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)

Testing the Boundaries of Reality

A few weeks ago, I gave a presentation at the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness Forum at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.  I spoke about some of the research I used for my dissertation (Philosophy for a Planetary Civilization: On the Verge of Integral Ecology), which I defended last March.  A video of the talk is available HERE.  I was introduced by Matt Segall, who recently posted some summary reflections on the talk.

Like many talks I give, the style is mostly improvisational.  Nonetheless, my meandering musings elicited some thoughtful questions and comments from the people in attendance, making about half of the video Q&A.  I’m not going to summarize the presentation here, but I will state my gratitude for the various criticisms I’ve received.

Those criticisms include the following:

1) My critique of AT&T’s “Rethink Possible” slogan didn’t account for the full history of AT&T.  This was by far my favorite criticism.  AT&T is a weird entity with a complex history.

2) My interpretation of Platonic dualism didn’t do justice to the elements of Plato’s writings that subvert dualism and pervert the very idea of Platonism.

3) My espousal of rhizomatics might not be effective in countering the interconnected flows of global capitalism.

4) Aside from an injunction to tarry with complexity and uncertainty, my philosophical experiments do not give very specific guidance on questions of ethics, politics, and practical action.

5) My focus on the humor of truth (Isabelle Stengers’ concept for a critical standpoint from which to recognize the limits of one’s theories) did not adequately account for the many other ways of recognizing the limits of one’s theories (e.g., humility, imagination).

6) Perhaps the strangest criticism I heard is that my emphasis on humor makes me impervious to criticism or somehow difficult to criticize.  I’m happy to accept that criticism, especially insofar as I sometimes tell jokes instead of responding directly to questions.  However, I think I’m generally quite vulnerable and available to criticism.  Indeed, humor (following Stengers) was presented precisely as a means to stay open to criticism, not as a hipster strategy for being ironic and, like, whatevs.  Furthermore, as indicated by each of these six criticisms, some people found it quite easy to criticize my points and positions.