[-empyre-] Meillassoux / Harman

Clough, Patricia PClough at gc.cuny.edu
Tue Jun 26 03:34:40 EST 2012

Dear All   I agree with Ian   that reading is helpful and interesting     Just finishing  Democracy of Objects  by  Levi Bryant  I can say there is quite a bit of exposition there.   Difference between him and Graham (and much that is similar)   Differences between him and Deleuze (also some similarities)  and Lacan and Zizek   all there  and clearly.   And all clarifying about ideas and materiality, objects and subjects  and even  politics.   I think what gets confusing is how to take this new upsurge in philosophical thought  and I think that is a matter of one's own intellectual search    While OOO has been accompanied by an interest in objects and animals  and computers  (in the rather conventional sense) OOO is not primarily about that    It is an ontology and so has to be brought to those different inquires in a way that demands one's own desires interests  not to mention a subject matter that may be alluring.    For me this is a matter of writing  or creating--to join with the creations shared over the past weeks.  Writing is my way of queering the intimacies  between philosophy, politics, aesthetics and my own field sociology.     P
From: empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au [empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au] On Behalf Of Ian Bogost [ian.bogost at lcc.gatech.edu]
Sent: Monday, June 25, 2012 11:28 AM
To: soft_skinned_space
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] Meillassoux / Harman

A chair is a chair. A picture of a chair is a picture of a chair. A definition of a chair is a definition of a chair. None are all chairs, but all have something to do with chairs. At least, that's the OOO contention. There are no planes of existence… except for Harman (and Tim, to some extent), who distinguishes sensual from real objects. For Graham, the idea of a chair is different from the real chair, which recedes from all encounters. I think this is maybe the conclusion you arrive at in your second paragraph below.

NOTHING about OOO privileges the material (i.e., the tangible, physical) chair primacy over the others. As for "the same weight" — well, that depends on what you mean by "weight." What do you mean?

I hate to say it, but it's maybe not possible to make further progress without reading some of this material in depth…


On Jun 25, 2012, at 3:13 AM, davin heckman wrote:

Ian and Tim,

Do the differences with which we treat objects syncs up with
ontological difference, and thus, is there something to some of the
different categorizations we could possibly develop for objects?

I do think there is plenty of room to see these things from a fresh
perspective, but I also wonder if not, for instance, Kosuth's chairs
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_and_Three_Chairs> highlight the ways
that discrete objects can differ from each other, but also the ways in
which there are consistencies that can yoke them together in odd ways.
A picture of a chair is not a chair, a definition of chair is not a
chair, instructions about a chair is not a chair, a chair as a
sculpture is not necessarily a chair.....  yet, in some fundamental
way, all are chairs.... in a general sense of their concept and
recognition.  Put all three things together, and you have a "chair"
which occupies all three planes of existence simultaneously.  On the
other hand, they can occupy niches within conceptual frameworks (a
chair within a game, for instance, can be very "real" to the other
objects in the game).

Each way of recognizing the chair (the picture, instructions, the
chair as chair, chair as sculpture, three chairs as conceptual work,
etc) would suggest that each is a distinct object in some sense, which
makes me wonder then, whether or not all other possible thoughts about
a chair have being, or if we afford the material object of the chair
primacy.  In which case, does a digital rendering of the chair carry
the same weight as an unexpressed idea about a chair, too.  At some
point, doesn't ontology lead into this thicket?


On Sun, Jun 24, 2012 at 9:08 PM, Ian Bogost <ian.bogost at lcc.gatech.edu<mailto:ian.bogost at lcc.gatech.edu>> wrote:
There is no reason why holding that everything exists equally entails
"reducing all that can be known about a being to a simple recognition of


On Jun 24, 2012, at 5:44 AM, davin heckman wrote:

I agree, this is a good starting point....  that all things that exist
have being as their common condition of existence (that is, they are
not "not beings"), which is a sort of foundational ontological
similarity.  But if the only significant ontological claim we can make
about things is either yes or no, do they exist or not, then this
means all things carry this single quality, which is to say that there
is no difference between things.  If we admit difference, then we must
account for those differences in meaningful ways.  For instance,
waffle #1 differs from waffle #2 in a different way than waffle #1
differs from a toaster (or waffle #1 changes in the course of being
eaten, it is still in one meaningful sense the "same" waffle after it
has been bitten, but in another sense, it is a different waffle, too.
While both toasters and waffles are different from something like an
idea or a "memory" rendered in media (a waffle recipe or story about
waffles) or a process habituated in muscle memory (the habit of making
a waffle or eating one).

My concern is that if we reduce all that can be known about being to a
simple recognition of being, we commit to a kind of abstraction and
alienation from being of the sort that happens when markets try to
mediate everything through the common denominator of dollars.


On Sat, Jun 23, 2012 at 4:46 PM, Timothy Morton
<timothymorton303 at gmail.com<mailto:timothymorton303 at gmail.com>> wrote:

Hi Davin,

We obviously treat different entities differently.

But this is not the same as saying that these entities are ontologically

Yours, Tim


On Jun 20, 2012, at 5:51 AM, davin heckman <davinheckman at gmail.com<mailto:davinheckman at gmail.com>> wrote:

Thank you Ian, for these thoughts.  My initial encounter with this

work came via a brief discussion of "flat ontology," which I found

somewhat offputting.  I followed up by reading through the re:press

book.  What I like the most, I suppose, is the sense that the

discussions are in motion with a lot of people participating.

Reading some of the discussion of mereology, I find they resonate with

one of my favorite passages from Hegel.  Pardon me for cannibalizing

another piece of writing (a draft of which can be found here:



In The Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel describes the dialectical process:

"The bud disappears in the bursting-forth of the blossom, and one

might say the former is refuted by the latter; similarly, when the

fruit appears, the blossom is shown up in its turn as a false

manifestation of the plant, and the fruit now emerges as the truth of

it instead. These forms are not just distinguished from one another,

they also supplant one another as mutually incompatible. Yet at the

same time their fluid nature makes them moments of an organic unity in

which they not only do not conflict, but in which each is as necessary

as the other; and this mutual necessity alone constitutes the life of

the whole." [1]

Viewed from within the Hegelian process, the Real is positioned

outside its present manifestations, consisting, rather, of the dynamic

processes that comprise its totality.

This insight, crucial to critical practice, requires revision in light

of technical change. By revision, I do not mean that we need to

fundamentally alter Hegel’s argument, I only mean to suggest that we

see this passage with respect to new temporal modalities that have

shaken up the pursuit of knowledge.


I come at many of the same issues, but my inclination lead me to

embrace a kind of "humanism," but one which cannot easily understand

as we continually muddle the conversations of humanism with an

ontology that is expressed in our metaphors.  One grip I have with the

use of Deleuze or McLuhan, is the idea that our capacity to

personalize prosthetics has a tendency to be reduced to a situation in

which it becomes possible to imagine that we see machines,

interpersonal relationships, people with tools, etc. as the same

thing.  When, in fact, my psychic investment in my bike or computer,

while deep, is not nearly as deep or as complex as my psychic

investment in my (which I can only refer to as mine with a sense of

obligation to, rather than ownership over) child.  If my bike decided

to bite me.....which it can't, even if it can hurt me....  I would not

feel so simultaneously restrained in my response AND emotionally

florid as I would if my 8 year old bit me for some crazy reason (but

with my three year old, I he is only a missed nap away from engaging

in something so obvious and horrible as biting someone).  A bike, on

the other hand, can hurt me a lot more than a bite from a toddler, and

I suppose I am not above kicking a bike and yelling....  but I have

very limited feelings about a bike malfunction or hitting my thumb

with a hammer.  On the other hand, a bike goes wherever I want it to

go (except when there's an accident).....  a toddler, not so much....

an eight year old, he usually comes with a counter proposal (and it is

a monstrous adult that would treat kids like a bike, insist that they

only go where told, speak when it is demanded).  A lot of really deep

thinking about human subjectivty simply does not go this far....  and

part of this has to do with a poor understanding of objects.  What is

worse is when this understanding infects interpersonal relationships

in the context of a Randian sort of world where there is "no such

thing as society, only individuals" (yet, bosses treat workers like

bikes and bad boyfriends treat their partners like robots).

I am very excited to read more.  I feel like it is important to free

our thinking from patterns and habits of the past.  In particular, the

culture of academic citation has gone from being about finding good

ideas where they are to deriving authority from the aura of the great

figure.  I also have no problem with accumulations of wisdom that

translate into an inherited perspective, but this can't close us off

to thinking.  So....  thank you for this!


On Fri, Jun 15, 2012 at 11:58 AM, Ian Bogost <ian.bogost at lcc.gatech.edu<mailto:ian.bogost at lcc.gatech.edu>>


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


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


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



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<mailto:ibogost at gatech.edu>

+1 (404) 894-1160 (tel)

+1 (404) 894-2833 (fax)

On Jun 15, 2012, at 4:11 AM, davin heckman wrote:


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


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.


On Thu, Jun 14, 2012 at 4:16 PM, frederic neyrat <fneyrat at gmail.com<mailto:fneyrat at gmail.com>> wrote:


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.


Frederic Neyrat

2012/6/14 Ian Bogost <ian.bogost at lcc.gatech.edu<mailto: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?


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


The "as much as" is precisely the problem.

Galloway's critique of OOO that Zach mentioned explains why:


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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