12 February 2010

Realities and the “Really Real”

Filed under: Ktismata, Language, Psychology — ktismatics @ 6:05 am

The realism wars have left me confused about what to call things.

I acknowledge that there are real things and forces “out there,” independent of my perceptions and thoughts about it. But I also think that there are are socially-constructed realities like languages and laws and politics and art. And I think there are individually-constructed realities, and fictional realities, and virtual realities. It seems to me that important distinctions are lost by regarding these different kinds of realities, as well as the things and forces that occupy them, as being ontologically equivalent objects, each of varying size and complexity, related to each other in various ways within one all-encompassing reality.

I’ve habitually spoken of alternate realities, not in a scifi sense but with reference to the different ways in which things and forces can be clustered together. Architectural realities and poetic realities differ in the ways in which trees and words and emotions are put together and understood and used. The raw universe hangs together all on its own, but scientific reality embeds that raw universe in a network of mental constructs and technical terms and theories and research methods and practitioners. Is it fair to refer to a scientific reality that’s related to but also distinct from the raw reality that is its subject matter? I’ve tended to think so.

To refer to the accumulation of scientists and methods and theoretical constructs and studies as a composite object seems inadequate to the task. Granted, the object-oriented approach acknowledges that the individual components making up such a complex object are affected by their participation in the larger context that links them all together. But it’s this larger context that spawns the ever-growing assembly of individual scientists and instruments and studies of which science consists and by which science expands and transforms itself. The larger context seems to determine whether the individual components are or are not science.

It’s possible to contend that individual objects contain properties or potentials that enable them to participate in various larger contexts. So, since a cedar tree is made up of molecules and elements it contains within itself the potential to engage in relations with physicists and their theories; since it’s also made up of genes it contains the potential to engage in relations with biologists; since it’s tall and pointed it has the potential to be incorporated in a metaphor comparing it with a flame. Did the cedar tree have metaphorical potential even before there were sentient beings inventing metaphors? That seems backward. I think that the invention of metaphor as a way of thinking and speaking creates the framing context in which the metaphorical potential of already-existing objects comes into existence. Surely the individual potentials and the contexts in which those potentials have meaning are interdetermined.

So what do I call these larger contexts that link things and forces together in particular ways? To me a scientific “object” connotes not something that possesses scientific potential, but rather something that is studied by scientists, or perhaps something that is used by scientists to study other objects. So too with a poetic object: it’s the tree, or the words to describe the tree, or maybe even the kind of literary device used to describe the tree.  To call science or poetry an “object” doesn’t work for me. To call science or poetry a “reality” does work for me, but it’s confusing. There are multiple realities, but then there is the “really real” of raw nature. There is the physical tree and the genetic tree and the poetic tree, but then there is just the tree.



  1. “Did the cedar tree have metaphorical potential even before there were sentient beings inventing metaphors? That seems backward. I think that the invention of metaphor as a way of thinking and speaking creates the framing context in which the metaphorical potential of already-existing objects comes into existence. Surely the individual potentials and the contexts in which those potentials have meaning are interdetermined.”

    I really agree with you, John. Can somebody have the potential to be a doctor without it being previously decided what, generally, doctoring entails? I don’t think so. I don’t really know what OOO is trying to achieve, outside of some immovable monism. There doesn’t seem to be any room for change because everything is already always an object.

    “To call science or poetry a “reality” does work for me, but it’s confusing. There are multiple realities, but then there is the “really real” of raw nature. There is the physical tree and the genetic tree and the poetic tree, but then there is just the tree.”

    It is confusing, but it works better for me too. The really real is also the ability to think, if not the content of the thoughts themselves ie Are thinking on a round-square cupola is really real, even if the impossible cupola isn’t. It becomes an object to work on – but that doesn’t give an objective reality.


    Comment by NB — 12 February 2010 @ 7:21 am

  2. It’s reasonable to think that characteristics or properties or aggregations are mental constructs, and that things in the mind-independent raw universe don’t really “have” or “contain” them. What’s interesting to me is that there must be something ontological about the way the universe is that it would lead us to think of it as being composed of objects with properties, etc. The universe has failed to cover its tracks. What we’ll get when we examine it will always be a sort of metaphor or translation, in the same way that you can’t “see” a photon directly because it’s what you see with, but assuming that what we call the mind is itself raw universe, we’ll always have some sort of access to it.

    I always liked the idea of a flat ontology, but I think what I was liking was the idea of flattening it into a raw physical universe. I’ve since come to think that OOO’s sort of flattening is dependent upon a particular historical line of argument. Levi is fond of saying that OOO makes the nature/culture distinction irrelevant in some sense by drawing a transversal line across it, but to draw the transversal line, you need the things you’re drawing it across.


    Comment by Asher Kay — 12 February 2010 @ 8:27 am

  3. I’m enough of a realist to think that the tree exists independent of my percepts and thoughts, and enough of a scientific realist to think that it really is comprised of something like atoms interacting with each other strongly and weakly. I don’t, like Latour, contend that nobody died of the smallpox virus before Pasteur discovered it. But Pasteur’s scientific work was embedded in an already-existing larger investigative context that made it clearly identifiable as a scientific “object” occupying that context.

    Certainly the human-invented realities like poetry and parody are contingent on human brains. I suspect that if I read Kant I’d get one version of why brains can pick out the regularities in nature. There’s also the evolutionary argument, pointing out the survival value of distinguishing butterflies from sabre-tooths (-teeth?), daytime from nighttime, shelter from exposure, food from poison.

    The flattening into a raw physical universe gets closer to the eliminativist and semiologist perspectives. And certainly a poem has material substance on papers and in brains. I guess I’m used to thinking of realities in terms of human contexts of meaning, which adds something to the raw physicality. It’s a relational construal of reality, and I’m sure I could accept the notion of, say, a reality defined by gravitational or topographical variables as being relational in a broader non-human context. I’d be willing to undergo the flattening procedure, but I’d keep the multiple realities as part of the ontological terrain. Still, since the same tree-object can participate in multiple realities (nuclear physics, genetics, poetics, cotton-burning engines, etc.), there’s an implicit hierarchical relationship between realities and their contents.


    Comment by john doyle — 12 February 2010 @ 9:20 am

  4. “The flattening into a raw physical universe gets closer to the eliminativist and semiologist perspectives.”

    What I share with the OOO perspective is that putting everything on an equal ontological level does not require an eliminativist perspective. There’s a distinction between the amount of conceptual layering, mereology, etc. that we need to understand stuff, and the complex and possibly layered nature of the raw universe. It’s one of the most difficult distinctions to draw, because we can’t talk about it without making use of conceptions of it. That’s where I see the use in the “transcendental” approach. It’s not so much reading backward from how we think about things to how they really are as much as it is an exercise in logic. The “conditions” that one uncovers are still in terms of conceptions of the raw universe, but one still ends up knowing more than one knew about it. Does that make any sense?

    What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that there is no need for a flattening “procedure”. If you start with our raw universe, poetry will emerge, and the number of translations and relations – the amount of weirdness and complexity – that’s required to get to poetry is going to be way, way greater than is required to get to carbon.


    Comment by Asher Kay — 12 February 2010 @ 9:52 am

    • but then there is the “really real” of raw nature. There is the physical tree and the genetic tree and the poetic tree, but then there is just the tree.”

      It is confusing, but it works better for me too. The really real is also the ability to think

      I think this term ‘the really real’ is one of the most absurd things i’ve ever heard. It’s either real or it’s not. There is no semi-tree that is the physical tree beyond the ‘real tree’, which is the ‘idea tree’.

      This is the same thing you were talking about in other posts, John. I suppose we should all conclude our sentences with ‘John’ now, e.g., ‘I agree with you, John’ and ‘I don’t agree with you, John’.

      The ‘poetic tree’ indeed. This is not dillettantism, John….it is navel-gazing. These are different things.

      “The really real is also the ability to think”

      How would you know?


      Comment by Quantity of Butchness — 12 February 2010 @ 10:16 am

  5. The reason I wrote this post at this time is that I’ve been converting some of the text I wrote about Genesis 1 four years ago into a different context. Here’s part of what I wrote then:

    A creator alternately contemplates the stuff of material existence and imagines what the stuff could mean. Looking stimulates the imagination, while imagining opens the eyes. Thing is substance; idea is meaning; thing imbued with idea is reality – or so I contend is the lesson of the creation story. Substance alone is proto-reality, devoid of form and meaning; idea alone is mere possibility without its realization. To create the heavens and the earth – to create a reality – you need both substance and idea, idea wedded to substance.

    Which is the more powerful act: to create all the things that populate the heavens and the earth, or to create systems of meaning by which the heavens and the earth become real? An individual insect can die at the same instant that another one hatches; a whole species of insect can come into existence, thrive, and fall into extinction; mountain ranges can be lifted up from the sea, slowly crumble to rock, and sink back into the deep; a star can form, generate enough gravity to support a solar system and enough energy to support life, and then collapse and disintegrate. These are physical events involving the creation, transformation and destruction of matter. However, until they find their place in a system of meaning, these events and things are not real.

    This sounds like hard-core postmodernism, as if I were denying the existence of material substance. But that’s not what I had in mind. Man-made realities versus the materially real is what I’m trying to express. I do claim, though, that the narrator of the Bible story conflated material creation with the creation of meaning.


    Comment by john doyle — 12 February 2010 @ 10:23 am

  6. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/03/books/review/Roiphe-t.html?pagewanted=1&sq=kunkel&st=cse&scp=1

    This may not be the right place to put this, but it’s an exceptionally good article, with especially good excerpts from Mailer.

    And then this:


    I found those articles (both good) at AdsWithoutProducts, and thought they were more linkworthy than the post itself, but here is how he writes the post:

    Interesting: Joel Agee’s roiphes Peter Handke’s new Don Juan: In His Own Words in the NYT this weekend:

    ” For all its engaging and delicate ruminations, and despite its bold, humorous claim to be “the definitive and true story of Don Juan,” the book left me wanting to hear again Mozart’s treatment of the same theme. That music has everything Handke’s prose lacks: brio, verve, declarative intensity, a vast range of emotion and, last but not least, brilliant, joyful virility.

    It’s starting to look like a concerted, and very strange, campaign that the NYT is conducting against all manner of literary flaccidity and impotence. Odd. Just ordered the novel anyway. Why isn’t it being published in the UK?”

    Well, excuse me, but i didn’t know that there had been a new ‘goes without saying’ manifesto in favour of ‘literary flaccidity and impotence’, even if you find much of it. A ‘campaign against all manner of literary flaccidity and impotence’. Surely everybody in the know realizes that these are most desirable and laudatory? Well, excuse me again. I just didn’t know it. And it’s not my sexism either, those last paragraphs of Fannie Hurst’s ‘Imitation of Life’ pulp had plenty of virility in them and we’re not even talking non-pulp either. I’m just dazed at the thought that Don Giovanni might not be convincing as something other than Don Giovanni, and that someone would realize that, while ghastly (but loving it, even unto refusing repentance at the moment of death, which is very impressive in a good opera performance; btw, Joseph Losey’s film of it with Kiri TeKanawa as Donna Elvira in the late 70s is really worth watching, and thoroughly enjoyable even without an ‘opera for dummies’), some of the dames were definitely ‘hot pants for him’ and TeKanawa talked about this very explicitly as having to be worked into the furious character as an omnipresent component of Elvira. But no matter what one could go on about, even if those worried that various forms of feminism might be offended by too much virility (that may be because of lack of the possession of it), it doesn’t quite follow that the ideal ought to ever be ‘flaccidity and impotence’. I suppose a ‘castrated Don Juan’ was inevitable if this ‘manifesto’ of the newly castrated (and loving it in quiet desperation) was to have teeth (loose ones, and I do mean the teeth, not the rest of the activity.)

    And I do have to say, this was an eye-opener for me. This is ACCEPTED now, and even aggrandized. Dominic’s Andrea Dworkinism is one thing, but carrying the ‘beauty of flaccid and impotent penises’ into a literary reflection was not sometning I had heard of before. But I should have suspected it. And here we have someone who is talking about a NYTimes ‘campaign’ against ‘literary flaccidity and impotence’. I mean, the fucking CHEEK! We’ll have our weakness! Weakness is so poignant, so beautiful, so incapable of functioning, that most sublime form of tumescence, the literary object is now fully the mirror of bad sex in all its glory.

    But it’s the Roiphe article that is really good, and I am so glad i found it and read it. One of the best pieces on literature and pornography in fiction I’ve seen in a long time. His attitude is very virile itself, and it just occurs to me that Ads thinks so too subconsciously, turning the name into a verb ‘roiphes’. ‘To roiphe’ is to do sometning. How DARE he! We want inertia, that is where the keys to the ‘longing for the blog commons can be found’.


    Comment by quantity of butchness — 12 February 2010 @ 9:15 pm

  7. As you know, Quantity, I write impotent characters too, though they’re too ambivalent to revel in it — which of course is characteristic of the writerly attitude in question. One of the things I like about the Creator in Genesis 1 is that he just goes ahead and does something. We have no back story, no motivation, no worries about whether he’s violating the Prime Directive by imposing his own will on the formless void into which he’s just inserted himself. He creates, seemingly for the sheer pleasure of it, he declares it good, and after six days he’s done. But then there’s Adam and Eve: how did the creator spawn such anxious, uncertain, insecure, self-conscious offspring? They are made in his image and likeness, we’re told: he must have been hiding something about himself, maybe even from himself.

    The DF Wallace review of Updike, referenced repeatedly by Roiphe, is here. It sounds to me that Wallace liked Updike’s books and was surprised at how many of his contemporaries don’t. What he complains about isn’t Updike’s perpetual protagonist, “incorrigibly narcissistic, philandering, self-contemptuous, self-pitying and deeply alone, alone the way only a solipsist can be alone.” The characters written by the next generation — Wallace’s own generation — are held captive by “anomie and solipsism and a peculiarly American loneliness,” which he doesn’t find any more attractive. What Wallace seems to be missing here is the fun part of an Updike narcissist. He celebrates Updike as a great prose stylist, he respects the fact that he speaks for a generation, but he thinks the generation itself has gone flaccid. Maybe he’s right: Updike’s stylistic lapses as cited by Wallace sound flaccid, precious, overly intellectual. Roiphe makes similar complaints about Roth: it’s as if Roth has lost the sheer verve of writing all those words. That’s what Fanny Hurst gives us in that little exerpt from Imitation of Life: the vitality and exuberance of writing as pleasure.

    Going back a few generations in American literary figures and their sexuality, here’s part of a letter that Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote to his sister shortly after his marriage: “We are as happy as people can be, without making themselves ridiculous, and might be even happier; but, as a matter of taste, we choose to stop short at this point.”

    There are connections to the realities theme of this post, of course. All the American male novelists that Roiphe singles out, especially those from the phallic generation — Bellow, Mailer, Roth, Updike — create distinctive realities that persist from one book to the next. The characters and settings may change, but they take on their meaning and their qualities from the larger realities into which they’ve been thrust by the authors.


    Comment by john doyle — 13 February 2010 @ 7:42 am

  8. That Nawthorne quote marvelous. Whatever one hasn’t read by him is always a loss–meaning that he truly was such a great writer. He is up there with any English novelist, and his book about this travels through England is superlative as well. Well, maybe he couldn’t write ‘Tristram Shandy’, but then James Joyce couldn’t have either, and one Laurence Sterne was enough.

    I didn’t mean one shouldn’t write about ‘impotent characters’, what Ads was saying that there was a campaign against ‘literary flaccidity’, which means that flaccid writing itself ought to be considered a legitimate or even desirable goal. That makes no sense whatever. In fact, Mailer himself writes about a lot of flaccid and weak characters. The problem with this Handke piece about Don Giovanni, though, is that you really DO have a kind of flaccidity built in if you try to render Don Giovanni anything but virile. Condemn him for every other fault and sin, but he is not Don Giovanni if you castrate him. The whole point of writing him that way would be to get revenge on him (understandable, but not very convincing unless you can usurp all of his powers as well). And it does seem symptomatic of something that would be taken seriously as a means to further the malaise that AdsWithoutProducts is actually proclaiming as a virtue. Fellini tried to avenge himself on Casanova in his film with Donald Sutherland, and loathed everything about Casanova. I don’t see any point in that either (just don’t bother would be the solution, people read Casanova’s Memoirs still, and they are sometimes very wise), but Handke’s sounds like the very way he has cast his ‘weak Don Giovanni’ is not like Fellini’s outrage, but rather a wish that Don Giovanni could be turned into an Everyman. That’s just impossible, but it does seem to be a barometer of the times: That such a portrayal of something totally opposed to what a Don Juan could be would be acceptable. This is part of the flattening out that people who want political correctness even in their fiction. I hate to agree with Susan Sontag about anything, but maybe her assessment of Peter Handke was right, although her novels are plenty weak, God knows.

    But what I was always pointing to was: Just look at the energy in that Roiphe article itself. He really covers a lot of territory and knows just which excerps from Roth, Bellow (I heard him read in 2002, that was interesting–he said “you’ll still get to see ‘those pictures’ after you die…” which I liked very much, although he hasn’t reported back, as usual), and Mailer. I rarely read a literary report that good, and the subtleties about how ‘pornography must arouse’ and Roth’s pornography in the recent book doesn’t. So, in himself, Roiphe is demonstrating that non-flaccidity can never be a virtue in any kind of writing, whether or not it has anything to do with men ‘n’ women, sex, etc. ‘Flaccid, impotent’ writing doesn’t even have anything to do with medical conditions, it just means the writing was weak. And Agee’s piece, which is not bad, is nevertheless not nearly as MUSCULAR as Roiphe’s. Maybe if ‘muscular’ is substituted for ‘virile’, it won’t be so ‘OFFENSIVE’ to would-be novelists who will never be able to write if they cannot quit worrying about someone else’s opinion all the time, and literally asking them for permission to write something. No writer of any merit at all ever did that, even if few become a Hawthorne. And they are also plenty of women novelists who are ‘muscular’. I suppose it’s the endless anti-phallic campaign, though, that gets offended when someone dares to say they’d rather hear the Mozart than read Handke’s paltry whimperings. Well, and you know, there are good forms of ‘not particularly muscular writing’ as well: Henry James is one of these. I don’t like him nearly as much as I did when I was much younger. He’s a fine writer, but now HAWTHORNE–that is muscular. And Jane Austen is muscular in her way. Flannery O’Connor is DEFINITELY muscular in her stories of the South, and so is Carson McCullers (Eudora Welty is more prim and virginal, but still good.) Just some thoughts on how ‘flaccid and impotent WRITING’, not ‘flaccid and impotent characters’ (which are as legitimate subject as any other), just means bad writing. So the NYTimes is on a ‘campaign against bad writing’. It’s about time.


    Comment by Quantity of Butchness — 13 February 2010 @ 11:05 am

  9. Have you read any Handke? I haven’t, though he gets talked about with admiration among the litterati. I like nearly of the writers that Roiphe covers, from both generations: not at all flaccid in my view, for most of them most of the time. You didn’t like Franzen’s Corrections as I recall; Mailer hasn’t done it for me. I agree that the article is excellent.

    Fuck it, btw: I’m sticking with alternate realities.


    Comment by john doyle — 13 February 2010 @ 11:41 am

  10. Fuck it, btw: I’m sticking with alternate realities

    lol, one should never break important addictions, so you may have your poetic tree, your semi-tree, your Plato’s idea-tree, and your raw-nature tree, if those help the Portalicisms.

    No, I haven’t read any Handke, so I can’t really comment on him as such, but the description of the Don book so horrific, I will simply have to forego and be ignorant. I haven’t read the Franzen, although I kept it around the house with the intention of doing so until I read some things about him that made me retch. It’s not often that an artist’s personality will be so odious I can’t even then approach his work, but he had written some biographical essays that were so bratty, than even that ‘one-woman kamikazi’, or whatever if was Norman Mailer called Michiko Kakutani, enumerated some things about him so unbelievably nasty (he literally bragged about not giving a cent to Katrina victims, which was just beastly; of course, he’s the one that talked about the ‘terrible beauty’ of the plane which went throught the South Tower of the WTC, which might have come across as ‘sensitive’ till you pair it with the shittiness of bragging about not helping Katrina victims. And Kakutani was disgusted with him to such degree she just couldn’t hide it). That’s rare, though, that I’d make a decision not to read a book based on that, because as we know, Mr. Mailer had plenty of problems dealing with his own violent streak, and lord knows Jean Genet was ‘not nice’, exactly. Most Europeans think Bellow to be the best American writer of the last 60-70 years. I think he’s fine too, but I think Mailer is greater, not least because of his crazy hyperbole, through which he comes across images and truths in the middle of messes in a way that few others can do, i.e., he comes up with things you’d just never think of. I think ‘Harlot’s Ghost’, his CIA novel, is stupendous, and I hated to see him pass on a couple of years ago, I believe it was almost the same week as robbe-grillet.


    Comment by Quantity of Butchness — 13 February 2010 @ 12:06 pm

  11. So, in himself, Roiphe is demonstrating that non-flaccidity can never be a virtue in any kind of writing, whether or not it has anything to do with men ‘n’ women, sex, etc. 4

    I’m sure my inadvertent error was understood, but obviously I meant ‘Roiphe is demonstrating that FLACCIDITY can never be a virtue in any kind of writing’. That article was anything but flaccid, of course, and I think he probably writes books and stories himself.

    You know somebody else even more important than the others I just mentioned as having not read is T.S. Eliot. I really should get around to that, but he came to mind, because once Henry Miller (I think in ‘Capricorn’) went into one of his hilarious Rabelaisian rants, and this was about the evils of Saturn, and he included ‘feeble novels, slipping on banana peals, [something like that] weak poets like T.S. Eliot’, and from the periphery of Eliot, I’ve never really been attracted, I’ve always suspected some FLACCIDITY there, but I have to concede he has an enormous reputation. How do you feel about Eliot? He is definitely considered great, but do you feel he is?

    Someone on the ballet board just wrote that Joan Didion used to type out Hemingway’s stories to see how his sentences worked. Very cool, much like the art students doing copies of the great masters, and Nadia Boulanger used to make me copy out scores of Bach cantatas. This kind of tradition is almost extinct by now.


    Comment by Quantity of Butchness — 13 February 2010 @ 12:21 pm

  12. “The really real is also the ability to think”

    How would you know?”

    If you don’t believe that the ability to think is real, as opposed to the content of thought necessarily, then you would not know whether your comment about a tree being either real or not real was your thought or someone else’s or nothing at all. You would not be able to make a distinction between real and false at all. The process of thinking can even be shown neurologically. I don’t know what would satisfy as a criterion of proof of anything, including yourself, being real – that is, really real, not just some fiction that seems to affect the world as another fiction. Like everything being objects, I don’t what anyone could achieve with this position, or even what it would look like. “I think” does not guarantee “I am”, but excluding it from knowledge of the real doesn’t do anything either – apart from leave us with a demonic scepticism, a sort of enslaved solipsism. People must at least make a decision in believing in the fiction of the I, if that’s what they want to call it, in order to make decisions about what is true or false. That decision has a working reality for the person and the tree (they might chop it down).

    As for the poetic tree, it has reality in as much as it has meaningful effects, whether read aloud or on paper (even if we consider it the poem to be navel-gazing rubbish – that is how we have decided to call it’s effect). But it is right to make a distinction that the tree described in the poem may have nothing to do with any tree in what we guilessly call reality. I think it is wrong to accord the poetic tree the same real status as a real tree.

    Philosophy is always dillentantish – but it should strive for rigour. The comedy philosopher Jacques Liverot and me were talking about has a very similar name. He’s from The Day Today, a news satire from the 1990s.


    Comment by NB — 13 February 2010 @ 1:22 pm

    • Sorry, NB, but I don’t read your remarks. I have found that I am not interested in what you think (if you do.) Sorry, I hope you enjoyed writing your comment.


      Comment by Quantity of Butchness — 13 February 2010 @ 2:45 pm

  13. There would be no poetic trees without a poetic reality for them to occupy. Once the poetic reality is created, then everything in the universe enters into that reality. The poetic reality incorporates poets and trees without regard for any particular poet or any particular tree. Similarly the scientific reality incorporates scientists and trees. The same person can switch between realities, between looking at the tree scientifically and looking at that same tree poetically.

    Harman says that the poet’s sensibility latches onto the natural tree, thereby creating the poetic tree as a merged object different from but containing both the natural tree and the poet. Bryant says (I think) that the natural tree possesses the potential to become poeticized, just as it can potentially become an object of scientific investigation. I have a hard time seeing how these approaches, which contain only objects in a single reality, is better than one in which there are multiple realities as well as multiple objects. The latter is more of a structuralist approach, but it doesn’t have to imply a hard structuralism in which individual elements are interchangeable and completely determined by the structure they occupy. It’s also more of a social constructivist approach, but it doesn’t have to imply that things aren’t real until we think and say that they are.

    I agree that the “real” tree is on a different, more fundamental level than a “poetic” tree, which requires human minds in order to be. But then we’re back to the language distinctions: poetic reality versus natural reality? And poetic reality is built on top of natural reality, in the same sense that any sort of human artifact is built on top of the raw materials from which it’s constructed? Artificial realities, like artifacts, are prostheses.


    Comment by john doyle — 13 February 2010 @ 2:56 pm

  14. Regarding the Roiphe article in the NYTimes, Kim Dot Dammit said this back in early January:

    “I read this article on old “sexist” writers versus new “sensitive” writers. Let me tell you what, I’d much rather fuck an Old Narcissist than a New Narcissist.


    Comment by john doyle — 13 February 2010 @ 3:03 pm

    • And she sometimes does have goddam taste! I’ve given her a rough time, but i have never been able to deny her very real writing talent. Once in a while, one of her posts will literally be dazzling–and it’s as if she doesn’t even have to try. How the fuck could anybody remember all those colours at the goddam roller rink? Now her assessment of Beverly Hills was all wrong, but she just wasn’t facing the problem with that, which is: That that particular burg is worse than most in its attitude of exclusivity. Certain parts of Paris like the Seizieme and Passy maybe, and of course clubs in all cities, but for shops and restaurants who specialize in snooty attitude, Beverly Hills is hard to surpass (again, Paris can do that quite well too). But it is not tawdry. It wasn’t really until this last trip that I got over being somewhat intimiated by the place–and I don’t feel that way about anything in New York. Of course, that kind of atmosphere is cultivated, because some of the biggest spenders are made to ‘feel special’ with such exclusivity.

      But I like a lot of her work, and the ‘filler’ of breakfast treats is funny. She’s a real character, although you couldn’t fool with her. As an Old Narcissist, i’ve had some interest in this wimmernz for some time…although I’m sure she is fucking Hell on Wheels!


      Comment by Quantity of Butchness — 13 February 2010 @ 3:21 pm

  15. I too think her writing is very good, and she clearly loves doing it. That story about the roller rink characters was very funny.


    Comment by john doyle — 13 February 2010 @ 5:40 pm

  16. “Sorry, NB, but I don’t read your remarks. I have found that I am not interested in what you think (if you do.) Sorry, I hope you enjoyed writing your comment”

    I did. I did enjoy it. OK. Great. Let’s not respond to each other. Don’t write “how would know?” even if you disagree. Let’s leave each other alone, I really would prefer it. I don’t want anything to do with you. We share the same blog comments, but that’s it.

    Something to think on anyway.


    Comment by NB — 13 February 2010 @ 5:54 pm

    • ‘[Something to think on anyway.’

      No, thank you…


      Comment by Quantity of Butchness — 13 February 2010 @ 7:10 pm

  17. …still, there must be some fairly value-neutral philosophical term for describing reality independent of human thought and society on the one hand, and artifactual realities on the other. Reality versus multiple “antirealities” doesn’t work very well. Natural reality versus constructed realities? Sure, but isn’t there some word that connotes the idea “constructed reality,” meaning some subset of objects and forces that cluster together according to some set of features or organizing principles that holds them together?

    If not, I don’t think this is an insurmountable problem. It’s possible to flatten the distinction between naturally-occurring objects and constructed objects, calling all of them “objects,” without necessarily abolishing the distinction. The reality of a computer keyboard can be reduced to its material components, but its meaning as an artifact depends on its being understood within the context of technology and language. In this sense the raw materiality of the keyboard is less “really real” than the artifactuality that’s layered on top of the raw materials and the artificial reality in which it has meaning.

    Blah blah blah I suppose, but I always find that talking about multiple realities gets me misunderstood as someone who’s talking about science fiction.


    Comment by john doyle — 14 February 2010 @ 6:36 am

    • It’s fun to see you struggle with this. As for ‘a word’, the problem seems to me to be just ‘reality’ itself. There are alternate sensations and alternate modes and altered STATES, and acid-dropped states (I’ve been told by various queens that acid ‘really changes reality’). To me, reality is just one thing–all of all of it–and I just don’t even care if I’m wrong, because it won’t change the fact that I’m finally going to the most objectionable production of ‘Swan Lake’ extant this afternoon, and purely for the purpose of helping sympathetic parties wipe it off the face of the earth by writing about it. PLUS–I was so lazy I didn’t even start TEETHRAYKIT yet, so that my flashed smile is going to have to be appreciated on the Jean-Luc Godard cafe ‘n’ Gauloise domain.

      Anyway, if you want to talk about ‘alternate realities’ instead of just different domains and realms, all of which seem to me to be reality, as does artifice seem to me to be reality quite as much as nature, it’s still this ‘really real’ that I just don’t buy. If something is real, it is just real or not; it cannot be semi-real, or half-real, in either case it is unreal, at least for any purpose I deem practical, which may surprise you–even we pleasure-oriented types are fully aware of the practical, you know, how couldn’t we be? we might lose our gluttonous privilege if we weren’t…

      You know what I think? I think maybe part of it is that you want these ‘alternate realities’ to be those very fictions that convince you that they are real, and maybe for the purpose of writing fictions. I think Dejan talks about these with you some as well, about Lynch or whoever producing ‘alternate realities’, but why not sound sci-fi/ That’s just as legitimate an ‘alternate reality’ as any other, if you believe there’s a such thing. I tend to think there is ‘desirable reality’ and ‘undesirable reality’. Now, death is ‘undesirable reality’, and every Monday Jack comes I bemoan that I just can’t get used to the idea of the ‘long dark one’, as DeLillo calls it. But then that probably comes from refusing to eliminate enhanced-pleasure-reality from my existence, which is then set off by comparison to death–and that truly is not a very joyous thought. So I’m a goddam thanatophobe, Hut everytime somebody very distinguished dies, I say ‘oh FUCK, even they couldn’t get out of it!’ I mean, it’s just so divine when your friend Carley calls you and says she managed to get the tickets for this shit production that we can then trash on the board for the rest of the day; and if you’re dead, as I once said to an old, now-deceased friend about 5 years ago ‘you don’t get to do very much’, which she corrected to ‘You don’t get to do ANYTHING!’ Well, I just don’t like not being able to do anything.

      But now that i’ve veered into what seemed off-topic, I think I may have at least happened on something: death is the one thing that does seem a true ‘alternate reality’, because nobody ever tells you what it’s like, except when they’re speculating. Of course, that psychotic Helen Shucman wrote ‘The Course in Miracles’ back in the 70s, and claimed she just ‘took it down as the scribe of Jesus’, that he actually wrote it. and the followers think that, since Shucman was an atheist from Columbia School of Physicians and surgeons, that that means, yes, Christ wrote it. And in the text, ‘Christ’ does indeed scream ‘I did not die!’ Oh, please. He’s not even going to get to see a bad ‘Swan Lake’ today.

      But maybe even death is not an ‘alternate reality’. The most interesting thing about death is that we don’t ever quite know anything at all about it, beyond imagining that it is not much fun. Susan Sontag such a thanatophobe she was willing to undergo any medical procedure, no matter how unconscious she’d remain if she lived in at least some half-alive form, and screamed ‘I don’t CARE about quality of life!’ which was pretty profound if you think of it, because she was still trying to imagine that she might be able to do some writing even in vegetable form. My complaint is that, unlike Henry James, who at point of death said (I believe) ‘so here it is, the distinguished thing’, tres typique, n’est-ce pas?’ that I won’t be able to say ‘oh yes, I always thought it was something like this’. off-topic, as if I weren’t enough already, I mentioned H. James as someone not particularly muscular, but should mention that Proust, which has even more attention to refinement of detail, whether physical object or emotional or psychological state, IS muscular: He does not flinch from the realities of cruelty and the viciousness of social-climbing and betrayals of all kinds, To me, Henry James, as an expatriate (I think mostly living in England), sounds like a tourist in books like ‘The Ambassadors’, because he is not a player in the action. He just gets all febrile about ‘this PARISIANISME’, which is pretty hick for somebody with that much talent. And he spends all that time on the ‘diva type’ Mme. de Vioonet, the older French lover of ‘the virile Chad’ from Massachusetts, without THE LEAST bow to some of what we might like to hear about ‘the virile Chad’. He hasn’t even the balls to approach such a Yankee stud, and is not even a real character at all. So poor Strether is James, still back in Woolett, wishing he’d been young enough to sow some wild oats in Paris instead of just watching other people, and deciding to revert to type anyway.

      But the ‘really real’, i’ve decided is never going to mean anything to me, because that one really would need irrefutable scientific evidence for me to believe it. I just don’t get degrees of reality, they just all seem to me to be ‘les modes de la vie’, or just ‘different subject matter’ or ‘different domains’ or ‘different realms of concentration’, or some such thing. I don’t see why ‘raw nature’ is the ‘realest real’ or even ‘thought’ is the ‘realest real’. But, as the hilarious girl on the ballet board said to the scold shill publicist who got furious when the girl said what SHIT the piece is, ‘everybody has the right to ur onw opinion. I’m glad you enjot it. Good 4 u’. She was Russian or somethning and the shill got furious, and claimed to have interviewed Andrea dworkin, among other distinctions.


      Comment by Quantity of Butchness — 14 February 2010 @ 10:59 am

  18. So anyhow, certainly a fictional character can call these things whatever he likes. He can even be called to account by the ontology police, a show trial can be held in which Harman and Bryant are called to testify on behalf of the prosecution, and so on. It just seems that some school of philosophy somewhere has assigned names to these things. The social constructionists push multiple realities, but all of them are social constructs. The naturalists push a single reality that either discounts the socially constructed realities altogether or rolls them up into the natural one. Somewhere there must be a conventional way of naming the natural/material reality and the human-constructed realities, such that the natural one is foundational and qualitatively different from the artifactual ones. I’ve now picked up my 161-page anti-dummy philosophy book by Bertrand Russell, so perhaps he will give me a hint.


    Comment by john doyle — 14 February 2010 @ 12:51 pm

    • The naturalists push a single reality that either discounts the socially constructed realities altogether or rolls them up into the natural one.

      I suppose I must be a naturalist then, without having known it, of the second order which rolls them up into one but doesn’t discount them. It’s bound to be, though, according to which one anyone finds useful, therefore in this case, if mine are ‘merely practical’ and also not quite true (if at all), for some reason I might ignore the others and see them as primarily interested in the terms and what things are called. Or I could see myself as the reverse, with the
      socially constructed ones as the dominant one with the natural ones rolled into that one and not discounted.

      But even if the ‘really real’ are only ‘raw nature’ and also ‘thought’, although semi-real or half-real ‘objects’ or phenomena would be under the command of the ‘really real’ things and would partake of aspects of the ‘really real’ being (or the other one or both), and therefore, even if just fragmentarily ‘really real’, could be seen as also primarily really real, since they couldn’t exist without their parent ‘really real reality’, and could therefore always be absorbed or perhaps even purified into the pure form of ‘really real’. So I’m left with an ‘unimportant viewpoint’, since I’m not a real philosopher, or perhaps better a ‘professional philosopher’, but nevertheless one that I operate from, just because the others I can’t find any use for. So if mine is false, I nevertheless think of it as true, because it works for me (or appears to: since it may be false, maybe it doesn’t work for me, and I just imagine it does until it’s proven to me that it doesn’t by some event or other. In this case, ‘real philosophers’ can say I live in a state of ‘unreality’, because I don’t find philosophy to serve practical purposes if it’s so complex it seems to be separated from everything else I’m concerned with.) But even the greatest, most advanced philosophers must be trying to find some security, which they overtly or secretly think to be truth, and in truth is security somehow. I was never sure if the ‘Being of beings’ was any different from just God or some ‘indifferent nature’ of agnosticism, and I’ve even read that ‘death is on the side of truth’, although that doesn’t make any sense to me, unless ‘life’ is a subset of ‘death’. I wonder if the most advanced and enlightened philosophies are not complex versions of religion, though. It’s probably the case that the less the death of one’s own physical body seems something to dread, however inevitable, or even important (people with children probably don’t find the loss of their own body to be as dread-ridden as narcissists, although not always true, as with Picasso, for example), the more important these condiderations are.

      I recall one of the Chicago students saying that Arpege was silly thinking philosophy ought to have anything much to do with one’s ‘being-in-the-world’, but that just seems like a studentish attitude to me. What worth is anything that doesn’t serve one’s being-in-the-world. But I think these hierarchies of reality do mean something to some people, including you, it may have to do with how much the term ‘ontology’ means. Metaphysica, ontology, philosophy are all very powerfully hypnotic terms in and of themselves, and they are all noteworthy in that they are all important, and also that they seem to have determined that they are somehow ‘the most important’. I used to think so, but don’t know quite how to explain why I don’t see it that way anymore.


      Comment by Quantity of Butchness — 14 February 2010 @ 5:37 pm

  19. You’re right: the phrase “really real” is jarring — almost as bad as “like, real.”


    Comment by john doyle — 15 February 2010 @ 1:51 pm

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