January 13th, 2011

S.C. Hickman

Graham Harman and the Key to Philosophy - The Art of the Background

"...rhetoric is really the art of the background, and if philosophy is not the science of the background then it is nothing."
      - Graham Harman


"Rhetoric is not the devious art of non-rational persuasion, but the best tool we have for exposing the unstated assumptions that lie behind any surface proposition. The analytic contempt for rhetoric and metaphor must not be emulated - not just because this attitude leads to boring results, but because it is philosophically false."
         - Graham Harman

Speaking against what he calls Analytic philosophy's "knockdown arguments" that have yet to produce a Golden Age of philosophy, Graham Harman tells us that he upholds instead "hyperbolic readings of philosophers against critical ones, since critique assumes that the major problem with any piece of writing are the logical errors it contains. By contrast, to hyperbolically imagine the complete victory of any philosophy is to simulate a social environment in which it is widely held to be free of logical blunders, and hence this method allows us to focus on what Whitehead calls the 'coherence and adequacy' of that philosophy" (PN: 175). [1]

He goes on to tell us that he holds to the idea that a 'good rhetoric' is the key to philosophy (PN: 176): for the simple reason, that "rhetoric deals with veiled background assumptions rather than explicit dialectical figures - and if philosophy does not expose background assumptions and play counterpoint against them, then I do not know what philosophy is for (PN: 176). Instead of the logically precise yet boring precision of Analytic philosophy he admires the empowering breadth and vastness of thought within such philosophers as Plato, Spinoza, and Leibniz who "do not make fewer logical blunders than the average university professor, but are simply much vaster in adequacy, coherence, originality, relevance, and insight (PN: 176 emphais mine).

That Marshall McLuhan's work on the trivium and tetrads left a lasting impression on Harman might be a clue to his fascination with rhetoric:

"In Laws of Media, Marshall & Eric McLuhan introduce their concept of the tetrad. Every medium can be described in terms of four polarities: enhancement, obsolescence, retrieval, and reversal. In his preface to the work, Eric McLuhan boldly describes the tetrad as “the single biggest intellectual discovery not only of our time, but of at least the last couple of centuries.” Recently, he stated that he “does not retract one iota” of that brazen claim. But not only has this assertion not been accepted – it has rarely even been mocked. The tetrad has largely been ignored, even by admirers of the McLuhans. This talk will proceed under the assumption that the tetrad is, in fact, the greatest intellectual discovery of at least the last couple of centuries."
     - from The Greatness of McLuhan by Graham Harman

McLuhan cites a passage from Cicero's De Oratore depicting the doctus orator, the ideal philosopher and citizen:

"Whatever the theme, from whatever art of whatever branch of knowledge it be taken, the orator, just as if he had got up the case for a client, will state it better and more gracefully than the actual discoverer and specialist."

The idea of encyclopedic knowledge was an aspect of this whole practice, and yet it was open to all for as McLuhan says, it is "not surprising, therefore, that Cicero should hold that philosophy is something that anybody can easily learn, since, like the Stoics, he held that the principles of philosophy of wisdom are innate in the hearts of all men...and that unless a man can learn a thing quickly he can never learn it at all." [2]

 

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S.C. Hickman

Graham Harman: Tool-Being - The Equipmental Empire: Part I

"Heidegger is the pivotal philosopher of the twentieth century, and therefore the seedbed of many of the most compelling ideas that will arise over the next one hundred years."
     - Graham Harman

I placed a jar in Tennessee...
         ...
It took dominion every where. 
    - Wallace Stevens, from Anecdote of the Jar

Arnica, eyebright, the
draft from the well with the
star-die on top,

 in the
Hütte...
     - Paul Celan, from Todtnauberg

                                                                 *   *   *

In summer 1922, Martin Heidegger (1889–1976) moved into a small cabin built for him high in the Black Forest mountains of southern Germany. Heidegger called this building, approximately six meters by seven, “die Hütte” (“the hut”). [1] Sharr describes what Paul Celan, the poet, and others thought of Heidegger's haunted life of solitude in Todtnauberg: it was "a life distinctively absorbed with its surroundings" (HH: 84). Sharr goes on to say that for Heidegger the hut was a structure that "framed its inhabitants and surroundings acutely, tracing flickers of insight. The hut, its equipment, and its small places became empty vessels... that measured the world in moments of retreat. At deepest remove, he responded to the hut and its mountains through a routine of almost monastic subsistence, affirming there his belief in a liturgy of being and delineating life by its passage in routine." (HH: 103).  

The idea of an achieved object like a hut, as well as the instituting (stiften) or grounding(grunden)  achievements of philosophy or poetry become in Heidegger a detailing of how all entities emerge out of a familiar context.[2] Graham Harman commenting on this process says we "can imagine the dispersal of various items in a room filled with typical academic equipment, most of it already understood, even taken for granted. As we already know, this set of gear can easily experience a disruption. But the scenario offered in 1919 is not that of the well-known malfunction of the tool; instead, Heidegger approaches the familiar system of objects through the eyes of a disoriented stranger" (TB: 80). This need for disorientation, a slight derangement of the common sense of the things, the defamiliarization of the "familiar system of objects" immerses us in an environment where "everything is laced with significance, everything is welthaft, laden with world" (TB: 81).  The affective drama of the world as pure event, as "fully invested with significance" (TB: 81), is then converted into Vorgang ("occurrence") or "objectified happening", a happening that is something objective or something known (TB: 81). The idea of knowledge requiring a de-distancing or de-severing from the lived experience, from the human itself and its correlative self-world axis is at the heart of what Harman means by "theory works by ripping asunder the connectedness of the Umwelt" (TB: 83). Umwelt understood as “environment” or “surrounding world”, represents the everyday world of human activity: its cares, concerns and ends. It is best understood not as the world that is merely in our immediate vicinity, perceivable by a detached observer, but as the ordered arrangement of equipment and tools that is directly accessible to human practical activities and aims.   

Out of this estrangement of the familiar and lived experience of objects, and the corollary "emergence of objects from the concrete system of life," which, as Harman notes,  "this talented student of Husserl regards as the hidden key to his teacher's method": that knowing "how to disclose entities from out of the sphere of the life-world... is the basic principle of phenomenology" (TB: 83). But it is just here, Harman tells us, that something strange happens, something "completely unexpected",  Heidegger tells us that there are two kinds of such theorizing (TB: 83). Harman tells us that in the first form of theorizing "we can exhibit entities in a way that concerned with their bondedness to a particular level of reference; and, secondly, "there is another kind of theorizing that has nothing to do with this step-by-step uncovering of levels" (TB: 83). He goes on to explain that at  "any moment in the process, whether at the level of 'blur' or 'brown' or 'color' or 'perception,' we can also stop and note that any of these things is at least something rather than nothing" (TB: 84).

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S.C. Hickman

Martin Heidegger: The Possibility of Thinking

"On a few walks when I was allowed to accompany [Carl Braig], I first heard of Schelling's and Hegel's significance for speculative theology as distinguished from the dogmatic system of Scholasticism. Thus the tension between ontology and speculative theology as the structure of metaphysics entered the field of my search."
          - Martin Heidegger



                                                                 *   *   *

In his essay My Way to Phenomenology Martin Heidegger tells us of the teaching methods of Husserl, who came to Freiberg in 1916 as Heinrich Reichart's successor. He'd been reading Husserl for some years but had yet to understand how he could put phenomenological thinking into practice. In Husserl's workshop he learned to follow Husserl's teaching, which "took place in the form of a step-by-step training in phenomenological "seeing" which at the same time demanded that one relinquish the untested use of philosophical knowledge. But it also demanded that one give up introducing the authority of the great thinkers into the conversation" (MH: 73). He recites his involvement in getting the master to republish the final chapter of his Logical Investigations, and the bewilderment of Husserl in his pupil - "watching him in a generous fashion, but at the bottom in disagreement". He tells us that the unique thing he learned from the Logical Investigations, in process of teaching seminars and lectures to advanced students at Frieburg, was that what "occurs for the phenomenology of the acts of consciousness as the self manifestation of phenomena is thought more originally by Aristotle and in all Greek thinking and existence as aletheia, as the unconcealedness of what-is present, its being revealed, its showing itself. That which phenomenological investigations, rediscovered as the supporting attitude of thought proves to be the fundamental trait of Greek thinking, if not indeed of philosophy as such" (MH: 74) .

As he read through these investigations it became clear to Heidegger that the most pressing question of phenomenology was: "Whence and how is it determined what must be experienced as "the things themselves" in accordance with the principle of phenomenology? Is it consciousness and its objectivity or is it the Being of beings in its unconcealedness and concealment?" (MH: 74). He tells us that all this brought him to the path of the 'question of Being', but that this lead him down many "starts, detours, and wrong paths" (MH: 74). All this lead to the publication of his Being and Time and of what he terms the age of phenomenology.

As he wrote this essay in 1963 he tells us that the "age of phenomenological philosophy seems to be over. It is already taken as something past which is only recorded historically along with other schools of philosophy. But in what is most its own phenomenology is not a school. It is the possibility of thinking, at times changing and only thus persisting, of corresponding to the claim of what is to be thought. If phenomenology is thus experienced and retained, it can disappear as a designation in favor of the matter of thinking whose manifestness remains a mystery" (MH: 76).


1. Martin Heidegger : philosophical and political writings / edited by Manfred Stassen (2003 by The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc.)