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

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Judy Natal, Future Perfect

It's here and it's stunning and it's ecological, and you must see it.

My Daughter the Heideggerian

"Humans are the scariest animals on Earth. Bears haven't invented guns or nuclear weapons."

She is 7.

Shopping with Žižek at Walmart

What would he say? Would anyone get out intact? My friend Chris just posted on this very experience, which he related to me last year when I visited him in New Orleans.

This is just one of the many gems:

As we walked toward the store, perhaps exuding a bit of guilt or shame, Slavoj launched into an expostulation about the sheer visibility of consumerism, and how the warehouse-y, cavernous-feeling Walmart was so much better than high-end places, like for instance Dolce & Gabbana stores that conceal consumerism behind a sheen of glamour and minimalism. We were standing on the threshold of the store, taking in Slavoj's tirade and watching him gesticulate and begin to dominate the space, when I remembered that we were on a tight schedule. So I grabbed Slavoj's arm and I led the way back to the electronics department...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Just Received

Telemorphosis: a beautiful new book edited by Tom Cohen, on climate change and philosophy. There are some great humans in this including Claire Colebrook, Bernard Stiegler and Catherine Malabou, Tim Clark and J. Hillis Miller. It's not out yet but it soon will be.


...Now here's an interesting Heideggerian theme. It turns out that there has been some recent neuroscience on memory that shows that a lot of it is proleptic. In other words, memories are used not to dredge through the past, but to anticipate the future. The brain is futural. HT Dirk Felleman.

Stupidly Happy

Andy Partridge is such a fine lyricist. “No nothing's not wrong.” Parse that! And now I'm three degrees of separation away from my hero. One of my new acquaintances has a friend whose painting hangs on Andy's kitchen wall.

And that guitar riff, and the coda, so reminiscent of English church bells ringing the changes, are to die for.

Heidegger on the Environment as “Between”

Some of you were wondering how I could say such a heinous thing, invoking Heidegger. Unfortunately I am the bearer of bad tidings for some green Heideggerians: in no sense does Heidegger endorse a concept of the environment as an objectively present entity. Thus Heidegger and I are not strictly environmentalists. Heidegger makes it clear that environmentalism is akin to sexism or racism: making an essentialized fetish of one's intrinsic coexistence (Mitsein) with what I call the strange stranger.

Here is the passage, which I simply paraphrased yesterday. It's on page 124 of Stambaugh's translation of Being and Time. It's hard to drop the needle into the middle of Heidegger, so to speak, but those of you who know enough will be able to figure it out:

In which direction must we look for the phenomenal characteristics of being-in as such? We get the answer to this question what we were charged with keeping in view phenomenologically when we pointed out this phenomenon: being-in in contradistinction to the objectively present insideness of something objectively present “in” an other; being-in not as an attribute of an objectively present subject effected or even initiated by the objective presence of the “world”; rather, being-in essentially as the kind of being of this being itself. But then what else presents itself with this phenomenon other than the objectively present commercium between an objectively present subject and an objectively present object? This interpretation would come closer to the phenomenal content if it stated that Da-sein is the being of this “between.” Nonetheless, the orientation toward the “between” would still be misleading. It colludes unawares with the ontologically indefinite approach that there are beings between which this being as such “is.” The between is already understood as the result of the convenientia of two objectively present things. But this kind of approach always already splits the phenomenon beforehand, and there is no prospect of ever again putting it back together from the fragments. Not only do we lack the “cement,” even the “schema,” according to which this joining together is to be accomplished has been split apart, or never as yet unveiled. What is ontologically decisive is to avoid splitting the phenomenon beforehand, that is, to secure its positive phenomenal content.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Singularum Essay

“Objects in Mirror Are Closer than They Appear.” I'm almost afraid of this essay. Sometimes I have no idea what it's going to say. It's certainly helping the book I'm writing along with it. Bobby George and Tom Sparrow opened the phenomenology spigot and all this stuff came pouring out. It's scary fun to write I tell you.

I'm in love with the hard won logic of Lingis: “When I ... I am not ... Rather ...” The way he makes you feel like you're in a surging world of weirdness.

Don't Mess with Mr. In-Between

Heidegger puts it slightly differently than I do in Ecology without Nature, but basically it's very much the same argument. To argue for a “between” such as an “ambience” or Nature that somehow accommodates subjects and objects, is already to have decided some things about said subjects and objects in advance, namely that they are reified “objective presence.”

Now if you're a fan of OOO withdrawal you just can't do that. In fact, the OOO solution is that what is called the “between” such as “environment” is really another object.

This is why I've long been suspicious of approaches that claim to solve the subject–object dualism by positing a special adhesive that exists “between” them, or a special restaurant (nice ambience, nice music) in which they might finally hit it off and have sex.

Levi Bryant on OO Politics

I was wondering what he had been up to, and it turns out he's been writing an essay for the journal Identities. It's a great essay, on OOO and politics. Watch this space.

Coffield, Constructionism, OOO

I thought this was a very interesting application of OOO to the conservative view that the Constitution is a perfect monolith.

De Man Book Blurb

I was asked to do it and I loved it. Here it is. It's for Theory and the Disappearing Future, a collection by Claire Colebrook, J. Hillis Miller and Tom Cohen. It talks about my ecology books a little, which is I guess why they asked me to do the blurb.

This gem of a book should be read by anyone who wants to avoid repeating the past. Like a faintly heard, uncanny background noise that starts to ooze menacingly around the facile conversations in the foreground, De Man emerges as a figure with a crucial message regarding the current world historical, ecological emergency. De Man rises again, not the person as such, but the persona: a deconstructor distinct from Derrida, attuned to the radical contingency and secrecy of language, the impossibility of easy ways out. De Man is put into conversation with Deleuze and Guattari, Agamben, even de Landa and Lovelock. De Man returns from the dead, not as a rejuvenated person but as a haunting warning against compulsive affirmations of “life.” Oh, and there's a very beautiful set of his notes on Benjamin, in facsimile and transcription.

Timothy Morton, author of The Ecological Thought and Ecology without Nature

Will OOOIII be Livestreamed and Recorded?

Some of you are wondering. So let it be known that I'm a recording fetishist. Alas the one time when I really, dearly wished to have recorded something—at Graham Harman's alma mater De Paul—was when I forgot. So rest assured:

Yes, OOOIII at the New School on 9.14 will be livestreamed, videoed, recorded, you name it, and everything will be embedded here.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Correlationism on Al-Arabiya

From a recent editorial on Heidegger's “Only a god can save us” by Ibrahim Kalin:

The modern socioeconomic and political system operates on a similar set of tacit philosophical assumptions: Things have no value in and of themselves. It is the human subject -- i.e., us -- that grants meaning to them. Without us, nothing has meaning and value. We are like Plato's Demiurge, or like Greek gods who impart meaning on everything in the universe. We possess the meaning of existence. We give it whoever or whatever we want. In our absence, the universe is nothing. It means something because we define it so.

Locke versus the Higgs Boson

Like me I reckon Locke would see the Higgs field, an evenly spread (hence almost undetectable) field of particles that give mass to other particles, to be a version of the “ambient fluid” of the ether, an idea he demolishes brilliantly (see above).

The Standard Model is pretty much atomism plus correlationism. The fact that a single photon obeys the speed of light is, in my view, enough to punch a serious hole in it.  Because nonlocality must mean something real, something subquantum: otherwise there would be signals that could travel faster than light. And even a single photon doesn't do that (it has just been established).

If philosophers could only stop talking solely to one another and start having the courage to talk to scientists, not just to interpret them, but to change them.

I mean come on, some guy from Newton's time is kicking your ass!

(Come to think of it “Higgs Boson” sounds like a character in Defoe or Swift...)

My Proposal for the Museum of Non-Visible Art

Global Warming: A Hyperobject

This is a massively distributed found art object that exists in a phase space whose dimensionality is too high for humans to see. And yet every day it will burn your skin, fall on your head and cause coral to die. This magical object lasts for 100 000 years. It covers the entire surface of Earth up to the height of the outer atmosphere, and includes photons from the Sun.

Christianist Suicide Bombers Now Likely

...the new form of ratpure theology on the block, heavily invested in Rick Perry's presidential bid. The New Apostolic Reformation.

You see in this version, the rapture won't happen until the faithful make it happen...that means that followers must be ready to become “martyrs.” This is being taught to younger members. Sound familiar?

And there are demons. Who must be fought en masse, by “spiritual warfare.” Not just one on one.

Switzerland Aesthetics and Speculative Realism Conference

HERE. Coordinated by Paul Ennis. Harman, Grant, Hayles will be keynoting!

The Moral Theology of the Devil

The Moral Theology of the Devil
Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation
(New York: New Directions, 1972), 90–7

The devil has a whole system of theology and philosophy, which will explain, to anyone who will listen, that created things are evil, that men are evil, that God created evil and that He directly wills that men should suffer evil. According to the devil, God rejoices in the suffering of men and, in fact, the whole universe is full of misery because God has willed and planned it that way.

Indeed, says this system of theology, God that Father took real pleasure in delivering His Son to His murderers, and God the Son came to earth because He wanted to be punished by the Father. Both of them together seek nothing more than to punish and persecute their faithful ones. As a matter of fact, in creating the world God had clearly in mind that man would inevitably sin and it was almost as if the world were created in order that man might sin, so that God would have an opportunity to manifest His justice.

So, according to the devil, the first thing created was really hell—as if everything else were, in some sense, for the sake of hell. Therefore the devotional life of those who are “faithful” to this kind of theology consists above all in an obsession with evil. As if there were not already enough evils in the world, they multiply prohibitions and make new rules, binding everything with thorns, so that man may not escape evil and punishment. For they would have him bleed from morning to night, though even with so much blood there is no remission of sin! The Cross, then, is no longer a sign of mercy (for mercy has no place in such a theology), it is the sign that Law and Justice have utterly triumphed, as if Christ had said: “I came not to destroy the Law but to be destroyed by it.” For this, according to the devil, is the only way in which the Law could really and truly be “fulfilled.” Not love but punishment is the fulfillment of the Law. The Law must devour everything, even God. Such is this theology of punishment, hatred and revenge. He who would live by such a dogma must rejoice in punishment. He may, indeed, successfully evade punishment himself by “playing ball” with the Law and the Lawgiver. But he must take good care that others do not avoid suffering. He must occupy his mind with their present and future punishment. The Law must triumph. There must be no mercy.

This is the chief mark of the theology of hell, for in hell there is everything but mercy. That is why God himself is absent from hell. Mercy is the manifestation of his presence.

The theology of the devil is for those who, for one reason or another, whether because they are perfect, or because they have come to an agreement with the Law, no longer need any mercy. With them (O grim joy!) God is “satisfied.” So too is the devil. It is quite an achievement, to please everybody!

The people who listen to this sort of thing, and absorb it, and enjoy it, develop a notion of the spiritual life which is a kind of hypnosis of evil. The concepts of sin, suffering, damnation, punishment, the justice of God, retribution, the end of the world and so on, are things over which they smack their lips with unspeakable pleasure. Perhaps this is because they derive a deep, subconscious comfort from the thought that many other people will fall into the hell which they themselves are going to escape. And how do they know they are going to escape it? They cannot give any definite reason except for the fact that they feel a certain sense of relief at the thought that all this punishment is prepared for practically everyone but themselves.

This feeling of complacency is what they refer to as “faith,” and it constitutes a kind of conviction that they are “saved.”
The devil makes many disciples by preaching against sin. He convinces them of the great evil of sin, induces a crisis of guilt by which “God is satisfied.” And after that he lets them spend the rest of their lives meditating on the intense sinfulness and evident reprobation of other men.

The moral theology of the devil starts out with the principle: “Pleasure is sin.” Then he goes to work it the other way: “All sin is pleasure.”

After that he points out that pleasure is practically unavoidable and that we have a natural tendency to do things that please us, from which he reasons that all our natural tendencies are evil and that our nature is evil in itself. And he leads us to the conclusion that no one can possibly avoid sin, since pleasure is inescapable.

After that, to make sure that no one will try to escape or avoid sin, he adds that what is unavoidable cannot be a sin. Then the whole concept of sin is thrown out the window as irrelevant, and people decide that there is nothing left except to live for pleasure, and in that way pleasures that are naturally good become evil by deordination and lives are thrown away in unhappiness and sin.
It sometimes happens that men who preach most vehemently about evil and the punishment of evil, so that they seem to have practically nothing else on their minds except sin, are really unconscious haters of other men. They think the world does not appreciate them, and this is their way of getting even.

The devil is not afraid to preach the will of God provided he can preach it in his own way.

The argument goes something like this: “God wills you to do what is right. But you have an interior attraction which tells you, by a nice warm glow of satisfaction, what is right. Therefore, if others try to interfere and make you do something that does not produce this comfortable sense of interior satisfaction, quote Scripture, tell them that you ought to obey God rather than men, and then go ahead and do your own will, do the thing that gives you that nice, warm glow.”
The theology of the devil is really not theology but magic. “Faith” in this theology is really not the acceptance of a God Who reveals Himself as mercy. It is a psychological, subjective “force” which applies a kind of violence to reality in order to change it according to one's own whims. Faith is a kind of supereffective wishing: a mastery that comes from a special, mysteriously dynamic will power that is generated by “profound convictions.” By virtue of this wonderful energy one can exert a persuasive force even on God Himself and bend His will to one's own will. By this astounding new dynamic soul force of faith (which any quack can develop in you for an appropriate remuneration) you can turn God into a means to your own ends. We become civilized medicine men, and God becomes our servant. Though He is terrible in His own right, He respects our sorcery, He allows Himself to be tamed by it. He will appreciate our dynamism, and will reward it with success in everything we attempt. We will become popular because we have “faith.” We will be rich because we have “faith.” All our national enemies will come and lay down their arms at our feet because we have “faith.” Business will boom all over the world, and we will be able to make money out of everything and everyone under the sun because of the charmed life we lead. We have faith.

But there is a subtle dialectic in all this, too.

We hear that faith does everything. So we close our eyes and strain a bit, to generate some “soul force.” We believe. We believe.

Nothing happens.

We close our eyes again, and generate some more soul force. The devil likes us to generate soul force. He helps us to generate plenty of it. We are just gushing with soul force.

But nothing happens.

So we go on with this until we become disgusted with the whole business. We get tired of “generating soul force.” We get tired of this “faith” that does not do anything to change reality. It does not take away our anxieties, our conflicts, it leaves us a prey to uncertainty. It does not lift all responsibilities off our shoulders. Its magic is not so effective after all. It does not thoroughly convince us that God is satisfied with us, or even that we are satisfied with ourselves (though in this, it is true, some people's faith is quite effective).

Having become disgusted with faith, and therefore with God, we are now ready for the Totalitarian Mass Movement that will pick us up on the rebound and make us happy with war, with the persecution of “inferior races” or of enemy classes, or generally speaking, with actively punishing someone who is different from ourselves.
Another characteristic of the devil's moral theology is the exaggeration of all distinctions between this and that, good and evil, right and wrong. These distinctions become irreducible divisions. No longer is there any sense that we might perhaps all be more or less at fault, and that we might be expected to take upon our own shoulders the wrongs of others by forgiveness, acceptance, patient understanding and love, and thus help one another to find the truth. On the contrary, in the devil's theology, the important thing is to be absolutely right and to prove that everybody else is absolutely wrong. This does not exactly make for peace and unity among men, because it means that everyone wants to be absolutely right himself or to attach himself to another who is absolutely right. And in order to prove their rightness they have to punish and eliminate those who are wrong. Those who are wrong, in turn, convinced that they are right … etc.

Finally, as might be expected, the moral theology of the devil grants an altogether unusual amount of importance to … the devil. Indeed one soon comes to find out that he is the very center of the whole system. That he is behind everything. That he is moving everybody in the world except ourselves. That he is out to get even with us. And that there is every chance of his doing so because, it now appears, his power is equal to that of God, or even perhaps superior to it …

In one word, the theology of the devil is purely and simply that the devil is god.

Church (Geostationary Graveyard Mix)

A tune by me and poet Joe Wenderoth. He sent me the sample of the woman feeling guilty, and I wanted to add a glorious revolving cathedral of golden darkness around it. Did I succeed?

What Is OOO?

A commenter recently asked this, so I'm going to point you to this: OOO for Beginners. It features video, talks, texts and more by Graham Harman, Levi Bryant, Ian Bogost and myself, about object-oriented ontology, a brand new development in philosophy.

Museum of Non-Visible Art

I'm going to suggest the hyprobject global warming:

Dear MONA Friend and Patron of the Non-Visible Arts,

There is only TWO DAYS LEFT of this project. It has been an incredible summer!
After the kickstarter project ends, many of these works will no longer be available at all, and some of them will be at higher prices as well.
This is just the beginning of this project, there will be more news, more exhibits, a new website and lots of other titilating treats.
So if you have a friend in need of a baby giraffe, or endless youth and wealth (golden stone), this may be the last chance to get it.  Or maybe you want to advise your boss at work to get one, don't you think all bosses should have non-visible art works in their office?
Thank you again for all your support.
The Kickstarter Link to the project is here

Saturday, August 27, 2011

When the French Discovered How to Do House

...they made things like this. Awesome.

Hyperobject Irene

The Trouble with the Standard Model that like many things that appeared between 1790 and 2000, it is correlationist. Quanta and their measuring devices (including sentient beings such as humans) form an indivisible whole, such that it makes no sense to talk about a quantum reality that exists apart from how it is correlated to an observer.

An electron on this view just is a track in a cloud chamber or, even more idealist-ly, a set of relationships, which is how Zizek likes to describe the quantum level.

It's not surprising therefore that some kind of magical particle is sought that would explain the existence of all the others, and why it's proving to be a white elephant. Unless the Standard Modelers want to accept a form of idealism, correlationism forces them into this search for the Higgs (see my previous).

Aaron O'Connell's little experiment, which proves you can see quantum phenomena in a macroscopic (relatively) object 30 microns long, puts a serious dent in the correlationist underpinnings of the Standard Model. That tiny tuning fork was operationally isolated from other phenomena. Yet it was caught in the act of vibrating and not-vibrating simultaneously. And it was way, way bigger than what the Standard Model normally allows.

The fact that a single photon also obeys c, the speed limit of light, also suggests that there is a reality down there, not simply a mirror that shows our reflection.

In other words, there is a reason for entanglement, and it's not the reason correlation gives, which is that until they are observed, photons just kinda sorta don't exist.

And now for a nice piece of correlationist poetry to round out this post, courtesy of T.S. Eliot:

                                                  The roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at.

Standard Model of QT in Trouble I predicted a few months ago, the search for the Higgs boson is as yet fruitless. The Higgs is suggested to give other particles mass. It's hard to find, it is claimed, because the universe is pretty much a gigantic smooth Higgs field.

Where have we heard this sort of thing before? Anyone remember the ether, which Einstein finally killed?

So CERN and ATLAS haven't found anything yet. The slight data spike noted a couple of months ago turns out to be less significant than once thought.

I'll explain why I'm betting on the nonexistence of the Higgs in a while.

The Ghetto of Nonviolence

Karen comments on a previous post that nonviolence as a topic is in a "ghetto" in the academy. Anyone have any thoughts on this? I'm keen to see the lie of the land as I proceed to think about that keynote.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sport as Object

This is a really fascinating post by Kalle Jonasson, on sport and OOO. I'm very interested in it. It looks like Jonasson is thinking sport as a moving diorama, riffing on a post I wrote recently.

Cameron's Finger

...I see what he means. His twitter page is a wounded finger by Max Ernst that bears an uncanny resemblance to my actual finger. Which is healing nicely by the way, based on contact with air.

Nonviolent Communication and Religious Studies Keynote

Neat. Someone got the secret message encoded in The Ecological Thought (the backwards Satanic one no doubt : ) ). I'll be keynoting at a conference on nonviolence at the University of Southern Florida.

Eastern and Indigenous Perspectives on Sustainability and Conflict Resolution at the University of South Florida, Tampa, November 13-15, 2011.

The goal of this conference is to examine sustainable philosophies and practices from eastern and indigenous perspectives.   We aim to pay attention to indigenous knowledges without essentializing or valorizing them.  We are interested in the following:
  • exploring cases where traditional ecological knowledge has altered the dominant paradigm of unsustainable development
  • eastern religions and the encoding of ecological knowledge—in Indian Dharma traditions (Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh) , Indigenous (Native American, Australian aboriginal, African) and Asian traditions (Shinto, Confucian, Taoist, Zen)     
  • practices for individual/societal transformation and healthy sustainable communities  
  • conflict resolution from eastern and indigenous perspectives
  • examining the plight of the indigenous peoples and their habitats under the economic forces of globalization
·         contemplative pedagogy: eastern perspectives in the classroom
We believe bringing these perspectives together from the standpoint of global sustainability and peace would begin meaningful dialogue and suggest new collaborations toward global solutions.

While we encourage proposals focused on the conference’s theme, we welcome proposals from all areas and from all disciplinary perspectives. 

Abstracts are due Sept. 30 2011    

New Literary History Essay

I'm about to start writing it:

An Object-Oriented Defense of Poetry

It all came together when I taught Shelley a few weeks ago. More on this soon. But it's kinda neat how easily an apparent materialist such as Shelley, with fascinating Neoplatonist leanings, can be seen to underwrite OOO.

Wound Max Ernst

Cameron Tonkinswise tells me his twitter page has a picture by Max Ernst identical to my finger wound.


That Sliced Finger

It won't be possible to stitch this: it's too wide and flat. It reminds me of how my fingers and hands looked when I had finished 100 000 prostrations last summer.

Rioting and Repetition: A Case of Situational Violence

I watched an episode of Twin Peaks last night which Leland commits the “same” murder, again. So I guess when I woke up I was thinking about repetition.

David Cameron and George Osbourne belonged to the exclusive Bullingdon Club at Oxford. Once a year they went to a fancy restaurant and totally wrecked it, Who style. Then the next day they paid off the owner.

Isn't the recent spate of rioting and looting somehow connected to this? Having lived through the Bush Administration I don't doubt it. Under the alcoholic frat boy Bush and his lackey Cheney, everything became very strange. There is definitely a psychological effect of leadership on people.

Just read Robert Zimbardo's The Lucifer Effect: his leadership style (somewhat inadvertently) in the Stanford Prison Experiment turned a small group of psychologically vetted normal enough grad students into Abu Ghraib prison guards in two days. Just as we laid Abu Ghraib at W's and Cheney's feet, so we should lay the riots at Cameron's.

Before Cameron, I bet very few people had heard of the Bullingdon Club. It's pretty stimulating information. Cameron, I'm now laying the riots directly at your feet. Not even because of the cuts. But because your existence at the top sanctions looting.

Let it also be noted that the only violence I witnessed at Oxford was by an old Etonian who literally tried to kick my door down with a metal tipped boot.

Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt, a Hyperobject

...weirdly similar to that short movie I made of a bamboo forest on Qi Lai mountain in Taiwan. HT Moses Boudourides.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bobby George on Handedness

...while making curry just now I sliced enough off of the top of my right finger to require some gauze. So typing has suddenly become, shall we say, Vorhanden...

Bobby George has a marvelous post up about how simple it is to change one's mind, by changing the had one writes with. I am a lefty in any case and I wonder whether some of my weird ideas are simply from having had to negotiate my way around a right-handed world.

Unless you are left handed you just won't know this, but even something like screwing in a screw become a strange adventure. I find it easiest to do if I can turn what I'm screwing upside down for instance...

Mind is not something that lives in the “cabinet” of our heads, but something that is “out there” somehow.

Job Advice Aggregator

...tis the season to be freaked out. So here is my aggregated job advice that I posted last year, in one sickening splurge.

Part 1     Part 2     Part 3     Part 4     Part 5     Part 6     Part 7     Part 8     Part 9     Part 10

Part 11   Part 12   Part 13   Part 14   Part 15   Part 16   Part 17   Part 18   Part 19   Part 20

Part 21

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Withdrawn Objects in the Stock Market

This makes for disturbing, somewhat exhilarating watching.

Bryant's Politics of Parataxis

It's one of my favorite syntactical tropes: without subordination, you just list, Ginsberg style. This is why you must, if you haven't already, read Levi's post on what he admires.

Compare this marvelous essay by Leigh Hunt, “A Now, Descriptive of a Hot Day” (just a short extract):

Now the rosy- (and lazy-) fingered Aurora, issuing from her saffron house, calls up the moist vapours to surround her, and goes veiled with them as long as she can; till Phoebus, coming forth in his power, looks everything out of the sky, and holds sharp, uninterrupted empire from his throne of beams. Now the mower begins to make his sweeping cuts more slowly, and resorts oftener to the beer. Now the carter sleeps a-top of his load of hay, or plods with double slouch of shoulder, looking out with eyes winking under his shading hat, and with a hitch upward of one side of his mouth.  Now he little girl at her grandmother's cottage-door watches the coaches that go by, with her hand held up over her sunny forehead. Now labourers look well resting in their white shirts at the doors of rural ale-houses. Now an elm is fine there, with a seat under it; and horses drink out of the trough, stretching their yearning necks with loosened collars; and the traveller calls for his glass of ale, having been without one for more than ten minutes; and his horse stands wincing at the flies, giving sharp shivers of his skin, and moving to and fro his ineffectual docked tail; and now Miss Betty Wilson, the host's daughter, comes streaming forth in a flowered gown, and ear-rings,  carrying with four of her beautiful fingers  the foaming glass, for which, after the traveller has drank it, she receives with an indifferent eye, looking another way, the lawful twopence.

There is an emergent property of paratactic syntax: it builds a sense of environmentality. You are surrounded not only by the heat but by the caring mind of Leigh Hunt, or Levi.

Paratactic syntax is like parallel electrical circuits: the energy state of each phrase is preserved. Each phrase shines with equal brightness. It's an intense style, one might be tempted to say object-oriented.

There is an ontology of parataxis: flat. And there's a politics: inclusive, not-all sets of unique beings. Love it. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Death Diorama

Someone just tweeted me with this question:

@ arresting nature-supernature via taxidermy, how we manufacture nat space for our benefit. Thoughts?

Included in the tweet was the picture above.  So here are some thoughts as requested.

First it's a diorama. Now these objects are very interestingly aestheticized. They are post-Romantic period; they are trying to evoke something beyond the aesthetics of the picturesque, yet they are still a sort of picture (the scene in this picture, I mean, is carefully constructed to appear natural). You are invited to study the scene from many angles rather than just one, to approach the things in the image from the viewpoint of a fascinated scientist. Hence the popularity of dioramas in natural history museums.

I like how the ambient early dawn light (I think, or late evening light) gives a feeling of being surrounded, bathed. Again, the effect is very kinesthetic, 3-D, wraparound, rather than static and picturesque. It's a sort of cinema image condensed into a static image. 

Now everything in this diorama is dead, yet designed to give the uncanny sensation of life. This double edge always makes me feel weird. I am looking at the corpse of a bird, posed as if alive.

Of course this is heightened by the deliberate placing of human industrial detritus in the heron's nest. I'm not quite sure from the image but it appears that the heron's legs are wrapped in plastic.

The image implicates us in guilt. I believe the implication is that the scientific gaze kills and fixes the heron just as the detritus destroyed her and her lifeworld. It's a compelling image. Why do I keep looking at it again and again? Is it simply the message? The message seems obvious. There is a disturbing compulsion, true, about realizing that as you enjoy the image over and over you are complicit in a culture of death. I also like how the image utilizes kitsch rather than trying to rise above it. It goes along with it, in a kind of judo.

Maybe the most suggestive part isn't the nest filled with human made objects. Maybe it's the sudden way in which this world, this diorama just floats in front of a cloudless sky, like a stage set. The way this aspect of the image works reminds me of Henri Rousseau's Carnival Evening, which I spent a whole hour with in the excellent company of Graham Harman:

See what I mean? Those two figures stand almost at the edge of a tiny world, behind which is a twilight space. It's as if they are at the back edge of a stage set. Rousseau interrupts our need for a convincingly deep world, but with a kind of friendly menace rather than the heavy handed aggression of pure abstraction. A frozen moment of drama, a disturbing strangeness, clownlike.

I guess what I'm saying is that I really like the image that David Farrell sent me.

Objects, Aesthetics, Causality: OOOIII

I have a bit of a dilemma. It's a very nice dilemma. Ian Bogost has drafted our New School Third OOO Symposium schedule, what a star.

So there are lots of papers. Each one should take 20 minutes. I'm on almost at the very end. I'm thinking that by then there will be a lot of resonance that's built up. So I think I'm going to go with aesthetic suggestiveness rather than crystalline forms of reason. Not that the aesthetic version doesn't have its own logic.

But that means I leave out a lot of stuff. One of the things I have to leave out is my argument about how the rift between essence and appearance means we have to use some kind of paraconsistent logic that can accept that some contradictions can be true. Never mind I guess...maybe it will come up in the Q&A...

I tend to want to minimize my talk time because Q&A is very important and it really helps me.

My talk is called “Objects, Aesthetics, Causality.”

Levi Aflame

In this post, a really stunning example of a not-all set if I may make so bold. Really good to read and inspiring. I'm looking forward to our next meeting, soon in NYC!

Nice Post on Bachelard

...and Nietzsche, and Stesichorus, and other things too. And a bit on Heidegger, by Aurelio Madrid, at Luctor et Emergo. I do like The Poetics of Space. Having never seen a photo of Bachelard, I was surprised by his ornate beard.

Finally, a Migraine

...I thought I'd dodged a bullet, but no, my brain chemistry was out of whack and finally a migraine hit today, just now in fact. Time to break out the vasoconstricting pills. So we have a five day long sequence going here.

Time, Entropy, Space: You Know, the Usual

HT Moses Boudourides. Nice short piece on time in physics. Suggestions at the end that time is an emergent property of objects.

John Muir Institute

After about eight years on this job, finally I've been invited to become affiliated with the John Muir Institute for the Environment. It's really a scientific interdisciplinary outfit so it's not too shabby that they didn't figure out I was here until now. And I'll certainly start putting my presence there, in particular on their website, to which I've been asked to add myself.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Essay on Lingis

I did pretty good work today. It's not hard to write something about someone whose work you love. In this case, I'm writing an essay on Alphonso Lingis. Lingis was a big shock for me, in a good way. After reading his translations of Levinas, I realized how important he was for Graham Harman's work, so I got on the case and read Dangerous Emotions and The Imperative.

What then transpired was an enormous relief as I dropped my defenses about the notion of phenomenology and jumped back in. At last I understood something about a field I had dismissed too easily, and at last I'd found someone who argued almost exactly the same about ecology, almost uncannily in one or two cases in The Imperative.

Writing about about someone you really dig is also bound to churn up some fresh ideas, so I'm really enjoying this essay.

By coincidence Lingis's new book came in the post today—it's called Violence and Splendor. I've only been able to glance through it but it's another extraordinary example of a lifetime's thought condensed into sentences that seem so fluid, yet convey such an emotional punch, that you are left reeling from them for hours. And delivered with such a knowledge of the actual Earth and the beings who live on it. Learned is the wrong word, though it certainly is that. A risky adventure, high stakes intensity, immense passion and compassion, backed up by tremendous learning, maybe that's better.

Papering Over the Uncanny

When a friend of mine first visited Nepal, she was horrified by the earthquakes. Nothing could be clearer than the fact that what we think of as a solid support is actually shifting beneath us, a prime example not of solidity but of emptiness.

Never mind: here are some folks talking about how easy it is to ignore the Earth. HT Dirk Felleman.

Music that Tells You How to Meditate

...well it definitely does if you've received mind transmission...

A Bullet Dodged worth two in the chest?

No migraine yet. It's remarkable. That little serotonin in my brain is usually a pretty good signal.

Somewhat self importantly I put it down to my Heidegger reading binge. There is a very nice link between what he says and Buddhism, truly. Herbert Guenther was correct!

See my previous, but I think it was a good move to see the depression as a message from the future. A sort of stepped down call of conscience.

Call it the consolation of philosophy, but today my head feels as clear as Puerto Maldonado after a thunderstorm.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What The Thunder Said

...of course, when I get the message all my being becomes demagnetized and back in sync somehow.

In case you're wondering the last few posts have been about a depressive state that, with 20–20 hindsight, has been going on for about the last 72 hours. It has now evaporated. It was disturbingly intense. It reminded me that for quite some time my whole life seemed saturated with feelings like that.

It's a bit scary how it creeps up on you. You find yourself in it. So much so that it's only later that you can really figure out what was going on. In part this is due to the serious cognitive impairment that's happening (see my previous posts).

In the last post I said that I was tuning in to some kind of information that the depression seems to want to tell me from the future. That's how I think of moods: they are frozen information. In particular depression seems to have a lot of wisdom frozen inside it, like something trapped in glass. A message in a bottle from the future.

It's hard to describe the kind of call that seems to be frozen inside the depression; unless you've experienced it yourself you may not have a good grasp of it. Nevertheless, thanks in no small measure to the kind messages I've been receiving (thank you again), I was able to tune it in somehow.

In essence the message was a kind of summons to do some specific Buddhist practice, but more generally it was sort of what Heidegger describes in terms of the call of conscience. Just a couple of days ago I was thinking of myself in a very limited way; I think I had gotten stuck in my “social I,” my idea of the other's idea of me. Somehow the depression was the hard, frozen end of a lifeline that pulled me out of that.

On realizing this the depression dissolved into that more open, formless state—gosh I don't really even know what you call it. I was re-tuned to Da-sein? I don't know. I played the tune above. It somewhat well evokes the feeling of relief.

Depressive Insight

...okay, this might be a short ride in a fast machine now that some insight is dawning. We shall see.

Thanks for those of you on Twitter who have wished me well!

The trick for me is not trying to figure out how I became depressed. This is so overdetermined, and it's in the past: however I got into the ditch, some kind of ignorance was happening, which is enough of a reason. Ignorance meaning not attending to my basic being. (Perhaps this is just a Buddhist rule of thumb but most bad stuff seems to be the result of that sort of thing.)

The point for me is not to look back and ruminate but instead to try to discern what the depression is telling me about what needs to happen next, as if it's a kind of message in a bottle from the future. I think I heard the message right. More on that in a next post.

But I'm totally misspelling words, sometimes even writing them backwards. I think there is definitely a migraine on its way. I'm now having a fairly common aura in which I can see the underside of the motherboard, if you know what I mean. You don't do you?? That's a good thing,'s actually not too upsetting but if I describe it, it will only seem like a lysergic hallucination.

Oh all right. Seeming to float just below the surface of objects, there is a sort of filigree network of semi-luminous mandala-like patterns everywhere. Don't shoot the messenger! : )

This Could Be a Humdinger Depression

...I bet it will result in a large migraine in about 24 hours. I've had two or three moments of cognitive failure in the last couple of days—just misreading or mishearing something, quite drastically. (Actually that Donna Summer post marks the beginning of that, looking back.) I am now finding it slightly difficult to tell the right from the left side of my body: this is usually evidence that a migraine is imminent...

But in any case this is a real humdinger. Quite destructive thoughts are now occurring.

Illusion and Causality

I've been re-watching Twin Peaks. It's just as disturbing as the first time, if not more so. And for sure it's quite an absorptive aesthetics that Lynch employs.

This leads me to reflect a little on Jackson's observation about absorption (with which he associates OOO, among other things). For Jackson, the illusion has to totally take you in to work. It's sort of like false consciousness that way:

The role of the beholder is that of being entranced by the absorptive style; in so far as the viewer must behold an implicit illusion inherent within the work. The key feature of absorption is hard to pin point, for the precise reason that one cannot be ‘aware’ they are absorbed into something.

I'm not sure whether this is a flaw in Fried himself or not. But my perspective is a little different, borrowing from Lacan's interpretation of Heidegger. I'm a lot more sanguine about illusions. For me, even if you are aware that it's an illusion, the illusion still works. Thus Twin Peaks can be just as scary the second time around.

In other words, if there really is no metalanguage, even if you know “it's an illusion,” it still functions.

This isn't just about art, it's about causality, since for me causality is aesthetic.

The key for me is that the absorption is like an illusion. Notice the “like”: “is an illusion” is too strong, it ruins the the illusoriness in fact (see my previous). It's illusion-like: “What constitutes pretense is that, in the end, you don't know whether it's pretense of not” (Lacan).

For causality to happen, objects don't have to totally deceive other objects. How could they? They are prevented total access. Causality is an illusion-like play, precisely because of the rift between withdrawn essence and aesthetic appearance. That's why it works.

Heidegger vs. Chaka Khan

...Not sure what I was thinking but it is of course Chaka Khan's “Ain't Nobody,” as pointed out by Marc Goodman.

Robert Jackson Megapost on SR

It's very good to read, I think. It's a very elegant spelling out of the pitfalls of what he calls literalism, which he applies to the eliminativist side of speculative realism. In contrast to this, there are the absorption folks, of which I seem to be one. Jackson is very good on how the aesthetic stakes in each case are very different, even perpendicular to one another: what Lyotard would maybe have called a differend. All the way down into the rhetoric used in each kind of speculative philosophy, there are very different expectations for what counts as reading, thinking, and perceiving.

Anonymous Comment on Depression

...which seems appropriate. I can't post it because of my rule about stating names, but I'll transcribe it here, as it's well done:

I find it's like being frozen by a chilling view out of a window and stuck in the landscape that stretches out infinitely before you, and it takes you a while to realize that you have another dimension of movement that allows you to step past the window and move on.

What I particularly like about this description is that it's about a certain kind of artwork: a landscape painting, and the aesthetic screen that goes with it (the window). Indeed paintings code for how to see them, in the same way. It's so compelling that you can't tear yourself away. In my description the window would be the “ice” quality. This is the way in which the significance of the depression is very ambiguous or very cryptic.

Depression is a kind of coexistence with a certain kind of object that compels you. It draws you into itself.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


...well this is interesting. The first big wall of depression I've encountered in a while. I'm not sure what the cause is—in part this is what is depressing. It just arises. Somehow its truth is frozen in my future. Usually the best trick seems to be to stay at the wall, close to the wall, for as long as possible. Then it softens, a little, or gives or melts a little, reveals something. I've experienced a slight softening so far but nothing has been seen.

New Essay on Buddhism and Theory

This is a Buddhaphobia side project—I'll get back into Buddhaphobia once I've finished this book on causality (and maybe quickly chopped out my hyperobjects book). I like the title:

Buddhaphobia: Narcissism, Passivity, Intimacy


...there is something compelling about them (this one in Berkeley in particular). The faces of thousands of different animals crying with joy and pain, and horror. Rotating on the wheel of industrialized life. Riding on a Victorian machine. The lurid wooden cabinets. Or maybe it's the cotton candy.

Harman on Aristotle

...also, having a snub nose and being pale...

Driving to Berkeley's always significantly colder there at this time of year. It's strange wearing clothes I would normally wear in December when I know it's going to be 100+ here in Davis. But we're visiting my sister in law who is about to become a fully licensed Lutheran minister. That means she gets her own church.

The Clock of the Long Now Boing Boings

HT Austin Walker. I've been following this for about three years now. The clock is old school mechanical and it's designed to run for 10 000 years. It's a nice idea isn't it? It's going in Realist Magic. Finally somehow the clock made it to Boing Boing.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Another Ecological Thought Review

In the latest issue of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment 18.2.

The Word “Phenomenology”

True story: it was the first word that really excited me as I was studying for my first year at Oxford. I was reading Terry Eagleton's book Literary Theory: An Introduction. Amidst the rather English sneering at everything, I caught something about phenomenology that I found very exciting.

This was confirmed, somehow, by a trip to Paris later that year—it was my year between school and university—in which I found an incredible photography exhibition and a movie by Alain Robbe-Grillet. And the Centre Georges Pompidou. And the Orangerie where Monet's Water Lilies are.

Somehow all these things connected for me, in that late adolescent improvisatory way. So upon my arrival at university one of the first big words out of my lips was “phenomenology”—so much so that this one guy started to call me Phenom. I wrote very phenomenological essays about Robert Browning, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Samuel Beckett. I was Serious.

Something about phenomenology was refreshing and weird. Having revisited that lost world for almost a year now, I can safely say how happy I am to be back. I drank some kind of Kool Aid. Phenomenology was doubly dissed, by Oxford snootiness and Derridean deconstruction. I stopped using the word and thinking of myself that way.

Fantasy Cover for Realist Magic

...but Wolf Guenther Thiel. Look how the tree seems like a tree-void that negates its own color field.

Felix Hess, Air Pressure Fluctuations

...I'd read about this work in David Toop's book Haunted Weather. It goes like this:

Get some infrasound mikes. Record in your home for 15 days. Speed up the result 360 times normal.

One hears high-pitched whistles, beeps and insect-like buzzes ... which come from the deep rumblings of factories, trains, and trucks and other motor cars, or even nearby washing machines. The opening and closing of doors gives rise to countless tiny clicks, which may add up to form a sound like soft rain on autumn leaves ... Finally, an extraordinary presence: a rich, deep drone, originally at 0.2Hz, audible like a multi-engined heavy airplane in the distance. This deep droning sound, at times all but inaudible, is formed by oscillations in the atmosphere—microbarons—caused by standing waves on the Atlantic Ocean, far away. The space is very wide.

I just got the CD and I'm listening as I write this. I was excited enough by the concept to talk about it in my books a little, but this is the first time I've actually heard it. It's going straight into my Queen Mary talk. Hyperobjects.

“Aesthetics All the Way Down”: Three Ways of Avoiding OOO

There seem to be two main ways of avoiding OOO:

1) Undermining. Things are reducible to smaller entities such as particles. Or things are only instantiations of deeper processes.

2) Overmining. This has to do with the tendency to view objects as blank lumps with their appearances glued to their superfices, or added by some "perceiver."

This means that objects are basically blah until they interact with other objects.

Instead I would rather locate a rift between appearance and essence within the object itself. This means we have to accept some kind of paraconsistent, possibly dialetheic logic that allows things to be what they seem, and not what they seem, simultaneously. Otherwise we are back to default substances-plastered-with-accidents.

Now we can discern a third way of avoiding OOO. This would be to claim the inverse of (2):

(3) There are no substances, and it's all appearance-for, all aesthetics all the way down. I believe this might be Steven Shaviro's position.

Now I want to preserve the rift between appearance and essence. Why? Because this preserves, paradoxically, the very aesthetic-ness of the aesthetic dimension.

Look at it this way. If reality was “aesthetics all the way down” (which is Shaviro's view of Whitehead) then we would KNOW it was “just” an illusion: so it wouldn’t be an illusion. We would know that it was pretense—so it wouldn’t be pretense. We would have a kind of inverted onto-theology of pure affects without substances.

“What constitutes pretense is that, in the end, you don't know whether it's pretense or not” (Lacan). True dat.

Until thinking is ready to accept that objects can be intrinsically unstable, both essential and aesthetic at the same time, we are stuck with options (1)–(3), all of which are ways of avoiding OOO.

Once we accept this inherent instability, the rift between essence and appearance, we don't need to have objects pushed around by processes or particles, or others' perceptions of them. They can do just fine on their own. This seems to be the case with a single quantum, as various posts of mine have made clear (this one for instance). 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Woodard on Process

I'm very slow to this series of posts, for nefarious reasons of my own: I'm doing an awful lot of writing, maybe too much. So here is a link to the first one in the series, Ben Woodard on process philosophy.

Ian Bogost has responded with a precis of Woodard's argument:

Ben argues that thinkers of process are stuck "in the twilight of becoming" and content to allow "becoming to be utilized as an escape hatch in argumentation."
This is pretty much my position. More soon. 

Caputo on Hägglund

This new essay by John Caputo on Martin Hägglund is pretty neat. HT Dirk Felleman.

In my view it presents a certain deconstruction, and a certain logic of deconstruction, but in an abridged edition of Derrida cut to fit the new materialism, all scrubbed up and sanitized, nothing written in the margins, deconstruction as logic not écriture.

Counter-Intuitive Ph.D. Advice

...if it's good enough: just start writing. Before you do your prospectus! I just gave this advice to a really great student.

It's how it works when you write a book. You write the book first, then you write the proposal. No one in their right mind would write the proposal first...

Warning: this only really works if you're very inspired and devoted to your subject. And it still takes some digging and some reflecting. But you do that already—because you're into it.

Holdsworth: Possibly His Best Solo at the the end of this tune, “Antillia” by David Hines. It's “best” in the way that something further out in the stratosphere is “higher” than something 55 000 feet high... I have recently been called a prog nerd and fully intend to make good on this label. I like the Weather Report-y intro to this.

Heidegger vs. Donna Summer

My friend the poet Joe Wenderoth suggested I listen to Louis Armstrong while reading Heidegger to keep Heidegger “honest.” Since I have only one tape of Armstrong, I'm trying Donna Summer, “Aint Nobody” juxtaposed with Being and Time. Actually it seems to work amazingly well. Anything to subtract the onto-theology.

And while we're on the subject, I ordered Lingis's new book a couple of days ago. Can't wait to read it. And some Michel Henry.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Chad Wackerman (drums), Allan Holdsworth (guitar) doesn't get very much better than this. If it does, do dial 911. You are on fire.

Heidegger Waits

My sister in law is studying at a Lutheran seminary in Berkeley. She's about to begin her residence in Eugene Oregon.

I persuaded her that Heidegger was cool so now she has ordered it. She said it would be waiting for her in her new house up there.

Suddenly this struck me as rather Heideggerian. An empty house, with a copy of Being and Time sitting on the doorstep, waiting for the reader. In the future...

Ph.D. conversations

I'm having some conversations this week with my emerging Ph.D. students. In each case I've transitioned from “obnoxious assassin” to “micromanaging bastard” (see my previous on my advising arc). This is largely because as I've come to appreciate these students' way of thinking, I've learned to trust what they do.

These are both students about whom I have no worries. Why? Along with being very very smart, they are also very devoted to their subject. If you love what you do, that's about 85% of a Ph.D. right there.

Bare Life and the Deodand

Deodand is a medieval legal term. It's now defunct but outbreaks of deodand-ism persist. The famous case, I think Elaine Scarry writes about it, is the one of the US soldiers shooting a tree for injuring one of their colleagues.

Then there was the case of the train, one of the first trains, that killed the mayor of the southern English town in which it was first run. The townspeople tried the train and whipped it, as punishment, if memory serves. 

On Twitter I've been discussing how animals such as polar bears (Norway) and sharks (Seychelles, here) are singled out for special punishment if they injure humans.

Is there not some object-oriented way of thinking about bare life buried in this phenomenon? Deodand means given to God—objectum sacrum? Like homo sacer?

The Grasping Channel

...someone's been watching the moronoscope! HT Bill Benzon.

Bill Benzon Reads Latour

One of his characteristically thoughtful and lively posts.

He also sent me this video on Coleridge's Kubla Khan. It's a great translation!

A Different Take on the Debt Deal

The triggers are quite bad for Republicans.

The Ecological Thought Reviewed in Tikkun the “Tikkun Recommends” section at the very back, also available online:

Timothy Morton has a unique take on ecology that challenges much of the alternative consciousness that floats around on the periphery of environmental circles. He offers a profound take on human possibilities. To Morton, human society and Nature are not two distinct things but rather two different angles on the same thing. We have been “terraforming Earth all along—now we have the chance to face up to this fact and to our coexistence with all beings,” he writes. The destruction of Nature is neither inevitable nor impossible—we have a choice. But we must recognize that the language of sustainability becomes a weapon in the hands of global corporations that would like nothing better than to reproduce themselves in perpetuity. Ecological thought, he writes, must conceive of post-capitalist pleasures: not bourgeois pleasure for the masses, but forms of new, broader, more rational pleasure; not boring, over-stimulating bourgeois reality, and not fridges and and cars and anorexia for all, but rather a world of being (as opposed to having). How to care for the neighbor, the stranger, and the hyper-object are the long-term problems posed by ecological thought. Ecological thought forces us to invent ways of being together that don't depend on self-interest.

I'm tickled pink by this very thoughtful and well designed review. Even hyperobjects get a mention!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

“Lab Grown Bespoke Materials”

Amy Congdon has taken up a residency at SymbioticA in Perth, where I gave a talk last year. She's studying possibilities of using tissue samples to grow tissue using bio-inkjet printing.

Would you wear lab grown ivory? Or eat lab grown meat? My first reaction to both is no. I'm not yet sure of all the reasons, and I haven't thought it through very much. But I have a negative reaction to the idea of preserving the fantasy along with the fantasy support, in both cases, perhaps in an even purer form since both items are now definitely human made.

There's a Firesign Theater piece, an ad for “plump, sugar fed meat” that I recall.

Robert Pasnau on Medieval Metaphysics

HT Dirk Felleman for putting me on to this interview with him. Anyone who studies the rise and fall of metaphysics from Aquinas to the seventeenth century has my vote. We're stuck with the legacy of that era, the seventeenth century I mean. Anyone can see the chasm between Leibniz and Spinoza on one side of the chasm, and Kant and Hegel on the other side. From speculation to correlation. Something in the DNA of the default metaphysics, and something in the DNA of the early modern understanding of rhetoric and science, I reckon.

Does My Body Really Want Me Dead?

(1) For me it's more like mechanical periodicity makes us project: "my computer wants to go to sleep now," "this washing machine wants to have less laundry in it."

My point is that the periodicity doesn't care about you--it's indifferent. To me this is the essence of death drive.

(2) Nevertheless, we have to ask why repetition and periodicity happen at all. Fundamental, structural inconsistencies in lifeforms (and I'd argue in all objects). These inconsistencies are like logical contradictions. They result in infinite loops.

I grind my teeth at night presumably because my brain detects some inconsistency between my teeth and my jaw. Slowly my brain grinds them to an equilibrium state: the lack of teeth.

A Crucial Ultramarine Question

...thanks Adrian Ivakhiv for asking where the Yes sample is. It's from Close to the Edge, it's the birdsong and water sounds from the first half minute or so of the tune, and it comes on at the start of “Lights in My Brain.” Thanks to others of you who have written in expressing fondness for Every Man and Woman Is a Star.

Mark Fisher on Joy Division

On returning home yesterday I put on Full of Dust and Guitars, a 4AD compilation that features a rare This Mortal Coil piece with Liz Fraser (“Sixteen Days/Gathering Dust”). I was in that sort of mood. So when I was looking for Joy Division's image of the quasar (what else for the Thinking Nature cfp??) came across this wonderful post on Joy Division by Mark Fisher. Brilliant is what it is.

Thinking Nature 2 CFP

Ben Woodard and I welcome your essays for the second issue of Thinking Nature. The topic for issue 2 is aesthetics.

Naturally (haha) we encourage essays to think as openly and speculatively as possible about the question of aesthetics. How human is the aesthetic? How bound up with sentience is it? Is even the human aesthetic dimension truly a human dimension? And so on.

Deadline: January 1 2012. Email me with your essay, or email Ben.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Super-Natural Garden Brooklyn at the Botanic Garden, designed by Simone Ferracina:

Super-Natural Garden is an on-going project aimed at the digital extension of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York City. Visitors looking at the Garden through the technological lens of smart phones and headset devices will discover it expanded by electronic ecologies, augmented by scattered digital performances: cybernetic dances, transformations and emergences. Electronic weeds will insinuate themselves into the life of the Garden, establishing varying degrees of dependence on real-world plants and on each other, from competition and parasitism to coupling and symbiosis. They will broaden and diffuse the boundaries of the Garden into a sort of cyborgian “extended phenotype,” an augmented geography of interconnectedness and interaction. Their invasive character, rather than symbolizing the instinctual power of a holistic “Nature” as in the weeds described by architect Louis Sullivan, will present visitors with the presumed paradox of a human-designed Nature.

They are extremely beautiful. Simone edits Organs Everywhere which might easily be my new favorite place to go. I don't want to say very much right now about what I'm only seeing for the first time. But I'll say this: it's remarkable to me that this kind of attention is now being paid to non-animal lifeforms such as plants. The idea roughly is a very creative sweet spot between origami, robotics and the old art of botanical drawing, botany having been coded female since the eighteenth century when thousands of amateur woman botanists (they couldn't go to university remember) did their thing, including the poet Charlotte Smith, whose Beachy Head is a masterpiece of the genre. 

In a more general sense I'm very interested in non-aggressive irony—maybe it's just because I'm a whimsical Brit at heart, but I think there's some liberating potential there, and something like an acknowledgement of coexistence with other lifeforms.  Simone Ferracina's has this quality, which I like very much.

Most Creative Use of Close to the Edge Award

...goes to these guys, Ultramarine, “Lights in My Brain.” I have to admit DJ Spooky's remix of this is incredible. Good example of bitonality in dance music. I always feel that's a good effect. The vocal sample is Robert Wyatt from the first Soft Machine album. It sums up a lot of what I feel about reality. But why?

Freud's Brain on DMT?

I find it strange that Freud dreamed of a meaningless chemical formula called trimethylamine, at the end of his dream of Irma's injection. Why? Because although Žižek argues that it's precisely the meaningless of the term that is significant (the empty real of the symbolic), the term does suggest a meaning. Because it sounds ever so like dimethyltryptamine, DMT, which occurs naturally in the brain and may well be responsible for dreaming itself.

Freud could not have known this since DMT was only synthesized in 1931. Rick Strassman hypothesizes that the brain releases DMT at death, hence near death experiences, which are remarkably similar. I've had them often because of sleep apnea. The roaring rushing sound “like the roar of rushing waters” as they say (Ezekiel), while there opens in one's field of vision a gigantic chrysanthemum of scintillating light (DMT users report this phantasm very often). Before I got the CPAP machine, this is what happened almost every night because my brain stopped my breathing every three minutes.

Although I only dreamed for about 2 minutes a night (crazy right) it seemed as if thousands of years were going past. The best moment was when my teacher Tsoknyi Rinpoche gave us mind transmission by asking us to look up at the ceiling. When I did so, I saw what appeared to the ceiling of a mirror mosque like the image above (from Shiraz). The mirrored surface was sparkling, but it was also hissing—rapidly it started to become the chrysanthemum...

Is it possible that Freud's brain was dreaming about itself? He knew his chemistry and maybe he knew a little bit about such formulas, just not this exact one. It's an uncanny coincidence.

Of course my reaction to the death dreams as a Buddhist was, “Excellent!” Quite often one would be sucked through the chrysanthemum into an obviously after-death state. The best was when Rinpoche and I were wearing hoods that made us look like this:

I kind of miss them. 

Winter Poetry Class

I shall record it no doubt. Its official title is Topics in Poetry and the required subtitle, which I just thought up, is:

How to Read Any Poem, Anywhere

Manifesto of Non-Visible Art

From MONA. (I have of course my OOO take on on)



Art itself is nothing.

All that matters is what is left.

The afterglow.

The ambition is to produce this.

We strive for an afterglow with no thing preceding.

A glow.



The only surface worth painting is the mind of the viewer.

The viewing of art should not require eyes.

Art should be entoptic.

We strive to force meditation.

The prisoner’s cinema.



Art is without value until it faces the market.

The market purveys value.

Money is banal until it has been spent.

Money spent on art is money transformed.

Money spent is mourned.

This mourning is eased by art.

We strive to enhance mourning.

Mourning is a response to what is not there.

An afterglow.


What you see does not matter.

What you have seen is everything.

All you truly buy is the afterglow.

It has value.


You must pay more for the glow that has no thing.

Nothing before.

Pure after.



You shall not add to the banal.  (You shall not build.)

You shall not litter the world with art. (You shall not make.)

What you have not made must be beautiful.

What you have not made must have value.

You must bring what you have not made to market.

(The market will give it value.)

You must give to the market absence.

(Money is banal until spent.)

You must offer the market anguish.

(What is spent is painful.)

You must make the market beautiful.

(Nothing beautiful without pain.)

You must increase the world behind the eyes.

The wreck of the Medusa.

It left us with phosphenes.

You must conjure them and sell them.

Only when you have done this are you one of us.

By Douglas Anthony Cooper
In accordance with Praxis
(Brainard and Delia Carey)

Medial Art

Now that I think about it some more this really is a good concept. David Reid was trying to push me there in late June in London, but my jet-lagged head wouldn't respond.

So I just ordered Air Pressure Fluctuations, by Felix Hess. It's a recording of standing waves over the Atlantic. You put contact mikes on your apartment windows. Then you record for five days. Then you speed up the recording 360 times normal. Traffic sounds rise to the tinkling of tiny insects. And you start to hear a periodic hum—the sound of pressure waves over the ocean.

It's like Heidegger says: you never hear the wind in itself, only the wind in the doorway. Music, in its mediality, is just the translation of one object by another.

Against Malleable Nature

...some thoughts from the beginning of the essay I'm working on, for the volume with Jameson. The basic argument of the second part is the Hegel and ecology paper I'm doing in London. This part comes earlier:

Malleable Nature is a dream about a certain tiny set of objects, a set that is malleable enough to maintain the stability of the dream. Since to be an entity at all is to be vulnerable to 1+n entities that can destroy you (there is always some externality, as I shall argue here), this dream must be limited. It cannot talk about the entire set of objects in the universe. To be physical is to be fragile. Dreams end somewhere.

The question is, now that we know what we know, do we want to continue imagining different kinds of malleability (capitalism, communism) and is that all we want to do? Note that on this view, even if we achieve some kind of physical enactment of our dream—say we have enough political power and enough Earth shaking equipment—we will still be dreaming. Dreaming in a world in which humans coexist with a plenum of actual entities, a very large finitude of real beings such as glass, potato viroids, kerosene, gar and oyster catchers. They are now, we find out to our chagrin, on this side of social space. Always have been. The trouble is, whose social space is it, now that we know that?

Melancholy Objects in Seattle

“The Environment, Trauma, and Contemporary Fiction,” at the MLA '12 Convention in Seattle.

Thursday, 1/5 at 7:00-8:15pm  in Room 606 Washington State Convention Center

Presiding: Suzanne LaLonde, Univ. of Texas, Brownsville

1. “Melancholy Objects,” Timothy Morton, Univ. of California, Davis
2. “The Bestiary and Modern Imagination,” Bernhard F. Malkmus, Ohio State Univ., Columbus
3. “Toxicity and Trauma in Indra Sinha's Animal's People,” Laura McGavin, Queen's University
4. “Eros and Thanatos in an Amazonian Encounter,” Luis Rodriguez-Abad, Univ. of Texas, Brownsville

New Title for States of Theory

This one sounds better to me:

From Modernity to the Anthropocene: Ecology and in the Age of Asymmetry

There's a nice epigraph, my favorite thing Adorno ever said:

Progress means: humanity emerges from its spellbound state no longer under the spell of progress as well, itself nature, by becoming aware of its own indigenousness to nature and by halting the mastery over nature through which nature continues its mastery. (“Progress”)

CPAP Lamella

Of course, it just occurred to me, didn't know why I didn't think of this earlier. The CPAP mask, with its smooth fitting silicone, is precisely Lacan's lamella, the “flap of skin” (Latin, “A thin scale, plate, or layer of bone or tissue, as in the gills of a bivalve mollusk or around the minute vascular canals in bone”):

Whenever the membranes of the egg in which the foetus emerges on its way to becoming a new-born are broken, imagine for a moment that something flies off, and that one can do it with an egg as easily as with a man, namely the hommelette, or the lamella. The lamella is something extra-flat, which moves like the amoeba. It is just a little more complicated. But it goes everywhere. And as it is something - I will tell you shortly why - that is related to what the sexed being loses in sexuality, it is, like the amoeba in relation to sexed beings, immortal - because it survives any division, and scissiparous intervention. And it can turn around. Well! This is not very reassuring. But suppose it comes and envelopes your face while you are quietly asleep... I can't see how we would not join battle with a being capable of these properties. But it would not be a very convenient battle. This lamella, this organ, whose characteristic is not to exist, but which is nevertheless an organ - I can give you more details as to its zoological place - is the libido. It is the libido, qua pure life instinct, that is to say, immortal life, irrepressible life, life that has need of no organ, simplified, indestructible life. It is precisely what is subtracted from the living being by virtue of the fact that it is subject to the cycle of sexed reproduction. And it is of this that all the forms of the objet a that can be enumerated are the representatives, the equivalents.

Yeah I think that just about sums it up. This device wants me to live more than I do. That's pretty scary. And for sure before I had it fitted I felt like I was covered in a horribly sticky film. I don't think I've ever felt so physically abject in my life.

States of Theory

The back story on the talk is that I'm road testing a major chunk of an essay I'm writing for a special issue of The International Social Science Journal. Fredric Jameson, Boris Groys, Sondip Mukherjee and Peter Murphy are writing pieces for it. My title for now is “Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have Just Exited Modernity.”

I find it most helpful to use talks as a place to road test stuff.

Talk Done and Sent

...that's the beauty of Dropbox, you can send a 771MB file as a link...I think it's okay. It takes forever to edit the tiny transitions to voiceover and so on. But it's very satisfying. There's a fun bit in the middle where I play an Aeolian harp mp3 with an image of characters from Pride and Prejudice. It's odd to imagine these guys listening to what we think of as Sonic Youth, but that's pretty much what they did...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Elegy 101 or, Vaughan Williams Goes to the Disco

“I Am a Camera,” by Buggles. I'm a sucker for the huge suspended fifths in the final section, reminiscent of Vaughan Williams. I think this one beats the Yes version of it, with its by turns haunting and sinister melancholy. This is what I use to teach the basic concept of elegy. Sorry about the video quality, which is not “in sync” as promised, very much...nevertheless, it's good to see what Horn was visualizing.

More on Hegel, Ecology, Aesthetics

...over at Arcade, another installment of the intro to this talk I'm doing in London in a few weeks. Basically, why I find using Hegel interesting for talking about ecology and art.

Starting a New Video

...always fun to do that. I started to get the slideshow together while watching an episode of Twin Peaks last night—I'm going through them again having not really seen them since they first happened.

It's very bright this morning. I think I'm going to go with being flooded with light, as it sort of speaks to the issue at hand, which is another iteration of the time of hyperobjects.

It's also the case that given the amount of media saturation we have, a certain crudity is inevitable, since my gear (one laptop camera) just can't compete; yet possibly charming in its own way. We shall see.

When I first showed an mp3 recorder to my colleagues, it was as if I had spoken a string of nonsense words while holding an object that was impossible to see. That was about five years ago and nothing has least in my neck of the woods.