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Posts Tagged ‘Levi Bryant’

the pinocchio project

In what is philosophy? on January 21, 2010 at 8:55 pm

slate magazine’s headline today says it all so well…

its just that the gepetto of american campaign finance is infinitely creepier than disney’s version.

in nothing short of a prostituting of the first amendment today’s supreme court ruling on Citizens United vs The Federal Election Commission, the cap on corporate campaign donations, put in place to try to ensure that ‘one person-one vote’ was not was drown out by lobbying funds, was lifted in order to free corporations to their ‘right to free speech’… a right granted previously only to the ‘all men’ of that same constitution.

with today’s ruling, corporations continue to be led by men and women to the top of the food chain.  noam chomsky ‘s film ‘the corporation’ – viewable in full here – might remind us that corporations have long been that very apex and needed no further leading, yet there is something in today’s ruling that smarts. (oh-to-say-the-very-least).  while american women waited until 1964 to be granted legal personhood, and african americans waited until 1965 for that same recognition, today corporations, economic entities without bodies, without human let alone animal, vegetable or mineral form, earned legal recognition as part of the ‘all men’ entitled to free speech.

when gay americans cannot find their way to equal rights under the law, what does it mean when the very same groups to support the ‘sanctity of marriage’ deny the very difference between, let alone sanctity of, living bodies and corporate economic holding structures?

over the last year or so, i’ve been following levi bryant and others in their search for an object oriented ontology.  a flat ontology that would cede all objects – be they human, plant, worm, poem or passing emotion – equal ontological footing.  the work is rigorous, the ideas are compelling, with part of their impetus coming from an anti-humanism, from the felt need for animals and environment to displace an anthropomorphic priority with ontological equalities of varying sorts.  for all the obvious reasons this is critically important work.

and yet what would latour say about today’s ruling? is it a move in the right direction – granting things other than humans all the rights that humans want to claim and amass?  (to be clear, we are not talking here about a universal claim to ‘human rights’ – something clearly as much a product of liberal economics as corporations themselves – but of legal rights.  rights granted in the united states by the constitution.) or is it a misstep, a giant leap, actually toward a heightened sort of anthropomorphism that elevates human abstract production even beyond the status of the human?

there is a scene in the Grapes of Wrath where steinbeck has already written today’s verdict.  when big bank officials descended like locusts to evict the farmers of the american 1930’s, when ‘the bank’ bought land out from under the farmers who worked it…

It’s not us, it’s the bank.  A bank isn’t like a man.  Or an owner with fifty thousand acres, he isn’t like a man either.  That’s the monster.

Sure, cried the tenant men, but it’s our land.  We measured it and broke it up.  We were born on it, and we got killed on it, died on it.  Even if it’s no good, it’s still ours.  That’s what makes it ours – being born on it, working it, dying on it.  That makes ownership, not a paper with numbers on it.

We’re sorry.  It’s not us.  Its’ the monster.  The bank isn’t like a man.

Yes, but the bank is only made of men.

No, you’re wrong there – quite wrong there.  The bank is something else than men.   It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it.  The bank is something more than men, I tell you.  It’s the monster.  Men made it, but they can’t control it.

maybe William James in Williamsburg…

In what is philosophy? on November 30, 2009 at 10:43 pm

two modes of thought/action crossed paths for me this week:

i have lately been listening to william james’ Essays in Radical Empiricism, available here through Librivox and am increasingly struck by the prescience, timeliness of this work.  as levi bryant makes clear in this acknowledgement of James’ early influence, the feeling of ‘timeliness’ arises from well and carefully constructed ground.  ground that speculative realism, object oriented ontology and other recent and innovative philosophies are tilling, fertilizing and leveraging in productive ways.

at the same time billy, another friend of mine, posted a thoughtful analysis of the ‘farm fresh’ trends popping up in the boroughs of NYC and spreading elsewhere.

i’d like to think these things together.  together à la bruno latour.

which i’m proposing is really together à la james.

not that it matters… and then again…

we’ll start with james in the second chapter/essay of Essays in Radical Empiricism, entitled “A World of Pure Experience”…

It is difficult not to notice a curious unrest in the philosophic atmosphere of the time, a loosening of old landmarks, a softening of oppositions, a mutual borrowing from one another on the part of systems anciently closed, and an interest in new suggestions, however vague, as if the one thing sure were the inadequacy of the extant school-solutions.  The dissatisfaction with these seems due for the most part to a feeling that they are too abstract and academic.  Life is confused and superabundant, and what the younger generation appears to crave is more of the temperament of life in its philosophy, even though it were at some cost of logical rigor and of formal purity.  Transcendental idealism is inclining to let the world wag incomprehensibly, in spite of its Absolute Subject and his unity of purpose.   (p. 40)

idealist philosophies: too abstract.  too academic.  we could add too alienating without changing the implications.  whether we are talking about academic idealism as it appears in post-kantian philosophy or the state of the union on the streets of brooklyn, an ‘unrest’ and ‘dissatisfaction’ were at work in james’ time as they are in ours.  a feeling that wants to get our hands dirty, that wants more of ‘the temperament of life’ – confused and superabundant and closer to home than the huge financial and military/terrorist spans we’ve been disillusioned of… (once again.)

so whether looking at speculative realism – the move out and away from what has, since quentin meillasoux, been called correlationism, but otherwise known as Kantian idealism – or the kids on the streets of brooklyn, new york and elsewhere who are dreaming of moving to the country and farming their days away, moves are being made toward modes of thought and modes of life that reconnect what has so long been split: objects, people, bacteria, dirt, emotions, food, production, imagination… the list is, quite literally, endless.

and this is the whole point, if there is one.  and the point, which is always multiple:

since kant, since heidegger, since existentialism, since humanism, since… dualism, really… we’ve seated the world and its contents inside the human mind.  experience, in this frame, is mediated by mind, categories, labor, language… by any and all anthropomorphic lenses.   you know the culprits.  and i know them as i’ve spent my graduate years delighting in them.  and while this human-centric universe has brought about incredibly important moves, changes, liberations, recognitions, even aporias and humilities, it hasn’t done us any favors as concerns the ‘world out there’.  not that continental philosophy is solely responsible for global warming and the increased tsunami’s of late, but…

with james’ again:

…I seem to read the signs of a great unsettlement, as if the upheaval of more real conceptions and more fruitful methods were imminent, as if a true landscape might result, less clipped, straight-edged and artificial.  (p. 41)

with unsettlement clearly given across almost all sectors of public life, what might this ‘less clipped’ landscape look like?  well, as billy points out, it looks like

the rise of the so-called locavore, who out of both health and environmental interests makes locally-grown products an essential priority. Dovetailing in with locavore-ism is a broader trend towards craft and self-reliance – homemade, hand-constructed, DIY, the sorts of projects found in books like “The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living In the Heart of the City”

and yet, while billy will go on to locate the origins of this locavore-ianism in a loss of authority, i see, in addition, a (literally) grass roots movement going off-grid and inter-network. net-work of the kind latour points to in We Have Never Been Modern.  net-work of the type that stops thinking dualism and starts seeing actions and their always reciprocal inter-actions.  net-work that laces eaters to the animal, mineral & vegetable source of their food.  net-work that laces animals, plants and minerals to their environments.  net-work that laces environments back to and through all of the above as each continually inter-acts with the others, changing things each way, creating new circumstances from endless angles.

levi bryant’s very apt tagline for Object Oriented Ontology (“there is no difference that does not make a difference”), traced from james’ own statement of the sort, beautifully illustrates this movement.  as does james work in the Essays on Radical Empiricism, where he writes:

To be radical, an empiricism must neither admit into its constructions any element that is not directly experienced, nor exclude from them any element that is directly experienced.  For such a philosophy, the relations that connect experiences must themselves be experienced relations, and any kind of relation experienced must be accounted as ‘real’ as anything else in the system.  Elements may indeed be redistributed, the original placing of things getting corrected, but a real place must be found for every kind of thing experienced, whether term or relation, in the final philosophic arrangement.  (p. 42)

whether we use james and whiteheads’ words… relations.  relating.  relata.

or latour’s… actions.  acting.  actors.

or Williamsburg’s… (suggestions from the ground here welcomed, billy…)

the recognition of our inter-actions is occurring on more fronts that we can, and perhaps even should, count.  the best of which means that even this tidy little post has more going on within and without, acting and interacting in ways i’ve not (and perhaps need not be) logged into…

maybe it’s about time

In difference on October 4, 2009 at 1:57 pm

this december, the Whitehead Research Project will host a conference on judith butler.  if butler and whitehead strike you as an odd mix, levi bryant’s latest post at Larval Subjects, working through shaviro on whitehead, helps make the link quite clear.  while shaviro, bryant and others have lately begun to think object as event, butler has long been at work at this very task.  in fact it might be fair to say that butler’s books all work through ways of understanding, thinking, bodying – performing – the object as event (if by object we are drawing a parallel to what latour calls actors).    take this excerpt from bryant’s post, for example:

This concept of objects as events is the most difficult thing of all to think. Our tendency is to think objects as substances in which predicates inhere. Take, for example, Aristotle’s categories. All of these categories are predicates that can be attributed to a substance. As I have argued elsewhere, in my article “The Ontic Principle” forthcoming in The Speculative Turn, the concept of substance responds to a real philosophical problem. This problem is the endurance of entities through or across time as this object. I denote this substantiality of the object with the expression “the adventure of the object” to capture the sense in which objects are ongoinghappenings or events. In other words, events are not something that simply happen to an object as in the case of someone being granted a degree while nonetheless remaining substan-tially the same. Rather, objects are events or ongoing processes.

writing about gender, butler deconstructed biological categorizations in order to think woman, man, girl and boy not as ‘substances in which predicates adhere’ but as ‘ongoing happenings or events’. ‘the adventure(s) of the object’ are the appearings of any object in question, be this for butler the appearings of man, woman, or otherwise (otherwise always being the case for, as bryant explains, objects as events can be thought as ‘objectiles’ – objects that are difference and insight differences if they are to be thought of as objects at all).

and while it seems counterintuitive to think men and women as objects, bruno latour’s work in Reassembling the Social points directly to this move, situating all factors in a given situtation, or actors in an assemblage as objects that not only receive but also respond and reconstitute the state of things as event.  butler’s work, while striving to give name to those without recognition, without speech, is different in nuance only if we maintain the split that latour’s work so elegantly elucidates and supercedes.  it is not a way of objectifying persons, but instead a mode of recognizing that personhood – defined by agency and response-ability as well as reception – is as a term, part of the grammar of a very problematic dichotomizing process, an anthropocentrism that generates not only an inaccurate read of the world, but also maintains and ensures that all the old bianaries maintain force (nature/culture, subject/object, etc…)

i am excited by the Whitehead Research Project’s recognition of the connections they are making in the upcoming conference and look forward to more discussion on this topic upon publication of the proceedings.

the delightful disorder of things

In what is philosophy? on July 15, 2009 at 10:16 am


in two very interesting posts, (here and here) levi bryant at larval subjects is exploring something he is calling separately, the ‘factory of truth’ and aesthetics.  given my time in the MIT architecture theory department and the love for arranged objects that lead me into that program, i am always interested in thinking these connections.  further… as mentioned in a previous post, i saw Food, Inc. this week and was struck by the parallels between philosophy and docudrama.  pairing these and whatever lurks below the surface in this interest of mine, my suspicion, if not my claim (which is a phrase altogether too neil armstrong to be taken seriously…) is that  what philosophy, docudrama and aesthetics are up to is something we could tentatively call plain, old-fashioned collage.


as a painter, writer, scientist, housewife are about the businesses of juxtaposition – arranging paint and paper, arranging diapers and play-dates, arranging data and documentation – the accumulations of all of these people, places, things and thoughts (latour’s ‘actors’) create living arrangements.  on one level, the actors themselves are self-displaying, self-arranging, making themselves and their regions of concern into collages of all sorts filled with unexpected and unnoticed actors, as well as predetermined plot points or points of interest they hope will be noticed.

it is in the noticing, the arranging, in setting up an ‘order of things’ that philosophy enters and, as levi pointed out in one of the abovementioned posts, lags behind like the owl of minerva, tracing and retracing, translating all the while, layering collage upon collage into a gallery of philosophical ideas and concepts.  in this, i might maintain that philosophy is not unlike art, is not unlike science – as each mode of production lags behind and lurches beside, all the while producing all the more, what it thinks it is merely picturing or describing… thinking philosophy as docudrama this production, (latour via levi’s ‘no transportation without translation’,) is a discipline in its most aesthetic mode.

while there is more to be thought here, i will now happily defer to someone who said this years ago and much better…

excerpted  from Michel Foucault’s preface to

The Order of Things


This book first arose out of a passage in Borges, out of the laughter that shattered, as I read the passage, all the familiar landmarks of my thought – our thought, the thought that bears the stamp of our age and our geography – breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things, and continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our age-old distinction between the Same and the Other. This passage quotes a ‘certain Chinese encyclopedia’ in which it is written that ‘animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (1 et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies’. In the wonderment of this taxonomy, the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of thinking that.

But what is it impossible to think, and what kind of impossibility are we faced with here? Each of these strange categories can be assigned a precise meaning and a demonstrable content; some of them do certainly involve fantastic entities – fabulous animals or sirens – but, precisely because it puts them into categories of their own, the Chinese encyclopaedia localizes their powers of contagion; it distinguishes carefully between the very real animals (those that are frenzied or have just broken the water pitcher) and those that reside solely in the realm of imagination. The possibility of dangerous mixtures has been exorcized, heraldry and fable have been relegated to their own exalted peaks: no inconceivable amphibious maidens, no clawed wings, no disgusting, squamous epidermis, none of those polymorphous and demoniacal. faces, no creatures breathing fire. The quality of monstrosity here does not affect any real body, nor does it produce modifications of any kind in the bestiary of the imagination; it does not lurk in the depths of any strange power. It would not even be present at all in this classification had it not insinuated itself into the empty space, ’the interstitial blanks separating all these entities from one another. It is not the ‘fabulous’ animals that are impossible, since they are designated as such, but the narrowness of the distance separating them from (and juxtaposing them to) the stray dogs, or the animals that from a long way off look like flies. What transgresses the boundaries of all imagination, of all possible thought, is simply that alphabetical series (a, b, c, d) which links each of those categories to all the others.

Moreover, it is not simply the oddity of unusual juxtapositions that we are faced with here. We are all familiar with the disconcerting effect of the proximity of extremes, or, quite simply, with the sudden vicinity of things that have no relation to each other; the mere act of enumeration that heaps them all together has a power of enchantment all its own: ‘I am no longer hungry,’ Eusthenes said. ‘Until the morrow, safe from my saliva all the following shall be: Aspics, Acalephs, Acan thocephalates, Amoebocytes, Ammonites, Axolotls, Amblystomas, Aphislions, Anacondas, Ascarids, Amphisbaenas, Angleworms, Amphipods, Anaerobes, Annelids, Anthozoans. . . .’ But all these worms and snakes, all these creatures redolent of decay and slime are slithering, like the syllables which designate them, in Eusthenes’ saliva: that is where they all have their common locus, like the umbrella and the sewing-machine on the operating table; startling though their propinquity may be, it is nevertheless warranted by that and by that in, by that on whose solidity provides proof of the possibility of juxtaposition. It was certainly improbable that arachnids, ammonites, and annelids should one day mingle on Eusthenes’ tongue, but, after all, that welcoming and voracious mouth certainly provided them with a feasible lodging, a roof under which to coexist.

The monstrous quality that runs through Borges’ enumeration consists, on the contrary, in the fact that the common ground on which such meetings are possible has itself been destroyed. What is impossible is not the propinquity of the things listed, but the very site on which their propinquity would be possible. The animals ‘(i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush’ – where could they ever meet, except in the immaterial sound of the voice pronouncing their enumeration, or on the page transcribing it? Where else could they be juxtaposed except in the non-place of language? Yet, though language can spread them before us, it can do so only in an unthinkable space. The central category of animals ‘included in the present classification’, with its explicit reference to paradoxes we are familiar with, is indication enough that we shall never succeed in defining a stable relation of contained to container between each of these categories and that which includes them all: if all the animals divided up here can be placed without exception in one of the divisions of this list, then aren’t all the other divisions to be found in that one division too? And then again, in what space would that single, inclusive division have its existence? Absurdity destroys the and of the enumeration by making impossible the in where the things enumerated would be divided up. Borges adds no figure to the atlas of the impossible; nowhere does he strike the spark of poetic confrontation; he simply dispenses with the least obvious, but most compelling, of necessities; he does away with the site, the mute ground upon which it is possible for entities to be juxtaposed. A vanishing trick that is masked or, rather, laughably indicated by our alphabetical order, which is to be taken as the clue (the only visible one) to the enumerations of a Chinese encyclopaedia. . . . What has been removed, in short, is the famous ‘operating table’; and rendering to Roussel1 a small part of what is still his due, I use that word ‘table’ in two superimposed senses: the nickel plated, rubbery table swathed in white, glittering beneath a glass sun devouring all shadow – the table where, for an instant, perhaps forever, the umbrella encounters the sewing machine; and also a table, a tabula, that enables thought to operate upon the entities of our world, to put them in order, to divide them into classes, to group them according to names that designate their similarities and their differences – the table upon which, since the beginning of time, language has intersected space.

That passage from Borges kept me laughing a long time, though not without a certain uneasiness that I found hard to shake off…

*everything he said was right…

In difference on June 12, 2009 at 9:36 pm

i am enthralled by a conversation taking place over the last 24 hours on Levi Bryant’s blog, Larval Subjects.  while Levi elegantly outlines his object oriented philosophy in response to a bit of an academic debate, what emerges is the following seductive position on post-humanism, post-language:

Everything said of the signifier is right, but it must also be said of every other kind of object. From the standpoint of Onticology, we can vary this thesis in a variety of ways, all of which are endorsed by Onticology:

* Everything Kant says of the nature of minds, concepts, and intuitions as they relate to the world is right, but it must also be said of every relation among objects.

* Everything Heidegger says of the relationship between Dasein and objects is right, but it must also be said of every other relation among objects.

* Everything Husserl says of intentionality is right, but it must also be said of every other relation among objects.

* Everything Foucault says of power and epistemes is right, but it must also be said of every other relation among objects.

And so on.

what I would like to add to this list (which was never really excluded, just not yet added…) is this:

* Everything Derrida says about differance and iterability is right, but must also be said of every other relation among objects.

at first read, this addition may seem unnecessary, as Derrida was never working with the subject, with the human, but always up and through these notions and toward their impossibility.  yet, it is precisely on the point of iterability that Derrida’s work can enter into conversation with object oriented philosophy.  difference in deleuze, the miraculous relation that is repetition, is so closely atuned to the work Derrida was doing with differance as to be mistaken as the also (and thankfully) impossible same.  

working with saussure’s split between the signified and signifier derrida’s work exemplifies the always differential deferral of meaning in signification.  to dangerously oversimplify, for derrida there is no essence, no origin, only links and chains of signifiers.  in the vocabulary of iterability, as written in his debate with john searle, as context is never constant, never given and never fully comprehensible (always exceeding definition, explanation and ‘meaning’) meaning is only ever deferred.  this leads to his work on writing as necessitating death, etc… and while this is all quite fascinating, the point i want to emphasize here is that between derrida and deleuze, between derrida and object oriented philosophy, there is a shared recognition that being is difference: and this applies in/as being for ‘man’ (though this is a tenuous term for both derrida and deleuze) as well as being for objects…

i need to do more work here, but appreciate levi’s post today in reaching into this project and digging out points i need to further question.