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

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Response to Joy

Hortus conclusus soror mea

Two thoughts for now on Joy's thoughts:

(1) It seems as if Joy's anxiety about withdrawal is rightly concerned with some notion of the proper, of propriety—that withdrawal is like a kind of sealed off enclosure, a hortus conclusus or game park in which, as she rightly points out, all kinds of violence are implicit and explicit.

(1.2) (okay, another half thought). The kind of process-relational materialism that Jane is into (from what I've heard when I've talked with her and heard her talk) does have difficulty imagining withdrawal as anything other than some actually located island somewhere on or in the object, entity, whatever.

I've had some discussions with other process type folks who also get stuck right there. This is, from my point of view, a symptom of an implicit reductionism—they think objects are made of matter, so you can have subsections 1, 2 and 3 (whatever) and then Mystery Subsection 4 (the withdrawn section).

The problem they have assumes objects can be broken into pieces somehow. Now I solved this myself by letting go of the idea of now I have ecology without matter as well as ecology without nature...long story....

(2) "Withdrawal" suggests as Joy says something retreating or shrinking like a snail disappearing into a shell. Actually I have good psychological associations with that kind of introversion, but I know what she means—there's a spatiality there. This spatiality does rather induce the (1.2) problem.

So in my own work I'm imagining "withdrawal" as a kind of magical display that happens right under your nose in the very performance of appearing...sort of queer display...all a bit hush hush right now but that's my solution, probably just a perverse aesthetic solution but what the hey...(shameless Realist Magic plug here)

(2.2) (what the hey again): I may have been wrong, or maybe a little wrong, about the mesh and the strange stranger, at least in the way I articulated it in The Ecological Thought. I now think that strange strangers are real, ontologically prior, while the mesh is the emergent effect, the sensual object!

In ET it seems like it's the other way around and also in the Spinozan or Bohmian type implicate order language I hear Jane talking (actually I recommended that Bohm angle to her a while ago cos I also really love that).

I think I was confused by the temporal sequence of how humans discovered ecological awareness: first you figure out everything is interconnected, then you start to see these beings emerging from the web. But I think what really happened was, our instruments picked up beings that really exist whether we are monitoring them or not e.g. global warming.


Karl Steel said...

Whereas I think of withdrawal as plenitude. Not an enclosure, then, but what escapes or exceeds the enclosure of any given encounter between any given objects.

Which means that 'withdrawal' is probably the wrong metaphor, as are metaphors of darkness, the subterranean, hidden depths, and other speluncal language of insides, not least of all because of the metaphoric tradition that sees exploration into interiors as the path of truth.

Eileen Joy said...

As Karl indicates here, I have a problem with might be called "withdrawal as ideograph." Also, I think it's important to recall that part of the reason the term "withdrawal" is cropping up all over the place right now is directly attributable to Graham Harman's use of the term where, contra both Tim's and Karl's comments here [and also Levi's further clarification that his use of the term is more a kind of open-ended becoming-otherwise or non-capturability, an *excess* also in one of Tim's earlier formulations], it really *is* about, in Harman's exact words:

molten inner core
spatial withholding
inscrutable depths
plate tectonics
ocean floor
breaking through
obscure cavernous underworlds
underground reality
privacy/private vacuums
unreachable autonomy

Karl points to withdrawal as "metaphor" and maybe we need a better term if this one is pointing us to the wrong images + states of affairs vis-a-vis things/objects/matter, etc., but I think that would be for Graham to also answer, and I think we sometimes have to take these terms literally in order to see how they take figural shape and then how those figures might mobilize other figures. My problem is not that I think everything is like a well-defined *chunk* that can then be broken into pieces [and therefore, where is this withdrawn interior?], but rather, and following Latour, I'm not sure that we're ever anything more than how we are concretized/deployed in any given moment of relationality to/translation by everything else.

Now we know, too [contra some who, maybe, do not read Graham closely enough], that Graham is of course *mightily* concerned with relations and that,

"All that 'object' really means is a genuine thing with a degree of autonomy from its own pieces as well as from its external relations with other things. Every relation forms a new object, and every object is built from its relations among its pieces, perhaps regressing to infinity" ["Aysmmetrical Causation," p. 106].

But Graham is also working mightily on behalf of building "a drill for burrowing into the concrete details of reality" which is *not* necessarily in relation with anything at all [except itself, which also occasions even more withdrawals].

I'm not sure Jane Bennett believes that everything is utterly "hard" material that can be broken into pieces--I'm really the one with the problem with the term "withdrawal"; in her recent talk, she acknowledged that things are ultimately incalculable, intractable, withholding, recalcitrant, etc., and she sees language as inadequate to this state of affairs, but she also concluded her talk by saying that she is hoping that, through a newly-tuned "speculative materialism," we might be able to use language as "sand or grit" that would somehow "postpone the slide" of thing-powers being given over to human powers [that would co-opt things for their own uses, utilitarian, projective, aesthetic, intellectual, whathaveyou].

I like the idea of withdrawal happening right under our noses, because, like Levi, I think the resistance of everything is not so much a withdrawal into a secret interior or underground cavern as it is an unfolding or becoming-otherwise which is also an "escape." But maybe things are also often "less" than what we think they are? Such that everything, including us, is just a "part," and *excess* parts at that?

The nod to Bohm's implicate order was me, by the way, and not Jane [that was culled from my own talk at the conference, which I'll be posting today, in fact, and which I borrowed from a talk Tim gave a Johns Hopkins last April on "materialism expanded and remixed"].

The mesh as sensual object: of course we all want to hear more about that!