Speculative Realism? [mid-jan 2013, Chronicles of Dis–Infection]


In this way, beyond the interplay of signifiers and images, a sense of undeniable reality begins to reappear. And furthermore, the still fashionable privileging of the system over its discrete parts begins to recede: in networks, the actors do retain independent properties that can resist or even subvert the entire system. – Towards Speculative Realism: Essays & (Graham Harman) – Highlight Loc. 1354-56

So then there is maybe is a sort of weird equivalence between all objects, inanimate, animal and human, in as far as they have both two aspects that can only be reconciled entirely for each object in itself: an inexhaustible interiority, teeming and bustling, molecularly crazed, only ever fully manifested by the object itself AND, crucially, drawn/drawing away from all other objects in its inward fullness… something that is truly, so-to-speak, subjective, even individual; and on the other hand, if I can follow Harman even partially [which I might very well not], some sort of cause-and-effect exteriority of the object, those aspects&qualities of an object that can come into contact/exchange with the rest of the cosmos, more particularly, that can interact with other objects. Every object can, in this outward aspect, interact with any other object but they do so in the very specific terms of their unique….chemistry, parameters of interaction. A ball of cotton will encounter a burning house in one way, my mouth in another and a cotton-processing machine in yet another… However, EVERY object has this capacity to „prehend“ [encounter in a specific way?] other objects in the cosmos and at this level, the way I read it, there is no significant difference between the animate and the inanimate – tootbrush, gerbil and Wittgenstein are all dutifully prehend the world according to their own objective capacities. Consciousness, other than being a special case of prehension, has no particular status in this…. materialist [?]… accounting of what is.

My personal bovine conflict with this ‘speculative realism’ thus far is that to apprehend the world as an inanimate stone flung against a glass door and bouncing back off of it or as a desperate teen trying to enter that very same door to be able to attend a super-signifcant matric finals exam, is precisely signifcant not in the [more or less] trivial material terms in which both stone and boy may fail to open this very recalcitrant door, that is, the door as material barrier between here and there… but what I, in my ontological naivite consider important is the meaning this has for each respective „object“ – in the case of the stone none, the bloody stone is even completely unaware that it just bounced up against a bigger and meaner cosmological comrade, it just followed, even this without knowledge or consent, the forces [laws? Who is the legislative?] of physics….whereas, boy oh boy… the poor young lad probably flies into a panic, perhaps starts screaming, kicking the door, running around the building in search of alternative access; in brief: an entire tirade of MEANING-MAKING is unleashed, which, for lack of philsophical terminology, elevates the event [of non-passage through the doorway] out of its [crude] materiality and onto a level of thought, emotion, subsequent action [which of course are also, at the neuro-molecular level, direly material but yet nevertheless, philosophically, have a pretty valid record of being interpreted or conceptualized or represented as something qualitatively different from only just a bio-chemical formula]. So what point am I gunning for here? The interiority of the rock and the young chum cannot be sensibly compared, the latter one’s comes right-the-fuck flown back out at the cosmos of objects and rather according the psychology than just ‘plain’ physics.

However, this particular kind of philsophy of objects, from my perspective, is both justified and interesting. I too wish to know more about why we seem to be having such a hard time understanding inanimate objects in their own right [is it really just a matter of consciousness?] and why we have such trouble admitting that the borders between the object and the subject are so blurred that, in the course of a single working day, we constantly, and entirely unmodernly, flit back between human nature tout court [i.e shaking hands, reclining and daydreaming, etc.] and tenuous, unconsummated cyborg status [e.g. now-here that I am this anxiously typing, human-machine hybrid, trying to make sense of our strange, mutual collaboration…. am I using this cutesy little Mac or is the Internet using me? Ever expanding its unholy domain of knowledge/data at the expense of a petty, brain-busted earthling…].

The passage or rather, transsubstantiation, happens so quickly and totally that we are often hardly aware of it. For example, yesterday evening at my brother’s I was having a glass of Martini. The Martini-object prehended the world through the glass, shaping its lower half into a steep parabole, not letting it pass by any means and the earth-atmosphere obliging the Martini-object into horizontality from above. I personally prehended the Martini visually distorted through the shape-giving glass, as well as olfactorily through the Martini-molecules that managed to escape the mother-liquid. But now that I’ve absorbed the Martini-object into my system, who knows, this very thought right now might be based on former Martini-molecules. Ineed the Martini in its wholeness inspired or caused these few sentences to even be written, not some abstract alcoholic shot, no, that particular Martini. And now this Martini, to a certain degree, is in you too, doubly transmogrified, coursing through your brain as a neuro-symbolic shape, entirely unrecognizable to the best of chemists and the worst of philosophers, whether you’re tipsy or not. My point is this: an inanimate can become an animate object within a swallow and a few metabolic moments and this is perhaps worth exploring from more than just a biochemical perspective.


Martinis are already confusing as is

The reverse of course can also come to pass. Offer your skull unwittingly to some malevolent old fart in the hindmost recess of the New Guinean jungle [maybe even a UofC anthropologist who went native] and what is now a „wordless admiration of the rainforest’s sublimeness“ [chemically coded yet transcending this code easily] is, one good thump on this very skull, a decent fire, sturdy kettle, some exotic spices and 45 minutes later, a mouth-watering dish of „Cerveau a la surprise“, yes?

In other words, it seems to me that the little fleck of „Speculative Realism“ I have tried to come to grips w/ thus far, though having an interesting point of departure, „steps away from“ human consciousness perhaps a bit too far, in effect becoming rather a „specular realism“ in which objects can be seen and described in the mirror of their materiality but not actually „understood“. It seems to me a bit of a strange mirror in which I, for one, can not yet tell a boy from a rock.

Jared Diamond on a field study in New Guinea

Sauteed bio-geographical determinism, anybody? [kidding, JD’s cool]

But I would argue that these are precisely the two chief dogmas of contemporary philosophy: (a) anti-realism, and (b) holism. They represent perhaps the two greatest features of twentieth century philosophy, with its predominantly linguistic model of reality. But do they still have enough juice to sustain us for another hundred years? As I see it, the tacit answer suggested by Latour is “No”. In the first place, it is necessary to take account of real objects once again, as Whitehead already sensed with his unabashed revival of pre-Kantian metaphysics. As mentioned earlier, it is not true that I have any more intimate access to language or consciousness or the conditions of speech-acts than I do to a pile of rocks. In both cases there is much that withdraws beyond my understanding. – Towards Speculative Realism: Essays & (Graham Harman) – Highlight Loc. 1271-76





About tmabona

writer, reader [bolano, DW, bellow, deLillo], runner, badmintoneer
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