[-empyre-] Meillassoux / Harman

Ian Bogost ian.bogost at lcc.gatech.edu
Sat Jun 16 01:58:10 EST 2012


I'm about to disappear into a mess of meetings, but let me offer a brief response: 

What you're touching on here is what Levi Byrant sometimes calls the "weird mereology" of OOO. The song isn't "just" the sound waves (what Harman calls an underming position) nor is it just the social context of creation and use (an overmining position). A song is a song, and indeed, the song in an MP3 file is a different thing than the song as an abstraction in human culture. Neither is more object nor more real (well, "real" has a different meaning for Harman than it does for Levi and me).

I talk about this a bit in the first chapter of Alien Phenomenology, and Levi does as well in the mereology section of Democracy of Objects. Also, here are a  blog post from Levi on the subject that weaves the two together: http://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2010/08/12/more-strange-mereology/

I'm not answering sufficiently but wanted to get something out to you rapidly.


Ian Bogost, Ph.D.
Director, Graduate Program in Digital Media

Georgia Institute of Technology
Digital Media/TSRB 320B
85 Fifth Street NW
Atlanta, GA 30308-1030

ibogost at gatech.edu
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On Jun 15, 2012, at 4:11 AM, davin heckman wrote:

> Ian,
> Since we are on the topic of OOO, I was wondering what the ontological
> status of something like a song is?  I have to admit, I have a real
> hard time swallowing a pure ontology that essentially defines the
> subjective as outside of being, as a sort of on or off proposition, as
> opposed to also a turning on (or is it being turned on? Or simply to
> be turned or to turn?) (I am generally skeptical about a variety of
> posthumanisms that go beyond a critique of a monolithic Humanism,
> because I think that consciousness carries specific tendencies that
> seem to fundamentally frame all possibilities for knowledge).  However
> it is entirely possible that I am missing out on a discussion that has
> been unfolding without me.
> But here's my thought:  With a song, you have something that can be
> rendered in "objective" form....  maybe an mp3 file or a sheet of
> notes or record or something.  If this is what we mean by a song,
> then, fine, that's an object.  But a song only really starts doing
> something when it is unfolding within the context of memory and
> anticipation.  It only is a song when it is listened to by a subject,
> which is to say it is an object that has a singular temporal being as
> it is listened to, which is distinct from how it is being listened to
> and replayed even by the same user.  (And we aren't even beginning to
> talk about non-recorded music).  The only way a song becomes a purely
> discrete object is when it is removed from its temporal existence and
> understood as a totality, and detached from an audience.  And while we
> can sit around and all talk about, say, "Another One Bites the Dust,"
> after we squeeze it into a conceptual file type and label it, the fact
> that we can discuss something that can only mean something if is
> experienced as a process AND an object within the context of a
> experience, suggests that sometimes being is realized by the relations
> of things, rather than the things themselves.  My suggestion is that
> the ontological nature of the song cannot be described in objective
> terms without missing what a song is.  Without the non-objective
> component of its being, a song is just sound.  If we say, well, "Hey,
> when this sound occurs, people do X, Y, and Z," we can find ourself
> thinking that these effects are produced by the object, but this sort
> of thought experiment only gives us half an understanding of the
> object's being.  You also have to think of that song in relation to
> the current context, to itself over time, to the individual and
> collective experience of its audience, to the culture, etc. Again, a
> great means to produce estrangement, but not the complete account of
> what the thing is.  At the risk of sounding chauvinistic, I can see
> that it might be expedient to regard a distant moon without regard to
> its historical relationship to the human.  It's useful to think of a
> distant moon as a quantity of data.  But the closer we get to human
> existence, the more likely we are to encounter types of things that
> exist, but that cannot be understood properly as a bundle of discrete
> data.  Maybe there are some texts that address precisly these sorts of
> concerns.
> This is where I think ontology cannot simply be objective.  It must,
> of course, be able to establish the differences between things, to
> render those things it claims to understand in discrete form, insofar
> as they can be considered as such.  On the other hand, we know that
> most of what the world is made of is common and that the laws of
> physics, for instance, harness discrete things under a kind of
> continuity.  So, along with the conditions of radical difference that
> a philosophy of objects implies, there are the conditions of radical
> connectivity.  Both features are equally present, which is to say they
> offer us little in the way of productive knowledge EXCEPT insofar as
> we can bind and sever, cut or tie, digitize or analogize within this
> framework of matter.  The 21st century loves digitizing things.....
> it helps computers see the world, it helps them count us, predict our
> behavior, weigh it, value it, direct it, etc.  But the digital is only
> half of our existence....  the analog process is equally present in
> language and cognition....  and it is just as equpped to help us
> understand the world by creating categories of things and identifying
> common qualities.  In "Notes on the Uncanny," Freud identifies this
> struggle as productive of a kind of unsettling (the person that acts
> like an object/the object that acts like a person)...  but it does not
> simply have to be a "scary" process....  the move from discrete to
> connected or from one into multiple can also be deeply satisfying and
> reassuring of being.  If both processes are equally useful, then what
> presides over these two tendencies?  Temporal consciousness that can
> mobilize processes of digitization and analogy?  Another place to
> think through this is in relation to a variety of attempts at
> taxonomy.  At some point, a poodle has to be a poodle and a wolf has
> to be a wolf, but in relation to squids, both can be canines.  We
> could say that well, we are talking about layers of qualities that
> enable us to categorize this object or that object.  But without the
> history of the poodle we don't really know how one canine can be a
> fashion accessory and the other is a part of a wild ecology, all of
> which (domesticating work dogs, turning tool animals into fashion
> animals, thinking about animals as people, killing wild animals,
> restoring wildness, etc) radically alter the parameters of being based
> on thoughts about being.  To take it back to queer thought, around the
> bend of singular identities is the knowlege that such queerness does
> not preclude deep relationality.  My reading is that the fruits of
> this thought are an affirmation of the idea that the well-worn paths
> of prescribed human behavior do not necessarily lead to earnest
> relationships, it is not to reject relationship itself in favor of
> individualism because capitalism has been doing this since the
> transformation of labor into commodity.
> Why does this matter?  I care about politics, but I am not going to
> say that OOO cleaves to this or that kind of politics....  it doesn't
> matter.  If a statement is discernibly true, then I have an obligation
> to bend my ideas around the true statement.  And my sense, based on
> very limited reading, is that OOO is trying to figure out what we can
> know about being.  So, while it is worth considering the political
> implications of speculative thought, I think Galloway is a bit wrong
> to suggest that something is "bourgeois" or something just because
> financial markets also offer a flat ontology via capital.  The only
> thing that really matters is whether or not a philosophy can get us to
> a mutually agreed upon knowledge of the world that can be transmitted
> effectively from one context to another and continue to be useful.
> I have been lazy about following this month's discussion, but I like
> the idea of queering technology, of the productively broken tool.  It
> is an area that has affinities with regards to my own reading of
> electronic literature.....  taking Jakobson's discussion of poetics up
> through Darko Suvin's discussion of "cognitive estrangement," and
> looking at the ways that digital literary practices perform a similar
> process with regards to instrumental languages. My thought is that OOO
> is productive in that it asks us to engage in a thought experiment
> about pure objectivitiy, and in doing so, reveals the critical
> necessity of subjective and intersubjective aspects of human being
> that are embedded in our broader assertions about being.  I think that
> a lot of the "posthumanisms" try to simply go beyond something that we
> have never understood in the first place: that being human is
> essentially a kind of queer existence, all the much more so when we
> insist that it is not. For my part, I want my human rights.  So while
> I am sympathetic, generally, with many of the aims of the
> posthumanists I encounter, I generally think that "Humanism" has yet
> to adequately describe being human.  Like Habermas said of modernity,
> it's daunting and messy and incomplete (like most things worth doing).
> Living in Norway right now (moving in a couple weeks, unfortunately),
> humanism seems to be working out pretty well here.  The problems of
> the world do not stem from a love of humanity, they stem from our
> growing estrangment from humanity and increased clustering into
> paranoid, exclusionary enclaves (Why do you think everyone watches
> Zombie movies? Blasting away at legions of dirty anthropoidal morons
> trying to eat what you have, a perfect gospel for post democratic
> capitalism).  In a world of Darwinian evolution, we are not entirely
> selected, we alter the landscape of an objective process through our
> dialogue with an objective sphere that exists, that we inhabit, and
> that we think about, but which does not simply constitute us.
> I admit these thoughts are poorly formed....  and I am very busy these
> days....  so I might not be able to reply as quickly as I would
> normally.  But am very interested in these conversations.
> Davin
> On Thu, Jun 14, 2012 at 4:16 PM, frederic neyrat <fneyrat at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Hi,
>> I would like - if possible - to get one or two examples about the
>> objects concerned by your statement:"all objects equally exist, but
>> not all objects exist equally." I guess - but I just guess - that the
>> first part of the sentence is ontological and the second part could be
>> political, but maybe I'm wrong. Thanks in advance.
>> Best,
>> Frederic Neyrat
>> 2012/6/14 Ian Bogost <ian.bogost at lcc.gatech.edu>:
>>> Ok, sigh, let me try this again.
>>> The "as much as" is not a judgement of value, but of existence. This is the
>>> fundamental disagreement that played out in the comments to Galloway's work
>>> and in the many responses elsewhere. The world is big and contains many
>>> things. I've put this principle thusly: "all objects equally exist, but not
>>> all objects exist equally."
>>> It's possible that such a metaphysical position isn't for everyone. But if
>>> your idea of "being political" is as exclusionary and deprecatory as both
>>> Galloway's post and my limited experience thusfar here on empyre, then
>>> perhaps you can explain why that a model worth aspiring for? Why that is
>>> virtuous and righteous?
>>> Ian
>>> On Jun 14, 2012, at 2:57 PM, Rob Myers wrote:
>>> On 06/14/2012 07:02 PM, Ian Bogost wrote:
>>> As for queer and feminist formulations, I agree with the spirit of what
>>> you say, but I'll reiterate my observation that SR/OOO is moving in a
>>> slightly different direction—one that concerns toasters and quasars as
>>> much as human subjects (note the "as much as" here). Why not take this
>>> work for what it is, at least for starters, rather than for what it
>>> isn't?
>>> The "as much as" is precisely the problem.
>>> Galloway's critique of OOO that Zach mentioned explains why:
>>> http://itself.wordpress.com/2012/06/03/a-response-to-graham-harmans-marginalia-on-radical-thinking/
>>> But I wouldn't lump Meillassoux in with Harman. I think Meillassoux's
>>> philosophy can indeed be interesting for this debate because of its
>>> embracing of contingency and possibility.
>>> - Rob.
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