Saturday, March 27, 2010

No Escape

So, in the recent back and forth with Levi over the past day (couple of days, really) his brilliant insights (and I'm not being flippant here) have made me realize that I have not successfully escaped the correlationist circle. I accept this now obvious reality since it appears I want so desperately to organize my ideas through a direct connection with the old way of thinking about things. I deeply feel that I at some level understand that there is a reality untouched and unmoved by human thought but can’t help but think that this reality is for all intents and purposes indifferent and insignificant, and that it only becomes significant when we interact with it, focus on it, and are made aware of it.

Then, perhaps my penchant for looking for significance in such a reality has clouded my thinking, made me pass over certain objects in favor of other objects – narrative being one of them – but I’d like to think that having favorites (favorite books, theorists, movies, etc.), focusing on the significance of one thing over the other, and trying to work out my thoughts, as flawed and misstated as they may sometimes be, is of some difference. I think they are.

That being said, I am thinking of taking time off from writing about and responding to the ongoing world-building that has been going on here and attempt to understand why it is that I can’t seem to break this damn circle (maybe it’s because I use phrases like “world-building”…hmmm) – or at least move to the outer sides. Instead, I will focus my blog writing on the un-canny, develop my ideas accordingly, and leave the object- oriented stuff to those who’ve already escaped. I’ll leave you with the following from ClĂ©ment Rosset that best sums up how I feel. Cheers.

But in order to make a road impassible for a person with thousands of pathways it isn't enough to stamp it as forbidden territory. Nothing is impassible for the person ‘possessing all pathways,’ the all-terrain machine that is always able to surprise us. A person is a terrifying thing, dangerous in its unexpectedness: this is the overall meaning that the term deinon [strange, or uncanny] covers in Sophocles. A person is terrifying because he possesses all pathways, while having no destination. Nothing is as dangerous as a machine going nowhere – all roads, by definition, are open to it.
- “Of a Real That Has Yet to Come” 17

Friday, March 26, 2010

In Response to a Response

I want to first thank Levi (before I get into my argument) because over the past couple of years I've really had a blast participating in these blog discussions - and he has been right there with all sorts of encouragement. Sometimes I can be snide, trite, and even downright rude (but which of us can't, right?), so I appreciate the patience he and everyone else in the OOO world has given to this lowly rhetorician.

But onto my post.

In his response to Tim and to my problem with the TV show Life After People, Levi over at Larval Subjects remarked:

I think narrative is a way in which these things take place, but is not the way. This is what I referred to in a prior post (over at Philosophy in a Time of Error, I think) as an occupational hazard. The rhetorician spends his or her time analyzing narratives and thus naturally sees narratives and signifiers in everything.

And then a little later:

The whole thing that set off my original post was Nate’s rather snide remark that all the object-oriented ontologist can say is “objects act”. Hell no. We’re interested in how objects act and celebrate those modes of analysis that show how objects act and what differences they contribute.

I've made bold this last sentence because it draws out a larger question. What, if we are not creating narratives, does Levi mean when he makes this last statement? A narrative is story set up in an sometimes enlightening but often constructive format. It can take shape in variety of forms (novels, short stories, poems, TV shows, movies, anecdotes, even grocery lists, etc, etc.). The first order observation that Levi fails to see when watching Life After People is that he is watching a narrative – I am in no way adding this narrative, as Levi claimed, since as a TV show Life After People is automatically a structured way of relaying a story – and if the title and the obvious fact that it is a TV show want to be ignored, one can always point out the second glaring reason – Life After People has a NARRATOR. The show, the story of a world without people still needs to be narrated, significance needs to be given to the objects of this specific (and post-human) world. BUT, this significance is not placed onto the show by an outside viewer as a first-order observation. No. It is inherent in the show itself, which brings me back to the original problem I had with it. When stripped of all of its narrative aspects, what are we left with? I would argue, that what we are left with is something far more boring than the job of a rhetorician.

My second problem is that I've never said that narrative is the only way objects interact (I refuse to say translate here because translation implies some sort of narrative work). But at the same time, when Levi in one of his comments suggests that what makes OOO interesting is that it doesn't rely on 1990's narrativity studies, I find myself saying “Yeah, go for it!” I'm just trying to understand how OOO is going to address these problems. You aren't taking away my toys, as much as you are ignoring the fact that there are toys to begin with. So far, I'm unconvinced. From a rhetorical (and when did we start lapsing into a Platonic notion of rhetoric as sophistry or fancy language?) standpoint if we only talk about the object we are the observer. If we talk from the object's point of view, we run the risk of giving the object qualities it does not locally manifest. So it seems that we are to always talk about the object-with-other-objects without forgetting that we are ultimately the ones performing the narrative.

*Note: While I was writing this post, Levi posted the following:

If onticology has something to offer at the level of object-oriented practice and epistemology, I think it is the hypothesis that objects act or are encountered in their doing. “objects act?” I'm confused. Just kidding.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Ontological blindness?

In English there are two essential types of words: 1) words that have to do with objects (nouns) and 2) words that have to do with actions (verbs). And, just as Aristotle claimed of onoma and rhema, any structure that weaves these two types of words together is where discourse takes place. But another way of reading this “weaving together” would be to say that in discourse, or logos, we discover that essentially “objects act.”

In a recent discussion I had with my dissertation director, we came to the conclusion that this phrase (“objects act”) is the only way to describe the show on the History Channel entitled, Life After People. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it is roughly 40 minutes of watching buildings, landmarks, and cities crumble back into the earth. But what is fascinating about the show is its reliance upon the human gaze. For the only reason that this show is fascinating to its human viewers is because of the amount of significance we have given to each of the objects we watch deteriorate. Without significance there is no difference between the Statue of Liberty falling into the ocean and the face of a cliff. Significance is the recognition of the gaze, and without it we are left with the fact that “objects act”.

The human gaze or the look, then, becomes the death of the onticological object in the sense that the object is now significant. Significance does away with the object as anything other than its use, its purpose. For it places the object in a Latourian black box and throws away the key. Significant objects are separate from the everyday, from the ordinary in a way that demarcates them apart from even their own object-ness. For example, my daughter's stuffed toy dog is extremely significant for her since she's had it since she was born. She knows this object inside (after it was ripped open at one time due to excessive play) and out. And if we were to attempt to replace it with a new, cleaner version, she would almost certainly break down in tears. There is NO other stuffed toy dog for my daughter.

So if the goal of OOO/P is to remove the human subject as the pole around which the tether-ball of the world circulates, then surely it must be a blind ontology. By removing the look, or the gaze, it sees nothing/everything. The object oriented philosopher's gaze, then, is one of an impossibility, of a type of void or a field of vision without a blind spot (where infinity is as limitless as nothingness). But in this way, I wonder what more can be said of objects besides “objects act.” Isn't any move beyond this an act of signification, where objects become monads, vacuum-packed withdrawals, or differences that make a difference? Aren't all of these now significant objects?