“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Anarchic Objects or, Someday I Want to Burst Out of a Loaf of Bread

Michael of Archive Fire suggested that I think a little about Ian Bogost's ideas concerning exploded views for my project on causality (here's Bryant talking about them). Here's one I loved when I was a kid: Richard Scarry's diagramming of what goes on inside a ship. I guess almost any Richard Scarry would do but somehow Busy, Busy Town really does it for me. It's that drawing of the bakers bursting out of their own loaves of bread:

The point here of course is that the object has literally exploded, and the bakers are getting a literal exploded view of their habitual object, now uncannily large and totally delicious by the looks of it.

The exploded bread depicts the object as operational to use Bogost's term. It does things and you can do things to it. You can handle it and appreciate it from all different kinds of vantage. It invites a variety of explorations.

Each of these handlings and invitations is a sample of the object (to use my term). These samples may or may not be functional. Hence the wonder of Richard Scarry drawings: they show you “how things work,” but in so doing they show you a whole lot more things—and how do those work? And so on. At some point, one gives up. Apoleptic irony occurs because you see how the object in question just doesn't fit your master plan for it, and never could have done in the first place.

(This mirrors the common experience of parents who get asked to read the books. You figure out at some point that the books don't have to be read as linear narratives, but are themselves exploded views of book-reading, so you can skip around, go backwards, forwards and so on. If you try to read them linearly, heaven help you. Thus Scarry books give rise to apoleptic irony: “Oh, weird, there was no narrative I had to track...”)

The exploded view schematic that tells you how things work, then, is a relatively minute island of teleology floating in a giant ocean of anarchy. There is no particular rhyme or reason in the exploded bread. It's a monstrous, tasty product of a catastrophic baking accident precipitated by Able Baker Charlie's misuse of yeast.

In this sense every loaf of bread is a monstrous explosion, even when baking goes right. There is only so much of the breadness that our chowing down on it will sample. Or to translate into Graham Harman's way of talking about it, using a tool and breaking a tool are pretty much the same, ontologically: they sample a small slice of the loaf of tool-being.

Damn it these loaves are probably hyperobjects...


Michael- said...
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Michael- said...

brilliant Tim. I completely get what you are after here, i only wonder if we really need to make the leap from "sampling" (partial encounter) to total "withdrawal"?

It doesn't follow, for me, that just because we can only ever have a partial or sampled encounter with other objects that these encounters are indirect. Likewise with any object: just because a baseball only contacts a small fraction of the bat doesn't mean that such an event is buffered.

Bat properties and ball properties collide on a material level in such a way that results in home runs happening (or in my case fly balls easily caught by the short stop). AND then only in the context of (relation to) atmospheres, persons swinging, baseball teams, etc.

I agree that objects withdraw, but, from what I can tell, they only do so partially.

The exploded view, for me, takes all those partial samples and constructs a mosaic of views that reveal more and more (depending on the rigor) of that object/assemblage/situation than would be possible from a less exploded, more partial view.

Unknown said...

Hi Tim,

The notion of hyperobjects stays with me like a kind of silver glinting. I just can't quite figure out what isn't a hyperobject. "If it's not just me who counts it as one" is not a bad working definition. But I'm hard put to know if there is anything that ONLY I count as one. How to find out except to ask, and so end up with a hyperobject for sure?

Sorry if you have explained thisendlessly elsewhere.