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.

One comment

  1. I’m reminded of Wittgenstein’s standard meter bar. Amending it slightly, if there is time we can be certain that no clock is capable of keeping it.

    Now where you go from there can vary, as you acknowledge.

    Bogost’s idea seems to speak to fundamentally different time scales. The decay of the atoms of my body might be breaking me down in some accord with models of atomic decay while my writing commitments are destroying me at much more academic institutional speeds (though the heat wave is making that elemental wear and tear feel palpable, and my work recently seems to be obeying a geological time frame). While you may project one measurement onto the other, measuring my work in the seconds of an atomic clock, just like measuring it in calories, doesn’t tell you much of anything about my projects. Metrologists might say this is a good reason to earmark additional funding for their research, but the barriers seem to me to be much more ethically and metaphysically onerous.

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