levi_bryant-010Ian Bogost has a post up commenting on the relationship between his own work and speculative realism. He proposes a “pragmatic” speculative realism. I think this is one of those cases where all of the good words are already taken. Just as “constructivism” is a perfectly marvelous word that has been all but destroyed by the social constructivists, pragmatism is a perfectly good Greek word for “things” (pragma, pragmata) that has been hijacked by the pragmatists. This is not, of course, to say that there aren’t all sorts of riches to be found among the pragmatists (I’m especially fond of Peirce and Dewey, and Jame’s two volumes on psychology are classics).

Rumor has it that Bogost has also floated the possibility of designing a metaphysics or ontology video game. I think this is an absolutely brilliant idea and would definitely be on board to assist with ideas should someone take it up. It would be terrific to see, as Graham recently put it, such a tool that would genuinely assist in philosophical thought– a sort of simulator not unlike a cross between SimEarth and Myst –that could function as a “thought experiment generator” writ large, creating wild new universes. Really this is one of the most brilliant ideas I’ve ever heard and could potentially be a real innovation in how theory is done. Simulated modeling is, of course, common practice in evolutionary biology, epidemiology, complexity science, chaos science, meteorology, etc. It would be intriguing to see whether it could not similarly be put to work in the humanities.

In addition to Bogost’s post on pragmatic speculative realism, a discussion has erupted about the possible relationship between object-oriented philosophy and object-oriented programming. Thus, over at Bogost’s blog we find this post, while over at Harman’s blog we find these posts (here and here). In my view, the fact that there exists something like “object-oriented programming” is one of those happy coincidences that allows for all sorts of productive sparks and cross-overs. Orchid meet wasp!

Speaking of Graham, he’s back from his whirlwind world tour and is, in his usual frenetic fashion, writing up a storm (really, when does this guy sleep?). A couple of points here. First, while it’s obviously clear that Harman loves travel, it’s worth noting that what he is doing is important. Philosophy does not simply reside in ideas, but is also a material activism. In other words, ideas do not simply persuade by the value of the arguments, but require material work and a labor of seeding the world with their presence. Those who do not present their ideas, who do not render them available, who do not link, lose. Period. In this respect, Harman is a phenomenon. Indeed, one might even characterize him as homo networkus, as he seems to be all over the globe at once, presenting his ideas, forming relations, publishing, and blogging. Regardless of whether or not one agrees with his ontology, this has effects. Indeed, one wins a debate not simply by bringing others to their position, but simply by creating an environment where others begin to respond pro or con. In other words, shifts in discourse are governed as much by opposition as by the formation of consensus.

Second, I wonder how we are to classify Harman’s work. Is Harman an American philosopher? Is he a Middle Eastern philosopher? Santayana– a tremendously underrated and unjustly ignored philosopher –was, of course, a European immigrant, but is classified as an American philosopher. Should we classify Graham as a Middle Eastern thinker? I don’t know. In certain respects this would be an affront to our other Iranian rising star, Reza Negarestani. On the other hand, we enter into becomings by falling into different milieus of individuation, and that is certainly what is going on with Harman. It would also be nice to see a mainstream– i.e., non-historiographical –expansion of the field of philosophical discourse, more centrally including Middle Eastern thought. After all, it helped to kick off the Renaissance and Enlightenment, and continues to be a vital force in the present. Always define structures by that which escapes them or their tendencies of becoming.

At any rate, Graham has a particularly interesting post up on what he calls “ontography”… A term which I am kicking myself for for not thinking up myself. I suppose I’ll have to oppose my “onticology” to Graham’s “ontography” (why does that sound like a line from Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. II?). In addition to this, he has a couple of great posts up dissecting standard rhetorical maneuvers of Heideggerians (here and here). I confess I’m sympathetic to Paul Ennis’ position… One of the more frustrating things about academia is the manner in which debates about ideas tend to get converted into debates about figures. Focus on the issues folks! Finally, Harman has been writing a whole slew of posts on philosophical composition. For those who are either anxious grad students or suffering from writers block, read this advice!

Finally, last but not least, my dear friend Melanie has a brilliant post up responding to my post “Realism and Speculative Realism“. Mel proposes an object-oriented, self-reflexive, realist account of literary production as a material object that also somehow creates meaning. As she puts it,

What I find most appealing here is your attempt to categorize his work as a sort of literary example of speculative realism: Truly, all literary production is a hybrid of object and network in itself. If one applies your central thesis of onticology, “There is no difference that does not make a difference.” (Setting aside my constant urge to poke at and tease out the compelling double-negative at the core of your philosophical construction for the moment–grin), the literary production, Baudrillard’s “book-object”, is an object in circulation in social and cultural networks–it’s very physical presence like a stone in a river, able to change the nature of those networks. Yet also, as Barthes argued, it is a holographic textual network in itself, intertextually linked beyond its own boundaries and physical covers.

When I shift from analyzing fiction to writing fiction, I’m always struck by how the fundamental building block of any literary creation–metaphor–is in its simplest description the use of objects to convey some nebulous and fleeting experience of human consciousness. What is it about the well-turned metaphor that at once feels so familiar, yet is in actuality so alien when its mechanics are further unpacked? Here we have a description of a mute object, separate from both the consciousness of the writer and the reader, the sender and the receiver, and yet it comes alive, frankensteined to life by the writer to make an idiosyncratic experience somehow a shared and recognizable experience. (Not unlike Marcus’ vacuum cleaner orgasmically revving to life.) I often find myself battling a sort of autistic feeling when I write fiction, overwhelmed by the “thingness of things,” especially words on the page. It always amazes how any communication takes place at all via metaphor. We see this in the Marcus quote, where household appliances can somehow express the failure of being at once a societal placeholder and an individual; in this case, the fundamental failure of any individual to fully and successfully inhabit the concept, “wife”.

I find that William Burroughs’ cut-ups and Kathy Acker’s prose, or even Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, all underscore similar questions as Marcus: What are all these strange textual objects, these chunks of other texts, that somehow network themselves into the fleeting and contrived wholeness of “a literary work”? How do they form any sort of meaning? Also, what is this strange chimera, the literary narrator? Acker’s prose in particular delights in parasitically inhabiting the uber-texts of patriarchal culture and deconstructing, in a Derridean sense, the singularities and lacunae in culturally familiar texts, as well as received assumptions surrounding the false normativity of psychological narration. Similar to Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons or the OuLiPo poets’ mathematical functions as generators of literary text, these are all works that manage to take cold formulaic structures and render them alive to the reader, at times poignantly so.

The post is far too rich to summarize, so read the rest here. I have to say, Mel drives me up the wall. In the five or six years that I’ve known her she has been a decisive impact on my thought. She introduced me to Latour, Ong, Kittler, Haraway, Ben Marcus, Acker, and countless other thinkers, novelists, and artists. She has brilliant ideas about the relationship between science, technology, information technologies, writing, and art. She constantly challenges my own ideas– often much to my dismay –but usually in a way that is very productive. Yet strangely she thinks she has nothing to say. Oh how I’d like to shake her and tell her to “shut the hell up!” This post, I believe, proves otherwise. Maybe she’ll overcome her ridiculous anxieties and post more or blog more over at her blog. Anyway, give her some love!

Oh, and I could not refrain from more narcissism in this post.