And yet this gesture should also be carefully documented! Have you ever noticed, at sociological conferences, political meetings, and bar palavers, the hand gestures people make when they invoke the ‘Big Picture’ into which they offer to replace what you have just said so that it ‘fits’ into such easy-to-grasp entities as ‘Late Capitalism’, ‘the ascent of civilization’, ‘the West’, ‘modernity’, ‘human history’, ‘Postcolonialism’, or ‘globalization’? Their hand gesture is never bigger than if they were stroking a pumpkin! I am at last going to show you the real size of the ‘social’ in all its grandeur: well, it is not that big. It is only made so by the grand gesture and by the professorial tone in which the ‘Big Picture’ is alluded to. If there is one thing that is not common sense, it would be to take even a reasonably sized pumpkin for the ‘whole of society’. (Latour, Reassembling the Social, 186)

The quotation, the animated GIF (from the highly entertaining Latournimata GIF Tumblr, of course)–these didn’t make it into my #nhuk presentation. Neither did the Stengersian gesture GIF below (would have been an odd fit, anyway) or any discussion of felicity and infelicity conditions extending from Austin’s pragmatics much like Latour does here to modes of existence, only in this case to ontographs and the disciplinary encounters they describe (by mapping). Cut. But what’s left will do: tiny gestures, crowned ontologies, an extrusion of ontographic methods with which to do alien discipliniography.

Speculative Realism RG

Tomorrow, a group of colleagues will convene an afternoon get-together at Ypsi’s Corner Brewery to discuss Graham Harman’s recent article, “The Well-Wrought Broken Hammer: Object-Oriented Literary Criticism” alongside Latour’s “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern.” I’m not sure whether I will be able to attend because of another obligation to be at a textbook publisher presentation, but I nevertheless consider this a good enough occasion to attempt a few reading notes here. I’ll start with Harman even though the priority he places on lit-criticism is for the most part lost on me.

Basically, Harman delivers a simplified introduction to speculative realism2007, contrasts object-oriented philosophy with new criticism (Brooks), new historicism (Greenblatt), and deconstruction (Derrida), and finally sketches what he calls “object-oriented criticism.” Harman succinctly recounts the key question for speculative realism–“does a real world exist independently of human access, or not?” (184)–while suggesting that speculative realists might hold up H.P. Lovecraft as a model intellectual for his patent weirdness. Speculative realists, in other words, have an inclination to the bizarre that continually bears upon and interferes with presumptions about what is real. They would have us check both the prominence of humans and human cognitive processing when accounting for the real (correlationism) and wonder about what is real without deferring to atomism or long-established scientific paradigms, like physics, chemistry, or biology. At least in part, this is consistent with a cautious and heavily qualified decoupling of Kant’s efforts to privilege human-world interactions. And this is object-oriented philosophy, more or less (admittedly less than is available elsewhere).

Harman’s abbreviated run-down of speculative realism is both helpful and adequate as a primer; he introduces key terms from his work, such as allure (187) and overmining (199). The article succeeds in differentiating object-oriented criticism from its well-worn predecessors, and rather than attempt to summarize those sections, which constitute most of the piece, for now–and for Friday’s reading group–I will mention just two moments/questions that stand out.

The first concerns allure, partly covered here:

The broken hammer [whose sudden transformation could not have been anticipated] alludes to the inscrutable reality of hammer-being lying behind the accessible theoretical, practical, or perceptual qualities of the hammer. The reason for calling this relation one of “allusion” is that it can only hint at the reality of the hammer without ever making it directly present to the mind. I call this structure allure, and quite aside from the question of broken hammers, I contend that this is the key phenomenon of all the arts, literature included. Allure alludes to entities as they are, quite apart from any relations with or effects upon other entities in the world.

I’m not sure whether I grasp Harman’s allure, but I think it names what happens when an object is seduced into accepting as ontologically fixed some other object. The hammer’s transformation upsets the trance of so many proximate objects. But I would like to know more about how if this is “the key phenomenon of all the arts,” whether the arts umbrella covers rhetoric, or whether suasive arts fit elsewhere. Allure, as it is framed here, seems to me strain a bit if it must operate for rhetoric, particularly techne or poiesis, but also for what seems to be a consequential relationship between the two or three phases–hammerunbroken‘s, hammerbroken‘s, and hammerwhatever‘s.

The other is the concluding section in which Harman explains what an object-oriented literary criticism would bring about, what it would look like. According to Harman, object-oriented philosophy “hopes to offer…not a method, but a countermethod” (200). Counter to what? New criticism, new historicism, and deconstruction, but also counter to canonicity, axiology, the reduction of texts into social forces. Here’s Harman: “Rather than emphasize the social conditions that gave rise to any given work, we ought to do the contrary, and look at how works reverse or shape what might have been expected in their time and place, or at how some withstand the earthquakes of the centuries much better than others” (201). It sounds a lot like rhetorical analysis to me–an interest in how texts-as-objects prove impactful, shaping expectations, enrolling hosts, enduring. Harman also suggests a value in “attempting various modifications of these [literary] texts and seeing what happens” (202). Reading this, I’m curious how object-oriented criticism is different from the sorts of remakes and genre transformations we commonly see in our first-year composition classes. That is, how different is it, really?

As for the second of the two readings for tomorrow, this one by Latour, I will be quick because it is late and I am tired. Latour’s “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam?” is a screed against critique’s distaste for and objections to facts. Critique has sought to undermine facts, but this descriptive tool with its “debunking impetus” has proven futile. Latour does not wish to steamroll facts, nor to get away from them. He asks, “Can we devise another powerful descriptive tool that deals this time with matters of concern and whose import then will no longer be to debunk but to protect and to care, as Donna Haraway would put it?” (232).

My argument is that a certain form of critical spirit has sent us down the wrong path, encouraging us to fight the wrong enemies and, worst of all, to be considered as friends by the wrong sort of allies because of a little mistake in the definition of its main target. The question was never to get away from facts but closer to them, not fighting empiricism but, on the con- trary, renewing empiricism. (231)

Next, Latour draws together “things” with “assemblies.” Things, extending from Heidegger, are gatherings. But Latour suggest we look not at the simple “pots, mugs, and jugs” (234) philosophers are fond of contemplating, but instead look at more complex things, noting their capacities to assemble and disband (234-235). There’s too much I’m skipping over here, but he brings up Whitehead, who even though he “is not an author known for keeping the reader wide awake” (245), was one of the few who “tried to get closer to [matters of fact] or, more exactly, to see through them the reality that requested a new respectful realist attitude” (244). A “new respectful realist attitude” may or may not fit well with the speculative realist characteristics noted by Harman, yet for Latour, this attitude is akin to compositionism (note: in this CI essay from 2004, BL seeks to reframe “critic” “with a whole new set of positive metaphors” (247), but with “An Attempt at a Compositionist Manifesto,” he has presumably abandoned reframing for re-naming).

Relation and Association

Aha! I catch myself being loose with these terms (and two or three
others). What is the difference between relation and association? Are they
equivalent? Synonymous?

These are connective devices, right? They indicate a tie that can be
expressed, though perhaps this is not always so for association. They do
not seem to me equal in this job they do of indicating ties. Relation, as in
relation-ship, is describable, identifiable, and perhaps even compulsory (cannot
opt out; the evidentiary ground is too firm). Association, as I think of
it, tends to be breezier and more speculative. Association meanders;
relation takes the shortest available route. Association nods in assent;
relation points its index finger. Association is spherical, maybe even
elliptical, curvy; relation linear by comparison. Association is possible
and sometimes roundabout; relation is direct and existent, meaning it plots a
different ontology. Relation is verifiable; association is a degree
removed, hazy and faint (not equally observable; therefore, refutable,
enigmatic). The two terms begin to have a pact something like connotation and

Could all of this be flipped around? Reversed? Well, maybe (try it and
you will see whether anything happens). Yet association has become much more
theoretically important for me in the past year. With Latour’s Reassembling
it is the activation (and verbing) of the social that manifests in networks, and
so association gives off sparks, emits a different energy than it once did
(first in algebra, with the associative property). Every encounter with "social"
is interrupted with this: associative how? The "social turn" is, when
matched with network studies, an "associative turn," which, in effect, is an
expansive turn outward. What are "social networks" if we take association for
granted or treat it as a given?

This does not quite make the point I thought it might make when I first typed
"Relation and Association." The point: these two have diverged (I hedge,
hesitate; I am also asking). I should add that I have been thinking lately about
vocabulary, about "speaking the same language" in the sense that Raymond
Williams mentions it early in his introduction to Keywords:

"When we come to say ‘we just don’t speak the same language’ we mean
something more general: that we have different immediate values or different
kinds of valuation, or that we are aware, often intangibly, of different
formations and distributions of energy and interest" (11).

Moon: Green Cheese

Whether or not the moon is made of green cheese is of no concern to my dissertation. Because I make other claims, however, Latour’s account of the performance of statements and things in Science in Action (1987) applies:

[W]e have to remember our first principle: the fate of a statement depends on others’ behavior. You may have written the definitive paper proving that the earth is hollow and that the moon is made of green cheese but this paper will not become definitive if others do not take it up and use it as a matter of fact later on. You need them to make your paper a decisive one. If they laugh at you, if they are indifferent, if they shrug it off, that is the end of your paper. A statement is thus always in jeopardy, much like the ball in a game of rugby. If no player takes it up, it simply sits on the grass. To have it move again you need an action, for someone to seize and throw it; but the throw depends in turn on the hostility, speed, deftness or tactics of the others. At any point, the trajectory of the ball may be interrupted, deflected or diverted by the other team–playing here the role of the dissenters–and interrupted, deflected or diverted by the players of your own team. The total movement of the ball, of a statement, or an artefact, will depend to some extent on your action but to a much greater extent on that of a crowd over which you have little control. (104)

Must every statement be written as if it will endure the perpetual jeopardy Latour names? Not necessarily. But–and this gets at the challenge of making statements–“the total movement…of a statement” should be, to the extent possible, anticipated, even if this requires granting too much clout to the crowd (i.e., audience in action).

Chreod: Alignment of Set-ups

Reading more than writing today, I planned to get down notes on another run
through Porter, Sullivan, et. al.’s "Institutional Critique," (re: my own little
life raft in postmodern geography) the same for Richards’ short piece on "The
Resourcefulness of Words," from Speculative Instruments (re: wandering
resourcefulness, another spatial, and I would say networked,
consideration) , and the same, yet again, for Miller’s latest (Spring
2007) RSQ essay on automation, agency, and assessment, "What Can
Automation Tell Us about Agency?"–not for the diss., this last one, but because
I need to know more about it before responding to an email marked urgent.
Only, rather than note-making, the day turned to night, and my efforts grew more
digressive when I sought out one of Miller’s references to Latour, an article I
hadn’t heard of called, "Mixing Humans and Nonhumans Together: The Sociology of
a Door-Closer" (Social Problems 35.3). Here is Latour, er, "Jim
Johnson," at his most playful. Terrific. Coincidentally, I also have an
special place in my heart for compression

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