Alien Phenomenology: Of, By, and For Things

I am anxiously awaiting the publication of Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing.  Alien phenomenology is a great phrase.  It is important to distinguish Bogost’s alien phenomenology from that developed by Bernhard Waldenfels.  Reminiscent of Husserl, Schutz, Merleau-Ponty, and Levinas, Waldenfels’ Phenomenology of the Alien explores the place of otherness in human subjectivity, specifically with attention to the otherness given in one’s experience of one’s own body and in experiences of the corporeality of other people.  However, Waldenfels does not address nonhuman aliens (e.g., refrigerators, elk, quarks, fungi, libraries, the climate).  

For Bogost’s alien phenomenology, the alienness under investigation is that of all things, human and nonhuman.  The orientation toward the alterity of all objects calls for a weirder and more realist phenomenology, which uses speculative metaphysics and metaphor to account for things exceeding human access.  Focusing on “carpentry,” which includes operations and procedures for approaching and crafting particular objects, alien phenomenology is a crafty version of object-oriented ontology, making it particularly relevant for address social and environmental issues that call for practical procedures and for the creation of new policies, designs, institutions, etc.  

The development of an alien phenomenology that accounts for the agency and alterity of all things is a benefit to a global society full of real things clamoring for attention, things like farmers, rivers, economies, children, artworks, species, universities, families, subatomic particles, the climate, and so much more. 

Alien phenomenology is a philosophy of the things, by the things, and for the things.

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