The Weird Studies Podcast

@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 @Geoffreyjen_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:

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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.

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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.

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Hi @Geoffreyjen_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. : )

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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.

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A few weeks ago, we read and discussed a Gebser essay, “The Grammatical Mirror” (Cosmos Café: Gebser's "Grammatical Mirror" [2018.03.13]) 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!

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

Ford
I sacrificed a small child-
Martel
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.

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@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.

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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.

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@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.

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

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This week’s episode is on Philip K. Dick’s famous 1977 paper, “If You Think This World is Bad, You Should See Some of the Others.” Phil Ford and I dive into the notion of multiple universes as Dick conceived it (for a time at least) and discuss some of the issues and possibilities that it opens up. Hope you enjoy it.

For those interested, Dick’s essay can be found in The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick. Excerpts are available online here: Extracts from Philip K.Dick's essay "If You Find This World Bad"

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I really enjoyed your talk on Aleister Crowley, @jfmartel and @phord, a writer I’ve read little of, but whose reputation precedes him, as you well illustrate. I was especially intrigued to hear about his idea of human beings as “stars,” which resonates strongly with the Cosmos idea.

I particularly appreciate your thinking there at the end, JF, adding a narrative dimension of reality to the classical Aristotelian causes to explain the medium of magical functioning. I deeply suspect that language and meaning are inherent to the Cosmos, not just arising in the ‘conscious’ phases of evolutionary emergence, but in some real sense from the beginning—since there is no way I can imagine any kind of reality (in time, at least) without it.

You are developing some great rapport in these talks, and it’s a pleasure to listen to you guys riff. I hope you keep at it!

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Thanks @madrush. The idea of a narrative dimension is something Phil and I have been discussing for a while. I agree with you that reality is inconceivable without something like it. You can’t conceive of anything like an event without this narrative, or to make it less linear/lingual/anthropomorphic, aesthetic dimension. No doubt this idea will come up again and again on the podcast.

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New episode on the excellent documentaries of Rodney Ascher. If you haven’t seen Room 237 and The Nightmare (the latter is on Netflix, the former easily found online last I checked), I strongly recommend them. But you don’t have to have seen the films to follow this episode, which deals with the power of the moving image to restore the world to its inherent weirdness. We draw a lot on the psychology of James Hillman.

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I guess to be more precise about what struck me, it was the connecting of ‘magick’ with efficacy by means of narrative causation rather than some unexplained influence on the physical directly (contravening the laws of nature). There was something in that formulation that shifted my understanding of how magic might work, because I was able to connect it with how writing works.

Stringing words together in particular ways creates particular effects in consciousness when given voice. But with magic, it is a matter of manipulating objects in the world (including but not limited to words), which creates narrative effects in reality. This seems clear to me now, in principle (assuming I understood your thought correctly). I have not gone back and re-listened to the segment; I am just remembering this now as I’m clearing my mind before bed.

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That’s exactly what we were getting at, @madrush. In fact you sum it up much better than we did in the podcast. Seems to me that the question of why things happen as they do is always a poetic question, or more generally, an aesthetic question. It can’t be a meaningless question as some positivists have argued because, as you said in another post, you simply can’t conceive of any reality without it. It’s part and parcel of existence. So the idea that there may be some sort of quasi-causation or “occasioning” at the imaginal level, a force operating outside the chain of mechanical causation we’re used to dealing with and indeed conditioning that chain of causation, isn’t a nonsensical idea. For one it packs a lot of explanatory power, and gives thought access to a level of reality that we all know to exist even if our current philosophies don’t account for it.

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I know I have taken a long time to reply in relation to this podcast. I listened to it and it affected me deeply, but I wanted to find the time to read the excerpt of Dick’s article referenced, which I eventually did, before writing a response that was fully grounded. Of course, we all know Dick’s writing in a general way, although I am continually amazed that back when he was doing much of his writing, he was hardly on anyone’s radar. In those days, we talked about Asimov, and Heinlein, and Clarke and perhaps early Leguin and Delany. Dick was part of the “wierder” edge of science fiction, along with people like J.G. Ballard or Phil José Farmer. I wish, now, I had paid more attention - he wrote so many interesting texts that have become iconic.

This article, however, your podcast and the way Dick thought through these issues was a revelation to me. Partly, I think, because my thinking over the past ten years or so, independent of any awareness of Dick’s ideas, has gone down similar paths. I have been noticing that the process of living a life has some similarities to the way one writes about characters, although I have been struggling not to acknowledge this too much. Hence, for example, I feel that in some sense the shape that my life has taken on “influenced” in some sense what I did as a young man. Not causally, I don’t mean that, but there is a kind of resonance between what one does later and who one is earlier that fascinates me. And, of course, this is not unlike what happens when one writes - what a character ends up doing often determines their character at the beginning. Dick goes considerably further into this kind of thinking. I love his idea that parallel universes may “overlap”, and that a person may live in several at once, a kind of quantum of parallel universes clustered together. Dick’s ideas opened up my thinking to new possibilities about these things.

We have been discussing the relationship between free will and determinism. I have been aware, for example, that my ideas about “reverse time” imply a form of determinism, but I have been equally fascinated by the ideas we have been discovering through Erin Manning’s writing in The Minor Gesture, which concerns itself less with different forms of determinism than will different forms of freedom. My “determinism”, if I may speak in these terms, is constructed around and in relation to the idea of paradox. In my experience, we spend much of life learning to trim away peripheral aspects of who we are to find the heart, and that heart leads us into a kind of “necessity of being”, which is where the determinism seems to come in. On the other hand, I also know that the way through a paradox is to sit with it until it starts to move into new territory on its own, and that true novelty often arises when that happens. Which is where free will comes in, but not the kind of free will that most people talk about. This is not the same as Dick’s thinking, but it bears a relationship to his writings and ideas.

Anyway, what I wanted to say was that the podcast got me thinking deeply about these things and opened up new ideas and possibilities, and also deepened my respect for Dick as a writer. A wonderful experience opened up by your podcast. Kudos, and keep it up!

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Thanks for this, @Geoffreyjen_Edwards. And again, it was really nice to meet you and discuss Mother! last Saturday.

“On the other hand, I also know that the way through a paradox is to sit with it until it starts to move into new territory on its own, and that true novelty often arises when then happens. Which is where free will comes in, but not the kind of free will that most people talk about.”

This really resonates with me. I’ve always felt that truly transcendent free will to be an absurd idea. Free will only makes sense to me if it’s immanent to a situation, in that it’s an expression of freedom within a narrative or story. Like, Hamlet freely chooses to kill his uncle, and he freely chooses it every time, and only in choosing it does he affirm his freedom. Nietzsche’s concept of eternal return might be useful here. Be that as it may, freedom for me isn’t the abstract notion that one could have done otherwise; rather, it’s the quality of a real novelty, of a true act of creation in this world which affirms the singularity of a self. It’s like the freedom Nina Simone sings about in “Feeling Good,” the kind that’s expressed by “birds in the sky” and “scent on the pine.”

I love your idea of sitting with paradox.

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During last Saturday’s IC conversation about mother!, I mentioned that I was deep in Tarkovsky’s Stalker because Phil and I were preparing a Weird Studies episode on it. The conversation was too long, so we split it into two parts. Here’s the first, which can be envisioned as a kind of antechamber to next week’s magic room, where one’s innermost wish (of which one can know nothing!) comes true.

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