On having the last word..

skull-and-crossbones-coloring-pages-free-butterfly-fairy-coloring-pagesIt seems like an age ago since I posted any thoughts on here. Actually, it seems like an age ago since I posted anything on here.

A few reasons for this; as usual, work commitments abound – both academic and professional (a.k.a. my normal day job) – together with looking after my baby daughter and educating myself on how to be a parent, all of which have terminated any free time. Any spare hours or days that were needed to visit conferences, seminars, etc, have been put on the back burner now, whilst I finally, finally finish my thesis and move forward with life. Yet holding a baby in one arm in a fit state of shrieking inconsolability at three in the morning hasn’t precluded me from keeping up with stuff on the blogosphere (for my sins).

Now, there is increasingly aggressive talk on blogs and in forthcoming publications about the “already dead” status of Speculative Realism. Pete Wolfendale’s debut OBJECT-ORIENTED PHILOSOPHY: THE NOUMENON’S NEW CLOTHES comes out next month (including a post-script by Brassier) which is being touted by some, particularly Leon Niemoczynski, as being the final “Truth” nail in the coffin: that SR/OOO has been dead for ages, perhaps from the start, but no-one really knew or believed it. And everyone’s meant to believe that once the final argument has been put in place, once the final reveal of the truth has made its literal presence known, all of its practitioners should acknowledge the change that has taken place, and reject its current popular manifestation (comically dubbed Speculative ®ealism) as a legitimate movement.

Even stronger than this, comes from Leon’s reflections on Brassier’s postscript (and I’m only quoting from Leon’s post because he’s read it – I haven’t) that the sheer existence of an SR legacy has now been put to bed not just as an exhausted and rejected relic of yesteryear: a general acceptance that SR was – as Wolfendale states – “dead on arrival”, but that only one, out of the initial four proponents have ever permanently self-identfied with it.

Less extreme was Ben Woodard’s suggestion that SR’s legacy (in context of conversations held at the Emancipation as Navigation Summer school in Berlin this year) was the “dead elephant in the room”, insofar as those who partook in its burgeoning interest retrospectively lamented the direction it took, together with the community that fostered that direction (I’m thinking here of the rapid change in production that blogging and social media has afforded).


As an associate editor of Speculations, it might be reasonable to assume that I have a biased interest in saying the opposite, or at least diagnosing something along the lines of a Joker-Batman-esque “I don’t wanna kill you – what would I do without you” kind of relationship. After all, Pete wouldn’t have written a 400 page book on OOO if he didn’t think it was worth doing, or that the philosophy wasn’t worth engaging with. Unless the sole existence of the book is there to exploit attention or some agenda, which I don’t believe is the case. In proclaiming the death of SR, it’s difficult to see how the practice of doing so matches the declaration. In any case, despite the fact that Pete’s taken to publishing the entire debate in book form, he knows that the inevitable fallout of the book will take place, almost exclusively, on blogging sites and escalating Facebook threads: threads which if social media history is concerned, serve no purpose than to mediate ones need to always have the last word on matters (in fact what else is the intellectual use of social media other than a perpetual device to leave public opinion, helpful or not, permanently unsettled? Almost no-one pays attention to how such systems construct the conflicts of public opinion).

**It also seems slightly bizarre on Brassier’s side, since by all accounts, he originally coined the term in the first place in order to set the 2007 symposium up. That’s not to say that a philosopher has no right to refuse, reject or disown their own project for various reasons, (Putnam always seemed to do it) than it is to question why they haven’t taken responsibility for the fact that they jointly set up the original symposium in the first place, together with speaking at the second one in Bristol in 2009. But as I said, I haven’t read the post-script so I’ve leave this hanging.

Sadly my response is a bit more banal than this. If SR’s existence is dead, it makes sense to ask what it is and how it has died, alongside the more pertinent question of dead for whom? To declare the death of a philosophical legacy, or that it was dead anyway, is ultimately tied to where you think it went wrong, or what path it missed. It doesn’t take on the demand of declaring collective agreements amongst like-minded in-groups which everyone else has to accept in advance. I’d like to think there’s a lot more going on to this air of conflict than the ebbs and flows of social discord within various arenas of online miscommunication.

I’d like to suggest that as a movement SR was probably too divergent to continue as a movement. But dead altogether? Not in the slightest, and here’s why. That divergence has slowly emerged as a deep hostility between two very deep and important philosophical-historical positions. This is why the calls to question how one might self-identify oneself as a proponent of SR or not, holds little sway to the notion that SR is dead: largely as I think SR is constitutive of a split so encompassing, and only brought to light because of SR, that no-one can ignore it. As Heidegger is fond of reminding everyone – and especially himself – sometimes the deepest changes are the ones that fail to make themselves present.

For me, SR’s very existence cultivates, and continues to cultivate, an incompatible hostility which feeds the claims and positions being made – even if they happen to be predominantly coming from a neo-rationalist wing which finds the whole affair moribund. Clearly, this includes but does not encompass Accelerationism, which I just take to be a development constructed almost entirely from the rational-scientistic community of SR, and not a movement which either indulges itself in proclaiming the latter’s death (if it does), or thinks it provides an ulterior movement separate to it. As I said in my Dublin talk late last year, SR just simply is the incompatible shredding between two modes of criticism (which I termed Demonstration and Description) both of which radicalise the limits of rational thought very differently, perhaps antithetically.

And what has become increasingly obvious is how this divide has strengthened rather than relaxing into any form of intersection: in part, because if one takes SR to be the rejection of correlationism at its most basic, then rather being known as the name of two symposiums, or a well-known (albeit fringe) brand of new continental thought, or a defining moment where philosophical discussion and promotion exploded on the internet, or a new book series, or the latest thing to read in the art world, or a rallying call to young philosophers and artists hoping to launch a career, or even all of these – then its legacy comes from an unsettled philosophical conflict which arises once correlationism is rejected or adopted differently. A conflict which is strong enough to permeate and resonate through other disciplines of science, art history, aesthetics, law and education. To be clear on the matter, what is fundamental to me, and from what I consider to be important here, is the philosophical source of this conflict: and of what needs to be understood and addressed before one has any right to dictate what the future of the conflict entails.

What I might be saying here then, is that SR wasn’t so much a movement of disparate voices returning to metaphysics, realism and materialism, than the beginning of a renewed split in those domains: Here, one side takes realism/materialism to be reducible to authentic epistemological vehicles of science and mathematics whilst the other side does not: refuting in turn, that the real/material can be known by reason, and that reality is composed of other skeptical-based entities that possess, and are defined by the same limitations. That’s a huge incompatible split: precisely as Kantian correlationism was a foundation which partly reconciled those differences, dispossessing reason from ever knowing reality whilst also dispossessing other entities and life-forms from having a transcendental turn themselves.

Yet, what could not be dispossessed was the general sound for how one approached doing philosophy: should one be enlightened or romanticised? Phrased differently, we might say; what are the limits of reason vs. where are the limits of reason. More and more, this has all the hallmarks of being a 21st Century return to the hostility that surrounds the split between Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment (and of its various guises) that have sustained nearly three centuries of intellectual debate. From the primacy of aesthetic experience vs. anti-aesthetic concepts: from the enlightenment deductive science of logic vs. the romantic science of naturphilosophie: from American pragmatism (and neo-pragmatism) to American transcendentalism, from eliminative materialism to outright vitalism, the fruits of this hostility seem obvious to the future of SR, and yet not to anyone else. I’ve resisted writing about the split in this manner for some time now, perhaps because it seemed too simple to me, or too naive, too distant from the problems SR originally raised, or perhaps too obvious to make it stick. Yet, this split plays its hand not just in the ambitious claims one might make of reality as a human response to enlightenment or romantic ideals (and how they might operate differently from their previous iterations in response to breakthroughs in science or art): it also constitutes the opposing claims for what philosophy ought to do as practiced, and how those practices utterly conflict with one another.

If you really think as, (apologies for names omitted) Meillassoux, Brassier and Wolfendale do, that the Age of Reason never finished, that literary words serve little to no aesthetic purpose than to make transparent rational proofs, then anything which characterises counter-enlightenment thinking must be subject to de-romanticisation. If you think, as Harman, Shaviro, Morton myself and possibly Grant do, that the real can never be formalised and put into literal formulae, that literary words serve the ultimate purpose in taste, alluding one’s grasp of the strange mystic qualities of the real without actually doing so, then fragments of the romantic, counter-enlightement tradition must be used to question why enlightened reason alone thinks it has special access to reality: and that perhaps there are other fruitful methods of relating thought to nature, or thought to entity. In the end, the rejection of correlationism was perhaps a catalyst for rejuvenating an unsettled debate, in which a final resolving word was not said, and perhaps will be never said.

A final note: this is why my Demonstration/Enlightenment and Description/Romanticism split does not perfectly coincide with an analytic vs. continental one: a split whose calls for reconciliation are found wanting in my honest opinion. The split doesn’t accurately characterise, but generalise the intentions of all who consider themselves a member of either tradition, and those who do not (think of Wittgenstein’s legacy for instance). And yet clearly, they are deeply related no doubt. Those who preach that the divide has been overcome (in the most recent cases, the Accelerationists) don’t exactly overcome it, than they operate with all the same bad habits that analytic philosophers have done for years in response to continental texts: by thinking that the way to overcome the divide is to de-romanticise all the continental texts and show their argumentative flaws (only with the good grace to take continental texts completely seriously before the de-romantic slaughter can begin). But what if one tries it from the other way as Cavell attempted (and failed) to do in the 60s – 80s: what if the way to overcome, or at least question the analytic/continental divide was to romanticise all the analytic texts?

Heidegger and the Work of Art History Cover + Contents

It exists! I’ve been looking forward to this for about three years now. Should be out in March 2014 on Ashgate Press: list of authors and chapters below. Amanda and Aron have done a wonderful job with this.


Heidegger and the Work of Art History explores the impact and future possibilities of Heidegger’s philosophy for art history and visual culture in the twenty-first century. Scholars from the fields of art history, visual and material studies, design, philosophy, aesthetics and new media pursue diverse lines of thinking that have departed from Heidegger’s work in order to foster compelling new accounts of works of art and their historicity. This collected book of essays also shows how studies in the history and theory of the visual enrich our understanding of Heidegger’s philosophy.

In addition to examining the philosopher’s lively collaborations with art historians, and how his longstanding engagement with the visual arts influenced his conceptualization of history, the essays in this volume consider the ontological and ethical implications of our encounters with works of art, the visual techniques that form worlds, how to think about ‘things’ beyond human-centred relationships, the moods, dispositions, and politics of art’s history, and the terms by which we might rethink aesthetic judgment and the interpretation of the visible world, from the early modern period to the present day

Contents: Introduction, Amanda Boetzkes and Aron Vinegar;

Part I Between Ontology and Ethics:

1. The return of discrete, autonomous artworks: Heidegger, Harman and algorithmic allure, Robert Jackson.

2. The interior void of things: Heidegger and art of the 1980s and 90s, Ileana Parvu.

3. Giovanni Battista Moroni, portraiture, and the ethics of early modern conversation, Bronwen Wilson

Part II Techniques of World-Making:

4. Heidegger’s ‘from the dark opening…’, Michael Golec

5. Art, materiality and the meaning of being: Heidegger on the work of art and the significance of things, Philip Tonner.

6. ‘Leaning into the wind’: poiesis and Richard Long, Diarmud Costello

Part III Heidegger’s Unthought History of Art.

7. Shapes of time: melancholia, anachronism, and de-distancing, Matthew Bowman.

8. The gaze of ‘historicity’ in Schongauer and Dürer, Michael Gnehm.

9. ‘A dwelling place’: sensing the poetics of the everyday in the work of Pierre Bonnard, Lori Johnson.

Part IV Making Claims and Aesthetic Judgment.

10. Reluzenz: on Richard Estes, Aron Vinegar.

11. Interpretation and the affordance of things, Amanda Boetzkes.

12. Sein und Zeit in Raum: perspective as symbolic form, Whitney Davis.

The Facticity of Things: Meillassoux, Harman and Slotawa.

Four years after giving my very first paper for the AAH in Glasgow, I’ll be giving another paper for them in April, at the Royal College. Hopefully in that time, a good deal of the audience will be familiar (if not by name) of Harman and Meillassoux’s work. Here’s the blurb;

The Facticity of Things: Meillassoux, Harman and Slotawa.

“Despite the recent ecological return to materiality, objects and things in Continental Philosophy and the contemporary visual arts, the supporting literature is often misunderstood.

Nowhere is this misunderstanding more evident than the associated work of Quentin Meillassoux and Graham Harman, one half of the (now) disbanded speculative realism movement. Whilst these two contemporary philosophers jointly reject the Kantian dependency of human access and endorse a reality altogether separate from it, the structure of reality that remains differs immeasurably.

The paper will argue that their differences might be pivoted on how both thinkers approach and distance themselves from Heideggerian facticity: the contingency of Being. For Meillassoux, facticity is the only deductive path towards the rational knowledge of material reality, transforming it from a principle of finitude into an absolute principle of knowing everything is contingent. However, Harman’s Object Oriented Philosophy preserves Heidegger’s facticity as a finite phenomenon of Being, but is, instead, extended to all non-human entities (or objects) in the cosmos; such as beds, bells, bosons and black holes.

The purpose of the paper is twofold: first, to provide helpful elucidation for how Meillassoux and Harman transform facticity into new modes of thinking and being, which threaten to divide two opposing factions of Kantian aesthetics apart. Second, the paper will contextualise the emergent work of German artist Florian Slotawa, whose emerging practice might be understood as a demonstration of both transformations. Slotawa’s work will also be framed as a”post-Duchampian” break away from the primacy of spectator finitude.”

Non-Modernist Formalism: Form instead of Material

So as far as conferences go, this year has been quite weird.

Last year I attended roughly nine or ten events, in about eight or nine places – this year it has been about eight events in three places, cramming four in March and four again in October. Although it is certainly efficient (it left me with an entire summer to write and write), I wouldn’t recommend the workload involved.

One of the side effects is that you forget stuff in-between the events, and that’s a problem: the whole point of this blog is to publish stuff, conversations, etc., in the aid of reminding myself – in writing up the thesis and subsequent papers – to capture how and what I was thinking. So with that in mind, this post is simply a update on a talk Graham gave to AIAS, Aarhus, a couple of weeks ago (of which I was the respondent) solidified by talking to Tim, who keynoted at performing objects Falmouth, last week. I can’t cover everything that went on in Aarhus, suffice to say that both Graham’s paper and my response will be published in the Nordic Journal of Aesthetics next year.

One of my worries with is that, quite often, ANT and New Materialism, are bundled into various streams of OOO literature, and usually employed to denote some sort of change in affairs. And that’s fine in one sense: not every paper needs to provide a prior disclaimer for distinguishing these positions for the sake of signalling a change in their disparate discipline: such ecology, architecture or the arts. But often enough, there are deep differences in how OOO or a new materialist framework might apply those ideas into practice, and moreover, how their close proximity might blur different practices irrevocably. This is not simply a framing issue with regards to terminology.

Nowhere is this change of practice felt in the difference between form and material in the visual arts. And this is important, because in my eyes, OOO is not a materialism, or a return to the material, but about the pluralistic endorsement of substantial and/or actual form. There are clear similarities between OOO realism and the materialist approach, not least their rejection of the transcendent privilege of the ‘human’, and the surprising, incomplete production of non-human things – but there are important differences too. This is especially pertinent in light of Levi’s repeated distancing of OOO towards an orientation of emergent physical objects/units of matter, rather than primordial discrete form.

Nowhere was this more clear than in Graham’s paper, ‘Materialism is not the Solution‘, in which he distances OOO from materialism (specifically, Bennett’s, Levi’s and Garcia’s) in a number of arguments. ‘Matter’ is rejected for something like ‘formalism’, but clearly this ‘return to form’ (excuse the pun) is entirely different from the crusty methods of formal analysis, historically replaced by a mechanistic understanding of organisation. Even deploying terms like ‘mechanism’ can be largely insufficient for describing the types of materialism espoused in new materialism, so one needs to approach this tentatively.

As many others have noticed, materialism is now an utterly confused term, entirely beholden to any trendy concept going. Matter can be applied to almost anything, if you work hard at it enough; cognition, strings, history, the Real, capitalism, process, dust, the social, time (even ‘deep’ time), field-systems, relations, praxis, context, networks, movement, duration, embodiment and (the most frustrating one, used indiscriminately in the arts) encounter.

But it doesn’t matter what sort of ‘matter’ is deployed in materialism, its deployment is always against form. For Graham, philosophy has historically managed ‘matter’ into two areas; it is either some ultimate ‘stuff’ or physical ‘structure’ upon which all derivative forms can be broken down, or else, matter lies in the absolute formlessness of primordial emergence, which spits out derivative forms within its endless differentiating movement. Graham calls this second one, the “amorphous reservoir”, of matter, focusing on Bennett’s indeterminate wholeness or a throbbing, pulsating movement of matter-energy. I prefer to call it an invisible framework.

The invisible framework of relations is many, and yet, form is not. Why aren’t invisible frameworks plural? Because they are shapeless. Anything which pertains to hold durability and autonomy, fails to approach ‘matter’ and only leans more towards form.  Why should an invisibly grounded framework approach a material excess of movement; because it is invisible? Or because it purports to be the impersonal holistic framework which explains movement and change?

Maybe then it might be useful to actually think of all these materialisms as productive outcomes: that there are so many types, buttresses Harman’s realist position: if we are faced with a choice of multiple materials to choose from, then OOO starts to get its teeth in rejecting the primacy of one type of material. And that’s not to reject these terms outright, but to account for why they become an issue. Why are these abstractions used to account for the changes of things, rather than abstractions resulting from things causing change?

And these are the Leibnizian problems which OOO challenges; how does materialism account for entities which aren’t grounded into the formless apeiron, from the very start? Why are discrete regions of ontology, not left as discrete regions? Why is the invisible structure of materialism simply asserted rather than accounted for? Why should the indeterminate wholeness be formless anyway?

How does a materialism account for a form’s durable independent basis, yet not reducible to a physical, natural structure. Why is it incapable of offering a better account for the status of immaterial things, rather than to eliminate them outright in favour of the material? In other words, how do we approach excess? In materialism, there is always an undermined (substance), or overmined (correlated) abstract formless excess which gives rise to forms, but in OOO, the abstract excess itself is always formed by the substantial discrete thing.


Moving quickly, how might one begin to approach form, or formal analysis in artistic practice, without being quagmired into the historical rejection of the morphological (I’m thinking here Joseph Kosuth’s Art After Philosophy)? How might contemporary art be understood, not by understanding its production through an impersonal, invisible framework, but through its own form, and experimentations with that form?

One way of approaching this is to ask what a non-modernist formalism might look like. It might not look like anything. It might be utterly impossible even. And if it was conceivable, how might it adopt certain OOO-ish features? How might it fail in doing so? What would formalism look like in art praxis, if the separation of culture/nature were applied: that is to say, the removal of modernist teleological commitments?

I’ll finish by sketching out some, very heuristic points (I’m writing this largely ad-hoc, as I’m heading out the door)

  • Non-modernist formalism may not, in any method, claim that forms can be known or self-mastered.
  • Formalism is about the tension and incompleteness between autonomous forms, as well as the forms themselves.
  • It might not privilege a purity of form, nor an allocation of the artist (or critic) as a sole bearer or attainer of that form. Thus form is different to ‘structure’, and should not be tainted or overwritten with structuralism, as it was in the 40s.
  • Formalism shall no longer be mired with the ‘explore the nature of the universe’ twinge. Instead non-modernist formalism might approach the exploration of things, not nature.
  • If there is no pure form, then form exists as a tension within the existent of the determinate thing. There is no ‘form’, only ‘the forms’.
  • There is no difference between a thing’s inner, essential, ‘actual’ form and its ‘significant form’ (contra Fry)
  • Forms are not platonic, but their constructed effect appears deceptive and will remain so. The work may not depend on the output, or the result, but neither is materialism smuggled in through the back door with unhelpful pangs of ‘process’ – instead forms are just banal configurations unified into a durable unit of cause.
  • Forms are timeless, not in old-fashioned sense of ‘grace’, or whatever: instead they are timeless, because the abstraction that is arrived by encountering them produces time, as opposed to time producing forms.
  • Non-modernist formalism might not dispense with artist intentionality, or the social production pertaining to it, but then again, it does not privilege it either: not in the form of speech or performance, nor of politics. All forms are relevant, and are built from many different types, and require different approaches in different configurations. If praxis is only reducible to an invisible framework of material, then it remains unclear how change and rupture is attained in the first place.
  • Forms are discrete and non-relational, but aesthetic value is not.
  • There is no predetermined path using forms, only ruptures in various disciplines, and those ruptures are products of the forms themselves.
  • The appearance of forms is never literal, only metaphorical.
  • Following Greenberg, the role of artists is to ‘test’ certain forms and find out what is essential/non-essential, but in the absence of privileging human intentionality, this is a decentralised understanding of ‘testing’ – form-to-form, object-to-object. Like some scientists, artists test things in order to be surprised by forms, not to ‘know’ them.
  • The relationship between beholder and object is a temporary absorption between two or more forms, forming a new actual object or performance.
  • The role of ideas within forms, are perhaps marks of translations and transcriptions between different forms and the decisions and judgements that take place. An artist can trans’form’ something according to a principled ideal, but therein, so too can an inanimate form trans’form’ the artist and beholder in turn. Ideals, concepts and decisions must be accounted for in this realism/formalism, and not drained to the dregs with matter (perhaps being speculative, how does a realism account for ideas, without becoming idealism?).


Transtechnology Research Public Dialogues 2013: At the Interlude Between Body, Artifact and Discourse

The Transtechnology Research Group have a CFP out. All the blurb is HERE. I’ve pasted the short version below.

Transtechnology Research Public Dialogues 2013:

At the Interlude between Body, Artifact and Discourse

12-14 July 2013, Transtechnology Research, Plymouth University 

Transtechnology Research is pleased to invite paper submissions and panel participation for dialogues at the Interlude between Body/Artifact/Discourse, developed by Transtechnology Research hosted in association with the Cognition Institute Plymouth University, the Plymouth Arts Centre and Peninsula Arts Gallery Plymouth University, UK from the 12th to the 14th July 2013.

This years Transtechnology Research Dialogue builds upon a contemporary challenge to conventional and disciplinary notions of what can be understood as an ‘historical document’ through questioning the necessity of material evidence to understand the world around us, as well as human activity itself within the world. The questioning of the limits of materiality has further implications for how we conceptualise notions of the ‘artifact’, the ‘body’ and ‘discourse’, across the arts, sciences and humanities as we come to terms with a material world that can be seen to coalesce in many ways with the immaterial dimensions of the imagination.

Transtechnology Research is a transdisciplinary research group situated in the Faculty of Arts at Plymouth University. Its constituency is drawn from historians, philosophers, anthropologists, artists and designers and is led from a historical and theoretical perspective with the objective of understanding science and technology as a manifestation of a range of human desires and cultural imperatives. Its aim is to provide a doctoral and post-doctoral environment for researchers who need to undertake academic research informed by their own and others creative practice. Its overarching research project concerns the philosophical aspects of science and technology and the history of popular arts.


Nice comment from Paletten

The author Fredrik Österblom got in contact and kindly sent me the article in question. It’s in Paletten issue 3: 2012 #289; p.29 (Graham also emailed me about this).

UPDATED: (My translation was awful, so addressing the comments below and from Fredrick’s email, I’ve put their translations in) ;

“In recent years, an object-oriented movement extends far beyond the philosophical discipline. Graham Harman’s philosophy has “gjort sig märklig” (“made itself visible”) in areas such as Art (Robert Jackson), ecology (Timothy Morton), literature (Eileen Joy) and political theory (Levi Bryant). In comparison to the speculative realism “spretighet” (diverseness) the OOO movement uniform is tied around a common issue. Most of the key members are active bloggers and theories have in a significant part emerged and spread online.”

Thats very kind of Fredrik to mention me in the same analogical vein as Tim, Levi and Eileen (Bogost should definitely be added, perhaps under media/videogames) – I don’t, however, consider myself to be anywhere near the prestigious level of anyone else in this OOO crowd; as a PhD student I have not earned my academic chops to get to their level, but maybe some day. That and the fact that all of us have talked about art and OOO in some way or another.

He’s right in one way thought. We all are tied by common issues specific to the challenge that Graham has opened up – issues which last a lifetime to think over.

11 Things I’ve learned from Thinking the Absolute

So I got back from the Liverpool ‘Thinking the Absolute’ conference yesterday. It was very well organised, and well done to Steven, Patrice and Katherine for all the hard work. I’ve had to catch up on a ridiculous amount of work as a result  – but as I tend to do, I’ve discrete-ised my thoughts on the conference into eleven points. If you want a more systematic summary than my pithy hackneyed effort, Paul Reid-Bowen has one HERE (really nice guy and he delivered a great paper too on OOO and pantheism). Very kindly, he also listed my paper as one of his personal favourites.

  1. Echoing Paul’s comments, the quality of research coming from independent scholars is self-evidently fantastic. It doesn’t take a genius to predict that as the UK university system will remain precarious, more and more independent researchers will be created, and thus vent their frustration and creativity into other diverse methods. Good. Lets start building the systems so their output will be heard.
  2. I wonder how far I can get away with not being a philosopher and yet writing copious amounts of philosophy.
  3. Finally met Levi. Very nice guy as you’d expect, very warm hearted. 3 of the OOOer’s down – Ian Bogost left to meet.
  4. Relating to the last point, Charlie Gere has now shown his true colours by delivering a paper of blistering theology – would love to know how he starts integrating that into digital culture studies.
  5. Apparently (well accordingly to Daniel Sacilotto), I ‘look a bit like’ Quentin Meillassoux, to the point where Paul Ennis wants to recreate the cover of Harman’s book with me and some other geezer who ‘looks a bit like’ a ghostly Iain Hamilton Grant. I’m game though.
  6. The most memorable image of the entire conference, was Ray Brassier walking into the conference room before his keynote, carrying a Virgin Megastore plastic bag. I mean, virgin megastores had all but shut down about 6 years ago (for some reason I did ask him this, but apparently they still have a Virgin Megastore in Beirut). Also Brassier himself was a charming guy and an astounding speaker – you know, just upsettingly impressive.
  7. I think my paper was well received. People seemed to understand my arguments too, which makes it all worthwhile. Email me if you wanted a copy of the paper (I’m not posting it on the blog for a particular reason, more on that as it surfaces).
  8. I need to read more Luhmann – (thanks Francis Halsall…..)
  9. As I suspected, meeting people in real life, face-to-face from the blogosphere/twittersphere is far better than the mediation of social networks. Anthony Paul Smith, Liam Jones, Nicola Masciandaro, Marika Rose, etc., really nice, smart astute people and a pleasure to know and work with in the future.
  10. I hate the National Express. In fact, I hate the National Express even more when it’s muggy weather.
  11. Laruelle was the biggest surprise for me. Watching him speak was like watching a long-lost grandparent; very calm, very smooth, a very very likeable guy – generous too. Also the translated text that accompanied his plenary (spoken in French) was, for me at least, a lot easier to understand than other stuff I’ve read. According to Joshua Ramey, there may even be similarities to my paper and Laruelle’s vectorisation of mathematics, so something to research there.

Homemade Philosophy: Bogost’s Carpentry and Greenberg

There’s a link there. There really is.

Ok, granted Bogost’s Carpentry (as Bogost defines it in Alien Phenomenology and elsewhere) isn’t aesthetics per se – it’s more of an ontographic tool implemented for weaselling out and characterising the diversity of being. He’s right to differentiate carpentry from aesthetics in the broader sense: ‘doing’ carpentry by this standard does not necessarily mean one is constructing an artwork – it’s a broader philosophical imperative. One of exposing and illumining the perspectives of objects.

But Bogost’s wieldy tool-box of being besides, it confirms – to me at least – the continuing similarities between OOO and Greenbergian / Fried formalist criticism. I doubt bringing together OOO and Greenberg’s aesthetic theory will bother winning many over, considering how much Greenberg is hated nowadays (expect swathes of criticisms following David Berry’s bizarrely unnecessary ‘conservative’ jibe): but the link is clearly there, and in my mind, one must uncover these surprises by readily picking the low hanging fruit available. The job of carpentry then, is experimentation and construction rather than committing to the professional mainstays of writing and speaking.

Graham has already expressed his esteem for the Greenbergian corpus, but it’s my view that this will be taken further – much further into the field of philosophy than is realised. Greenberg made no claim to be professionally involved with philosophy and in fact described his aesthetics (or esthetics) as “Home-made”. It’s this sheer anti-professional stature which should cajole philosophy into doing something beyond the odd conference debate and journal publication here and there. “Home-made” is a perfect name given to illuminate the carpentry of things – it shreds any distinction between ‘what professionals do” and “what everyone else does”, but also privileges the construction of craft and trade, rather than institutionalised knowledge (one is reminded of Latour here – that knowledge does not exist, and despite all claims to contrary, crafts hold the key to knowledge). Can we speak of a ‘home-made’ philosophy and take it seriously for once?

For sure, Greenberg got a lot wrong (supporting Vietnam anyone?), but he got a lot wrong through honesty, style and creative conviction. He put himself out there, and has been rewarded with poorly understood criticism and generational jabbering. For the record, I’m not suggesting that an OOO-ish artwork should prefer the type of aesthetics Greenberg celebrated – this is a wider issue.

So here are four areas where I’ve noticed some very broad and interlinked similarities.

1.) The abandonment of discursive or rational explanation. Greenberg hated the idea that artwork could be explained through rational deduction or cultural commentary. The power of an aesthetic experience lay in a “heightened cognitiveness without cognition” as he called it (here he was influenced by Croce and Collingwood). Art for Greenberg must be felt on an involuntary basis, not something deduced or demonstrated by knowledge. Greenberg’s appreciation of aesthetics could only operate on an involuntary basis, not a self-critical one. In one startling passage, written in “Intuition and the Esthetic Experience” (p. 7 of Homemade Esthetics), he remarked, “You no more choose to like or not like a given item of art than you choose to see the sun as bright or the night as dark,”. Reason, nor knowledge have any part to play here – in the same way that one cannot reduce objects in OOO to any form of discursive relationship or rational rule. Artworks operate on their own terms: their own rules. This is why Greenberg dissociated himself from any professional philosophical influence, he followed the form of surprise in looking at the formal work – not from an already existing system of thought. The bizarre element of this – far more common than one assumes – is that when I’ve asked other academics what they find fascinating about a particular work, they often give guilt ridden notions of ‘just liking it’, or ‘I have no reason’ without realising that Greenberg developed an entire system to allusively capture this admission.

2.) The willingness to let withdrawn qualities be withdrawn. Greenberg never believed that the content of an artwork could be bequeathed so literally to a viewer’s presence. Often enough he described content under such terms as indefinable; such that it could never be specified or discussed. In fact, for Greenberg if art ever ended up at a stage where its content could easily be discussed, it failed to operate as art for this reason. The source of inspiration was for him “a mystery” – and for the sake of aesthetics, that allusive quality should remain a mystery. Following Kant, aesthetic judgement was unprovable. Even cognition never accessed it; “There can be no objective rule of taste that would determine what is beautiful through concepts.”

3.) The experience and value of quality. The experience of art and the judgement of taste is bound up with the experience of quality. It’s no surprise that Graham predominately focuses on the qualities of sensual and real objects, the sensual ones, somehow shining through the blocked facades of an object’s phenomenological screen. Crucially for Greenberg, taste is a universal quality available to everyone with a universal faculty of judgement (Greenberg even thought at one point that he went ‘one better’ than Kant, by specifying taste as ‘objective’ rather than potential – I’ve written about this elsewhere, but won’t go into details).

4.) Damn good writing. It’s no coincidence – to me at least – that those who are studying and adding to OOO right now are damn good writers: clear, persuasive, littered with rhetorical flair. Indeed Greenberg is also a damn good writer, one of the best, if not THE best of the 20th Century. But when you’re dealing with abstract transcending notions, creative words have to be allusive. You cannot name nameless things without first having the capacity to allude to those nameless things. Once knowledge is surrendered, creativity leaks into the crevices.