Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hacking and Allusion

Over at Tim Richardson’s new blog Objet(a)uthenticity, he questions the idea of authenticity as it relates to both the prosthetic and the hack. He posits that like rhetoric, as dunamis, hacking seems to be a way of getting the object to reveal itself while a prosthetic is merely a replacement part:
What seems to differentiate the hack from the prosthetic (that talk I linked to last note) is that the latter is a replacement in kind, a surrogate that may or may not live up to the standards or utility of the original (and may or may not appear authentic). The hack, though, is all about new functionality. So it might be that all hacks are prosthetic (though maybe they address a lack, not a loss?) but not all prosthetics are hacks?
I’m going to get back to this in just a bit, but I want to bring up something that’s always bothered me about Harman’s OOO—allusion. In Prince of Networks, Harman states:
When the hammer surprises us with its breakdown, the exact character of this surprise can admittedly be described by various predicates. But note that ‘surprise’ is only the phenomenal result of the previously concealed hammer. The veiled, underground hammer cannot be identified with the surprises it generates, since these merely allude to its existence. (Allusion and allure are legitimate forms of knowledge, but irreducible to specific predicates.) (225)
Therefore, even when the object seems to offer us a glimpse into its withdrawn nature, these are just allusions to the real object that lies beneath. Now I used to think that this “allusion” (whether on our part or the object’s) was just a weasel word—a way to get around not having to talk about a seemingly important point. But what Tim’s post seems to get at is that perhaps a better way of understanding the relationship between the real object and the sensual one, or when the hammer breaks, is by way of hacking. Hacking allows users to get at parts of their objects that were meant to remain hidden, tucked away in code or purposefully disabled. What the hacker does, then, is never a physical modification but an action that allows the excess or withdrawn “reality” of the object to come forth. A recent example is when iOS hackers found that there was a panorama setting in iOS 5.0 that wasn’t turned on by Apple. Hacking, therefore, is a sort of non-linguistic way of alluding to a real object. And humans aren't the only objects that hack. For example, HIV works by hacking a host cell to replicate its RNA strand. HIV, in its hacking, makes the allusion to the host cell's hidden functionality extremely clear. Hacking in this sense is a faculty for observing all of the available means of perturbation. And as Tim reminds us, rhetoric (and maybe more specifically for us, OOR), too, is a faculty for discovering an object’s hidden functionality or local manifestations.


  1. FYI, Graham Harman has responded to this on his Object-Oriented Ontology.

  2. Thanks, Jason. I'm currently developing a response to both Harman and Robert Jackson's posts: