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

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Fifteen-Year Project

I've been using a database since 1995 to keep notes. I just put my first noted marked “Buddhism” into Buddhaphobia. Then it hit me: I've been working on this project for fifteen years. You really have to take the long view and chill when you write books.

Mild Distraction

I'm at Mazda getting the minivan fixed, surrounded by fluorescent lights, huge tvs and the hum of electromagnetic fields. Yet again I'm convinced that mild distraction is a good environment for working, for me. I'm cutting huge swathes out of Buddhaphobia. I reached the word limit I set myself so now I have to put some proper words in, if you know what I mean. This involves cutting what's there already then going back and back-filling.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Graham Harman talks about his trip to the Masai Mara:

Even the geography really resonated with us. The human species did originate around there, after all, and some psychologists claim that people in every country spontaneously rank savanna scenes as the most beautiful of all possible landscapes when presented with a choice– as if the African savanna is still burned deep into all of our ancestral memories as Home, given how long we were there before leaving. And why leave such a mild and beautiful place anyway? We should all still be living in African savanna instead of in frozen Northlands. It’s what we were designed for in the first place, so no wonder it’s a happy thing to spend time there.

Think about how much of our bodies and minds have archaeological traces within them from hundreds of thousands, and millions, of years ago. Think about how some objects—some grasses, some trees, the gaze of watching lifeforms, the open sky—conditioned our bodies and minds.

Ancient Sunlit Intensity

Unspeakable, sunlight, beautiful, chasm, horrifying, ancient, sorrow, dust, stone, depth, open, Sunn O))). Wet slabs of guitar granite smoking with harmonics. Oozing feedback viscosity. I have no words really, for this music. Maybe dark ecology is the best I can do. The extraordinary creativity, humor (yes) and vast magnificence of this music is very very hard to describe. Harder even than La Monte Young. Oh mate, then there's the Nurse with Wound collaborations. Just when you thought the unspeakable was the utmost unspeakable. It takes me to a synaesthetic place that seems to have no time, or where time creeps with its nose to the ground to stay out of the burning sun of sound. This is the soundtrack to Dark Ecology no doubt, and Buddhaphobia too. Like Graham listening to Burial this shall be my muse.

Doctor Johnson's Boot

I'm so happy to be new person of the year 2010! Graham's post reminds me that some of the story of my OOO transition was not smooth, but a dizzying upgrade.

Graham rightly takes me to task for my use of Doctor Johnson's boot in my interview for Speculations, whose use I now realize is itself an example of Doctor-Johnson's-Bootism. It's easy to swing it to make a point, but what exactly is it saying? It's truly strange to remember that I actually used it. That seems like an eon ago intellectually speaking.

(Doctor Johnson used his boot to “refute” Berkeley by kicking a stone.)

I think the general gist of my Bootism was to swing it against the idea of non-linguistic or unspeakable real things. A Boot used against a Boot, so I thought. I said that the sound of a boot hitting some crystalline particles wasn't an argument. So what's wrong with this?

For a kick-off (oops), the sound of the boot IS a kind of argument! (See my paper on OOO rhetoric. I'll be arguing along these lines some more in my Qui Parle essay.) Then there is the appropriation of it by the human owner of the leg attached to said boot. That's an entirely different kettle of fish. (Just to mix metaphors for a moment.)

And another thing (also in OOO land): the sound of the boot (mis)translates the stone. It's not an empiricist argument the boot is making. It's simply booting about the stone, and the stone is stoning about the boot. So it's a lot more interesting than Doctor Johnson's use of it as a slap upside the head. (See how confusing these metaphorical translations can be?)

And another thing: for sure some things are unspeakable and nonlinguistic. Unless you want to stretch language to cover everything, in which case it loses a lot of its power. Words themselves can be unspeakable and nonlinguistic! (This is a more subtle point of tentative agreement between Derrida and OOO, which I'll also discuss in Qui Parle.)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Against Complexity

This post is just the ticket, from the blog Being Sufficiently (hat tip Graham). It's about time Darwinism started standing up to the teleology implicit in complexity theory. In no sense is it the case that evolution is teleological. Most lifeforms are no more or less complicated than bacteria. And we share more in common with bacteria, by the way, than we do with slime molds (see below).

And yes—complexity theory with its “emergence” is complicit with libertarianism.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Books and Parenting

Dammit. Writing two books that you care about (two monographs, I mean) at once is like having two kids. You give one some attention, the other one goes and sulks in a corner.

Dark Chemistry Phraseology

Beautifully written, I think. With beautiful photos. Listen to this:

Hegel once told us that the “aim of knowledge is to divest the objective world of its strangeness and to make us more at home in it.” But what if the opposite were true that the real aim of knowledge is to invest the objective world with abject strangeness and to alter our mode within it as pure homelessness?

That's a dark ecological sentiment for you to close out the year.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Plant Cognition

“Dog Vomit” slime mold

Steven Shaviro has a wonderful post up on slime molds and other strange beasties so head over there as soon as you can.

The point is, Shaviro is adding some evidence for something I was sketching out purely speculatively in The Ecological Thought, namely that we've been looking for cognition in the wrong place, as a bonus prize for being highly evolved. What an absurdly anti-Darwinian notion.

Instead, I wonder, why not look for consciousness lower down? Thus I'm happy to report that fruit flies exhibit decision-like behavior. Bacteria talk to one another. Slime molds solve mazes. And look at this website devoted to plant cognition, for real.

This is going to be good for my work in Ben Woodard's and my Thinking Nature.

I Have the Speculative Turn

It's ridiculously easy to download this pdf of the most comprehensive and dazzling array of essays and interviews I've seen in ages. This is going to make a huge impact, like the Routledge collection on cultural studies edited by Larry Grossberg in the early 90s. I've already cited Ben Woodard's interview with Žižek in my essay for Qui Parle.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

“We Are All Hypocrites and Failures”: Wolves in the Throne Room

This is very encouraging. These guys are in chapter one of Dark Ecology. Great interview and you will fall for the careful, caring, intense and melancholic ecology these black metallers are creating.

I only have one of their albums, Two Hunters. But I'm going to get some more, as soon as I can rustle up the money.

Just read this from the interview:

One of the many contradictions of Black Metal is that it is a music that decries civilization, but relies on so many modern contrivances to exist. I don’t think it is a natural sound at all. It is really the sound of paradox, ambiguity, confusion, being caught between two worlds that cannot be reconciled. I have had people throw this in my face before – “how can you play music that is supposedly anti-civilization on electric guitars?” Frankly I find this line of reason boring and pointless. I remember a common line against rioters trashing the Nike store in downtown Seattle. There was a famous picture of some black-clad kid smashing the Nike sign, but zoom in and… ah-haa!! He’s wearing Nike sneakers! I say, who fucking cares? Catharsis is our objective, not a lilly-white and guilt free existence. We are all hypocrites and failures.

Wow. Yes. This is what we need more of.

If you haven't already check the Melancology webpage. Melancology is the title of the second black metal theory symposium. I was going to talk there but the video link wasn't really up and running. Great location: Natural History Museum, London.

Evil Kant

Graham, I'll see your evil Kant and raise you a

and a

Vicarious Causation

Levi, Graham and Robert all have posts on vicarious causation today. And Graham mentions how genuinely he cleaves to it as a daily practice of inhabiting his world. Since Santa may or may not be the direct sensual cause of the absurd pile of presents under the tree here, I thought this would be a good moment to weigh in.

Mostly just to go on record. Especially since there has been some detraction of late.

Let it be known that for me, vicarious causation is the MOST attractive and compelling thing about OOO, the one thing that resonates TOTALLY with my existing studies, and the reason why for the first time I've felt truly at home in a philosophical view. The turning upside down of the usual mode in which the aesthetic is just some nice sense organ candy on the substance cake is the ONE facet of OOO that locks instantly with my mind.

For me, vicarious causation is not the weird cod liver oil you have to swallow with the OOO meal. "You don't know why now dear but it will make sense when you're grown up, just take your medicine and then you can have some ice cream."

For me, vicarious causation is the reason why to eat the OOO meal in the first place. Which is why it'll be the subject of Realist Magic.

I'm just glad Graham had the guts to formulate it. It's the one piece that says most strongly, at least for me, "You are no longer living in modernity. Welcome to the next moment."

Friday, December 24, 2010

Zeilinger among the Philosophers

A lot of Dance of the Photon is written as narrative. Now I'm in a section written, suitably, as dialogue (shades of Plato), featuring two physics students and a philosophy student. It's revealing because it shows us how physics (via Anton Zeilinger, a master of engtanglement) perceives philosophy.

Quite sadly, philosophers (according to Zeilinger) don't care who Edwin Schrödinger is, and mount absurdly aggressive ontic arguments like “But I can SEE these mountains, so they exist!” when confronted by quantum theory. They have no idea of the last one hundred years of science. I'm sorry to say that might be quite accurate. I can't tell you the number of times the analytics at Oxford just brayed “But this beer is right here, I can SEE it!” at me when I asked them to prove it existed.

The other lot (the continentals) have been so busy with the grounding of the event of the moment of the clearing of the lighting of the whateverbeing that they forgot to read Einstein or anything after him...

(BTW Einstein does hyperbolic argument, a la Graham—he assumes quantum theory is completely true in his famous EPR essay on nonlocality, then works from there. Look and learn my friends.)

It's a shame, because the physics students admit they can't disprove a Berkeleyan idealist interpretation of quantum theory. They forget to add, “from within physics as such.” This is where philosophy could come in handy. I'm hoping my essay for Qui Parle will help in this area.

The Speculative Turn

It showed up just in time for me to refer to chapter and verse in my Qui Parle essay. Great wrenches on the cover: The wrenches on the cover remind me of a Talking Heads video, “Blind.” Great.

Tibet and Mars

One of Graham's detractors writes:

Notably, he (Harman), mentions Tibet, as a futuristic place where the people would be comfortable going to Mars, or wherever (sorry that it is politically incorrect, but no, this is not a futuristic people

Oh, actually, that's me: it's from a section called “Tibetans in Space” in The Ecological Thought. I stand by it 100%. It's us Westerners who would eat each other on a long space mission, since it's us who have the ideology of place.

Interesting coincidence though: Graham
writes in “Object-Oriented Philosphy” about some grains of dust on Mars and a Tibetan zoo...

The Ridicule Phase

So new ideas tend to get ignored, then ridiculed, then violently opposed, then everyone says “I always said that myself.” It's likely that these phases are simultaneous, with a greater majority trending towards one or the other.

OOO seems to be at the ridicule phase right now among some of Graham's and Levi's readers. I'm honored to be included in their company. I take all that as a huge compliment, actually. Graham has some very nice posts up that include some words about me, which I endorse wholly—I'm a wearer of my heart on my sleeve.

Actually once when I was very short of money I was trained as a double glazing salesman. I never made it past day one, because the trainer said “You're just too honest for this mate.”

I've been through this all before when I was a food studies guy. Writing about vegetarianism, it was assumed you were a nutter (as well as a nut-eater, which I was and may well be again). Then when food studies became legit, it was as if no battles had ever been fought over it. Now Levi and I can write about food and I feel like I'm pushing the envelope again. But for a while there, it was so corny (oh no, this is what happens when you write about food) that I avoided it.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Symbiotica Unruly Ecologies Symposium now Online

All the talks, videos and other presentations from the Unruly Ecologies event in Perth can be found here, except for mine, which can be found here. My presentation is here.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hymn to Him, and Him, and Him, and Him too

Oh I know, I've come over all soppy, but it's the holidays, what can you do? And MLA isn't until the second week of January—freedom! And in this space of Saturnalian pleasure what could a fellow want for who has now, at his side as the year comes to a close, three fine triple O-ists to share his intellectual adventures?

This has been the year of OOO—maybe it hasn't been for you but it sure has for me. Three fine young lads, led by Graham Harman, now have a fourth kind of fine kind of young lad, willing to drum and sing about octupus's gardens.

The year started with the Georgia Tech OOO sympsium, and ended with “Hello Everything” at UCLA. Then
Žižek endorsed Graham, not exactly hopping on the bus but definitely saluting its rowdy grandeur as it careened down the street. In the middle somewhere I jumped in.

I couldn't want for more with Levi powering away (he eats books and looks jolly good on them, if I may say so) in the center of America and Ian teching away with ludic fury in the East. We've got this continent covered. And Robert Jackson lends us his algorithmic stylings from the sunny vales of Plymouth, where Cornish pasties roam around the streets shouting “pepper me!”

Yes it's been a good year. I shall celebrate with some objects wrapped in objects.

And for My Next Trick, an Essay on Leibniz

...for Jeffrey Bell's and Levi Bryant's Deleuze book. It's called “Pond Life.” It will be about Deleuze's Leibniz and OOO. Does anyone have any suggestions for books or essays on Leibniz I might want to consult?

Object-Oriented Buddhism essay in the Works

I'm so grateful to those who have spoken with me, friendly and hostile, on this topic. As I continue to shape my essay for the OOO anthology I've realized that an awful lot of it was churned out in arguments with my online co-thinkers. Thank you.


Like “crickets” and “nothing to see here, move along,” the charge of anthropomorphism is oft repeated in the blogosphere. This comment I wrote on a post of Levi's just now was so good (he said modestly), and I feel so passionately about this, that I thought I'd reproduce it here:

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of anthropormorphism. Indeed according to OOO that’s what we can’t help doing. Pencils pencilmorph everything in the same way.

Furthermore, as I argue in The Ecological Thought, the charge of anthropomorphism is

1) A blind alley at best and a potentially infinite game of one-upsmanship
2) At worst, a symptom of profound correlationism and thus guilty of what it accuses the other of doing!

Zizek endorses Harman

Graham has just gone public with Zizek's endorsement of his Meillassoux book—a real corker. It will be interesting to see how this plays out with the Zizekians. As a recovering Zizekian, I suggest:

1) They will be somewhat startled
2) They will move “from one state of certainty to another state of certainty” (as the Vatican put it after Vatican 2)

Hyperobjects in Miami

I'll be talking about hyperobjects in Miami on March 30–31. Should be an interesting trip as there are some other events planned.


I have a lot of homework. Four books and something like ten essays.

When you have this much writing to do you really have to set yourself a quantity parameter. Mine is two to three pages a day.

You have to tell yourself it doesn't really matter what you write--THAT you write is fa more important.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Blood Moon

I saw the glow, behind clouds, at 11.41 when the lunar eclipse happened last night. As a triple O-ist (it sounds almost pagan) I thought it fit to see a gigantic object, the planet we stand on, blocking the sun's light from the moon. Dance of the hyperobjects.

The color was the sort of thing that Medievals would freak about. A blood red moon. And it hasn't happened since 1544 (thanks Starhawk).

Monday, December 20, 2010

Have you got your eclipse on?


In this interview Meillassoux does a Shelley:

If we can imagine so many things, this must be just the shadow of reality: imagination cannot exceed reality.

Sounds just like Shelley's Defence of Poetry. “We lack the creative faculty to imagine that which we know.”

Why the Ire against the EPA?

Why the persistent hostility to the EPA from Republicans? It was created by NIXON for Christ's sake.

It's elementary really: to fund the EPA is objectively to cave to a left world view, in which I am directly responsible for others. I prefer Alphonso Lingis's and my reason: there is no other reason than that they exist. If you haven't read his work recently, you'll see it's chock full of environmental examples (such as a cigarette burning in a sequoia forest—you just put it out, without figuring out whether you lit it or whether you should). It's called the imperative and it's the first stirrings of an object-oriented ethics. Expect to hear more about it in my work. (I've already been running it in The Ecological Thought and lots of the Hyperobjects talks.)

Another Young Reader of Harman's Latest

My daughter Claire (6). She dug it! See Levi's post on his reading it with his daughter Lizzie.

Wilderness Unit (with extra Francis Bacon)

How about Wilderness Unit by Mark Dion? I found it on eco/artscotland, a good looking site. There are a lot of resonances with my work in this piece.

It reminds me of some intense work by Francis Bacon—my favorites are Landscape and A Piece of Waste Land. The former is just that: a lump of turf floating in the void... I was recently contacted to do a talk in London for a symposium inspired by Francis Bacon—I hope I can make it.

Loyola undergrad on hyperobjects

“This semester I learned about hyperobjects. I'm still not exactly sure I understand them, but I know that my brain hurts when I try to think about them.”

That SR and OO Grad Class

Spring quarter, 2012. I should mention that it will be recorded and embedded here, too. It'll be in my role as a member of the theory program. We do a lot of interdisciplinary clustering here at UCD.

Some of you have asked me what I'll teach. I'd like to throw that open right now—let me know and I'll see about teaching it.

Upcoming Talks

See the panel on the right. I'll be talking about Buddhism, hyperobjects, art and ecology in LA, Sydney, Chicago (twice) and at Rutgers fairly shortly.

Processes as Hyperobjects

Levi Bryant, stalwart plunger of his brain into texts of all kinds, has been making some excellent discoveries about hyperobjects.

If I may offer a summary here, it's simply that processes and emergent phenomena of various kinds may be seen as hyperobjects.

Just for fun let's think of some really large scale potential hyperobjects that would fit the bill. These might include objects that appear to be sets of things. Hence "universe," "evolution," "capitalism," "space-time" might better be seen this way.

Why? It gets us out of the idealism latent in process and emergence thinking. Who gets to SEE the process etc as a process? There's a latent correlationism in seeing evolution as a human label for a process. This provides a narrow window for creationism.

Or the idealism of Badiou: if it's a hyperobject it's not me who counts "universe" as one.

With a more clear idea that processes are real objects, we can easily apply De Landa's criteria for realness, as Levi has been doing.

10 SR and OOO grad classes at UCD Spring 2012

I was just invited to teach a grad course on speculative realism and object-oriented ontology here at UCD next spring (2012). Stoked!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Carnivorous Carnival

If you haven't read Lemony Snicket then you should treat yourself to A Series of Unfortunate Events, even if you don't have a child to read it to. It's funny, Expressionist kids' horror. Brilliant. Book 9 is called The Carnivorous Carnival and it features the Caligari Carnival and Madame Lulu (Berg eat your heart out).

Each book comes with a wonderful warning not to read it—the ultimate in allure.

Dark Ecology Cover

...How I shall send it to Harvard.

Claire's Wire Cable Christmas Car

My daughter (6) writes: “Claire's wire cable Christmas car was the most popeler thing in the world. We will be tring it out tonight. were it is used: over...lakes / ocean / snow / river / other water sorses”

Uexküll + Allison Hunter

Cary Wolfe put me on to Allison Hunter's installation Zoosphere, from which derive the cover of his surprisingly beautiful edition of Uexküll.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Nice Post on Ecology without Nature

Michael at Archive Fire has a good post on Ecology without Nature. I haven't been able to read all of it yet but I'll certainly think about it and write something if it occurs to me.

Non-Life 2: The non-Rabbit

Consequently the 'non-rabbit' mentioned in the title of this piece is neither an 'anti-rabbit' nor a 'not-rabbit' but an entity without unity. The prefix 'non-' in the expression 'non-rabbit' - or 'non-philosophy' for that matter - is not be understood negatively or privatively.

Ray Brassier, “Behold the Non-Rabbit: Kant, Quine, Laruelle,” Pli 12 (2001), 50–82. Apropos of my new project Dark Ecology.

Future Christ

I can tell already that Future Christ, aided and abetted by Anthony Paul Smith's great translation and introduction, is going to be very important for Buddhaphobia. Laruelle (he of non-philosophy) begins his examination of religion and violence not with the destruction of peoples (genocides such as the Shoah), but with the destruction of heretics and heresy. This is precisely how Buddhaphobia is going to work. You can almost map our arguments in this regard onto one another. I'm quite excited about that.

A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans

Cary Wolfe's edition of Uexküll is, as Levi pointed out the other day, really beautiful. Color illustrations and all that jazz. I'm excited to read it again. Nice looking introduction. Great cover. Somehow those Minnesota covers are integrated yet unique. If you don't know already Levi has a post on it, and I write about the misuses of Umwelten here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Darwin 101—Death Eats Survival

Tibetan Buddhist Wheel of Life (in the jaws of Death (Yama))

Survival is not the bedrock of existence. Substantial portions of my body and brain don't care if I live or die—even enjoy the pleasurable sensations that kill me: there must be some minimal pleasure in ceasing to breathe at night or in grinding your teeth. Your body wouldn't do it if it was irritating. Freud was onto something with this death drive business. DNA reproduces because the molecule is "seeking" equilibrium--reproduction is merely a byproduct of that, almost a sort of side effect. Life is a side effect of the death drive—I'm afraid that in his latest, Chronophobia, Martin Hagglund regresses on this score. A species doesn't "want" or even "try to" survive. Why? It doesn't exist. Survival only means your genome was copied before you died. Hagglund's definition is teleological—ironically, nowhere near minimal enough despite claims that it's foundational.

Dance of the Photons

Anton Zeilinger's new book Dance of the Photons is easily the best book I've read on quantum theory--unless you want a straight ahead textbook, then it has to be David Bohm's Quantum Theory.

Zeilinger has entangled particles and demo'd nonlocal effects between one on Earth and one aboard a satellite, between different sides of a German city, and on and on. If you like me are a fan of what Einstein feared, "spooky action at a distance," this book is for you.


Non-music, non-philosophy, and of course, non-life. In The Ecological Thought I talk about the strange entities that exist at the macromolecular level: insertions, virions, viroids, plasmids, and on and on. There are whole realms of them. For instance consider RNA world, a realm of “pre-living life” that had to exist before DNA proper, since DNA requires ribosomes and ribosomes requires DNA.

DNA type self-replicating molecules are “life“ forms, or perhaps it's better to say non-life, since there are many kinds of macromolecule such as viruses that aren't “alive” in the metaphysical, onto-theological sense.

I was reminded of this today by an essay on how bacteria are becoming resistant to a wide range of antibiotics. This is because of the presence of plasmids inside bacteria. Plasmids are a kind of non-life in the sense I'm using here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

OOO + Uexküll vs. The Uexküll Regulars

...well maybe not against his philosophy per se, but against Uexküll-ism, practiced by Heidegger, Haraway, and a host of ecophenomenologists. Now Uexküll is legendary for his delineation of Umwelt, or “surrounding world”—different animals have different Umwelten.

Exhibit (A): Heidegger's argument that animals are “poor in world” and that non-sentient life and non-life doesn't really have a world to speak of at all—pure ontotheology. “My world is better/bigger/richer/more real than your world.”

If anything, as Levi Bryant argues in this fabulous post, the stronger argument is that no world is better than any other. In other words,
Uexküll needs a triple O-ing. Uexküll as alien phenomenologist in Ian Bogost's phrasing.

Exhibit (B): Haraway, “worlding” as an ethical principle. “It's good because it constitutes a world.” Thus “exterminism” is denying that things have a world, getting them oven-ready for destruction. Now there was a wonderful world of witch ducking stools. Should we preserve it? There was a world of Nazi uniforms. Should that be preserved? A world of concentration camps? This has been my argument in “We Aren't the World” (my RMMLA paper—expanded and remixed for World Picture, ha-ha, forthcoming quite soon).

OOO riposte: since everything has a world, we can't make ethical claims for any one object against others, based on its having a world. The murderer has a world as much as the murdered.

Exhibit (C): Assorted ecophenomenologists. I address this in Ecology without Nature. To me, this is Tolkien-ism, not really
Uexküll. In other words, an Umwelt is a way of being embedded—and being real is being embedded (just ask a Fox reporter in Afghanistan). Sheer smoke and mirrors. It has to do with an aestheticization of world—it's not an ethics per se but it can lead there. This kind of world has to do with rich backgrounds, contexts, environments. All of which, when analyzed, consist of other objects (which have their own worlds and so on). Thus there is no single, stable, solid world—no background, and thus no “world” in this woolly aesthetic sense. “This sentence is better than your sentence because it's embedded in a rich lifeworld, which I will now demonstrate using these tropes and figures. Did I tell you I was writing this in a desert? Look at me! Hey, that's me in here, writing, in a desert! Did I tell you I was in a desert?”

(That remark about Fox is no joke. The embeddedness rhetoric was in full effect in Gulf War 2.0, with reporters speaking against a background of tracer fire—but never against a background of blood curdling screams and bullets ripping through flesh. You might almost the tracer fire was fireworks. So embeddedness was a way to position the viewer as a virtual couch potato, somehow magicaly inside the TV screen. Far from getting up close to the action, the effect was to produce distance. Similarly, embeddedness rhetoric actually produces the aesthetic distance it claims to close.)

In OOO terms, this is sensual objects without real objects, sensual objects cut and stage managed to look as if they have boundaries and ditches and horizons.

OOO riposte: it's objects, baby, all the way down. The infinite regress of objects means that world, with its attendant Gestalt-isms (background and foreground, emergence etc.) is an illusion.

Vegetarian Expressionism

My friend Deborah White just put me on to the expressionist art of Sue Coe, whose book Dead Meat looks like it's going to be on my shelf quite soon. She's a disturbing artist—not for the squeamish. But putting the death and gothic horror back into meat is going to be disturbing, isn't it? I'm particularly keen to find the images of ghosts of animals chasing humans. More soon.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hyperobject Earth as Cthulhu

GPS imaging relies on satellites. I've just found out that the clocks in these satellites run slightly differently from the one in your iPhone—slightly faster. So they have to be calibrated. GPS brings to light a hyperobject, the surface of the massive Earth, which subjects objects to relativistic effects within its gravitational field. Hyperobject Earth is time-squished, as I had suggested recently.

Earth itself then is a non-Euclidean object, like the city of R'lyeh...

“Top Dollar”

Cameron et al. quote Tony Blair saying that the reason why US universities are the best in the world is because people are prepared to pay “top dollar” for them.

Wrong. This was a Reaganite plan to strike despair into the hearts of the many.

The reason why American universities rock is because they, unlike Britain, took the Enlightenment seriously. That means that in order to have capitalism, you need good education. Which means you need a culture of second chances.

Non-Americans can sneer at comebacks on Oprah all they like. But my wife dropped out, redid her high school, went to community college, then on to university. Now she's about to start as a CPA at Ernst and Young.

Nothing of the sort is promised to young Brits. The shame of it. America is the land of the second chance. Listen and learn Europeans.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Britain reverts to type

The horror that is the budget cut situation in British academia must be resisted by any means necessary. Protesting against outrageous cuts and fee increases, we (students and faculty) started quite substantial actions here at UC last year that involved, in the end, SWAT teams, helicopters and firearms as well as more pedestrian activities such as letters to the editor.

If I hear the word “violence” used on the BBC one more time to describe property damage I think I'm going to be sick.

More on this in the days to come. But what occurs to me is, this is Britain regressing to BEFORE the Victorian period. Thatcher was all about crass utilitarianism. This is about wankers who need no education whatsoever to retain power. (I knew two of them at school and let me guarantee you they never paid attention in English lit.) This is a regression to the eighteenth century.

Cut all funding except for IT and engineering?

Over here people are wondering when was the last time they used a piece of British engineering—a decent toaster, maybe? Okay Britain is number one in torture implements (no joke) and number two in arms.

Music for Alpha Waves

I'm listening to Alvin Lucier's Music for Alpha Waves, Assorted Percussion and Automated Coded Relays. It's been a while since I last heard it (sixteen years at least, due to a misplaced CD). It's a lot of fun if you haven't heard it. It's on a CD called Imaginary Landscapes if you can still find it.

An extreme example of what Ecology without Nature calls rendering.

How to Get That Elusive Academic Job 19—the interview (curate yourself)

This is my own personal paranoia buster and I think it works for others, as several Ph.D. students of mine now use it too. I use it when I do lectures, especially on new turf, or in front of my peers.

There's this guy called (insert you name here, I'll use mine) Tim Morton. He happens to have the same name as you. What a strange coincidence.

Anyway, this guy Tim has a job interview. You are his curator. Your job is to get him there and curate his work.

You introduce him. You field questions for him. You enable the interviewers to have a good, workable exchange with him. You basically shepherd him in and out of the room and guide him through the interview.

If he gets attacked or misunderstood, your job is to keep the conversation fluid—don't let Tim get stuck there. Don't take the attack personally. It's about “Tim”—not little you. There's no real need to fend off hostility or get involved in arguments. Remember there's more than just Tim and the attacker in the room.

You are curating Tim. You aren't proving he's brilliant. You're simply showing people around the Tim Gallery. Chatting with them about the paintings. You are open minded, curious and welcoming. Dumb and cheerful with a bit of a sense of humor is better than sharp and deadly and joyless.

Just let people enjoy the Tim Gallery. The way they enjoy it might not be your way or you might dislike it, or it might be discrepant with others in the room—don't worry. The more people get into the exhibits in the Tim Gallery the more they might ask Tim to do a demo exhibition in their home town.

How to Get That Elusive Academic Job 18—the interview (the Suit)

When I was at school I had a teacher who had a rather sadistic way of grading students. He started at 0 (everyone else's 100%). Then he took points off for incorrectness.

It's the same with a suit. The point is not so much to show off as it is not to eff it up. You start at 0 in the eyes of your interviewers and get points off for incorrectness. So go with something that will not get you points off. There's no need to get a 1 or a 2. You start at 0.

If you're applying for jobs, get a suit now, whether or not you get an interview. Spend as much as you can on it without breaking the bank. It will do you some good.

Applying for a job after finishing a Ph.D is about turning yourself inside out. You've been involved in the most introverted process you've ever done, and now you have to show yourself to the world at large. It's very painful, therefore. You feel so clumsy coming up with words to describe your project and you fear people's judgment.

So getting a suit will MASSIVELY help your psyche. It's a kind of commitment. Spending some money on the you who is going to get a job is essential. Same with the ikebana (see posts below). You are starting to learn to CURATE yourself. (More on this soon.)

How to Get that Elusive Academic Job 17--the Interview (paranoia)

A recent comment reminded me to talk about paranoia. In my long experience as job seeker then as job placement officer, this is the NUMBER ONE scholars' interview (and application in general) killer. Why? Simple. We have fast minds that are not trained to work with others.

Here's some advice from my pop music experience: if you worry too much about your audience's idea of your idea of their idea of your idea etc of what you should play, you will sound shit.

You are in the interview. You are in a heightened state of awareness--your amygdala is in full effect. Don't run with it, don't give in to fight or flight. Despite what your amygdala is telling you,

1: you can't actually read minds, so stay inside yours and not inside that hostile looking professor's over there on the sofa

2: you can't control or even police what the other is thinking so don't try. If they don't like you because of what you're wearing or their ideas about Deleuze, tough.

3: there is no big other. Really. These guys are people. Chill. Use the frontal cortex. Use your mirror neurons. Focus on your ikebana. (See below.)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

How to Get That Elusive Academic Job 16—the interview (the first five minutes)

The first five minutes AND NO LONGER you should use to pitch your project. “So tell us a bit about your work” is a common starting question. (Even for community colleges these days. They want good intellects as much as anyone.)

This is where your three sentences, ikebana style, will be put to use. Have you been practicing them? You should now have them down to something you can write in invisible ink on the side of your right forefinger.

Search in the search bar opposite for "ikebana" and "academic job" and you'll find all my previous posts about it. Essential reading. I'll post some more on this soon too.

Warning: now is NOT the time to reinvent the wheel, prove you're smart or go into huge detail. Sketch out the vision (Heaven), the archive (Earth) and ONE discovery (Child). Then STOP. Let them hear it. Let them speak.

How to Get That Elusive Academic Job 15—the interview (pitch your teaching)

Have at least TWO classes you can talk about. Handouts work. They don't have to be detailed—in a sense a sketch is better since you can fill it in more easily. Don't get lost in details. Use a basic ikebana style approach. Let them know about ONE thing your students will take away from each class.

(1) intro 101 style class in your field or in your department's main discipline

(2) specialized “dream” type advanced elective

Then (if necessary)

(3) graduate class

Be ready to talk about how your research works in your teaching. This is a chance for you to show how you will meet their needs.

Here's something to chew on: how would you handle a large lecture class (100 plus people)?

How to Get That Elusive Academic Job 14—the interview (how to close)

When they ask you “Do you have any questions for us?” they are saying “This interview is over. Whatever we say next will be a kind of dummy question-and-answer thing, not part of the interview proper.” So DON'T become all heavy and serious at that point. There are stock questions you ask that perform “Hi, I know this is the end, you've been great and it's been a proper interview”—like “Can you tell me more about your students?” or “What opportunities are there for interdisciplinary scholarship and teaching?”

DON'T use the time as an opportunity to prove yourself once again.

NEVER, EVER ask them anything personal AT ALL. ALL those sorts of questions ignore the rule that there is an unspoken signal that the interview is over. Questions about departmental vibes, politics, money and pensions are FORBIDDEN. As are questions about “What happens next?” “Will you call me?” “How did I do?” Swallow hard. Smile. Exit. Let there be space.

How to Get That Elusive Academic Job 13—the interview (let them lead)

...not as much as during the on-campus visit. But the point is to magnetize them. How do you do that? You have to let them enjoy you. If you're putting out loads of barbs and defensive walls, even if you're offering lots of candy, they won't have space to do that. So be passionate but with a lot of SPACE. Let them do the work. Listen. Perform thinking. Be thoughtful with them. This is where your ikebana scores BIG. You have just ONE child, remember? Once you've put that out there, let it start a discussion. Let Heaven and Earth take care of themselves. The interview is about the kids.

How to Get That Elusive Academic Job 12—the interview (advanced)

Believe it or not, these are people you're talking with. You might even have a proper conversation with them. You are not on trial. You desperately want a job. Try to get into a zone where you're just sharing ideas with equals. You might even learn something for your work. Take that attitude into the room. These guys may be your colleagues for the next thirty years. They are checking you out, to see if you're an okay human being, mostly. Stay human. In our job the temptation to become a samurai battling all and sundry is overwhelming. Drop that.

How to Get That Elusive Academic Job 11—the interview (hostile questions)

If you are asked a question that feels hostile, SLOW DOWN. Do NOT defend yourself, don't go on the counter-offensive. Inquire about the background, context, motivation, bigger picture behind the question.

Involve OTHERS in the room. This is basic group dynamics 101. Sometimes the hostile questioner is also perceived as hostile in the department her/himself. So refer the hostility outwards to the group. But make sure you're talking in the THIRD PERSON SINGULAR. “Would it be possible to get some clarification from others on this issue...?”

Don't let one person single you out and get into a dogfight. Then, at best, you lose the rest of the group. And other, more wrong, stuff can easily happen.

Once upon a time I got into a tussle like this over Deleuze and Guattari. It wasn't even about my work! Suffice it to say, I didn't get a fly back.

Remember the golden rule: they ALREADY think you're smart. You are there to show you can be a GOOD AND INTERESTING COLLEAGUE. For 20-40 minutes. Use them wisely!

How to Get That Elusive Academic Job 10—the interview (essays)

Another important area of concern will be essays.

This is safely divided into two:

1) Essay on a single topic from your diss.

2) Position paper on your view or one aspect thereof.

The point is to think creatively with your interviewers.

Have ways of talking about both essays. This is where ikebana comes in very very handy. Confused? See this post.

How to Get That Elusive Academic Job 9—the interview (how to talk about turning your diss. into a book)

They will ask you what your next project is. Have an idea! Your next immediate project is to turn your dissertation into a book.

Do you understand the difference between a dissertation and a book? You do? Then skip this post.

You don't? Don't you realize that a book is a PRODUCT that you sell in a shop? And that a dissertation is a TRANSITIONAL OBJECT that turns you from a student into an expert?

So you have to think how you're going to turn your dissertation chapters into book chapters. Don't just say “spruce them up and put in some more arguments.” Have a REAL idea of how this will happen. Work backwards from the assumption that, whatever they say, everyone knows the genuine difference—a diss. chapter is a factory for producing ONE aspect of your eventual expertise. A book chapter is a journey within the BOOK as single OBJECT that takes you from A to not-A (or even to B). It's a progression. Not show and tell. Figure it out from there.

How to Get That Elusive Academic Job 8—the interview (intermediate)

What is the point of doing the interview? To get you a campus visit. How do you do that? You have to magnetize them. How do you do that? You have to let them cathect you. What does that mean?

You need to talk less than 50% of the time.

ALWAYS say less than you think you need. Inject some SPACE into the conversation.

If they are talking more than you, you pretty much aced the interview.

How to Get That Elusive Academic Job 7—the interview (brush up your pitch)

See this post for my ikebana analogy. It will change your life (in a good way). And it will help you make your pitch, including your book pitch when you visit the dreaded Book Exhibition Hell.

How to Get That Elusive Academic Job 6—the interview (basics)

Okay, so you have an interview. So they already think you're smart. So don't spend the interview proving you're smart. Spend the interview modeling what it would be like with you as a colleague.

This performance should be much more like talking with your Ph.D. colleagues at a writing workshop, than either teaching or talking to your adviser.

Don't talk up, don't talk down. Talk to equals.

Do you have your ikebana sentences? You will need them. The most pocket sized, accessible version possible.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Stiegler, Bryant, Hyperobjects: Is OOO Postcapitalist?

HERE. It's valuable to me already for thinking about how we are in a "without nature" phase of social life. In part this was brought about by hyperobjects, which Stiegler calls technical systems.

There's a sketch about industrial processes in Ecology without Nature chapter 2.

The interesting twist is that Nature as such is a byproduct of automation...another reason to think that OOO may be the first truly postcalitalist philosophical mode. By embracing the hyperobjects that loom into our social space, and dropping nature, world and so on, we have a chance to create more democratic modes of coexistence between humans and with nonhumans.

Hyperobjects are Gaussian

My Arcade post here.

The Techno Tune

I've been looking for it for twenty-one years (since 1989). House music was so anonymous then, and I was so shy to ask in the one record store that would've known (no-one did house then, not actual 12"s). I remember EXACTLY where I was when I heard it (in Land of Oz, spring 1989). It had this sweet, strange, childlike voice (now I realize it was probably Kevin Saunderson's sister). If you want to know what I've been thinking about ALMOST EVERY DAY since, you can bet that some of the time it was this.

It's the Mayday (Derrick May that is—what else?) remix of Reese's (Kevin Saunderson's) “Rock to the Beat.” At the time it was mixed into “Your Love” by Frankie Knuckles (also an amazing one, with the sound of breathing and the guy going “I can't let go”), and that confused me for a long time. My friend (the guitarist of Senser, Nick Michaelson) who was dancing next to me at the time got confused himself. That strange, melancholy, young girl's four-note riff. Just wow.

Land of Oz was an extraordinary place that temporarily replaced Spectrum. Aphex Twin span sand paper—as immortalized by David Toop and as seen by me. Before they were The Orb, Alex Paterson and Jimmy Cauty looped Sueno Latino and ambient sounds in the VIP lounge. The club was on this perfect cusp between the “what the fuck is this?” amazement of 1987–1988 and the outdoor rave scene that started picking up. Orbital's “Chime” or Derrick May's remix of “Sueno Latino” sums it up quite well. “Ambient” before “ambient” was a regular word (and not just a Brian Eno one). Strange, sacred, mysterious—yes there were powerful chemical reasons why this was the case but some scenes really are that way in any case. How did Oakenfold and Fung get a thousand people to dance to someone singing that line in the Mayday remix of “Rock to the Beat”?

So I've scoured through Discogs, through YouTube video footage of clubs in 1989, asking people who knew, and on and on and on.

It's THE techno tune. I speak as someone who has them ALL from that era—because many are incredible. But that was THE one. You probably have another one.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Should Mice be Shot into Space to Test OOO?

Only in Levi's and my imagination.

Spicy Nuggets of OOO

In answering a query from Ian Bogost I discovered yet more evidence of my latent OOO tendencies. This time it's from The Poetics of Spice (Cambridge UP, 2000):

The study of the literary and cultural representation of consumption and the commodity provides new ways of thinking about orientalism and colonialism, which are often construed through a psychoanalytic discourse of ‘Self’ and ‘Other’. This history of the subject can be expanded with histories of the object in colonial and orientalist texts.

The first draft was a bit ruder about postcolonial studies, which at the time was mired in identity politics. It's from a chapter on sugar.

Then it became popular to replace The Fascinating History of Mr. Charles Dickens with The Fascinating History of the Potato and I got out of food studies. Le plus ca change...

Things are Afoot in the World of Realist Magic

...but I'm having trouble blogging about them today, since I have a lot of graduate and undergraduate work to grade. And I'm taking my daughter to see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I always liked this installment as a novel—we'll see how it holds up in 3D (no less).

To my distress I've learned that very students can distinguish between a piece of Burke and a piece of Kant (on the sublime). This is crucial because the Burkean sublime is about authority and the Kantian sublime is about freedom. You know which one you prefer. Both are correlationist. But you know which one is modernity and which one is a feudal throwback that only David Cameron, some mounted police and the Shock and Awe bombing raiders believe in.

Maybe I need to hold some more classes on this—I thought I'd really drilled it into them (we spent at least two hours just on this alone).

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Major hyperobjects breakthrough

Hyperobjects are massively distributed in time and space. They are viscous. They are nonlocal. They are squishy (temporally foreshortened).

And today I realized that they are also--but I'll wait to be explicit until the Rutgers talk.

It was a very satisfying mesh with my unconscious actually. Last night I was convinced that I had had a new idea about hyperobjects, but I didn't know exactly what. I told myself to sleep on it and I'd probably recall it in the morning. I woke up having forgotten about this plan, but a few hours later the breakthrough occurred to me.

My Next Hyperobjects Talk

“Hyperobjects 4.0: Emergency Human-Scale Study Guide.” At Rutgers in February. All your old favorites with extra added goodies. And fabulous examples courtesy of Robert Jackson and Jarrod Fowler.

Hyperobjects, Cthulhu and You

—That is, they're Gaussian (non-Euclidean), a term that Einstein wonderfully translates as a “mollusk”-like space he calls a “reference mollusk” (Relativity). It's how Einstein visualizes time and space as inside objects (like Harman does), rippling through them rather than containing them in an empty box. By analogy, hyperobjects are squishy because they last so long. They are what I call temporally foreshortened.

The even more disturbing thing about relativity is, this also applies to you. The tiny clocks on your eyes moving across this screen are telling a slightly different time from the tiny ones on your knees that rest under the laptop.

I post on this over at Arcade and I've talked about it at Rice; and will do so again at Rutgers.

In his non-Euclidean city of R'lyeh, Cthulhu, an octopus-headed being (that is, like a mollusk), waits dreaming. Ecological awareness means: we have summoned Cthulhu-like beings into social, ecological and psychic space.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Stengers and Haraway on Whitehead

From the Claremont Whitehead conference. Who recorded this? Thank you!

Steven Shaviro's Talk on Panpsychism

You really must read Steven Shaviro's talk on panpsychism from the Claremont conference, which he offers online. It's exciting that we scholars can even begin to think in these terms again. Reports of the death of metaphysics have been greatly exaggerated.

It's cheering me up to read it and to be writing an essay on Shelley at the same time is bliss.

Conference Panel on The Ecological Thought

The American Literature Association is sponsoring a panel on The Ecological Thought:

A Session Sponsored by the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE)

American Literature Association--22nd Annual Conference, Boston, May

26-29, 2011

American Literature and the Ecological Thought

This session will examine literary work in North America as a space for clarifying the aesthetic, philosophical and political implications of the ecological thought. The ecological thought is defined as “the thinking of interconnectedness,” in the words of Timothy Morton, “the practice and process of becoming fully aware of how human beings are connected with other human beings are connected with other beings” (The Ecological Thought 7). How might American literature offer ways to consider the ecological thought as distinct from the discourse (and social movement) of environmentalism as well as contermporary (mostly ecological) ideas about nature and the natural world?

Please send queries or one-page abstracts (for a 15 minute presentation) by

January 20, 2011, to professor Mark C. Long, at

Shelley's Queen Mab Notes as Hypertext

I can't believe what I'm reading: exoplanets, Spinozan monism, the speed of light, Lucretius. It's all here! In a poem written in 1811 to 1813! You should seriously take a look. I was asked to contribute an essay on Percy Shelley's notes to his radical poem Queen Mab for volume 2 of The Unfamiliar Shelley. I must say that it's a refreshing change of pace to get back into literary analysis. And what literature—this is materialist philosophy at its most beautiful. Shelley is a hardcore Spinozan immanentist and all my intuitions about using Deleuze to analyze him are proving correct. The Spinoza and Shelley story remains to be told actually.

The notes are a kind of hypertext, forcing you to work back and forth (with thumbs rather than tabs) and transcend the poem as compelling and hypnotic object. Shelley wants you to think.

Australia Dates

May 16 to May 20 (excluding flights)—that's when I'll physically be in Australia, not on a plane to or from it. I believe I'll mostly be in Sydney for the most part, courtesy of the National Institute for Experimental Arts. If anyone wants to ask me to talk then have at it.

Object-Oriented Rhetoric Grad Class at UCD

Here's another class I taught on OOO and rhetoric. Michael Martel and Chris Tong gave great presentations on Graham Harman and Marshall McLuhan respectively. I started off well but felt like I was collapsing like a mouldy soufflée by the end—apologies if this is obvious to any of you.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ivakhiv and Mostafa on Zizek on Buddhism

It's strange to read this now, a year or more too late--foolishly I've been so crazy busy that I didn't get to it until a few moments ago. It's a subtle and powerful analysis of Zizek on Buddhism. As is this one, by Joshua Mostafa.

Australia trip next spring

Arrangements are being made for a trip to Australia in mid-May of next year. I'll keep posting about my schedule.

A Mind Map for Sublime Objects

Daz Hastings offers this beautifully tinted map of my talk. It's far better organized than the actual thing.

OOO in my first Ecology Book

Apropos of Jackson's argument about taking a hammer to Antarctica, or Levi's about being shot into space, I offer this proof of my nascent triple-O-ness.

This is an argument against holist deep ecologist Arne Naess from Ecology without Nature. First I quote Naess:

Organisms and milieux are not two things — if a mouse were lifted into absolute vacuum, it would no longer be a mouse. Organisms presuppose milieux...

Classic relationism, no?

To which I reply:

It sounds like secular science, with its talk of organisms and fields. But Naess' idea is a version of Hinduism. Through systemic organization, and in contemplating the system, the “self” (atman) realizes itself as the “Self” (Brahman). But the argument is puzzling. The mouse would remain a mouse. It would just be a dead mouse. There is a slip between the sentences. If they are to survive, organisms require milieux. To argue in this way, to reformulate the self as a “relational junction,” is to push the issue of identity back a stage further, but not to get rid of it. And it is unclear how a “relational junction” gets rid of the dualism that Naess sees as the problem. The logic is still that something must relate to something else. The “total field” continues the idea of environment as different from these relational junctions, the background to their foreground, however much the ideas of field and totality strive to submerge difference.
I'm so happy I found this.

Jackson Hammers the Ice

This is yet another interesting installment of Jackson on objects, algorithms and Michael Fried. I think Jackson and I have some work to do together. Maybe it's just the way my brain is wired but I really think, and I think Jackson is going there too, that the aesthetics-and/as-causality line in Harman's work is not just a helpful or entertaining side show, but a main feature.

It's easy to shy away from it because it's so counter-intuitive. But it does a lot of the heavy lifting. Like I said I my lecture it's swimming against not only the scientistic rejection of occasionalism (that has a thousand year old pedigree), but the split between rhetoric and science, and aesthetics (a five hundred year old pedigree).

I want to know more about Fried but what I see in his work are some strong parallels to why I think OOO can talk about Buddhism. The contemplative inwardness of Buddhism I see as common to all objects in OOO (sort of). Fried writes about paintings that withdraw, that depict withdrawn humans... There's some kind of Möbius-like recursivity at work here that makes it hard to think about.

There's a whole thing about taking hammers to Antarctica in his post, which I'll talk about in a separate post.

Mind Jazz 2

We live in a universe of pathos, as Harman's teacher Alphonso Lingis might argue—so one single, brittle, cold logically coherent argument won't get you far. The medium is the message—not because there's no message. But because there is one.

That's how I ended my first installment on Graham Harman and style. So what is the message?

Well let's put it this way. Picture the scene: a bunch of jaded hipsters are sitting around a bar. It's late at night and the band is putting away its instruments. The sax player is still awake, though, he's talking to the hipsters.

“I'm so sick of everything I hear nowadays, you know?” says one. “You just know how everything's going to turn out from the first note.”

“Yeah,” agrees another, cooler-than-thou. “But thank God we got out of that really lame old school stuff. That stuff got old.”

“Sure,” says the sax player. “But you guys sound like you're fighting yesterday's war. Maybe there's something in that old stuff you haven't heard yet.”

“Like what?” asks the first, fondling his final beer and staring glassy eyed into the middle distance.

“Well, maybe the point is not to keep trying to shock yourself with new stuff. There's only so much a nervous system can take, man. Hey, listen to this. It's an old standard but I think you'll like the way I've redialed it.”

So he starts to play. The sound is hypnotic, like a cat with dangerous eyes.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Mind Jazz

Miles Davis: "You have to play a long time to sound like yourself."

Derrida remarks all over the place that improvisation is a special kind of reading. I think it's more accurate to say with OOO that it's a kind of translation. The trouble with the Derridean model is that all reading is misreading. But you know if you listen to jazz (which I love) that there are good and not so good improvisations. Sure all translation misses something. But some are special, aren't they, like amazing metaphors--Harman's prose is full of them.

Harman argues in Guerilla Metaphysics that if you think all rhetoric is reducible to "mere" metaphor, then there are no good metaphors, only dead ones. "Metaphor" is just Greek for "translation."

You just can't believe that all jazz solos are equally bad--unless you're Adorno maybe.

Something remarkable struck me about Harman's presentations last week. He improvised from note cards. Like a jazz musician (I gather from his blog he plays sax). I'd assumed from hearing his polished talks that he was reading from a complete text. But no--the cards were like riffs and he put them together and elaborated on them spontaneously.

Most impressive moment: at the end of his second talk he simply announced "That's enough" and stopped--with a stack of cards still to read. He could sense that we could feel that whatever had been said was enough. You don't have to say everything. Silence becomes part of your sound that way.

As you know I'm fascinated by rhetorical delivery and believe that it's the secret of OO rhetoric and, even bigger than that, OOO causation. So thinking about this is a big deal for me. I actually think that Harman's style enacts his philosophy very beautifully--or I should say sublimely.

When you hear a really remarkable musician--my favorite example would be guitarist Allan Holdsworth--you feel as if she or he isn't playing within a structure but that the music has become an entity, an alien entity in the language of my talk, that the music is summoning. Jazz solos are a kind of amplification, aren't they, amplification being one of Longinus' favored ways of evoking the alien.

Of course you guitar about the alien, or saxophone about them, or Harman about them. A jazz solo is a sensual object. But somehow, magically, a good one evokes the molten core of the music. It listens. A good musician listens, and good music is music that listens to itself. Viz. my Miles Davis quotation. I'm not convinced that this is just reading.

You are not just ringing the changes on preprogrammed slavery to a set pattern or rhythm. Consider what a mistake it would be to try to score really amazing jazz solos using conventional notation. The notes just don't quite fit in the bar--and yes I know how to notate something that looks syncopated but that's not what I'm talking about. But the music isn't just anything, just nihilism.

Uncannily this is almost a perfect way to describe evolution--it feels random, but it's also adaptation, like a band where each instrument solos all the time. This doesn't mean that it's teleological. Holdsworth in particular is beautiful for his avoidance of climaxes and centers of gravity. I think OOO cooed be very close to a nonvitalistic yet vivid theory of causation if we can just push this idea--as I'll do in Realist Magic.

Heidegger argues in a lecture from the later twenties (Summer 1928?) that Aristotle's view of rhetoric is about listening. Attending to the argument and synching with the hearts of the listeners. The sensual glue that lubricates objects--guitars and ears, maybe. Causality...

This gave me a new perspective on the pleasures of Harman's iterative prose style. It's jazz--evoking the alien object(s) again and again until you get it, somewhere in the flames of each example. Or between them.

Harman constantly talks aloud in prose about style as a feature of argumentation--not the other way around as in De Man. Like a good jazz soloist, he brings you along. I love that about Holdsworth for instance: it's as if the guitar is saying "Don't be afraid--come with me."

The prose itself is a sensuous object that nuzzles against you like a cat--a slightly dangerous cat with a fire in its eyes. We live in a universe of pathos, as Harman's teacher Alphonso Lingis might argue--so one single, brittle, cold logically coherent argument won't get you far. The medium is the message--not because there's no message. But because there is one.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Realist Magic sketch

Robert Jackson wonders:

In the near future, I do wonder how far Graham’s metaphysical challenge of ‘aesthetics as first philosophy’ or ‘allure as causation’ will be taken seriously.

That's the essence of Realist Magic.

Nicola Masciandaro's Unknowing Animals

Here's another iteration of Nicola's “Unknowing Animals” project. What I particularly like is his ability to think dark speculative realism together with mysticism. Check note 4:

There is nothing irrational in true mysticism when it is, as it should be, a vision of Reality. It is a form of perception which is absolutely unclouded, and so practical that it can be lived every moment of life and expressed in everyday duties. Its connection with experience is so deep that, in one sense, it is the final understanding of all experience (Meher Baba, Discourses (North Myrtle Beach, SC: Sheriar Foundation, 2007), I.7).

Now that's what I call realist magic! I'm going to keep reading this and possibly comment some more, because it's characteristically finely crafted and profound. I also like what he says about “life” as a metaphor for God distinct from animals (see the comments on my recent post “Alien = Life = Object.”

Now that's what I call environmental architecture

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Take It Sleazy

Alec Bemis's nice post on Peter Christopherson of Throbbing Gristle, who died last week. I had no idea he had directed the video for Yes's “Own of a Lonely Heart.”

Animal = Vegetable

HT Jarrod Fowler. Some kind of synchronicity with my earlier post re: life as alien (to) life.

Realist Magic

I'm writing a book called Realist Magic. Realist Magic. Realist Magic! My fantasy cover below...

A Great Philosophical Stocking Stuffer

Harman's Circus Philosophicus showed up, just in time for the holidays. I've been looking forward to reading it for ages. Graham and I have a shared love of things carnivalesque and in particular, the weirdness of Schoenberg. I'm expecting some Expressionism...

Alien = Life = Object

Marx loved Darwin's work because he saw how anti-teleological it was. He sent Darwin a fan letter along with volume 1 of Capital—I'm not sure how Darwin would have reacted to this gift.

Science, unmoored from philosophy, drifts around in its explorations of the real, marred by implicit assumptions (“principles,” Heidegger) that it doesn't often question. Like paper boats floating on a lake. One science thinks reality is made of atoms (neuroscientists, strangely are the most crassly materialist in this respect at present). Another thinks it's some inconsistent kluge of quanta and spacetime (physicists). This means that despite its Darwinian inheritance there must be some teleological notions floating around in biology. Some kind of implicit direction. Like, “Life forms mustn't be able to take in certain chemicals. Those would destroy them. Life forms are based on the avoidance of certain chemicals and the utilization of others.”

So when in Mono Lake, Nevada a lifeform was discovered that metabolizes arsenic, some biologists were taken aback.

Doesn't this show us, though, that evolutionary science eats away at the life–nonlife boundary? And that there is no teleology in evolution?

Isn't it elementary, then, that what we have in this story is another example of lifeforms as strange strangers, uncanny beings that become more strange the more we know about them.

Mono Lake, by the way, is an excellent shoegazer band.

Sublime Objects OOO Rhetoric Presentation


Friday, December 3, 2010

A Great Philosopher Liveblogs Great Philosophy

What might be just as good as, and perhaps even better than being at Claremont? Reading Graham Harman's studious, clear accounts of the proceedings. When this was coming together I didn't realize I was an object-oriented ontologist. Never mind...

OOO souvenir

By Graham's own hand, from our delightful, inspiring day.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ian Bogost and Graham Harman “Hello Everything” mp3s on OOO

Ian Bogost, “Object-Oriented Ontogeny”
Graham Harman, “Real Objects and Pseudo-Objects: Remarks on Method”

Levi Bryant and Nathan Brown "Hello Everything" talks on OOO and SR mp3s

Levi Bryant, “On the Reality and Construction of Hyperobjects with Reference to Class”
Nathan Brown, “On Method: The Compound Epistemology of After Finitude

Tim Morton, “Sublime Objects” on OOO rhetoric mp3 from “Hello Everything”

Tim Morton, “Sublime Objects”