The Weird Studies Podcast

(J. F. Martel) #1

Hello friends,

I thought I’d start a topic here on a new podcast that Phil Ford and I started in February, called Weird Studies. It’s an art and philosophy podcast centered on the elusive concept of the weird as it occurs in various disciplines, contexts and modalities. I think a lot of people here would dig it.

I’m going to post new episodes here as they come up.

Our latest, which just came out this afternoon, is on Graham Harman’s essay “The Third Table,” which serves as a primer for the “object-oriented philosophy” he inaugurated:

A few weeks ago, we did one with Erik Davis:

Phil Ford is a musicologist at the Jacob’s School of Music at the University of Indiana, Bloomington, and I’m a freelance director and writer whom you might remember from stuff that appeared at Metapsy in the past.

I hope to get more involved here in the future. Some really interesting conversations going on. Hope you enjoy the podcast!

All best,

(Douglas Duff) #2

Perfection of the Weird! You may have browsed our brief discussion on podcasting and the difficulty of discovering certain genres of podcasts, your weird one included. The Cosmos can be a trusted friend to guide us towards worthy weirdness. Looking forwards to catching up.

(J. F. Martel) #3

I hadn’t seen that thread. Thanks for sharing it. Hope you enjoy WS.

(Marco V Morelli) #4

Hi @jfmartel ~ I just listened to your podcast episode with Erik Davis and Phil Ford. First of all, nice work on the podcast itself, from conception to production—it’s perfect in a way. I love the cover art, with the corvids on the lettering and eerie abstract swerving; the music reminiscent of stranger things; the whole aesthetic is spot on. And I think you keep the concept interesting precisely through your resistance, as you discuss in the dialogue, to collapsing the weird into the known.

The difference between what’s resolved as being interior (as personal, diagnosable, treatable—“uncanny” in psychoanlaytic terms) and exterior, or outside the self (as unknown, unpredictable, indeterminate—the hyperobject) is particularly interesting. Sloterdijk refers to this ‘outside’ (i.e., outside the total cosmo- or theological orb) as the monstrous. At the end of Bubbles (transitioning into Globes) in his Spheres trilogy, he asks, “Where are we when we are in the monstrous?”

I feel that Lovejoy perhaps depicts the monstrous even more than the weird; whereas Philip K. Dick is thoroughly weird—but more than weird. He is also religious. He is religiously weird. Lovejoy, in that hyper-rationalistic way, is more scientifically weird. He hews to the observer’s cold eye even through the mind’s manic heat of madness. I wonder how the quaternity of monstrous, weird, scientific, and religious might interact with each other in your stranger ontology.

One last thought that occured to me is that the weirdness that implicates the observer could be described as participatory weirdness. This would account for the ‘embedded’ status of the weird studies practitioner—the enactment of weirdness in the study itself. Thanks for sharing!

(Douglas Duff) #5

"When the blackbird flew out of sight,

It marked the edge

Of one of many circles. "


– Wallace Stevens, IX from 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Created this last night as a direct response to listening to Weird Studies (feel free to listen while you read):

Did you specifically create your sounds for the podcast? At one point the podcast shifts from ending a sentence with the word oscillation, then flows into a tune that oscillates. Brilliant, whether intentional or not!

Listened and relistened to the introductory podcast. I think you @johnnydavis54 have preached about the same core idea…this deep interest in facts that wont fit and the examination of the phenomena (without actively trying to label it) that do not fit into categories (other than weird). These are “damned facts” rarely able to see intellectual light in our non-weird W.E.I.R.D-wired world. I think you would like this episode John, which discusses a segment of Dick’s Exegesis.

@jfmartel - as an active participant in the sleep paralysis experience (my napping habit often has me bouncing around in my body and mind without external movement), I greatly appreciate the reference to author Wilhelm Rocher - 19th century philologist. I imagine there will be quite a few other oblique references that will ‘wedge’ into my vocabulary.

Other Notes:
Wedge- thin edge (phenomenological attending to the theory) thick (metaphysics)…the podcast wishes to explore the entire wedge….we occillate between the two poles.

On Language to describe the phenomenon - we need the moment, the co-creation of beauty…education is at its peak when you can reach these moments. (I believe this is what we have been discussing in the Cafes recently, especially with Gidley’s work).

Cover art with two crows: think Stevens’ poem is a prime example of weird.

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

(Maia Maia) #6

Both of the podcasts stopped around 30 seconds in and just sat there. Any ideas why?

(Geoffrey Edwards) #7

I listened to this while driving from Quebec to Montreal, it was a great accompaniment to my trip, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I have been hearing about object oriented ontology on several occasions so it was great to get some insight into this. I did find that ultimately Harman wasn’t talking about objects, but rather events in the Whiteheadian sense, although Whitehead wasn’t mentioned in the podcast. I will read the essay, maybe he cites Whitehead… However, Whitehead isn’t an easy read and I thought Harman’s approach may be more accessible than Whitehead’s was/is.

(J. F. Martel) #8

It’s always odd to launch a rocket into the ether, watch it go up, and then prepare to launch the next one without knowing if the first ever hit its mark, or landed on the moon, or do whatever else rockets might do. So, thank you for all these insights, reactions, comments. It feels great to communicate. I should have expected the IC community to be so engaged. Yo guys rock.

@madrush and @Douggins >> Glad you dig the aesthetic. Phil and I have the luxury of having similar tastes, so that makes that part easier. Yes, the music is composed for be podcast by my brother Pierre-Yves Martel, who’s a professional composer and musician. The specific coincidence you mention re oscillation was just that, a coincidence, but one bound to happen since oscillation is a big thing for me and I keep bringing it up in conversations with PY about the music.

Regarding the weird and monstrous, the religious and the scientific — these are really interesting points you bring up. I’ve actually been thinking about doing an episode exploring the thesaurus entries for “weird”. Every term has its own specific meanings and nuances: fascinating, monstrous, strange, eerie, creepy, spooky, strange, eldritch, odd, grotesque, etc. I haven’t read Sloterdijk’s Spheres and so can’t really comment, but I think that calling the ontological outside the monstrous is very apt, especially given the term’s etymology (Old French “monstre” - to show, to appear).

It’s true that Dick is more religious and Lovecraft more scientific. But their projects overlap even there – in the sense that Lovecraft is exploring the scientific bases of religious beliefs (the ontological/factual reality of gods and sorcery), whereas Dick is exploring the religious bases of science (the primacy of experience and the subject in all empirical observation of objective phenomena). They are so close, these two writers, and yet so remote from each other at the same time, that Phil and I have come to see them as a kind of syzygy. In our conversations, Phil tends to be the thin-edge/Dick guy and I tend to be the thick-edge/Lovecraft guy.

@Ariadne I’m sorry you had trouble playing the podcast. Have you tried again since? Maybe try another platform (iTunes or Stitcher or Player FM)? Let me know if the problems persists. Nobody has brought this up so far.

@Douggins That piece you recorded is great. Nailing that nameless mood. And I wholly agree regarding Stevens. His poems are like super novas.

@Geoffrey_Edwards – The road from Quebec to Montreal, eh? I’m in Ottawa. Assuming you live in Quebec, we’re neighbours. And so are Harman and Whitehead, conceptually speaking. You make a great observation, I think. Harman brings up Whitehead a lot in his writings and evidently gets a lot from him, especially as Whitehead is reinterpreted in the work of Bruno Latour. Where Harman disagrees with Whitehead is in his (Harman’s) insistence that objects transcend all their relations. In other words, objects are units, they are something over and above and beyond their relations to other objects. In Whitehead — at least in the classical reading of his metaphysics — there is nothing outside relations; process, in a sense, is 100% relational and any sense of stable, fixed substances must be illusory. Harman says that objects exist in and of themselves, and I tend to agree with him in principle. For a while now I’ve been interested in metaphysical brutalism and the rejection of the principle of sufficient reason. I see promise in Harman here. My ramblings at the very end of the podcast have to do with that. Having said this, I kind of started off as a process guy, so by putting your finger on the Harman-Whitehead dyad, you are calling my attention to one of the internal conflicts in my own thoughts.

(Maia Maia) #9

Yes! Thank you. I finally got to listen and REALLY liked what I heard. Fundamental mystery as the ground of all . Addressing “things” as thou, as gesture and orientation, always flowing… Makes everyday life far more alive and more difficult, to relate to a universe full subjects rather than objects. Sadly, I feel I have to be careful who I say such things to, seems very few humans want to hear this. Panpsychism was something I intuited as a child. As an adult, this amazing depth-reality seems to come and go. I “seem” to fall out of harmony with this entirely alive universe, and flail badly awhile, and then discover it all over again with joy and gratitude.

(Marco V Morelli) #10

@jfmartel~ I really like the talk on Graham Harman’s The Third Table. I’ve come across the Object-Oriented Ontology idea and have been curious about it, but hadn’t yet taken the time for a review. That was a great intro, and I can see how OOO is another attempt to get beyond Cartesian dualism, by in a sense exploding the ‘object’, making it forever irreducible to the subject.

You take it a beautiful step further than Harman by returning subjectivity to the object, in the form of an I-Thou (animistic, or even panpsychistic) type relationship. But even so, I wonder if you’re not coming up against an inherent limitation in the conception itself, which seems to leave us within the same subject-object based linguistic frame, just with softer boundaries, or more appreciation for the inexhaustibility or openness of things.

Tim Ingold’s name has come a few times here (introduced by @Geoffrey_Edwards) and I think you might appreciate some of his thinking on this matter. He comes down hard on OOO, preferring to think of phenomena in terms of “flows of material and flows of awareness” rather than an infinitude of static objects (as weird or irreducible as those may be). Without having read Harman myself, I withhold judgment. But on the face of it, I am persuaded by his argument and emphasis on the dimensions of movement and time.

Morever, I would not describe Ingold as a “weird” thinker, but check out what he has to say about mycology. The OOO critique is in this interview as well:

(J. F. Martel) #11

A new episode just dropped today. Would love to know what you guys think:

@madrush – Happy to hear you enjoyed the episode on Harman’s essay. Although I haven’t been able to check out the interview (link won’t work for some reason), I think the criticism that Ingold makes against OOO is one that has been made elsewhere. There’s a sense in which it’s a valid argument and a sense in which we may be dealing with a bit of a strawman. Nothing in Harman’s philosophy forces us to think of objects as static; that is, nothing other than our tendency to conceive of them that way, whereas in fact they’re anything but static. This is clear in Harman’s work, I think. Objects are potentialities, events, and as such they share many qualities commonly attributed to flows or processes in the work of other philosophers. Which I don’t think is surprising since flows, if they are to be anything at all, must logically have some kind of objective existence – that is, they need to be thought of as objects themselves on some level or other. Harman’s objection to the philosophies of flow (Bergson, Whitehead, Deleuze, and so on) is that in reducing every object to its relations, they can’t account for real change. I say this as a devout reader of those same flow philosophers, especially Bergson and Deleuze.

You take it a beautiful step further than Harman by returning subjectivity to the object, in the form of an I-Thou (animistic, or even panpsychistic) type relationship. But even so, doesn’t that still leave us within the same subject-object based language game, just with softer boundaries and different aspects emphasized?

Yes it does! And there’s a lot to be said for soft boundaries and alternative aspects. But although I see what you mean coming at it from a classic Cartesian or Kantian standpoint, I’m not sure the subject-object thing is a language game at all in anyone’s actual experience of reality. It’s kind of primordial. There is something it is like to be you, something irreducible to any of the things you do or become or know. If this singularity, stability and self-existence is what we mean by subjectivity, then it happens long before language or even intellect come into play. What Harman is doing is extending the privilege of self-existence to all things rather than restricting it to humans. And when I claim that this implies subjectivity, all I’m saying is that the only way to really know what a pebble or a pinecone are would be to become – to be – a pebble or a pinecone. It’s those who would respond to this by saying that there is nothing it is like to “be” these things who are playing language games, because they have conflated being with intellection and thereby reduced being to thinking, experience to consciousness. When you’ve made that move, you’re already in the kind of anthropocentrism that makes things exist for the mind that thinks them.

Basically, I don’t think you could ever have an honest picture of reality without including what we call subjectivity within it. I don’t think you can really transcendentalize subjectivity so that it exists in a supernal Outside as in Kant or even Sartre. My sense is that we get to the truth of the world, not by subtracting from ourselves that which we cannot observe and measure outside of us, but by adding everything that seems to exist only internally to the very things to whose interior we have no immediate access. This is how I read Martin Buber’s message from I and Thou. My two cents to an age-old conversation that is no doubt far from over.

Commencement of EST Magicians
(Geoffrey Edwards) #12

While I don’t disagree with this reading of Whitehead - indeed, his “objects”, that is events, are formally “related” to every other event, so yes, it is relational. But at the same time, his objects are something like “things eventing”, it’s just that eventing partly means via these relations. I don’t think this is ultimately different from objects that “exist in and of themselves” if the objects are understood as events. If they are something different than events, then this idea of existing “in and of themselves” is different than Whitehead. But if Harman’s “objects” are actually “events”, then I think this is not a “difference that makes a difference” to use Bateson’s terminology. I am not a die-hard Whiteheadian, but so far I have not seen any reason to reject his ideas in favour of someone else’s. Deleuze is largely Whiteheadian, so I have little difficulty with Deleuze as a result. I find your argument that a relational approach doesn’t allow for change difficult to understand in regard to Whitehead, since novelty is at the heart of Whitehead’s process philosophy, and if novelty isn’t the production of change, then what is it? But maybe we will simply respectfully disagree on these things :slight_smile:

Love the episode on Crowley. Crowley is one of those writers I both know and don’t know - although, it may be possible to suggest that that is true of everyone with regard to Crowley, because his writing is very elusive. However, I have only read certain texts of Crowley’s. At one point I read a lot about Tarot and I have a copy of Crowley’s Tarot, somewhere, and I read some of his writing in this area. I have read Crowley in other areas as well, although I don’t think I could name the books - perhaps I have read more commentary than his works directly. But your episode gave me a broader understanding of how this concept of “magick” crosses his texts. I also loved the way you situated the issue of “evil” as part of every person’s psyche (although I think there are other perspectives than the psychological on this that are still productive). Your idea about… ah, small changes that are not necessarily causal is close to the kind of “personal theory” I use to understand why a tarot reading is interesting. At one point, I thought the podcast started to fragment, it seemed there were too many threads being explored, but then you seemed to recognize the problem and pulled them back towards a kind of conclusion, so ultimately I thought it worked.

(J. F. Martel) #13

Hi @Geoffrey_Edwards – Thanks for these illuminating points. For the record, it isn’t me who was arguing that “radical relationality” implies the impossibility of change, it’s Harman. I realize that novelty is a central feature of Whitehead’s system, but I’m not familiar enough with his work to comment much. As mentioned, I am basically a devotee of Bergson and Deleuze, so I don’t think you and I would disagree on very much at all. I just think that Harman’s OOO and the philosophies of flow are not as inimical to each another as some seem to believe (Harman included). Harman brings an important piece to the conversation, one that tends to be neglected in 20C philosophy, namely: the idea of substance, and the irreducibility of discrete things to their relations. This is important. I’m sure Whitehead accounts for it in his own way in his philosophy.

Regarding Crowley – I’m delighted that you enjoyed the conversation and found some resonances with your own ideas. WS isn’t a scripted podcast, so fragmentation and digression are bound to occur from time to time. Our MO is to have real conversations, with very little coordinated planning, and follow the discussion wherever it wants to go. For better and for worse, I guess. : )

(Zachary Feder) #14

I enjoyed this.

Some great riffs from both of you. I also liked the dive into Satanism and a nice reference to Milton.

When I briefly ran the Edgar Cayce center in NYC I spent some time among Magicians and always found them to have a few chronically low developmental lines on their psycho-graph that they conveniently ignored because of that one hyper-developed line.

The over-emphasizing of ‘my will not thy will’ was also a big theme that always struck me as a right of passage that some end up looping in indefinitely. Sophocles’ Ajax also epitomizes this. ‘His’ will alone, no need for the gods, then driven to madness. The sad part being that he was such a talented warrior, as black magicians usually are - the one’s who didn’t quite get it, or who were too broke to knock it. And of course I’ve also always disagreed with Crowley that we are each a star, or at least solely a star, outside of the greater gravitational constellations, as you go into.

I also enjoyed the move into personal issues, which makes a talk like this involving internal psycho-therapeutic and transformative processes less bloodless. I became more invested.

“Not purity but wholeness.” My vote for subtitle of the talk.

(Marco V Morelli) #15

A few weeks ago, we read and discussed a Gebser essay, “The Grammatical Mirror” (Cosmos Café: Gebser’s “Grammatical Mirror” [3/13]) in which Gebser looks at poetry and other linguistic samples for clues about the ‘structures of consciousness’ (behind or underlying the words, as it were) which he argues our language reflects.

I found the essay to be a bit dated on the ideas and examples (coming before post-structuralism, the 60s, etc.) but the overall point still valid and worthwhile. When I think “object”—because the word is really a mental (in Gebser’s schema) grammatical abstraction, turned into a philosophical category—I can’t help feeling (my actual first-person experience) that I am nowhere near to anything ‘in itself’, but rather in a mental, abstract space, not a full-bodied experience of some real thing.

In fact, Heidegger has a great essay called “What is a thing?” where he distinctly deconstructs the notion of the ‘thing’ as ‘object’, showing how (in language itself, through root resonances) the word ‘thing’ actually evokes a whole gestalt of relations—a worlding world—where temporal events, spatial objects, and matters of concern all coincide. The word “thing” seems to me a lot more open than “object,” which is why I think an “object-oriented philosophy” can’t help but be reductive. It’s one thing to say that “things are objectively real,” which is a great philosophical starting point, which I share, but another to say that “every thing is an object.” This then puts you in the position having to reintroduce subjectivity into objectivity, by saying that objects are really subjects. I appreciate that this allows you to decenter the ‘human’ (first-person, I) as the principal subject, but I think the easier way to get there is to drop the ‘object-orientation’ from the outset.

If we let things be things, and events be events, then there’s no need to say that objects are really events, or that things are objectively real. Then subjects can be subjects, and objects objects, within their grammatical domains, but this abstract duality doesn’t colonize all of reality. Knowledge by identity (what it’s like to be something—which Aurobindo writes about, btw, which I’m eager to read) then becomes something much more like the kind of ‘I-Thou’ dialogue you describe between yourself and the world (including everything from trees to pebbles, to computer networks to political movements—Latour calls these nature-culture ‘hybrids,’ or quasi-objects—see We Have Never Been Modern) since you can then let a more fluid, multifaceted, ‘aperspectival’ grammar (& ontology) arise from the experience itself.

Contra OOO, I would say that reality is not ‘objective’ but symbiopoetic. This allows, I believe, for a more fluid account of novelty, relations, and events, since we can observe how emergence happens through creative processes involving (first-, second-, third-, and n-) persons and things—and it’s inherently obvious why this concern us.

That’s my two Litcoin. Thanks for the thought-provoking dialogue, @jfmartel!

(john davis) #16

I enjoyed this episode but have to express disappointment. You had a chance to get really weird but you stopped it.

I sacrificed a small child-
We wont’ talk about that.

I wonder what happened right before you stopped Ford from speaking? He had the courage to cross over but you did not. Of course there may be something else going on that I cannot grasp that you felt the need to preserve. There is a boundary that you must not cross but many of us are crossing that boundary.

Here is a moment on the Cosmos Cafe where I crossed over into taboo territory. I offer it as an example of what we are doing here at Cosmos Cafe and suggest that there maybe a cross-fertilization wanting to happen between your podcast and our improvizations. I would welcome your response to one of our infinite conversations, for I sense that there is a resonance between what you are offering and what we are offering. I discuss a history of intrusion by a demonic force.

(J. F. Martel) #17

@ZacharyFeder Thanks for the comment, and your point is well made. The Luciferian “my will not thy will” move is no doubt a very dangerous one, and probably one that invites a kind of damnation. But if it allows one to create something truly beautiful, or good, or true, then it may be worth it. I can’t shake off Romanticism. : )

@madrush – You make great points, and I certainly share your reservations with the term “object” and the “subject-object” dichotomy. One of the criticism I would make of Harman is that his philosophy appears to remain ensconced in the problematic forum of formal philosophy because of his choice of terminology. But there are uses of the words “object” and “subject” that are more expansive, and his philosophy is one example, I would argue. Nevertheless, it’s only by reading thingness back into his concept of object (just as one must read selfhood back into the concept of subject) that I can really start to feel what is new in his philosophy, which I maintain is as insightful and worthy of exploration as any of the flow philosophies.

Then subjects can be subjects, and objects objects, within their grammatical domains, but this abstract duality doesn’t colonize all of reality.

I really do think that this is precisely Harman’s point, notwithstanding his use of problematic terms. His is not a dialectical philosophy; it doesn’t get stuck in a subject-object syzygy. He is using “object” in a novel way.

Contra OOO, I would say that reality is not ‘objective’ but symbiopoetic.

That’s a lovely word, and I certainly agree with what you’re saying here. And here again, I think that Harman would also essentially agree. Here is the strongest passage from “The Third Table.” I quote it in the episode:

“Any philosophy is unworthy of the the name if it attempts to convert objects into the conditions by which they can be known or verified. The term philosophia, possibly coined by Pythagoras, famously means not ‘wisdom’ but ‘love of wisdom.’ The real is something that cannot be known, only loved.”

This points to a view wherein the aesthetic (i.e. poetic) is primordial, and allows different things in a real universe to engage directly below the mental logosphere.

@johnnydavis54 Thanks for listening. Just in case it wasn’t clear, when Phil said that about the sacrifice, he was totally making a joke. So I didn’t stop him; I just played along by saying “But we won’t talk about that.”

I listened to the part of the Cosmos Cafe discussion you linked with great interest. Both Phil and I have had similar experiences. We discuss some of them briefly in Episode 1, and in more depth in an upcoming episode on the films of Rod Ascher.

(john davis) #18

I’m glad you clarified that. I had a clear dream of sacrificing a baby. It was in ancient times and I was a young man wearing a toga. emerging out of what appeared to be a temple of some kind. An oracular voice spoke from above. I was forced by an ancestral patriarchal voice, bellowing from a mountain top, to throw the baby into the ravine. It was a beautiful baby and this action felt horrible, and a great despair descended upon me. The shrieks and screams rose up from the presence of invisible beings all around me. I woke up in a state of terror, my heart pounding too fast. I was a teenager then and I resolved to come out of the closet shortly after that dream.

I was clearly acting out of a Jungian styled puer aeternis archetype. I now consider that Jungian explanation inadequate. In the Imaginal realms everything is real and it may have actually happened in a really real past. I’m not sure, but the recollection started a chain of events in the waking world ( not to be confused with the physical world) that resulted in a big shift in lived reality.

This was not a joke.

(J. F. Martel) #19

@johnnydavis54 Oh, I get it. Since Phil had just described a dream, you thought he was referring to another dream. Makes sense, and I can see why you thought I was stopping him from delving past a certain boundary.

The dream you describe is harrowing. I’ve had a few zingers of that kind over the years, and they are as real to me – if not more real – than many memories of physical events. So I hear you when you speak of the reality of imaginal worlds. And as useful as Jungian psychology can be for making sense of things, I also agree that it’s reductive to think that dreams are nothing but the messages they translate to in that register. Kudos on the work you’re doing here and elsewhere.

(john davis) #20

Thanks for your insights, JF, and I look forward to more episodes from Weird Studies. A really good show!