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

Monday, March 21, 2011

Now that's What I Call Angels Dancing on the Head of a Pin Liber X


I say this Arabic speculative theology is a bit of all right. You want to think past clunk causality and its ramifications? You have to go back before clunking was in vogue. You have to get medieval. Yes, say that dirty word: scholasticism! Soon we shall need an album called Now That's What I Call Angels Dancing on the Head of a Pin Liber X.

So as well as being right on the money as far as the notion of infinite space goes, al-Kindi has a wonderfully creative idea about causation. Since there is only one uncreated cause in reality, namely God, all other causes must in some sense be secondary, or as he puts it, metaphorical. It's part of a case he begins to build for occasionalism, which Graham Harman has put me onto in a big way—and if you've read Graham's work you'll see his groundbreaking writing on al-Ghazali on said subject.

The notion of metaphorical causation is pretty much perfect if you're writing a book called Realist Magic on the role of the aesthetic dimension in causality. It means you can make a case for causation as a sensual object, which is where I've been going in various posts on emergence, for instance.

Think about it. When a stainless steel ball clunks another ball in an executive toy, that ball has been clunked by another ball, which was moved by some fingers, which belonged to the hand of the grandson of the granddaughter of the .... evolutionary time ... star stuff ... then of course there's the toy itself, which was made in a factory, which was made of girders and bolts, which ...

So when you try to locate a proper cause in this, you simply discover what I've called the mesh. And when you try to isolate a single cause, you end up with all kinds of Zeno's paradoxes and candles and flames (both Islam and Buddhism use the very same metaphor, a coincidence I find fascinating).

And if you've been following Graham's stuff, you'll know how he brings metaphor into the notion of causality itself.

4 comments:

Eileen Joy said...

The medievalists are loving you right now.

Eileen Joy said...

I should also add here that part of the impetus behind the Speculative Medievalisms project is what we see as the beautiful fit between medieval scholasticism and also medieval ideas of speculatio and the SR/OOO movement. Graham will be talking about occasionalism at our second "laboratory-atelier," to be held at The Graduate Center, CUNY on Sep. 16th. This laboratory will also feature talks by Ben Woodard, Jeffrey Cohen, Drew Daniel, Kellie Robertson, Julian Yates [an early modernist whose work I think you would adore, Tim], Anna Klosowska, and Patricia Clough.

Eileen Joy said...

Okay--yet another comment:

I'm very excited from what little I'm hearing about your book-in-progress, Realist Magic. I sensed some ambivalence about the realm of the aesthetic in The Ecological Thought. One the one hand, I saw praise for certain works of art as helping us *think* the "ecological thought"; on the other hand, there was also the caution: we must not allow ourselves, to slip away into the [unreal?] aesthetic as more pressing "real" matters are at hand.

Timothy Morton said...

Nice one Eileen. I'm loving the medieval. It's so exciting right now I could almost float, the trouble being, I also have a bunch of grading to do...