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

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Withdrawal Is Not Spatial or Material or Temporal

It's ontological. My forthcoming Qui Parle essay is going to talk about this a bit. If you think that Graham really means that objects have a “molten core” that is spatial, material or temporal (that is dimensionally inside objects, or materially a substrate of them, or temporally revealed at some point), then:

(1) You are a reductionist (sorry but yes, you are). You think that objects have roughly two parts: an outer shell and a molten interior. This molten interior is more real than the shell. You have reduced the object to a smaller component.

(2) You are prejudiced against non-3D objects. Suppose a 2D object is real. It too withdraws. An object in a 5 dimensional phase space withdraws. A 1D object withdraws.

Neither is withdrawal in the object's future as opposed to its present; nor is withdrawal in the object's past. If it was, then at some point it would not be withdrawn. So withdrawal would not be a deep ontological fact.

Withdrawal means: even if you penetrate to the “core” of a 3D object you will not find it.

Withdrawal means: even if you monitor the object for trillions of years you will not find it.

If you think withdrawal is spatial, material or temporal, you are smuggling an ontic prejudice into an ontological realm. Ontic meaning somewhat clichéd everyday factoid (kind of). It would be better to let Graham's Tool Being explain this as he does it about 200 times (I got it the 6th, 35th, and 107th times...) and I have little space here.

Now if you don't like the metaphor, strictly, then let me stick up for withdrawal a little bit:

(A) All metaphors suck to some extent.

(B) Our culture privileges extraversion over introversion. We don't like things that are hidden. Everything must be visible (Twitter, phone cameras, etc.). Queer theory (and queer ecology) must redress this (frankly) violence. I respectfully suggest that the anxiety that everything must be seen fuels some of the anxiety about withdrawal.

(C) All other metaphors will have their unique faults, precisely because they are translations of a deep ontological fact.


Eileen Joy said...

First, don't put pictures of chocolate on your blog; you have made me very hungry.

As for me [and contra one of my more recent comments on another post that may have made it seem otherwise], no, I don't think Graham is talking about objects having *actual* "molten cores." Graham is a felicitous, poetic writer who nimbly takes and up and re-deploys all sorts of metaphors, "myths," etc. in the course of articulating his philosophy and I actually feel his style of writing is a blessing for a non-philosopher like myself, and for my students with whom I can share Graham's writing and have some hope that, "by god, they get it! they actually get it!" Graham obviously loves words and he also prizes his clarity--he works very hard to explain difficult concepts both clearly but also elegantly. Tim is something of a similar kind of writer, although I would say even more playful than Graham, more willing to take huge leaps and risks--intellectual *and* language-wise. And all this is just to say the following:

1. I don't think objects have only 2 parts, inner and outer. Following Graham, I think objects are "fourfold" and within each of these "folds" there are tensions whereby the object, in whatever dimension [time, space, essense, eidos], as I have written elsewhere, "is 'no seamless fusion' between itself and all of its components, features and appearances, but rather, is fundamentally 'torn between itself and its accidents, relations, and qualities.' Another way of putting this would be to say that the 'tensions' between everything that exists (rocks and lizards and clouds and chalk as well as persons) and how everything is composed and appears and is put into relation with everything else is what makes anything, including the world, possible at all."

*to be continued

Eileen Joy said...


As someone who works in medieval literary studies, I'm interested in following Harman's lead in order to reconceptualize everything I think I know about an ethical historiography--one that, today and qua Harman, might map the rifts, forks, and tensions between every object that exists, including personal hallucinations, and these objects' allure: Harman's term for the distance between objects and the qualities that stream out of them, constituting the "sensual" objects with which we engage. Because of the allure of everything, objects are brought into relation with each other and with us, and thereby, everything literally happens. Psychology would no longer be limited to human minds but would be something that literally happens *across* object which are themselves inside of and constellations. In this sense, psychology has to be writ and mapped larger and across vast networks of objects. And history, then, would be an account of how everything ultimately recedes from our grasp in a kind of infinite regress while at the same time, sensual objects pile up all around us, all writ under the larger sign of an imminent mortality, or world-end.

So, what I guess I'm trying to say here is that, for a while now, I've been very enamored of Harman's thinking, and I think it might open up new modes of *historical* thought for me, and I know that terms like "withdrawing," "molten core," "underground cavern," etc. are just terms, not always perfect, pointing, as you say, to the kinds of ontological states of affairs not readily accessible to or through our language.

But even agreeing with you that all metaphors "suck" to a certain extent, I also know that both you and Graham care a great deal about the metaphors you *do* choose--to a certain extent, you are both poets, and poets, as Bennett reminded us recently [by way of Paul DeMan] like to "draw close to the ontology of things." So our metaphors can "suck," but they should at least be attempting to "draw close" to that ontology. Some translations will always be better than others, while all language will always be breaking down along the deconstructive lines Derrida so richly sketched for us. Nevertheless, metaphors are vehicles that we build and they carry actual bits and pieces of things in their wake.

Also, one plea: isn't it worth considering as well that maintaining, even safeguarding, private, hidden spaces, especially when they are charged with the "sacred" or "Absolute," also leads directly to violence, and war?