Tag Archives: Ian Bogost

The Aesthetics of Publishing

There are a lot of reasons to dislike academic publishing if you are trying to write philosophy or any kind of theoretical or scholarly work. Nonetheless, it’s still the best way to disseminate work with high standards of rigorous research, intellectual accountability, and meaningful communication. A couple of the usual reasons people give for disliking the publishing industry in general are that it is too slow and, more to the point, too elitist, whereas self-publishing platforms work more efficiently and give the author more creative control. That’s far from the whole story. It fails to mention the aesthetics…and the lunchmeat. Continue reading


Alien Phenomenology: Quotable Quotes

About a month ago, I finished reading Ian Bogost’s wonderful new book, Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing.  It’s a fun book and an excellent contribution to phenomenology, object-oriented ontology, speculative realism, posthumanities, and more.  At some point, I’ll post some more comments on alien phenomenology (previous posts are here and here), but for now, I just want to catalog some quotations from the book (all emphases are in the text itself, and all brackets are mine).  To the quotes themselves:

Just as eating oysters becomes gastronomically monotonous, so talking only about human behavior becomes intellectually monotonous. (132)

The philosophical subject must cease to be limited to humans and things that influence humans.  Instead it must become everything, full stop.  (10)

Everything whatsoever is like people on a subway, crunched together into uncomfortably intimate contact with strangers. (31)

In short, all things equally exist, yet they do not exist equally. (11)

Theories of being tend to be grandiose, but they need not be, because being is simple.  Simple enough that it could be rendered via screen print on a trucker’s cap.  I call it tiny ontology, precisely because it ought not demands a treatise or a tome.  I don’t mean that the domain of being is small—quite the opposite, as I’ll soon explain.  Rather, the basic ontological apparatus needed to describe existence ought to be as compact and unornamented as possible.
      An alternative metaphor to the two-dimensional plane of flat ontology is that of spacelessness, of one-dimensionality.  If any one being exists no less than any other, then instead of scattering such being all across the two-dimensional surface of flat ontology, we might also collapse them into the infinite density of a dot.  Instead of the plane of flat ontology, I suggest the point of tiny ontology.  It’s a dense mass of everything contained entirely—even as it’s spread about haphazardly like a mess or organized logically like a network. (21-22)

The density of being makes it promiscuous, always touching everything else, unconcerned with differentiation.  Anything is thing enough to party. (24)

Within the black hole-like density of being, things undergo an expansion.  The ontological equivalent of the Big Bang rests within every object.  Being expands. (26)

The true alien recedes interminably even as it surrounds us completely.  It is not hidden in the darkness of the outer cosmos or in the deep-sea shelf but in plain sight, everywhere, in everything.  Mountain summits and gypsum beds, chile roasters and buckshot, micro-processors and ROM chips can no more communicate with us and one another than can Rescher’s extraterrestrial.  It is an instructive and humbling sign.  Speculative realism really does require speculation: benighted meandering in an exotic world of utterly incomprehensible objects.  As philosophers, our job is to amplify the black noise of objects to make the resonant frequencies of the stuffs inside them hum in credibly satisfying ways.  Our job is to write the speculative fictions of their processes, of their unit operations.  Our job is to get our hands dirty with grease, juice, gunpowder, and gypsum.  Our job is to go where everyone has gone before, but where few have bothered to linger.
      I call this practice alien phenomenology. (34)

Instead of removing elements to achieve the elegance of simplicity, ontography adds (or simply leaves) elements to accomplish the realism of multitude.  It is a practice of exploding the innards of things—be they words, intersections, shopping malls, or creatures.  This “explosion” can be as figurative or as literal as you like, but it must above all reveal the hidden density of a unit. (58)

An ontograph is a landfill, not a Japanese garden.  It shows how much rather than how little exists simultaneously, suspended in the dense meanwhile of being. (59)

[T]hings render one another in infinite chains of weaker and weaker correlation, each altering and distorting the last such that its sense is rendered nonsense.  It’s not turtles all the way down, but metaphors. (84)

Like mechanics, philosophers ought to get their hands dirty. […] dirty with grease and panko bread crumbs and formaldehyde.  I give the name carpentry to this practice of constructing artifacts as a philosophical practice. (92)

Like a space probe sent out to record, process, and report information, the alien phenomenologist’s carpentry seeks to capture and characterize an experience it can never fully understand, offering a rendering satisfactory enough to allow the artifact’s operator to gain some insight into an alien thing’s experience. (100)

For too long, philosophers have spun waste like a goldfish’s sphincter, rather than spinning yarn like a charka. (110)

Each thing remains alien to every other, operationally as well as physically.  To wonder is to respect things as things in themselves. (131)

The act of wonder invites a detachment from ordinary logics, of which human logics are but one example.  This is a necessary act in the method of alien phenomenology. […] Wonder is a way objects orient. (124)

Idealisms amount to undead ontologies, metaphysics in which nothing escapes the horrific rift from being, leaving behind a slug’s trail of identity politics. […] The return to realism in metaphysics is also a return to wonder, wonder unburdened by pretense or deception.  (133) 

Anything will do, so long as it reminds us of the awesome plentitude of the alien everyday. (134)

Alien Phenomenology vs. Environmental Holism

I’ve been enjoying Ian Bogost’s new book, Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing.  It’s another great contribution to object-oriented ontology.  One of the problems I have with it so far is that it misrepresents holistic approaches to environmental issues.  I generally appreciate the object-oriented critique of holism, but it’s important to accurately specify what holism is involved.  To paraphrase Bogost, all holisms might equally exist, but they do not exist equally.

Bogost says the following:  “In every conception of environmental holism from John Muir to James Lovelock, all beings are given equal absolute value and moral right to the planet–so long as they are indeed living creatures.  One type of existence–life–still comprises the reference point for thought and action” (p. 7).

Every conception?  I don’t think so.  A bunch of conceptions?  Sure.  The majority of conceptions?  Maybe, depending on whose conceptions get counted.  In any case, not every conception of environmental holism in the last hundred years has made life the reference point for thought and action (nor have they all assigned “equal absolute value” to everything).  There are plenty of environmental holists who have arrived at their metaphysics like Bogost arrived at his, “by way of inanimacy rather than life” (p. 9). 

Consider Aldo Leopold or Baird Callicott.  They are most certainly holistic, but their reference point is the land, which includes but is not defined primarily in terms of biota.  Leopold and Callicott have been very influential on a lot of the environmental holism running around these days.  You cannot give a very relevant critique of environmental holism if you don’t critique the land ethic.  Another kind of environmental holism that eludes Bogost’s critique is the ecology and environmental ethics based on Ken Wilber’s Integral theory (of which Michael Zimmerman is a leading proponent).  The holism of Edgar Morin’s complex thought harbors a planetary environmentalism that is also noteworthy here.  My point is simply that some holisms are closer to Bogost than he indicates, and that environmental holism can be a partner in creative dialogue instead of a quickly dismissed straw man.

I’ll have more to say after I finish the book.  Regardless of any shortcomings it might have, it’s a fun and engaging book.  The Latour litanies alone are worth the price of admission.