzine with a Brain in Its Head.
David and I were in a poetry group. He always wrote these incredible goth poems. One was about a vampire. The vampire is sick and tired of being immortal and wants to live and die. The last line of the poem is “Into this pit of time I wish my body hurled.” That's been in my mind like an undead spirit since 1989.
Cheers David. You adjusted me.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
And it's punctuated by acousmatic sound, sometimes like birdsong, always electronic.
I've had it running on my machine for days and it's been blowing me away. In this setup you watch it frontally and in various states of Benjaminian Zersteuung, which is intriguing. It sort of happens alongside you.
Mesocosm is an intense, alluring piece. More soon including a link.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
|THE AWFUL shadow of some unseen Power|
|Floats though unseen among us,—visiting|
|This various world with as inconstant wing|
|As summer winds that creep from flower to flower,—|
|Like moonbeams that behind some piny mountain shower,||5|
|It visits with inconstant glance|
|Each human heart and countenance;|
|Like hues and harmonies of evening,—|
|Like clouds in starlight widely spread,—|
|Like memory of music fled,—||10|
|Like aught that for its grace may be|
|Dear, and yet dearer for its mystery.|
Monday, November 22, 2010
This Saturday (this Friday CA USA time, 8pm) I'll be talking at Symbiotica “in” Perth—well actually via videolink. The conference is called Unruly Ecologies: Biodiversity and Art.
The physical location is Law Lecture Theatre, room 106, Law Building, The University of Western Australia.
My paper is called “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Animals but Were Afraid to Ask Vegetables.”
Algorithms will be involved.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Alex took me to the Rothko Chapel, which I've been thinking about for at least twenty years. It was far more affecting than I thought. I've sat in front of many Rothkos but this was something else. You could feel your insides beginning to resonate and you could begin to see magical colors emerging out of the velvety purple black darkness of the paintings. And the dark ceiling that radiates light around it from a skylight. I wasn't ready for that. Or the rugged simplicity of the place, the way it almost smelt of raw plaster. A highly sensuous place. And a black hole...that octagonal darkness floating below the skylight evokes a black hole smoking with light.
If you haven't already you should listen to Morton Feldman's Rothko Chapel. The embedded video is the third part of a series but it includes a shot of the chapel.
Friday, November 19, 2010
Around 6:44 into the talk I should have made it clear that the sentence “I am smarter than you to the extent that I can see around mere objects” was in scare quotes. It's not what I think! I'm ventriloquizing someone who thinks “Anything you can do I can do meta.”
Great students, clearly having a good time at Rice, asked a lot of great questions and got me thinking about OOO as I presented some of my work and the final chapter of Graham Harman's Prince of Networks.
One significant emerging topic was the role of rhetoric in object-oriented ontology, a theme I'll be returning to in LA.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
I'm going to quote his swimming pool analogy from an earlier post just because I think it's so neat. I'm using in my Rice talk tomorrow. (Stay tuned.)
Morton’s hyperobjects are thus like our experience of a pool while swimming. Everywhere we are submersed within the pool, everywhere the cool water caresses our body as we move through it, yet we are nonetheless independent of the water. We produce effects in the water like diffraction patterns, causing it to ripple in particular ways, and it produces effects in us, causing our skin to get goosebumps and, if you’re a man, for parts of you to inconveniently shrink, yet the water and the body are nonetheless two objects withdrawn from one another interacting only vicariously.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Hey by the way when I first heard this I was living here:
My room was on the ground floor (the bay and french windows you can see at the bottom left of the building). Just outside was the lamppost where Mr. Tumnus is first seen by Lucy (for real, C.S. Lewis used to live a few hundred yards away).
When I heard this mix, it was as if I'd heard the song (“Heaven or Las Vegas”) for the first time one sparkling frosty snowy morning in early December 1989. Precisely because the mix was different. It's how metaphor (translation, OOO fans) can put you in touch with the molten core of an object.
Lopez's work is the most stunning I've heard for a while...
And Lingis is the Lopez of philosophy. Intense, compelling objects that surround you like skin, that are your skin, that seduce you at every turn, that tell you how to listen to them, look at them, handle them. Not an aestheticized “lifeworld” with its distances and horizons, but something much more intimate and profound.
Lopez from his website:
Much against a widespread current trend in sound art and the customary standard in nature recordings, I believe in the possibility of a profound, pure, 'blind' listening of sounds, freed (as much as possible) of procedural, contextual or intentional levels of reference.
And he's spot on about sound art. It's not about realism as “rendering” some simulation of real-ness, but about producing what Pierre Schaeffer called sound objects. He thus opposes acoustic ecology, as do I, even though (because!) he is an ecologist...
How come we can't tell scientists what to do? How come our position as humanists is simply to interpret science?
(Especially if the point is not to interpret the world but to change it.)
Because though he put a lot of Hegelian bells and whistles on it, the final point was: science reports, humanists decide (to parody the jingle of Fox News).
Why? Because in the end, Johnston smuggled ontic prejudices, scientistic factoids, into his argument that was supposedly so ontological.
Exhibit A: neuroplasticity. This may tells us, argued Johnston, that within matter itself is some kind of emergent something-else.
What if it were telling us something different? I don't know exactly what. But doesn't this factoid assume that first there is matter, then there is some strange autopoetic business that goes on within that, ontologically “after” matter?
What if, for instance, it was a function of the fact that THERE IS NO MATTER (devoid of form)? A la object-oriented ontology.
This inscribable surface, in nuce, is Derrida's arche-writing.
Better then to start with this—there is NO NATURE, not even an autopoetic one.
What we then have, if we want to posit something (which I do) is an infinite regress possibility, or as Graham Harman says, objects wrapped in objects wrapped in objects...so be it.
The mad dash towards emergence is, at least in the humanities, a regression back away from deconstruction, while OOO moves past it.
Burke sees the sublime embodied in some empirical X: a big mountain, a terrifying monarch. Bushco's “Shock and Awe” is the Burkean sublime—as long as you watch it on your TV and are not underneath it when the bombs start falling. An opponent of revolutions (unless they were happening at a safe distance across the Atlantic), Burke appealed to the weight of tradition as a sublime authority to which we should submit.
For Kant on the other hand, all such X's can only ever be triggers for the real experience of the sublime, which is inner freedom, total, unconditional, scary. The sublime is inner space. You're in a library: what's weird is, you're surrounded by infinities, universes of inner space.
Now for Kant this is part of the democracy virus (the other part is beauty) that he's trying to install in the European psyche.
WHEREAS consumerism embodies the sublime in some X: an SUV for instance is an experience of safe power on so many levels: you can just visualize the ad of the SUV driving through some wilderness, the occupants “safe” from the rigors of actually living in it (which would stop it being experienced as wilderness) and “powerful” as they take in the mighty grandeur. The SUV occupants are virtual version of us, the couch potatoes. An SUV is basically a huge sofa on wheels with a windshield TV screen.
LET IT BE KNOWN THAT ecology without nature sides with the Kantian sublime. It's not about preserving the abstract wilderness. It's about Freddie, the polar bear (let's give him a name), a real person who is really living on a shrinking piece of ice. It's not even about polar bears in the abstract. It's about this polar bear, this unique one here, and his inner space.
All I did to get there was to extend inner space to non-human sentient beings.
Then OOO extends inner space to non-sentient objects. Whoah.
...courtesy of my daughter of 6 years...he's clearly been corrupted by the Emperor. Exasperated, Obi Wan tries to respond, but they're in the heat of battle and his question goes unnoticed:
Monday, November 15, 2010
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Seriously. All good librarians enjoy withholding objects from scholars. Some of the withdrawnness of objects has rubbed off on them, to good effect. A good university library should contain objects that almost no one, perhaps not even their owner or author, has ever examined. A great library contains mountains of crap that no one looks at or cares about. And the taxpayer should pay for it. I'm serious!
We need to stop thinking simply in terms of “access” and the serving of popular information like so much fast food, and start thinking of libraries as gifts rather than work houses. Places where you look at stuff without a clue as to what you are finding, or will found, or even what you have found. A good research library is a place of mystery where information has melted back into the objects that contain it. One almost expects the vellum to start morphing back into cows.
Access to information is democratic. However, from this can come arguments for saving money on top of that. Guess what? They are about destroying objects. Democracy doesn't mean 500 channels of shite visible all times to everyone--it could mean objects set free from use.
Librarianship provides a model for the optimal ethical stance towards hyperobjects.
So here is a really really neat OOO art project. Design a book with uncut pages and a beautiful paper knife.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Friday, November 12, 2010
Morton’s hyperobjects are thus like our experience of a pool while swimming. Everywhere we are submersed within the pool, everywhere the cool water caresses our body as we move through it, yet we are nonetheless independent of the water. We produce effects in the water like diffraction patterns, causing it to ripple in particular ways, and it produces effects in us, causing our skin to get goosebumps and, if you’re a man, for parts of you to inconveniently shrink, yet the water and the body are nonetheless two objects withdrawn from one another interacting only vicariously.Precisely. Actually an object like swimming pool water works beautifully to evoke another aspect of hyperobjects, which has to do with their distribution in time. I'm re-reading Einstein at present trying to get more of a handle on this. But it seems to me that hyperobjects sort of ripple and distort in time. So does everything, but hyperobjects are so massively distributed that it becomes obvious.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
In a previous post I argued that hyperobjects are viscous—they adhere to you no matter how hard to try to pull away, rendering ironic distance obsolete. Now I'll argue that they are also nonlocal. That is, hyperobjects are massively distributed in time and space such that any particular (local) manifestation never reveals the totality of the hyperobject.
When you feel raindrops falling on your head, you are experiencing climate, in some sense. In particular you are experiencing the climate change known as global warming. But you are never directly experiencing global warming as such. Nowhere in the long list of catastrophic weather events—which will increase as global warming takes off—will you find global warming.
But global warming is as real as this sentence. Not only that, it's viscous. It never stops sticking to you, no matter where you move on planet Earth.
How can we account for this? By arguing that global warming, like all hyperobjects, is nonlocal: it's massively distributed in time and space.
What does this mean? It means that my experience of the weather in the hic et nunc is a false immediacy. It's never the case that those raindrops only fall on my head! They are always a manifestation of global warming!
In an age of ecological emergency—in an age in which hyperobjects start to oppress us with their terrifying strangeness—we will have to get used to the fact that locality is always a false immediacy.
Monday, November 8, 2010
The fabulous Museum of London (dig those medieval peasant shoes!) is hosting an exhibition of “postcards from the future.” There's a good piece on it (with a slide show) on the Huffington Post. Given the expected rise in sea levels the image I've selected doesn't seem too unrealistic. Parts of London such as Parsons Green are several feet below sea level.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
For now though, it looks like my talk will be about contemporary physical theories as non-atomist. It's going to be called “Hyperobjects 3.0: Physical Remix.”
Christian Hawkey sent me Citizen Of out of the blue. And Mark Yakich gave me The Importance of Peeling Potatoes in the Ukraine (great cover!). More to follow.
I have a new found zest for poems now that I've more fully appreciated Aristotle's view of substances as formal causes. Thanks OOO!
I also owe Janelle Schwartz some thoughts about Ursula Le Guin's The Word for World is Forest. Why can't they leave those 70s covers alone?
Stand-out sentence (of many):
the exploration of the common or universal, that of building the composite whilst understanding the relative, heterogeneous basis of composition itself, namely, the grouping together of units that never form ‘the whole’ but a revisable unit.
Honestly I tell you over the last few months my head has been taken apart and reassembled. In a most pleasant way.
Most conversations I've had about Buddhism recently, with scholars that is, have tended to involve assertions (by them) that Buddhism is claiming that this pencil doesn't exist, that in absolute reality it's just not there. I've been disagreeing, vehemently. The tendency to glorify the absolute over the relative is nihilism, pure and simple. A bad case of meta disease.
Saturday, November 6, 2010
I'm growing more and more impressed one of Graham Harman's observations, one that he argues many times (just take a look at his blog, Tool-Being and Guerilla Metaphysics, for instance). This is his case that for about two hundred years, the game of being right in philosophy has most often been one of going meta.
What does going meta mean? Let Monty Python explain:
If you've ever been in this kind of argument, you'll know how intense it can get. Going meta is a great way to sneer at someone. You remove the rug from underneath the other's feet. Their mere immediacy is always false. It's the deep structure, the numinous background, the possibility of the possibility of the horizon of the event of being, that is more real, or better, or just more rhetorically effective, than anything else. In this mode, the egg of potentiality comes before the chicken of the actual.
(Interestingly, this mode is exactly what Monty Python exploit, in particular in the skit above. For a contrary mode, have a read of Aristotle. For sure he thinks that chickens come before eggs. It's one deep reason why he's so invigorating.)
The syndrome of going meta is repeated in countless different philosophical modes. It makes Marxism more similar to deconstruction than it is to OOO, for instance. It makes Heidegger more similar to Adorno than to Ian Bogost. A fact that Adorno would have found disturbing.
I'm not sure which part came first, the thinking or the acting out, but this meta syndrome seems strangely parallel with the basic ontology of modern life.
For instance, it's deeply responsible for the beautiful soul condition from which we mock anyone who dares to actually do something—the condition Lacan noted when he claimed “Les non-dupes errent.” Those who sit up high on the mountain sneering at us poor saps beneath, because they think they can see through everything, are the most deluded of all.
Modern life presents us with a choice:
1) The essence of things is elsewhere (in the deep structure of capital, the unconscious, Being)
2) There is no essence
At present I believe that the restriction of rightness and coolness to this choice is one reason why planet Earth is in big trouble right now. And I believe that the choice resembles a choice between grayish brown and brownish gray.
That's why I believe in option 3):
3) There is an essence, and it's right here, in the object resplendent with its sensual qualities yet withdrawn
And that's why I believe we are entering a new era of academic work, where the point will not be to one-up each other by appealing to the trace of the givenness of the openness of the clearing of the lighting of the being of the pencil.
What will that look like? Not sure, but I know it'll be an immense relief.
Friday, November 5, 2010
But today I think we've also been shown the value of looking for the outdoors inside
(In my humble ecocritical opinion...)
This is also apropos of my essay for a volume on ecofeminism, called “Treating Objects Like Women.” I'm going to use Levi Bryant's startling formulation on objects and sexuation.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
New Orleans Talk
Lecture recorded at Loyola University, New Orleans, November 11, 2010. As you'll hear, I added and changed a LOT of stuff (compare “Hyperobjects 1.0”). In particular I added some more thinking about what hyperobjects are (they're “viscous”), and a lot more material about object-oriented ontology.
Thanks so much to Chris Schaberg and Janelle Schwartz, two young superstars. And to the wonderful audience, in particular the students in Chris's and Janelle's classes, whose questions before and after the talk were really striking and helpful.
The q&a really was incredibly good. Unfortunately my recorder ran out of memory after I'd answered the first question. Sorry about that—I've adjusted the settings on the recorder so this shouldn't happen next time. If you've been following these talks, not an awful lot was different from other q&a's I've done recently, except, happily, for that first answer.