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

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Correlationism Revelation Mode

See? I'm going to be all Žižekian right now.

One of the best things I ever read by him was in London Review of Books, in which he analyzed the “Psychoanalysis Is Dead” pieces in newspapers--which appear every few years, on heavy rotation. Like how many times do you have to say something is dead--unless it isn't?


Is it just me, or is there a rhetorical pattern to descriptions of correlationism, aka post-Kantian philosophy and related cultural objects?

I think it's like this:

“Boy oh boy will you ever be surprised when you find out that the object entails the subject! It will rock your world!”

It's even in Kant. He gets you very excited about it, using the phrase “Unknown = X.” That's a killer phrase! It evokes an approaching menace, you can't see it but it's real... (Of course it turns out in his case to be the transcendental yet still human subject.)

It's definitely in New Age literature. I read an editorial somewhere the other day where someone said “Boy oh boy, this is amazing, you never knew this before, but ...” Like What in the Bleep Do We Know?

And think of Heidegger. Dasein slowly slowly creeping up on you, boy oh boy is this going to be awesome...etc...

Or Lacan. I've heard literary theory classes where the teacher makes a point of going “boy oh boy are you ever in for a surprise” just before that part of class.

Karen Barad has an interesting take on it. Boy oh boy, are you going to be amazed when you find out that there is no universe, only a relational storm of mutually co-constituting quanta!

But, but...I kind of read that already, in The Tao of Physics...

Or Laruelle's version. And some speculative realism. “I refuse to participate in this disgustingly narcissistic hermeneutic circle jerk!”

(“I'm not even going to try to feel sexy!”

But how would you know what--oh never mind.)

It's in a whole slew of cultural and literary criticism. Buddhist handbooks.

I would put every single “ideology of the aesthetic” text in there. “Things are fragmented but there is this thing, it glues everything back together, boy oh boy is this amazing! Saved!” And the cynical reason that sees this as ideology doesn't even let you have that half-pleasure.

So...we keep telling ourselves this thing. Yet it's always staged as this stunning revelation.

It's like watching someone with hippocampus damage “waking up” again and again and again, every five minutes. It's a loop of suddenly emerging out of unconsciousness! Repeated over and over again, i.e. it couldn't be more boringly conventional, and the surprise mode itself couldn't be more boring at this point. Of course one usually thinks that repetition is evidence of some unconscious/hidden aspect of what's going on.

I'm out of the loop! I'm out of the loop! I'm out of the loop! I'm...

Like, for 200 years plus we've been telling ourselves that we're going to be amazed when we find that objects are blank screens for (human) projection purposes, or whatever.

Often it's done in the mode of showing people they have even more power over nonhumans.

“Once we used to manipulate extensional lumps, mostly by pushing them around mechanically. But now, check this out! We can format them before we even talk about manipulating them!”

It's “surprise mode” that I'm trying to interpret.

Is it that people really don't know that we've been telling ourselves this for 200 years?

Is it that we want to reassure ourselves over and over again about just how manipulable things are, because they aren't?

Is there something about revelation mode that is hard wired into correlationism itself?

Or are we repeating it over and over because there is something buried in the message that we hope, at the back of our heads, repetition will reveal?

Like, Kant's thought is a repression-sublimation of what he knew about Mesmer and Swedenborg and animal magnetism. It's like if you reduce the Force to just one dot and put that dot firmly in the subject-object correlation.

Like, we're trying to hear something profound and weird, maybe it's outside of religion, but sort of contained in religion--like repressed Paleolithic thought or something?

Like, if you widen out the correlationism you arrive quickly at OOO. Everything has agency, everything is “alive,” sort of “conscious” (or consciousness is just another mode of access among equal others, etc etc).

Like, religion melted a little bit in the mid 1700s and this “paranormal” stuff started leaking out, and we became fascinated by it, often trying to contain it or bowdlerize it. That narrative goes animal magnetism >> hypnotism >> transference. Then maybe mirror neurons. Thank God, there are extension lumps in that direction too. Problem solved!

Kantian beauty is sort of this. It's a kind of bowdlerized version, restricted to just one place in the universe and restricted within that to a kind of “thinkfeel” if I may coin a yucky word, kind of experience of reasoning as such...And part of Kant is going Wow, this is so so amazing, and part of him is going, “This is not weird and sexy! I promise!” Like if he lets down his guard he's going to transmute into Yoda or something. Or Princess Leia. And he sort of half knows it.

So we kind of “churn” correlationism, detecting something in it, something whose repression actually founds it, so it can structurally never talk about it. We churn it like churning stones trying to get butter out. It would explain the New Age uses.

Then the repetition is a symptom of something really, really sad. We can't let ourselves go there.

And, tragic irony, our very repetition enhances our sense of being able to manipulate, as I said above. The mode is used in the service of more modernity.


But also funny, in a Bergsonian way: something caught in its style. All of culture going “This is not the Dreamtime! No, definitely not! Not the Dreamtime, oh no! For sure!”


D. E.M. said...

I like the idea of surprise. Freud says we guard against it (for dear life) via anxiety, the hallucinated (?) protective mechanism against Surprise!

jaahas man said...

Unknown = X. Could be a science fiction movie from the 50s. Maybe Hollywood was onto something there? ...

But, I (slightly) digress. It's a kind of a sweet chocolate thing; we make the candy bar, even knowing it's contents, but do not allow ourselves the whole sweet taste, which is not exactly in the contents but an excess of them.

That sweet something lingers and we can't help but bite away. There's a kind of push and pull in effect there.. We deny this certain sweetness, which pulls us back to it's fold. Would we need to produce all these candy bars (factories for consuming), if we could accept the weird taste not made by us, but yet in the chocolate of beings? That there's something there, just trying maybe very sweetly get in touch, despite our plans for it's being.

But, the sad part indeed is, that we can't seem to accept this.

Anonymous said...

"is it that we want to reassure ourselves over & over again about just how manipulable things are because they aren't?"

this is one the most profound posts I have read recently, and--as weird as a loop can get--I find my-self returning to it too--like a tongue to a loose tooth ;)

the Eye 'sees' itself 'seen' through reflection