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.

Monads: windowless glass houses

Graham Harman has a nice post up “On the Laziness of Comparing Object-Oriented Philosophy with Leibniz.”  One of the points he brings up is that, even though he and Leibniz affirm windowless monads, monads are still determined by their relations in Leibniz , but their reality is non-relational in object-oriented philosophy. 

Although I tend to follow Whitehead and Deleuze in thinking of monads as having windows, I also accept Harman’s Heideggerian conception of a non-relational reality, in which monads would have no windows.  If we are going to continue describing entities as having windows, it would be important to add that contact through these windows is never direct but only happens indirectly… through a glass darkly.  I am committed to affirming relational and non-relational aspects of monads, and I think that the image of windows with dark glass might help draw out the complex tension between relationality and non-relationality.  Really, though, the window still implies too much accessibility, even if the window has bars on it or is wired with a bomb.  Perhaps it would be better to say that a monad does not have windows at all but is a house of glass.  The glass is dark, and what appears dimly in and through the glass is not comprised of reflections but of diffractions (not totally unlike the diffraction glasses that people wear for light shows, raves, fireworks, etc.). 

Windowless and alluring, every object is a glass house of dark diffractions.