Friday, September 30, 2011
The letters were quite varied: two job letters, one scholarship application, one postdoc research evaluation and one promotion case.
By the way, you'll see that all the job advice is now aggregated on the “Jobs” page: click the tab above.
Thursday, September 29, 2011
I've been tweeting some phrases I enjoyed writing yesterday and today. In particular I like that this essay seems to bring together the OOO strand of my work with the dark ecology strand. Since Freud thinks the death drive beyond life itself, there's no particular reason why this should be difficult. But both sets of thoughts have their own momentum and it's hard sometimes to find a car park in which they can crash into one another properly.
It's an utter cliché to suggest that the Duchampian ready-made is widely misunderstood. It's one of the most breathtakingly understood acts of aesthetic endeavour ever known in Western visual art.
Christopher Ireland: Oh yes, I'm much more rangtong than shentong, you are quite correct in your diagnosis. However, you are quite incorrect to suggest that shentong is the superior view. You may be interested in the following book chapter entitled "Is there such a thing as Shentong-Madhyamika?" written by the Kagyu scholar Karl Brunnhölzl:
In this vein I would thoroughly recommend Klaus-Dieter Mathes' "A Direct Path to the Buddha Within: Gö Lotsawa’s Mahāmudrā Interpretation of the Ratnagotravibhāga" for a very detailed analysis of rangtong and shentong within the Kagyu Mahamudra tradition.
In my opinion, to call the rangtong view nihilism is simply to misunderstand what Nagarjuna calls "the emptiness of emptiness". Once this is understood, appearances become very much easier to deal with, as when it becomes clear that there is nothing above, behind or beyond them one is not so distracted. As you yourself allude to, the accusation of nihilism towards rangtong is a symptom of 1), as this svabhava way of thinking can only conceive a negation of essence as an affirmation of its non-existence. This most certainly is not an issue of mine.
In my first reply to you, I asked you if position 3) was a reformulation of Yogacara. If you do read that chapter by Karl Brunnhölzl, you will see I was referring to shentong. So yes, I guess my original diagnosis of 3) has been confirmed.
So here we are, centuries later, still running around this old chestnut. Cool :)
Tim Morton: Hi--the rangtong view is not nihilism. But you veer close to it by saying that emptiness is the simple absence of anything. At least now we know where we stand and that I haven't forgotten Nagarjuna.
I must say I'm not convinced a Kagyü guy (being one myself) would argue that way, the way the author you mention does. I shall look at this.
One more thing though: if the glass is a mere illusion, how do you know it's an illusion? Isn't it the case that if the glass is just a manifestation of a deeper emptiness, which according to you is total nonexistence, then your perceiving mind doesn't exist either? How can you know anything real?
..and "the emptiness of emptiness" is Chandrakirti. I'm afraid he may agree with me that positing emptiness as anything (such as nonexistence, as you do), is to fall into theism or nihilism. This is why I use Prasangika Madhayamaka, as does Khenpo, who by the way is a Mahamudra master. The whole debate against the Gelugpas was that shentong was definitive. I don't need a scholar to tell me that!
...as for the Yogacharins, they stuck their middle fingers in wax and burned them down to the root to prove their faith in emptiness. By contrast, I am just a simple meditator. There's no need to go that far! So no, I'm not a Yogacharin, and I don't think the argument is particularly Yogacharin. But you seem to need to put me in a box.
Marcus Boon: A fascinating debate ... I don't have my books with me, so I can't check what KTG said in his Emptiness book. My understanding is that various people have associated Yogacara and Shentong because they share a belief in a kind of stainless or groundless ground of being -- the ocean of mind in the case of Yogacara, some kind of stainless awareness or thusness in the case of Shentong (Dolpopa talks about Shentong in terms of stained and unstained), The Prasangikas generally would say there is no essence and that the appearance of the object is just the coming together of causes and conditions through acts of designation or labelling. It's a tricky point, but I think generally a Prasangika would say that there is no object per se (since everything lacks self-existence), and no withdrawn object either, all you can speak of is an object that appears. That object which appears either has no essence since it appears in dependence on causes or conditions ... or ... well, Tim, you seem to be saying that the essence of the object is the way in which it appears. The way in which the object appears is empty of self-existence. Thus shunya ... and shunyatta. Khenpo Tsultrim's version of Shentong, if I recall, says that the Prasangika positions, outlined thus, is correct, but that there is a stainless ground there, which is the same as emptiness, therefore also the same as the relative forms which arise in/as emptiness ... but which appears as essence or ground to the advanced meditator. But ... he doesn't say that it's an object. And this is where I struggle with the OOO stuff ...if the object that appears "withdraws" or "dissolves" into emptiness ... then it's no longer an object. As soon as you posit it as a withdrawn object you're introducing a concept into something that's been defined in advance as being non-conceptual, because it's free of the stains of relative existence. You can't even call it "something" or "it" ... it's not ontic, or ontological ... but it's also not nothing.
Maybe we should be talking about a luminous awareness oriented ontology?
Note that most Prasangikas would say that KTG's assertions mean that he's not really a Prasangika Madhyamaka. I'm attracted to his point of view, as you are, Tim ...
C: It is a fascinating debate, and I most certainly intend it as an open ended one and not as a device to prove my view superior to yours by boxing you into an inferior one. I too struggle with OOO in the same was as
To begin with, the words "emptiness of emptiness" were not pronounced by Nagarjuna in his Mulamadhyamakakarika, to my knowledge. However, he does make the point very clear in XIII:8 ( http://goo.gl/hBEi6 ), in XXIV:18-40 he makes a detailed analysis of it ( http://goo.gl/f54jN ) and the text ends with a clear pointer to it XXVII:30:
"I bow down to Gautama, whose kindness holds one close, who revealed the sublime dharma in order to let go of all views."
"I prostrate to Gautama, who through compassion, taught the doctrine which leads to the relinquishing of all views."
I also understand that Nagarjuna makes his discussion of "positionlessness" even more explicit in his Vigrahavyavartani, although I have not read that text.
I'm also sorry if I have given you the impression that I view emptiness as nonexistence. Again I will reiterate that this is not the case. One thing is holding a view for expediency's sake in order to bring somebody to liberation, and another thing is holding a view as a lens through which to interpret experience. Holding the view that phenomena are ultimately nonexistent is, in fact, an example of an expedient view which can be clearly seen deployed in a teaching on Milarepa by KTG himself ( see Milarepa's vajra song at the end of http://goo.gl/xHHX7 ).
So, I'd like to ask you Tim, what is your aim in OOO philosophy? Is it, as it was for Wittgenstein, "to show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle"?
BTW, one serious defect in Google+ seems to me to be the fact that these comments can be edited even after they have been replied to. This can shift the replies out of their original context and can make them seem even more nonsensical than they originally were :) does, hence my reason for entering into conversation with you in the first place.
T: Hi guys. I've only ever used the "edit" function to correct a spelling error, I think.
Well I haven't talked about how Buddhism relates to OOO here yet, but Marcus since you asked. The object doesn't exist and then withdraw. Its withdrawal is its existence. "Withdraw" is not a good word maybe, but other words are also not good. Withdrawal is not an ontic fact among other facts (the glass is round, sparkling, etc.)
To say that appearance is empty of essence is not necessarily to say that one appearance is as good as another. For instance, there is such a thing as real relative truth. In this sense, the glass is not merely an illusion. This is why Trungpa Rinpoche can talk about meditation as a form of realism (see my blog spot from earlier today).
"Essence" doesn't have to mean "solidity" or "ontic givenness" or whatever. "Ontological" doesn't have to mean onto-theological, either. I now have no problem using this seemingly dirty word.
It's pretty cost free in today's culture to talk about emptiness being the lack of essence. Everyone is at it, from Shell Oil to Karen Barad. That was my point in the Adbusters essay.
On the Dzogchen view, which is what I really hold, rather than the Prasangika, all beings (whether classified as sentient or not) are Buddhas. Now that's what I call withdrawal! So no, this is not luminous awareness ontology, not if it means "Yet again I can ignore my footprint in the biosphere."
Rigpa has an "essence" (Tibetan, ngowo, that's what it means). "The essence, empty, dharmakaya." From this emptiness arises compassion and clarity. Emptiness is not the total lack of characteristics, otherwise you could easily say that hatred was as valid as compassion, since both are equally empty.
In the practice of meditation, having developed a sense of trust in oneself, slowly that expands its expression outward, and the world becomes a friendly world rather than a hostile world. You could say that you have changed the world: you have become the king or queen of the universe. On the other hand, you can’t exactly say that, because the world has come toward you, to return your friendship. It tried all kinds of harsh ways to deal with you at the beginning, but finally the world and you begin to speak with each other, and the world becomes a real world, a completely real world, not at all an illusory world or a confused world. It is a real world. You begin to realize the reality of elements, the reality of time and space, the reality of emotions—the reality of everything.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
I will present a series of design strategies that generate a spatial complexity informed by the rural environment of a seaside pier, a theatre of the bizarre – a freak show, a chemical photographic process and a cyborg, a storefront in an urban environment. (Yorgos Loizos)
Immediately of course I decided to call the essay “Freak Show Ecology.” I'm enjoying it immensely. My argument? Ecology is a freak show! It's also wonderful to write for designers. As my brief experiences with Cameron Tonkinwise showed me, they are really creative, curious, counter-intuitive people.
Here is the passage in my essay we've been discussing:
Modern life presents us with a choice:
1) The essence of things is elsewhere (in the deep structure of capital, the unconscious, Being).
2) There is no essence.
At present I believe that the restriction of rightness and coolness to this choice is one reason why planet Earth is in big trouble right now. And I believe that the choice resembles a choice between grayish brown and brownish gray.That’s why I believe in option 3):
3) There is an essence, and it’s right here, in the object resplendent with its sensual qualities yet withdrawn.
C: wherefore Nagarjuna? Or is 3) a modern reformulation of Yogacara?
T: Does Nagarjuna argue that nothing exists?
C: No, he doesn't, but he does argue that things don't have essences.
T: This glass is identical to this pen, since it has no essence?
C: In terms of having no essence, then of course the pen and glass are identical. You know how all the arguments go at least as well as I do. Causes and conditions. Interdependent arising. My question really is, therefore, why you would choose 3) over 2)?
T: You see emptiness as different from the glass?
C: Emptiness isn't a thing, and as such can't be different or identical to things. If I say to you that I have no money, you can't then ask me to give you the money I don't have.
T: Do you disagree with the phrase "emptiness is no other than form"?
C: Not at all. Emptiness is the interdependence of form - without form there would be no emptiness to speak of. And if form really did have independent essence, there would be no form to speak of either.
T: For something to be interdependent with something else, it has to be different, right? If it was the same, it couldn't be related to it--because it would be exactly the same. Yes?
C: Difference is relative to identity. There would be nothing that appeared the same if there wasn't anything that appeared different. Why do some things appear different whilst others appear identical? Is this difference and identity a characteristic of the object? Or a characteristic of the mind of the observer? Where is difference and identity?
T: This glass is the same as an "identical" glass?
C: If two things were identical in all aspects we could never see them as two things. Then we have the situation described by the Goliath and Lumpl example ( http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/supervenience/#5.5 ). We could say that emptiness is a defence of a negative answer to the "grounding problem". Does OOP offer a positive answer to this problem?
T: Hi Christopher. I seem to be making some progress here towards understanding your position. It seems as if for you, emptiness is the essence of things: it subtends the glass and the pencil equally. Now you may not like the term "essence" but here and in my piece it doesn't mean "ground." To think it thus is more like what you are doing, so ironically you seem to adhere to position 1). I put it to you that you are really advocating position 1). The essence of things is "elsewhere" than their form. No matter how this glass appears to me, really it is not a glass, just an appearance of one. Yet you are worried about the idea of essence at all, and so you also want to assert 2: "there is no essence."
In Madhyamika this is known as rangtong: "emptiness of self." "Lack of essence" as you say. Yet your agreement with me about the difference between a glass and an identical glass suggests that there remains a puzzle concerning what to do with appearances. For the rangtong view, the glass is only a mistaken appearance of a generalized emptiness.
But there is a higher view of emptiness, known as shentong, "emptiness of other." This is the fully Prasangika Madhamaka view, via which I have been questioning you. Emptiness is not just blah or nothing at all. It is endowed with all the qualities of a Buddha. The glass is not empty despite its glass-ness, but because of it. Position 3) is akin to the shentong view of emptiness.
I highly recommend that you read Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso, Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness.
Most Westerners do indeed think that emptiness is nothing at all or that it underlies things (somewhere between positions 1 and 2). This view tends towards nihilism, which as I suggest, is part of the big problem modernity has. Either there is no essence (2)--emptiness is just "lack of essence." Or there is an essence, but not in appearance.
This is a big mistake, first introduced by Hegel. See my essay "Hegel on Buddhism," which you can find online. The glass analogy was first used by my teacher, Tsoknyi Rinpoche. For him, the reason why the glass embodies emptiness is not because it isn't real--but because it is. This is because he accepts the highest possible view of emptiness, the shentong.
The key to my diagnosis of nihilism was when you said that emptiness was neither "in" nor "not in" the glass. This is the fourth possible mistake Nagarjuna outlines in his tetralemma. The neither-nor position is nihilism. On this view, it doesn't matter that the glass is a glass. Likewise, it might not matter whether you meditate or commit a murder: both are equally devoid or essence, right? Danger.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
In Lapland. HT @micapam (Joshua Mostafa). Play without sound. My friend from Trondheim, Norway, says that the secret about the aurora is, it comes right up to your face—while you're walking down the street...
Alain Badiou relies on ZF in his ontology. Thus these two recently published statements (on lacan.com) aren't surprising:
1) "[T]he degree of something’s identity to itself in a world is its existence in this world."
2) "We define death as the coming of a minimal value of existence for a thing endowed with a positive evaluation of its identity."
My recent work argues the precise opposite. Existence is marked by as much incoherence as possible. Death is reduction to consistency. For a thing to exist is for it to be non-identical.
The world that 1) and 2) enable is the boring world of overmining, where things are blah until they interact. Hence:
3) "A thing is not yet an object. Like the hero of the great novel by Robert Musil, a thing is something without qualities. We must think of the thing before its objectivation in a precise world."
By Prudence Whittlesey actually, but the effect was one of having just died. This is the first bardo, the ground luminosity. The other point being that paint is seen in the act of liberating itself from hands and brushes. It was an astonishing dance that Prudence did, with her left hand not touching the paper, but holding brushes anyway, like a counterweight, the dark left hand to balance out the forces of rectitude. While she held me with her glittering eye, as they say. “Stay” was her one command as she danced around the room, a dance of death, happy death, intent on its prey, or its love, with brushes.
Moreover, Aneeta and I were on the same page about the role of movies in guiding people's minds. Žižek's idea about how films don't tell you what to desire, but how. For me it has to do with how to convince the American chicken.
It's that joke about the guy who is paranoid he's being persecuted by a giant chicken. He is cured in an asylum only to return a few weeks later white as a sheet and sweating. The head psychiatrist insists, “But you were cured.” The guy replies—“I know, but try telling that to the chicken.”
Americans in particular are in this position vis a vis ecological awareness. They think they know, but the chicken doesn't yet realize that she doesn't exist.
Monday, September 26, 2011
Graham Harman discovered a gigantic coral reef of withdrawn entities beneath the Heideggerian submarine of Da-sein, which itself is operating at an ontological depth way below the choppy surface of philosophy, beset by the winds of epistemology, and infested with the sharks of materialism, idealism, empiricism and most of the other isms that have defined what is and what isn't for the last several hundred years. At a moment when the term ontology was left alone like a piece of well chewed old chewing gum that no one wants to have anything to do with, object-oriented ontology (OOO) has put it back on the table. The coral reef isn't going anywhere and once you have discovered it, you can't un-discover it. And it seems to be teeming with strange facts. The first fact is that the entities in the reef—we call them “objects” somewhat provocatively—constitute all there is: from doughnuts to dogfish to the Dog Star to Dobermans to Snoop Doggy Dogg. People, plastic clothes pegs, piranhas and particles are all objects. And they are all pretty much the same, at this depth. There is not much of a distinction between life and non-life (as there isn't in contemporary life science). And there is not much of a distinction between intelligence and non-intelligence (as there is in contemporary artificial intelligence theory). A lot of these distinctions are made by humans, for humans (anthropocentrism).
Featured in this issue:
- Chris Hedges on why he fights
- Timothy Morton on peak nature
- Visual essay exploring John Berger's worst nightmare
- Mahathir Mohanad offers a trenchant critic of excessive materialism
- Federico Campagna on the need to unite activists
- Modern and pomo art are situated like never before
- African famine cast under an old lens
- and much more …
Sunday, September 25, 2011
The conference will examine sustainable philosophies and practices from eastern and indigenous perspectives.
- 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
This is not news to anyone who has been thinking about the extended phenotype—the way DNA and RNA do not stop at the edge of your skin. A spider's web, for instance, is an expression of spider DNA. It turns out that some of our body's behavior might be an expression of plant genomes.
Really interesting. Are you bothered by the press-rel-ese ("Our natural visual experience is like watching a movie"...)?
I'm not sure. First of all, scientists can't be totally trusted to know exactly what they are doing or finding : )
Second of all, the “movie” part speaks to a certain Platonism that my OOO has little trouble with. I mean, every sensual interaction between any entity involves a distorted “translation.” So we can be wide awake, dreaming at the same time, in reality, not in some abstract box separated from it.
As far as I can see this result is very good for OOO.
This is the most telling video for me. It shows how similar the three fMRI subjects' imagery was. What this says to me is that phenomenology is right on the money. You don't see a lot of little dots that you resolve into Steve Martin or a parrot. Steve Martin and the parrot are right there, as themselves, whole. It also implies that your mind is “out there” not in some little isolated box. It's out there in an interobjective space translating Steve Martin and the parrot into a parody of themselves. Not pure abstraction.
Looking at the images are “sprouts of enjoyment” emerging from the brain—the other way around, that is—they uncannily resemble the mimoids produced by the sentient ocean Solaris.
Now Realist Magic was a deliberately planned philosophy book from the get go. And what I realized is that your sense of your audience causes you to want to write as rigorously as possible. Of course there has to be rigor and good arguments. But you can easily become defensive. This can lead you to become brittle. Which can lead to your arguments being easier to snap, ironically.
It's living proof that there is no metalanguage. The more you hedge your argument about with defenses, the more enmeshed in a brittle structure you become. I can see how easily it happens and I can see how it works in some of the Analytic books I'm reading right now. Soon there is no breathing room.
I'm also about to start the fourth of four books that I wanted to read, Analytic studies of causality. I'm taking notes on those and incorporating them as I go. They are hard to get through in the same way that eating dry Weetabix is a bit of a chore. I oscillate between boredom and anxiety, so I guess I may be clinically insane.
Thus have I heard. Once upon a time the Lord was staying at Râgagriha, on the Gridhrakuta mountain, with a numerous assemblage of monks, twelve hundred monks, all of them Arhats, stainless, free from depravity, self-controlled, thoroughly emancipated in thought and knowledge, of noble breed, (like unto) great elephants, having done their task, done their duty, acquitted their charge, reached the goal; in whom the ties which bound them to existence were wholly destroyed, whose minds were thoroughly emancipated by perfect knowledge, who had reached the utmost perfection in subduing all their thoughts; who were possessed of the transcendent faculties; eminent disciples, such as... [outrageously long list here]
With them were also the sixteen virtuous men to begin with... [etc.] the four divine beings (called) Gandharvakâyikas with many hundred thousand Gandharvas in their suite ... [etc.] further, the four chiefs of the demons followed by many hundred thousand myriads of kotis of demons, viz. the chief of the demons Bali, Kharaskandha, Vemakitri, and Râhu; along with the four Garuda chiefs followed by many hundred thousand myriads of kotis of Garudas ...
Then did those who were assembled and sitting together in that congregation, monks, nuns, male and female lay devotees, gods, Nagas, goblins, Gandharvas, demons, Garudas, Kinnaras, great serpents, men, and beings not human, as well as governors of a region, rulers of armies and rulers of four continents, all of them with their followers, gaze on the Lord in astonishment, in amazement, in ecstasy.
A garuda is a bird that hatches from its egg and launches directly into outer space. A gandharva is a musician of the gods. A naga is a snake being who lives under the earth: it is said that the teachings on emptiness were taken from their realm.
Saturday, September 24, 2011
He also saw as many multitudes of projected bodies as atoms in all lands emanate from each pore of the goddess and stand before all sentient beings praising the vow of practice of universally good enlightening beings, praising the excellence of the vow to ultimately purify all universes, praising purification of all worlds in each moment of thought, praising persistence in entering the powers of buddhas in each moment of thought, showing ceaseless entry into the ocean of principles of the cosmos—equal to the number of atomic particles in all oceans of worlds—in every single moment of thought ...
Friday, September 23, 2011
Other books have been more probing in nature, less certain: The Poetics of Spice, Ecology without Nature, and this one, Realist Magic.
Now the ones that came out as I meant them to were very gratifying. But I learned the most from struggling through the more experimental ones. And I'm still learning from Realist Magic. As I revise it, I keep figuring out what it's saying, and being quite surprised, in a good way.
I know that sounds absurd. But with a project as long as book, sometimes you aren't in charge of all of it. And, in a broader sense, why write anything at all if you know exactly what you're going to say?
Well, there is a reason actually: love. You want to communicate something to people because you love it. The Shelley book and the second ecology book were like that. But the other three are more primordial: they are about being willing to be surprised.
Once I've done some thinking about these books, I'll feel a lot more confident of the project as it stands.
the frightful thing about nihilism is not its much-maligned romance with nothing, but rather it is nihilism's focus on the surface---the frozen frames of film which produce only the illusion of continuous motion---the reduction to appearance---as all there is that should worry us. Nihilism's true folly is an obsession with stasis. Allowing neither acts of nor possibilities for creativity, as dialectical opposition par excellence, nihilism is violence enthroned in a frigid wasteland.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
The reduction of an object to its appearance (“criminal,” “scapegoat,” “cop killer”) is a reduction of an object to consistency. An object is internally riven: it is fundamentally inconsistent. Thus the imposition of consistency is simply violence, at the most profound level on which violence can manifest.
Non-violence, at this level of being, is allowing an object to remain inconsistent. This is why ecological coexistence, the conscious realization of which by humans involves all kinds of awkward hypocrisies and compromises, is so tricky. Ecological coexistence necessitates struggles to allow as wide a variety of inconsistency as possible.
An object is intrinsically nonviolent in this sense, since its very existence is in the mode of coexistence: between it and itself, its form, its notes, its essence—let alone with other objects. It is not that objects are themselves and somehow are constrained to “get along” by relations. An object must get along with itself.
Thus Levinas is wrong, in a subtle sense, to say that my existence as such is a form of violence, quoting Pascal: “My place in the sun is the beginning of all usurpation.” Me and my and I are profoundly ambiguous entities that can only exist as long as there is an uneasy, uncanny face-off between itself, if that is not too strange a way to put it. (One sometimes has to stretch grammar to breaking point to make things clear.)
When the state executes someone, it is committing an act not only of physical but also of ontological violence, reducing an entity to memories, appearances, a news story, a corpse. The reasoning that “this particular execution is justified” only makes things worse, since reason is now co-opted to the side of sheer appearance. If this excuse were the blunt end of a well worked out philosophical view, that view would be total instrumental nihilism.
Philosophy is required in such moments to step up and say things.
One thing is certain for the neck of the woods I'm in: now we seem to have one more entity in the universe that doesn't conform to what Martin Hagglund claims is the unbreakable law of succession given by Derrida.
There are of course many implications if this is verified. It looks already like it's more than likely.
The profundity on time has to do with his Soto training, within the powerful lineage of Dogen. Dogen's being-time is to be explored soon.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
But it’s almost amusing that the human/inanimate divide is such a sacred thing to many contemporary people that they are angered by its metaphorical transgression as well. Indeed, this divide may be the central religious principle of modernism, as Latour decisively and permanently demonstrated in We Have Never Been Modern, a work that refutes so many things that refuse to die.
In its raw state, right now, it's 75 000 words, which is pretty much where I left it last night in the last post, but I worked through the remaining notes. Now I'm just going to scan through it all in one sitting, here with a cup of coffee, listening to In the Absence of Truth by Isis, for the first time. I wonder what I said?!
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Some of you have been enjoying these posts, some of you have not. It's interesting for me, in any case. Writing books is not something you do all the time, so introducing some reflection into the task is quite a good thing.
It's also the case that writing it has been part of the thinking process. Some books I've really known what I was doing before I put pen to paper. I made sure of it. But some books are more experimental: it's just the way it is. This is one of those books. Writing it has forced me to think some things through.
Like just now I came across some arguments about materialism that could do with some extra work, so that pushed me to talk about what Heidegger's as-structure means. (Long story.) It was a very interesting moment: not contradicting what I'd said before, but hugely clarifying it.
How many more lifeforms will become extinct if we keep burning fossil fuels at the current rate?
What other noncarbon options involve less risk? Nuclear? (LOL) Solar? There is plenty of resistance to how solar arrays will destroy habitats too.
Is it too horrific a compromise and too hypocritical a decision to build a wind farm rather than retain the status quo?
I'm speaking to the “harm to wildlife and habitats” people here. We are in the position of someone who knows it would be better to perform a new lifesaving operation. But the risks of the operation are better known than the risks of doing nothing, which largely went unnoticed until recently. On balance it would be best to do the operation.
Well I'm not a Heidegger scholar like Graham. As a literature scholar by training of course I have a big old soft spot for “The Origin of the Work of Art” and “Language,” which are about things, very much so. I am also beginning to be interested in What Is a Thing? which seems to have some resonant arguments in it.
In particular I'd say that to put in context Graham's work on the fourfold structure of objects, you should read “The Origin of the Work of Art.”
One thing I will say. For someone who writes so (supposedly) abstractly about being, there are quite a few pliers, rivets, lizards, bridges, plants, shoes and on and on...in Heidegger.
What's it going to be: landscapes that appear pristine to the eye, with oil pipes running underneath? Or wind farms, with their stark reminder that we have chosen certain ways of life?
Once this position is exposed, the “argument” against wind farms falls back on the “harm to birds” argument. Yet new wind spires are extremely good at not hitting any birds at all. And the jury is still out on whether the blade ones really do the damage some have claimed.
I'm afraid every position we take in the hyperobject global warming is bound to be hypocritical. So I'm happy to be thought of as a hypocrite. I'd rather be a hypocrite than a cynic.
Monday, September 19, 2011
Ian Bogost needs no introduction here but it will be my pleasure to introduce him to all and sundry in the second week of October here. Please circulate widely. Free and open to the public. Voorhies is here (click on the list of buildings on the left).
Don't worry Charles, help is on the way. Graham Harman and I are writing essays for New Literary History even as I speak. Gimme an O, gimme another O ...
There are some suggestive things in this book. I'm trusting my intuition to work on the project right now without too much self censoring. After I've put all the notes in, I'll be able to scan the whole thing for smoothness and coherence.
Perhaps the more recent studies of their history will help challenge the Hobbesian and pessimistic view that human nature necessarily tends towards destruction and violence.
It's why he appeals to Richard Dawkins—that and the fact that he is not a humanities scholar.
And then I'm going to practice (Vajrasattva). It's going to feel very right to do that.
I reached over 70 000 years yesterday and I'm working my way through my notes well, happy that most of them are already in there.
Sunday, September 18, 2011
The book now approaches 70 000 words, which is just about optimal before I polish up the endnotes. I've scoured through 33 of 163 notes on Realist Magic in my database. So I guess I'll keep going.
Right now I'm distinguishing between a study of the aesthetic as a causal dimension and what Terry Eagleton and Paul de Man call “aesthetic ideology” (in slightly different ways). For ages the aesthetic has provided a kind of dating service that those desperate to see subject and object hit it off have used to ill effect.
“How on Earth could you possibly imagine reality without a subject or a sense of self? How can I even imagine brushing my teeth on such a view?” One knee-jerk reaction to OOO proceeds along lines like this. Yet there exist millions of people who go about their business thinking precisely this, every day—and they brush their teeth. They are called Buddhists. Now it may sound strange to both parties that Buddhism and OOO are closely aligned. An OOO philosopher might suppose, for instance, that the way Buddhism talks about “mind” makes it a form of idealism. But by the time you have finished reading this you will see that it is indeed the case that there are deep and fruitful affinities between OOO and Buddhism. I am not asking you to believe this. I am simply asking you to recognize that Buddhism is a kind of OOO. It may not be your kind of OOO.
Saturday, September 17, 2011
67 000 words. Ah, people have gone out shopping, and I can put on Wolves in the Throne Room's new album with impunity and get back to working on this edit of Realist Magic. The first note already has me enthralled.
I have open my blog, as I wrote a lot of posts on the project that I'd like to incorporate somehow. And my database. Who else uses a database to take notes? Not Excel for heaven's sake, I use Filemaker Pro, and the database is now about 25mb in size, having been writing notes in it since 1995. It's very handy. This is good advice actually, for a Ph.D: stop using word files and that crappy search function between files. Bundle everything into Filmaker. You can now embed Word files, images, web pages directly into it.
I totally agree with Slavoj Žižek on this. You draft the book, then suddenly you find yourself editing it. Don't for heaven's sake write it, under any circumstances.
Friday, September 16, 2011
Perhaps one reason why it is so hard to catch causality in the act unless you hold some kind of vicarious or dialetheic view is that the one thing that cannot be done to relations between objects is catch them “before” or “during” the event of their relating. As every good humanities scholar knows, meaning is retroactive. No one ever stood furtively on a street corner in twelfth-century Naples, discussing how they were going to shake up the art world: “Let's start this thing, right. Let's invent perspective and travel round Africa, find the spice islands and rediscover Platonism. Let's call it the Renaissance—that sounds catchy.”
If causality is aesthetic, then events only “take place” after they have happened! To say this is to make the Hegelian point that for something to happen, it has to happen twice.
Citation hunting in particular is a very different beast from writing. So it's very much the best to separate them if you can. Of course this won't always be possible, but with experience it's much the best way.
Every time I hit a wall or have a citation lacuna, I use one particular symbol: (**). Then all I have to do is search for *—the point being that sometimes I may forget to put the brackets or two asterisks, but it's very unlikely that there will be no asterisk at all. I find it's a pretty good way to mark places that need some fixing.
So increases in the word count (up about 1000 since last I wrote) have to do with filling in the lacunae. Eventually I'll start going back over my notes again, as I was doing last night.
The next thing to do after that is to make sure there's enough signposting and guiding in the book. I'm usually quite bad at that.
It's a different writing experience actually. It's the sort of project where thinking happens very frequently while I'm writing. Less autopilot.
And I'm nearly done. So far I have 61 000 words, which has taken a few months. Today I bundled everything into one word file as it worked so well with Hyperobjects. It's going to be very handy, doing this, since there are places where I repeat myself.
Some of those places are necessary. But some places are just sheer repletion and it's time to work on those.
Thanks Tim for posting the Ian Bogost video, a great start to thinking photography and OOO as the new academic year begins; and for myself as a photographer, very helpful to have this just as I have begun revisiting working in a Windogrand and William Klein mode but with an OO view out there on the street. Adding Ian's thought to the work of Paul Caplan and Robert Jackson we have a really interesting set of relations opening up between the worlds of photography and OOO. We are looking forward to continuing to contribute to this relationship at Nottingham Trent University this year.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Seeing Things - OOOIII from Ian Bogost on Vimeo.
The understated elegance and power of this short video, which really says it all, is a thing to behold. I'm just sad Ian wasn't there himself. But this is a superb thing to emerge from that absence.
Shannon Mattern (The New School), introduced by Eugene Thacker. There was a problem with video at that moment. The ethernet cable was hardwired into the media panel, and there was no way for my and Shannon's computers both to fit there. So I'm afraid we only have sound for now. But I shall ask Shannon if we can embed her presentation soon. It was a very rich one indeed so I hope we can do this.
First off, it's just incorrect. As LA style fast food continues to spread around the world, so does obesity.
Secondly, the implication is that somehow the “poor” are actually able to eat themselves silly: a duplicitous, pathologized underclass, almost considered a different species.
Watch Food Inc. to see how easy it is to be caught in a spiral of fast food, especially if you live surrounded by it and you have to drive for hours and hours to work.
Luckily the sound of the plane, and their own corpulent snoozing, put an end to the conversation.
The closing roundtable. Featuring Graham Harman, Levi Bryant, Shannon Mattern, Steven Shaviro, MacKenzie Wark, and me.
This is my talk, “Objects, Aesthetics, Causality.” Sort of a teaser for Realist Magic, which is nearly done. Very nicely introduced by Eugene Thacker too.
This is the first session, moderated by Ken Wark. Graham Harman in effect. Followed by Steven Shaviro, and Aaron Pedinotti. Ken generously punted his question to the end of the day.
My friend Marcus Boon was there, on a trip down from his fellowship at Cornell. And Padraig Timoney was there, was a good guy. Andrew Hageman was there. Many, many others were there. Karen Gregory spoke to me about magic and tarot cards. Questions were very detailed and there seemed to be greater knowledge of OOO in the crowd than I noticed a few months ago (wow almost a year actually) at UCLA.
New York has changed. My cab driver said it was 9/11. People do seem friendlier, able to talk with you rather than just yell. I was pretty freaked out, too, when I lived in NYC for a few years. So I experienced things as hostile in any case. And you can't beat walking up one street and finding everything, just everything you need.
I had so many good conversations—with any luck they will unfold somewhat here.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
I realized when she was painting me, holding me with her eyes in that way she does, and letting the paint do its thing and have its agency on the paper, and letting the paper speak too, that after I die, I think I'm going to be in a studio being painted.
The painter is Death. She is trying to get a likeness. I think that I'm being judged. Or condemned. Or joined. Or danced.
Death has always been trying to get a likeness of me, I notice, since I was born. If she ever got the ultimate, perfect likeness of me, that would be the death of me. A perfect translation. My essence would coincide with my appearance, and I would be dead.
When I arrived at the New School, I felt peeled open and eaten, in a nice way.
But untangling 100' of ethernet cable? Now that is hell.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Yes, that's right. It's a trailer for his new book Human Error. And you thought Bjork had cornered the market in innovative ways to make media? This is very very good I think.
And I've been inhibited from writing any Hyperobjects this last day or so. As OOOIII impinges, I turned my mind to my talk and to my essay for Continent. And the gravity well of Realist Magic is calling me in, and I'm obeying...
It works well, actually. I've written an awful lot Hyperobjects and even if I space it for a few days I'm still on schedule. And when you have a lot of projects, you have to do what you most love in that moment.
And that turns out to be Realist Magic. I had a major revelation about temporality a few weeks ago and I'm going to try to work it in. Right now I'm wondering on the page about how Heidegger could have lost it so badly in the 1930s. It has to do with a crucial mainstay of the argument.
Monday, September 12, 2011
My old friend Zia (the one on the left) wrote this. The midsection must be one of the most blissful things ever written by a human. I use it for my ringtone : ) My awesome brother drummed for them at times. There is a genius feedback harmonic right at the end of Ed's solo, not well rendered by YouTube. Enjoy the ride.
About Garry Winogrand's photographs, and objects. It's very very well done, I think. A real treat, for OOOIII. Lawns are also mentioned. Lawns are my personal object of obsession...
It's always beneficial, I find, to give yourself a schedule that you know you can meet. So I tend to set the bar lower than I could. The book is humming long now, and I think I'll be able to write a significant amount more before I look at any notes, though this may have diminishing returns as I go. It will be interesting to see whether I break this self-imposed rule. There's almost enough of the basic ideas down for it not to matter too much to the smoothness—but not quite.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
“Ecological Ethics after the End of the World”
(That should just about cover it!)
If you're anywhere near the week of speculative realism in NY, why not hop over on the PATH train and go and visit Marina Zurkow's incredible stuff at the Montclair? I've talked about some of her work here, notably Mesocosm and Elixir. Exhibition opens Saturday.
Some years ago wandering hunters in Georgia (ex Soviet Union) discovered a barrel of warm radioactive strontium 90 (or cobalt 60) that kept them warm for several days before they succumbed to radiation sickness.
Can anyone be of assistance?
I'm pretty sure now that I'll be able to get to roughly 40 000 words without breaking open my notes or my previous texts on hyperobjects. Once I get there, I imagine I will break out the notes but not the written stuff, at least not yet. I may use that only at the end (70 000) when I look through to see if there's anything I missed.
Saturday, September 10, 2011
The book will be so much better if I can through compose it without much reference to what I've done by way of preparation.
A marvelous looking new blog by Antoine, who has commented here. It's nice to see Pieter Bruegel's painting that made its way into Solaris on the masthead. That zero-g scene where they float around in front of it it just incredible.
I find myself mostly developing the first part of the book, “What Are Hyperobjects?” The slightly more tricky seeming second part, “The Time of Hyperobjects,” scares me a little bit.
Matt Kaplan Published online 5 September 2011 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2011.518
Our ancestors bred with other species in the Homo genus, according to a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The authors say that up to 2% of the genomes of some modern African populations may originally come from a closely related species. Palaeontologists have long wondered whether modern humans came from a single, genetically isolated population of hominins or whether we are a genetic mix of various hominin species.
Last year, an analysis comparing the Neanderthal genome sequence to that of modern H. sapiens showed that some interbreeding did take place between the two species in Europe some time between 80 and 30,000 years ago and that, to a certain extent, Neanderthals 'live on' in the genes of modern humans. It has been a mystery whether similar genetic mixing took place among Homo species even earlier, before the populations that became modern humans left Africa.
To find out, evolutionary biologist Michael Hammer at the University of Arizona in Tucson and his colleagues studied DNA from two African hunter-gatherer groups, the Biaka Pygmies and the San, as well as from a West African agricultural population known as the Mandenka. Each of these groups is descended from populations that are thought to have remained in Africa, meaning they would have avoided the genetic bottleneck effect that usually occurs with migration. This means the groups show particularly high genetic diversity, which makes their genomes more likely to have retained evidence of ancient genetic mixing.
To find signs of infiltration from other Homo species, the researchers looked at 61 non-coding DNA regions in all three groups. Because direct comparison to archaic specimens wasn't possible, the authors used computer models to simulate how infiltration from different populations might have affected patterns of variation within modern genomes. Then they looked for such patterns of variation in the DNA of the three African populations. On chromosomes 4, 13 and 18, the researchers found genetic regions that were more divergent on average than known modern sequences at the same locations, hinting at a different origin.
Mixing things up Hammer and his colleagues argue that roughly 2% of the genetic material found in these modern African populations was inserted into the human genome some 35,000 years ago. They say these sequences must have come from a now-extinct member of the Homo genus that broke away from the modern human lineage around 700,000 years ago. Hammer says this disproves the conventional view that we are descended from a single population that arose in Africa and replaced all other Homo species without interbreeding. "We need to modify the standard model of human origins," he says. Geneticist Sarah Tishkoff, who studies population genetics and human evolution at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, is more cautious. "This raises the possibility that there may have been ancient admixture with archaic populations," she says.
But some researchers will require yet more convincing. "The authors model differences in very small parameters, such as the difference between no admixture and 1-2% admixture with an archaic population," says anthropologist Brenna Henn, a graduate student at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. "The ability to discern complex models of demographic history with such a small data set, when many of the basic features of African genomes and history remain unknown, concerns me." Tishkoff would also like to see further work. "Analyses of whole genome sequences of these populations will be necessary to more definitively test this hypothesis," she says.
Hammer, M. F. et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1109300108 (2011).
Green, R. E. et al. Science 328, 710-722 (2010).
You know the one thing that's truly frightening for me about Twin Peaks? The fact that the demons and spirits are also suffering and confused, even the good ones. That little dwarf doesn't know what the fuck he's doing, does he?
It's a profoundly Buddhist view.
Maybe I shouldn't be watching this while I write Hyperobjects. For my sanity's sake. But there's almost a logic to that. I've already talked about it a bit in the book and mean to do so a little more. It's the deep noir. And that viscous coffee.
I found myself talking about the significance of speculative realism just now. That's just how it shook down. There are so many angles to cover that there's always something to do. Right now, it's a matter of getting the words out in front of me. Then I find my thinking seizes up, and it's time to let it go.
In fact, right now I'm off to practice, meditation I mean. Time to demagnetize my head.
Can any of my American friends imagine a situation where you pay the architect as part of your regular mortgage?
Then there's the situation where you don't own the entire thing, you own the house but you don't own the land on which the house has been built. This is also the case with condos over here but over there the rules have byzantine tunnels in them that are probably some relic of the feudal economy.
Buying a house in the UK is notoriously one of the worst experiences you can possibly have. Hence this:
Luckily I just got a new iPhone with a forward facing camera, so I was able to use that instead. Thank heavens. Actually the image was probably better that way.
Friday, September 9, 2011
Writing the whole book at once, as it were rhizomically, beginning from a number of starting points and seeing where things grow, is proving very conducive to getting this done.
I've also sectioned the file so that all the notes will be specific to each section. Again I'm quite refreshed with this new approach, making one big file that is, and it's already helping me to write.