Saturday, April 30, 2011
Paraconsistent logics and dialetheism are beginning to interest me, a lot. I'm beginning to think about whether the mesh implies something in or near these domains. If the mesh is not only links, but gaps, between entities—if in some sense there is no difference between a gap and a link—then perhaps this might just be the ticket. That and Professor Priest's interest in Buddhism. So I was very happy when Nick Srnicek posted this on Twitter a while ago. And Jarrod Fowler, I owe you.
Levi Bryant begins to craft an OOO theory of mind. Brilliant. Uncannily we seem to have been inching toward the same position. Try this:
"on this view, mind is not to be found “in” neurons, but in sensual interactions between neurons and other objects."
Sure maybe a brain in a bucket could manifest mind. But it would be a catatonic mind compared with an ant trying not to stumble over some sand grains.
Another implication is that enaction (Varela's term for this kind of mind) is a sensual object in OOO-ese.
Forestmongrel, are you there? This should be up your alley...
Friday, April 29, 2011
It's beautiful isn't it? It really is. A beautiful mesh. A machine for changing your mind.
Now look at this one:
It's art as geography. Full of information (Diana Liverman, geographer, liked it a lot when I saw it with her the other week). It plots each Cape Farewell participant's reactions to various environmental factors (hilariously, reactions to digestive issues are included—see if you can spot them). Bigger circles indicate bigger reactions. It's about relationships between humans and environment. It's a wonderful mesh of stories and experiences. It contains its own metalanguage within it, its own autocommentary. It's a map. It's designed to reorient you, to upgrade your thinking. Based on facts we (think we) already know. To upgrade your thinking to accommodate this new set of relationships with the facts.
Like a Wordsworth poem, which talks about strangers in terms of the narrator's encounter with them. Like a Wordsworth poem, which baffles our need for closure with swathes and swathes of blank verse (the most prose-like form available at the time). Like a Wordsworth poem, a map of traumas, a biography or series of autobiographies.
A very sophisticated version of the same thing the 350.org folks are up to. Or the guys in the Pacific who held a cabinet meeting underwater. Educational, advertorial, PR, concept art. Relational and correlationist.
Wonderful, no? Now take a look at what must be the most uncanny moment in Vertigo, in which Judy/Madeleine's face is bathed in an eerie red light as we go into the flashback (gives me the creeps every time).
Iceberg as ekphrasis. Frozen us, moving iceberg. Iceberg alive, we dead. Iceberg as sublime object. Iceberg as alien being.
Here's the deal: do you want a detailed advertorial, a network dense with relations? Or do you need a shocking encounter with an alien entity, opaque yet vivid, illusory yet real, already there?
We've had enough Wordsworth. All those 350's in the sand viewed from a height and posted to teach you something you already know. All the database art imitating perfectly good databases, probably better because they're actual databases. All the performances, all the happenings. These revert to what Adorno called a second Nature, in his peerless analysis of such art forms in Aesthetic Theory. Enough already! It's time to bring out the Keats. It's time for nonhumans. It's time for non-life. It's time for undeath. It's time for the uncanny. It's time for object-oriented ecological art.
Isn't that one of the best album covers ever made? And it's a photo—of the Raspail tomb in Pere Lachaise cemetery, Paris. Juxtaposed with that slab of black.
That covered, veiled, grieving figure—living or dead or undead? Art or life? Man or woman? Dead or alive? Grieving or relieved? Uncannily it reminds me of a newborn baby, holding on to its mother's body, only just alive, exhausted.
The disturbing ambiguity of this OBJECT is profound. That's the trouble with pretense—you don't know whether it's pretense or not.
So apropos of a previous post, this would be a wonderful example of the object-oriented, rather than the constructivist, approach. Somehow this image is more ecological for me than the most detailed network of relations.
And the album is called Within the Realm of a Dying Sun for Pete's sake! How can any speculative realist not love that?
If that's not the name of a band I want to know why. Tom Sparrow is having it philosophically large on his blog recently and I'm inspired that he's into that part of Ecology without Nature that tries to locate a certain symptom of ecophenomenology, the ambient poetics.
I feel as if I skipped too hastily over phenomenology. It's easy to do with the neon lights of Derrida flashing away in my neck of the humanities. Graham's work convinced me that like many I had not given enough thought to the weirdness of Husserl's discoveries. And intuitively I like using my experience as a heuristic tool.
Now I believe that we need to acknowledge the strangeness of those discoveries, akin in my thinking to Einstein's discovery of spacetime and Freud's discovery of a non-topographical unconscious. At least to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
HT Joshua Corey. I just read some very interesting posts at Montevidayo on “necropastoral,” which does for pastoral what I think this essay of mine (that just came out) does. By putting pastoral in a larger configuration space (shall we say charnel ground?) some interesting things happen. Love of Nature is to some extent openness to death—an openness that most environmentalism tries to foreclose.
A brief quotation from the site:
The Pastoral, like the occult, has always been a fraud, a counterfeit, an invention, an anachronism. However, as with the occult, and as with Art itself, the fraudulence of the pastoral is in direct proportion to its uncanny powers. A double of the urban, but dressed in artful, nearly ceremental rags and pelts, the Pastoral is outside the temporal and geographical sureties of the court, the urbs, the imperium itself, but also, implicitly, adjacent to all of these, entailing an ambiguous degree of access, of cross-contamination.
William Wordsworth has a lock on environmenalist art. Even opposing Wordsworthianism is done within a Wordsworthian configuration space. So Shelley, an early opponent, proclaims himself the hyper-Wordsworth. He's going to do what Wordsworth did, only a thousand times better.
What does this mean? It means the mainstream environmentalist art is constructivist. Since the Romantic period there have been roughly two strategies for the avant garde: constructivism and object-orientation. You can play with relations, or you can reveal objects.
Now I know this may come as a shock to some but the Nature folks are constructivists, really: they are in the lineage of Rodchenko and Naum Gabo. They're creating machines that change attitudes. Paradoxical devices that upgrade human consciousness. Change people's relations with one another and with non-humans. Their raw material is the viewer's or reader's conceptual mind. Why? Because Wordsworth, “poet of Nature” as Shelley calls him, wrote the manual on this strategy.
This affects all kinds of art practice including concept art and performance art, AND agriculture as performance art (Wendell Berry, if you like). The art object as geographical text.
There's much much more to say about this but let's look at the forgotten twin of constructivism, object-orientation.
Why did this strategy lose favor with the Nature crew? Because the manual was written by Keats, and if you're a Wordsworthian, Keats is about artifice, femininity, non-Nature. Wordsworth knew as soon as he heard his first Keats poem that he had met his nemesis: that's why he called it “pretty,” damning with faint praise.
But the way to reveal the object, as we have been discovering in OOO, is through an illusion-like clowning, a disturbing proximity, shoplifting in full view. The iceberg becomes a weird clown, the Arctic ocean becomes one-inch-thick latex—look at Chris Wainwright's gorgeous photo above, taken on the Cape Farewell tour that forms the basis of the U-N-F-O-L-D exhibition I spoke at in Chicago. Iceberg as David Lynch movie character.
This paradoxical approach, instead of working on our mind, melts our mind, directly. Short circuit.
More on this soon (much more). But this is incredibly important: beyond the fetishization of Nature, environmentalist art is constructivist. Nothing wrong with that per se, but there is some fallout. You think you know what Nature is—all it requires is some good PR. You get into the convincing business. You are working in the configuration space of advertising. And all the really good advertisers advertise products, not Nature. And Nature is not a product...and you know that...
In the next few posts I'll be exploring the road less traveled, object-orientation, as a solution for art in the time of hyperobjects.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Tornadoes in April are now twice as frequent as they were half a century ago. Inside of global warming, weather effects such as this are known to amplify. The trouble is, tornado formation in the moment is a non-linear affair. It's hard to know when one will form until it's pretty much forming. And correlating them precisely to global warming will take careful sifting and statistical analysis.
But if Pat Robertson can say unspeakable things about 9/11, I can say things about tornadoes in denier country.
Now several commenters have been asking me to explore the notion of tuning a little more, since I've been using it in my talks on art in the time of hyperobjects. Now that I've briefly reacquainted myself with the wonderful sounds of Terry Riley I think I can do it. At least a bit better.
I was talking with one of my Ph.D. students today (hi Angie!) about art in the time of hyperobjects. We decided that art in this fourth (impossible) moment of art history, the one that Hegel couldn't have predicted, but which is perfectly predictable within his system if you're not Hegel, probably has some characteristics:
(1) art as hypocrisy
(2) art as demonic force
(2) art as collaboration between humans and nonhumans
Let's sift through these one by one.
(1) Hypocrisy. This has two components: (a) weakness and (b) irony.
(a) Weakness. The object (1+n) of them exist ontologically prior to your art, and art's form and content are now asymmetrical. We know so much about real entities (modern science). Yet precisely because of this they loom uncannily towards us, getting stranger by the minute. All our representations are inadequate—we've kept this from the Romantic phase of art, 1770–2000 (more on this when I talk next).
Since we are inside at least one of these objects (e.g. global warming), and since “inside the hyperobject we are always in the wrong” (see my previous), art becomes an art of lameness and weakness. Nietzschean impulses are vanquished by sliding underneath them like a scared little vole or a slime mold. This in particular ends the Nietzscheanism of contemporary Marxian “critique.” That stuff is done.
(b) Irony. Rather than a vertiginous antirealist abyss, irony presents us with intimacy with 1+n objects that already exist. Irony is the canary in the coalmine of the hyperobject, a symptom that existed even during the Romantic phase. “The vicissitudes of this life are like drowning in a glass pond.” Irony is the experience of total sincerity, of being enveloped by a hyperobject, of being Jonah in the whale realizing that he is part of the whale's digestive system.
(2) Art as demonic force. Plato imagines artistic inspiration as an electromagnetic field (Ion). It's time we took this grandaddy of aesthetic vehicles out for another spin. Post-1800 physics presents us with a universe of waves: electromagnetic, gravitational and quantum. Then there are wavelike phenomena such as Lorenz attractors (high dimensional objects such as hyperobjects must be wavelike). Tuning in this respect is attuning the art object (voice, breath, instrument) to these physical waves, quite literally.
These waves are somewhat or entirely nonlocally distributed. Below the size of an electron, for instance (10-17cm), there is a vast ocean of .... what? Right down to the Planck length (10-33cm) and possibly lower (strings). It's possible that spacetime is an emergent property of objects larger than 10-17cm. This means that objects below this scale are “everywhere.” That is, if we think that quantum theory is telling us something about reality rather than simply acting as a correlationist tool.
But in a more mundane sense, Faraday and Maxwell imagined electromagnetic fields permeating the universe. The same can be said for gravitational fields. They never really zero out. So you can see the Cosmic Microwave Background from the “beginning” of the universe on your TV set when you see TV snow, and so on. Somewhat nonlocal I'd say.
Art becomes tuning to the depth of these fields. Genius is no longer something you are, as in the Romantic period, but something you “have,” like in previous periods. You “have” genius because art is an attunement to a demonic force coming from the nonhuman and permeating it (as we all know we have all been strafed by radiation, etc.)
(3) Art as collaboration between humans and nonhumans. (1) and (2) and their scientific underpinning (we know about global warming, gravity waves, etc.) give rise to a necessary knowledge about smaller scale, medium sized objects such as paintings and poems. Relativity affects pencils and professors flying at altitude above Earth. When you write a poem you are making a deal with some paper, some ink, wordprocessing software, trees, editors and air. (And so on.)
And given (2) you have to wonder whether your poem about global warming is really a hyperobject's way of distributing itself into human ears and libraries.
And given (1), even your poem that isn't about global warming takes place on the inside of a hyperobject—and so it's a function of that object in some sense.
How much information could you cram onto a single sheet of letter paper?
Imagine you have a nanoscale pen. Imagine writing tiny tiny nanoscale letters with this pen, on a nanoscale piece of paper. If you do the job as thoroughly as possible, you will make a black hole singularity. (Raphael Bousso of Lawrence Berkeley, take it away.)
(Don't you think Keats would've killed for a pen like that?)
That's what a black hole is, from the viewpoint of Shannon entropy. Shannon entropy measures the amount of information in a system.
For instance, the English language has a Shannon entropy of between 0.6 and 1.5 bits per letter. That means that when you read this, you are slightly less likely than predicting a coin toss to figure out the letters that come next.
From a black hole's point of view, global warming on Earth is a pathetic speck of dust. From entropy's point of view, the point of view of all the massless particles at the end of the Universe, the black hole is also a pathetic speck of dust.
Entropy, in this sense, is always entropy-for. An entropic system requires something outside of itself to read off the information state.
From this we can conclude that even if there is only one universe (which now seems quite unlikely), and one arc of time in which it comes into and goes out of being—even if that is the case, entropy is not the telos or top object or final vantage point from which to judge everything. Because entropy requires a measuring device, if only a virtual one. Nihilism is based on a belief that there is a top object. It is, in other words, a disguised form of theism.
That inside the hyperobject we are always in the wrong is, then, an edifying thought; it is edifying that we are in the wrong, edifying that we always are. It proves its power to edify in a twofold way, partly by staying doubt and alleviating its anxieties, partly by inciting to action.
Perhaps you still recall, my hearer, a wise saying we mentioned earlier. It seemed so trusty and dependable, it explained everything so easily, it was ready to give everyone safe conduct through life unmoved by storms of doubt.
“One does what one can,” it called out to the perplexed. And it is is indeed undeniable that it helps just to do that. Beyond that it had nothing to say, it vanished like a dream, or became a monotonous repetition in the doubter's ear.
Then when he wanted to use it, it turned out that he could not, that it entangled him in a mesh of difficulties. He could find no time to ponder what he could do, because he had at the same time to be doing what he could.
Or if he found time to ponder, the scrutiny gave him a more-or-less, an approximation, but never anything exhaustive. And how is a man to measure his relation to the hyperobject with a more or less, with an approximation?
He then convinced himself that this wise saying was a treacherous friend which, under the guise of helping him, enfolded him in doubt, frightened him into a perpetual cycle of confusion.
What had before been obscure to him but did not cause him worry, now became no clearer but made his mind troubled and anxious. Only in an infinite relation to the hyperobject could the doubt be allayed; only in an infinitely free relation to the hyperobject could his trouble be turned into joy.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
That's the ticket. “Slow text”: I've been pushing for “slow reading” for quite a while now. I've been advocating for this kind of passion about form for ages. I hope we can meet when I come to Melbourne. He also has a very good looking series of blogs, perhaps the most relevant to mention here being Permapoesis.
HT Daz Hastings. Point for point refutations of every single goddamn “argument” used against global warming. With iPhone app version!
@anjabee on Twitter reminded me of how much I love Bonnard. I haven't looked at his work very much in the last few years but clearly it's time to revisit him. The way objects and patterns in his work seem to intertwine, wavering between post-impressionism and Matisse, whom I also love a lot. The way objects seem to be vibrating in an electromagnetic field—well almost precisely, since he's one of those guys for whom there is no black...the warm inward stillness of the paintings' femininity.
This is spun somewhat too slow for my taste but still, it's Vermeille by Pepé Braddock, how can you not like it? From that warm French late nineties house sound.
...for me. Deterritorialization good, reterritorialization bad. Decoded flows good, molar lumps bad. Flow in general good. Some flows more fluid than others. Normal (fluid) versus pathological (static). Relations are good. More relations are better.
But on top of all of this: it's an aesthetic picture of the world calling itself a deep structure. THAT is the founding normativity. Preserving the distinction between aesthetic and causal. We should move past Derrida, not fall back behind.
Il y a un chat. Levinas and Derrida eat your heart out: OOO's pilot has a cat. In Egypt. This was meant to be.
Graham also posted on my parsing of what Meillassoux calls the “rich elsewhere.” Funnily enough I was just figuring out how the very thing that Meillassoux emphasizes, which is to follow correlationism to the end, is the very thing that one could drop (I think, as an OOO-ist).
In other words, what we are left with even by page 21 of After Finitude is the uncomfortably intense “ontological problem of the coming into being of givenness as such.”
Well yes--but only if you still think that humans are uniquely skilled at disclosing givenness (wash rinse repeat). If neutron stars and RNA also do it, no problem.
If, in other words, the given and givenness aren't all they're cracked up to be, then what's the fuss? This is the one big reason why I think OOO is something “truly new in the world” as I say at the start of my Speculations essay.
I'm about to talk with one of my Ph.D. students about hyperobjects tomorrow. In particular, Styrofoam. So I thought it would be good to mention again that Tara Donovan, she of the Thacker cover, has done a number of pieces using the stuff.
Marcus Nilsson suggests, very wisely, that particulates, dust and bacteria, since they aggregate and swirl, could be considered as a hyperobject. This would account for phenomena such as dust storms and epidemics. More on this soon, when I think about it some more. But a good case could be made for such entities as interobjective phenomena, involving translations between wind, human and nonhuman vectors.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Objects may persist with varying periodicities. For instance they may appear syncopated against one another. Or they may cross one another, like when you try to beat 3 with one hand and 2 with the other, keeping the same time. It's very satisfying if you can do it. Bill Benzon has a good post about it.
A few years before he went crazy my amazing drummer brother figured out 5 against 4 (it's really not that hard and if you like I shall show you how to do it). I went out for a packet of cigarettes (I smoked in those days). When I came back, he said “Tim! Listen to this! It's 13 over 8!” I believed him...
Consider this passage of Benzon:
In some cultures, including many in Africa, young children are taught 3 against 2 at a very young age. For them it IS easy. That’s not the case, however, in European derived musical traditions. Three against two is not part of basic toddler pedagogy and, as a consequence, learning to do it is a bit more difficult when, and if, the time comes – for some, it never comes. Thus, within the context of the Western classical tradition, three against two is considered moderately difficult rather than being fundamental. Such rhythms are exceptional in classical music, but they are common enough that any moderately skilled keyboard player must know how to execute them.
If you watch the movie Babies you'll see how incredibly adept some very small African kids can be at balancing and dancing. In the almost-desert in which this guy lives, it makes sense to learn how to have rhythms, rhythms that keep you persisting...
Then there's Billy Cobham—just listen to the first few seconds of this:
Existing, continuing, living, persisting. These qualities of objects have to do with periodic forms. Think of a pop song with a regular verse–chorus structure. It cycles. Pop songs are good to play in the middles of movies, particularly romantic comedies, either when the couple are falling in love or falling out of love. You can convey a sense of periodic time passing, compressed into the few moments of the song. The forward motion of the story is suspended.
Suspension in music is where a tone higher or lower than the shifting chords in the middle cause those chords to change their “color” as if by magic. It's a common technique in disco and house. Why? Because suspension keeps you on the dance floor. It suspends you. You never know when it's going to end, when you're going to exit from the periodic structure.
I always thought this was a supreme example: Radiohead, “Everything in Its Right Place.” Nice video yes?
Something is persisting. The flickering filmstock reminds you of the medium in which the movie appears, cycling around on the spools.
Now Cezanne. There was a guy who knew how to put everything in the right place. Yet while the objects seem to be arranged-for (us, the viewer), the slightly distorted perspective makes your eye float over the lip of that jug on the edge, into that bright mustard colored space inside it. As you watch, the dark warm color of the space inside the central vase starts to do its thing, and you find that the painting is suspended around this black hole. Your gaze rocks slowly upwards and over its lip, yet it's defeated by the realities of painting and 2D perspective. You are stuck in a groove. It's a still life, a Nature Morte—frozen time, objects that normally don't congregate like that, arranged for you, yet haphazard. Is this living or dying, or undeath. this suspension?
“I'm still waiting.” I always liked that line from Talking Heads' “Crosseyed and Painless,” for the ambiguity. I'm trying to find the original video. Not only does it have some smoking dancing in it but the end is pure genius. The lead character walks down a street in black and white while a car very very slowly changes from grey to bright purple then back to grey again, unnoticed. An OO video moment and a perfect exemplification of “still waiting.”
I can't wait to read Stephen Muecke's Ancient and Modern, on indigenous philosophy. It will be perfect plane reading for the Australia trip. HT Cameron Tonkinwise. It looks like we may have a lot of affinities. Me and my idea of
Monday, April 25, 2011
Yes it's The Fall of Icarus by Breughel. The lack of a totalizing perspective makes the viewer float around the picture space as if in zero G (why Tarkovsky used another Breughel in Solaris). And Icarus is by no means a central figure. That prize goes to a rough assemblage of water and rocks, as the painting invites us to peer over the unseen cliff edge. The imagery does not imply a single attitude or vanishing point—in a way perspective is a correlationist mode of drawing. It is as if the picture is asking us to see that the objects in it have other sides to them.
The image is also a good example of what Meillassoux calls “the rich elsewhere”—his description for Graham Harman's initial statement about objects. No wonder U of C press chose it (wisely) for the cover of volume 1 of Braudel's series on capitalism, that particular volume and that particular series being great examples of a history that includes nonhumans, as far as was possible at the time. Auden captures some of it well:
About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
So I found this passage in Janet Murray's wide ranging and intriguing essay on games very interesting:
Interestingly enough, Sutton-Smith (1997), citing Kenneth Burke and Gregory Bateson, made a similar suggestion about the function of play biting in animals. He suggested that play might be the earliest form of a negative, prior to the existence of the negative in language. Play, as a way of not doing whatever it represents, prevents error. It is a positive behavioral negative. It says no by saying yes. It is a bite but it is a nip (Sutton-Smith, 1997). In both cases, the urge to play is a means of communicating in a situation in which intelligent creatures have not yet acquired language. A play action is a signal similar to a predator call, except that its referent is to the social world.
If you've ever owned a kitten (paging Graham Harman) you will see that play biting goes quite far down and quite far in to mammalian ontogeny. Think about what this means.
It means for a kick off that what we call language is a small part of a much bigger configuration space. For a word to be a play-bite, a play-bite has already got to refer to a genuine bite. There has to exist an interobjective space in which “meaning” can take place.
The fact that we speak, then, means not that we are different from animals, but that we encapsulate a vast array of nonhuman entities and behaviors. For language to exist at all, there have to be all kinds of objects already in play. All kinds of inscribable surfaces.
David Fairer just sent me his detailed and fascinating treatment of “eco-georgic“ (in Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 40, 2011). Like my colleague Mike Ziser, Fairer sees in the georgic genre (georgos is Greek for farmer) a way out of the difficulties and paradoxes of Green Romanticism, which could easily be associated with pastoral rather than georgic.
Georgic is hands on. It's about “land drainage, rat poisoning, the management of slaves, undersea coal mining, child labour, and genetic modification” (and so on, quoting Fairer). It could be a genre of ecology without Nature, in other words, a genre of hypocrisy and compromise in which Nature “breaks down into discrete phenomena.”
It seems as if al-Qaeda members were given Casio watches to repurpose as detonators. The F91W to be precise.
I'm reminded of Ian Bogost's less recent post about how some objects after 9/11 revealed an uncanny extra side or two, which in our ignorance and fairly default correlationism we didn't see.
Well I've given job advice. And I've given Ph.D. advice. If you didn't manage to get a job or you're still wondering how to get through your Ph.D., here is some handy shoplifting advice.
Always do it in front of the camera. Don't try to hide what you're doing. The only time I got caught (yes I am one who knows of what they speak) is when I tried to hide it.
Why? If you do it in front of the camera, no one watching will be able to believe what they are seeing. Do it slowly, deliberately, right in front of security. But don't sue me if it doesn't work okay!?
We think that causes and effects happen behind objects. Maybe that's just a cultural construct, maybe we only started thinking it recently. Or maybe a cultural idea fuses with some older Neolithic hardwiring that makes us alert to activity happening in our peripheral vision. What do you think?
For OOO there is a deeper ontological reason why the shoplifting in the open schtick works. Because that's how causality operates in general. It happens in front of objects that appear to be ontically given.
Let me give you a brief example. I've recently had a number of experiences of uncanniness, because I've been traveling. Perhaps the most vivid was my visit to Taiwan, but even traveling in the airporter on the way to Sacramento Airport was quite uncanny, as a previous post made clear.
When I arrive at a strange new place, the sensual vividness of objects seems to jump out at me in front of those objects. Smells are sharper and more penetrating (the different bacteria coating other objects interacts with my smelling system, I guess). Light switches and plug sockets seem to emanate clownlike parodies of themselves that leer out at me, mocking my incompetence. Washing or shaving becomes a weird, slightly seductive, slightly unpleasant experience. Reality seems closer to me than “normal.” Then everything clicks into place, often after a couple of nights of sleep. (I'm sure insomnia also does this, as Levinas and I can both attest.)
Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. This is the real trouble. The real trouble is that my familiar light switches and plug sockets—or rather my familiar relations to these objects—is only an ontic prejudice, an illusion. The REALITY is what I see as the illusion-like, hallucinatory clowns that lurch towards me, gesturing and beckoning (but what are they saying?).
The sense that causality must be happening “behind” objects is an ontological illusion. When one object (for instance me) transitions from a certain set of objects to another set, it briefly undergoes the uncanny realization that not-at-homeness is always the case, that sensual relations are never the real thing. What we call causality, say when a finger depresses a light switch, is an uncanny moment that happens in front of the withdrawn objects, when a strange object perturbs a domain that has achieved a necessarily, structurally false ontic familiarity.
Causality is already happening: the light switch rests on the wall, wall supports switch, electrons are flowing in the wire, the wall is part of a house. All these are causal statements from this point of view. What we call causality is just an uncanny disruption of a metastable interobjective system that only appears to be real because it lasts longer than the moment of the “cause.” Or something like that.
Mechanistic and other forms of “behind the scenes” theories of causality must therefore be seen as a desperate attempt to normalize this uncanny state of affairs.
I'm reading through some of Levi Bryant's posts on hysteria (here is a really beautiful recent one)—btw if you're going to write a groundbreaking book on ontology it's also handy to be a trained psychoanalyst...
In any case, it's been striking me, also through thinking about Lacan, that the default position of objects to one another is hysteria. Why? Because of withdrawal. If I can never know the object as such but only a sensuous appearance that interobjectively emerges between me and it, I am in the position of the hysteric, wondering what the heck the object must have in mind, if anything.
That's the trouble, isn't it? Or as Lacan puts it:
What constitutes pretense is that, in the end, you don't know whether it's pretense or not.
It would be fine if I knew you were lying. Then at least I would know that you were not to be taken seriously. But the trouble is, I don't know whether you're lying or not.
This is similar to the esoteric idea that reality is like an illusion. It's not an illusion. It's like one. If you were sure it was really an illusion, true reality would be located in some beyond that transcendent the illusory status. But if it's like an illusion, you can't be so sure.
Why? Because every object finds itself in the position of being inside another object. There is at least one (1+n) objects for which any system of objects can't account.
Pretense depends on the existence of 1+n objects that are totally withdrawn from access. Since this withdrawal is a deep fact about reality, it is the case that for every interobjective system, there is a play of pretense. Objects are hysterics.
It gets much much weirder when you think as I do that causality is aesthetic. That means that the machinations are not happening under the pretense. It means that the machinations are the pretense. Causality is happening “out in front of” the object. That's why it's so hard to see.
Many indigenous cultures think of Nature not as the reality underneath things, but as the pretense in front of things—as a Trickster. As a clown.
OMG as they say I'm so excited. I wrote a report for Cambridge UP and this time they're paying me in books, as I need to bone up on theories of physical objects and causality if I'm ever going to write Realist Magic over the summer.
So this one plopped into my mailbox, with the rather wonderful title (because strangely ordinary): The Ontology of Physical Objects: Four-Dimensional Hunks of Matter, by Mark Heller.
I think I can safely predict what it's going to say but the adventure will be in reading it. If anyone has a sense of this let me know, I'm all ears.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
The “universe of things” is not a harmonious whole, but a wild anarchy of innumerable objects both withdrawing from and reaching out to one another.
From Steven's nice review of Prince of Networks.
So it looks like I'm talking in Melbourne on May 17, in Melbourne Law School 102 at 7pm, in a series called New Natures. Irigaray did the previous talk there. I think it's free of charge.
National Institute for Experimental Arts details are here.
Lowy Centre Level 4 Kensington UNSW
Consumerism is a modern syndrome but the form that fuels it is derived in part from Medieval fantasies, such as the Land of Cockaygne. Just look at Brueghel's painting (above). It's like something out of Eraserhead, with pigs and eggs running around with knives inserted into them.
Scratch a Puritan work ethic-er and you will find the passivity of Brueghel's figures.
The search for the spice islands that jump started commercial capitalism was based on the premise that the spice islands really existed: they had never been seen before they were “discovered.” It was very much like the space race, only with spice.
Attunement, tuning, Stimmung. It's in several types of post-Romantic aesthetics, from Kant to Heidegger and more. The experience of beauty and of the sublime, argues Kant, is one of tuning yourself to the object. But what is this tuning?
Let's think about the extreme of tuning. When an opera singer matches the resonant frequency of a glass, the glass explodes.
The Tibetan Buddhist analogy for dying is a vase. When a vase explodes, the space inside the vase merges instantly with the space outside.
We can briefly conclude here that beauty is death.
So in an age of ecological emergency, a bardo in which we all begin to realize that we are already dead, tuning would be a way to push this further. “In harmony with its environment” means, at a certain limit, ceasing to exist. The truly ecological art is death art, not life art.
Expect a lot more of these thoughts as I work out three book projects, one on causality, the other two on ecology and ecological art.
Watch how the glass in the video shudders just before it ceases to exist. It has a little glass orgasm. “It was so beautiful I almost died.” Adorno on the subject-quake of the aesthetic, Erschütterung.
Beauty is already an experience of coexisting with an object, in Kant. In this experience, it's as if the object and the subject suddenly fuse, like the space inside and outside a vase. It's only a short hop skip and jump from here to an object-oriented theory of beauty. Beauty is the end of an object.
Thanks to Carl DiSalvo for reminding me of this one. “See, according to this, you're already dead” says the palm reader—favorite moment. The director, a Buddhist, made this film about the bardo. Since the ecological emergency is a bardo, we better all watch it (yippee) and find out what to make of it.
Carl has a good phrase: “Our presence is much more than our own agency,” which I'm thinking about as I try to think about tuning. Several people have asked me about what on Earth it could be, since I've been advocating it as a future art practice in an ecological era.
A comprehensive post on sources explaining how the historical Buddha died. “Pig's delight” was what he ate: delicious pork, or what pigs find delicious, truffles.
One word that sums up the problem: Agriculture.
Our food and agriculture system is particularly broken, but we can’t simply wait for the government to fix it. As with clean energy, there are many opportunities for private enterprise to stimulate progress while making a profit. Some of the short-term opportunities in food might be to leverage consumer awareness and build a brand that stands for environmental consciousness, while aligning for longer-term regulatory changes to level the playing field.
A great piece by Ari Partovi. Anyone who helped make Dropbox is okay in my book. He thought to invest in a company that puts greenhouses in the roofs of supermarkets.
HT Henry Warwick, but I'm afraid he's very very short on facts. I certainly resonate with the idea, knowing how much my amygdala flips out with bliss whenever I swallow something with cholesterol in it. Surely it was a good survival mechanism in an environment without much cholesterol. But like a lot of survivor mechanisms, it proves fatal when there's a different environment (the Anthropocene).
Strange, yes? The death drive latent in the survival mode really kicks in in a consumerist economy.
I recently read some evidence that Palaeolithic humans made bread. And I'm very happy to be a vegan right now. And so is the climate.
And he's flat wrong about flour milling. There were no mills until 1880? This guy is a joke. Another very good reason not to listen to scientists on (human) history. Did he ever read Chaucer?
Just because humans didn't get a lot of calories out of whatever they did, doesn't mean they didn't do it. We do a lot of energy expensive things.
This dude works in Fort Collins, next to Conagra, one of the biggest meat rendering facilities on Earth.
I associate eating vegan with wearing multicolored ill-fitting vaguely “ethnic” clothing and sitting in some darkened restaurant at a rather too clunky wooden table feeling a bit bored and hungry. (Sorry restaurants in Brighton and Cambridge UK that gave me that impression.)
So to my surprise I was delighted by the vegan version of this tasting menu from Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta last week. They swapped out the egg and milk based stuff for things such as beet sorbet. It was quite brilliant. The mushroom dish was very cool. Buddha died of eating dodgy mushrooms, you know. (What a great way to go, by the way, encountering a strange lifeform rather than being nailed to bits of wood. Just sayin.)
They also had some quite tasty ideas about beer and cocktails if I recall...
Saturday, April 23, 2011
“Progress means: humanity emerges from its spellbound state no longer under the spell of progress as well, itself nature, by becoming aware of its own indigenousness to nature and by halting the mastery over nature through which nature continues its mastery.” Theodor Adorno, “Progress,” The Philosophical Forum 15.1–2 (Fall–Winter 1983–1984), 55–70 (61–63; 62).
Which ecotopia? According to one view, humans emancipate themselves from Nature into a more total freedom over its pure plasticity. Yet this would be to continue in the aesthetic-sadistic thought that Nature is a malleable cartoon character who can be stretched and shaped to our whim. And which sadist gets to decide what to do next?
As Žižek argues, this infinitely malleable plastic is the fantasy stuff of idealism, not materialism (ironically). His view appears to be in line with my growing suspicion that there are more than traces of idealism in Marx himself. I've argued this from the notion of emergence in Capital 1.11 in an earlier post, which you're welcome to look at now, but it will take you somewhat away from this argument. It's relevant however if you want to delve into it.
Idealist or no, the idea of Nature as infinitely plastic is certainly a correlationist fantasy: Nature fits what human subjects are, or, as Ross Wolfe puts it in a comment on a previous post, the idea of nature is “historically variable.” Nature means something because humans are using it. Esse est percipi, or in this case, esse est usurpere.
How different is this kind of Marxism from Berkeleyan idealism, really? Nature here is always Nature-for—no wonder Wolfe is okay with keeping the concept of Nature in this form, since stated this way it falls non-threateningly within the correlationist circle. Nature is raw materials (Bestand): what comes in at one end of the factory process. It's not hard to give this a Marxist spin. Liberate humans, and you liberate their capacity to shape these raw materials. Terraform away.
No: the problem in the ecological era is that we humans are confronted with the existence of actual unique entities (living and non-living) that exist from their own side. These beings are not Natural, none of them: they are unique (strange strangers in my terminology), which rules naturalness out completely. Marx himself loved the nonteleological properties of Darwinism so much he sent Darwin a copy of Capital 1: a point still lost on many Marxists.
These unique beings that ecological knowledge confronts aren't raw anything. That's the trouble: we can see outside the factory door and we see that there is no “raw” in sight: no nature.
Every lifeform and non-life form is busy terraforming. How come the human story is such a special one in this plenum of terraforming agents? Notice that this is not the usual reactionary argument against Marxism. Notice that I'm not sticking up for a pristine wilderness, which is just the reified flip side of the infinite plasticity model. Notice that I'm saying that every object in the universe is ruthlessly at work reifying every other object to its own nefarious ends.
Now notice, however, the reason why this is the case: because there are real objects, most of which have nothing to do with humans, and all of which exist without us (including us!). Infinite malleability sounds great until you confront a large enough hyperobject, such as a black hole, or entropy. Malleable Nature is a dream about a certain tiny set of these objects, a set that is malleable enough to maintain the stability of the dream. Since to be an entity at all is to be vulnerable to 1+n entities that can destroy you (there is always some externality), this dream must be limited. It cannot talk about the entire set of objects in the universe. To be physical is to be fragile. Your dream ends somewhere.
The question is, now that we know what we know, do we want to continue imagining different kinds of malleability (capitalism, communism) and is that all we want to do? Note that on my view, even if we achieve some kind of physical enactment of our dream—say we have enough political power and enough Earth shaking equipment—we will still be dreaming.
Dreaming in a world in which we (yes let's hear it again) coexist with a plenum of actual entities, a very large finitude of real beings such as glass, potato viroids, kerosene, gar and oyster catchers. They are now, we find out to our chagrin, on this side of social space. Always have been. The trouble is, whose social space is it, now that we know that?
Do we keep on using tools from modernity's toolkit to fix a problem created by that toolkit? Or do we see that the toolkit is a rather confusing part of a much wider configuration space?
Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 imagines a post- or transhuman liberated from Nature, able to do what it bloody well likes. But I prefer the allegory of Solaris, ironically bankrolled by the Soviets (click to read my essay). In that movie, a human decides simply to coexist with a unique being: a sentient planet. Hope you had a good Earth Day.
A Poet, a Geographer, a Photographer, an Art Historian, and a Philosopher Discuss Climate Change MP3
Here is the Big Picture mp3 in its entirety. In the next few days I'll make some movies of each separate one and upload them here (with the powerpoints).
Friday, April 22, 2011
You know you're in trouble when left cynics, rightist denialists and Gaian deep greens all end up with the same attitude: might as well do nothing. Check out what the right is planning to do for Earth Day and weep.
In Ian's case literature studies had been encapsulated in the wider configuration space of design and media studies. Literature interpretations became one of a suite of practices under a wider umbrella.
In Steven's case Literature was affiliated with Environmental Science: same Dean, same offices, same institutional umbrella. This was stunning yet made perfect sense: cultures are kinds of environment and nonhumans are obviously part of social space. Think of the protection and creativity afforded by such a move.
Happily Steven's place is called SEAS: School of Environment, Arts and Society. Nice...
Michael Nitsche asked me a very pertinent question last week: to what extent does seeing causality as aesthetic erase boundaries between art and non-art? How, for example, would one even be able to define art if it happened within a wider configuration space that was just as aesthetic as art itself?
I'm not sure how to answer these questions at present so I thought I'd throw it open. I became interested in Professor Nitsche's praxis, which you can see in the game Kitsune, for instance, a location-based game intended to foster awareness of Japanese culture, played in Piedmont Park in Atlanta.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
And there's a footprint of a child, maybe eight-year-old, this very mysterious. We couldn't film it. We were not allowed, because it was deep in a recess of the cave.
The mysterious thing is that next to this footprint, probably a boy, probably around eight years old, parallel to it runs the footprint of a wolf. And I was very, very puzzled: Did the wolf stalk the boy? Or did they walk together as friends? Or did the wolf leave its footprints 5,000 years later? It's stunning. The lapse of time is completely and utterly stunning.
Isn't that incredible? That's Werner Herzog talking about some footprints in the Chauvet cave, which has art dating to about 30 000 BC.
It's the sense of the freshness of the print of a bear that's also striking:
When they discovered the cave, they did everything right to preserve it. They immediately understood the importance of the cave. They would only very carefully move along the floor by spreading out sheets of plastic and step on it, because you could immediately see that there were fairly fresh tracks of cave bears.
The cave bear actually went extinct 20,000-or-so years ago, but there are still fresh tracks of them. And, of course, later, when scientists moved in, they did it with utmost caution, never touching anything. A metal walkway was built, and you never leave this walkway.
Fresh tracks. Think about it. Here's a sneak preview of my Sydney talk on hyperobjects and art (you may have heard something similar if you saw me at Georgia Tech):
Now every event in reality is a kind of inscription in which one object leaves its footprint in another one. Interobjective reality is just the sum total of all these footprints, crisscrossing everywhere. It's nonlocal by definition and temporally molten. The print of a dinosaur's foot in the mud is seen as a foot shaped hole in a rock by humans 65 million years later. There is some sensuous connection, then, between the dinosaur, the rock and the human, despite their vastly differing timescales.
Now when we return to in our mind's eye to the time of the dinosaur herself, we discover something very strange. All we find there is another region of interobjective space in which impressions of the dinosaur are transmitted—tooth marks in a some hapless prey, the frozen stare of the dinosaur as she looks at her next victim, the smooth scaly feel of her skin. More dinosaur prints, even when the dinosaur is alive. Even the dinosaur doesn't know herself entirely, only in a rough translation that samples and edits her being. A mosquito or an asteroid has their own unique sample of dinosar-ness, and these samples are not dinosaurs. Why?
Because there is a real dinosaur, withdrawn from access even from herself. Black holes are right here, in magazines and on the web, as jpegs and gee-whiz pop science essays and sci fi movies. Yet they are not here, evidently. But even if you could somehow climb into one with a video camera, you couldn't know the whole story about black holes. Why? Because your video of a black hole is not a black hole. Because black holes are real.
Phenomena such as gravity waves (from the “beginning of time” or “the edge of the Universe” however you look at it) and entanglement (Schrödinger: the defining phenomenon of quantum theory), let alone older discoveries such as electromagnetic fields, point in the direction of nonlocal causal distribution. Why is entanglement such a deep phenomenon? Because causality is aesthetic. In OOO-ese, causality happens in the sensual ether.
Of course I’m not arguing that sensuality means that everything is necessarily available to everything, everywhere. But the nonlocality and nontemporality must be impeded only by other sensual objects such as light cones (relativity), interference (wave forms) and the breath of modern humans, not allowed into the Chauvet cave for fear that their breath would spread mold on the walls. If there is suitable attunement, sensual objects should be capable of being sensed across any distance or any time. But this coherence of time and space could easily be degraded, giving rise to the fragmentary records we see everywhere. The very success of evolution causes gaps in the fossil record, as many Darwinists have argued, for instance.
...Herzog interviewed on his new movie about the Chauvet cave paintings.
Here are my lecture notes: it's nice to be in class again after all these years. William Fox is MC.
Cognitive dissonance in isotropic spaces. Imagine you're driving through a desert. You see some nice mountains. You assume they are two miles away at most so you park the car and start walking. Then three hours later the mountain patrol has to come and rescue you. You can't scale your limbs to the limbs of the trees. And in the desert colors stay the way they are in the distance, violating atmospheric perspective (things bluer in distance). It's not green, either. You don't understand the color. Aboriginal and indigenous people have other ways to navigate than laying a grid out on the land.
John Reed's Fish Man project, creating a national park by setting up a Bigfoot-like story about the last existing hominid.
Chris Drury. Spiral figure on a dry lake bed north of Reno.
Claude, Rest on the Flight into Egypt. Landscape as scenery for Biblical action. “Landscape” painting. A backdrop like place. Scenery.
For an anthropologist it's a conceal-and-reveal landscape: you can hide, peer, without being seen. If you're an early hominid, hiding behind a tree, you want to be able to see your food and water without being seen. This kind of organization is very very old. Hard wired.
You can ask anyone around the world and this is what they want: foliage in the foreground, water out there somewhere, preferably important, and some mountains in the distance.
Blue mountains: we are scaled to it. We know what relationship of distance to time is figured there.
But in an isotopic landscape, e.g longest transverse sand dunes on Earth (Australia). Trouble navigating through it if you're white western European. Aboriginals know how to dance through it: they tell stories through dance. Feet dots in sand make a map, telling you what food you can eat. What in neighbor's territory you can eat. How to marry, who to marry. Etc.
Then dot painting, like the marks in the sand. Painting the stories of the dreamtime since the 1970s. Look at a painting and hear a song, rules of the country. Information encoded in the painting about waterholes and how to get there.
Maureen Samson, an amazing aboriginal painter. She isn't painting dot paintings strictly anymore. Train driving through the picture. Australia is red because of all the iron. “They are taking away my country.” The longest trains in the world. Literally scooping the country up and sending it to China.
So, how do we organize a system of the world in science and art, in the Anthropocene?
Earth systems science late 1700s plus. And the art that goes in sync with that.
His proposal is that artists and scientists are always working together to cognitively map the world.
3 stages of Anthropocene with 3 techs of representation. Painting and drawing; photography; multimedia and landwork. The techs didn't kill one another.
Alexander von Humboldt. A Prussian, he is the heir of a young family. He becomes a mining engineer. Studies painting, drawing, music, architecture. He inherits the fortune. Decides he wants an adventure. He can get into South America getting through British blockade of Venezuela.
Going up the Orinoco River. Make first map of interior of South America that has any credibility. Samples of every plant. And along the way von Humboldt exercises the male European imperative and decides to climb the highest mountain, Chimborazo—a 20 000 foot mountain in silk shirts...
Climbing up to 19 000. Drawing with schematics: different elevations with different plants. Taking measurements every hour. Von H realizes this is interesting: like in the Alps. The higher you go, the colder it gets and the plants change. It's the same in Europe. So perhaps there are bands of temperature, in which altitude and latitude are correlated in a system of the world.
It's the beginning of physical geography and ecology. Earth systems science. Then he funds people to go around the world collecting this data. This is the platform, foundational pictures of the world.
Producing a multi volume, very very expensive collection of books that synthesizes this. Now we have maps of the world including consumption from 1790, to “the great acceleration” (1950s plus).
Paul Crutzen, scientist who figures out the ozone hole. Nobel Prize 1985. Coins the term Anthropocene in 2000. Holocene, “the recent era.” “I don't think we're in a Holocene, we're in the Anthropocene. Since 1790, when we dig out big amounts of coal, we've been laying down a stratum of soot around the world. You can dig in the Arctic and dig in the lakes, and find this stratum. And that's how you define an era, by looking at a geological stratum.”
(Me: So the ecological era is when we figure this out. Out of modernity.)
By the 1990s we discover it's us, changing the Earth, as part of an Earth system.
Since 1950 behind the world's largest dams (all in the Northern Hemisphere), there is so much water that we have changed the rotation of the planet. The planet is not slowing down. This is not good or bad but we are terraforming the planet.
We realize we are innumerate. We can count to 10, 100, even 1000. We can say “That's roughly a thousand.” We can't look at 10 000. So when you put together a billion people at the height of the Roman Empire: they were shifting as much dirt as dinosaurs in the Pleistocene.
So it helps to have art to visualize it. Humboldt's isotherms. Combining all the drawings of all the mountains. Trying it all together. Saying where people will be found.
1821: A beautiful image that puts together all the world's highest mountains, lines of longitude and latitude, all the climates. Puts a human settlement as high as one can exist.
Goes on to write Cosmos, explaining the Universe...Frederick Church gets inspired. Monster painting at the Met, an idealized view of South America. Unlike the Claude painting however, this one shows you what the landscape looks like. Where the snow line ends. Where the tropics end. The highest place a human could live. Above all else this image is a system of the world:
Church rents out opera glasses for people to look into the picture (not treating it as a picture). He makes almost $10 000...Sells it for $10 000.
Then Bierstadt. Moran (Yellowstone). Not Jackson's black and white pictures but these sorts of painting that persuade Congress to create a national park. Jackson and Moran go out together for the first time to depict geology.
Different theories of how Grand Canyon: catastrophism and uniformitarianism. Isotropic places that you can't scale yourself to.
Ansel Adams Winter Sunrise. Pristine aestheticization. Dark foreground. But human made line of trees concealing the aqueduct that takes the water to LA.
William Garnett. Aerial photography. Photos of Lakewood CA. Navy guys scraping Earth clean, treating it like an assembly line. Foundational documents of urban sprawl.
Then as the Great Acceleration gets going we start to have artists who also reshape the planet. Frederick Church and Humboldt connecting sky and Earth. Bierstadt. Ansel Adams doing that in a more aesthetic way. Then James Turell, shaving a volcano to create celestial vaulting. Moving the planet to make a piece of art. Not just picturing it.
As we go along in the Anthropocene the artists become part of the process of changing the face of the planet. Michael Heiser:
Richard Long (simple lines, less money in UK in late 60s).
Nazca lines lasted more than 1000 years. A little ring of stones in the Andes that can last 10 000 years.
Richard Box using leaking electricity.
Not a political protest: simply making something visible.
Natural historical record of what he's seen. Leaves his drawings in the outdoors for a year.
This etching was made at Baniyala (Blue Mud Bay) in East Arnhemland. I was there for several weeks with Fiona Hall, Judy Watson as the guests of the Community october 2009. All the objects were gathered beside the Bay, and represent the seawrack which is on the edge of the sea. Great Yolngu artists with whom we worked like Djambawa Marawili and Mulkan Wirrpanda ( who has adopted me as Wawa or brother) told me the uses and metaphorical significance of the seeds, plants, turtle shells (the mottled black and white images in the etching) and other specimens For instance the small mangrove leaf in the work in the middle looks rather like a sting ray, and Yolgnu children play with them and reenact the mythic stories about a giant stingray which in the' ' first morning' or Dreamtime surged up into the land and created significant formations in the land. There are also Magpie goose and brolga crane feathers, and the burnt 'hands of sand palms.
Spheres that represent stars by Lita Albuquerque, in Antarctica. Stellar Axis:
Patricia Johanson. Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility.
We have cellphones. Cellphones have batteries. Batteries have lithium. Lithium comes from deserts. Fog catchers in Atacama Desert. They work!