At the outset of Form and Object, Tristan Garcia writes that “[a] thing is nothing more than the difference between being-inside and being-outside” (location 656).  I am unclear as to how to parse this statement.  Is the thing the difference itself?  Yet what sort of being does a difference have in and of itself?  In the next paragraph he continues, he speaks of that which is in a thing and that which a thing is.  As you proceed deeper into the text, it becomes clear that the thing can be reduced to neither that which is in the thing (its component parts), nor can it be reduced to the which the thing is in.  The thing is in excess of its parts or components.  From the parts, we can never infer all of the adventures the thing can undergo:  the way the slate can be used as a surface upon which to write, something that tumbles down a roadway mountainside, hitting a car, a tile on a floor, a covering of a roof, and other things besides.  There is something incalculable about the piece of slate that can’t be deduced from its parts.  Yet the slate also can’t be reduced to its belonging in an assemblage like a floor or a roof or a piece of turn of the century classroom equipment for students.

A thing is neither its inside (components), nor its outside (adventures in the world among other things).  Perhaps we could say that it is what remains of this difference between the two.  Things are a sort of surplus, excess, or remainder.  We circle about them, striving to articulate them, to think them, only to find that they perpetually slip away.  We strive to comprehend them in terms of their parts after the fashion of the Greek atomists, only to find that while they could not exist without there is something about the thing—as Harman would say, a surplus –that is in excess of the parts.  The same holds true with the properties, relations, and actions of things.  Always there is this difference that eludes reduction.  Something about things always  eludes our ability to think and grasp them.

read on!

And perhaps it is this elusive nature of things that so persistently leads to our attempt to erase them in the form of what Harman calls undermining and overmining altogether.  The history of philosophy under Harman’s reading—though I don’t know if he’s ever put it this way –is a history of erasure.  Confronted with our inability to think and grasp things, we either say that things are superficial surface-effects of deeper entities such as atoms, that they themselves contribute nothing (undermining); or we overmine them, saying that things are too deep and that things are really semiotic meanings or bundles of impressions or correlates of an intention.  Jon Cogburn draws these parallels between Harman and Garcia beautifully in his Garcian Meditations.  In any event, the thing becomes lost or erased as we try to think it.  There’s a strange way in which things make all sorts of noise in the world, while still being noiseless.  In this respect, things are a great deal like Lacan’s objet a, always missing from their place or in excess of their place.

One name of this erasure would be correlationism or the idea that we can only ever think the relation between subject and object, but never either of the terms considered apart.  The correlationist gesture inevitably leads to a sort of idealism that ends up erasing the thing in the name of the intentions, concepts, or signifiers of the subject.  Yet the thing remains, stubborn as always, despite our attempts to think and reduce it.  There’s a strange sort of presence-in-absence here, which is one way of understanding Harman’s withdrawal.  At this point, many arguments have been developed for how we might break the correlationist circle.  However, what if we were paradoxically think of breaking correlationism in terms of a particular set of experiences?  In their explorations of contemporary ruins, the Norwegian archeologists of the symmetrical school explore the way in which the ruins of the abandoned building, factory, POW camp, etc., confront us with a strange experience of things out of place.  In the abandoned factory we encounter an odd afterlife of things that defies our ability to understand and categorize them, thus presenting things their life beyond our uses, meanings, and intentions.  This is especially true in Þóra Pétursdóttir explorations of the abandoned fishing factories in Iceland.  In these ruins, we encounter a sort of excess and vitality in things that sidesteps our tendency to reduce them to our knowledge, use, and meanings.  While it is true that things here still function as a sort of trace of history that we might strive to render legible for our understanding, we also, in such instances, encounter the thing in excess of its intelligibility for us.  These places are also accompanied by an experience of the uncanny, the unheimlich, or that which is not of the home or dwelling for us.  In these uncanny experiences we encounter a reality of things—a Lacanian real, even –in which things are not merely “for us”, but rather have a life and existence of their own.

Advertisements