Graham Harman

On the road…

And in deference to Graham… I’ll be working through cds on the road in Scotland of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall… It was one Dad and I could agree on, easily. I am really hopeful for a good, seventy-year-old Scottish voice for the reader.

but for now, Dad wanted to hear Hounds of the Baskervilles. Don’t ask me. But I had forgotten how much (a) Doyle loved cocaine, and (b) what a defender of scientific method he was. Not that I’m saying that (a) and (b) are linked in any way…

Humans and Other Objects

Larval Subjects has a great post up responding to Paul Ennis’s thought experiment on the future of speculative realism, namely that there will be the eventual reactionary insight that somehow humans have been forgotten, thus offering a desolation akin to the one on offer in ecological catastrophe:

Setting that aside, I think an additional point worth making is that today we simply cannot talk about the human without talking about objects. As Latour tirelessly argues, the great sin of modernity was to try and produce a schism between the world of nature entirely independent of humans and the world of the cultural entirely independent of nature. The problem is that the world in which we live is a world in which we’re constantly enmeshed in imbroglios with objects of all sorts. To understand ourselves is, in part, to understand these imbroglios with objects. Yet what do we in fact find in so much cultural and critical theory? We find a bracketing of objects so as to get at that which is specifically human– norms, cultural significations, ethics, politics, and so on. 

Agreed. Writing as someone whose work at times has been deeply embedded in those “bracketers,” I can say that killing off the beast of humanism hasn’t worked out all that well. Surely there is someone dusting off their old attacks on the anti-humanism of Derrida, et al., and simply finding and replacing “Derrida, Foucault,…” with “Meillassoux, Harman…” I would only add that Meillassoux’s notion of the subject, for example, is rather classical (a point I make with a bit more subtlety in my recent Pli article). But more importantly, what SR offers  is a thinking that would call on us to avert the very catastrophes that would make up the moral blackmail no doubt coming soon.

Call it the argument from catastrophe, in which you cite the real possibility of global environmental devastation (in a previous era it would have been the nuclear holocaust) and then accuse X figure of basically wanting that through some theoretical apparatus. In any event, what is exciting about the work in SR is how it meets up with work in environmental studies and animal ethics, to name but two areas, which have long argued for getting out of the human as a part of a larger normative project, part of which would be finding means for averting the very catastrophe in question. This is where, in a sense, I see SR going, namely connecting up with these other movements in such a way as to bolder SR’s normative accounts (such as they are). Or at least, I see these connections whenever I’m at an environmental philosophy conference.

When ideas mattered…

Graham writes at OOP:

As unfortunate as it may be to read of Christian vs. Christian persecutions over such issues as the exact status of the Son, and as much as I would hate to live under the threat of persecution for my philosophical opinions, isn’t there also something enviable about a period that took its ideas that seriously?

 

So, I hate to make my first cross post on Graham a bit critical, since I usually agree with him. But this time, not so much. I don’t understand this mythology that we entered in an age of play in which no one took anything seriously. The culture wars were serious and while I know Graham has no love for some of the po-mo culture warriors, the effect of the 80s on the academy, I would argue, has been for the better. Would we want to return to the way English departments were run in the 70s? Would we want the intellectual exclusion of vast areas of knowledge simply because they didn’t come from the west or they were deemed feminine? I’m not saying that at times there weren’t excesses, but surely if it had Bill Bennett upset and stepping away from the slot machines long enough to decry the death of the American Academy, then it couldn’t have been all bad. (I’m letting my snark there get ahead of decent logic.) In any event, whatever one might think, this was not an era where people didn’t take their ideas seriously, and in fact that was often the complaint: people were too serious and everything became too political. Anyway, we still live in an era of Christian-on-Christian exclusions and violence, so it’s a myth to think that anywhere in the culture–the academy, the school boards of Kansas, or the churches of the Midwest, for example–that ideas aren’t taken seriously.

This reminds me, FYI, about the arguments over realism. As I noted to Graham once in an email, it’s not as if there are anti-realists. I just don’t know how that way of framing the debate is helpful. I mean, even if you think we live in a world of simulacra where the map is on the same ontological level as the landscape, then you are very much taking simulacra seriously. And you are very much taking it as “real.” Just as Hegel took ideas as “real.” Just as Husserl took the lifeworld as “real.” Just as Foucault took discursive power formations to be “real.” What matters, then, is the question of materialism: what do you take to be real and does this “real” have the correlationist effect of cutting out broad swaths of that real from philosophical consideration?