Monday, July 13, 2009

Literature and Philosophy: Realism and its Representations

Intersecting gallaxies.
Levi Bryant has written a post on Larval Subjects touching on questions of reality and its representations as they might relate to philosophy and literature. Realism and Speculative Realism .   Aesthetics is lost without ontology. Lost, or subsumed to a subcategory of distraction... something to follow the weather on Fox News--or thrown into the Wood to be chewed on by a celebrity critic in The New Yorker.

Don't miss the discussion in the comments! Here's one from Bryant:
...It seems to me that what has been most fruitful in literary studies– and its best chance for relevance beyond the monadic cells of literary studies folks –are not those moments where it “respects the literary object qua literary object” (though we hear a lot of this rhetoric) but precisely when the literary object is assembled with something else: linguistics, marxist social theory (Jameson), phenomenology, philosophy, systems and complexity theory, ethnography, information theory and cybernetics, etc. In other words, literary studies does not articulate what is “in” the text, but rather provokes texts to speak by assembling them with something other than the text.
From quantum physics to neurobiology, science teaches us how limited the 'reality' of the world as perceived and processed by sense and brain, and yet we tell stories as though  none of this mattered, as though this were a kind 'knowledge' kept safely sealed away in the labratories of science, referred to in footnotes, as it were... like dangerous microbes, lest they infect us and translate us into some new form of Being. But the seals are porous, the jars of knowledge are broken; we are not what we were, and never have been... not since we began flaking the first pieces of obsidian, kindling flames for ourselves without the aid of nature's accidents.

Taking up the idea that there is no difference that does not make a difference, there can be no knowledge, no generatively fecund thought or creative act, that does not make a difference to every other field of thought and knowledge.
Here is an exert from Bryant's post:
If we are looking for literary equivalents of Object-Oriented Ontology or Onticology, we would do better to look at the realisms of Italo Calvino in Cosmicomics and T Zero, or, better yet, the strange world depicted Ben Marcus’s The Age of Wire and String. In The Age of Wire and String Ben Marcus depicts a fantastic reality that is paradoxically more real than any sort of realism we might find in Mark Twain. Here we have a world of imbricated relations between human and nonhuman actors where we can no longer claim that humans are at the center of things, or even where the human begins and ends. In short, what we get is a network of heterogeneous actors forming a collectivity. In the opening “story”– is it a story? is it an entry in a technical manual? is it a definition or a “how-to” guide? –of The Age of Wire and String, we are told about “intercourse with a resuscitated wife”:

Intercourse with a resuscitated wife for particular number of days, superstitious act designed to insure safe operation of household machinery. Electricity mourns the absence of the energy form (wife) within the household’s walls by stalling its flow to the outlets. As such, an impoverished friction needs to take the place of electricity, to goad the natural currents back to their proper levels. This is achieved with the dead wife. She must be found, revived, and then penetrated until heat fills the room, until the toaster is shooting bread onto the floor, until she is smiling beneath you with black teeth and grabbing your bottom. Then the vacuum rides by and no one is pushing it, it is on full steam. Days flip past in chunks of fake light, and the intercourse is placed in the back of the mind. But it is always there, that moving into static-ridden corpse that once spoke familiar messages in the morning when the sun was new. (7)

Upon reading this bit of extraordinary poetry our first reaction might be to chuck with a bit of shame and conclude that this is a very sexist double entendre that basically says the housework won’t get done unless you fuck your wife. And indeed, there is a bit of this here. Yet there is much more going on throughout Marcus’ strange book besides. What we find in this short passage is a “flickering”, to put it in Graham Harman’s terms, between the present-at-hand and the ready-to-hand, where the latter is brought forward into the light much to our discomfort. Among Harman’s key claims is that all objects withdraw and disappear from one another in interacting with one another.

When I use the hammer, the hammer itself withdraws into the depths, becoming invisible, reduced to its execution in fastening boards. For Graham this is true of all objects and not unique to the Dasein-object relation. In interacting with one another the other object is always veiled by the first. While I do not share Harman’s way of thematizing these relations, his portrayal of exo-relations among objects nonetheless helps to capture the strange world of Ben Marcus. What Marcus reveals in these passages– whether he knows it or not –is a strange world of assemblages or inter-ontic relations among actors, where no actor holds sway over the others. In this world composed of wire and string– network relations –all sorts of actors are mobilized in relations of veiling and unveiling, withdrawing and appearing, as they flicker in relation to one another.

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