Ktismatics

2 February 2009

Is Gravity an Object?

Filed under: Ktismata — ktismatics @ 8:13 am

Two physical objects are passing each other in outer space — never mind for now what set them in motion. One object is much more massive than the other. As they approach each other, both objects change their speed and trajectory relative to each other. Eventually the smaller object enters into a stable orbit around the larger object. What happened?

Here, as I understand it, is how Graham Harman’s object-oriented philosophy would explain it: The two objects were passing one another in the mutual indifference of their vacuum-sealed separateness. One of them exerted a sort of allure on the other, whereby the other began to experience the alluring object’s features or notes as though these notes were separate from the object itself. An inter-object plasmic field established itself between the two objects, in which the notes of both objects interacted with each other. In particular, the note called “mass” came to dominate the plasm. The two objects merged into a single composite object, with the interrelationships between the components being defined in terms of mass, disregarding other features like shape, texture, odor, sentience, and molecular composition. Through the vicarious influence of the components’ mass on each other the features of the composite object emerged, including the stable rotational arrangement of the two components objects relative to each other.

This proposed relational dynamic, while idiosyncratic to be sure, accounts for the events that occurred. What I can’t understand, though, is why the vicarious influence of the two objects on each other manifests itself in a specific way. The mass-note of one object encounters the mass-note of the other object, and so the two objects move toward each other. Why don’t they fly apart from one another instead? Why don’t the two objects disintegrate without ever touching each other, or change colors, or start vibrating in harmonic resonance with each other? The influence of the objects’ mass on each other is distinct, characteristic, and different from other kinds of influence. It’s as if this particular influence, extending itself across the plasm linking the two physical objects, is itself an object in its own right.

This influence-object — call it “gravity” — isn’t a note of either of the material objects approaching each other across empty space. Rather, gravity is an object that manifests itself only in the plasm between material objects. It is the plasm-object that links the mass-notes of these two material objects together in a particular way. Perhaps the plasm is a medium traversed by all manner of distinct influence-objects: gravity, magnetism, stong and weak forces, fear, hunger, sexual attraction, curiosity, etc. Each force exerts its influence on particular kinds of features or notes in the objects that have been brought into vicarious relationship with each other in the plasm. If one or more of these plasmic influence-objects encounters the right notes in the material objects that have joined together in the plasm, then the vicarious mutual influence takes on that particular flavor generated by the influence-object. So, when the influence-object Gravity encounters the material object note called Mass in the two material object, the result is a merged object that brings these two separate objects into closer proximity to each other. The influence-object called Love also traverses the plasm, but since in this particular local manifestation it encountered no notes in the two material objects on which it could operate, the Love influence remained latent and had no effect on the emergent relationship established between the two objects.

Or something like that.

Or perhaps the plasm is an entirely undifferentiated medium, exerting specific relational influences depending on the properties of the particular objects that show up within the plasmic field of influence. So, if two objects have mass, then the plasmic allure manifests itself as gravitational pull. If the two objects also have speed and momentum, then this plasmic force also manifests itself as something like deflection. And if the two objects are humans, then perhaps the plasm manifests itself as mutual curiosity or revulsion, or perhaps one human-object’s sadism connects with the other’s masochism. The properties or notes of the object differentiate the generic plasmic allure into the specific kinds of influences it exerts on the vicariously connected objects. If so, then gravity too is a property of the individual object, a property that manifests itself only in the presence of other objects with which it’s entered into a vicarious relationship, linking object to object via the closely-related property of mass. But if a property of an object reveals itself only in relationship with another object, does that property actually reside in the object itself?

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27 Comments »

  1. It is curious that I read you wondering about the particular rock-to-rock interactions that might happen under Graham’s metaphysics. I have recently been trying to figure out just what Graham would say about what happens when two rocks collide together, under his Latourian presumption that there is no direct contact, and that everything is mediated. (He gave me some clue to his answer, a kind of “inner” contact which I did not fully understand, but no clarification followed.)

    This is really the test for his ontology that wants to make all actors one equal footing, including non-human inanimate one’s. How does he treat seemingly dead objects/actors, especially of the kind that Science does a great job of describing as fundamentally passive things? And, insofar as he does grant some kind of activity between inanimate objects, some kind of actorness, how does he keep such a vision from slipping into panpsychism, something he still resists.

    As to the actor status of gravity, this too would be an interesting question. Or how plasma operates through objects, this too.

    Comment by kvond — 2 February 2009 @ 10:46 am

  2. “what happens when two rocks collide together, under his Latourian presumption that there is no direct contact, and that everything is mediated.”

    I believe it works like this: Collision entails the interaction of only certain specific properties of the rocks — their surfaces, their mass, their trajectories. Other properties — color, beauty, messages etched into them with chisels — aren’t affected. Further, virtually by definition any feature of an object that can be touched by another object isn’t really part of its essence — the essence always withdraws from all contact with anything. So the colliding rocks encounter each other inside the inter-object plasm where the relevant properties (surface, mass, trajectory) interact as if they were disconnected from the objects themselves — even though they aren’t really disconnected, ever. Eventually Graham says that an object is its notes (or properties or features, which I think are interchangeable terms), so if contact happens at the level of the properties, then isn’t it direct after all?

    “slipping into panpsychism, something he still resists.”

    I think you’d get panpsychism if the inter-object plasm is differentiated into various kinds of effective forces: gravity, magnetism, love, understanding, etc. So that means the capacity for understanding has to reside inside one object, which through allure connects with another object that is to be understood. So now you end up with a completely undifferentiated plasmic medium that receives its particular charge or efficacy depending on the “terminals” residing in the objects. So a big mass and a small mass charge the generic plasm with gravitational efficacy, an astrophysicist and a black hole charge the generic plasm with understanding-efficacy, and so on. It’s sort of the complement to a Deleuzian world (and maybe a Spinozan one as well?) where the energies are already differentiated and where they act on undifferentiated matter to generate individuation. (Hopefully this makes sense as I describe it.)

    My sense working through this is that either you have differentiated plasmic forces, which leads to panpsychism, or the objects differentiate the plasm, which to me suggests direct contact between objects. Of course I could be wrong, or haven’t thought it through adequately yet.

    Comment by ktismatics — 2 February 2009 @ 12:11 pm

  3. I see that Dr. Zamalek has put up a link to his Collapse article “On Vicarious Causation,” which can be found if you scroll down the right column of his blog.

    In a recent post Dr. Z also reiterates that direct connection is possible between a real object and the focus of that object’s intention, which is the eidos or image of another object, or the sensual object. Harman says that we don’t just see the surfaces or sensory traces of other objects, otherwise every time we saw a particular object from a different angle we’d regard it as a different object. We recognize this object before us as a whole thing, different from its environment and the other things that surround it. This sense of the object’s wholeness isn’t an illusion, but the eidos doesn’t reveal the depth or essence of that whole object — rather, the eidos reveals that some unreachable essence is concealed within the object. Can one object exert direct influence on the other sensual object that is the focus of its intentions? No: influence is vicarious, mediated by the qualities or notes encountering each other in the inter-object plasm, as already discussed here.

    Comment by ktismatics — 3 February 2009 @ 6:29 am

  4. For Graham, the larger object indirectly causes a change in the smaller object’s trajectory through space. The masses of the two objects link up in the inter-object plasm as though mass were a property disconnected from the objects as wholes. But the property called “mass” cannot really be abstracted from the object, especially if an object really is the aggregate of its properties. We speak of gravity too as an abstract force disconnected from the masses on which it acts, but that’s not really possible either. Gravity instantiates itself only in the presence of mass, and mass only in the presence of an object. We can talk about an object’s “gravitational field” as if this field were an energy force attached to that object. But in fact the field of an object doesn’t operate until some other massive body enters into the physical proximity of the object. So now gravity exists only in the presence of not just one massive object but two. Gravity is an emergent property of the merged object that comes into existence when these two objects “become aware” of each other in physical proximity, and the empty space between them becomes charged with gravitational pull.

    Now I don’t really understand Einstein’s contributions here, but I think he regards gravity as a property not just existing in the space between two objects, but in the grandly massive object that is the space-time continuum. Individual objects aren’t floating isolated from each other in empty space; they’re moving along on trajectories within a curved universe, and these trajectories are always influencing each other through the gravitational plasm that generates distortions in the continuum as one object approaches another. But… if we regard the gravitational field as a property of the object itself, and the spacetime continuum as a collection of objects, then two objects interact not by virtue of a gravitational force that emerges from the interaction, but rather the gravitational fields are themselves properties or notes of the objects themselves. And now we’re back in Graham’s object-oriented reality. Gravity is regarded as a property or a note of the object itself, related to but not identical with the other property called mass.

    Comment by ktismatics — 3 February 2009 @ 9:14 am

  5. Ktismatics, You seem to have a pretty good grasp on Graham’s notion of causation, so maybe you can explain, in the simplest of terms, just what happens when two rocks (just like billiard balls in classic Newtonian physics bump into each other. (You can leave the issue of gravity out of it.)

    In particular, is there direct contact between rock 1 and rock 2? If so, what is the nature of this “direct contact”? If there is not, what is mediating the contact?

    I”m looking for a baselevel description at a prototypical, even stereotypical, inanimate level.

    Comment by kvond — 3 February 2009 @ 9:48 am

  6. I presume, Kvond, that you’re asking what Graham says happens, not what I think happens. Here goes:

    The two rocks exist in complete isolation from each other. When one rock strikes another, what’s affected by the interaction are the position and the motion of these two rocks, resulting from the interaction of the relative position, velocity and mass of the two objects. Everything else about the two objects — their color, translucency, beauty, monetary value, etc. — remains unaffected. So it’s only the specific properties or features or notes called “position” and “motion” that are affected, as mediated by the propery called “mass.” This is the vicarious causation Graham talks about: it’s the properties or notes that affect each other, not the objects per se. Each object persists in its mysterious depth of essence even as its properties are changed by the vicarious causation of the other object. Furthermore, this mediated causation exerted between the two rocks is actually taking place inside a new composite object that the two rocks form through their association with each other. I.e., all influence between objects is vicarious, but this vicarious association generates a new combined object, such that what had been an external relationship between two objects is transformed into an internal relationship among the parts of the merged object.

    My question, which I explored in terms of gravity but which can be invoked here, is this: Why does this particular kind of contact between the two rocks’ properties generate a particular and predictable result? I.e., why is it that when the two rocks slam together the result isn’t that both of them disappear, or that they spawn a brood of pebbles, or that a rainbow appears? I.e., why does the vicarious connection between two objects’ mass and trajectory and speed generate the particular effects associated with inertia? But I’ll leave that alone for now: the first paragraph answers your question as best I can, Kvond.

    Comment by ktismatics — 3 February 2009 @ 10:27 am

  7. I answer your points as I read them, as if in a kind of dialogue. Take my objections as a kind of thinking-along-with-you.

    Ktismatics: When one rock strikes another, what’s affected by the interaction are the position and the motion of these two rocks, resulting from the interaction of the relative position, velocity and mass of the two objects. Everything else about the two objects — their color, translucency, beauty, monetary value, etc. — remains unaffected. So it’s only the specific properties or features or notes called “position” and “motion” that are affected, as mediated by the propery called “mass.”

    Kvond: So you are saying that when one rock strikes another the “position” of one rock directly affects the “position” of another rock? Because his metaphysics suffers from an occasionalism, the exact moment that the two “positions” are touching each other, that EXACT moment, why do the two rocks not form ONE rock (or is this what you are saying that they do)?

    Ktismatics: Each object persists in its mysterious depth of essence even as its properties are changed by the vicarious causation of the other object. Furthermore, this mediated causation exerted between the two rocks is actually taking place inside a new composite object that the two rocks form through their association with each other. I.e., all influence between objects is vicarious, but this vicarious association generates a new combined object, such that what had been an external relationship between two objects is transformed into an internal relationship among the parts of the merged object.

    Kvond: Then why is this “merged obect” seens at one point in time, suddenly asunder? There seems only to be a spinning vortex of properties and notes and vanishing essences, with absolutely no causal explanation.

    Ktimatics: Why does this particular kind of contact between the two rocks’ properties generate a particular and predictable result? I.e., why is it that when the two rocks slam together the result isn’t that both of them disappear, or that they spawn a brood of pebbles, or that a rainbow appears? I.e., why does the vicarious connection between two objects’ mass and trajectory and speed generate the particular effects associated with inertia? But I’ll leave that alone for now: the first paragraph answers your question as best I can, Kvond.

    Kvond: Then I am mystified what makes this a causal explanation, or an explanation of cause. What is actually missing is the power of the causal explanation, the way in which when we describe the causes of something, and understand how it works, there is a fundamental change in our position of the world, our possibilities. When your car breaks down you don’t want your mechanic saying to you, “Well the properties of your car are in tension with your car’s essence which is forever in retreat, and the position of its parts is changing the position of its other parts”. You want the exact determinations which are causing it to stall. Understanding these determinations is what allows you to drive. This is the thing, Graham’s description, at least as far as I understand it, lacks traction. This is what Wittgenstein said of the slippery ice of metaphysics, “Back to the Rough Ground!” At least in my sense of it, if we are really going to embrace objects, and objectivity, when we address the isssue of cause, here of all places we cannot lapse into a poetics of binaries. Causation, of all places, is where our metaphysics has to grip and grip hard, for the understanding of cause is how we experiences real changes in power and action.

    Comment by kvond — 3 February 2009 @ 12:17 pm

  8. Or, I might ask, Why are not the two rocks, before they have collided, considered two internal parts of one object?

    Comment by kvond — 3 February 2009 @ 12:30 pm

  9. “when one rock strikes another the “position” of one rock directly affects the “position” of another rock?”

    Position is a property or element of an object. While an element can be discussed abstractly as if it could be disconnected from the object, this is impossible. I.e., an element isn’t an object in its own right.

    “the exact moment that the two “positions” are touching each other, that EXACT moment, why do the two rocks not form ONE rock (or is this what you are saying that they do)?”

    They do form one object, but rather than calling this new object “ONE rock,” call it “two rocks touching.” The two rocks remain objects in their own right, even though they’re now also components of this new composite object. When precisely does this merger occur, when the objects’ elements enter into relationship with each other? I don’t know, but let’s say it’s when the two objects collide. In Guerrilla Metaphysics there’s an interval before the causal connection is executed, during which one object focuses its intentionality on the other, or the other exerts allure on the one. It’s during this “foreplay” that inter-object plasm gets charged with causality, that the elements seemingly come disconnected from their host objects, setting the stage for the vicarious mating to transpire.

    “There seems only to be a spinning vortex of properties and notes and vanishing essences, with absolutely no causal explanation.”

    I’m not sure I understand you here. The causation occurs at the level of the elements. What I can’t figure out is why the causal connection suddenly also creates this merged object, such that the causality occurs not between two objects but within this new object, as a sort of metabolic process. It seems to me that a lot of effort is being put into denying direct causality. I think partly it’s this: if one emphasizes the primacy of forces rather than objects, then any object’s current position, velocity, and direction is regarded as the sum of the vectors of all the processes that have moved this object around in the past. Dr. Z wants to talk about these things as current properties of the objects where they’ve landed, not the historical forces that got them there. And I’m pretty sure this is important to him because, if something like position can be described in terms of summative force vectors, then so can every other distinctive property of the object. Objecthood recedes; everything is forces.

    “the understanding of cause is how we experiences real changes in power and action.”

    This I think is what Dr. Z wishes to evade, or at least he doesn’t want to limit metaphysics to pragmatic effects. This is why he delves into the mysteries of the tool that Heidegger glosses: the causal efficacy of a hammer isn’t really the hammer per se; the essence of the hammer recedes from the blow.

    Comment by ktismatics — 3 February 2009 @ 1:16 pm

  10. Ktismatics: “They do form one object, but rather than calling this new object “ONE rock,” call it “two rocks touching.”

    Kvond: Other than you telling to call it one thing rather than another, because each object-state is cut off from all others, WHY call it one thing or another. Why does one description have priorty over the other?

    Ktimatics: This I think is what Dr. Z wishes to evade, or at least he doesn’t want to limit metaphysics to pragmatic effects.

    Kvond: Hmmm. Its one thing to not “limit” metaphysics to pragmatic effects, and quite another to offer explanations which have nothing to do at all with real, what one takes to be ontological, changes in the world. If what one claims in a description has absolutely no explanatory value that results in real increases in the power to act and understand, why have you not just slipped into poetics?

    From my perspective, the illustration of the hammer is what proves exactly the opposite of Graham’s point, which is, when using the hammer, the essence does not retreat, but rather comes into lived inhabitation with the user. That is, the reason why we can use the hammer is that our essence, and its essence combine to produce the effective and single object man-hammer, manifesting its own new essence, which actively changes the world. The essence of the hammer has not retreated, it has changed. There is no reason at all to maintain an essence which is no longer present.

    Comment by kvond — 3 February 2009 @ 1:50 pm

  11. I’ve been trying to understand this object oriented theory first before deciding whether I agree with it. First off, I should say that I find all these metaphysical positions difficult to evaluate. The adjectival qualifier “speculative” is an important one for me: once I get past empirically falsifiable propositions I start feeling like I’ve entered into a world where fiction and nonfiction are hard to distinguish from one another. But if we must enter into critique…

    When two rocks hit one another and they change position/direction/velocity, I find it very difficult to think about this event as anything other than direct contact and direct causation. Whatever propelled these objects on their collision course might be regarded as the actual cause (I’m sure there’s some Aristotelian lingo for it), so you could say that the collision and altered courses is an effect of this earlier cause. But if I’m looking at these two objects and they hit, the cause-effect relationship within that limited sphere of attention is clear. I see nothing to be gained by contending that the causal relationship occurred inside some conjoint two-rock object. Shortly after the collision the two rocks will go on their new merry ways, the collision-event and the merged-object having been a momentous yet momentary event in their shared histories. One would have to assert that the merged object persists, even as the two component rocks continue to extend the distance between each other; or that the merged object formed solely for the purpose of permitting a cause-effect event to take place, after which the merged object disintegrates again and is no more. This seems to me like an unnecessary move.

    Next, does a rock have an essence that withdraws from contact, such that it’s not affected by the collision? Well I agree that not everything about the rock is changed by the collision, and that it’s still a rock even if its trajectory has been altered. But eventually Dr. Z acknowledges that the essence of an object IS its qualities or elements or notes. I think that’s overstating the case, because then all the qualities that accumulate on the rock — its beauty and financial value and metaphorical association with “a hard place” — must also be regarded as aspects of the rock’s essence. The rock would seem to accumulate qualities, thus adding to its essence, by virtue of its association with humans. This would seem to violate the “realism” aspect of the philosophical project.

    I think it’s possible to specify that which distinguishes an object from everything else that isn’t the object by making reference to specific qualities possessed by the object. These qualities might inhere in the object itself (size, weight, etc.), or the qualities might be imputed to the object by virtue of its position in some matrix of meanings (financial value, commemorative value as having once been slung from David’s slingshot, etc.). I don’t think it’s necessary for there to be an information-using entity to detect these qualities for them to be real — the two rocks are real even if nobody sees them collide, etc. What’s possible is for creatures like humans to be able to extract informational value out of these real qualities, even if the qualities themselves aren’t identical to the human way of describing or representing them.

    Regarding the hammer, I agree with you. The essence of hammer-ness is its usefulness in pounding something. So my shoe is a hammer sometimes. “Hammer” is a functional description, a relational entity rather than a thing in itself. Now I suppose one could say that the two rocks colliding are functioning as hammers relative to each other — i.e., maybe intentionality is less important than actual results — but I think that’s a stretch. What’s important in hammer-ness is mass and solidity and, I think, controllability by someone who wants to hammer something. The other features of the hammer — its metallic composition, its age, its nostalgic value for the hammerer — these things retreat during the hammering event. When the dad hands off the hammer to his son and tells him that it’s his great-granddaddy’s hammer, then its nostalgic value comes to the fore and its hammer-ness recedes. Both of these elements are part of the essence of this particular object I suppose. Just because hammer-ness comes to the fore in a particular situation doesn’t mean that hammer-ness isn’t part of the essence of this object, and that somehow the retreating nostalgia-ness is more essential during that moment. This doesn’t make sense to me. The object is its elements. If the son sells the hammer in a garage sale, its nostalgic element is eliminated from the object, because that element makes sense only in a particular matrix of meanings. I suppose its nostalgia can persist in absentia, in which case it becomes the legendary hammer that’s been lost. But you know what I mean.

    So in sum, Kvond, when forced to evaluate Dr. Z’s scheme based on my limited background in metaphysics and my limited understanding of his work, I’d say that I’m not persuaded.

    Comment by ktismatics — 3 February 2009 @ 3:11 pm

  12. The other consequence of forcing cause-effect to take place inside a composite object, as I pointed out in my prior post on Guerrilla Metaphisics, is that it compromises realism. Suppose you as an object want to understand something about a rock. You’ve now made the rock an intentional object for yourself, and/or the rock has begun emitting a kind of allure that draws your attention to it. “Understanding” is a cause-effect relationship, whereby your understanding of this rock changes as a result of your encounter with it. If understanding occurs only inside the merged Kvond-rock object, then your understanding is mediated by this merged entity. Understanding is relative to the human-object relationship — this is “the Correlation” in Meillasssoux’s terminology. There is know direct understanding of a thing, because the thing never presents itself directly to the understander.

    Comment by ktismatics — 3 February 2009 @ 4:30 pm

  13. Ktismatics: Suppose you as an object want to understand something about a rock. You’ve now made the rock an intentional object for yourself, and/or the rock has begun emitting a kind of allure that draws your attention to it. “Understanding” is a cause-effect relationship, whereby your understanding of this rock changes as a result of your encounter with it. If understanding occurs only inside the merged Kvond-rock object, then your understanding is mediated by this merged entity. Understanding is relative to the human-object relationship

    Kvond: This, esspecially the bolded, assumes the priority of the “human” I when thinking about what understanding is. Instead of the mutuality of kvond-rock combination being seen merely as a “mediation”, I contend it is the very substantial condition of understanding in the first place. That is, when the kvond-rock composition is composed (let us I say, I am using the rock to chip away at the slate of an arrowhead), the understanding of the rock is not “mediated” but belows to the entire kvond-rock composition. The composition itself insures that the essence of the rock does not recede, but rather is the very condition of a co-habitation of essences, essences in combination of a new essence (in occasionalism, there is no priority of prior essence delineations).

    Now the arrow head may now appear to recede as I combine with the rock to work it, but soon and variably, the arrowhead enters into a kvond-rock-arrowhead combination, with a new, manifesting essence, occasion by occasion, as occasionalism allows.

    The assumption of a prior essentialization of the subject is a vestiage of Idealism and the imagination of consciousness under a Central Clarity Consciousness conception. There is mediation, but rather transformation.

    The merged object is the new knowing essence.

    Comment by kvond — 3 February 2009 @ 4:53 pm

  14. So it sounds like you want to retain mediated or vicarious causation, Kvond — or at least when it comes to human-object interaction. Why not keep it with rock-rock interaction too? Why separate the non-sentient from the sentient? This is one of Dr. Z’s objectives, to make the merged human-object composite similar in kind to any other composite. If a rock can directly deflect the trajectory of another rock, why can’t a person gain some sort of direct access to knowledge? You distinguish mediation from transformation, but Dr. Z’s creation of the merged object is itself a transformation. “The merged object is the new knowing essence” — this sounds exactly like something Dr. Z would say.

    Comment by ktismatics — 3 February 2009 @ 5:20 pm

  15. Ktismatics: “So it sounds like you want to retain mediated or vicarious causation, Kvond — or at least when it comes to human-object interaction. Why not keep it with rock-rock interaction too? Why separate the non-sentient from the sentient?”

    Kvond: Hmmm. There seems to be a vast miscommunication. My entire take against Graham’s notion is that precisely it does not do justice to the equality of rock-rock, rock-human interactions, (as it is organized upon an Idealist, that is thoroughly Human-oriented conception of what consciousness and object is). My entire reading is panpsychic, that is all is sentient, or cognitioning at some level. This is precisely what Graham resists.

    As far as I can tell, the entire concept of “mediation” (rather than transformation) is driven by this priorty of the human Idealism that is foundational to Graham’s conceptualization of object.

    Ktismatics: If a rock can directly deflect the trajectory of another rock, why can’t a person gain some sort of direct access to knowledge?

    Kvond; Precisely, but one must not think in terms of strict boundaries. The “directness” of contact is the direction of transformation.

    Ktismatics: You distinguish mediation from transformation, but Dr. Z’s creation of the merged object is itself a transformation. “The merged object is the new knowing essence” — this sounds exactly like something Dr. Z would say.

    Kvond: When you have the transformation you have no need for mediation at all, it drops out of the description. As for what Graham would and would not say, it may sound like something Graham would say, but he pulls back from the panpsychism which would ground just such an essence transformation vision, as well as giving any value or traction to the force of causal explanation which would grant power to specific kinds of transformations. If indeed there is a new knowing essence, there is no need to speak of retreating essences or their tension with their qualities. The entire existential crisis of objects that Graham forwards seems superfluous to the description.

    Comment by kvond — 3 February 2009 @ 7:10 pm

  16. I think our miscommunication is fairly minor, Kvond, though I think the sources of our disagreement with Dr. Z are fairly major. Dr. Z says that he wants to equate rock-rock and rock-human interactions in the rock-rock direction. He regards psych as just another kind of interaction, not that different from gravity and inertia. He uses anthropomorphic terms like allure and intention, but he claims that, e.g., rocks running at each other are captured in mutual allure and intention without the psychological meanings attached to these words. I’m not persuaded that it can be done, and neither are you, but there it is.

    And I guess I don’t understand what you mean by transformation. Transformation of what into what? I regard this move of changing external object-object relations into internal relations within the composite object to be a transformation, and it’s within this transformation that the mediation takes place.

    Comment by ktismatics — 3 February 2009 @ 9:10 pm

  17. One more thought, this one on a more psychological level. Though I don’t necessarily subscribe to the truth of Dr. Z’s object-oriented approach, I respect its internal consistency and its creativity. I would rather see him use my remarks to refine or clarify his system than try to engage him in debate to shoot his ideas down. Not that I think I could win such a shoot-out: it’s just that I like the idea of alternate realities. And I see nothing in Dr. Z’s reality that I regard as inimical to my own or harmful to others’ well-being.

    Comment by john doyle — 6 February 2009 @ 4:01 pm

  18. Clysmatics, while reading one of Shaviro’s interpretations of the Egyptian temptress, having to do with Lovecraft, I suddenly realized that Lovecraft is always such a downer because indeed he confronts you with the materiality of his apparitions; you can’t explain them away by some divine intervention, as punishment, or otherwise. And they seem completely indifferent, as I experienced again in the Lovecraftian King adaptation THE MIST. But for me the important aspect is the pessimism and neeeeeeegativism which comes out of this: it’s a Godless universe, in which, when you look closely, nothing matters, so we might just as well kill ourselves in advance. What’s the use of bearing that meaningless cancerous outgrowth we call the human mind, heart, soul.

    Comment by Parody Center — 7 February 2009 @ 9:15 pm

  19. I’m not sure Lovecraft’s world is purely materialistic, since the materials point away from or behind themselves to beings, motivations, religions, etc. It’s just that these other non-material realities can never be known by those who encounter the objects. The objects point away from themselves into a void. This object-world is inescapable and impenetrable: someone left these remnants of their presence behind, but the artifacts reveal very little about their creators. These objects are imbued with an absence at once powerful and inscrutable; the narrators who witness these objects are haunted by the simultaneous longing for and dread of the creators’ return. It’s hauntological. And that’s I think the mood of the realist idea: objects withdraw into themselves, brooding in their seclusion yet alluring in the mute testimony they offer to their own plenitude. Whatever forces created or destroyed them are likewise locked inside the impenetrable object: there is no direct causation that can change them.

    I don’t think this object-oriented hauntology makes for a godless universe necessarily, but God too remains inscrutable and monolithic, impervious to our attempts to know him. The heavens and the earth serve as artifacts testifying to his absence. Nor does this hauntology make for an inhuman universe: people are all around us, but we can never touch them, their physical selves housing untouchable essences walking the world in vacuum-sealed isolation from one another — like trees walking, says the guy whom Jesus begins to heal of his blindness. Nor is this a selfless universe: we’re here, but we can’t reach our own essences. And so on.

    Is this hauntological dread itself an artifact of our futile efforts to penetrate the impenetrable? If we could just become accustomed to the way things really are, might we become fascinated by the wild diversity of objects and selves without trying break them apart, own them, control them, become one with them…?

    Whether I agree the the object-oriented world, I agree that it carries a distinctive set of affects or moods within itself.

    Comment by john doyle — 8 February 2009 @ 7:39 am

  20. It’s just that these other non-material realities can never be known by those who encounter the objects. The objects point away from themselves into a void.

    Yes yes but what’s the end result, the end result is withdrawal, indifference and ultimately – death. It’s really a kind of death porn. Where is the ”transcendental” in all this? How can this help me LIVE in the world? I’m sure you’re not implying that I should study this only so I can withdraw into catatonia (on which i-Pod marketing would earn handsomely, for your description of humans living together apart works ideally in their commercials).

    might we become fascinated by the wild diversity of objects and selves without trying break them apart, own them, control them, become one with them…?

    you know I don’t actually really believe that we can escape the linguistic-symbolic apparatus, nor do I find that I have been given a proper argument as to why we should (to get rid of the Continental label is not a good reason for me). But maybe your superior knowledge of the Egyptian diva’s musings holds a clue…?

    Comment by Parody Center — 8 February 2009 @ 8:31 am

  21. Lovecraft is a sort of deathporn, I think you’re right. I haven’t read any Lovecraft in a very long time, but I remember that “unspeakable” seemed to be his favorite adjective, thereby manifesting the ultimate futility of trying to write words about the Real envisioned in this way, as a realm that precedes and recedes from the Symbolic. In this regard I see affinity between Lacan’s and Harman’s worldview: no direct contact with the Real essence of anything. Harman certainly doesn’t occupy the structural-linguistic territory, but the sense of remoteness is there. I suppose this is the difference between a philosophy based on structures, where objects and people have their own plenitude but remain insular; and one based on flows, where there’s all sorts of interaction but no autonomy of the individual object or person from the shaping forces.

    Comment by john doyle — 8 February 2009 @ 10:58 am

  22. i tried to start to tell you that i sensed that same futility, pessimism and death (of spirit) in fincher’s zodiac, where events are similarly related and unrelated, with the added twist that fincher i think also addresses morality – in such an universe, morality is not possible, intrinsically impossible, because not only is God away, you cannot even get in touch with his remnants (the astrological planets) and all attempt at symbolic communication falters (the letters, though ”deciphered”, mean nothing). but i think you’re right, the supernatural dimension is still there, only clearly ruled by some kind of a devil – an evil remorseless deity. so in the end i don’t know what the speculators’ ethical position is: to stand there stoically like a rock and ENDURE this living Hell, finding solitude in the aesthetic experience of the object’s clinical beauty? (i wonder what the proper fashion statement would be for such a position, probably some kind of translucent vampire makeup a la THE CURE) Much as I hate the thought, I’m beginning to understand why colonel sherbert preferred to run off to the Walden!

    Comment by Parody Center — 8 February 2009 @ 7:03 pm

  23. In the great Lovecraft adaptation DAGON, by Stuart Gordon, which if you haven’t seen you simply must, the Fish monsters are overtly associated with Satan that is to say global capitalism. They have the ability to simply create gold (perchance via some kind of transsubstantiation) And they run a nice little private ivy league club to which only their incestuous breed is admitted.

    Comment by Parody Center — 8 February 2009 @ 7:28 pm

  24. Ktismatics: “And I guess I don’t understand what you mean by transformation. Transformation of what into what? I regard this move of changing external object-object relations into internal relations within the composite object to be a transformation, and it’s within this transformation that the mediation takes place.”

    Kvond: Thanks for this proding. I’ve read his essay on causation now and have a much better sense of not only where he is driving at, but also how I feel about it. There are points of increased affinity, and also some greater fissures. I’ve summarized my response here: http://kvond.wordpress.com/2009/02/11/how-do-the-molten-centers-of-objects-touch/

    I have to say that it is an interesting theory, despite its Idealist heritage.

    Comment by kvond — 12 February 2009 @ 5:29 pm

  25. Dude, that’s one long post, but I will read it. As evidenced by my post, I tend to compare Harman’s ideas (and Meillassoux’s, for that matter) with empiricism, and in good empiricist tradition I tend to look at how the ideas play out in specific examples. So I’ll see if you remain concrete enough for me to follow your elaborations.

    Comment by john doyle — 12 February 2009 @ 9:59 pm

  26. John,

    There is no need for you to read it, for it is very long. I only alert you in case you have interest in the nature of my criticism.

    As for empiricism, at least the traditional sort, the metaphor of one-to-one reflection between states of the mind (or true propositions) and states of the world simply is insufficent. If what one wants is “concrete” results I always take Pragmaticism to be more concrete and meaningful than the usual forms of Empiricism. I have yet to see empirical metaphysics trump pragmatism in terms of concreteness of result, example by example.

    Comment by kvond — 12 February 2009 @ 10:05 pm

  27. I know next to nothing about philosophy; when I talk about empiricism I’m referring to scientific praxis. I don’t subscribe to a representational version of empiricism. Data don’t speak for themselves; theory has to make sense of the data. But I do think that it’s possible to know about things even if one doesn’t know the thing for exactly what it is. This idea of retreating essences doesn’t work for me. Pragmatism in the sense that knowledge is valid to the extent that it’s useful to the knower? Sure. Pragmatism in the sense of emergent properties and different levels of explanation that don’t require mechanistic reductionism? Yes to that as well.

    Comment by john doyle — 12 February 2009 @ 10:16 pm


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