Month: July 2012

Upcoming talk…

The School of Language, Arts and Media (University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji)

The Humanities Seminar Series

USP staff and students are invited to attend a talk by Professor Peter Gratton

Topic:  The State of Sovereignty: Some Lessons from the Political Fictions of Modernity

Venue: Postgraduate Seminar Room, FALE

Date and Time: Thursday 19, July, at 2.30pm

In this talk, I discuss some of the mainlines of my recent The State of Sovereignty: Lessons from the Political Fictions of Modernity (New York: SUNY Press, 2012). In particular I will discuss how nationalist narratives—not the sovereign exception as in discussions of Giorgio Agamben’s work—are still the pass-key to modernity and its political fictions. I will ask if we can think past sovereignty as a political category, or whether dreams of a post-sovereign future only repeat the worst forms of sovereigntisms.

Peter Gratton is a professor of Philosophy at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. He has published numerous articles in political, Continental, and intercultural philosophy and is the author of The State of Sovereignty: Lessons from the Political Fictions of Modernity (SUNY Press, 2012) and Speculative Realism (Continuum, forthcoming). Co-Editor of the influential interdisciplinary journal Society and Space (Environmental Planning D), executive board member of the North American Sartre Society and other national philosophical societies, and area editor for Africana philosophy for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Peter has also edited three works: Traversing the Imaginary (Northwestern University Press, 2007)co-edited with John Mannousakis, and Jean-Luc Nancy and Plural Thinking: Expositions of World, Politics, Art, and Sense (SUNY Press, 2012), co-edited with Marie-Eve Morin.

“It May Come as a Surprise…”

Today, the Times runs a piece about the morality of drone attacks–by their defense dept reporter:

“So it may be a surprise to find that some moral philosophers, political scientists and weapons specialists believe armed, unmanned aircraft offer marked moral advantages over almost any other tool of warfare.”

This may be the grossest, most myopic piece I’ve read in a while. Was Judith Miller not available for this write-up? Indeed it is sure as hell a surprise: So as far as i can tell, the only “moral philosopher” is a former Air Force pilot, and the moral blackmail is that it’s better than Dresden.

Up next at the NYT, why sweatshop labor teaches children valuable life skills…

Review of Bubbles…

In the Guardian here. I’ll admit I’ve put my time into that volume in three languages (when in Vienna years ago, I worked through the German; then later in Paris…then again this past winter in English.) At each point, I thought, well, I’m missing something. This review argues for some of its import, but the review is vague on what that is. Which is where I still am.

No It Isn’t.

Levi writes:

As it stands, cultural studies is dominated by a focus on the discursive.  We here [sic] endless talk about signs, signifiers, “positions” or positionality, narratives, discourses, ideology, etc.  Basically we see the world as a fetishized text to be decoded and debunked.  None of this should, of course, be abandoned, but I do think we’re encountering its limitations….In the few years I’ve been writing on these issues, I’ve been surprised to discover just how hard it is to get people to sense that there is a non-discursive power of things; a form of power that is not about signs, ideology (as text), beliefs, positions, narratives, and so on.  It’s as if these things aren’t on the radar for most social and political theorists.

We have reached the limits of this pose, I would think. Liz Grosz has been writing for years. Marxism never died. New materialisms are not new anymore. I am at a Derrida conference right now (you know, I have those Derrida sympathies), and even in this space, there is no endless talk of the above. OOO offers much, but let’s move past the pose that somehow it’s still the hey day of semiotics. Also, disco, too, is dead.

Timely Discussions

Graham responds here to a discussion Ian and I were having (albeit briefly). It’s true, I know his reading of Heidegger well! I have read all of Graham’s works, from beginning to his most recent–so I’m not among those who have read a blog post and raised certain questions. I will have a discussion of this published at much length soon, but let’s look at this from Graham:

Here is one passage from Gratton:

“Again, if objects are forever in the present–recall we have a long tradition of naming essences and such, and Heidegger et al. blew a hole through this thinking…”

For “Heidegger et al.” read “Derrida et al.” It is Derrida, not Heidegger, who thinks that the “self-presence” of identity is an illegitimate form of presence as well. Derrida is certainly free to hold such a view, but he is wrong to ascribe it to Heidegger. The polemical concept of “self-presence” is not applicable within a Heideggerian framework. There is simply nothing wrong, in that framework, from saying that entities withdraw from relation and are what they are.

That’s my whole reading of Heidegger, and Gratton knows it. So for Gratton to say “Heidegger blew a hole through it” without engaging with my reading of Heidegger is not a sufficient approach. (My sense of Gratton philosophically is that he is primarily of Derridean sympathies.)

A second passage where Gratton opposes Bogost:

“But in any case: for Harman time is the ‘tension’ between the sensuous object and the sensuous quality–that is, it is at the ‘surface level’ of the object. It is not interior to it.”

But this neglects the fact that for me, a sensuous “surface” is actually the interior of another real object. I assume that’s what Bogost was talking about.

Let’s leave aside the reading of Heidegger; Graham notes in several places that he thinks Heidegger is not to be thought of at as thinker of time. I think once you do that, you miss a lot of what one gets from Heidegger. So, it’s true: I think there’s no going back to a certain notion of eternal presence that Heidegger critiqued, and it’s true I well know Graham’s reading of Heidegger on this point. Self-presence in Heidegger? What about his whole account of space and deseverance? But yawn, that’s not important right now. Graham’s reading forms a crucial part of his work (along with the sensual objects from Husserl), so let’s move from there…

Secondly, note the elision: He moves from “withdrawal” to “identity,” which would indeed have to take on Identity and Difference, the whole of the second division of Being and Time, all the works of the later 20s–not just the stuff on equipment in the first division of Being and Time. Things are timely for Heidegger, never eternally in the present. But that’s Graham’s reading and he’s defended it for a dozen years now.

But given what he just wrote, why defend it? If the interior is really the sensuous of another object, why say that there is a true interior (since it’s being sensed)? This doesn’t fit with the Harman I know and have been reading for years. Because if the interior is sensed (by objects and people, etc.) as part of another object, then it is not interiorsince it is being sensed as part of another object, has time, etc. Therefore “objects in themselves” would not be “forever in the present,” as Graham claims in QO and numerous other places. That is, once the “inside” is sensuous, then it’s relatable, it’s not hidden, and doesn’t withdraw.

Then it’s a task of saying what is the inside of one object is the sensuous of another–by what criteria it’s hard to tell. If the “interior” is sensed, then it’s a nomological cut being made between one thing and the other, like when Liz Grosz talks about how Darwin finds no natural cut between one species and another. You’d never have true hiddenness and I don’t think this is where Graham is ever headed. Here again is the crucial passage:

According to the object-oriented model only the present exists: only objects with their qualities, locked into whatever their duels of the moment might be. In that sense, times seems to be illusory, though not for the usual reason that time is just a fourth spatial dimension always already present from the start. Instead time does not exist simply because only the present ever exists. Nonetheless, time as a lived experience cannot be denied. We do not encounter a static frame of reality, but seem to feel a passage of time. It is not pure chaos shifting wildly from one second to the next, since there is chance with apparent endurance. Sensual objects endure despite swirling oscillations in their surface adumbrations, and this is precisely what is meant by the experience of time. Time can be defined as the tension between sensual objects and their sensual qualities.[i]

Nothing above suggests that time is anything but illusory, that “real” time is in the present: how can what is the sensuous for one object be timely, yet also present as the “interior” of another object? This is all the more vexing since Graham also has been deeply critical in several writings those philosophers as treating objects in terms of their history.

So, either:

1. The reality (interior) of an object is indeed the sensuous of another object, in which case it can never be true that it is “forever” in the present, which is what is said above, since as sensuous it is implicated in time.


2. The interior of an object–that is, as real–is forever hidden, forever in the present, and is not the sensuous aspect of time. In which case, yes, I think you fall into having to explain the link between identity and the eternal that was Heidegger’s bugbear, or fine, Derrida’s bugbear from his readings of Heidegger.


3. You can have Ian’s approach, which says that there are different kinds of “presence” internal to objects. But that just avoids the point. There is a specific meaning Graham has in his texts. He comes out of a similar set of writers that I do. (In fact when I brought up this point, I didn’t use Derrida, but Husserl, since it was his time lectures that raised the whole problem of thinking objects as forever in the present.) And terms have meanings. And if there are different presences, then you’re saying they do partake in time–fine–but then you don’t have hidden objects beneath the vicissitudes of time.

If I belabor this point, it’s because it cuts to the center of the work I’m completing this year, but also my work in the State of Sovereignty on the notion of sovereign self-presence, which always reputes a time outside of time. Historicity, even of objects, is all-important, especially when cultures, languages, and “humans” are said to be objects as well.

Bogost on Time and OOO

Here. He writes:

Recently Peter Gratton has been worrying about Harman’s concept of time. “Time,” Gratton summarizes, “is but a ‘tension in its sensual qualities’—that is, not in the object’s ‘hidden’ reality.” The thing that needs to be remembered here is that Harman’s sensual object only exists in the experience of another object in the first place; it’s not some persistent abstraction. Gratton concludes that “things in themselves are forever in the present,” and then wonders how something like music or film can exist, which are time-based. But again, we must remind ourselves that objects have different senses of presence, both in themselves and in relation to other units. Time is on the inside of objects.

It’s unclear here whether Bogost is taking his distance from Harman, or not. But in any case: for Harman time is the “tension” between the sensuous object and the sensuous quality–that is, it is at the “surface level” of the object. It is not interior to it. For him, objects are forever in the present. Now, if time is at the surface of where things relate (for Harman and Bogost, objects only relate to one another through their sensuous surfaces), then it is not within the object. Moreover, that “objects have different senses of presence” can’t help, since time is on the surface, not within them, and moreover, it’s not clear what different “senses” of this would mean. Again, if objects are forever in the present–recall we have a long tradition of naming essences and such, and Heidegger et al. blew a hole through this thinking–then no, you can’t explain the continuous objects Husserl was after: music, films, etc. The interior of the object withdraws from time at the sensuous level; that much is clear in Harman. I raise this, because otherwise we risk tautology (I’ve gone through every discussion Harman has of time): time is not a box, but happens at the sensual level. But it can’t be at the level of the “real” object, since then it wouldn’t be withdrawn, but related to other things. But since it’s not related to other things, it’s at the level of the sensuous.


Bogost responds to the above here:

…any relation immediately generates a new object: [quoting Harman] “insofar as we somehow connect with a real object outside us, giving rise to perceptions of sensual trees, mailboxes, or blackbirds, we have somehow liked with that object to form a new real object.” Time may be a tension between sensual qualities and sensual objects, but the sensual object can only be birthed within the encounter of confrontation in the first place. [my emphasis]

Harman’s fourfold account of objects might be best understood as an account of object texture rather than object discreteness; Graham called it a “bumpy ontology” in Zagreb recently. The items in the fourfold are not on an even playing field with one another, rather, they describe a kind of infinitely recursive structure in which sensual objects are always jutting out from real ones.