Oh man, I’m a sucker for diagrams of any sort. Here’s a sample from Graham’s next book:


It’s extremely cruel to provide a sample of an alluring and enigmatic diagram without providing a commentary on what it does or how it works.

UPDATE: Harman provides a brief commentary on how he’s thinking about his diagrams here. I’ll have to think through this more, but my initial impression is that this is really exciting stuff. I confess that his theory of vicarious causation and his analysis of the four-fold are the aspects of his ontology that have left me most scratching my head. Just the first of the ten diagrams and the brief gloss on it already shed a lot of light on the latter (for me anyway) and are highly suggestive with respect to the former. In the post Harman writes:

The danger with diagrammatic systems of this sort, when new, is that you’re always within a few inches of looking like a goof or a crank cooking up homebrewed philosophical systems in the basements and attics of the internet. What you have to do to avoid that impression is keep on reminding the reader of the absolutely compelling considerations that lead gradually to a model of this sort. It is the (for now) end result of many years of reflection, and I’m already becoming more comfortable playing with it and getting new results out of it.

Perhaps it’s just my Lacanian and Badouian ways, but I tend to think that formalization is a mark of the real. Lacan liked to say that it is only through formalization that we manage to grasp a bit of the real. I emphasize the “bit” because the Lacanian thesis, like the object-oriented thesis, is that we never entirely, completely, or transparently grasp the real.

This reference allows me to make a nice ontological self-reflexive point about Graham’s diagrams. One of Harman’s core claims is that objects withdraw from one another or never directly encounter one another. This is the Kantian moment in Harman’s ontology. Where Kant holds that we never have direct access to the thing-in-itself, emphasizing the relationship between mind and thing-in-itself, Harman generalizes this thesis to all relations between things, regardless of whether or not humans are involved. This is precisely why Harman’s ontology, despite being an ontological realism is also an epistemological anti-realism. In my own ontology, I refer to this general feature of things with the concept of “translation”. As Gadamer (and Quine) taught us, every translation is a transformation. When I re-situate something from a source-language into an object-language in the process of translating it, the object-language does not leave the original unchanged but produces something new. Finnegan’s Wake is not the same book in French that it is in English. This, incidentally, is the reason that we’ll always need new translations of great texts. Like Harman, I generalize this feature of translation as it pertains to language to all objects, viewing all interactions between objects as forms of translation where one thing transforms the differences it receives from another thing. I thus arrive at a very similar conclusion regarding the thing-in-itself. The grounds of the Kantian hypothesis about the inaccessibility of the in-itself are not to be located in epistemology, but are ontological features of any relations between things, regardless of whether minds are involved or not. The point then I’m trying to make about diagrams is that they are ways of “alluring” or evoking the real. They are mechanisms of, in my vernacular, translation that bring some bit of the real into relief or coax it out of its hiding.