April 2012

Over at Fragile Keys Tim has a wonderful post elaborating on his philosophy, drawn from Jean-Luc Nancy, of “being-with”. I can’t respond in detail right now as I’m getting ready to head out camping and will be unconnected for the weekend, but I wanted to draw attention to this passage:

This would be the heart of the differend, perhaps: For me, everything is “related” because we all share this common structure of being-related-to, even if this just means being-related-to-myself. Because we are all there, we are all also with something else, even if that something else is myself! Not “related” in some scheme of interconnection, not “forged together” in some purposeful collaboration between humans and/or nonhumans, but simply being-related-there by dint of the fact that being-there is structured (“internally,” if you want) as being-with — as being-with-its-(other-)self (withdrawn, subtracted, split, divided, etc.). This is a “with” that cannot be destroyed, since its always literally there wherever any being is.

In my view, the claim that the with cannot be destroyed since it is already literally there wherever being is is a thoroughly dogmatic claim since it fails to account for the conditions of possibility of being-with and being-related. It merely asserts that beings are related, treating this as a primitive ontological factum, without grounding this possibility. I think this is one of the problems with the suspension of the natural attitude practiced by phenomenology that has clearly influenced Nancy (whom I admire with Tim). Because we have suspended the natural attitude, because we have “bracketed the world”, we feel as if we are entitled to say we are just related because I’m able to see my student Cameron sitting over there “immediately”. Having banished the independent and material world we then feel that we need not attend to things like the fact that I am only able to see Cameron over there by dint of electro-magnetic waves traveling between me and him that both take time to travel and that can fail to travel.

The epoche is fine as a methodological device deployed to allow us to describe experience so as to get at what must be explained, but it becomes dogmatism when it is deployed to legislate ontology on the basis of how we experience the world and when it is used to banish things such as the fact that relations can only occur materially and that as a result of the absence of many material interactions there are many unrelated things. While I think phenomenology has taught us much of value, I also believe that it has done tremendous damage to ontology and metaphysics by leading us to believe that we can infer structures of being from structures of lived experience. Some will say that I’m being unfair to phenomenology here– and yes I know that Nancy is not working solely within a phenomenological tradition, but his inheritance comes out clearly here –but let’s not forget that in Ideas Husserl directly says that the natural world cannot be the condition for consciousness because consciousness is the condition of the natural world. This entails that the manner in which lived experience is structured allows us to legislate the structure of being, that being and lived experience are identical. The price of this is incredibly high, requiring us to reject all sorts of things from other disciplines such as the points about time of travel and information theory with respect to relation I’ve been making.

I’ve officially gone full nerd:

This volume will convince readers that the swift ascent of the tabletop role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons to worldwide popularity in the 1970s and 1980s is “the most exciting event in popular culture since the invention of the motion picture.”


Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy presents twenty-one chapters by different writers, all D&D aficionados but with starkly different insights and points of view. It will be appreciated by thoughtful fans of the game, including both those in their thirties, forties, and fifties who have rediscovered the pastime they loved as teenagers and the new teenage and college-student D&D players who have grown up with gaming via computer and console games and are now turning to D&D as a richer, fuller gaming experience.

The book is divided into three parts. The first, “Heroic Tier: The Ethical Dungeon-Crawler,” explores what D&D has to teach us about ethics and about how results from the philosophical study of morality can enrich and transform the game itself. Authors argue that it’s okay to play evil characters, criticize the traditional and new systems of moral alignment, and (from the perspective of those who love the game) tackle head-on the recurring worries about whether the game has problems with gender and racial stereotypes. Readers of Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy will become better players, better thinkers, better dungeon-masters, and better people.

Part II, “Paragon Tier: Planes of Existence,” arouses a new sense of wonder about both the real world and the collaborative world game players create. Authors look at such metaphysical questions as what separates magic from science, how we express the inexpressible through collaborative storytelling, and what the objects that populate Dungeons and Dragons worlds can teach us about the equally fantastic objects that surround us in the real world.

The third part, “Epic Tier: Leveling Up,” is at the crossroads of philosophy and the exciting new field of Game Studies. The writers investigate what makes a game a game, whether D&D players are artists producing works of art, whether D&D (as one of its inventors claimed) could operate entirely without rules, how we can overcome the philosophical divide between game and story, and what types of minds take part in D&D.

Jon Cogburn is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Louisiana State University. He served as a founding member of Louisiana State University’s AVATAR (Arts, Visualization, Advanced Technologies and Research) initiative. He is co-author of Philosophy Through Video Games (2008). Mark Silcox is Associate Professor of Humanities and Philosophy at the University of Central Oklahoma. He has worked as a freelance writer and designer in the video game industry. He is co-author of Philosophy Through Video Games (2008).


Introduction – Rolling a Wisdom Check

I: Heroic Tier – The Ethical Dungeon-Crawler

1. David Merli, Heroes of Virtue?
2. Jon Cogburn, Beyond (Chaotic) Good and (Lawful) Evil?
3. Chris Bateman, Chaotic Good in the Balance
4. James and Mona Rocha, Elf Stereotypes
5. Heidi Olson, Dude, Where are the Girls?
6. Mark Silcox, Elegy for a Paladin
7. E.M. Dadlez, Being Evil
8. Brandon Cooke, Why (Fictionally) Being Evil is (Actually) Fine

II: Paragon Tier – Planes of Existence

9. Mark Silcox and Jonathan Cox, The Laboratory of the Dungeon
10. Jon Cogburn and Neal Hebert, Role-playing Magic and Paradoxes of the Inexpressible
11. Levi Bryant, The Intentionality of Objects
12. Timothy Morton, The Worlds of Dungeons and Dragons
13. Levi Bryant, A Role of the Dice
14. Monica Evans, The Secret Lives of Elven Paladins

III: Epic Tier – Leveling Up

15. Carl Ehrett and Sarah Worth, What Dungeons and Dragons is and Why We Do It
16. Pete Wolfendale and Tim Franklin, Kant on the Borderlands
17. Chris Bateman, Dungeons & Dragons & Dice &… Prop Theory for Role-Play
19. Timothy Christopher, Justice is not Blind, Deaf, or Willing to Share its Nachos
20. Jason Rose, The Gunpowder Crisis
21. David Aldridge, “To Know My Character Better than He Knows Himself”

For the last few days Tim of the great Fragile Keys and I have been having a debate on the nature of relation and whether everything is related to everything else. Today I think Tim articulated a point that marks our fundamental point of divergence. Tim writes:

I understand all that, but we’re still in disagreement. I’m still here in the world with entities that I have absolutely no relationship to, that have no effect on me.

Here my aim is not to pick on Tim because even where our discussions get heated I consider him a friend and value both his generosity in responding to me at all and our discussion and what I get out of our discussions. I learn a lot from Tim even though we don’t always come to agreement. Rather, Tim’s remark allows me to get at a broader point– that I probably haven’t sufficiently articulated –that I believe is important. At the risk of putting words into Tim’s mouth, when he says that he’s still there in a world with entities even though they have no relation to one another, this is exactly where I diverge.

Tim seems to conceive world as a container that entities are in. For me, by contrast, the world is anything but a container. Ultimately there are no containers, there are just relations between entities. And as a consequence, in the framework of my ontology, a world is nothing but a network of relations between structurally coupled entities. These relations take work to be maintained (they always threaten to fall apart; and this can be a good thing) and they take time to happen and be forged. They aren’t given. For this reason, worlds can both grow through new entities coming to be related and worlds can decay and disappear as a result of relations and interactions breaking down, entities disappearing and so on. Worlds are ecologies, with the caveat that ecologies are not containers but rather entities or units interacting with one another.

The result of this is that where relations end, a new world appears. The universe (and already we’re speaking poorly with the definite article) is a pluriverse. And each verse or universe is oasis, a network of relations, discontinuous with other verses, universes of worlds. Each has its own specific logoi such that there isn’t one pattern or law that pervades them all (though there can be commonalities among worlds, perhaps due to sharing common lineages), because each universe is a unique ecology. It is for this reason that I don’t speak of the onto-cartography, but rather speak, in the book I’m working on now, of onto-cartographies. There isn’t one spatio-temporal matrix in which all entities co-exist, but rather a plurality of cartographies.

While I believe that all of this is ontologically true– why would any materialist speak of the world when all the entities in that alleged field aren’t related? –I also believe this thesis has significant political consequences. All political problems have a spatial and temporal dimension, a cartographical dimension, pertaining to networked spaces and relations or what is related to what in hierarchies. More significantly, half the problem is that often entities do not share a world with other entities at all. This is more or less how it is with dim objects. The immigrant, the homeless, the excluded, and the marginalized are those beings that are largely without access to a world in which they still must strangely dwell. Part of the work of politics consists in forging those relations, breaking other relations, and modifying the relations of the entire world as a result.

In her keynote address at the Philosopher’s Rally, Elisabeth von Samsonow made a striking observation. The incest prohibition, she remarked, is not so much a family knot, as it is an ontological knot. Moving into the third millennium, she contended, would require that we overcome the incest prohibition. My jaw dropped to the ground. Was she advocating for all of us to have sex with our mothers and sisters?

Yet in claiming that the incest prohibition is an ontological knot, that it is not an issue of family romances, it was quite clear that she was– I think –talking about something quite different. What she seemed to be saying was that the philosophical discourse of ontology has hitherto been organized around the incest prohibition and, in particular, a structure of masculinity. In chapter 6 of The Democracy of Objects, I attempt to demonstrate that philosophy is organized around the masculine side of the graph of sexuation (the left side above). This is the basic structure of ontotheology and theism, where one term is privileged above the others as present to itself, without division and split, and as the sovereign that both legislates over all the others and as the origin of all the others. This structure is what I playfully refer to as “phallusophy”. \

read on!

The longer I live the more Lucretian I become and the more I become convinced that he is the greatest of philosophers (I’ve kept a copy of De Rerum Natura beside my bed for fifteen years now). Like Spinoza, Lucretius somehow managed to love the world for itself, to seek no transcendental supplement that would redeem it, and to explain the world in terms of principles immanent to that world. It was Lucretius that came to mind this morning when I read a remark by Tim responding to one of my posts. Tim writes:

I don’t mean to get into semantics, but I think people are going to be confused with statements like “The moon has to forge its relationships with the ocean.” Rhetorically, it’s just a bit strange to talk about things that are basically accidental, incidental, coincidental, non-teleological, instantaneous, and in a sense, “default” — as being “forged.”

Tim’s point about the rhetoric of “forging relations” is well taken. In speaking of forging relations I don’t wish to imply any teleology or purposiveness. If he prefers I am happy to rephrase what I have in mind by saying that relations have to happen or take place. Relations are not given, but rather have to take place or be formed.

It is with respect to this happening or taking place of relations that I’d like to focus on Tim’s thesis that there is an instantaneous relation between the moon and the earth. It is with this thesis of the instantaneous that Lucretius becomes relevant. The first axiom of Lucretius’ philosophy– and one that I share –is that “…nothing at all is ever born from nothing” (Humphries, 24). By this Lucretius means that there are only natural causes and that, above all, there is never any action at a distance. In order for two entities to interact whether informationally or causally they either have to touch or transmit “signals” through space and time to one another. In the case of the sun and moon it simply isn’t true that gravitational effects are instantaneous. Like anything else, gravity can move no faster than the speed of light. Like a diffraction pattern or a concentric wave produced by throwing a stone in a pond, gravity proliferates throughout space in a growing wave pattern and this takes time. It takes 1.26 seconds for the gravity of the moon to reach us and 8 minutes for the gravity of the sun to reach us.

read on!

An interesting and distressing post by my friend Z. on facebook:

As a member of the fucking third world, whatever I say, write, or publish about continental philosophy does not count because first and foremost I am supposed to talk about the fucking Islam and how it can be reformed according to fucking Western standards.

Situated in Turkey, he finds his voice perpetually stolen and usurped by the Continental tradition in which he works. On the one hand, he has a desperate and immediate need to think his own circumstances and situation; while on the other hand, he is only able to do so through Western proper names and sequences of enunciation due to how journals, conferences, and institutions in Continental philosophy are organized. Paraphrasing the Austrian philosopher and artist Elisabeth von Samsonov (right above), “we speak only through our ‘fathers’ in Continental philosophy.” Unless you are yourself a “father” (Hegel, Nietzsche, Marx, Badiou, Deleuze, Foucault, etc.) or one of those rare “mothers” (Butler, Irigaray, Bradoitti, Haraway, etc.), you must speak, like the merchant in Dune’s spacing guild, through the microphone of the father. No enunciation is accepted without “As Foucault said…”, “As Derrida said…”, “As Deleuze said…”, etc. Thus, while we are told to move beyond the Oedipus, phallocentrism, and to work in a logic of difference, strangely we end up reproducing the very structure of Oedipus, phallocentrism, and identity! Due to the way in which Continental philosophy relates to the history of philosophy and fathers, it is animated by an inherent conservativism that seeks to reproduce the voice of the fathers and that severely restricts the possibility of other voices and problems.

This has very real world consequences professionally and intellectually for all of us working in the tradition of Continental philosophy, but is especially problematic with respect to race, gender, and ethnicity. Because of how these discourses are institutionally organized– and make no mistake, these institutions form what Morton calls a “hyperobject” –those that come from other sites of both geography and identity find their voices strangely stolen from them even as they strive to articulate their problems, world, issues, and so on. Our speech is only legitimate within this hyperobject if it is articulated through French and German fathers. Our capacity to pose our own questions, our own problems, and to articulate our own concepts is taken from us. The point here is not that we should abandon and ignore the tradition, but that there is a hegemony in how this system is set up from the get-go. This is part of what I have in mind when I talk about “phallusophy” rather than “philosophy”. Phallusophy is, in part, a form of thought organized around fathers (and please note I’m not saying that we should kill the fathers– as Freud taught us, the return even worse and more despotically then –but that we need a flatter, more egalitarian intellectual space; and here one should note that I have plenty of fathers of my own).

read on!

In Alien Phenomenology, Ian Bogost introduces the idea of “exploded view diagrams” to get at the composition of objects. This idea resonates nicely with my claims about mereology. Mereology, it will be recalled, is that branch of mathematics, logic, and philosophy that studies the ontology of parthood relations. The thesis of my mereology is three-fold: 1) every object is a composition of other objects. In other words, there are no simple subjects, but rather every object is an aggregate or assemblage. 2) The objects of which an object is composed are themselves independent of the object they compose. That is, no matter how tightly intertwined with the larger-scale object they compose, these objects do not lose their individuality and independence. They remain entities, units, substances, systems, monads, or objects (all synonyms for me) in their own right. As a result, it follows that since objects are split between their local manifestations and virtual proper being, no larger-scale object never fully accesses the smaller-scale objects that compose it. Rather, larger-scale objects only ever encounter local manifestations of these smaller-scale objects. Consequently 3), no object ever manages to totalize the parts of which it is composed. There is always a lack of “fit” between a larger-scale object and its parts (smaller-scale objects), such that there is necessarily an internal strife within each and every object. The categories of community and totality are never fully achieved for any object. As a consequence, each object necessarily has an internal entropy that it must contend with to continue its existence. It’s as if the parts that compose an object are perpetually clamoring for their own independence, threatening the fabric, continuance, or endurance of the larger-scale object they compose.

All of this is very abstract, so Bogost’s use of exploded view diagrams helps to put flesh on just what these issues of mereology are all about. As Latour argues and as Harman reminds us in Prince of Networks, objects are black boxes. That is, in their being as units, their multiple-being is withdrawn or hidden. As units, the multiple-being that makes up an object disappears insofar as the unit has achieved temporary “harmony” or “consensus” among its parts. The unit has managed to form an alliance among its parts that allows it to navigate or stave off entropy decay, such that it is able to continue or endure in time and space.

read on!

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