Technology


I am pleased to announce the existence of a new blog, orbis mediologicus. For this onticologist, media studies holds a special and privileged place insofar as it often does in practice, what I’m trying to articulate abstractly. While I have a great love for my brothers and sisters in literary theory, media studies has been a privileged site for object-oriented ontology, as they have perpetually had to theorize the mess of interactions between new technologies and signs, placing them all on equal footing. Like the critical animal theorists, the media studies crew created object-oriented ontology before object-oriented ontology existed, carefully tracing networks of objects ranging from signs, to images, to technologies and economics, being forced to forge new concepts as a result, and increasingly drifting away from anything like eliminative idealism by virtue of the demands of their object. I eagerly look forward to what comes out of this blog.

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Ian Bogost has posted his keynote address for the 2009 Digital Games Research Association conference in Uxbridge, UK. On the one hand it is gorgeously and charmingly written (I can only imagine how the delivery must have been). This line caused me to spit out my wine:

Flying the standard of “speculative realism,” Meillassoux and a number of other thinkers have sought to reject correlationism and to re-admit the multifarious complexity of being, as well as to free being from the sole purview of human, returning it to all objects, including the human ones. Reality is reaffirmed, and humans are allowed to live within it alongside the sea urchins, kudzu, tacos, quasars, and Tesla coils.

The lecture is filled with terrific– and I’ll add very kind –one liners of this sort. For some reason I can’t stop thinking of the scene where a taco and a grilled cheese sandwich fight one another in Hot Rod. As Dan occasionally likes to point out, humor is essential to humor. Similar Graham talks about how philosophy should be vivid. Following Deleuze, I think philosophy should act directly on the nervous system. Ian certain hits all three requirements in his keynote, producing a work of theory that is rich, lively, playful, and open to a variety of audiences as is befitting of this sort of conference.

More fundamentally, Bogost is dealing with a fundamental ontology question that extends well beyond his chosen terrain and venue. In this talk he is posing the question of the ontology of games. One might think that this is a question of limited interest, belonging only to those “freaks” on the fringes of the pop culture theory world that are obsessed with games (I often wonder if there isn’t a little ressentiment motivating these attitudes towards the media studies folk, as if there’s a suspicion that they’ve gamed the system and are enjoying themselves too much). This would be a mistake, as it is always a mistake to dismiss the animal studies crowd, the technology studies crowd, and the media studies crowd. In my view, what is so important in Ian’s work is two-fold: On the one hand, he is struggling mightily with the question of how to think messes. That is, how do we simultaneously think the platforms which render these games possible, programming, the socio-economics behind them, and the semiotic level of games. In this respect, Bogost is facing straight on a number of questions I’m pre-occupied with concerning both the reality of symbolic entities and their relation to all sorts of other entities. On the other hand– and sadly this issue is much less present in this paper than elsewhere –Bogost is approaching the question of how objects come-to-be or how “units” are formed. Alongside the onticological analytic and dialectic that I have proposed, it could thus be said that there must be an onticological genesis, not unlike the transcendental deduction of Kant’s first Critique. It is this sort of issue that Bogost is targeting with his concept of units. At any rate, enjoy!… And I mean that in the full superegoic sense!

I can’t resist:

ducks.

brainvatIn email today an old friend of mine asks,

Currently I’m having a bit of a spat with other graphic designers over in another pocket of the Internet. My question is: can design be understood to have an ontology, can there be an ‘ontology of design’? Does this make philosophical sense?

I’m wondering if the assemblage that is my discourse, field, discipline, community, etc. can be understood as a thing? I like the notion of tracing it through all of those lenses and coming to a networked definition. A flat ontology perhaps? Does this make sense?

Hopefully he won’t object to me posting his question here as I think it’s an extremely interesting question that goes straight to the heart of what I’ve been working on with regard to cultural and social theory. Within the framework of my onticology, the criteria by which something is real lies in making a difference. As I put it with my ontic principle, “there is no difference that does not make a difference”. Thus, to be real is to make a difference. More recently I have described the ontic principle as a deflationary move. I’ve stolen the idea of “deflationary moves” from my buddy Nate over at the terrific blog What in the Hell. Nate praises Badiou for the deflationary move of placing ontology in the domain of mathematics. Where philosophy has been obsessed with the question “what is being?” or “what is the meaning of being?”, “Badiou’s” ontology is deflationary in the sense that it says “this question has already been answered and if you would like to know that answer go study mathematics.” As a consequence, Badiou is able to set aside the question of being, dethrone it from center stage, and instead focus philosophy on the question of truth. Deflating the ontological question allows the object of philosophical inquiry to be shifted elsewhere.

Unlike Badiou (and Heidegger), I do not think the central question of philosophy has been “what is being?” or “what is the meaning of being?” Rather, following Zubiri, I think the central question of philosophy is “what is reality?” However, like Badiou, I try to effect a deflationary move with respect to the question of reality. Since roughly the 17th century, philosophy has been obsessed with the question of how we might come to know reality. As such, reality has been treated as a transcendent beyond that must be reached, and which is to be distinguished from something else that is not reality. What this thing that is other than reality, I do not know. It seems to be mind, culture, language, power, and a host of other things relating to the human. The problem is that situated in these terms the question of how we can know reality is hopeless. Why? Because one of the central lines of thought we inherit from the 17th century is the thesis that we only have access to our representations. Well, if we only have access to our representations then we can only ever scan our representations to find the marks of reality, but since these marks are themselves representations we have no criteria for determining whether they are marks or simulacra: Descartes with his mind in a vat.

read on!
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