April 2010


I’m embarrassed to say that I am just learning of this English translation of Maimon’s Essay on Transcendental Philosophy. This is a key work for any understanding of Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism. It plays an especially important role in the overall argument of chapter 4 of Difference and Repetition. The translation of this very difficult to find work is an exciting moment in Deleuze scholarship.

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How about Capitalism: The Video Game? Designed within the framework of Marxist social and economic theory, this game would be organized around the interplay of the state, law, morality, economy, the environment, technology, ideology, population dynamics, infrastructure, and the triad of production, distribution, and consumption, as well as the incredibly different logics of C-M-C and M-C-M and how the interplay of these two logics reinforce certain collective structures.. It would plot the point where contradictions or crises emerge within a system and how they function. The nature side wouldn’t simply look at the impact of capitalism on nature but would also include random events and crises, plotting how the relations respond to these eruptions. The game could even run from primitive accumulation to advanced capitalism and beyond. And perhaps one could play the simulation from either the point of a capitalist in pursuit of ever receding surplus-value or a worker attempting to survive this system.

The quote of the day goes to Graham Harman who formulated this zinger in critiquing the correlationist. Paraphrasing Graham:

A Chinese proverb states that that when a wise man points at the moon the fool looks at the finger. The correlationist and anti-realist is a fool that says the moon is made of fingers

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Ian had a number of great one liners as well… Can’t wait for the audio recordings to get up so I can pick’em out.

Peter Gratton has a great interview with Jane Bennett up over at Philosophy in a Time of Error. I’m eagerly looking forward to meeting her at the RMMLA this year. It’s gratifying to encounter another philosopher outside of OOO that’s arriving at very similar conclusions. Read the interview here.

The Object-Oriented Philosophy Symposium at Georgia Tech was a fantastic success. It was terrific to finally meet Harman, Shaviro, and Bogost. Harman gave a wonderful paper on how object-oriented philosophy relates to the history of philosophy and gave us a sneak peak on the new work he’s doing with his diagrams. For the first time I understand what he’s doing with the four-fold and I’ve discovered that our positions are much closer together than I thought. I’ll be making use of the diagrams in my own future work. They really are illuminating once you get them down and generate a number of powerful theoretical tools. I’ve especially gone away with a new appreciation of Harman’s aesthetics as first philosophy thesis. Shaviro presented an amazing paper on aesthetics, drawing heavily on Harman’s onto-aesthetic claims and his own work with Whitehead. I’m extremely sympathetic to what he’s doing with Whitehead’s aesthetic claims at the level of the ontology of objects and want to soon engage with his paper more deeply. In particular Shaviro’s paper evoked in me the question of what it would mean to think entities as capable of producing synthetic a priori change within themselves. This was not a question that Steven himself posed, but one that arose in response to his paper in my mind. I think there are all sorts of interesting and important implications here. Finally Bogost gave a rip roaring presentation on flat ontology, anti-methodology, and wonder that did a wonderful job broaching questions of how OOO would change our theoretical practices in philosophy and cultural studies. The discussions following each paper were outstanding and it was a tremendous pleasure to meet and talk with the various faculty that attended from Emory and Georgia Tech and the students. All in all I’m exhilarated with where all of this is going and am looking forward to working with these folks more in the future. Those who are interested can find my slide show here. It’s somewhat difficult to follow without the accompanying paper, but gives a taste of what I did. If you move your cursor to the bottom left-hand corner of the screen a device will come up allowing you to flip through the presentation. To start the presentation click on the title at the top of the main circle and then advance forward with the arrow that comes up in the bottom right-hand corner. With any luck we’ll be publishing the papers as a collection soon, along with the questions and discussion. From what I understand there will also be recordings of the conference posted eventually as well.

I’m just now discovering Adrian Ivakhiv’s response to my earlier post on objects and relations (apologies for that!). Since it seems that Adrian and I are very close to one another in the spirit of what we’re trying to do, I just wanted to respond to a couple of points he makes. Adrian writes,

The issue I have is not with either Levi’s onticology or Graham’s OOO as it is with the general perception (a perception I don’t think I’ve gotten from either of them, but from others) that “object-oriented” philosophy, as a kind of generic term, is a new and important development within Continental philosophy. Used in this broader sense, especially with the “-oriented” attached to the “object,” one can’t help but to think this means “object” in the everyday English sense of the word. And when I get asked (as I have been) why I’m interested in this trend, it’s difficult for me to answer that, because the term sounds too much like “objectivity,” “objectivism,” and all the other things the word “object” has been philosophically associated with.

The general answer others might give, I imagine, goes something like this: it’s a move away from X (subjectivity, perception, phenomenology, correlationism, Kantianism, relationism, or whatever else) and back to the actual real THINGS that make up the world. (That of course sounds, unintentionally I’m sure, a lot like Husserl’s “Back to the things themselves!” The difference is that here it’s the actual things, not our perceptions of those things. But I’m not willing to concede that we can purify the world of our perceptions.) While I can’t pinpoint where I’ve heard this, it’s still made to sound too much like a swing of the pendulum from one side (subjectivity, relationality) to the other (objects). And I dislike that both because I’m tired of swings of the pendulum, when what we need is more integrated accounts of how all these things (objectivity and subjectivity, etc.) work together, and because I think it will have a hard time doing much work outside the limited circles of (mostly) young Continental philosophers who use the term now. So my issue is really a strategic one.

I’ve had similar reservations about the term “object-oriented ontology” and it’s one of the reasons I often use the term “onticology” instead. At the level of connotations the term simply doesn’t play very well. On the one hand, there are all the connotations that play into “objectification” and “reification”. Certainly object-oriented ontologists aren’t making a case for this! Indeed, in my own critique of actualism, this sort of objectification and reification is precisely one of the things I wish to avoid. On the other hand, when folks hear the term for the very first time I think the tendency is to assume, as Adrian points out, that object-oriented ontologists are making a case for “being objective”, or rejecting subjectivity in favor of objectivity, or “being scientific”. In other words, at the level of connotations the term all too readily suggests a defense of Enlightenment objectivism.

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Adrian Ivakhiv has an interesting post up defending ontology relationism and its importance for ecological thought. Adrian writes:

Contrary to what Levi Bryant and Graham Harman have sometimes argued, however, there’s no inherent reason why a well articulated, materially and socially grounded relationalism*, one that focuses on processes of emergence and actualization, with their various conditions, effects, and so on, should result in an ontology that cannot account for action or change. An ontology that focused only on relations, or on change, or for that matter only on objects (and I’m not suggesting that Graham’s or Levi’s philosophies do that), would be one-sided. But the point is to bring objects — more or less stable and persistent entities (assemblages, actors/actants, or whatever else a given ontological account takes them to be) — and relational processes together in a way that accounts for both stability and change, persistence and transformation, structure and agency, stubborn fact and creative advance (to use Whitehead’s terms).

Our consumptive, commodity-captivated and spectacle-enraptured society, has privileged the object over the process, the thing at the center of our attention over the relations that constitute it. This thing-centeredness isn’t surprising: it’s an effect of the human perceptual apparatus, with its heavy reliance on vision, a sensory modality that shows clear edges to objects and that facilitates distanced observation and predation. (That argument can be taken too far — eyes, after all, are also the communicative soul of intersubjectivity — but there is something to it.) Where traditional cultures tended to de-emphasize the visual in favor of the auditory/multisensorial, the narrative, and the relational, societies like ours — ecologically and historically disembedded (in the sense that Polanyi describes the effects of capitalism), fragmented/individualized, and intensely visually mediated — push the ontological objectivism, literally the “thing-ism,” about as far as it can go.

A couple of points. First, there’s an issue about philosophical vocabulary here. It is difficult to have these discussions if one doesn’t attend to the precise content of concepts. In the passages that I’ve bold-faced above Adrian characterizes object-oriented philosophy in terms of stability over change and process. Here I take it that Adrian is playing on ordinary language usages of the term “object”. However, it’s important to attend to how terms are actually used. Certainly we would end up with some very strange criticisms of Hegel if we took “Spirit” to signify ghosts, demons, and poltergeists; likewise, we would have a very difficult time understanding Heidegger if we understood “Dasein” in its ordinary language sense of the term as “existence”, and finally it would be very difficult to follow Whitehead if we took his term “organism” too literally. In this case of object-oriented ontology this point is important because if we don’t attend to what OOO purports to have discovered about the being of objects we’re bound to misconstrue its claims. Thus, for example, in the second paragraph cited above, Adrian talks about the thing at the center of our perception. The problem here is that in both my variant of OOO, onticology, and Harman’s variant of OOO, ontography, it is argued that you can’t perceive an object. The object is not what is perceived or what is at the center of attention.

read on!
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