There was a moment during my reading of Peter Wolfendale’s OOP: TNNC where I demurred somewhat, and it was at his reading of Harman on time/space.
Harman claims that real change is spatial, not temporal; in this he seems to me to be in agreement with Badiou, amongst others. Time for Harman, as for Badiou, is the temporality of permutation, during which an object’s properties cycle through various actualisations; real change is change to the disposition of the elements over which the temporal “cursor” ranges, and is experienced as temporal discontinuity, a break between epochs. (cf Foucault and the episteme, etc). Pete complains that this doesn’t enable us to account for the “deep” cosmological time of the arche-fossil, since all we have is local temporalities, cursors over objects – cosmological time must encompass the history of all possible objects, and cannot be local in that sense. On the other hand, the notion of a global temporality is tricksy to say the least, for good scientific (relativistic) reasons. In space-time, the everything that happens is intertwined with the temporality of its happening – when we say “such-and-such happened twenty billion years ago”, we typically omit a number of qualifications that it would be troublesome to spell out in detail.
“Time is born along with the Heavens, Plato assures us in the Timaeus, and was created on the model of eternal nature. It is the image of that eternal progression whose rhythm is number. The perfect year, the conjunction of the revolutions of the eight planets, has elapsed precisely once the Same has completed its revolution. Closed up in the gilded cage of Eternity, Time is certainly not responsible for the flux of becoming. So what is it that permits change? It is Space, the condition of dispersion, and thus also the condition of the meaningless scandals and provocations of the Other.”
So, I think it’s safe to say that this isn’t a deviant position, philosophically speaking. It’s arguably a very orthodox position within continental thought – you can see an echo of it in Bergson’s distinction between temps and durée, for example. It therefore seems a bit unfair to pick on Harman for playing his own variation on this theme – it’s reasonable within his system for him to localise temporality to objects, since objects are the foci of what-there-is. If we want to say that the temporality of scientific cosmology is different (non-cyclic, for one thing), we should certainly be able to say so, but the problem here is a problem for all philosophy within this tradition of thinking about temporality, not just Harman’s.
1) It’s in the mantelpieces. Whatever you do, don’t sneeze!
2) The doctor must assemble an impossible sandwich.
4) A strange melancholy settles over Leighton Buzzard. The cause is an actual buzzard, source of the town’s psychic identity, which is lonely. The doctor brings many buzzards in his Tardis and introduces them to the local ecosystem.
5) Autocorrect starts happening to things in reality. The Tardis turns into Tarsus.
6) Tiny black holes start appearing everywhere. They are growing steadily and will soon swallow all of reality. Nothing whatsoever can be done.
7) Buffy crossover. Sarah Michelle Gellar has turned into a middle-aged Republican. The Doctor attempts to reverse time and bring back the 1990s, but fails and instead the Conservatives are re-elected on a time-loop forever.
8) David Lynch-directed episode.
9) Robot Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery.
10) The Doctor’s sex organs are not at all what you expected.
11) Children in Need Special, with killer Pudsey.
12) Christmas Special: boils.
What might a future investigator into the archive of our time – a 22nd-century Foucault – find in the place of the lynchpin of identity? For Foucault himself, studying the development of 19th and early 20th century subjecthood, it was sexuality that stood out as the index of the subject: under this rubric, in order to see what, where and who the subject was, you would look where the signs of sexuality were pointing. What Foucault called “biopower” is to a large degree the management of sexuality – of the life and death of bodies, but always of those bodies as sexed bodies, subjected to norms of reproduction and sanctioned sexual relationship. The bios that resists biopower, whose resistance is incited within some biopolitical regimen, is a perverse bios. The norms pertaining to sexual behaviour become the lens through which “good living” is viewed: the unhealthy subject, the subject not living a good life, is the subject whose sexuality is not properly aligned and engaged.
What if, supplanting sexuality, the index of subjecthood were now stigma? Sexual stigma in the first instance – the stigma of ruined or ruinous sexuality – but, increasingly, stigma as a kind of polymorphous shame without necessarily sexual content or reference. The key operator is that of “abuse”: a different kind of operator from “perversion”, because it relates two terms, abuser and abused. One may be harmlessly, intransitively, perverted, but not harmlessly abusive (which is why it is often considered expedient to recast the pervert as self-abuser, someone who must be prevented from harming themselves). What is frequently at stake is the transfer of stigma from the abused to the abuser, from the person subjected to infractions of their person and dignity to the person who perpetrates such infractions. This is perfectly just, of course, but it’s interesting that it should now be what justice looks like to us (is it possible to punish, or seek reparations, without stigmatising an offender?). Ferocious battles are fought over the proper allocation of stigma: who is to be assigned to what position? Who should be ashamed of themselves? And, assuming this has been decided, the problem then arises of what to do with the person to whom the stigma adheres. How is it possible to make amends? Stigma is less revocable even than sexual orientation: it says something very definitive about who you are.
We have grown used to looking askance at the Victorians for their deep valorisation of shame, the sincerity with which they seem to have treated the condition of being in disgrace. A more permissive society has (in its own eyes) less use for all-consuming mortification, the vertiginous sensation of being morally ruined. But this creates a situation in which it is normal not to be ashamed: about the most reassuring thing you can say to someone is that their fallibilities are “nothing to be ashamed of”. To have something to be ashamed of after all is then exceptional and highly significant. When and why did the demand that we should stop shaming the wrong people, and start shaming the right people, become politically paradigmatic?
(response to a request to describe what I think Laruelle’s “one good idea” actually is)
Laruelle’s thinking sets off from a description of the decision schema, which he claims characterises “philosophy” in general: you split the world into representation (“transcendental”) and represented (“immanence”), posit a necessary relationship – of correlation or exchangeability – between the two, and reflect that relationship within the representation. That closes the loop of “auto-position”: your posit is necessary, because it posits its own necessity. (It’s a bit like Bible-bashers quoting 2 Timothy 3:16 at you as proof that the Bible is true). The representation then appears as “sufficient”, because it controls on its own terms the relationship between itself and that which it represents.
Laruelle’s Good Idea is that you can “suspend” that schema, by substituting a different posit: the relationship between any representation and the Real is unilateral and non-representable, so you can’t reflect that relationship in a self-authorising, sufficient way. That then changes the status of philosophical “decisions”: they no longer have the status of contending claims to sufficient truth, but are instead instances of a particular structure of thought that can be analysed in a non-decisional way on the basis of this alternative posit.
This is where it ought to get interesting, but doesn’t. Laruelle stipulates that a non-philosophical “theory” or “science” of philosophy should exist, but what he actually comes up with largely consists of repeating that stipulation.
In a lot of ways Laruelle’s development is similar to Richard Rorty’s. You start with “Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature”, which basically shows how lots of different philosophies try to close the loop of auto-position and how that never really works. That then leads into a generalised anti-foundationalism, the aporias of which Rorty tries to escape by turning to an account of philosophies as “final vocabularies” amenable to liberal-ironist unfinalising and mutation. The end-point is a congenial liberalism, concerned for the suffering of hurt and humiliated victims, and bearing a vague accusation against philosophy that it has turned aside, in its love of abstraction which is really a kind of delusional self-love, from the interests of suffering humanity and needs to be resubordinated to those interests.
I think a basic distinction needs to be introduced here, between technical domains that function according to various logics, and the ideology (neoliberalism, for example) that says that society is a system that should function according to some such logic, the “should” typically being a mixture of description and prescription (akin to what Laruelle calls an “amphibology”). It isn’t the logic itself that’s neoliberal, it’s the deployment of that logic in a particular hegemonic social project.
Foucauldians and critical theorists tend to want to see technical domains as embedded in epistemic formations, the way e.g. “psychiatric medicine” is theorised by Foucault as embedded in a wider system of power/knowledge, characterised by a continuous two-way transit between power relations and conceptual structures. The argument I would make is that computer technology is fundamentally unlike psychiatric medicine, because it has its own hard, objectively specifiable, intrinsic constraints which determine both its own character and development, and how it can be ideologically embedded or reflected. The halting problem, for example, just is not a social artifact: there is no possible alternative ideological dispensation under which computation-without-the-halting-problem could proceed. It constrains absolutely and unilaterally what computation can and cannot be. Technological determinism!
Some familiar features of the way we use computers could be, and in all likelihood would be, different under counterfactual social conditions. You get a glimpse of a parallel universe when you use a complete Smalltalk environment, for example, where the entire system down to the lowest level is available for inspection and modification. Anyone who remembers tinkering with home computers in the 1980s will remember the moment when the grey IBM PCs started to take over, and a computer went from being something you hacked on (in machine code, if you were really good) to something you ran spreadsheets on. That’s an interesting story to tell; but it’s a story about how s particular software stack has been put together, not a story about the fundamental nature of software itself. Conway’s law states that “organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations”, and that’s at least half-true at least half of the time. A corollary is that different forms of social organisation might well give rise to different designs for working software systems. In order to think software as such, one needs to think about what would remain invariant across such transformations; otherwise you’re just doing social anthropology, again.
We knew it wouldn’t last for ever. We “literary critics” or even “theorists” had to move quickly while the going was good, make the most of our chances, rush on excitedly, trying not to take too much notice of the slow, heavy, inexorable tread of the law somewhere close behind. The philosophers were back there somewhere, tortoise to our hare. In 1986 their books came out.
Geoffrey Bennington, Deconstruction and the Philosophers (The Very Idea), in Legislations: The Politics of Deconstruction (London: Verso, 1994), p. 11.
It’s worth remembering that “deconstruction” was always also an extra-philosophical phenomenon, a phenomenon which mounted its own retort upon philosophy, spreading out into the art world, the world of “literary criticism” as the latter attempted to alchemise itself into “theory”, and many other regions besides. “Deconstruction is America“, Derrida once said – a little hyperbolically, but you kind of knew what he meant. He wasn’t averse, either, to giving a symptomatic reading of this “spread”, of all the network-effects that constituted deconstruction as a multiple practice across multiple sites, never finally localisable within any of them. The effects were deconstruction, just as much as they were effects of deconstruction (that famous double genitive…).
With some philosophers, perhaps most of them really, you can usefully distinguish between what you might call the “toolbox” of characteristic rhetorical moves, modes of address, angles of attack and so on, and the deeper metaphysical system which provides the rationale for proceeding in that way. While there are now some Derrideans who are basically tool-users, repeatedly and somewhat mechanically “doing Derrida” to this or that theoretical object, there are others who are engaged in attempts at critical reconstruction of the philosophical core of Derrida’s thinking, who don’t necessarily write as or even like Derrideans but who find some intrigue in Derrida that they feel is worth pursuing in their own way. Same with Deleuze, same with Badiou. I’ve always felt (contra DeLanda, say) that with Deleuze the toolbox is actually more valuable than the system, such as it is; and I feel much the same way about OOP.
That’s not a disaster; a good toolbox (or two) is a thing worth having. But my bet (prior to reading the book) is that an attempt such as Pete’s to isolate and criticise the metaphysical core of OOP will end up punching smoke for the most part. I don’t at all mean that (in particular) Graham Harman’s work is substanceless, or valueless – just that its substance and value aren’t where a philosopher of Pete’s disposition would tend to look for them. The tortoise and the hare may sometimes seem to be running along the same track, but they aren’t actually in the same race.