December 25th, 2010

S.C. Hickman

Graham Harman and Polysychism: OOO: Casino Metaphysics; or The Interior Life of Objects

"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.).

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S.C. Hickman

Julie Ryder: Textiles and the Art of Objects

"...there exists in nature a force which is immeasurably more powerful than steam, and by means of which a single man, who knows how to adapt and direct it, might upset and alter the face of the world. This force was known to the ancients; it consists in a universal agent having equilibrium for its supreme law, while its direction is concerned immediately with the great arcanum of transcendental magic…"
     - Eliphas Levi

The alchemists of old sought a transformative art, a productive art that would bring about the metamorphosis of one object into another through the power of the Philosopher's Stone. The philosophers' stone (Latin: lapis philosophorum) is a legendary alchemical substance, said to be capable of turning base metals, especially lead, into gold (chrysopoeia); it was also sometimes believed to be an elixir of life, useful for rejuvenation and possibly for achieving immortality. For a long time, it was the most sought-after goal in Western alchemy, meditated upon by alchemists like Sir Isaac Newton, Nicolas Flamel, and Frater Albertus. The Stone was the central symbol of the mystical terminology of alchemy, symbolizing perfection, enlightenment, and heavenly bliss. The discovery of the philosopher's stone was known as the Great Work.[1] 

One does not need to believe in the mythic alchemical art, nor does one have to understand the subtle practice of those magicians of the Great Work, for whom magic and science were still mixed in the thought and mind of philosophers and scientists alike to appreciate the underlying principles that these dark progenitors of a transformative art were seeking in Nature. Progenitors of a naturephilosophy that sought to understand the inhuman world that surrounds us on all sides, their ideas still rise among us like monstrous objects from the abyss where the will of the depths is "only the awakening of life, not evil immediately and for itself..." (Schelling). 

Julie Ryder follows this grand tradition of the alchemical art and science through the development of "...a hybrid practice of art and science by using fruit fermentation to colour and pattern my cloth. I left vegetation to rot onto the surface of the fabric, using the bacteria and moulds to colour it, leaving indelible organic marks. ... I enable the physical connection and dialogue between the fabric and myself to exist. is imperative that I remain connected to the fabric through haptical means."

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