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"My thesis, which will sound strange at first, is that everything in the world happens only on the interior of objects. Since objects cannot touch one another directly they must be able to interact only within some sort of vicarious medium that contains each of them. The inside of an object can be viewed as a volcano, kaleidoscope, witch's cauldron, steel mill, or alchemist's flask in which one thing is somehow converted into another."
     - Graham Harman, The Volcanic Core of Objects

Churning below the threshold of the human project is the terrible truth of Nature. Caught as we are in the mesh of reality's web, yearning for pure existence, yet falling ever forward into the Void, we wander in a dynamic maze of nightmares; like sheep led to the slaughterhouse of all being we circle ever closer to that black Abyss where all dark materials flow into the final whirl of the churning void on the edge of absolute nothingness. We tell ourselves simple stories of light and joy to shield us from this deeper ocean of hyperchaos, but sometimes the horror that is ruptures into the fabric of our paradisaical realm throwing us back into that fractured zone where those monstrous entities, those real objects that do not need us, inhabit the nightworld of what is: just below the surface life of this unreal ocean, thrashing in the depths between sleep and death objects awaken to their own thoughts and exist according to their own logic which is not human. Awaiting their moment in the sun, when the curtain that separates our entwined dimensions comes down, they wander the cosmic gulfs between the dark voids of being and non-being, seeking the frayed thread of Light that can begin the great process of unraveling, when they shall burst out of the depths with all the ferocity of an unreasoning mind bent on complete and utter destruction of all that is.

Who shall guide us out of the depths of this dark maze? What dark philosopher of the interior life of objects will teach us the differance between the metaphysics of the real, and the sensuous allusion and allure of objects? Even if I disagree amiably with some of the tenets of the Object-Oriented philosophical framework, it is still a worthwhile program and one should put in some effort to understand its intricate mesh. Being a neo-materialist I would fit into what Harman might one day affably term an a schizominer: my philosophical heritage has aspects of both his overmining and undermining. He's basic differentiation of these is as follows:

1. Undermining. You can say that objects are a shallow fiction of common sense, and that the real action happens at a deeper level: whether it be tinier components discovered through the sciences, some sort of “pre-individual” realm, an outright blob-like apeiron, a vaguely defined mathematical “structure”, or some other variant of one of these options.

2. Overmining. You can say that objects are a falsely deep and reactionary holdover from olden times in philosophy, based on superstitions generated by noun-verb Western grammar, or whatever. What is real is not individual things, but processes, events, dynamism, surface-effects.

Yes, I'm guilty as stands. I believe in the one of the preconditions of philosophy in some respects as Alain Badiou has stressed with his idea of philosophy as aftering, as always alread a belated affair, as wisdom, as reflection on non-philosophy which underpins our efforts. He categorizes them in four condtions: science, politics, art, and love. I am still a child of the Enlightenment even if I question many of the tenets of that heritage. I flow with the Hegelian Left of "dialectical materialism" as well as the non-dialectical Analytical materialist transcendental realism of such creatures as Ray Brassier. Yet, I try to be open minded, and have for a while studied and listened to the excellent debates concerning Object-Oriented Ontology.  At the end of this essay we realize that Graham Harman is mostly opposed to many of the things I affirm, yet in spite of this we listen to each others programs. What is that old saying: "One should keep one's friends close, but keep one's enemies closer." One thing I learned long ago is that a sign of maturity is being able to keep an open mind on all things, for who knows in what unlikely places and minds one might gain that strange love we all strive for: "wisdom".

1. Object-Oriented Philosophy - Graham Harman on OOO

At the end of the last century something new was emerging, something that had been brewing in the dark halls of encrusted institutions of learning. Between the two Churches of Philosophy, the Analytical and Continental, enfolded as they were in the "linguistic turn", operating under the sign of  language, each fought over the last vestiges of that defunct object, human finitude. Since the days of Kant philosophers had wandered in the maze of human subjectivity, cut off from access to the real, they argued endlessly over human consciousness and subjectivity devoid of any contact with the world like scholastics of a new inquisition without a real or intentional object to bring before the judgement seat of their antirealist tribunal. Yet, it was said, that these two churches of the Analytic and Continental were closer than ever to reunification, that "the great philosophical mission of the century will have been to replace the theoretical model of knowledge with a hermeneutic model. All naive commitment to absolute knowledge will have ended, and with it all naive belief in a world-in-itself that might be neutrally observed. Interpretation replaces vision". [1] Yet, there seemed to be a flaw in this theoretical model. As one of the new rebels of our new century, Graham Harman, tells us, the "ostensibly revolutionary transition from consciousness to language still leaves humans in absolute command at the center of philosophy. All that happens is that the lucid, squeaky-clean ego of phenomenology is replaced by a more troubled figure: a drifter determined by his context, unable fully to transcend the structures of his environment. In both cases the inanimate world is left by the wayside, treated as little better than dust or rubble" (6. Object-Oriented Philosophy (1999)). He goes on to say,

"Philosophy has gradually renounced its claim to have anything to do with the world itself. Fixated on the perilous leap between subject and object, it tells us nothing about the chasm that separates tree from root or ligament from bone. Forfeiting all comment on the realm of objects, it sets itself up as master of a single gap between self and world, where it holds court with a never-ending sequence of paradoxes, accusations, counter-charges, partisan gangs, excommunications, and alleged renaissances" (ibid.).

As the two churches bicker over the gap between self and world, reality churns on in complete and utter defiance of human finitude and its viccissitudes. As "human philosophers bludgeon each other over the very possibility of "access" to the world, sharks bludgeon tuna fish and icebergs smash into coastlines" (ibid.). Like a horror writer of some philosophical novel of terror, a Lovecraft of philosophical "access", Harman tells us of these dark objects: "All these entities roam across the cosmos, inflicting blessing and punishments on everything they touch, perishing without a trace or spreading their powers further, as if a million animals had broken free from a zoo in some Tibetan cosmology" (ibid.).  He asks us to decide if philosophy is to remain devoid of access to the outside, to the real world below our models of reality; or will we remain cut off forever from "that-which-lies-outside"? He offers a new approach, an object-oriented philosophy, "a sort of alchemy for describing the transformation of one entity into another, for outlining the ways in which they seduce or destroy humans and non-humans alike..." (ibid.).

Tracing the lineage of an object-oriented model, and a new philosophy of access, Harman revives two philosophical precursors, Martin Heidegger and Alfred North Whitehead, who "despite a serious shared mistake, there begins to reappear in philosophy a thirst for knowledge concerning the fate of specific objects" (ibid.).  

In Heidegger he discovers the "tool-analysis" of Being and Time, which many philosophers confuse with both pragmatism and his later meditation on technology. Against this Harman's view "admittedly an unorthodox one, is that tool-analysis sketches nothing less than a general object-oriented philosophy, one that is by now means free of metaphysical elements" (ibid.). He goes on the summarize tool-analysis observing that in Heidegger the "primary reality of entities is not their sheer existence as pieces of wood or metal or atoms, but instead "an entity in its reality is determined by the shifting, capricious storm of references and assignments in which it is enveloped" (ibid.). Using Heidegger's own terminology he tells us that "entities are not primarily present-at-hand (vorhanden) but ready-to-hand (zuhanden)" (ibid.). He goes into details about tools as compared to broken tools, how for Heidegger objects "remain loyal... performing a subterranean function" until "catastrophe strikes and one of them fails" (ibid.). It is in such moments  when equipment is lacking "that it emerges from its shadowy underground of pure competence and reveals its contours to view .... there is an upsurge of bulky presence into the environment" (ibid.).  It is this Janus-headed beast, tool and broken tool, "invisible action and obtrusive presence" in which "the veiled reality of equipment-in-action is torn loose from the all-devouring system of the world, and set on display "as" what it is" (ibid.). It's this "isness" that survives the brokenness which marks the catastrophic consequences of the destruction of an object which "is torn apart by the universal duel between the silent execution of an object's reality and the glistening aura of its tangible surface" (ibid.). As he says, "the tool isn't "used"; it is.

 He tells us that Heidegger is the Parmenides of our Age. The dualistic view of being and non-being in which the object is caught the "ambiguous drama of concealing and revealing" itself in all its concreteness. He goes on to tell us that Heidegger's "celebrated theory of time has nothing to do with time at all" (ibid.). Instead, "time", "is simply one of his many literary figures for naming the single repetitive duality found throughout his works" (ibid.). Ultimately Heidegger's theory of time is resolved into tool-analysis which reveals the tool to be caught between past and future, "regarded both as the execution of a real effect (a.k.a. "past) and as discrete reality determined by its signifi-cance for a human involved in a specific projection of the world (a.k.a. "future")" (ibid.). The "ambiguous co-existence of these two moments gives us Heidegger's "present"" (ibid.). In a satirical aside Harman says, "There you have it: the supposed Heideggerian theory of time, which would hold good even if a sorcerer were able to freeze time forever in its tracks" (ibid.).  

Harman returns us to Heidegger's main theme which is the opposition in Heidegger's thought between two modes of being, which we've seen above revealed as "ready-to-hand" and "present-at-hand" (ibid.). This is where Harman begins a critique of Heidegger's grounding his philosophy in human Dasein. Instead of going any further into this I'll take up his use of Whitehead. One of the key differences between Heidegger and Whitehead is that the former limits his conceptions of tool-analysis to human Dasein, and the latter "openly embraces inanimate reality" (ibid.). Harman like other speculative realists embraces the decentering of philosophy from the two-world post-Kantian worldview, and instead takes an inhumanist turn in his philosophical proclivities toward objects; one that lets objects exist beyond the humanistic world-self correlation that has governed philosophical discourse for two centuries.

Heidegger and Whitehead share a common core of ontological ideas that have nuances but are generally only subtle in their variation. He tells us that each shares a deep dualism in their thought, which for Heidegger "refers to Vorhandenes as the thing as it is objectified", while for Whitehead it is "his "eternal object", a more Platonized version of a similar concept" (ibid.). Another aspect they share is "their obvious tendency always to grant philosophical primacy to the network of entities rather than to isolated individuals" (ibid.). Going into the similarities of their view regarding substance he tells us a "specter haunts this twentieth century doctrine: the spectre of classical theories of substance" (ibid.). He tells us that it "is in their shared tendency to reduce the world to nothing but a shifting system of relations that the common mistake of these twentieth-century thinkers must be located" (ibid.). Comparing the ready-to-handness of a bar of plutonium lost in the desert buried amid sand and weeds he tells us that "while the sand and dead weeds now surrounding the plutonium fail to sound the depths of its lethal radioactive quality, any living creatures that were present would be killed in minutes" (ibid.). Because of this deadly reality hidden in the depths of the plutonium we discover "an additional reality in this strange material that is in no way exhausted by the unions and associations in which it currently happens to be entangled" (ibid.). It is a reality that is always and forever "unexpressed, and will always remain so" (ibid.). 

Where does all this leave us?

Harman tells us the "problem is not the divide. The problem is that human subjects and nonhuman objects are wrongly proposed as the two ubiquitous ingredients of the universe" (Space, Time, and Essence: An Object-Oriented Approach(2008)). Instead we must move into a far weirder view of reality one in which the "root duality of the universe is not made up of subject and object, or even Dasein and world, but of objects and relations" (ibid.). Objects can withdraw from all relation, just as intentional objects (via Husserl) exist "only insofar as someone is sincerely dealing with it" (ibid.).  Finally the "world consists of only two elements: objects and their interiors" (ibid.). He goes on to say that those"...interiors are speckled with intentional objects, which we have also called images or simulacra. But we have also seen that objects never touch, since they recede into the monastic solitude of private vacuums. But on the interior of objects, something does happen" (ibid.).

It is this strange world of objects that withdraw into private vacuums, where deep within the interior of their objecthood  a secret life goes on, which is beyond human thought and self-world relation that shapes Harman's philosophy into, as he says, a "casino metaphysics", a metaphysics of objects. What is this secret life of objects? What is going on deep within those interior folds? How do they withdraw into the monastic solitude of private vacuums? Strangely religious metaphors for a philosophical disquisition on objects.  First what is an object in Harman's terms? He tells us that an object can be defined "as that which has a unified and autonomous life apart from its relations, accidents, qualities, and moments..." (Objects, Matter, Sleep and Death (200)). He goes on to tell us that for most post-Kantian philosophers of the correlationist variety objects do not exist: the "correlationist thinks that there is no human without world, nor world without human, but only a primal correlation or rapport between the two... the object has no autonomy..." (ibid.).  For Object-Oriented philosophers, such as Harman, objects do have autonomy, and do exist beyond the needs and desires of humans; objects are not for us.

So what is going on in the interior of an object? Using the analogy of a tree and self as forming a unified object, whih explains that there is a twofold intentional relation which is "located inside the unified object that the tree and I form. It is the hollow, molten, inner core of objects where all intentional relation occurs" (ibid.). I found the next statement to be apropos: "Against the usual model of human intelligence as a critical, transcendent, liberated force, the mind is more like a burrowing animal digging deeper, laterally, or upward through the interiors of things" (ibid.). (A kafkan metaphor if there ever was one.) But back to this tree/self metaphor which leads us to "vicarious causation" of which Harman says, 

 "Vicarious causation, of which science so far knows nothing, is closer to what is called formal cause. To say that formal cause operates vicariously means that forms do not touch one another directly, but somehow melt, fuse, and decompress in a shared common space from which all are partly absent. My claim is that two entities influence one another only by meeting on the interior of a third, where they exist side-by-side until something happens that allows them to interact. In this sense, the theory of vicarious causation is a theory of the molten inner core of objects – a sort of plate tectonics of ontology." [2]

 We can never truly know the real tree, he says; instead we come to know the sensual tree, and it never reveals itself to us as "naked essence, but is always encrusted in various sorts of noise" (p. 198: Collapse II). He calls this "black noise" and says it has three varieties: 1) the sensual tree has pivotal or essential qualities that must always belong to it under penalty of the intentional agent no longer considering it the same thing; and, 2) the tree has accidental features shimmering along its surface from moment to moment, not affecting our identification of it as one and the same; and, finally, the pine tree stands in relation to countless peripheral objects that inhabit the same intention (neighboring trees, mountains, deer, rabbits, clouds of mist) (p. 198: Collapse II). He lists the various kinds of relations as well: containment, contiguity, sincerity, connection, and no relation at all. He redefines ontology and metaphysics in light of his findings, saying, "let ‘ontology’ refer to a description of the basic structural features shared by all objects, and let ‘metaphysics’ signify the discussion of the fundamental traits of specific types of entities" (p. 204: Collapse II). As for objects themselves he is very explicit:

"I am a very frank dualist when it comes to objects. There are real objects and sensual objects, and they are very different from one another. Real objects exist apart from all relation. They hide from us and from all other objects, because they are untranslatable into any model.

Sensual objects, by contrast, exist only for another object, and vanish as soon as that entity stops paying attention, sleeps, or dies. Nor do they hide. They are always there in front of us, but are simply encrusted with too many superfluous qualities to be recognized. This is why Husserl thinks we need the eidetic reduction, to rotate objects at different angles to try to separate the essential qualities from the inessential ones." [3]

Ultimately he moves toward a weird realism that unlike a panpsychist view that states that "anything that exists must also perceive" to a polysychism that suggest that "anything that relates must perceive" (ibid.). He goes on, saying, that only "...by becoming a piece of a larger object, only by entering the interior of a larger one, does an entity have anything like a psyche. This means that entities have psyches accidentally rather than in their own right. For our model allows for entities to exist apart from all relations" (ibid.). If we were to imagine a model of the objective-oriented universe he tells us it might be like an "ocean without a bottom, but with a turbulent surface where certain drops of water have neighbors below but none above" (ibid.). He gives us a name for objects which exist without relation to other objects, objects that exist without perceiving: this kind of object is a "sleeping entity: or a dormant object" (ibid.). These dormant objects are "real, but currently without psyche" (ibid.). 

Beyond sleep and death objects exist in a twilight state of polypsychism. In a final colloquy he tells us,

"Each night we sleep, making ourselves as dormant as we can, stripping away the accidental accretions of the day and gathering ourselves once more in the essential life where we are untouched by external relations. Death, by contrast, is nothing like sleep. Death is a subversion from below, a corruption by means of failing parts, when vital components fail in such a way that they can no longer be refreshed or replaced" (ibid.).

Ultimately we will need new vocabularies and terminologies to describe things in all their splendour, for as Harman says,                                                                                                                                                                
"The world is neither a grey matrix of objective elements, nor raw material for a sexy human drama projected onto gravel and sludge. Instead, it is filled with points of reality woven together only loosely: an archipelago of oracles or bombs that explode from concealment only to generate new sequestered temples. The language here is metaphorical because it must be. While analytic philosophy takes pride in never suggesting more than it explicitly states, this procedure does no justice to a world where objects are always more than they literally state. Those who care only to generate arguments almost never generate objects. New objects, however, are the sole and sacred fruit of writers, thinkers, politicians, travellers, lovers, and inventors" (p. 212 Collapse II).

No better summation of Object-Oriented Ontology can be stated than this from Harman's essay "I am also of the opinion that materialism must be destroyed",

"Although object-oriented ontology (or OOO) remains a minority camp even within speculative realism, let alone continental philosophy or philosophy plain and simple, there is no good alternative to the OOO model of a real world deeper than all access, broken in advance into individuals, each withdrawing from the other no less than they withdraw from us, accessible through allusion rather than direct contact, and perhaps approachable only with a good deal of the `poetry' to which some concede no cognitive value at all. It is a philosophy in which to be does not mean `to be a real pattern', but to be a unicorn roaming across bridges and lunar craters, unable to make contact with anything else that exists" (p. 789). [4]

1. Toward Speculative Realism: Essays and Lectures (Zero Books, 2010)    
2.  On Vicarious Causation Collapse II ed. Robin Makay (March 2007) 
3. Correspondence with Graham Harman: On Object Oriented Ontology Beings Poem: Daniel Sacilotto's Blog  
4. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2010, volume 28, pages 772-790                                                                                                                                                                          
*Note: I'm using the Kindle version which does not have page numbers, so have elided those from the ibid. ... I'll need to order the full book version before I can add in page numbers in a future edition.



S.C. Hickman
S.C. Hickman

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