Monthly Archives: October 2012

Weird Realism: Harman and Lovecraft

I’ve been reading and enjoying Graham Harman’s new book, Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy (Zero Books, 2012).  This is a great book, regardless of whether you already know the general outline of Harman’s philosophy and/or have any interest in Lovecraft. 

At the very least, I would recommend the book for Harman’s fun and illuminating uses of “ruination,” whereby he shows what is most effective in a sentence or phrase by juxtaposing the original version with alternative (ruined) versions of the passage. 

Harman’s proclivity for sincerity comes through in the style and the content of the work, as does his humor.  Consider the comment he makes when reflecting on Hume, “the patron saint of the philosophical debunker”: “though debunking has its uses, the clearing away of rubbish is a secondary chore best done once per week” (57-58). 

A guiding analogy for the book: As Hölderlin is to Heidegger and subsequent continental thought, Lovecraft is to Harman and weird realisms, e.g., object-oriented philosophy.  Whether Lovecraft will or should become a philosophical staple, I don’t know.  In any case, I very much like the idea that what might seem to be merely pulp fiction is here brought to a philosophical plane with sincerity and humor.  Even more than that, it’s fascinating (and horrifying) to get a sense of the strange realities that Lovecraft has in store for philosophy. 

Reality itself is weird because reality itself is incommensurable with any attempt to represent or measure it.  Lovecraft is aware of this difficulty to an exemplary degree, and through his assistance we may be able to learn about how to say something without saying it — or in philosophical terms, how to love wisdom without having it.  When it comes to grasping reality, illusion and innuendo are the best we can do. (51)

How to Create a Concept

In responding to a question about the “precautions” that “should be taken when producing a concept,” Deleuze says:

You put your blinker on, and check in your rearview mirror to make sure another concept isn’t coming up behind you; once you’ve taken these precautions, you produce the concept. (282)

Sounds easy enough, but… it’s worth keeping in mind that concepts aren’t cognitive representations or discursive functions.  “Concepts are not in your head: they are things, peoples, zones, regions, thresholds, gradients, temperatures, speeds, etc.” (312)

Gilles Deleuze, Desert Islands and Other Texts 1953-1974. Trans. Michael Taormina [Semiotext(e), 2004].

Making Love with Lingis…Again.

To find oneself in love is to find oneself not free but captivated.

 Eroticism is suspect to the ethical mind.  Orgasm is pleasure in the breakdown of laws, action, responsibility, conscientiousness, and consciousness.  Sensuality is transgressive.  In the bodies denuded, sexual excitement surges in the meltdown of built-up structures.  As our bodies become orgasmic, the posture collapses, the manipulative diagrams of the limbs soften, legs and thighs roll about, fingers and hands move in aimless, unendingly repetitive caresses, allowing themselves to be stroked and crushed.  Our lips loosen, soften, glisten with saliva, lose the train of sentences; our throats issue babble, giggling, moans, and sighs.  Our sense of ourselves, our self-respect shaped in fulfilling a function in the machinic and social environment, our dignity maintained in multiple confrontations, collaborations, and demands dissolve; the ego loses its focus as center of evaluations, decisions, and initiatives.  The psychic structures with which we screen, filter out, and channel the superabundance of outside stimuli that flood our senses at all times are shattered and the stimuli flood us pell-mell.  The structures by which we fix an inner ego identity and censor out a whole underworld of unconscious drives and cravings buckle and crack; in sexual excitement the gates of the lower dungeons are opened and feral drives and cravings bound up and overwhelm our conscious intentions and purposes.  Our impulses, our passions, are returned to animal irresponsibility.  The pleasure and torment in contact with the nonprehensile surfaces of our bodies, our cheeks, our bellies, our thighs, irradiate across the substance of our sensitive and vulnerable nakedness.      

Alphonso Lingis, “The Immoralist,” in The Ethical, ed. Edith Wyschogrod and Gerald P. McKenny (Blackwell Publishing, 2003), pp. 205, 211-212.

Making Love with Lingis

When we, in our so pregnant expression, make love with someone of our own species, we also make love with the horse and the dolphin, the kitten and the macaw, the powdery moths and the lustful crickets.

A thinker who comprehends with the hands, hands made for blessing, sees swallows and owls, wetlands and tundra pullulate with grace.  Blessing is the beginning and the end of all ecological awareness.  […] Laughter and tears, blessing and cursing break through the packaging and labeling of things that make our environment something only scanned and skimmed over.  They are forces with which we impact on nature, which we had perused only as the text of the world.  They are forces that seek out and engage reality.

Lust in not content with respectful and considerate caresses and release of tension; it wants another, wilder orgasm, it wants orgasms on jet airplanes and in tropical swamps, it wants bondage and whips.

Alphonso Lingis, Dangerous Emotions (University of California Press, 2000), pp. 37, 71, 78, 79.

…and more to come…


Learning to Swim with Deleuze

The movement of the swimmer does not resemble that of the wave, in particular, the movements of the swimming instructor which we reproduce on the sand bear no relation to the movements of the wave, which we learn to deal with only by grasping the former in practice as signs.  That is why it is so difficult to say how someone learns: there is an innate or acquired practical familiarity with signs, which means that there is something amorous—but also something fatal—about all education.  […]

When a body combines some of its own distinctive points with those of a wave, it espouses the principle of a repetition which is no longer that of the Same, but involves the Other—involves difference, from one wave and one gesture to another, and carries that difference through the repetitive space thereby constituted.  To learn is indeed to constitute this space of an encounter with signs, in which the distinctive points renew themselves in each other, and repetition takes shape while disguising itself. […]

To learn to swim is to conjugate the distinctive points of our bodies with the singular points of the objective Idea in order to form a problematic field.  This conjugation determines for us a threshold of consciousness at which our real acts are adjusted to our perceptions of the real relations, thereby providing a solution to the problem.  Moreover, problematic Ideas are precisely the ultimate elements of nature and the subliminal objects of little perceptions.  As a result, ‘learning’ always takes place in and through the unconscious, thereby establishing the bond of a profound complicity between nature and mind.

Gilles Deleuze, Difference and repetition, trans. Paul Patton. (Columbia University Press, 1994), pp. 23, 165.

(Re)Introducing Aristotle, 4: Degrees of Freedom

Following the previous installment in this series, this episode continues the elaboration of Han Jonas’ updated version of Aristotle in a philosophy that integrates the insights of Whitehead and Heidegger.  In particular, it’s time to talk about degrees of freedom and the uniqueness of humans.  Let’s begin by thinking with Jonas’ philosophical biology.

While animals have perception and some sort of capacity to form images or tools, they apply their potential for merely vital, practical ends (Jonas, The Phenomenon of Life [1966], 158).  However, image-making in its proper sense is only achieved in the new level of freedom attained by humans (170).  To be able to make an image entails the ability to behold an image.  This means one must be capable of discerning differences between the image, imagined, and the material substratum of the image.  Nonhuman animals cannot perceive mere likeness, and thus cannot distinguish between the image, the imagined, and the material substratum.  It can see something as other or the same, but not similar.  Thus, animals can imagine in the limited sense of bringing together images, but these images are bound up with sensation. 

In human beings, the image of a thing is understood as a separate presence.  It necessarily follows, then, that humans can alter and make images, for they see them as separate things.  In the mind of human beings, form becomes completely separable from matter.  Humans have more control over form because they understand form by itself, but this means humans—with metabolizing bodies—also experience great distances through their apprehension of form by itself. 

The human understanding of form is also evident in the human capacity for naming—that is, ordering the world according to the general forms of things.  “The generality of the name is the generality of the image” (173).  Humans can know that a thing is “this” and not “that” by comparing the forms of things ordered in naming.  The new degree of freedom witnessed in human beings is what makes possible the experience of theoretical and practical truth.         

Like Aristotle, Jonas argues that the ascending degrees of freedom inherent in organism and the becoming of natural bodies in general might have its origins in some divine act (275).  Ultimately, however, Jonas argues that the mystery of origins is closed to us (3).  The divine act Jonas imagines is the original giving up of the divine essence to the venture of becoming and experience.  This venture keeps matter oscillating between forms.  Somehow form gains freedom from matter as organic life begins to stir.  As form gains freedom in higher organisms, form comes to experience its own form and divinity. 

The divine venture is undertaken for the sake of the identity of divine form; all becoming is the preservation of divine form.  The freedom of human beings allows form to be completely itself.  Humans can neglect the call issuing from freedom, forget the origin of truth, and forget the divine venture.  Indeed, humans are given the precarious task of completing the image of divinity, for better or worse.

Jonas’ interpretation of human freedom relies upon the distinctions between matter, life, and mind (intellect) set forth by Aristotle, but updated with a blend of Heideggerian existential phenomenology and Whiteheadian panexperientialism.  Both Aristotle and Jonas begin their investigations with a view to their contemporaries and current opinions about their questioned subject matter.  The opinions inherited by each philosopher provide the groundwork upon which they develop their arguments and terminology.  Their own accounts attempt to get beyond whatever impasses are preventing a complete understanding of the subject matter.  Aristotle tries to get beyond the impasses of the theories of the natural scientists and mathematicians of his day with his account of an intertwined matter and form of the complete, independent thing.  Jonas tries to get beyond impasses concerning the relationship between mind and life with his existential interpretation of biological facts, which discloses the reciprocal participation of organism in mind and mind in organism. 

For both Aristotle and Jonas, any living thing—plants, animals, and humans—stays itself and maintains its form by metabolizing, acting upon and being acted upon by the things in its surrounding world.  Humans have a unique degree of freedom through which we have a particularly great abundance of things in our world, not the least of which are images.  If form is the work of divinity, human imagination and contemplation share in divine activity, and indeed, all becoming is an ongoing divine venture.  But that’s a big if.

Hermetic Deleuze

There is a great interview HERE with Joshua Ramey about his book, The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal.  The interview is a recent episode of Expanding Mind on the Progressive Radio Network, hosted by Erik Davis and Maja D’Aoust.

It’s a very accessible overview of Deleuze’s philosophy, particularly with a view to its connection to hermeticism and other dark precursors to his thought.  However, the interview is no substitute for Ramey’s book, an exemplary work of scholarship that I highly recommend.  I’ll have more to say about the book another day.