Friday, March 9, 2012

Graham Harman, "Some Implications," Guerrilla Metaphysics

All consciousness is allure, but not all allure is consciousness. What we find in allure are absent objects signaling from beyond---from a level of reality that we do not currently occupy and can never occupy, since it belongs to the object itself and not to any relation we could ever have with it. Allure is the presence of objects to each other in absent form. It is the alpha factor of the universe, found in all objects from the ground up, but gradually built up into increasingly larger and more intricate shapes. While allure has no hope of ever getting us closer to the objects themselves, it can unleash objects that had been largely muffled in their relation with us, and can translate already recognized objects into more potent form. Allure is the fission of sensual objects, replacing them with real ones. It is also the principle of all concreteness, insofar as it points to objects apart from all relational impact that they have on us. In this way we invert the notion of concreteness found in Whitehead, who holds that an object is concrete only when we consider all of its prehensions or relations with other objects. Without this maneuver, Whitehead fears we will be left with an abstraction or vacuous actuality rather than a concrete object. But quite the contrary---the only truly concrete thing in the world is an object, and its relations with other objects can only reduce it to abstraction, even if new objects manage to be created in the process. 

The primary way in which allure expands its scope is simply through building up a physical body with organs capable of alerting us to that which was previously buried. To develop eyeballs, wings, upright posture, an opposable thumb, or a central nervous system is to take stock of a whole range of new objects that were never sensed before. Inevitably, it also means to lose contact with some previously attained sensual objects, such as the scents or chemical traces that play a large role in the lives of dogs or ants. Physical changes of this kind continually shift the range of objects that have an impact on us. But for animals as for humans, to sense objects is not to transcend or rise above them: it is to descend into their depths, lured away from all the sheer manifestations by which they make themselves known to us. When dogs approach and smell a dubious stranger, they do not remain at the level of odors, but identify a potent withdrawn individual behind those odors; real poets compose lines not to add to their total corpus of productivity, but to wipe away a bit more of the dust obscuring a style that has already announced itself vaguely but is still concealed by extraneous clutter or the lingering echoes of mentors; real philosophers make arguments not to knock down the positions of rivals, but to establish the compelling character of the model of the universe that generates their arguments in the first place. As humans come to terms with objects such as fossils, ozone, or oil, they may well go on to manipulate those objects, and may do so wisely or demonically or in some combination thereof. 
Wolves are haunted by cries in the night in a way that sand grains are not, and humans are haunted by metaphysical concepts and fantasy tales in a way that wolves are not. What distinguishes humans from animals is not some sort of arbitrary shift in the power of the as-structure, but simply a new range of access to objects, one that plays out in the first instance through our sheer physical differences from the animals. And unlike most animals, we continue to increase our bodily organs with the external proxy of mechanical and electrical devices, and the day may come when these proxies are no longer external. The question concerning technology is not the theme of how objects are transformed into mere fuel, reduced to reservoirs of presence and incinerated in various furnaces. Technology is really a question of translation, of changing long-dead ferns into the motion of school buses, and the vibrations on embassy windowpanes into transcripts studied by spies (as shown most clearly in the case studies of Bruno Latour, that true metaphysician of case studies). The printing press does not convert truth into stockpiled information, but brings the world of dead queens and knights into my living room in twenty-first-century Cairo. It does not reduce objects to standing reserve any more than my fingers and eyes already do. And the atomic bomb, that poster child of Heideggerian stockpile, arguably changes our patterns of life no more than did agriculture or the longbow. 

1 comment:

  1. Robert Anton Wilson, "Glossary," The Illuminati Papers:

    "Guerilla Ontology: The basic technique of all my books. Ontology is the study of being; the guerilla approach is to so mix the elements of each book that the reader must decide on each page "How much of this is real and how much is a put-on?" This literary technique seems justified by the accelerated acceleration of new knowledge, new theories, new inventions, and new possibilities in our time, since any "reality" map we can form is probably obsolete by the time it reaches print."