Heidegger


image004Responding to Paul Ennis’ Blogpost on Humanism, Asher Kay of Spoonerized Alliteration remarks that,

My first reaction was, “Well, we *caused* the technological debasement and ecological catastrophe! We could use a little slapdown as far as our importance in the universe is concerned.”

But I think that OOO doesn’t really amount to a slapdown. It’s more of a change in perspective.

If we accept that our thoughts, concepts, drives, etc. are inextricably embedded and embodied in the world; if we accept that our mathematics and formal systems are based on how the body and mind work, and have no separate existence or special, “pure” access to the way things really are; then we start to develop a perspective that lets us solve problems like technological debasement and ecological catastrophe.

Quite right. While all of those working within the framework of speculative realist thought would certain argue that they are not simply attempting to shift perspectives but are making genuine ontological claims, it is nonetheless the case that speculative realism will have done a service to philosophy if it manages to draw attention to dimensions of the world largely ignored by contemporary philosophy. Speculative realism can be usefully articulated in terms of Lacanian discourse theory. Depending on what it is engaging, speculative realist thought occupies each of Lacan’s four discourses. When speculative realism critiques correlationism or philosophies of access, it occupies the discourse of the hysteric, occupying the position of a split subject declaring that the emperor has no clothes. When it formulates an ontology it occupies the discourse of the master, introducing new signifiers that organize the buzzing confusion of the world. When research is undertaken employing these concepts, it occupies the discourse of the university, situating the unknown in terms of these categories and concepts.

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Vincent-Van-Gogh-The-Wheat-Field--1888-133375As I lay in bed fighting the flu this weekend I found myself once again reading Braudel’s Civilization & Capitalism. In my view, Braudel’s approach to history provides a model example of what an object-oriented analysis might look like. Braudel does not tell the story of the emergence of capitalism from the standpoint of ideas, political conflicts, nations, or “great men”, but rather from the standpoint of what he calls “material civilization”. Material history consists of those constraints and affordances upon which the social world is based at any given point in time. “Material life is made up of people and things. The study of things, of everything mankind makes or uses– food, housing, clothing, luxury, whether or not money is used, what sort of money is used, tools, coinage or its substitutes, framework of village and town… (31).” This material civilization thus consists of things such as the way in which food is produced, the epidemiology of disease, the sorts of foods produced, whether or not roads are present, the layout of towns and their relationship to the countryside, clothing styles, forms of cooking, weather patterns, wild animals, the relationship of nomads to agricultural society, technologies and technics, and so on.

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Recently I have found myself wondering if object-oriented ontology does not require something like the destruction of the history of ontology called for by Heidegger in ยง6 of Being and Time. In the case of Heidegger, the necessity of this destruction arises from the fact that

[i]n its factical Being, any Dasein is as it already was, and it is ‘what’ it already was. It is its past, whether explicitly or not. And this is so not only in that its past is, as it were, pushing itself along ‘behind’ it, and that Dasein possesses what is past as a property which is still present-at-hand and which sometimes has after-effects upon it: Dasein ‘is’ its past in the way of its own Being, which, to put it roughly,’historizes’ out of its future on each occasion. (41)

For Heidegger, the aim of this destruction of the history of ontology is to make the fundamental structures of this tradition explicit. If there is a problem in them remaining implicit, then this is because “[w]hen tradition thus becomes master, it does so in such a way that what it ‘transmits’ is made so inaccessible, proximally and for the most part, that it rather becomes concealed. Tradition takes what has come down to us and delivers it over to self-evidence; it blocks our access to those primordial ‘sources’ from which the categories and concepts handed down to us have been in part quite genuinely drawn (43)”.

For Heidegger, the destruction of this history of ontology does not consist in the abandonment of the philosophical tradition, nor is it a negative project, but rather this destruction is a positive project that seeks to free up possibilities for philosophy by undermining the self-evidence of that tradition but also by disclosing the primordial sources upon which it is based in an “implicit” way. In Heidegger’s thought, the question of being is to be taken as the clue for the investigation of this tradition. As Heidegger puts it,

In thus demonstrating the origin of our basic ontological concepts by an investigation in which their ‘birth certificate’ is displayed, we have nothing to do with a vicious relativizing of ontological standpoints. But this destruction is just as far from having the negative sense of shaking off the ontological tradition. We must, on the contrary, stake out the positive possibilities of that tradition, and this always means keeping it within its limits; these in turn are given factically in the way the question [of being] is formulated at the time, and in the way the possible field for investigation is thus bounded off. On its negative side, this destruction does not relate itself towards the past; its criticism is aimed at ‘today’ and at the prevelent way of treating the history of ontology, whether it is headed towards doxographhy, towards intellectual history, or towards a history of problems. But to bury the past in nullity is not the purpose of this destruction; its aim is positive; its negative function remains unexpressed and indirect. (44)

Clearly the aims and method of object-oriented ontology’s destruction of the history of philosophy will differ from those outlined by Heidegger, yet nonetheless there will be certain similarities. First, like Heidegger’s destruction of the history of philosophy, one of the aims will be to overcome the self-evidence through which which the question of being is formulated today. In particular, the target here will be the subject-object division of being into two incommensurable houses or ontological domains perpetually at war with one another, such that one is offered the stark alternative of either choosing the correlationist route of mind and reducing the object to a carrier of culture, mental categories, language, and so on; or choosing the side of world or object as in the case of materialism and reducing all human actors to effects of matter. The work of Latour already outlines what an alternative to the modernist project might look like in his careful dismantling of the two-world ontology of nature versus culture.

Second, like Heidegger’s destruction, such a project would seek to liberate or render available positive realist possibilities from out of the tradition. Instances of this way of approaching the history of philosophy can be found in both Whitehead and Graham Harman’s work. Readers of Process and Reality will be familiar with the manner in which he approaches the work of Descartes, Locke, Hume, and Kant. For Whitehead it is never a question of dismissing these thinkers, but of reading their epistemological investigations that revolve primarily around questions of representation and the nature of mind with “realism as a guiding clue”. Thus, for example, Hume’s “impressions” become, for Whitehead, “prehensions”, but prehensions refer not to representations or sensations in the mind, but rather to the manner in which one object grasps another object in the constitutions of its own being. Mind becomes a particular case of a generalized process characteristic of all beings. By treating realist ontology as his guiding clue, Whitehead is able to liberate all sorts of possibilities from the history of philosophy while also escaping the endless epistemological deadlock first inaugurated with Plato’s allegory of the cave and its two-world ontology consisting of the rabble of the slaves and the Truth of the philosopher. Similarly in the case of Harman. When one reads Tool-Being or Guerilla Metaphysics, he very quickly discovers that Harman does not simply dismiss the tradition of correlationism, but that he engages with a series of correlationist philosophers such as Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, Husserl, and so on, treating realism as the guiding clue of his investigations and liberating, as a result of this guiding clue, all sorts of insights into the nature of objects that can be found embedded in these texts but covered over by the self-evidence of a philosophical tradition that pitches the question of being in terms of a divided house between the distinct ontological realms of the subject and the object. By reading, to use Zizek’s term, the tradition awry through the lens of realism as the guiding clue, a rich resource of realist insight is made available for thought.

A Disclosure

One of Heidegger’s central contributions to philosophy was his concept of truth as aletheia. Ordinarily truth is understood as a correspondence between a proposition and a state-of-affairs. For instance, the proposition “the sun is shining” is true if, in fact, the sun is shining. A key feature of this conception of truth is that the state-of-affairs to which the proposition refers is transcendent to the proposition, independent of the proposition, and exists in its own right regardless of whether or not the proposition is enunciated. The proposition in no way effects the thing itself. Another theory of truth treats truth as coherence. A proposition here is true if it coheres with a body or web of propositions as in the case, perhaps, of Hegel’s system.

For Heidegger, by contrast, truth is aletheia or the disclosedness or revealing of being. Lest I earn the condemnation of the Heideggarians, I will say upfront that I will not here do Heidegger’s conception of truth as aletheia justice, nor is it my intention to give a careful analysis of his claims. Rather, I wish to indicate how it might be of use in thinking certain rhetorical phenomena.

To claim that truth is aletheia or disclosedness is to claim that an entity must first disclose or reveal itself as a particular sort of entity prior any statements we might make about it. Perhaps this idea can best be elucidated by way of the human body. In encountering the body as a seat of action, an object of medical intervention, a sexual object, and so on, is the body disclosed or revealed in the same way? In living my body, there’s a way in which its physicality, its nature as a volume, flesh, a surface, disappears. Far from being an object like other objects in the world, there’s an invisibility about my lived body, a specific bodily intentionality, such that it is not my body that is the focus of engagement, but rather the destinations towards which I move and the objects with which I am engaged. My hand is not this geometry of flesh, bone, and sinew, but rather is a grasping that is entirely exhausted in this act of typing or this grasping of my coffee cup. To say that my lived body is “exhausted” in this act of typing or in taking hold of the coffee cup and drinking is not to say that it is fatigued, but rather that it disappears in these acts by virtue of the very activity of revealing the world that it is engaged in. It is the coffee cup that is disclosed, the words on the screen, the destination towards which I am moving, not the lived body itself. As such, the lived body is more a collection of vectors, trajectories, directions, illuminating the world independent of it, rather than a geometrical shape and configuration of flesh, bone, and sinew.

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