Eric Salem on Aristotle and Harman

I just read through Eric Salem’s contribution to the new book Contemporary Encounters with Ancient Metaphysics, a chapter titled “Object and Οὐσία: Harman and Aristotle on the Being of Things.” The book has a lot of Deleuze stuff going on, including a new translation of a Deleuze essay from the early ‘60s about Lucretius. While I mainly concentrated on Eric Salem’s chapter, I would certainly recommend Adriel M. Trott’s chapter, “Does It Matter?” She asks whether the difference between form and matter in Aristotle is itself to be conceived in material or formal terms, and links this problem to sexual difference. Trott arrives at the strange conclusion that material in Aristotle is “inscribed with form” insofar as it is capable of leading to distinctions such as sexual difference. It’s an interesting reading of a work by Aristotle that I’ve never read before, and seems to have a vital materialist aspect.

The Salem essay examines the connection between Aristotle and Graham Harman from the perspective of an ancient Greek scholar. In a brief aside, Salem mentions that the problem of how to distinguish arbitrary aggregates from genuine objects is a sticking point for him about Harman’s philosophy. This actually relates to what I consider a genuine blind spot in Salem’s understanding of Harman, explained in bullet points below. Overall, though, I find the essay refreshing and vividly executed. Within the context of speculative realism commentary, it’s like coming in from an unending Edge of Tomorrow war zone to play a game of chess and drink a smoothie. Continue reading “Eric Salem on Aristotle and Harman”


An interesting early take of Lucy in The Sky

NPR just put up a delightful short fluff piece with a newly released early take of The Beatles setting down verses for “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds.”

The most fascinating thing about it is Lennon’s performance. He sings in straight eighths on words like “tangerine” and “marmalade” instead of syncopating them. Also, the vocal timbre is less stylized or instrument-like at the beginning, whereas in the final version it is basically filtered to get more overtones and fit the weird quasi-harpsichord electronic organ that Paul’s playing—think Billy Corgan. Finally, John is accompanied by a slightly distracting mechanistic bass drum on downbeats instead of the softer (and harmonically functional) bass guitar, but they probably already knew they would make that change, yeah? Paul can’t be everywhere at once.

Glimpses of the creative process for tunes like this often show how making something more aesthetically consistent (like fitting John’s voice to the overall style of the verse) means to make it more extreme, to “stylize” it even more.

Who’s Afraid of Worldbuilding?

Most of us can agree on certain vaguely defined elements of fiction like character, plot, setting, and style. Other storytelling aspects happily enter discussions with more or less neutral, conventional meanings, like theme, narrative viewpoint, scene structure, symbolism, and so forth. These categories exist to make meaningful communication possible. You want folks to understand you when you complain about how a confusing setting and nonspecific narrative POV soften a scene’s dramatic punch.

What about worldbuilding? Lincoln Michel over at Electric Lit believes the concept of worldbuilding in fiction is counterproductive.* Continue reading “Who’s Afraid of Worldbuilding?”

Musicology and Peter Wolfendale

There are two reasons I am bringing up Peter Wolfendale here. One is that I was just reminded of him when I noticed that a fellow named Louis Morelle has recently applauded Wolfendale in an article titled “The Trouble With Ontological Liberalism.” Wolfendale, the confident anti-follower of Graham Harman, need no longer proclaim in a published book that his voice has been silenced, since it echoes unchanged in the hills of France.

My second reason has to do with my own project in musicology. At a baby shower in Brooklyn some time ago, I met a philosophy graduate student who had glanced through Wolfendale’s article “The Noumenon’s New Clothes.” He said he thought it did a good job, even though he was not up on speculative realism. (In other words, the article plays its role well for non-readers of its target.) “Very rigorous,” he said, and did I know it was expanded into a whole book? I was appreciative. I wanted and still want to avoid writing a dissertation that applies object-oriented ontology (OOO) to musicology without incorporating some good criticism. My own evaluation of what it does and doesn’t do for musicology would then get strong support…

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Ce n’est pas un cliché banal. Continue reading “Musicology and Peter Wolfendale”

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.

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.

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.

Continue reading “Brief thoughts on Bryant’s Origami”