Maurizo Ferraris’ recent short text Positive Realism (Zer0, Dec 2015) attempts to define what his form of New Realism is against, and what it builds off of, engaging a wide range of philosophical positions (metaphysical realism, internal realism, scientific realism, Markus Gabriel’s New Realism, Harman’s ontology and others) while making a general claim to a philosophy informed by common sense.
Ferraris is critical of both transcendental philosophy and the linguistic turn, of what he generally names constructivism and the ‘transcendental fallacy’ (3). These moves follow from a general anti-epistemological stance that is shared with Harman, Garcia, Gabriel, and others. Essentially these realists wish to claim that we are already in touch with the world, with objects, with things of themselves, and thus focusing on the question of access (of epistemology in particular) buries the ontological lead. Ferraris, along with these other thinkers, thus want to claim that the world is there before us, but not for us, and that this is should be appreciated as a positive philosophical feature.
Broadly put, Ferraris argues that constructivism and transcendental philosophy not only over-estimate the power of the thinking subject but also overlook the positive aspects of the world, the way in which the world, and objects of the world, invite us to act and interact with them (referencing J.J. Gibson) as well as make it difficult to determine the degrees of reality.
Filed under: art, Brassier, cognitive science, Harman, Hegel, Kant, ontology, Speculative Realism | Leave a Comment
Tags: Markus Gabriel, Maurizo Ferraris, new realism, Philosophy, ray brassier, Speculative Realism, Tristan Garcia
For a plot summary you may go here.
For another take see here.
Firewatch has been generally praised as a playable narrative and less as a game. As a narrative, however, its ending has been critiqued as has the various details of its story. The supposedly anti-climatic ending is central to the theme of the whole game’s narrative, a theme that appears in numerous lines of dialogue – there is no great plan, no great conspiracy, all things do not happen ‘for a reason.’ And yet, at the same time, the ambiguity of the game revealed through small clues suggests that one of the game’s three main characters (Delilah) is lying through her teeth. Many videos and pieces have picked up on this suggesting that Delilah and the game’s antagonist (Ned) conspired to hide the death of Ned’s son as well as Ned’s presence in the park.
If this is the case it would mean there was in fact a conspiracy, but perhaps one not satisfactory to the average player of the game. But still this conspiracy is less than the one suggested by some of the game’s plot twists, there is no government level plan, no scientific drive beyond any surveillance scheme. The only engine of conspiracies in Firewatch is personal trauma and the fearfulness of people.
So in the end Firewatch is about the conspiracy under the normal functioning of events which we try to raise to a higher level of conspiracy, we we say there must be a plan, or a reason, or a plot. But, the game suggests, this is just an effect of trauma riddled brains and bad circumstances. Is this satisfactory, is there something more to be said? I think there is but we have to look at what the game does with structure and narrative, genre and content.
While it has been said that Firewatch has a genre problem it seems to quite consciously play with this. The game plays with thriller, conspiracy, and even slightly sci-fi categories while running romance and drama through out. But just as the game does not want to give a satisfactory ending, it too does not wish to remain in any one genre for long. While this can have quite a disorienting effect, particular in films (such as Joseph Kahn’s Detention) it does not presume to know what a genre is or even how it works (compare Detention to Cabin in the Woods).
In games the function is different since the pace of movement is set by the player, the player is more than a reader but less than the author. In terms of the emotional content of the narrative we can be said to walk around in it in a way where we are not necessarily fighting the flow of the narrative. At some point, yes, we are expected to complete certain tasks, but we are free to wonder, to unfold the events that we have experienced as emotionally devastating for the characters but moving across the map in various fashions.
A certain spatializing-exploration, or visualization-play effects the way the emotional content unfolds for us. We can look at this internal to the game’s content, and how the game, as a game, relates to the larger game world. In regards to the first point we can say that walking through a simulation offers a certain kind of over-saturated beauty, we can pick up turtles, watch animals, and the like. In relation to the second point, one could argue that Firewatch makes a claim for the emotional content of games, that its attempting to defend the function of video games as powerful narratives (something that fewer and fewer mediums have to do but is still generally true of comics and video games if no longer true for television).
The emotional content or simple walking/exploring of a virtual world and its meta-function as a narratively grounded game actually makes a point that was probably not intended, but one that is buttressed by the ‘no great plan’ theme of the game. Or, simply put, the false narratives of the game charge the everydayness of your player’s (Henry) actions in such a way to beg the question – does the greater scheme or framing device matter?
This can rapidly lead us into a valley of cliches from which there would seem to be no escape. Such a tactic might immediately seem as a round a bout way of showing us that ‘the now matters’ or that its about the journey not the destination, and so on. But, given that this takes place in game, such emotional cheap shots might take on slightly different character.
At the level of genre such a move is actually becoming weirder. In film and tv, the ongoing explosion of expanded universes (Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Star Trek, etc) means that viewers start to see the next events, the ongoingness of the series, as itself charged with emotional content. There is something almost a bit absurd when these films and shows attempt to make an emotional moment, not because the material is supernatural or fantastic, but because it seems to go against the grain of the thing. In a shared universe the question of ‘what’s next?’ is more than a question of plot, it becomes the emotional engine as well.
In the last twenty years or so, the idea of a sequel went from egregious money making to required. From within the game mechanic, however, the idea of the played present is an interesting one. Similarly, games are meant to be finished, tasks completed, satisfaction delivered. There are few answers or satisfactory conclusions in Firewatch, there is mostly sadness and disappointment. But can this really surprise us given the fact that Henry is a man running away from his mentally collapsing wife? That he is a man ignoring the last decades of his life and flirting with an unseen woman herself hiding from heart break and, if the theories about Delilah’s untrustworthiness are to be believed, from much worse.
The other side of the emotional cheap shot would be that of the twist. The logic of the twist, at least in television and film, seems to have exhausted itself in the last few years. The notorious ending of Lost seems a rather grand intensification compared to M. Night Shyamalan’s plot tricks. Games have arguably pushed this logic even further, one can look only at Bioshock Infinite and its epic levels of meta-containing, of worlds, within worlds, all wrapped in a complex temporal logic. The issue at hand becomes one of what these ever more complicated formalist tricks do, if anything, to the kind of content (emotional or otherwise) being deployed in games versus movies.
The question, which is an interesting one I think, that arises is what is the relation between the felt present of a game, and that of more passive media, and how do these relate the the immediate present, to what William James famously discussed in terms of the specious present:
“The relation of experience to time has not been profoundly studied. Its objects are given as being of the present, but the part of time referred to by the datum is a very different thing from the conterminous of the past and future which philosophy denotes by the name Present. The present to which the datum refers is really a part of the past — a recent past — delusively given as being a time that intervenes between the past and the future. Let it be named the specious present, and let the past, that is given as being the past, be known as the obvious past. All the notes of a bar of a song seem to the listener to be contained in the present. All the changes of place of a meteor seem to the beholder to be contained in the present. At the instant of the termination of such series, no part of the time measured by them seems to be a past. Time, then, considered relatively to human apprehension, consists of four parts, viz., the obvious past, the specious present, the real present, and the future. Omitting the specious present, it consists of three . . . nonentities — the past, which does not exist, the future, which does not exist, and their conterminous, the present; the faculty from which it proceeds lies to us in the fiction of the specious present.”
Is this merely a question of our immediate attention, or of intentionality? The cross-over between how we perceive the present, and how emotion colors time perception, or, put otherwise, the relation between idealism and empiricism as they relate sense and experience, what one would think would come before and what would follow. But we do not have to go into the dusty (or exciting) halls of philosophy. Firewatch poses the problem in its form and its content, one would like to extract oneself from the world while, simultaneously, being in a world that one could experience but not think about.
Thus, if a game like Bioshock exhibited the tension between free will and control in the canned choices of games as such, Firewatch could be viewed as attempting an affective or emotional version of this, between hiding in the present as if there was no time and space outside it, and completing the tasks of the game in order to complete it (though its story is intentionally incomplete). The game’s characters are hiding from the world and, as you explore the world, you are hiding from the world in a more formal sense. But, just as the characters in the game cannot escape their pasts, you, as the player, cannot escape the feeling of being oddly away from things while not, while sitting at a screen. This play-present is not exactly haunted by the past in the same way the characters are, but is a present that haunts itself by attempting, virtually, to be away from time, to be only a series of played presents.
This is (maybe) one of the better capacities of a game, the simulation that tells you what it is but slowly, taking its time, because you are taking the time, or not, within it. If we do not even know what a genre is, we know even less what a fictional world is, what is brought there when we enter it, what is left there when we leave it.
Filed under: art, comic books/graphic novels, film, television, trauma, video games | 1 Comment
Tags: affect, Bioshock, Firewatch, fps, William James
Having defended my dissertation Schelling’s Naturalism: Space, Motion, and the Volition of Thought I’m now in the strange position of looking for an academic job. But, in the meantime, I thought I would give a general update.
2 – Will be co-organizing several philosophy events at PAF (in St Erme, FR) for late October, early March, and sometime in the summer months. While details will be forthcoming some great speakers have already been confirmed.
3 – Will returning to France in the spring to attend an event on the transcendental but more details on that will be emerging soon…If anyone knows of other events going on in Europe in the spring please do let me know.
4 – I am writing two articles currently: one is on the relation of Ray Brassier and Iain Grant’s work in terms of scale and conceptualization (which will appear in French) and the other other will be on Schelling and contemporary thought for the Schelling issue of Angelaki.
5 – Manuel Correa, Anna Kasko, and Emil Olsen’s film #ArtOffline premièred in Bergen recently. It features interviews with Julieta Aranda, Mo Salemy, Clint Burnham, Suhail Malik, myself and many others.
6 – I’m writing a book on naturalism, abstraction, and various forms of externalism (embodied mind, ennactivism, etc). It will focus on Chatelet, Merleau-Ponty, Longo, and the relation between intuition, gesture, and diagram. This project is also in relation to a collaboration which is in its infant stage so more will come out of that soon.
7 – In terms of books, my first text Slime Dynamics is being translated into Russian. More information on that soon as well.
Filed under: art, Brassier, cognitive science, Deleuze, Hegel, Iain Hamilton Grant, Kant, nature, ontology, Schelling, Speculative Realism, transcendental materialism | Leave a Comment
The initial chatter around Pete Wolfendale’s book generally seemed to fall into two camps. The first being that the text was merely a massive pile of vitriol directed towards OOOers with the second being the question ‘Why would Pete devote so much of his time to a provocation that may well go unanswered?’ Wolfendale addresses the second question first in the preface (ix) while the issue of reception is more indirectly approached in the introduction (7) but these concerns feed into one another. Those defensive of Harman, and/or the Object-Oriented approach generally, could take the book’s rigor (and length) as a sign of Wolfendale’s rancor for OOO/OOP whereas those sympathetic to the critique could merely take solace in the polemical moments of the text thereby eliding the painstaking vivisection performed throughout. But leaning too hard either way reinforces the starting point of both sides and little else. Rigor and a polemical tone are of course not contradictory (I suspect one would have a much harder time finding examples that are not both rather than the other way around) but work to make the text alluring to critics and sympathizers. Switching between a rather straight-forward analytic style and a polemical one makes the text surprising for those that would only expect only vitriol or only analysis, it brings along readers from both sides of the debate who could claim to have ‘heard it all before.’
Wolfendale is explicit about his positions and even the points where he agrees with Harman though they are few and far between (35) which, at times, and as Dominic Fox points out, leaves the impression that Harman and Wolfendale are like ships passing in the night: their views of philosophy in general are too different. On the other hand, given philosophy’s universal address, to my mind philosophy needs to, at the very least, adequately provide a structure to translate between its own fields and it would appear that without epistemology, which Wolfendale so greatly champions, this is awfully difficult. This apparent failure to communicate, as well as the responses to the text already mentioned, indirectly point to a strange assumption in academia and one that I’ve seen in philosophy and theory. There is often an assumption that the theorists or philosophers one chooses reflects one’s personality and conduct in academic and extra-academic affairs. To put it somewhat jokingly, the assumption being something like Hegelians are tyrannical jerks, Derrideans are all friendly animal lovers, and Deleuzians are open-minded sex-weirdos. While this will (hopefully) invoke laughter, it is incredible how the attitude of a philosophy’s utilizers are always-already behaviourally coded and, how this cuts down the kinds of arguments one makes from the get go. I would hope that a text like Wolfendale’s demonstrates how this doesn’t hold up at all. This is particularly evident in his extensive footnote on the analytic continental divide (404-405).
Since Fox has already done a great review of the text (linked above) this allows me to focus less on the specific critiques of OOO and more on how the text expands beyond being a specific critique of Harman. The book is to be praised for the depth of its historical conceptualization and the breadth of its contemporary conceptualization in that Wolfendale demonstrates how OOO falls in regards to the development of post-Kantian thought (with particular regard to the noumena-phenomena relation in Kant and Husserl and the consequences it has for Heidegger) as well as how OOO is part of a broader trend of ontological liberalism (209-299). This is, I hope, far less egregious then it sounds given the fact that nearly a quarter of the book is dedicated to this problem.
Filed under: Badiou, Brassier, Deleuze, Harman, Hegel, Heidegger, history, Iain Hamilton Grant, Kant, Meillassoux, ontology, Speculative Realism | 8 Comments
Tags: Iain Grant, Markus Gabriel, ooo, oop, pete wolfendale, ray brassier
Despite the fact that Schelling is a German Idealist or, more broadly, a post-Kantian thinker, there is not (to my knowledge) anything resembling a consensus regarding Schelling’s relation to Kant. Iain Grant sets up the relation as an overtly hostile one (akin to what the Furies do to Orestes) while thinkers such as Arran Garre balk at such an assertion.
From Schelling’s writings it is clear he has immense respect for Kant, calling him the Aristotle of Germany (as he puts it in The Grounding of Positive Philosophy) and that he nearly perfected negative philosophy through the Critiques. By negative philosophy Schelling means a pure rationalism that addresses the conceptual specifically or, in other words, the negative philosophy determines what is real but not reality (GPP, 131). By no means does Schelling assert or infer that the negative philosophy is unnecessary only that, by its own definition, it can have have no content other then what is determined according to its own ground such that as soon as reason determines something as real the reality of that conceptual content dissipates.
In texts prior to The Grounding (namely the Freedom Essay and The History of Modern Philosophy) Schelling attacks Kant from another position as well in claiming that Kant’s notion of the in-itself not only sabotages the First Critique in epistemological terms (in that the CPR assumes that the a priori of reason is the a priori for reason) (GPP, 127) but also does injustice to nature in that in assuming the a priori is for reason its is denied a properly dynamic character. Or, in other words, the a priori, as Kant defines it, is for reason in that it is empty of content except as a content that grants reason its reach, its momentum. Yet how is it that it grants this capability alone and that this capability is that of and for reason only?
Filed under: Hegel, Iain Hamilton Grant, Kant, nature, ontology, Schelling, transcendental materialism | Leave a Comment
Some recent publications:
An essay on Tombs and Design appeared in the journal Design Ecologies with a preface by science fiction author Peter Watts. Details here.
An essay based on a talk on parasitism and Schelling is in the Weaponsing Speculations collection. Details here.
My essay version of a talk done in London on Schelling and Ecological aesthetics is in Speculative Aesthetics released by Urbanomic. Available here.
I wrote the entry on ‘Transcendental Materialism’ for the just released The Meillassoux Dictionary.
I wrote a short piece about a modern Ariadne for a short film available here.
February: I will be in Australia doing a masterclass on the work of Reza Negarestani in Sydney (as a lead up to Aesthetics after Finitude), a workshop on creation and the concept of worlds in Melbourne, and possible another event to be confirmed.
From February 26-March 1st I’ll be in Amsterdam speaking at The Geological Imaginary conference. Website here.
Beyond that I’ll be in France for some months planning an event on Geopolitics and Geophilosophy at PAF for the Summer.
Filed under: Iain Hamilton Grant, Kant, Meillassoux, nature, ontology, politics, Speculative Realism, transcendental materialism | Leave a Comment
Tags: Ariadne, Australia, design, ecological design, ecologies, geology, geophilosophy, Negarestani, paf, parasites, Performing Arts Forum
The massiveness of the nuclear is ‘lightened’ only by a catastrophe. The Earth is geophilosophically and geopolitically frustrating because it’s an ongoing nuclear disaster (a great heat engine as James Hutton understood it) but one that is metastable while proving itself the ground of all production whether noetic or material. Whether the collecting of ferrite for magnetic strips on subway cards or providing the iron source of painting, the Earth is a geo-chemical and geo-physical graveyard of potency.
Part of this frustration is due to the fact that the fact of this complicity or continuity is difficult to represent given its absurd spatio-temporal stretch. This is a fairly wide spread notion these days in part functioning as a conceptual sidekick to the anthropocene. One can look at the Smithsonian project above or the various works of Kate Paterson. Paterson has recently coupled with numerous authors (including most recently Margaret Atwood) in planting a forest for a library to be produced in 100 years. Prior to this Paterson had attempted to represent deep time through her fossil necklace in which each bead represented a different epoch.
Previously I was critiqued for utilizing pop culture references to discuss the geophilosophical. A defense I had not considered at the time was not only that science fiction does a particularly interesting job of representing the geological, but simply that film is especially adept at representing informational microcosms of deep time and the strangeness of life emerging from the Earth. For instance, it’s not surprising we are seeing a resurgence of monster films – these creatures index their own history (as coming out of mid-twentieth century nuclear traumas) which in turn make them ideal for embodying climatological disaster. The question remains however as to whether it is better to represent the disasters of the anthropocene in a series of cuts of its production by us.
A chemical explosion, to a flying particle, to a chain reaction, to a devastation. A scalar madness is etched in the brain and repeated by the creatures awakened. This is the indecision between continuity and complicity, in how much we take blame for ‘awakening’ the monsters but often seem forced to utilize the same technology, or other disastrous technologies, to combat them. Complicity is investigated by being scaled up and down. The scalar madness is folded outwards: we construct monsters to fight monsters. Nuclear solution twice over – reliable tech and nuking the breach in Del Toro’s Pacific Rim.
The recent rebirth of Godzilla takes this logic to a certain absurdity.
In the film nuclear testing awakened, tried to destroy, and then is utilized once more to try to destroy Godzilla and other creatures. It is quite telling that the devastation of Godzilla and his opponents (massive unidentified terrestrial organisms or MUTOs) receive more attention of the camera than the battles between the creatures. More directly, the film references the connection between climate disaster and nuclear disaster through a nuclear meltdown in Japan as well as a visit to Yucca Mountain. Deep waste repositories such as Yucca mountain (which I’ve written about here) are the real-world and slowed down version of Godzilla and his fellow MUTOs. The sites bear the remnants of nuclear devastation whether or not that devastation occurred in its’ intended’ fashion ie whether or not weapons were used. Deep repositories are the ‘slow violence’ version of nuclear disaster propelled speculatively (and monstrously) into the future.
One serious limitation (of which there are many) is that the imaginary scaling up of the nuclear (which might be better represented as a intensification or contraction of deep time into a disastrous space) is that these disasters-as-monsters necessarily go tromping through cities and other populated spaces. Nuclear waste, and many other environmental disasters, of course happen in more isolated locations. This isolation is of course not only geophysical/geographical but also geopolitical. There is an interesting asymmetry between the geopolitical forgetting of environmental disaster in the global south in relation to the geophysical entombment of the nuclear in the north.
The strangest aspect of Godzilla is the sense that Godzilla represents god-as-nature, as a monstrous force which is capable of putting things ‘back into balance.’ What exactly the relation between devastation and balance is, how the contracted time scale into the space of disaster can be subsequently unfolded seems to be the interesting question.
Filed under: Deleuze, fantasy, film, history, Iain Hamilton Grant, literature, nature, ontology, politics, Schelling | 2 Comments
Tags: Akira, anthropocene, geophilosophy, geopolitics, Godzilla, kate paterson, nuclear disaster, nuclear waste, Pacific Rim, slow violence