Lost Spirits and Whiskey Polemics

Lost Spirits, a small distillery based in California, recently made their first “reactor aged” whiskeys available for retail after sitting on a new aging technology for nearly two years. (Actually, they’ve been up to quite a bit, just not widely available whiskey.) Bryan Davis, the distiller and inventor of the rapid aging tech, seems to make many people uncomfortable, but not because he will upend his industry with six-day Pappy Van Winkle. At least, that shouldn’t be the reason. Davis has indicated that reproducing the experience of great old whiskey for a fraction of the price is not the goal with his new “Abomination” series of whiskies. Instead, skeptics of his take on rapid aging must either admit they’ve never before encountered anything quite like what Davis is offering, or else let the cracks show in their purported neutrality.

I love criticism: art, books, music, food, wine. It tests prior convictions, looks for compelling new interpretations, and is utterly serious about pleasure. But so far I keep coming down on the side of Bryan Davis against his critics, and I want to figure out why. It’s not as simple as liking or disliking his products and wanting others to agree.

So how is Lost Spirits actually shaking things up? I’ll take a close look at one critical reaction to get at the most common misunderstanding of their project, at least with the Abomination series. Then I’ll turn back to the whiskey.

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Instant whiskey-maker meets dastardly villainy! Zounds! Continue reading “Lost Spirits and Whiskey Polemics”

Extra thought on liminal zones

The last post made me feel a little gross. I don’t like the idea of my under-informed criticisms devolving into useless, dismissive snark (which only ought to be saved for trolls and maybe Laruelle hardy har har). Now it’s true I don’t see a strong case in Levi Bryant’s recent polemic against object-oriented metaphysics, nor am I currently convinced by his defense of origami metaphysics from the charge of “undermining.” Nevertheless, Bryant – especially in the positive presentation of his own ideas – often awakens an itch in substance philosophies such as OOO: liminal zones. This is not to say I think OOO has no way to account for such fuzzy spaces, but they nag at every turn. (To see how Harman grapples with liminality, see Guerilla Metaphysics and his two most recent books, Dante’s Broken Hammer and Immaterialism.)

We might think of that classic thought experiment about the ship of Theseus, especially variations with two ships (a replica made from all of the original’s planks, or two ships exchanging their parts, or one ship transforming into another). Or we might think of the boundaries of a cloud, or conjoined twins, or a boy vanishing into the woods for a month who returns a man, or outsider art. Whatever image you prefer, I would guess that making sense of liminal zones motivates Bryant. For OOO, an account of the liminal seems only to appear at the end of a treacherous mountain path, but in Bryant’s view it is more easily grasped by a smooth stroll through origami metaphysics.

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Almost there!

Continue reading “Extra thought on liminal zones”

Brief thoughts on Bryant’s Origami

I’ve had the chance to briefly return to Levi Bryant, since the final published version of his article “The Interior of Things: The Origami of Being” has just become available. In my previous post about it, I end up defending Graham Harman’s OOO from Bryant’s critique. But that addresses just half of Bryant’s article. In the other half, he defends his own origami metaphysics against the possible charge of undermining. This can be seen as part of a larger conversation started in The Speculative Turn, where Harman proposes his two well-known polemical notions of undermining and overmining (“On the Undermining of Objects”). Philosophies of pre-individual processes fall into the former camp. Bryant hopes to avoid undermining, and thus reach common ground with OOO through an alternative conception of the object. I doubt he really believes it, though. He puts “object” in scare quotes.

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Continue reading “Brief thoughts on Bryant’s Origami”

Session report: Adorno

As I mentioned a while back, I’m auditing a class on Adorno. Following the first two class sessions on his interests and influences, session three went deep into his theoretical labors with the essay on “Subject and Object” and chunks of Negative Dialectics and Aesthetic Theory. My feeling at this point is that Adorno has an interesting vision, his rhetoric is annoyingly difficult to follow, and his ideas about art are inspired but with a dash of paranoia (just like his attitudes about everything else).    Continue reading “Session report: Adorno”

Ptolemaic or Copernican?

I just ran across an old brief article (1913) by Norman Kemp Smith on the famous analogy between Kant’s philosophy and the Copernican revolution. He starts by describing the most common criticism of the analogy:

The reader very naturally conceives the Copernican revolution in terms of its main ultimate consequence, the reduction of the earth from its proud position of central pre-eminence. But that does not bear the least analogy to the intended consequences of the Critical philosophy. The direct opposite is indeed true…[Kant’s] aim is nothing less than the first establishment of what may perhaps be described as a Ptolemaic anthropocentric metaphysic.

This complaint still comes up today. Quentin Meillassoux revives it in After Finitude, for instance, and proposes that we replace the term “Copernican revolution” with “Ptolemaic Counter-Revolution.” He footnotes Alain Renaut’s 1997 book, Kant aujourd’hui, yet the specific phrase “Ptolemaic Counter-Revolution” seems to come from Bertrand Russell’s Human Knowledge,* and even Smith in 1913 presents the terminological quibble as more or less well worn. He mentions a late nineteenth-century work by Thomas Hill Green, for example, which I’ll get to in a second.

Usually the purpose behind a sentiment like “this has already been done” is to belittle the authority of recent variations, and to sound the familiar battle cry of setting the record straight against ignoramuses (Mikhail Emelianov wants to score a point against Meillassoux and “neo-realists,” for example.) But that’s not what I’m after here. Aside from outlining the two basic approaches to the analogy (we’ve now seen one of them), I’d like to think about what dismissing or defending the Copernican analogy might reveal about the author’s motivations. The way old arguments about semantics such as this one get updated speaks to real changes taking place just underneath.
Continue reading “Ptolemaic or Copernican?”

A block on dialectics

Mistakes and forgetfulness happen all the time. But sometimes a metal screw-cap lodges right in the part of my brain that would allow me to coherently appreciate and practice something simple, like playing Tetris, organizing laundry, or making small talk. Dialectics (in the Hegelian/post-Hegelian sense) definitely falls into that category for me. I’m told it really isn’t so bad, once you get used to it.

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How do I sublate this damn thing??? Continue reading “A block on dialectics”

The incoherence problem: Bryant contra Harman

One of my favorite moments in the classroom as an undergraduate was getting to the end of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus—the part about how you should shut up already if you can’t talk about something. Even when quietly intoned with Cambridgey words like “whereof” and “thereof,” the teenage mind easily identifies (and identifies with) the underlying sentiment of rage at self-contradictory types who want things both ways, at tragic stories with unprepared happy twist endings, at authorities who would legislate how you spend your free time, at hubristic cosmologists who claim to know what aliens are like


(they seem friendly to me)

That desire to draw strict world-defining boundaries comes to mind when I think of the evolving dispute between Levi Bryant and Graham Harman. Continue reading “The incoherence problem: Bryant contra Harman”