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

Monday, January 31, 2011

Strong Post on Egypt and Tunisia

Over at The Contemporary Condition, analyzing the role of speed and intensity in the current situations. It's clear that Twitter and Facebook have changed the way huge actions work.

Taiwan Talks

Looks like I'll be talking here perhaps some time in May (two talks I think). Still figuring out the details. This may be around the same time as I give some talks at the National Institute for Experimental Arts in Sydney. One thing's for sure, I will have some jet lag.

Vegan Revelations

1) Whoops, I'm lactose intolerant. I tested a cup of tea with milk just now, and the pain was almost immediate.
2) My body likes being slightly smaller. I now race my son without trouble.
3) Oh my god I am a vegan! The thirty year old ms is mocking me.

William Connolly's New Book

He just sent it to me, it's called A World of Becoming and it looks good. I'll let you know more when I get a chance to read it.

Harman post on Cairo Streets

Really strong video footage of the passion in Egypt right now—shown in spontaneous street cleaning. I think Graham's assessment of what's going on is spot on. It's the idea of “taking our country back” for real...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Harman on Egypt

If you haven't already, get thee to Graham's blog and take a look at his many fascinating and helpful posts about the revolution.

Revolution 1790

I'm thinking of Wordsworth and Shelley of course on this special day in Egypt.

          OH! pleasant exercise of hope and joy!
For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood
Upon our side, we who were strong in love!
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!--Oh! times,
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!
When Reason seemed the most to assert her rights,
When most intent on making of herself 10
A prime Enchantress--to assist the work,
Which then was going forward in her name!
Not favoured spots alone, but the whole earth,
The beauty wore of promise, that which sets
(As at some moment might not be unfelt
Among the bowers of paradise itself)
The budding rose above the rose full blown.
What temper at the prospect did not wake
To happiness unthought of? The inert
Were roused, and lively natures rapt away! (The Prelude)

And, of course, the non-violent hymn, used by Gandhi, King and everyone:

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many — they are few" (Shelley, The Mask of Anarchy)
Shelley is distinguished by having written The Revolt of Islam, too.

Dark Chemicals of Magnanimity

This is just a great post on many levels. I tried to hit that tone in my videoing of my talk for the Architectural Association yesterday. Not sure if it worked.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Unprimed Canvas: Architectural Association Schedule

The event schedule is posted, with my talk going at 11am. I'm doing a Q&A at 3pm. The title of the seminar is The Unprimed Canvas, referring to Francis Bacon's love of said canvases. I think it'll be in the AA's place in Bedford Square in Bloomsbury.

Architectural Association School of Architecture
36 Bedford Square
London WC1B 3ES

+44 (0)20 7887 4000

Another Movie

...making one that is, for the Architectural Association in London (for next week's conference). Haven't done it for ages. At some point I'll upload it and embed it here.

Leaflittering on Plant Sentience

Leaflittering's blog, which I need to look at some more (it's very beautiful), has this great post up on the theme of plant cognition. Here's an exemplary line:

our familiarity with our own familiar traits and their familiar effects makes imaginable alternatives seem alien

Yes. It's what Nick Bostrom calls an observation selection effect. It's a refusal to think past correlationism, I reckon.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Jackson on code

Robert Jackson with a typically lucid and detailed post on the software codeconversation.

The Plastic Bag, narr. Herzog

Thanks Anthony Paul Smith (@A_P_S). Finally I saw this today. Wow, on many levels.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

How to Plan a Ph.D. 4: Planning your Prospectus

If you work in a place like the place I work, you will have to produce a prospectus at some point, and be examined and interviewed and all that. Now at my place, we front-load everything by not having a defense.

Disaster! It means that students look at the prospectus as a fait accompli, practically a dissertation already, if not a book pitch. We've cleared the air about books vs. dissertations (see my previous posts on that). Now it's time to examine what a prospectus is, in particular, how to make it work for you.

What are you aiming for? A Ph.D. What is that? At least two decades' of future expertise, books, essays, a treasure trove of research.

What is your prospectus? A map for producing this treasure trove. NOT an argument, NOT a thesis of any kind (how could you have one at all? Let alone an original one?).

A prospectus outlines a basic theme you want to explore. It delineates the state of the field(s) in that exploratory work. It discusses methods. It describes your ARCHIVES (why caps? This is the important bit!). It lays out a chapter outline.

So at my place, there are five parts, each of which is about 2-3 pages long:

1 Statement of purpose
2 State of the field
3 Method(ology)
4 Archives
5 Chapter Summary

However, producing this document in a way that will work for you means you compose it in this order: 4, 3, 2, 5, 1. Archive comes FIRST. It's the beginning and the end of Ph.D. work.

Here's an analogy: A BA Honors thesis is written from a hot air balloon at 10 000 feet. An MA thesis is written from the top of Parnassus. A Ph.D. is written from the ground.

Your archives are MINES of information. You are a dwarf, for now. When you get tenure you can be an elf. For now, you are toiling in the mines, finding ore and potential jewels. You MIGHT turn some of these into jewelery (essays, books) but it's entirely unnecessary.

Each chapter is a FACTORY that goes to work on ONE of these mines. What does the factory produce? Expertise. Not an amazing thesis. Not an incredible book chapter that makes you want to spend money to buy the whole thing. It produces YOU, the expert in Archive X.

How does the factory work? By using HYPOTHESES. Once you've figured out your archives, you build hypotheses to test the ore you will dig out of each one. You need 2-3 for each archive (at least to put in your prospectus. Your prospectus is a toy, but it's a helpful toy version of the real plan, which evolves as you go.)

What's the difference between a hypothesis and a thesis? Hypo means "under." You can prove or disprove a hypothesis. The result is your thesis. Get it? In a dissertation that explores four archives, given two or three hypotheses each you will have about 10-12 to explore.

A hypothesis should be RIGOROUS. What does that mean? It means you could program a robot or an undergrad researcher to test it. Until you've broken your questions down into rigorous hypotheses—if you have to think for more than a few seconds to figure out what you're after—it's not rigorous enough yet.

We'll talk more about this soon. For now, think about what archives you'll want to explore. I'll give you some examples in the next post.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Buddhaphobia is done

I feel kind of chewed up and spat out, after something like a fifteen-year process of putting it together, finally to have hit Print earlier today and to have something like a chunk of book waiting for me to double check. I've done enough books to know this feeling quite well, a feeling that says, “You're finished mate. Let it go.”

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

“The Difference That Makes a Difference”

Why does this phrase of Bateson's bug the hell out of me? It sounds so smug to me—why? I think it's the hey-presto quality that I also find in Spencer-Brown's Mark. Some kind of illegitimate prestidigitation is going on. My literary sensibilities detect the presence of at least one more entity in the room, noticing the difference. As in, “Hey, that new paisley wallpaper really makes a difference!”

“Making a difference for” is the sense here. In which case, there is already something there for which this information-based ontology doesn't account. Of course this something doesn't have to be human or even sentient. It could be some kind of universal difference-ometer. But there it is, noticing the difference. Remarking on the mark. Some kind of linguistic meaning is already in place.

Of course if someone were to use this concept in a non-cybernetic way, that would be quite a breakthrough.

It's a happy coincidence, then, that Levi Bryant has just posted something to this effect, on a-signifying semiotics. And I know he makes huge strides towards a different view of Bateson and Spencer-Brown in his forthcoming book.

Ian Bogost on Computers, Languages, Coding

Ian Bogost has chimed in, responding to my recent post with his usual crisply elegance. More on this when I've read it properly.

Comments on Programming Languages Piece

The comments section has gotten pretty lively already. Head over there and let me know what you think.

Laughing about My Music Collection

I mean, for example, tonight I'm listening to Vibraphonic's loungey On a Roll, to be followed by Wolves in the Throne Room's Diadem of 12 Stars. You only have to juxtapose music to get a feel for the wildly incongruous salad of objects out there.

Architectural Journals

I see to be writing two essays for architectural journals (UK and Germany). What I like very much about is that I have a chance to inspire people to make things and build things. That seems like a good use of my time, rather than sitting on the sidelines and kvetching.

Software code as a foreign language

Here's my post on that.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Homework Paranoia Induction Device

So you have 80 students and you want them to do the reading. But if you set homework for each class, you have 240 short paragraphs to grade per week. What do you do?

Look no further, tired and desperate teachers, fear not. For you shall now share in the secret of my homework paranoia machine, based on Hegel's insight about the French Revolution: the age of absolute freedom is also the age of absolute terror. Tried and tested for eight glorious years.

You randomly choose two or three students to email you their homework each class. You grade them. This is their written homework grade.

But that's not all--this is where the paranoia really kicks in.

In class you randomly choose two other people to read their homework. You grade them. This is their spoken homework grade.

So you sample each student twice, randomly. The axe can fall at any moment. They do the reading.

Then you have an extra credit option: the more homework they hand in, and the closer to its actual due date, the higher the extra credit grade.

This method accomplishes so many things:
Students do the reading.
Students are ready to talk in class.
You can discuss responses to the reading with some focus.
You are not buried under small paragraphs yet you have a sense of how everyone thinks, in a huge class.

Students are free not to do any work, too--just as the French were equally susceptible to decapitation at any moment.

How to Plan a Ph.D. 3: What a Dissertation Isn't

A dissertation isn't a book, nor is it an essay, a paper, or a long MA thesis. Why?

Sure, dissertations are longer than papers. But that's not the real reason why they're different. Read on.

A book is a self-contained product that people are willing to pay money for. Each chapter is a journey from A to B (or at least to not-A). A dissertation is a transitional object that turns you from student to expert (see my previous posts). A dissertation chapter is a dumpster full of information and ideas. It's a totally different beast.

An essay is a short piece of writing that says ONE thing, very convincingly. It is published in a journal, which has (for structural reasons I shall argue later) to be slightly behind the curve. A dissertation chapter is a long piece that is necessarily ahead of the curve. (Why do it otherwise?)

A paper is a collection of ideas that encourage discussion, a snapshot of your latest research. Audience participation is built in. A dissertation chapter is an introverted, introspective, messy beast that goes on talking way after everyone has left the room. Papers are hysterics. Dissertations have Asperger's.

An MA thesis is a survey from a height. (A BA thesis is even higher up—very little digging is required.) A dissertation has its nose to the ground and is the most menial task you've ever done in your life. You descend from the Parnassus of the honors thesis to the bathroom janitor role of Ph.D writer. Are you ready to find pleasure in that? Check yourself. You will be cleaning the toilet floor with a toothbrush for the next three years and almost no one will care. Are you able to rewire your pleasure circuits accordingly?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

How to Plan a Ph.D. 2: What Kind of Expertise Do You Want?

That's the question, the only question that should really bother you, as you plan your Ph.D. dissertation. When you think of yourself in ten years time, what kind of expertise, and in what field, do you hope for?

If you have trouble with this, think of it another way. Imagine the New Yorker wants to do a piece on something. Imagine the editor thinks of calling you to ask your opinion, or to write something. What do you want them to call about? Why are they calling you and not some other scholar?

Remember, a Ph.D. turns you from a student into an expert. You will be one of a few world experts in topic X, if all goes well. To get there, you use your dissertation as a transitional object. Not as a quasi-book. That ruins it. Sure you might publish your diss. as a book later. Graham Harman and I both did that. But it's not necessary. And thinking of it as a book while you're writing it will seriously blow your chances of having it transition you from student-hood to expert-hood.

A transitional object is usually scarred and a bit broken looking. It's had plenty of wear and tear. By the time I was finished with him, my teddy bear was covered in vomit, with stuffing coming out, he was bleached from being in the laundry and hung out to dry. That's what a good dissertation looks like. Now imagine trying to sell a vomit stained teddy bear. Now do you get the difference between a dissertation and a book?

But that teddy bear is terribly useful if you want to transition from being a baby to being a kid. And the dissertation is terribly useful if you want to have expertise for life and individuate from being a graduate student.

Discussion of Sentience and OOO

Go to my recent post on plant sentient at Arcade to see some humanists wrestling with the novel idea that consciousness is a very low level phenomenon, not some bonus prize for being highly evolved. (This is what distinguishes the OOO view of mind from panpsychism.) There's an interesting discussion in the comments section, which you're welcome to join by commenting here—I'll try to bundle the comments and post on them at Arcade.

Software Code and Foreign Language Requirements

Just about to publish a post on Arcade on this—the recent changes in my department have still got my goat, I guess. Stay tuned.

Treating Objects like Women 4: Anti-Positivism

Another distressing side-effect of Bohrian QT:

—quantum systems are unanalysable
—therefore what is analysable is not quantum
—therefore reality is empirical
—determination is positivist

Bohr's position is basically positivism, in which only empirically measurable ontic things are analysable.

So again, if you base an ontology on this view of quantum theory, you are basing your ontology on an unanalysable system. You are consigning humanities to the garbage bin. Or you can embrace positivism, but you have to sacrifice your “quantum ontology.”

Bohm and Hiley begin their counter-argument like this. Chaotic systems are determinate but not in the strictly linear way that positivism prefers. Chaotic systems are classical. Reality can't be positivist...

We want to be able to say things about reality, not simply admire its intra-active processual unanalysability.

Treating Objects like Women 3: Quantum Arche-Fossils

What a difference a year makes. It was last year when I began to put myself through quantum boot camp. Now I know more about speculative realism and OOO, I can see the beauty of David Bohm's and Basil Hiley's ontological interpretation of quantum theory—an interpretation that Niels Bohr and co. rule out. Why?

Because they are basically correlationists. The only things quantum theory studies are phenomena, not actual objects, they claim. The most extreme form of this is von Neumann, who suggests that there is a “quantum state” (Bohr himself didn't go that far) that is resolved by being measured by a non-quantum device. Thus an infinite regress is possible, since the collapse of the wave function (the quantum state becoming measurable) could occur between setup 1 and measuring device 2, or you could arbitrarily include 1 and 2 together and measure them with a third piece of equipment. And so on.

Furthermore, your mind is a measuring device on this view. So it's your mind that makes things real. Esse est percipi.

To this Bohm and Hiley have a beautiful rejoinder that could come straight out of Meillassoux:
quantum theory is currently applied to cosmology, and it is difficult to believe that the evolution of the universe before the appearance of human beings depended on the human mind (e.g. to make its wave function “collapse” in an appropriate way).
You could avoid this difficulty, say Bohm and Hiley, by imagining some kind of universal mind. Then you are in Berkeley territory again. Sorry Barad, but basing your ontology on Bohr results in correlationism at best and idealism at worst. Objects should exist without having to interact with other objects.

Why is this to do with feminism? A function of patriarchy is to establish identity through a neutral (i.e. nonparticipatory) gaze. This gaze is what “makes things real.” Basing your ontology on Bohr is hardwiring patriarchy into physics.

Harman on Rituals

Graham's recent very enjoyable post about the Indian wedding has some good thoughts about rituals. As a fairly regular participant in Tibetan Buddhist abhishekas, some of which take days and many of which take hours, I can attest to the much more open, Benjaminian "reception in a state of distraction" that happens in a huge one, as opposed to Protestant minimalist intensity.

I really like this effect actually. It implies less of a barrier between the spiritual world and the non-spiritual one.

My friend's west African wedding took three hours and involved lots of responsiveness from the congregation.

Long rituals allow for all kinds of boredom and multifaceted reactions to develop. Things are not so clean cut and stage managed. They can also really alter you--ever been to a day long or night long rave?

Hypnotone, “Dream Beam”

This is a good-un, I reckon. The whole phase of sampling Apollo 11 was most enjoyable. Unfortunately none of the ones I found on YouTube I had that crucial part. But this has a video...

How to Plan a Ph.D. 1: What Is a Ph.D.?

What the heck are you doing, when you think of starting a Ph.D.? You're thinking of building expertise in a certain area. A Ph.D. means that you have a professionally recognized level of expertise. It does NOT mean you have a book. It does NOT mean you have a job (as we all know...). It means that you, Joe Schmidt, are the expert in topic X.

Your dissertation is the treasure trove of this expertise. Let me repeat that in a different way: your dissertation is NOT a book. Do you understand the difference?

Get clear on this now, while you're planning. A dissertation is not a book. Sure, some dissertations turn into books, some quite easily—Graham Harman's for instance, and mine. But even in this case, a book is not a dissertation. Why?

A book is a product that is sold to make money. A dissertation is a transitional object that turns you from being a student into being an EXPERT. Did I say “turns you into a professor”? No. Did I say “turns you into an author”? Why no. A dissertation is a transitional object.

Think about this. Not every professor will tell you this—in particular the ones without too many books. And professionalization has confused us all, treating grad students like professors without security. But once you've written about three or four books the difference between a dissertation and a book should be obvious.

An awful lot devolves from this simple fact, so in the next couple of posts we'll think this through some more.

But let me say this for now. Confusingly, having publications and conference papers under your belt will help you get a job these days. But they massively inhibit the process of writing a dissertation. Why? And even more so, thinking of the dissertation as a book from the get go is a disaster. Don't do it. Again, why?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Treating Objects like Women 2

When Bohr and others talk about measurement, they mean some correlation between a (human) mind and a physical event.

When Bohm, Hiley and Valentini talk about measurement, they mean one object (say a photon) interacting with another object.

The first view is inevitably going to tend towards idealism. It starts as correlationism.

The second view gives us real objects interacting without (human, mental) observation.

Treating Objects like Women

You don't have to interact or intra-act or whatever to be an object.

Using Bohr to arrive at an ontology is like using a loaf of bread to saw a piece of wood.

Cosmology shouldn't be hamstrung by the need for observers.

Most quantum theory writing is correlationist.

Bohm and Hiley are the shizzle.

Expect these and more in my ecofeminist essay....

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Cosmologist Talks Ontology

Anthony Valentini gets it:

I think there was a philosophical fashion in the 1920s where people were moving away from 19th century materialism and the clockwork universe. In Germany there was a strong movement against British and French enlightenment philosophy. This really began with the rise of romanticism at the end of the 18th century, following the work of Kant, who supposedly said it was impossible for us to ever know the so-called "ding an sich." Many people interpreted Kant as saying you can't really know the world as it is. I think quantum mechanics was influenced by the fallout from this idea-that it's philosophically naive to assume your picture of the world is literally how the world is. This sent people down the slippery slope of subjectivism and by the early 20th century physicists in Austria and Germany had this idea that you shouldn't speculate about what might be hidden behind appearances. You can see that in the late 19th century argument over the existence of atoms. Many people said the idea of atoms was just metaphysics and you should simply deal with what you can observe in the lab.

What Do I Know about Veganism, One Month In?

1) almond milk is much easier on the tum than moocow milk.
2) this is much easier than I thought
3) I weigh less!
4) there are many ways of wiring your pleasure circuits
5) most of what I thought was delicious about certain foods was a reaction to dopamine released by eating cholesterol

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Through a Glass, Chemically

Dark Chemistry nails it AGAIN.

Buddhist Iconoclasm Up Close and Personal

Why is it cool to harsh on Buddhism?

I ask in all sincerity. it so isn't cool to diss Islam or Christianity or Judaism but somehow Buddhism is fair game? Is it because we are all supposed to be peaceloving granola crunchers who wouldn't notice anyway if some violence was done to our religion?

In the middle of may 2008 someone—my wife Kate and I don't know the details—entered our house and broke some pictures (maybe hurling a smashed lamp towards at least one of them). Now why would they do this? we don't know.

There are several pictures in our house. We love Bridget Riley, so we have a lot of posters of her work. and we have some photos by our dear friend Alan Rabold, a tapestry from rajastan, variuos mirrors and a nice painting by Joan Anderson, another friend. we have a picture of Kali (a qutie strangely cute one) in the bedroom.

And we have some pictures of Buddhist teachers.

There are also some thangka paintings, traditional Tibetan art representing Buddhas and other enlightened beings. But these had been covered by their silken veils. and we have a shrine, but we had prudently (it turns out) thought to hide this away before we left.

Why would anyone direct their anger against Buddhist photos? after all a photo isn't doing you any harm is it?

My guess about this particular situation is that a drunken rage occurred and said rage was taken out on the knowing faces of Suzuki Roshi and Trungpa Rinpoche.

Rubber O Causes Mayhem

One of the O's from OOO detached itself and started to cause death and destruction, rubber tire-pomorphizing the world in the process. HT Robert Jackson. And it's called Robert.

The Sound of the World

Right here, on the fetching Some Landscapes blog. Resonance tones on Australian wire. Fantastic. Alvin Lucier eat your heart out. We are basically hearing Australian wind wind-ing some wire. Kids used to press their ears to the telephone polls where the wire hung to “hear the sound of the world.”

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Cynicism Up With Which We Will Not Put

This tweet, just received, says it all:

the worst thing about new theories is the amount of effort behind all the newfound naiveté

What can you say to that? Just quietly keep on doing our thing, I guess.

Joshua Mostafa: Cynicism, Realism, Speculation

Joshua Mostafa has the most marvelous trilogy of posts up about the move towards realism and away from cynicism, culminating in a piece about The Speculative Turn. It's well worth the ride. If you're new to all this you'll see what all the fuss is about. This is big folks. At least a century-sized kind of big. Some of us OOO types are arguing that it's a two-century-sized big, and I'm arguing for a five-century deal in Realist Magic!

If you were as turned off as I was by the dissing of all things Obama from the left, and wondering whether it had deeper roots—read this piece. It includes excellent links eg to Latour's landmark essay in Critical Inquiry.

A Beautiful Robert Jackson Post on OOO Causation

You are highly, highly recommended to read this post by Robert Jackson. It explains in a very intuitive way exactly how causation must and can only be a matter of caricature, OOO style. In order to have a handle with which causation can work, there has to be some kind of interface (read sensual object) that enables one object to act on another object. If you've ever used an ATM you have caused a bank to give you money by operating with an interface that reduces that bank to an encapsulated picture.

Robert's post shows why aesthetics is first philosophy.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Protevi on Loughner and Causes of Violence

John Protevi has a wonderful post about violence and its causes in rhetoric. What I love in particular about it is how he sees ideas coding for attitudes. In this case the childish linear billiard ball causality demanded by even John Stewart (otherwise it's lunacy or unfathomable complexity) selects for libertarianism.

PhD writing and planning

You have to have written a few books before you really know what a dissertation is. Some folks may get it quicker than me but that's how long I took. How can you know what a boiled egg is unless you've made a few, maybe scrambled eggs, omelet etc. Wouldn't like to say what kinds of text these correlate to. Just to switch to veganese for a moment, I'm about to spill the beans. People seemed to like my job posts so I guess I'll just keep going. Stand by for some posts on how to plan and write a dissertation.

Worm Words

Nicola Masciandaro's new post on worms and Dune and more is darkly elegiac as ever. You can learn much about medieval philosophy on his blog. And black metal. That makes two scholars I like a lot worming around: Nicola and Janelle Brewer.

New Literary History featuring a Latour essay (PDF)

It looks like the latest NLH is officially out, and there's a new essay by Bruno Latour in it (you can download it from them for free here). Very good reading.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Levi on Epistemological vs. Metaphysical Realism

A very good and important post, I think.

More Zero Landscape News

The essay is now called “No Landscapes: The Time of Hyperobjects.” I'm progressing my hyperobjects thinking in it and I shall have to keep it under wraps for now in case it falls into enemy hands...I'm also doing shout-outs to Graham, Levi and Ian.

Founding Fathers “studied science, read Plato, hung out in Paris and thought the Bible was mostly bullshit”

This speaks for itself.

This Vegan Thing Is Going Quite Well

The rather surprising amount of bad cholesterol in me inspired me to see what would happen if I cut it. Being a huge cheese fan and Trader Joe's just having opened near me, with its utopically cheap Stilton (always a bit of a Brit, you know), I kind of upped the ante on that before the holidays. And being a huge cheese fan I've never gone all the way before. So here are my conclusions after about three weeks:

1) The unpleasant hypocrisy of eating animals has gone.
2) I feel “lighter”—groan, that's what they all say isn't it?
3) There is some kind of reward response in your dopamine to eating things with cholesterol. Once you've kicked that the vegan thing is very pleasant—in a different, less rapidly cycling way.

3) Isn't surprising given that your cell walls use cholesterol. I imagine that humans have developed all those savory, salty cover-ups for cholesterol like mold on Stilton as a way to make it even more palatable. After you eat it, your body for sure says “Hey, well done! You did something right!”

I ate a small cube of cheese early on in this process and the absence of cholesterol in my diet made the taste of a liquid cloud of fat palpable—for the first time in my life, that wasn't nice.

MLK—the Ultimate “I Have a Dream”

Happy day all. Larry Heard, alias Mr. Fingers, “Can You Feel It.”

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Roshi Does Aristotle

He leans forward, and with one swift graceful movement sweeps up the small teacup from which he had been drinking. “This cup is ‘round’,” he says. “Roundness is right here, in the cup in front of us. This concept is not related to any distant concept of ‘roundness’, nor is it to any other words we may have built up in our mind.”
James Austin, Zen and the Brain, 62

Drum in a Grip

...from one of the very best of the best drum&bass albums, Bukem's Logical Progression 2. Nice cover.

Paul Chaney: Humiliation in Silver

Deeply disturbing, dark ecological and intense, Paul Chaney's latest series is just the ticket. I always thought the worst part of The Fly was not that a human had a fly's body but that a fly had a human head...just in time for my finishing Dark Ecology too. If you don't know Paul's work you should.

The title of the works refers to Derrida, who cites Darwin as chief among the great humiliations of the human (Copernicus, Freud and Marx being notable others).

Eugene Thacker mp3 on Mysticism and Darkness

A great talk from the recent Dark Materialism conference in London—at the suitably spooky Natural History Museum.

Robert Jackson on on Encapsulation and Objects

A great talk here, accompanied by a Powerpoint, based on Robert's extraordinarily creative Ph.D.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Not mystification, but mysticism. The trouble is, if you accuse someone of mysticism you are repeating a founding gesture of Western philosophy. After all, Plato was a mystic, in the strict sense that he was a practitioner of the Eleusianian Mysteries. What were they? We don't know, because they were secret.

“Mysterion” means secret in Greek.
Actually it really means “unspeakable,” and here's where we get into some interesting speculative terrain. There are, mysticisms claim, all kinds of facts that we can't speak about. They exist, but we don't have words for them. Is this not also the case with some forms of speculative reason and in particular with OOO?

These facts are not only unspeakable, they are self-secret. That is, withdrawn, in OOO lingo. Even when you yourself know them, what you know is that something, or some things, are real, that cannot be spoken—even to yourself.

It's interesting, then, that some forms of SR are indeed thinking about mysticism seriously. Nicola Masciandaro and Eugene Thacker stand out as recent exponents. It's why I'm writing an essay for Glossator on “the mystical text.”

As an aside to our neuroscience friends, what do you say about an experiment that is one of the most eminently repeatable ones on Earth? Namely, the inducing of mystical experiences in humans? Meditation, dancing, drugs and yoga (and on and on) can induce states that are remarkably similar. (As William James argued—I happen to be going over his stuff for my Buddhism book.) Most scientists would kill for that amount of data.

I make no claim here to justify these experiences, recommend
them, or explain them. I would however like to point out that from the experiencers' point of view at least, they have the quality of scientific observation.

Something real is happening, something totally unpredictable, beyond the ego, something unexpected and surprising and all the more real for that. Something as real as my fingers typing this appear to be. An object, if you will.

So how come when the accusation of mysticism is made, it's made to suggest something that's the opposite of science, and the opposite of philosophy?

Again, it has to do with the founding gesture of Western philosophy, which bowdlerized Plato (he just put that reincarnation stuff in at the very end of his most important book for a joke) and dictated which experiences were proper for Christians (the persecution of the Gnostics, who usually had some kind of Neoplatonism going on). So the accusation of mysticism is carrying on the mission of the Church Fathers, which might not be deliberate—but that's how memes are, they pass from mind to mind.

Now the other trouble with the accusation is that you open yourself up to an accusation yourself, from a yet more “rigorous,” yet more “rational” view. Almost every tenth page of Nihil Unbound is a heavy assault on mysticism—but now mysticism includes believing in things like a human subject, sentient experience, or any kind of “manifest content” whatsoever—anything up from the strictest mathematical formulae.

So if you play with the accusation of mysticism, you are playing with fire.

I don't know much about Laruelle yet—I'm still making my way through Future Christ. But I really like his argument about the foundations of Western philosophy and the origins of religious violence, which I have outlined here.

The accusation of mysticism is the essence of Buddhaphobia, because it is saying that having a state of mind without obvious reference to some pre-established ontic factoid is always a suspicious, if not dangerous indulgence.

And to see you're really only very small
And life flows on within you and without you

Friday, January 14, 2011

Northrop Frye reads Buddhism

It's not well known that the towering New Critic Northrop Frye studied Buddhist texts, quite seriously. Before him Empson was fascinated by Buddha faces and was writing a book manuscript about them (it may have shown up, I hear, but I'm not totally sure). Frye's journals show ample evidence of a thoughtful and quite deep encounter with Buddhism. He wonders for instance whether Protestantism and Zen share some similar undercurrents. (Remember he's a quasi-Jungian who thinks in terms of collective myths.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Realism Fish Eats Process Fish

Zero Landscape

I had such a good time composing an essay for Graz Architectural Magazine that I thought I should just share it a little bit. It's called “No Landscape”—the issue is about the role of landscape in ecological design (I believe). I take the “Zero” in the issue's title very seriously. I mean absolutely no more landscapes, whatsoever...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How to Say Things with Guns

HT to my good buddy Chris Loar for the title, which I'm stealing from his dissertation on eighteenth-century gun rhetoric. But this needs to be seen to be believed. As if to prove the point about situational violence, a gun company is etching Joe Wilson's “You Lie!” (directed at Obama during the health care debate) onto some of their gun components. Spectacular timing!

Mental Illness vs. Personality Disorder

Popular prejudices about schizophrenia and general ignorance about borderline get in the way of thinking straight about the differences. But there's a reason why borderline is a personality disorder and schizophrenia is a condition. Schizophrenia, for all its horrors, is like the flu: you can get it and one day, you don't have it. Borderline, on the other hand, is far more deeply embedded in your psyche.

(And yes I know these terms can be vague and loose. But so is the term omelet. Yet if you've eaten a few, you can tell the difference between one and scrambled eggs.)

(And yes, I know that these things have degrees. Not everyone with borderline acts on murderous envy.)

Why Can't I Be You? Borderline Assassins

Of course “lone wolves” are nutters. You'd have to be crazy to act violently on your own. Everyone knows that the only acceptable forms of murder in this culture are sanctioned by the state (I mean this without any irony or cynicism—well maybe just a little bit...). This doesn't excuse us from putting messages out there about doing violence to public figures. In fact it makes our responsibility FAR MORE ACUTE. PRECISELY because a nutter could hear your words and act them out, you are directly responsible for his actions. Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings. But I've been wholly persuaded by Alphonso Lingis's The Imperative that we sway and are swayed by others (objects of all kinds) all the time. So we are directly responsible for that girl who runs in front of a truck or for that guy who opens fire in a Safeway. You don't stand there weighing the pros and cons and different forms of self-interest theory. You just jump, like that guy did this weekend.

Lennon's assassin spent weeks listening to Lennon records, weeping and tearing his hair at the fakeness of his idol. Loughner had a thank you letter in his safe (in which he had documents that spoke of “assassination”). The note was from Giffords concerning an event he'd attended.

What sticks in my mind (thanks to Graham Harman for drawing my attention to this) is that at the event, Loughner had asked Giffords some kind of question like “How do you know words mean anything?” Giffords had kind of brushed him off (I believe she spoke to him in Spanish and moved on).

Remember that scene in Twelve Monkeys where the guy with the virus in the test tubes asks a provocative question slightly out of left field to the lecturer—he needs to have his fantasy confirmed.

I'm still betting my bottom dollar that rather than thinking Giffords was possessed by demons (a schizophrenic paranoia), Loughner thought that Giffords was a fake (a classic borderline delusion). Like Lennon's shooter. He read way way too much into a tiny piece of speech. He may have been stalking her for some time. Lennon's assassin met him earlier that day and tried to communicate too.

Hey listen to this, “Why Can't I Be You?” by The Cure. It's the classic borderline anthem.

Talk in London Early Feb.

I'll either be there in person or via videolink, at the Architectural Association's meeting, “Design Ecologies.” The theme is “The Unprimed Canvas”—Francis Bacon liked to use them, so that every mark becomes important.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

That Shooter: I Take Down Some Memes

Wow, people are already spinning the shooting of a 9 year old girl and an assassination attempt on a congresswoman and judge (successful on the latter). I'm happy that Graham Harman has been posting on this. Talking about reality is our job.

Meme 1: “It's not the right time to bring politics into this, or point fingers.”
Refutation: No, this is exactly the right time. This is the very definition of the right time to do this.

Meme 2: “He had paranoid schizophrenia. So the right is not to blame.”
Refutation: No, you can be mad and a right winger at the same time. The two don't cancel each other out (he said mildly). Also, most schizophrenics I know—and I know a lot, one of my brothers has it—wouldn't hurt a fly. If they have aggressive impulses it's almost always against themselves. If this guy turns out to be mentally ill I'll bet my bottom dollar that he has borderline personality disorder, the syndrome that spawned Lennon's assassin. You can be pretty delusional with borderline. One major trait is that you blame the other for your mental state. You see the other as a fake or as a threat to your existence (murderous envy).

Meme 3: “That sheriff spoke out of line.”
Refutation: No, he is doing part of his job—mediating and explaining criminal and violent actions.

Meme 4: “This was just one isolated incident.”
Refutation: How many isolated 9/11's did it take—oh, I remember, ONE. Also, read Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect. Psych evaluated grad students turned into Abu Ghraib prison guards in three days because of situational forces. (There's an object-oriented line to run here actually.) If you use cross hairs in your ads and talk about the need for a violent revolution if the right doesn't get its way (to pick just two recent events), you get what Lennon called instant karma.

It's fairly obvious that situational messages of violence will affect the most suggestible people, another blow against Meme 2.

I wonder what Limbaugh will say tomorrow?

Talks on Buddhism by Morton, Boon, and Cazdyn

MLA 2011 was truly a new thing, insofar as three scholars who study and practice Buddhism took to the podium and gave some searching talks on Buddhism, philosophy, politics, aesthetics and more. You'll hear some diversity in the talks and you'll hear some similarities too. We were very excited by it. I was excited to hear Marcus's new work on this (he's already done a lot in In Praise of Copying). There was some very profound material in there about Badiouian (mis)recognitions of Buddhism. Eric's piece was a revelation, totally crystalline and elegant. It was an honor to share the stage with them.

Here is the song sheet:
Marcus Boon, Introduction.
Tim Morton, “What's Eating Slavoj Žižek?”
Marcus Boon, “Aporias of Relaxation.”
Eric Cazdyn, “Praxis at the Start and at the End: Buddhism, Psychoanalysis, Marxism.”

Tulku Urgyen's stupa in Crestone, Colorado

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Mr Benn and Nonhuman Solidarity

Yes, here he is, putting humans in cages while zoo animals walk around them and admire them! Mr Benn forms political affiliations with nonhumans in this next thrilling installment.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Mr Benn, Liberator of Worlds

Dora the Explorer and Bob the Builder can cram it. When I was a nipper, kids' TV was at its non-didactic apogee. Along with the Beatles and Monty Python, Mr Benn led the charge in the jubilant parody of imperialism. Mr Benn's role was the bowler hatted petty bourgeois functionary turned Latourian compositionist. Even Terry Gilliam has to bow to David McKee. Watch and learn, kids. This first episode explains it all.

Mr Benn, Latourian Revolutionary

Watching Mr Benn (Zookeeper) in the hotel, enjoying this extraordinary mash of Magritte and Henri Rousseau (David McKee) and the excellent music (written by the dad of a friend of a friend at school).

If I had taken bad acid or was otherwise indisposed, eg dead and wandering in the bardo, I'd be happy to call on Mr Benn for aid. Know what I mean? Sorry if you don't my fellow Americans.

This dude creates Latourian affiliations between people and animals! And that's just one episode!

And some object always finds its way into his pocket, reminding him of the alternative reality he's visited. Via a costume shop! I'm now sure he gets there by OOO allure.

When at my machine instead of on this iPhone I shall post a video for poor deprived US people.

Job interview advice on the fly

Here I am at MLA and I just ran into one of our job candidates. I gave him 3 tips:

1) no need to prove you're smart.
2) curate yourself. The [your name] exhibition.
3) let them talk more than you

Thursday, January 6, 2011


You know the more I get into the details of finishing Buddhaphobia the more respect I have for Schopenhauer. I'd written him off for what I saw as his misunderstandings about Buddhism. But it's a very coherent view he has there and it's not completely dissimilar. Also, to swim against the racist, Christian white European (I'm not kidding—one word: Gobineau) orthodoxy of his day, to the point of having a Buddha statue in your front lobby to greet people who visited your office—that takes guts.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Drive to LA

Yes, en famille, with dvds for the kids to watch in the car. Quite strongly vegan snacks mostly because I would like not to die of a heart attack fairly shortly. And the computer and recorder. I'll record my panel (on Buddhism and theory—whatever that means). It features me, Marcus Boon, and Eric Cadzyn.

Ivakhiv's book

Adrian Ivakhiv just sent me his book. I've only ever seen it as a jacket-less library copy, so it's very nice to have the real thing. What a beauty. Presses have such different ideas as to what constitutes a good cover. I love how this one incorporates polyvalent symbolism into almost Mondrian-like simplicity. Of course I really like the arguments therein, especially as a frequenter of Glastonbury and Avebury (if you don't know Avebury, you should! The real Stonehenge!)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Global Warming as Narrative (and Not)

Levi gets his Apocalypse on here. I'm happy he's taken up my recent post on anthropology and global warming. As usual he carves my crude lump of wood into an attractive bedside table complete with silently sliding drawers and a nice lamp.

The point is, and I think Levi makes this excellently: even if we accept global warming as sheer narrative, the worry that it's a narrative of apocalypse is misplaced. It's not the apocalypticism we should worry about, for another second—unless we want to play that game as well. It's the fact that this is deeply symptomatic of the actual occurrence of a trauma in social, ecological and psychic space caused by a real hyperobject (global warming).

Sunday, January 2, 2011

How to Get That Elusive Academic Job 20—showtime (MLA survival guide)

Curse the MLA. At least it's not right after Christmas anymore. Recovering from family regression only to stumble into academic regression was just the worst. But I bet the vibe will be pretty much the same. Get ready for it, now.

You walk into the main lobby of the main conference hotel and you walk into an outer circle of Hell. Less than or equal to 10 000 doppelgangers are walking around. They are looking at your name tag, then looking away. Are they just curious as Rosemary Feal's tweets would have us believe? Or are they checking to see if you're famous and important? And looking away if not? Or a bit of both? I'm sure it's mostly the fame checking. Why? Because as a nearly finished Ph.D. student I indulged in a bit of it myself.

Anyway, best to assume the worst: when you arrive at the outskirts of Hell you will be hit by a vertical wall of paranoia that provokes you to talk to people for no good reason, or hang around people for no good reason, which will make it worse.

Why did you come to this godawful place? Oh yeah, you remember—you have a job interview. So focus on getting through that. For different people this will mean different things but for me (introverted, quite depressed) it means GETTING THE FUCK OUT OF THE FUCKING HOTEL and STAYING OUT OF IT FOR AS MUCH OF THE CONFERENCE AS POSSIBLE. Don't be tempted by the waves of people. You think that they think that you think that they think that you think you should be talking to someone/going to a panel/seeing the books. FUCK THAT. Seriously. Number one priority is to take care of yourself. Walk, yoga, nice food, run, see some art.

If you have a book idea to pitch (you should if you've been doing ikebana) then now would be a good time to check with a publisher and see if you can meet for a few minutes. They are usually open to pitching. This is where it all goes down. But remember, the MLA sucks for three obvious reasons:

1) half the people are looking for a job
2) the other half are trying to publish a book
3) a strange extra bunch of people are interviewing and editing 1) and 2)

I try to have little or no alcohol when I go to a big conference. Sorry to be a party pooper but that stuff can regress you really fast and this is not a good place to regress.

Before you go, have some fun with your ikebana (see previous posts). You sometimes find yourself having to pitch your project quite quickly. Imagine you're in an elevator with an editor. You have five floors to pitch your book before she gets out. What do you say?

The key pith instruction: MLA SUCKS FOR EVERYONE. That includes your interviewers. You can join them in this.

Chip chip

Another day chipping at the edifice of Buddhaphobia, adding an inch of citation here, a corner of reference there. I ended up wondering how much the scholarly resistance to using Buddhism and other “eastern” philosophies—rather than just studying them—had to do with the legacy of imperialism. I also wondered how much I was going to get creamed simply for raising this issue in print. I know some of my academic left colleagues would be shocked, shocked, that I'm even suggesting it. You're on safe territory if you discuss Buddhism as a story, for instance—but if you use Buddhism to explore narrative, you've gone off piste.


Just broke open some geodes with my daughter Claire. It was almost ridiculously easy to pop them open with a hammer. Soft on the outside, crystalline and sparkling on the inside. There are quantum mechanical reasons for the sparkle given off by a crystal lattice, and for the way in which crystal lattices trap different kinds of light inside them.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


So I'm on my fifth and sixth monograph projects and I recognize the emotional flow of things much better now. Once you've carved out the project, you put in detail. This process is like chipping away inside a tunnel. You chip, chip, chip—hey great, I found a jewel; chip, chip, chip, oh look, a spring of water, neat. Chip, chip, freeze, FROZEN, STUCK. Stop! I can't take it!

That's where I am right now.

Wow, just wow

This just in: Anthropology needs a speculative turn, and fast. I wondered why it was the Anthro types who gave me the most flak at Johns Hopkins recently. They think that studying climate change means something like being value neutral about competing stories. And they're using Stengers to back them up.

"Should Anthropologists Believe in Climate Change?" (my emphasis). Wow. Just wow.

Writing, writing, writing

Writing books is intrinsically hard. It's just a lot of work. It's wonderful but you have to have a wide view. Once you start coning down to deal with separate sections that need extra citations and detail, you can lose track of the big picture. I've learned over the years to recognize that feeling and not freak about it. But it's still quite intense. Like driving through that tunnel in Switzerland—or the one from Lhasa airport to the highway by the Yellow River. It just goes on, and on, and on.

Thank goodness we have bodies. We can exercise and move and get the energy flowing out of our heads, where it settles into a gray fog if you're not careful. If Buddhism is correct and we have an after-death state such as the bardo, I'm not looking forward to the fact that it's disembodied.