Metaphysics in many Directions: Graham Harman
Cinematographer: Nisha Vasudevan
Duration: 01:54:40; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 32.930; Saturation: 0.164; Lightness: 0.204; Volume: 0.307; Words per Minute: 184.047
An Evening with Graham Harman:
An informal encounter with the philosopher Graham Harman, and his recent and upcoming books, including the three that came out in November last year: the fiction work Circus Philosophicus, "Platonic myth meets American noir in this haunting series of philosophical images from gigantic ferris wheels to offshore drilling rigs.", Towards Speculative Realism, a collection of his essays on Heidegger, phenomenology and objects since 1997, and L'Objet Quadruple (The Quadruple Object, currently only in French), which lays out his theory of a fourfold split within objects.
Graham Harman is one of the most exciting voices in contemporary philosophy. He lives and teaches in Cairo, is a prodiguous blogger, and is the author of several books constituting what he describes as an Object-Oriented philosophy. See more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_Harman
One of his key older works (already from 2009) is a book on Bruno Latour: "The Prince of Networks" is available as open-access here and takes seriously Latour as a philosopher, describing Latour's books Irreductions, Science in Action, We Have Never Been Modern, and Pandora’s Hope as having major consequences for metaphysics and philosophy. One of these consequences, congruent with Harman's own view, is that human subjectivity can no longer sustain a central position in philosophy, and we need to attend to the ways in which: "the arena of the world is jam-packed with diverse objects, their forces unleashed and mostly unloved... snowflakes glitter in the light that cruelly annihilates them; damaged submarines rust along the ocean floor. As flour emerges from mills and blocks of limestone are compressed by earthquakes, gigantic mushrooms spread in the Michigan forest. While human philosophers bludgeon each other over the very possibility of "access" to the world, sharks bludgeon tuna fish, and icebergs smash into coastlines." A provocative aspect of Object-Oriented Ontology is an argument for "aesthetics as first philosophy", as well as "allure as causation"... in other words, suggesting that a kind of aesthetics is the primordial force which causes everything in the world to happen.
Of pad.ma's "allure" as it were. If allure as Harman uses the term “is the separation of an object from its qualities” this is very much what characterizes pad.ma as the online archive that it is (as an object) and the proposition of an online archive, which cannot be reduced to its object status.
what is fascinating about this passage is that in a reflexive sort of way it reads like a description of pad.ma itself
AS: So, welcome to CAMP. One, two, three, four, testing, testing .all is well, all is well.we are still getting a little bit of this buzz.
AS: Hello.Check.Check.Check .We were fine before. Just take the wireless off the power.Yes, much better. Ya, you can put it on a stool.
check, ya. Great. And welcome to a very special evening for me personally. a little bit of buzz still here.But welcoming Graham Harman from
Cairo. I first encountered Graham's work in maybe early 2008 while looking at Latour and while reading Latour in the context of working on a few projects in Bombay, some of you may know of them, with electrical systems and with Shaina's and CAMP's work with water in Jogeshwari.We were reading Latour and thinking that there is still a, and I think there is still a buzz...
AS: ...and I think there is still a...
AS: ...so i was saying that we were reading Latour in the context of work on physical infrastructures in the city of Bombay and trying to produce artworks, films,installations, performances around these subjects and I think,in some ways, it is still missing- in our milieu- in my sense of it a kind of Latourian analysis of these things, these very complex, gray systems involving mafias, various forms of government but also, kind of, granting agency to the pipes, the wells, the plumbers, the switchboards, the metring systems and the prepaid metering systems and all these things that Latour talks about in other parts of the world. And also, personally I was working with this notion of...concept of the neighbour or the Nebenmensch which is a kind of Zizekian kind of figure who is troubling the idea, for, me of the network as something that is smooth and systemic but, and turning it into a question of some kind of relationships and exclusions between somehow autonomous entities.
AS: and Graham's writing and his ontology, more generally, not only grants agency to non-human entities from flies to armies and more but also produces an idea of the object itself as split which he is going to describe shortly later today between sensory qualities and a real, inaccessible core. and if art is, according to Levi Bryant, one of the co-conspirators within the OOO (object-oriented ontology) movement, if you can call it that..if philosophy seeks to theorise this split between visible qualities and what is withdrawn, then art is what operates on this split, enacts it and seeks to ignite it. This is Levi Bryant in a blog post. A lot of interesting writing around the movement is happening online in blogs, including Graham's in which he just posted a picture of the roof today. So, this appears, then, to be rich territory for us to explore. So, I invite Graham Harman who is Associate Professor of Research at American University, Cairo, the author of several books including Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects", "Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and Carpentry of Things", "Heidegger Explained: From Phenomenon to Thing", "Prince of Networks", a really valuable book for me on Bruno Latourian metaphysics and other books he will speak of today including Towards Speculative Realism: Essays and Lectures from 1997-98 onwards, Circus Philosophicus, a fiction, a fictional story, a book of fiction and The Object Quadruple which is Le Quadruple Objet in French. So, Graham Harman.
GH: Thank you, everybody. It is great to be back in India.This is my favourite country to travel in. It is my fourth time here. My second time in Bombay, the first was in June of 2006. It was the monsoons and I was being poured on. I got a lot of work done in that trip as well as enjoying myself here. I have been told there is a two hour slot here. I am going to shoot for forty-five minutes to an hour of my presentation which I have never done in my life with a full moon rising outdoors before. This is wonderful. And, I will try to leave plenty of time for discussion after that. And the title I chose for tonight's talk is Many Directions in Metaphysics and that could mean a lot of things. My interpretation of that tonight is I am going to try to summarise all of my many directions in the last six months of metaphysics and hope that somethings come out of that that are interesting for all of you. And the way I am going to organise that is by talking about a number of books that I had come out of the end of 2010 and try to link them together. Three of my own and one edited volume and since Ashok expressed such interest in the Prince of Networks from 2009, I may go back and talk about that as well.
GH: Towards Speculative Realism was the first to come out in November. Three books came out in November. This is the first one from Zero books, a wonderful new philosophy publisher based in England. These books are cheap, nice and interesting. You may go to their website and look at some others.This is a collection of essays from 1997-2009 that were unpublished previously and since a lot of you probably don't know what speculative realism is, I'll go back and explain that in a second. Then there was Circus Philosophicus which Ashok rightly described as a fictional work. I think of it more in terms of philosophical myths, but I'll explain what that is all about in a minute. And then there is the book that came out in French, L'Objet Quadruple or The Quadruple Object that will be out in English in spring. I wrote it in English but for various reasons the French translation was published first which Zero will also publish. This same style with an all-lilac coloured cover in about April. And this is probably the best summary of my philosophical works so far, although the next book I write I hope to make this look like a primitive pencil sketch. I am just getting started here, I think. Alright. Oh, in addition to this there is an anthology that just came out that is very important of which I was one of the three editors. It is called The Speculative Turn and it has twenty some authors in it, some of them very well-known such as Badiou, Zizek, Latour himself, Manuel Delanda, Isabelle Stengers... who am I forgetting...those are the most established people in the volume. And I will explain what that project is about in connection with this. Now this book is called Towards Speculative Realism. The reason this is called that is because this goes back to 1997 with some of the unpublished things I was writing in graduate school.
GH: I started off as an unorthodox but a fairly committed follower of Heidegger in philosophy and about five years ago, or actually back up a little bit, that changed for me in around 1997 which was when the first essay in this collection was written and by about 2006 I was part of a movement in philosophy that is becoming more prominent over time that is called speculative realism. That was four people- along with me there was Ray Brassier who is now at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. There is Iain Hamilton Grant who is at the University of West of England in Bristol and Quentin Meillassoux who is at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris. And there are such differences within that group that we have splintered off into subgroups and the group with which I am now associated is called Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) which Ashok mentioned in his kind introduction which also includes Ian Bogost of Georgia Tech, Levi Bryant of Collin College in Texas and Tim Morton of the University of California, Davis and we had two events in 2010 with that group, one in Georgia Tech in Atlanta and the other one in UCLA.
So maybe I should go back and say a little about the terms object-oriented oriented ontology or object-oriented philosophy and speculative realism. Object-oriented ontology, despite being a subgroup of speculative realism is older.I coined that term in 1999 in an essay that is here in this book as a chapter because I didn't think philosophy was paying enough attention to objects and I'll get back to that in a second. Let me just jump ahead and talk about speculative realism. Speculative realism was a movement based largely in London but it was sparked by Quentin Meillassoux's debut book After Finitude, which has been available in a nice English translation for almost three years. Meillassoux criticised a concept that he calls "correlationalism". What is correlationism? When you hear about debates in philosophy, it is usually between realism and idealism. Realism, the idea that there is a real world outside of us, idealism being the idea that there is not a real world outside of us, everything is just something from the mind with Berkeley being the most extreme case of that in Western philosophy. Meillassoux felt the need to coin a new term, for something kind of in between which he felt was becoming the new dogma, the new orthodoxy in continental philosophy and that is correlationalism. Because what would happen is that he would criticise certain philosophers for being idealists and not talking about the real world, they would say no, we are not idealists, we think the mind is always focused on something outside of itself.
Phenomenology, for example, a movement I am very fond of myself, claims to be outside the mind because the mind is always engaged with something- this bottle or this glass. But we would never talk about the interaction of these two things with each other. It was always a matter of human and world together. Human and world cannot be separated. Human was always an ingredient in this correlates. There was never any talk about objects relations. Where this goes back to in philosophy is obviously Immanuel Kant in the Critique series because for Kant we cannot talk about the things in themselves. We are experiencing the world as conditioned by twelve categories and by space and time and there is no way to leap beyond those magically and talk about reality the way it is as itself. This has become, more or less, an unstated central dogma of European philosophy ever since . Meillassoux's term correlationalism was meant to catch this move in the act and say that you can't just always be talking about the human-world relation. You have to talk about the real world the way it is, in itself. Now, all four of the speculative realists have different ways of doing this.
Meillassoux's approach to Kant is to say that Kant is wrong to say that we can't have absolute knowledge. We can have absolute knowledge and for Meillassoux, like for his teacher Badiou, that knowledge is mathematical knowledge which is absolute. I take Kant in the opposite direction. I say Kant is right that we cannot have absolute knowledge. However, Kant is wrong to think that philosophy is all about the human-world relation. Just as the world is hidden from me in its true nature, objects are hidden from each other in their true nature. And to explain that let me go back and talk about how I interpreted Heidegger. This is what my first book came out of which was also my Phd. dissertation.
I don't know how many of you know something about phenomenology but phenomenology was launched in 1900-1901 by Edmund Husserl with his book Logical Investigations, a very long book. One of the things Husserl was concerned to do is to block the rising tide of the sciences which were then threatening to take over philosophy by reducing all of philosophy to physics or to applied psychology. The way he did this was to say that- for example, if I hear a door slam, you can't invent some theory about how the - you can- but you can't start by inventing some theory about the door slamming creating vibrations in the air, creating vibrations in my ear drum, going up the nervous system, a scientific theory about how sound emerges. Before that you have to describe in very minute detail what the experience of sound is like in your mind. That is what we have first. The first thing we have access to is our own experience of sound. So, phenomenology was about a very patient description of the way things appear in human experience because all science according to Husserl is grounded on that experience. The science is built in order to explain the experience not vice versa. Heidegger, the even more famous philosopher who was Husserl's major disciple and eventually a very rebellious one pointed out that Husserl is wrong to think that most of our experience has to do with things that are explicit in consciousness.
Most of our interactions with things is not with perceiving them but with taking them or granted. A very obvious example being the floor on which we are all standing on, how many metres above the ground level here. If thr floor would collapse we would all be injured, it will be a big shock to all of us. We are relying on the floor and taking it for granted. We weren't perceiving it until I mentioned it. The same for all our bodily organs - the failure of which might injure life at any moment. We take these for granted. You take the oxygen in the air for granted and you can see from all these examples that the conscious experiences we have are a very tiny, thin film compared to all things we rely on and take for granted. Heidegger talks about this in a passage from Being and Time that he calls the "Tool Analysis"- that for the most parts things are invisible to us, things are silently relied upon. Any conscious experience we have of the thing is a kind of pale shadow of it. You know the other theory of flowers and trees, you call this botany, is not even close to exhausting the reality of plants in themselves. New discoveries will constantly be made over time in these sciences. None of these facts that emerge from the sciences are ever going to fully explain the underlying realities which we simply take for granted, which are hidden, which are veiled, which are withdrawn- to use Heidegger's terms.
GH: Now, a lot of times, Heidegger's Tool Analysis is read in a way, that I consider, fairly superficial. It is read in a kind of pragmatist way- pragmatism being a very... one of thw real, original American contributions to philosophy. It is very popular in America still- pragmatism. A pragmatist reading of Heidegger says roughly before any theoretical awareness comes an unconscious, practical use of things.And that is fine but it doesn't go deep enough in my interpretation because if you think about it - a practical use of things also does not exhaust them. If I made a theory of trees and flowers, that does not exhaust the hidden reality of these things but if I simply use trees and flowers for my own purposes, that also does not exhaust them. There is something deeper than not only any human theory but also any human use. And I think Heidegger would have agreed to this if he was still alive.I pushed it one step further and came up with Object Oriented Philosophy by saying wait a second, objects do this to each other as well. This is not just the sad fate of the human intellect which is unable to grasp the depths.It is not some uniquely human tragedy.This is what objects do to each other. Relations between objects never exhaust the objects themselves. So, if wind blows against the tree, the wind does not have any interaction at all with the smell of the tree, with the exact, granular pattern of the bark probably. The wind is confronting the tree as obstacle, probably. We can speculate on what else the tree might confront, what the wind might confront when it hits the tree. But the wind is not going to exhaust all aspects of the tree anymore than humans are. And so my conclusion was that the...this human-world interaction which was central for Kant that oh we poor humans can never get beyond the categories of time and space to see reality in itself, only god can do that. You need to extend this and say no, objects do this to each other as well. Any two things, any two entities in the cosmos in an interaction are going to fail to exhaust each other. And I was helped in this awareness by Alfred North Whitehead, the great British philosopher of early twentieth century, who also tried to go back before Kant in this way to say that any relation between any two things...that the human-world relation is just the special case of any relation at all.
GH: Where I disagree with Whitehead is that Whitehead thinks that a thing is nothing more than its prehensions or relations whereas I think that a thing is always more than its relations. Otherwise we can never come into new relations. If I were exhausted by my current relation to all of you and, say, everything else in the universe now, how could I ever change. There would be nothing in me held in reserve, nothing hidden, mysterious that could come out later and cause changes. So, object oriented philosophy- that is a metaphor...I think some of you are computer programmers here and just a confession here... I don't know very much about object- oriented programming. That's just a metaphor I stole. I am not modelling the features of the philosophy on the features of the programming.
GH: In any case, this is the book where I talk about my own progression towards that. It actually started a little earlier than that- around 1992. The first presentable essays that I felt like publishing were from 1997 along through 2009. That is that book. As for the anthology, The Speculative Turn, that was the idea of Levi Bryant first. And then he and Nick Srnicek, a younger blogger who is a graduate student at the London School of Economics started working on that volume together. Their goal in that book was to assemble all the new trends going on in continental philosophy, things newer than Derrida, Foucault and Deleuze, living authors, mostly established authors, people who had published some things already. And Speculative Turn is the title. The subtitle is Continental Materialism and Realism. So these are all philosophers working in the continental tradition and materialism and realism are important for both groups. Thy simply contacted me because they wanted me to contribute and they wanted me to round my friends up for the volume and I ended up helping them in giving some advice and finding them a publisher and so for this reason they made me the third co-editor. And you can read this book already, free of charge. You can go to the website re-press, the Australian publisher. Ashok has the information on that if you want it. Re-press is an open access publisher. You can buy the book in traditional paper form if you want to but you don't have to. You can download the PDF, read it on your Ipad or whatever you read your pdfs on. So, that is just to give you some idea about the first book, Towards Speculative Realism.
GH: Maybe I'll go now to this book which is in French and I will also talk about The Prince of Networks about Bruno Latour which Ashok read. Bruno Latour- this book comes in 2009. At the time that I was working on Object Oriented philosophy, the late 1990s, and I had no co-workers then.I was kind of alone during this and I discovered at this time in early 1998 the writings of Latour through a recommendation. Latour, to me, was the perfect person to read after getting over my Heidegger hangover because of the biggest weaknesses of Heidegger is... one of the weaknesses is he has got such a ... , pious and somber tone whereas Latour is really funny. Latour is one of the few funny philosophers. I have got smiley faces written all over my margins on my copies of Latour books because he is making me laugh all the time. And I later met one of the great Dutch experts on Latour, Gerard de Vries, and I asked him why he became interested in Latour in the seventies and he said because Bruno and his friends were the only funny people in philosophy. So, you can get a lot of entertainment out of reading his books as well as insights. And the other thing that Latour does well that Heidegger does not do quite as well is that Latour focuses on individual things. Latour wrote a whole book analysing Aramis, the failed Paris automated metro system from the 1970s and 1980s. Latour, when we invited him to Egypt, gave a lecture entitled How is the Price of Apricots Determined Eeach Day in Paris ? and he went and traced all the actors, went to warehouse, asked them how they decided the price for each day. He is able to talk about just about anything what Heidegger attempts to call specific entitities "ontic" in their not worth philosophy talking about. Philosophy is supposed to talk about Being, this kind of rumbling entity of Being that hides from us. He is unable to talk about individual rail systems and warehouses and factories, things of this sorts whereas Latour talks quite wonderfully about all of them.
GH: Now, the Prince of Networks which appeared with re-press in 2009. So, it is also free of charge on their website if you want to read the Pdf. I said that Latour introduces four key concepts in philosophy: actants, irreduction, translation and alliance and I'll deal with those very quickly. I forgot what time I started but I think it was about five minutes to...okay... Actants...ok ...Latour starts by talking about actants or actors Latour tells us early in a book called Irreductions. He has got a book on Pasteur called the Pasteurization of France. It is a case study of Louis Pasteur, topic for another time. The second half of that book is called Irreductions and it is a little fifty or sixty page philosophical treatise where the young Latour gives us his basic philosophical principles. He talked about being twenty five years old after he finished his education, teaching for a year in a provincial high school when he stayed in Burgundy in Eastern France. He was driving his van alone one day in 1972 in winter and suddenly it occurred to him that what all theories have had in common so far is that they all reduced something to something else. They all take one kind of reality to be primary and everything else is derivative whether it is physics taking atoms to be primary, whether it is sociologists taking human power to be primary. Any kind of theory you can think of in a field usually takes one type of reality as the root substance of reality from which all else is built. And incidentally, this was similar to the critique of onto-theology made by Heidegger and Derrida which is that one kind of being should not explain all other kinds of being.
So Latour's first principle was actants which is that everything that exists exists equally. Its just not that equally strong.So we can talk about hard rocks and tables being real. We can talk about the moon as being real. But can also talk about Donald Duck and armies and cities and countries as being real. The standard of reality for Latour is if it has an effect on something else. So, if Bombay has an effect on other things which obviously it does, then it is real. If each of us has effects on other things, which we do, we are real. Fictional characters have an effect because they are read by people, they influence peoples' moves, they influence other genres of literature. These also are real. So that is the first principle of his philosophy.
The second principle is irreduction itself. Irreduction means things are not necessarily reducible or irreducible to anything else. You have to do the work of showing how one thing is reducible to another. So, anytime you want to ascribe a cause to something that happens- the example I use in my book is World War I. It is often said that World War I was caused by railroad time tables because both the French and the German armies would have to work out exactly to the day when they had to activate certain units of the army and move them to this point, to move them to this point. So, once the things got going none of them could afford to fall behind on their rail time tables.this is sometimes said. The way you would apply irreduction to this is to say that yes, there might be some truth in this but it is also another simplification just as any explanation is another simplification. And so, you have to realise you are paying a price. Anytime you explain something, you are over-simplifying things, you are turning it into something else, you are not quite doing justice to it. Any theory will not quite exhaust what it is a theory about.
That leads us to the third principle here, that is translation which is that a thing exists at one time and one place only and to move it anywhere else whether physically or in your mind is to change it. To, as i just said, move World War in one interpretation and say that it wasn't just the war but it was actually caused by the rail timetables, you are translating it. you are translating it into terms that are understandable, in terms of a cause. Latour actually, like Whitehead, goes so far as to think that physical motion of the same thing as a kind of translation, right? So, I sitting here instead of I sitting in Cairo am not quite the same person because I am defined by my relations to other things and my effects on other things. I am in a different position relative to all the other entities on the world right now compared to what I am in Cairo. I am probably in a different mood from what I am in Cairo, been eating different things. So, I am not quite the same person here as I am in Egypt or the same person in Egypt as I was in Chicago before moving down eleven years ago.
And what was the...the final is alliance. Latour thinks the reality of a thing is defined by how many allies it has, by... things are all equally real but they are not equally strong. And so a theory with ten million followers is stronger than a theory with three followers. And this has led to charges of Latour being a kind of Machiavellian who thinks that theories are true only by brute force, by having more people on their side than other theories. Anyway, these are the four basic concepts that I identified in Latour's books.
I don't agree with all of them. I don't have to tell you why I don't agree with each of them but my main critique of Latour in that book and I am a great admirer of Latour and he is also a friend of mine is that I don't think it makes any sense to define a thing in terms of its relations with other things for the reason I mentioned earlier. If I am really defined by all my relations to everything in this exact moment what happens five weeks from now when I am back in Egypt related to totally different things. Am I really a different person. Seems like far-fetched, crazy assumption to make. Also again, if everything is purely defined by its effects on other things right now, here and now, then why would anything ever change? If everything is totally exhausted by its current stance in the world, its relationships with everything else why would it ever move? If I am totally, adequately defined by my relations right now, why would I ever change if there is nothing about me that is deeper than whatever my effects are at the moment on other things.
That is one the criticisms I made of Latour. The other criticism I made, Latour thinks two things can never touch unless there is a third thing linking them which is an interesting idea. The example he gives in his book is politics and neutrons. Whoever thought there would be a connection between politics and neutrons. We know there is now because of nuclear weapons. This was a new idea in the 1930s and in France it was Frederic Joliot who was married to another great scientist, the daughter of the Curies, Irene Curie who was the first to try to convince the French government that, in fact, there is a connection between politics and neutrons. So, Latour says that politics and neutrons had nothing to do with each other until they did. And they did because of that third term, Joliot, Frederic Joliot, who is the bridge between them. I think that is a great idea. You could use this to great effect in doing psychoanalyses but the problem I raise with this is if politics cant touch neutrons, then how can Julio touch politics and how can Julio touch neutrons? Shouldn't there be a third in each of those cases? Is it Julio's eyeball that is linking him to the neutrons as he looks through the microscope? And I found that Latour's answer to this didn't really satisfy me. His answer was yes, but the politics-neutrons connection is interesting and the connection between Julio and the neutrons is not interesting. You can't really tell an interesting story about that.
Well, I didn't think that was good enough and this is why I had...one of the reasons I evolved another theory about two different kinds of objects which I'll get into when I talk about this book in a second. The book about Latour starts with analysing these four concepts of Latour and ends with my criticism of his philosophy and an attempt to push that in a different direction.
So, let me get into this book now, The Quadruple Object, which still exists only in French although I have the Pdf in English. It is coming out in a few months. There is a funny story behind this book which is that the French wanted to translate my first book Tool Being which is an analysis of Heidegger. That is the longest book I ever wrote. First books often are in philosophy.You want to say everything you know in one book and it is a mistake. It is also pretty thick- 300-some pages, I think. It turned out to be too expensive to translate into French because of there is an exact salary scale that publishing demands of the translators. And there was no way I was going to be able to find enough grant money to pay for that translation. So, we did it reverse. I worked like an architect with a budget. How much money can I get in a grant to translate into a book. I found out how much money that was and then we worked in reverse and figured out how much will this French publisher...how many pages... how many words will I be able to write to fit that amount of money. How much do I pay that translator? And so this is the length we got for five thousand dollars except that there is about 15 pages extra the translator did kindly free of charge just because he is very conscientious and he thought it would help the book if I added something, about a couple of points. This is, according to the Press Universite de France how much is worth five thousand...how many pages is worth five thousand dollars for a translator. It was a fun experience writing in reverse and once I had the length I said okay let's already say there will be ten chapters because ten is a nice round number and I was able to work that way, make each chapter a specific length to fit the budget.
Well, and there are also lots of diagrams in this book the first time. All the diagrams are this shape. Four circles with lines connecting some circles and not others. I'll explain why that is in a second. I started this book by pointing out the objects or the enemy of most continental philosophies today. Everyone is trying to attack objects as naive, that objects are the height of naivete. If you go back in time you'll find that the first western philosophers were the pre-Socratic philosophers, many of them living on the western coast of Turkey, many in Sicily or southern Italy and finally in mainland Greece. They are often called the physicists. Actually in ancient Greece they are called the physicists because their theories are indistinguishable from physical theories. Their theories were things like everything is made of water, everything is made of air, everything is made of air or fire or water or combined or joint by love and separated by hate. Atoms...Democritus was the first atomic theorist in the west. There was another theory called the Operon which is that there was a big lump, a kind of undifferentiated lump that somehow broke into pieces after rotating very quickly breaking apart. And then you may know about Plato for whom there are the perfect forms, there is the perfect cat, the perfect grain, all these things in the other world. Examples of this we see in the world are simply pale copies of that. The first Greek philosopher...the first Western philosopher to to say that individual objects are really the real very thing was Aristotle.
For Aristotle there is no perfect cat stamped to pieces of matter- there are simply individual cats. We form our concept of cat by looking at all the cats and realizing there is something common about them but what is really real are the individual cats, not something called cat in general. Aristotle was also the first person in Greece to say that the ultimate substance can be destructible. For all these earlier Greek philosophers, the ultimate substance had to be something eternal and indestructible whether it was water, whether it was atoms, whether it was the perfect forms- these are all things that cannot be destroyed. Aristotle thought you cam. A cat dies. It doesn't go anywhere, it is gone. The same for other substances. So, you can consider Aristotle the first object-oriented philosopher and one of the things I am trying to do over the next couple of years is give a lot of lectures on Aristotle and try to revive him because he is currently the least popular Greek philosopher. In the continental European tradition he is seen as the height of naivete, of a stuffy middle-aged common sense, a philosophy with no imagination whereas I find him to be a philosopher with a great sense of humour and a really weird theory. The problem with Aristotle - there are several problems with Aristotle- one of them is that he didn't really have a concept of types of things being able to evolve over time. So, it has often been said that Darwin's theory of evolution was a challenge to Aristotle because Aristotle seemed to think in his biology that there were fixed animal species that would never change over time.
Aristotle also...Aristotle and all of his followers, pretty much, across centuries had believed that substances had to be natural. So, for example this building could not be a substance to Aristotle, right? That it is simply made out of different pieces. An army could not be a substance. India could not be a substance whereas in my philosophy these things can be objects. Things can be real at any level, scale, at any size and a different criteria for deciding how but I think that very small things, that very natural things or the very permanent things are the objects. Objects are anything that have unity and have qualities of their own. Now, what do I mean by that? Objects tend to be attacked from two different directions and I talk about that early in this book. One is the scientific way which I call the undermining way which is to say that there isn't really one of these chips. This chip is just an aggregate of many different sub-atomic particles, right? We can't really say anything about this chip that isn't a description of all the particles, whatever its smallest particles are, quarks or electrons or strings- whatever turns out to be ultimate, problem is no one knows what is ultimate. Science keeps finding new ones, keeps straining to find new ones. And that is an undermining relationship and that is not usually found in continental philosophy... in the continental tradition. It is found in two different places now. One of them is it is found in this sort of tradition related to Deleuze which is found, especially clearly in Gilbert Simondon who talks about the pre-individual field. Individual things have to emerge from this pre-individual fields which isn't really articulated in the part, just kind of gooey lump. It is kind of like the operon in ancient Greek philosophy and I see no evidence of this thing existing at all.
Even Latour has a theory like this in his latest books. He talks about plasma, that individual actors have to emerge from this plasma. He says individual things are the size of the London Underground and the plasma is the size of the rest of London. I don't think this argument for this is really good either. That is one place where the undermining of objects came from. They say that individual objects are just trivial, superficial crusts on top of some deeper, rumbling pre-individual lump, blob. And then recently, largely through Ray Brassier and his followers, we have seen a kind of scientific turn in some parts of continental philosophy where they think that, y' know, neuro-science, physics forms the basis for all philosophy and this is another kind of undermining because...I just wrote a very critical 52 page review of Thomas Metzinger's on neuro-philosophy Being No One in which what Metzinger says is that we don't really have a self and one of the reasons we don't really have a self, he thinks, is because what we call our self emerges from all these sub-personal neurological processes to which I say, doesn't matter, everything emerges from smaller processes. It doesn't mean that the thing doesn't have a reality.In fact, that there are neurons making me who I am do not mean that that is all I am. It doesn't mean that you can reduce things to smaller pieces. This is called smallism sometimes. There is a critical term,smallism- the smaller the thing is, the more real it is. So, that is undermining objects.
That is one thing I criticise here. But there is another way of attacking objects that I coined a term "overmining" which doesn't really exist in English but it is formed by analogy with undermining. You overmine an object by saying objects are unnecessary fictions. Why do you claim that there are these hidden, secret things called objects. What is real are events and effects and appearances to events. This is what you usually get in continental theory. You usually get this in theories that say everything is language or that everything is power. These are the examples of overmining objects. So, in both cases objects lose. And even in Metzinger who is a hardcore scientific philosopher, he also says you can't isolate individual objects and perception because individual objects and perception are always inter-woven holistically with all the other things. I can't isolate the moon from all the other things that I am seeing at the moment. Those are affecting the moon as well. So, individual objects lose both time. They lose in both directions whether people are trying to say there is something deeper or they are trying to say that objects are too deep. And so, as I have said in some recent publications, objects become like abused children getting mixed messages from cruel parents saying you are too shallow, now you are too deep. Objects there in the middle are not accepted by anybody. And we in the OOO movement are trying to defend them.
So, what is an object? Well, anything that has a reality that is emerging beyond its pieces and that is deeper than its current relations and I'll give you an example. Is there such a real thing as a hammer? I would say yes. Why? Because you cannot ... a hammer has qualities that all the individual atoms in the hammer do not and that the head of the hammer do not have. Because the hammer can do certain things. You can use it to cause certain things to happen. it has a certain weight and a certain shape that the other things wouldn't have taken individually into pieces. So, I don't think it makes any sense. You can link the hammer to its pieces. You can say the hammer is a physical thing with wood and metal components. You can't reduce the hammer to that. You can't undermine it in that way. You also cannot say the hammer is nothing more than its effects. Why? Because it has all kinds of possible effects that it doesn't apparently have. The hammer could be sitting on the shelf not doing anything for years at a time and it is still a hammer. it still can be used for different things.
And so, the first kind is often called the emergent. If something has qualities that its pieces don't have. For example, water. Water has qualities that hydrogen and oxygen individually do not have. So, water is often called emergent and in the OOO movement we believe this that the water is also not reducible to its uses.Because right now its use is just to be sitting in a bottle that is potentially drinkable. I can drink it, I can water flowers with it, I can throw it on somebody in the street by dropping it on them. There are all kinds of things I could do with the water. I could mix it in some kind of cooking procedure to cook something. The water is not any of its uses or even any of its possible uses. You can't get what the water is by adding up all the billions of possible things you could do with it. So, the water is somewhere in between its tiny pieces and its uses. Objects are somewhere in between the two. Objects are real but they are not reducible to tiny pieces and they are reducible to effects. And the second part is where I disagree with Latour. Latour thinks a thing is its effects on other things. So does Whitehead. Whereas the scientistic philosophers believe that an object is nothing more than its tiny pieces. All right.
So, here is what i say in the book. The world splits into four parts. Because on the one hand you have things that are present to us. Anything that is present in consciousness right now which is what Heidegger calls Present-At-Hand. But you also have deeper realities beneath everything what we see, right? Because... say, I pick this up, perceive it in a certain way and then the bottle explodes. That this had a certain physical weakness in it that I didn't recognise by just looking at it. Objects can surprise us and they can surprise because they are more than our, kind of, perception of it. So, there is a real realm of objects underneath the perceptual realm. So, I speak of the difference between real and, what I call, sensual. Husserl calls it intentional but it is a very dry and boring term and also, and it has led to confusion for various reasons in analytical philosophy. So, I am going to term sensual because it is encountered by the senses. Here is the sensual realm and here is the real realm. And now within each of those two, I think there is a further separation between objects and qualities. And here I need to talk about Husserl a little. What is in it that Husserl can really teach us? He doesn't just teach us that we trapped in a world of senses. He doesn't think we are. In his philosophy we actually are. But he thinks he escapes that. What Husserl actually teaches us that there is a difference between the realm of the senses, between objects and their qualities.
What does Husserl do in phenomenology? He takes an object and describes it. So, he takes this bottle and notices that I see blue, I see transparent parts but there is also a backside of the bottle that I don't really see. That's why I can rotate this bottle. I am not seeing all of it at once. And so every second I am seeing different sides of this bottle. But I never think it is a different bottle each time the qualities change, right? I know this is the same bottle, I am just seeing different sides of it at different times.So, there is a distinction here between the individual object and the qualities that it shows at any give moment. But they are on the level of real objects as well. And there must be real objects in the hidden world. There can't just be a big lump because then otherwise that big lump would never have any need to break up into all the individual things we see. So, there must already be objects - individual objects hidden from us in the real world. There too, as Leibniz pointed out, each of these individual objects that are hidden from us, that are real must have their own qualities as well otherwise they will all be the same.If the real bottle we don't see has the same qualities as the real chip that we don't see they'd be the same thing. So, there must be some difference in the real qualities to deduce that. So, my idea in this book is to show that then are these tensions. There is a tension between this bottle that we perceive and its qualities. There is tension between the real bottle that we don't perceive and its real qualities. And the reason I have all these diagrams ... remember I showed you these four parts in each of the diagrams... because in the world of perception there is object and its qualities and in the real world there is an object and its qualities and you can draw these lines between each of those poles you get the tensions, the tensions between the things.
And what I start to talk about in this book is that the tensions between those things can break and the things can come separated and I have written a lot about the arts because I have written about something called allure in which, what I think, happens is the object becomes separated from its qualities partially in away that this doesn't normally happen. In a successful artwork, in a successful metaphor, in various intense emotional experiences we have, I argue in several of my books, that there becomes a separation between objects and their qualities. I also make the argument - not quite well to hold enough of this book but more so in the next book- physical causation happens in the same way. Physical causation happens just like an art work. Two things collide in such a way that they are separated from their qualities, they exchange qualities.Physical causation works in the same way as the aesthetic realm does. Anyway, this book tries to develop in as much as detail as I am currently capable of how this works, how these various permutations of objects and their qualities get exchanged and affect each other.
Let me now move to the last book. Because we are running out of time, Circus Philosophicus, in which I try to put this into practice. This is... Description at the back says, " Platonic myth meets American noir in this haunting series of philosophical images from gigantic Ferris wheels to offshore drilling rigs. And then it says it has been said that Plato, Nietzsche and Giordano Bruno gave us the three main mythical presentations of philosophy in the west." One of the problems with philosophy is that it is not always that fun to read. It is often very dry and technical whereas if you read Plato's dialogues or if you read much of Nietzsche...there are other good writers as well, there is Henri Bergson and others who write stylistically very well...but there aren't too many who write in the form of myth in any way. You get that in Plato and Nietzsche. you get that to a lesser extent in the Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno who was burnt at the stake in 1600, whose myths are usually the same. They involve a conversation between two serious philosophers, a pompous professor who is always speaking in Latin and then a clown who makes fun of that professor. It is always between the same four characters. So, it is a little more limited but it is really funny. He is one of the few comic geniuses in western philosophy. So, I was thinking why don't we do more of this, why don't we try to express our philosophy more in the form of myth and so here I have got six myths. I know I had originally said I wasn't going to do this but I think I will read the first page and a half in which I try to explain my... this will give you some idea of the tone of it... this first myth is about a gigantic Ferris wheel. It's the first time I have ever read this aloud. Just a page and a half. So it won't take long.
Imagine a gigantic Ferris wheel with many miles in diameter. The wheel would be lodged in a massive trench in the earth, with the hub at ground level. At all times, half of the wheel would be above ground and half beneath the surface. Over the course of twelve or fourteen hours the wheel would make a complete circuit high in the air and deep beneath the soil. It would carry thousands of separate cars, each of them loaded with various objects. Some would contain printed documents, or zinc and molybdenum Buddhas. Others would be loaded with colourful flags, electric generators, reptiles and birds, miniature explosive charges, bottles of wine, tap dancers, brass bands playing military music and other entities circling day and night. We will suppose the wheel itself to be made of an unknown and indestructible material not affected by anything that happens in the myth. The reader should pause and fix this image firmly in mind: a giant rotating wheel carrying thousands of beings in a long arc ascending into the clouds and vanishing into the earth. Let it spin dozens of times in your mind before we move on from this beautiful spectacle. Imagine the faint machinic whirr concealed in its engine, the creaking in its bolts, and the varied sounds emitted by the objects riding in its cars : from neighing horses to mournful woodwind ensembles. Imagine too the ominous mood in the vicinity as its cars plunge deep into the earth. Picture the wheel loaded with animals, bombs and religious icons. Picture it creaking under the weight of its cargo and emitting a ghostly light as it spins along its colossal circuit. Imagine the artists and the geniuses who designed such a thing and consider the human culture that would arise nearby with the wheel as its sacred point of reference.
From there I go on to explain some of the philosophical concepts I have discussed tonight in terms of this mythical Ferris wheel and there are five others. So ,I think I will stop there and I hope that you were able to find some of this non-technical enough to be of use for your own work and I will take any questions or comments that any of you have.
AS : ( inaudible)
Oh sure. Sure because this takes place in Chennai. I should say this book is a mixture of autobiographical fact, myth, complete fiction that I invented, philosophical discussions. Let's see how far I should read here. Okay, I will read a couple of pages from this. This is... there is an Indian connection. There is a little truth here mixed with a lot of falsity.
"The 2007-08 academic year was my first year of sabbatical from the American University in Cairo. Invited warmly to join the faculty in Amsterdam, I spent a semester there lecturing on Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Science. Not far from the canals, the musuems and the vices of that magical city. At springtime I left the Netherlands on my third trip to the sub-continent of India based this time in the state of Tamil Nadu. Arriving at Chennai airport in the dead of night, I hailed an auto-rickshaw and made my way to a dusty hotel on Trichinipoli high road. There a more than bearable lifestyle soon took shape. Long walks for iced drinks during the sweltering afternoons, televised cricket matches by night in the company of papadam and Kingfisher beer. On this trip,two distinct sides of my personality struggled for dominance. In one respect, I had never been in a more scientifical and sceptical frame of mind. This is purely fictional. Under the influence of acquaintances, I had become a zealous though temporary devotee of the living German thinker, Thomas Mezinger, who reduces all problems of philosophy to questions of the brain. His Being No One, that remarkable...,sorry... remorseless opus magnum, now emboldened me to scoff at the assorted kilts, gairies and unicorns that filled the philosophies of the unlearneds with their fear of scientific rigour. At times this new standpoint even awoke a spirit of physical assertion that was highly out of character. I remember once feeling the wish to shove several priests as they passed me on a sidewalk in Chennai. That's not true. I am mocking the extreme anti-religion attitude of that school. Though I would never have acted on this disgraceful impulse, I have since repented with liberal gifts to the poor.
But after several days of adjusting to the surroundings of Chennai, my familiar self returned. This self has always respected the mystic pieties of those more schooled than I in the various holy scriptures of the world. With my birthday approaching I was concerned at the time with the notion of faith. Advancing age increased my uncertainty as to whether one's life is shaped by lucky contingencies or numerous different chances generally lead the same human character to the same basic outcome. Deeply perplexed by the matter, I scheduled a meeting in Chennai's remotest neighbourhood with an expatriate Quebecois astrologer. This erudite middle-aged woman offered mixed signals of my destiny... and then I've got a long horoscope analysis here that I won't trouble you with...that ended up having ambivalent messages...This didn't happen anyway. It is fictional. Departing in confusion over these ambivalent messages I faced the future with apprehension unaware that an evening of hilarious bonuses lay in store. First, I opened my email account and found news of a small inheritance from a distant relative. Second, the hotel clerk moved me into a corner suite as a personal favour.The new room offered an excellent view of the lively Trichinipoli High road. Third, I took dinner at a non-descript restaurant where waiters served an outstanding dosa, their excellent manners making me feel like visiting royalty. Fourth, I entered an unpromising newsbook store and was shocked to discover a pristine first-edition of Alexius Meinong's masterpiece Uber Annahmen- a formidable precursor of my own object-oriented philosophy. And fifth, lucky timing enabled me to capitalise on a brief but dramatic fluctuation in exchange rates. Also a fiction. As was sometimes the case when departing Cairo on travel abroad, I had failed to obtain the mainstream hard currencies and had settled instead for a bundle of Saudi Riyals. For geopolitical quirks not recalling, the Riyal surged that evening against the Indian Rupee for a period of some ninety minutes during which time I happened to approach the exchange window. Thanks to this windfall, the remainder of my trip would assume an unexpected air of luxury.
Pleased with the good fortune I made the quarter hour walk to Marina beach briefly saddened by memories of those who had perished there in the great tsunami. As I sat alone on a cement pillar, looking often to the deadly Bay of Bengal, my initial thoughts concerned the evening's lucky events. But soon my mind returned to the Leibnizian doctrine of the tiny animals. Those miniscule bodies from which no nomad is ever free whether before birth or after death. as will soon appear I had several objections to this unusual theory. But at once I was startled out of my reverie by a solitary Tamil child who marched past banging on a snare drum. The relative slowness of his motion meant that I listen to his drumming for three or four minutes before it faded away to the north. Barely had the child vanished before a group of cricket fans came up the beach bravely waving the banner not of the local SuperKings but of a rival franchise. They shook black tambourines and followed the same route of the child with the drum and their ravelling procession faded at precisely the same rate. Next came the low point in this train of musicians- a slovenly tuba player belting out pompous arias in a key that might be called if it had shown any coherence at all. Luckily this player also marched away to the north and his music was no more.
It now felt as though I were observing a picturesque in slow motion parade organised by some deviant mastermind of the Third World Biennale. No soon had I formed this thought that a family of Hindu acrobats came striding into view clad in sparkling costume and the regional variant of the jester's cap... I don't know if there is such a thing... while singing carnivalesque anthems I had heard somewhere before, presumably in Slovakia during my disastrous tours of circuses there. The acrobats gradually disappeared to the north at the predictable rate to which I was now accustomed. But the next musical act that came up the beach did not disappear to the north or anywhere else. It appeared instead on the southern edge of the beach, moved toward me in the usual slothful rate but then parked by my side and remained there for hours to come. Surely, I must have been manned yet I know longer recall anything but the machine itself. This then was the culmination of my lucky evening. A battered steam calliope just barely out of tune playing complex tunes in both western and Indian styles. It made me think once more of Leibniz.
And then I go on again from there to talk about Leibniz's philosophy.
AS: Thank you, Graham. It was great. So, how do you escape the idea that the more alliances you have, the stronger you are?The Latourian idea that...I mean, isn't that victory...how do you escape that? And, especially because you don't acknowledge any idea... you don't accept the Deleuzian sense of potential or something... that may give you power in the future.
GH: One of the problems I have with Latour's theory ... one of the consequences of his theory is that the idea of the unknown genius has no meaning at all. You either succeed or you don't. And you have to...I like this in parts. If you have a great idea and do nothing to lend it to other actors, it is useless. It is as good as though it did not exist. It doesn't matter. I think he pushes that a little too far. He is very good at telling us the story of how Pasteur was... it was about his discoveries... for those of you who haven't read this book, Pasteurisation of France- now the usual idea of Pasteur is that this great medical genius came along and fought the lights of darkness and was able to start inoculating us against diseases. Latour tells a much more interesting, convoluted story of how this happened. And a simplified version... at first, it was the hygienists who supported Pasteur and the doctors who opposed him. The hygienists was this movement in nineteenth century Europe who realised that unsanitary conditions had something to do with illnesses. They just weren't sure what so they kept listed every possible thing. People seemed to get sick if they had rats in their house and they seemed to get sick if there is garbage next to their house and they seemed to get sick if there isn't enough sunlight...hundreds of these things. They couldn't connect them all somehow and Pasteur was able, obviously, to give them a theory that linked all those germs. That is why all those different things are making you sock. Because of the germs. And so, they celebrated it. They loved this.
And incidentally, this was a kind of political movement then. Now it is no longer controversial. All political movements agree with hygiene now. At the time it wasn't really the case. it was a political gesture. And actually Latour in the first lecture I ever saw him give predicts the same thing could happen with environmentalism. Environmentalism now is a political movement and it could (?) over time. It is no longer controversial. Every political party has to accept environmentalism simply for reasons of survival. We'll see. Maybe it will take a hundred years. Maybe we'll all die first. So, the doctors were opposed why because Pasteur first thought we won't need doctors anymore. We are just going to get shots for everything and that's it we wont get diseases ever again. And of course, doctors are threatened by this and doctors were presented as reactionaries who didn't know what they were doing by the Pasteurians. And Latour shows that this shifted over time because of the invention of serum, something that you take in the doctor's office. so, doctors became part of Pasteur's machinery and then became the supporters. So, now you have the hygienists and the doctors on this side and finally Pasteur triumphed over everyone who disagreed with Pasteur except maybe a few fringe religious groups who don't believe in vaccinations. Everyone else agrees. Everyone else gives vaccinations to their kids. And this is a brilliant analysis.
And a concept of allies allows Latour to show this very clearly. One of the things I claim in some of my critiques of Latour is that he is better at talking about things that have already happened than talking about, kind of, actual cases. The reason being is that Latour is so opposed to the idea of a thing having a reality outside of its effects. How can you really talk about the way in which a thing is real outside of its current effects. Right now there is probably some great unknown 19th century novelist who is really minor right now but there will be a revival through some work of some scholar and in some fifty years this person will be considered one of the top five novelists worldwide of the nineteenth century. I am just going to... Things like this happen all the time. How can Latour's theory account for that? Currently, the person has almost no allies, In the future- we'll assume in fifty years, he'll have thousands of allies all over the world. How does that happen? Why did they choose that person? There must be something in that author they choose that draws them to that author that is not currently allied with anything but is still there nonetheless in a concealed form no one is really noticing. This happens all the time.There are always revivals. In America the great example is Moby Dick, Herman Melville. Melville was revived by one particular book. He had been kind of forgotten for sixty or seventy years and now he is listed among the absolute small number of greatest American writers by any scholar. He vanished for sixty or seventy years. He was a writer. No one was paying any attention to him. In music, Bach is sometimes talked about this way. I have heard a different version of this but, at least, in the case of Bach's larger works like the Matthew Passion, these were forgotten for a while. Why was he suddenly rediscovered? He had no allies for those works for maybe a hundred years and then suddenly... there must be something there in the things that is able to be discovered and I don't think Latour's theory accounts well enough for that...the unknown genius. Cezanne until his later years was a minor French figure. Kids were throwing rocks at him as he walked down the road. He was a nobody. And, in fact, by the end of his life they threw a birthday party for Cezanne and he felt that they were making fun of him. He was so paranoid because he was so unused to recognition. He became very angry when they threw tis birthday party, surprise birthday party for him that he thought was mockery.
But there must have been something about his art as they later discovered. Just as in the case of successes, not all successes will last. There will be cases where we say I can't believe we were so interested in Painter X or Author X. How can anybody ave been so superficial as to take this ridiculous garbage seriously. Well, there must be reality to the thing that allows us to make that change in judgment.The reality of anything cannot be identical with its current status in the world is the insight driving me to reject that part of Latour.
AS: But Latour rejects a Deleuzian sense of potentiality, right? Do you, as well?
GH: Yes. This gets to the heart of the disagreement I am going to be having with Levi Bryant over the next few years. He is my great ally, one of my greatest allies in the OOO. Levi comes out of Deleuze and so he believes very much in this concept of virtuality. I, like Latour, reject potentiality because, like Latour, I agree that all potentiality does is that it borrows future achievements and (?) .So, to explain that. If you say an acorn is potential oak tree, Latour doesn't like that idea because that implies that whoa that acorn is just going to naturally become the oak tree without any further work whereas for Latour there is a series of translations that have to happen here. The acorn needs water, then it needs soil. You combine those two and some translation happens and the a further translation happens, then a further translation happens and there are going to be a lot of surprises along the way for Latour. Even tough we are pretty sure the acorn will turn into an oak tree, it is not going to be exactly...you couldn't have predicted exactly what kind of oak tree will be from the acorn. Things will happen. Just like we are discovering now with DNA, right? Knowing the DNA of a newly conceived child is not going to be able to tell you exactly what the child turns out to be like because it is not just a matter of environment, it is also a embryonic thing. Different things happen at the embryonic stage scientists know now and so the DNA is not an absolute code to reveal the child and the same thing with acorn and the oak tree. So,Latour and I agree there.
What I think we should do instead of describe exactly what the actuality is of the acorn right now that allows it to become something else. Now, what Levi Bryant says and maybe Manuel Delanda who come out of Deleuze is that we need to talk about a virtuality of the thing. Latour and I are both, what they call, actualists. We believe a thing is only actually what it is right now. You can't say the thing is anymore than it is right now. It is only what it is right now. The difference between us is that Latour thinks that the actuality of a thing is its relations with other things whereas for me the actuality of a thing is deeper than all of its relations to other things. Now, what Levi Bryant says - we had a small email debate about this a couple of weeks ago- is that if I say the acorn is only what it is right now, there is no way for it to change. And so, Levi Bryant takes this kind of Deleuzian path and says this is virtual acorn. It is not an actual thing with specific qualities. This kind of feel, the morphogenetic feel of possibilities that could go this way, or this way or this way. It is not an actual thing but it is something deeper than the individual thing. Actually, he would deny that. He says that virtual feel is the individual thing. It is deeper than any qualities whereas I say no that the individual real thing has qualities. You just can't see them. He says no it is something deeper than all qualities. It is a kind of virtuality that allows itself many different possible qualities. That debate is still in the early stages and I am not sure either of us understands it quite well. He is definitely more of a Deleuzian than I am.
AS: I will ask my last question and then... Will you describe a little bit the different categories of aesthetics of allure, humour... things from Guerilla Metaphysics... things in which... these are all categories of of how humans perceive other humans, or how humans perceive the world but that may operate between objects themselves ? Would you just lay that out a little bit?
GH: I think I might have to ride through my memory banks because I haven't read Guerilla Metaphysics in about five years.This is what happens. You can't stand reading your own books. Central to Guerilla Metaphysics are these concepts of the aesthetic and humour is part of that. Henri Bergson wrote a great work on laughter which I think is one of the great works of comedy, philosophy of comedy in which he says humour involves seeing a living agent reduced to a mechanism. Actually, he says the human, I think. So, if you see somebody repeating a mannerism that they can't control what you are seeing is a tension between the fact that humans are supposed to be free agents who are able to make their own decisions and the fact that they are not quite free because they are enslaved or certain mannerisms they can't escape from. Also, if you got a comic character who has a certain catchphrase they can't stop using or make strange mistakes in speech, this is humorous to us because you see a free human agent acting like a mechanism. Now, what I did with that...let me see if I can remember...it's been a while since I have written the philosophy of comedy. The main concept in phenomenology is called intentionality. Intentionality is the idea that every mental act has an object. If you judge, you are judging about something. If you love, you are loving something or someone. If you hate, you hate something or someone. There is not any mental act that does not have an object unless objects, in my opinion, internal to the mind because you never really know what the real object is outside of it. But you are aiming your thoughts or your emotions or your judgments at something inside. It is an object, let's say, its an object.
And if you think about it, that is the same as Bergson's definition of humour because if somebody is taking some object seriously, this is also what Bergson says is the essence of comedy. Someone is unable to escape from some relation to an object. We think of ourselves as human agents being able to step back and not take things so seriously. But if someone is taking something very seriously, there is a comic kernel in that because there aren't ... they are too being reduced to a mechanism in a sense because they are totally absorbed in their interest in that thing. And so, you can also have a comic figure such as the lovers who are obsessed with being in love or the person who is obsessed about (sound of plane passing above) an object an object. This is just an extreme form of intentionality when you are focusing your attention on one object and it becomes comical when you become unable to escape from that. So, I had enough pages on this in Guerilla Metaphysics towards the middle. Allure- and actually I didn't mention this in the talk but I should. Allure is the noun connected with the verb allude as in you allude to something. Some people say that philosophy cannot accept the trap of human access because they will say if you talk...if you try to talk about something outside the human mind, that act of talking is also inside the mind, so there is no way to escape. So, the German idealists were right. There is no way to escape ... there is no way to talk about the world outside our consciousness. And I say there certainly is. There is a way of saying something without saying it. We do it all the time and it is called alluding. You allude to something. You hint at it. You say without saying it. This is usually a much more powerful way of communicating than spelling something out in literal terms.
Zizek is very funny about this. Zizek is good at taking literary works... talking about cases where you can take literary works and put them only in literal terms. He talks in...In the Parallax View, Zizek talks about this series in English called Shakespeare made easy where on the left side you have Shakespeare and on the right side you have Shakespeare put into contemporary American English. So, on the left side you have Hamlet saying to be or not to be, that's the question and on the right side it says right now I am trying to figure out whether or not to kill myself. Now this is obviously not as good as literature as in Shakespeare's case. Why is that? Because Hamlet is alluding in the question. Hamlet is not coming right out and mentioning suicide. He is stating apolitically . He is stating without stating it. And this is how you escape the circle. You see, there is a way of talking about something without talking about it. (?) philosophy didn't know this. Saul Kripke talks about how when we name something, we are pointing beyond everything we know about it. So, if I say this is Ashok and say everything I know about him- he is from the north of India, he is an artist, all these things- and it turns out he was lying to me about all these things. It doesn't mean it is not Ashok, it means I was wrong about his qualities but i am still pointing to this person here. I can be wrong about the qualities. I can find out lots of new things about him I didn't know. You can talk about something without talking about it.
There is two ways of talking about something. Rhetoric is like this- Aristotle talks... in early rhetoric, Aristotle says the essence of rhetoric is antonyms. Antonym is a Greek word for something that is in the heart, it is not in the mind. So, there are certain things you don't have to say explicitly in a speech because everyone knows them. The example he gives is that if you say in Ancient Greece that this person has three... has already won three wreaths, you know tat he won the Olympics three times because every Ancient Greek knows this. That's the prize. You win a crown of leaves. You don't have to say it. And it is often more powerful as a speaker to not leave certain things unsaid but to hint at them. And, I am also taking this in a certain direction with Marshall McLuhan. Some of you maybe interested in Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan is a rhetorician.He is very explicit about this. McLuhan is in favour of rhetoric over dialectics because dialectics are just the surface, words you actually come out and say, literally. rhetoric is about the background. Rhetoric is the art of the background. It is talking about things that shape us without our realising it. This is what the study of media is all about. Regardless of whether television shows are good or bad, high quality or low quality, what is it about the medium of television that influences our behaviour. This is what McLuhan is about- the medium is the message. And the surface content is really just the distraction. What does he say? He has got a great line here- that the content of a television programme is no more important than the writings scrawled on the side of the atomic bomb before it was dropped. It's maybe a slight exaggeration. But that's what I was getting at- that the content of the medium is not as important as the structure of the medium. So, and I will be talking at the McLuhan Centennial in Belgium in October. Probably turning that into a book because I think McLuhan is very important because if rhetoric is the art of the background, philosophy is the science of the background, I would say.
What is philosophy trying to do? Philosophy is not trying to beat other people in arguments. Of course, some analyitical philosophers see it this way. Philosophy is about trying to discover unnoticed background assumptions that are paralysing the imagination. What is a really philosophical act is not beating someone is an argument but the really philosophical act is re-defining the terms of a problem. Something we haven't thought of before. A way to get around a certain stale-mated problem by posing it in a different way. That's what philosophy really does. And that's why imagination and philosophy are a lot more important than winning arguments. If you go back and read any of the great philosophers, go back and read Spinoza or Aristotle or any of these people... why are they great philosophers... why are they still read centuries later? It is not because they made fewer mistakes than we did. We can find all kinds of mistakes. My students, every semester, find mistakes in Plato that I have never thought of before- mistakes. Who cares? We don't read them because they make fewer mistakes. We read them because they expand our minds. They are more imaginative. They offer options in philosophy we have never thought of before. And that's how philosophy makes progress. Now, that's about allusion in language. As for allure, I think allure occurs when we experience a separation between the thing and its manifest qualities.
We start to sense for the first time there is something hiding there behind the qualities that we don't quite grasp. I got this originally from an interpretation of metaphor. There is a guy in analytical philosophy called Max Black who was very big in the sixties who says that you cannot translate a metaphor into literal terms just like with Zizek and the Shakespeare. You can't really translate Hamlet into literal American English and still keep the same effects. And Max Black said this about all metaphors. Unfortunately, he had analysed very boring metaphors. One of them is man is a wolf, a very bland metaphor. Well, if some poet says man is a wolf and you say what does that mean. You can't just say what it means is people travel in violent, hierarchical packs and attack weaker creatures. And that's what it means. That ruins the metaphor. The metaphor always has something of an exhaustible component to it that you are not going to be able to translate into literal language. And, my (?) metaphysics is that all words have to do something similar if they are successful. If you have an artwork that is entirely analysable into a series of statements or in terms of manifest qualities, you could put on a list. If there are eight things that make this artwork what it is, then it is probably a bad artwork. Just as people are less interesting when they conform to stock types. If you meet somebody, you find yourself saying this person is a stereotypical such and such because of these five features. It is probably not somebody you are going to spend much time getting to know in the future, right? Because there is not any depth there behind the surface qualities that you have encountered a hundred times in other cases. So, those were some of things I was trying to do with allure. Allure - anything aesthetic, anything metaphorical, anything to do with media- all these discourses can be unified by the fact that they are talking about a background that is never quite graspable. In McLuhan's case also, you can't say what characterises television as a medium is these ten features. No, it is going to always be something more than we are able to say about television or about the internet or any of those things.So...
AS: So, one of the thoughts I had about that earlier on is that in the arts, at least, metaphor tends to be cheap. You can sit here and make up metaphors whereas the work of tracing parts like Latour or work of translation is real work. So, in the arts, there is a tendency to create ambiguity as a mode of working, right? There is a tendency to foreshorten it, to create ambiguity right here. I call this wiping your own windscreen with a soap cloth that creates the effect that the whole world is soapy but actually ambiguity resides in the world itself according to your ontology. Ambiguity is a part of every object. But to find that ambiguity, to go forth in the world and to look for it requires work which artists generally tend not to do. This is not a general accusation... maybe it is for myself. But, that is the sense in which metaphor is not something you do sitting in an armchair but you, kind of, go out and do the work of translation that allows you access to, maybe, deeper ambiguities, things that are stranger at the heart of objects.
GH: Hard work could simply be hard engineering work. McLuhan thinks that maybe our extensions in the human body in some way or human minds and they are metaphorical in that sense. They involve an extension of some capacity that already exists. Ya, could involve work... actually what McLuhan says about art is interesting too which is that he thinks that artists take dead forms. They take direct figures, physical features and change them into medium somehow and that takes work. It doesn't always succeed. And this is why, especially in England... you often hear criticisms that McLuhan is a technological determinist. He doesn't think we have any freedom because all these backgrounds are shaping us. Yes and no. Backgrounds are shaping us now but nothing determines what the media of the future, the background media of the media are going to may be. That takes work and that's why he is always praising artists. Artists are the ones that create in a medium.
It made me think of something else. What was it? Oh, ambiguity. Yes, in my theory ambiguity is something that does belong to the world itself. This goes all the way back to Aristotle. Aristotle- one of the best definitions he gives of what a substance is that something that can have opposite qualities at different times. So, for example, white is always white and foolish is always foolish because those are qualities, those are adjectives. But Socrates can be happy one day and sad the next day. And that is actually quite profound that something can have different qualities at different times. And so in a way, the more real something is, the more it has to be capable of different interpretations, different qualities. Greater works of literature are capable of more different interpretations. Greater works of art are probably capable of more different interpretations. If you have a child drawing, it's probably not going to have multiple possible interpretations. It is probably going to have one psychoanalytical interpretation or that's a nice kid's drawing, that's a pretty picture, pirates and trees, horses whereas great works of any kind are going to have more possible interpretations because they are going to exceed all the interpretations. They can't be replaced by those interpretations. So yes, I think the more real a... some sort of work is... the more real a person is... when you read biographies, who are the most interesting people you read biographies of? People who are multi-faceted, with many different sides, who are capable of different extremes of certian things. You see this in the lives of saints a lot, that there is a kind of intensity. Sometimes, it can take a criminal direction before it takes a religious direction. This happens all the time. Well, this is because you are dealing with a very deep, sort of, reality that can take on different expressions depending on the circumstances whereas something that is totally reducible to a set of easily definable features is not as real. So, I think ambiguity is important. Were you saying artists deliberately produce ambiguity in a shallow fashion? Was that...?
AS: Ya, there is tendency to create ambiguity as a first move. Produce it as this kind of a soapy sponge in front of your own view. And that tends to be, well, not going out into the world enough. It is one of this... And also not working or not working through the translations that would lead you to interesting ambiguities or deeper ones. Ok, I should stop.
SL: Thanks for the lecture. I was, very fundamentally, wondering how we could enter a conversation because I think the main problem you are a philosopher and I am not. And also that I can't ask you what about Badiou... but I also don't want to just participate in this by kind of just perceiving the philosophical ambience of the session. So, I guess the problem of entering a conversation would be this amount of time you have actually... I mean... let me give you an example. Accidentally and ironically, I spent the last couple of weeks with object-oriented programming. So, if I gave you a lecture of, a 45 minute deep walk through the conceptual ideas of object-oriented programming and then what would you do? You could try to isolate one point that tried to poke a hole in it maybe or there is something you don't see or don't find so elegant. Then, I would come up with ya Douglas Crpckford's theory of parasitical inheritance between objects which is not metaphorical but it's really technical. You can talk about it for long and you could try and argue but obviously I have thought about this long and would have to concede that maybe I'm... but still I'm not trying to poke I mean this would be the,kind of, this... seems to be a bit dangerous to isolate a point and try to poke a hole because obviously I have not spent that much time in that system. One of these things that you said would undermine the object or the notion of the object or the object as the object of philosophy was the idea of the pre-object soup. I think it is a bit analagous to your idea that you are an actualist and not a virtualist. This idea that there would be this kind of goo in which you couldn't think about objects or individual objects. But I think its maybe something that you, this kind of actuality may be something that exactly in your sense cannot reduce objects to and that there is something, in fact... whatever object we take - the bottle maybe or you for example the table maybe you are an individual as in individual subject object but maybe it is much more interesting to change the frame and see it as part of a goo that is object-oriented philosophy, a specific strain and just sometimes there are individuals or object individuals that kind of submerge from there and articulate that what is much more interesting maybe this pre... And your argument was that you couldn't prove it existed. And this is I think where you... you have no proof for the existence for this kind of pre-object, sphere and I think the problem might be that you try to prove its existence by looking around on your table and trying to find it. To me one of the things ... it seems to me very much a thing about bottles and objects and ... maybe there is also something like... that is not just soup but beyond the or post the object I mean there is Deleuze's idea of the devidual that in societies that are no longer for this but are very much kind of concerned with objects, production of objects, spaces of enclosures in which humans become objects but that are much more ... maybe they are done by banking and communication and control that the shape of the quiet human was much about devidual in all kinds of sense. So, there is maybe also post-object state in which you were aspect-oriented much more than object-oriented. I just think that this argument that you have no proof that this exists, so you don't buy it for me sounded a bit weak because it maybe exactly... and you seem to have taken it into consideration before... seems to be exactly one of the things that you ... this kind of object but you cannot reduce ... I mean this complete, the bottle and its shape can be something that you cannot reduce this stuff to. In general, I am totally happy to be confronted with a philosophy that does not have the human in the centre but I am somehow also uncomfortable to exchange it with a philosophy that has ... that is so much about bottles and books and stuff that fits on a table.
GH: Actually, I'd love to hear a lecture on parasitical inheritance logic sometime. Let me start with your last point first which is to tell you ... sounded like that was a complaint about mid-sized objects and why should it be books and things that fit on a table? It just goes along with the other things. There is usually a tendency to think everything has to be tiny and microscopic or else it has to be macroscopic at the societal level. I think there is all kinds of scales in between where things are real. So, for example, a table. People usually think either only the atoms in the table is real or only the function of the table for supporting things is real and I would say no there is actually a table reality there that is deeper than its function. And at a higher level than its atoms. Let me talk about your other point about the pre-individual. Let's take a specific example and show why I don't accept this theory of the pre-individual. Let's take the example of Latour who has switched to this very recently. He wrote this book called Reassembling the Social just a few years ago which was designed to be a kind of introduction to actor-network theory, the theory with which he is associated. And that is only the second time, as far as I know, that he mentions plasma because Latour in his earlier phase was saying there is only individual actors and each of these individual actors relates to each other and each individual actor only is what it is.
And now suddenly in about 2006 or 2007, he is talking about this plasma and this is why he is doing it. The reason he is doing it is because he is starting to realise that his whole theory can't really explain change, that the thing is only what it is right now. How does it get to the next point in time? And so, in that book, Reassembling the Social, he says how do we explain certain changes? How do we explain the sudden fall of the Soviet Union? How do we explain how a mediocre academic musician suddenly becomes a genius. I don't know if that ever happened but that is the example he uses. A lot of examples like that. Why does a person suddenly throw away their former life and start a new one? He says it has got to be the plasma. The vast unformatted goo underneath individual things. One of the problems of this is it ends up being the same plasma shared by everything in Latour's theory. Now, why would that be? Why would I have the same plasma as you? I don't. All my sudden changes will be different from your sudden changes. They are not going to be totally related to what we were before. The collapse of the Soviet Union is different from the collapse of some other empire. So, I think what this move tends to do is that it tends to take any of the power to change away from individuals and puts it in some undefined deeper realm. All these people who are defenders of the virtual claim the virtual is both heterogeneous yet continuous. So, it is both one and it is many.
I think Bergson is the one who started that in modern philosophy. Delanda follows that and you can find a similar attitude in Simondon, maybe Deleuze. And to say the one thing that this virtual is both one and many just seems like a positing of a fantasy, a positing of a wish-fulfillment. Why have a concept that is both one and many? So, everything is linked and yet, everything is still separate. So, everything is different from each other in this plasma whereas the world of actuals, they think, are simply separate from each other. Simply cut off. They have no way of influencing one another. The influence must be going on this different level, surfaces are just sterile. I think that is ... here is what I think that is- way back before 1000 A.D in Islamic philosophy the idea started that individual things don't have any causal power. That only God has causal power. So, if I pick this up, it is actually God picking it up. This is known as occasionalism. And in European philosophy this starts in France in the seventeenth century with Descartes and Malebranche . The individual...well, in Descartes case, it is just that the mind cannot influence the body. The mind and body...only God...God must be mediator for me to hold my bottle up. If I pick up my arm, God must be allowing me to pick up my arm because mind and body are two different substances for Descartes. And so, this philosophy I think raises some interesting problems about the difficulty of communication between two individual things but why does it give this one entity, God, the power to do all that?
Then, I think in the case of Hume and Kant, the problem is flipped upside down. So, it is the human mind that is responsible for our causation. We don't really know if there is causation but for Hume, causation is a habit. Every time I drop a ball, it seems to fall on someone. So, in the habit of customary conjunction I see this thing happening over and over again. Kant says causation is just the category of the human mind. We can't know if it really happens outside us. So, in those philosophies, the human mind is replacing God. What I worry about is that in the cases like the plasma and the virtual, this is replacing God. They kind of say, well, we know things have problem communicating but there has got to be this one magical blob of stuff where everything is somehow in contact. Why do you need to go outside this individual things to find the potential for change? Why not say that a thing is in tension with its own pieces, for example? The reason that my body can decompose is that all my physical pieces are in tension with each other and after a certain number of years, it can no longer maintain that tension and the body decomposes. That seems like a more realistic explanation than to say that I die because my body is just part of some wider plasma.
SL: No, I mean I totally agree if it was about an ethics that would always be like it is the goo's fault. It is the plasma's fault. This would not be the... I don't want to propose these ethics. It's just about... for this shape of the individual or the object to acknowledge that a lot of what determines it are maybe qualities that are not necessarily individual, that are shared among individuals, that are kind of... it is not non-phenomenological. It's just that the acknowledgment of many of the properties and qualities of actual individual objects to be actually shared among them.
GH: Yes, I agree that that can happen.
SL: Or can be kept and exchanges and lost and recreated.
GH: I want to have a T-shirt that says it is the plasma's fault. That's a great slogan. You said that you think objects should be able to share different qualities. I think that can happen but I think it happens through a different mechanism. What I think is, and I mentioned this earlier, when two objects enter into a relationship they form a new object. Now, objects (?0 the features of objects is if they can have retro-active effects on their own parts. So, an example, if you put in different pieces in a car and the car heats up as it is moving, that heat can have retro-active effects on the car. It can heat up the rubber of the tyres and heat up the metal. And any larger object can have retro-active effects on its parts. And so, for example, I am from the United States and I share some qualities in common, at least, with other residents of the United States. The mechanism for that would be that we form this larger object. This object, the United States, has retro-active effects on us. It influences us, not totally. We're not totally defined by our society because we are all individuals. We resist certain things the society wants us to do. There are things in us that cannot be assimilated by the society. The society doesn't know everything about us because it uses only a small part of us. It uses me as a tax-payer and a potential draftee - I am too old now, but- potential draftee in times of war. But that's how I think it would happen. The larger object would retro-actively affect the smaller components. Sometimes. It can't always do it. Sometimes, it doesn't have those effects.
Thank you. I think I've probably much more simpler... I have three questions. Let me start on the first one which is when you were talking about the reality of the art under the concept of allure, being open to more interpretations, more interpretations and essentially having an undefinable quality so that you couldn't define something by the list. It escapes that. Therefore it is hard. How do you account for art which has , perhaps, the opposite effect, which is a universality? And I am thinking about, for example, say somebody like Charlie Chaplin where the art is that there is a multiplicity of interpretations which, I accept, is one way of looking at art which is wonderful. We can have that discussion. But on the other side there is another which is universality and, I am not asking, non-interpretation. But it seems problematic to define art or define the concept of allure just by the complexity or number of interpretations. I don't mean to pose it as a challenge but I am trying to understand how you account for universality or the universe. Then, I have a couple of questions.
So, the second one and it is related to that which was, if I understood correctly - and all three questions are around am I understanding what you are saying correctly. The second one is around reality. You used several times the phrase something was more real by, potentially, if I understood correctly, by this complexity. And in the concept of art that would be, for example, interpretations. In other areas it would be other dimensions. But I find it quite... it seems to me a co-equation between complexity and reality because something may be... first of all, who is interpreting it ? You are now asking who is the interpreter? The complexity of the interpreter is now defining part of that. So, if you have a dog interpreting some object, does that make the object less real because it is subject to less interpretation. So, I find this idea, actually just the concept of something being more real or less real doesn't make sense to me and I apologise if that is such an elementary level conversation.
Now, the third question which is really the very end of your talk. You referred to this concept of allure that in some of your writings you think as separating an object from its qualities as a way to describe a causation. And I wanted to make sure I understood how you meant... how you were using the word causation there? Because I didn't know what you meant. Causation as in cause effect or causation like creation or if you could elaborate on that I'd be grateful.
GH: Let's see if I can remember all the questions.The first one is about... as for Charlie Chaplin , I don't know... watched Charlie Chaplin's films many years ago and I don't know if I'd agree with everything...I'd have to go back and watch it again. This leads into the question about complexity. I don't think I was really saying that something is more real if it is more complex. I think it is... substances at various levels are more simple. The more unified something is , the more simple it is. I was saying that it could generate a multiplicity of qualities So, it can mean a complexity of interpretations, yes. But that doesn't mean complexity on the surface level is necessarily more real. It just means that if something is more real, something is deeper it can probably have more different possible interpretations. It certainly exceeds those interpretations more. I see your point. How can you say something is more real. That is a hard thing to explain. I didn't ... What Latour would say is that all things are equally real just some are stronger than others. How would I say something is more real because in a sense obviously everything is equally real. Anything that is real is real. Aristotle even says this... Aristotle says every human is equally human. So, how would you match that...how would you merge that intuition with the equally interesting intuition that some people are more inexhaustible, more interesting than others, perhaps. Actually, I don't know. I am not sure. It is not an elementary problem at all. It is a very profound one, I think. How can two things be equally real examples of their kind and yet one is a lot deeper? If one Shakespeare play and one really shallow, bad play about plays - where is the medium and which one can become a better play than the other?
There was a third question.Oh causation, ya. For me, causation means two things come into relation in such a way as to form a new object. So, they have to somehow make contact. That contact has to be indirect because I don't think direct contact is possible. It has to be intermediary. How does direct contact happen? Because I don't think direct contact between two real objects is possible because I try to talk to you, you try to talk to me. We are only talking to surface effects of each other. We can never ever get a depth. I also think it is impossible for two central objects to touch. What are two central objects? My image of him and my image of Ashok which are called images. Images can't touch each other. So, I am the real object unifying these two images. The only really direct kind of contact is between me as a real object and he as a central object or vice versa, he as a real object and me as a central object. This doesn't happen in Latour because in Latour there is only one kind of actor - flat ontology, he calls it- whereas for me it is not flat. There are two kinds. There are real ones and there are images. And real things can touch images. Two images cannot touch and two real things cannot touch. And an image cannot touch a real thing because an image has no reality of its own. So, real things touching images is the only kind of contact that happens. So, I think that has to be the contact where everything that happens happens, whether it is artworks, whether it is physical causation. So, in other words if a fire burns cotton- the classic Islamic philosophy example- what is happening? The fire is contacting... is coming in contact with an image of the cotton which is vastly over-simplified compared to the reality. The fire is probably not coming into contact with the colour, the odor of the cotton as we are. But somehow, it contacts that image in such a way that it is able to destroy the cotton. It is able to separate the aspects of the image of the cotton in such a way that it leads to real effects. And that is the real problem-explaining how that occurs. But has to be what occurs. Because otherwise you just as may put the God solution to this, the plasma that does everything, human experience does everything or the materialist explanation which is that two physical masses just slam into each other and cause one to move position. That's a problem too because those aren't two things you are talking about. Those are two things reduced to mathematical abstractions by equations. Those are not the real cotton or the real fire. That's not a real metaphysical explanation. It maybe enough of a physical explanation to predict a power. You know when the burning is going to happen, what temperature the burning is going to happen and all that. But it takes the burning for granted. It doesn't provide a philosophical explanation of it.
Incidentally, when I was talking about undermining and overmining, I forgot to mention that scientific materialism is the kind of philosophy that does both things simultaneously. Scientific materialism says actually everything is going on in your brains, neurons. Yet, at the same time it wants to say neurons can be known, that neurons are a list of properties and features that can be measured in a laboratory. And that is an overmining mode because you are reducing real things to mathematisable qualities. And so, what is lost there is the real object. The neuron as an object. It is in between. Or even the brain or your mind as an object. It is in between two things. Something that has components beneath it and measurable effects above it. This is one of the reasons I can never be too great an enthusiast about Badiou is this idea that mathematisation is the right path, that ontology is mathematics. Meillassoux, this friend of mine, this great successor, let's say- I have written a book about Meillassoux that will appear this summer. This is my problem with Meillassoux as well. Meillassoux thinks he is talking about realities outside the mind. But he thinks he is able to do that by mathematising them and saying the real things just are the only things that can be put in mathematical form. And I say, how could that be? You put something in mathematical form, it is knowable to us. It is not something deeper. Shouldn't a mathematical model of a tree then be able to plant in the ground and start growing branches and leaves? If that's all the tree is- a mathematical model. So, it has to be some deeper thing than the mathematisable parts that will allow it to be a tree and not just a theory about a tree. I think I digressed a bit off your questions but ....
Audience: I am not sure if it is good or bad but that leads to another question which is... I think I got how that relates to causation... but back to the art one. So, the indefinable thing or the unlistable thing is what makes it art or more real or whatever one would say it some language...then how are we perceiving that? So, how are we even interpreting it if it's not in the form of a quality? How do two objects interpret each other if not through some quality or some image? So, I understand your point. I agree with it intuitively that the better things escape dictionary definitions or ennumeration but then how am I able to... not even know it or describe it but even just to feel it or absorb it or sense it if not through sensory quality?
GH: In the philosophy of language this is sometimes called rigid designation. You are pointing to a thing but you are pointing to it a level deeper than its qualities. And the example sometimes given is if you say Christopher Colombus discovered America this turns out to be completely false. Even if he say he is the first European to discover America, turns out the Vikings were in Canada much earlier. You don't then say well he is not Christopher Columbus then because we define Christopher Columbus as the guy that discovered America and he didn't and so he is no longer Christopher Columbus. No, you are pointing at something. You use the phrase discoverer of America as a kind of way of fixing the reference. And in case of language, if he is (?) you can just point at things, at something deeper than that quality. So the qualities can vary, they can change and you are still talking about the same unspeakable thing. You can't even quite define what he is. And actually, in Kripke's case, it becomes very boring. He ends up defining gold by how many protons it has. That turns out to be what it really is. And you... what you turn out to be is the person who had those two parents which is actually genetically false. You could have the same DNA without having the same two parents... very small odds, but you could. And I say in allusion and rhetoric, we also say things without saying them. You hint at things effectively without spelling them out. Much of language, much of effective communication is about this. Much of style is about this. Any author or artist would have a style that isn't really reducible to some sort of a word. The better they are, the more that is true, I think. I had this argument with a sculptor in Chicago who claimed that there is no such thing as an artist's style. It's just a... 78 works this person created before dying and you sort of deduce that there is this unifying style in all of them. I would say no. I would say the style is what allows the works to be created.
And you can see this because... for example, it is possible to create computer programmes that work in the style of Bach and can change any popular song into a Bach fugue pretty effectively which, I think, shows there is somehow style that the artist creates and the individual work is just a detritus of that, in a sense. And this perhaps is why it makes so little sense to copy somebody else's style. There is no point in creating so many more works in the same style except as an exercise with the computer and the Bach fugues as a kind of stunt. And let's see..you made me think of something else. Ya...there are actually...since there are two kinds of objects and two kinds of qualities in my model, there are four basic, kinds of, links between objects and qualities. You got the central object with its central qualities. This glass with the various things we are seeing of the glass. And I call that time. That's really what we mean by the experience of time because I am going to rotate this and I am seeing the same glass - I believe it is the same glass- showing different things at different times. And what is our experience of time if not that? There is some sort of stable landscape... so many stable landscape that objects around us receding constantly through different angles, different moods and different shifts of hiding conditions. This is time. The link between those two. And that relation can be interfered with in a way that I call confrontation...it's too hard to explain, probably. I can explain the other ones better. What about the relation between this apparent glass and its real qualities. It does have real qualities because I can rotate this glass and it changes and all these changing qualities don't really matter. It is still the same glass. But there are certain qualities this glass needs to remain the same glass in my opinion. And that if it loses them it will no longer be the same glass. What those are is up for dispute. But this is what phenomenologists do. They try to analyse what are the central features of this glass that it needs. That is why they are always moving things around, and twisting them around and varying to see what are the essential things that have to stay the same. And that tension I call the eidos because that is Husserl's term. The Greek term for essence.
And that's what theory does. What is theory about? Any kind of theoretical efforts are an attempt to find out what are the essential features of a thing that cannot vary. There is two more to go- two more tensions. The third one is the difference between the qualities of the glass that I see and the real glass that is hidden which is kind of assumed but it is there, it is behind all perception. That is what I call space because there is this dispute in philosophy between this space something absence...space and time absolute... actually ...space something absolute. It's like this geometrical grid that things move through. That's Newton's philosophy and like Descartes' philosophy whereas Leibniz's philosophy which is that space is nothing more than a relation between things. I have a variant of this which is that space is inside a relation and non-relation and this should intuitively be clear. Am I in relation to Egypt now or not? Yes and no. No, I am not in Egypt now. I am at distance from it. And yet, Egypt is there. I could and will, hopefully, in two weeks be back on an airplane and fly back to Egypt and start my life there again. So, there is a real Egypt that is not apparent to me now and there is the apparent location where I am and you could call attention between those two space. There is something real outside of here that you can't quite access because you are not directly there. And actually space occurs here too. Even though this glass is in front of me, I can't get at the glass. It is withdrawn from me. It is hidden from me. All I can see is this surface, this incandescent surface. And it is the separation between those two that I call allure. And this is where I think art has something to say because somehow a relation is created here so that the I suddenly sense this real glass hidden behind the qualities. I can't get at it, I can only allude to it. I can only sense that it is there somehow. Now, the last one is causation. And that deals with what I call essence. That a thing at a hidden level also has qualities that belong to its really...that leads us ( inaudible). And that is what is called essence, traditionally, of a thing. and what happens when you separate a thing from its real qualities, that's when causation occurs because then you are interfering with the actual nature of a thing. You are changing its actual quality. You are changing its character. That's what I call causation. In causation one thing has to be changed in order to fit with another and those two together create a new object. And so, what is exciting to me about this is it is able to bring the aesthetic realm, physical causation, theoretical realm and everyday lived phenomenal experience all in under the scope of the same theory of two objects and two qualities. And, I am far from having exhausted it. There are still a lot of things that still puzzle me. It is confusing at times when I try to work out what happens here, what happens here. That's why I say I want this book, The Quadruple Object, to resemble a pencil sketch of ideas five years from now compared to what will be done then with this theory.
SL: I think when Ashok told me about you first..mentioned your name first and talked about, briefly mentioned the school of object oriented philosophy, I first thought it sounded like it because if you googled...sounded like a joke almost if you googled for object orientation, it is mostly a programming term. I think one of the things that struck me...I think one of the common interests of object oriented philosophy and object oriented programming is this quest for the mid-sized object. Your idea that you are looking for the medium-sized object. And what you have identified is exactly what object-oriented programmers would also identify - these two ends of the object is too shallow and too deep. Like in a for a programme too deep would be, you just take your programme and wrap it into an object and then say that it is object oriented because my programme is there. That is too deep. And there is this other end which is too shallow which is wrapping every assignment or every operation into an object that has its own place in a hierarchy of objects. And then it is obviously unwieldy and too shallow for an object. But what you also notice in practical object oriented programming is that you find this little ground, the mid-sized object, is quite an art and very often you think that you have the right, you have reached this middle ground of an object that is not easy to undermine or overmine and it still tends to escape you. Even the mid-sized object, if you look at it from a different angle, may become too big and may become too large and then you may change your perspective or your paradigm totally which is to say maybe there is also ways of of of looking at it, finding a perspective towards all these ... or point of view from which these mid-sized objects that we have been talking about look a bit stranger- obviously we are comfortable with and it is practical to divide this scenery into these objects you talked about - all objects for this production the table the book the bottle the chips the computer the lamp then we can say furniture and then we have humans and animals and that seems to be what this is about . We don't divide it by, we don't talk about the blue and the red and this setting is not so much- but why not why not a matter of qualities of perception the blue and the red in this way or how could you talk about let's talk about a setting where the main if it is programming - doesn't have to be philosophy- why don't you make it about let's make objects let's define objects by investment v/s debt. How can object oriented philosophy talk about a bank? Is that an object? Or how can it talk about a factory? How can it...this is what I was wondering. I am still trying to get off this table that seems to have ha small.
AS: I think there is a general difference between an ontological question and a more practical or a more epistemological one. Anything in general, objects are...there are objects all the way down - from the largest scales to the smallest. I'll let Graham...
GH: I wouldn't say that we are hunting for mid-sized objects. I would say I just used those as my first examples for this philosophers who are in such a hurry to destroy them and I wanted to defend them. Philosophers are so in a hurry to bring things down to atoms or move things up to their effects on humans, their expressions in language. But ya...it is almost more interesting to talk about large things like banks, and also it is important to develop methods to determine real objects from pseudo-objects. I did a talk about this in UCLA in December because not any object I can name is a real object. Here, I can say that the conjunction of Bombay, Washington and this plastic bottle is not going to be a real object, probably. Why not? We need the criteria for determining the difference between real objects and pseudo-objects and that would be more interesting in other cases. Like, is there really such a thing as... in United States' elections, there has been this demographic called the soccer mom. Politicians have been trying to win the votes of the soccer mom. The soccer mom is a suburban woman with a couple of children and they play soccer rather than baseball which implies a certain level of sophistication because that is... Euro-oriented. Americans playing soccer instead of baseball, this kind of thing. Is that really a real group? Politicians spend a lot of money in trying to win the votes of this group because they are considered a kind of centrist group. Its kind of a swingloader. In cases like that, it really becomes a question is there really such a group? Is there really such a group as that is worth investing money in persuading? Is there really such a group as NATO over and above its constituent nations? What would you look at? You look at whether it has NATO effects that individual nations can't have. And in that case, it is probably a real one. You can name other objects that , well, it is harder to say if they are real or not. Alternative music- is that an object? Or is that just, kind of, a loose cluster that refers to different brands of music. Or techno- can you say there is one kind of music called techno? Or there are five or six different kinds? Or there are just a bunch of lot of different DJs who you are classifying that way. BUt yes, a bank could actually be real if it has qualities that its pieces don't have, if it has effects on other things but also if it fails to have effects on other things, it can still be real. This is important. I agree there are objects all the way down. There is no tiniest object. But there are not objects all the way up. There can be objects that don't currently have an effect on anything else. I call these sleeping objects or dormant objects. And I believe reality is like this. Reality doesn't keep getting larger and larger. There must be this surface of reality of objects that are real but they don't yet have an effect on anything else but they might. So, I don't think there is such a thing as the universe. The universe for me does not exist.
AS: So, we are going to end and I think we are at eight forty-five. Thanks, Graham and thanks everyone for the questions. We'll be trying to circulate some of the material as videos.