Monday, January 16, 2012

Color Puffs Out of Existence

                                                                                                Martin Luther King Day, 2012

Dear Reader of The Democracy of Objects,

We're going on a cosmic journey tonight. Traveling from a place of not having touched each other to a very sweet and rich, soft and wet place of touching each other most intimately. Without knowing where it's going to take us, how far into pleasure, how far into sea sickness—our Voyage of the Beagle.

Before we embark I wanted to remind you (and me) that this opportunity that we're giving each other to come closer, is an opportunity to deepen our erotic relationship with ourselves—to be that sensual man and sensuous woman we have always wished to be. To seek the truth about our lives and our capacities, not just for orgasm (when that comes), but for whole (or collective)-bodily intimacy, potentially a redrawing of the map. I'm that open to the possibilities that may emanate from our encounter.

I declare to you that in my arms, no harm will come to you. My body is as an oasis for you, a refuge from whatever torments you, and a source of refreshment for your spirit. I'm looking forward to calibrating my future touch to what I sense of you from this encounter.

Pastel by Kerry Smith -- Contains Information

As the Missouri legislature contemplates mandating the teaching of creationism in public schools—the functional equivalent of turning all the lights out in the public hospital's emergency room and pretending it remains operational—I am waiting and wondering, weighing my hopes and fears.

My hope (or series of hopes) is that The Democracy of Objects will be: 1) read hungrily by those with a penchant for theory and those who wish to cultivate a taste for such a penchant; 2) pressed into ready hands and hard drives (it's available online for free) by the scores; 3) that it be translated as quickly and carefully into every possible language so that its wisdom can be grappled with and absorbed across the globe and the conversations it should justly generate commence. And this is more faith than hope, that reading it will propel us into a specific ontological imaginary—a post-prophetic age. What other book so boldly undertakes to demonstrate the exciting ways far flung conceptual dots can be connected fruitfully, composing new collectives of thought? 

My fear, though, is that the very cohort who could ignite that fire is (now that the previously  withdrawn lines of income inequality have been brought to their attention so vividly via the Occupy Movement) 100% preoccupied with jockeying their adult children into position to assume those few slots among the 1% not already long ago bought and paid for. Drilling, fracking, pimping, and enslaving as long as they can sustain the illusion that their own personal biological issue can somehow be safeguarded. A second fear is that The Democracy of Objects is the sensuous object intellectuals like to fuck all night long, but don't want to publicly date. Conveniently forgetting a fundamental moral and evolutionary law: if someone goes to the trouble of figuring out how to fuck you blind, and then actually does it, you have to give it up to them. 

Bryant enfolds his central metaphor in thrilling terms, referring to the volcanic on eleven separate occasions, making a sublime word/numeral poetry while “plod[ding] along in the world of the concept.” Which flower of rhetoric erupts in his poem? I perceive a heat devil shimmering in the air.

Hidden volcanic powers irreducible to any of their manifestations in the world (70)
harbor a volcanic reserve in excess of their qualities (85)

Variations volcanically locked within substances (92),
volcanic potentialities hidden within objects (93),
volcanic powers coiled (95), volcanic, yet unactualized, powers (103),

Encounter the volcanic potentials harbored in the depths (114),
volcanic powers objects have folded within them (169)

Discover what volcanic powers they have hidden within themselves (185),
dark volcanic powers harbored within (281),
the subterranean volcanic core with which its
being…is haunted

And what peculiar strange fruit does the devilish philosopher depict in his dark prose?

Faced with decades of content-based cultural criticism that implicitly, at least, adheres to Marx's formula that the aim of philosophy is not to represent the word, but rather to change it, it is peculiar that such theory doesn't seem to recognize that such cultural critiques seem to be fairly unsuccessful in producing their desired change. Here one would think that social and political theorists would become aware that this absence of change suggests that perhaps meanings, signifiers, signs, narratives, and discourses are not the entire story. (288)


  1. Really well done, Frances. I'm very much enjoying this blog. It's extremely titillating in all sorts of ways, intellectual and otherwise.

  2. I'm hugely grateful for your readership, Joseph. As I read through The Democracy of Objects the evidence kept mounting as to the centrality of your tempering influence. How different (and damning) this passage might have been expressed, were it not for your participation?

    "Yet even if God exists and is capable of perceiving an infinity of local manifestations, the being of objects is nonetheless radically withdrawn even from God for the subterranean dimension of substance, its virtual proper being, is in excess of any of its local manifestations." (121)

    Pace Spinoza, God and onticology in a peaceful co-existence--that's the challenge. If we really are materialists, and smart ones at that, then we'll get there.

  3. I realize, Levi being Levi, that he's already acrostically pointed the way toward accomplishing this on page 246-- "Finally,
    fourth, flat ontology argues that all entities are on equal ontological footing and that no entity, whether artificial or natural, symbolic or physical, possesses greater ontological dignity than other objects."

    Greater Ontological Dignity, a good foundation on which to build.

  4. Beyond the erotic -- is there such a place? ... thinking about narratives where there might be actants equal to those meant to represent human "characters."

    I would pose what I thought a truly explosive question to my students: what is a literary character made of? ... how is it that we readers come to respond (as evidenced in MRI brain scans) as we would those allegedly signified by their literary representations? What constitutes their IDENTITY in the text (where, whatever we posit for the work which is their stage, this IDENTITY is never anything close to what we could call a UNITY... or a WHOLE....but that's a second question) ... but never once did anyone ignite in spontaneous human combustion, nay, not even a spark -- and since this was not a class for setting forest fires let alone descending into Vulcan's craters of ignominious disolution and rebirth (all entendres intended)... ... needless to say, we never arrived at the follow up question--that if, in the tradition of critical literary parlance, we refer to the 'characters' as actants... what about the rest of the allegedly signified content?
    ... is traditional literature trapped in the same anthropocentric, correltionist assumptions as philosophy? Of course, we humans have an understandably propitiatory interest in our own kind, and take pleasure (no doubt, Eros plays a part here behind the scenes...if not full monty on stage) in being the star players in own stories, but isn't there, hat in hand, a question begging in the wings? How is it that we are so fixed in our imaginary productions on reproducing ourselves as bound in fixed borders, like infants in swaddling cloth... such that, there are the 'characters' (or their personified stand-ins), and there is all the rest of the stuff they/we are interacting with... the eternal diode: humans, and everything else? Only the humans as 'actants.' In other words, is there not something missing, both in how we READ literary narratives, and in what they might look like in a true Democracy of Objects?

  5. ... this increasingly suggests to me that the turn from content based criticism to inter- and intra- textual linguistic analyses, all signifier and no signified, may be in part, an anxiety reaction to avoid moving to a more dangerously revolutionary mode of reading and constructing narratives.

  6. It's worth thinking about more, Jacob, how Eros itself has been used to seduce us away from revolutionary readings; for some reason I just thought of Gloria Steinem in her Playboy bunny gig. Second wave feminism stopping so very short of where it seemed to be going, but didn't; delivering us to corporate, settling us in comfy-cozy somewhere beneath the glass ceiling. Of course, some of us are working to reverse that, or upend it, or better (your word) explode it.

    As for "the turn from content based criticism to inter- and intra- textual linguistic analyses"--you identify yet another retarding device of distraction, another half-measure, the kind we love to fall for every single time. Until now, that is. Maybe we're done with the academic trickery and Levi's onticology, as long as he is vigilant in maintaining its integrity, can blaze a way forward. I hope so!

    I cannot wait for you to read Edmond Caldwell's debut novel Human Wishes/Enemy Combatant. Damn if he doesn't have rabbits pulling a few humans out of their hats!

    1. I think we got a lot of good analytical tools out of that half-century diversion. Not at all unlike the long side trip into epistemology--and clearly related. I think this revolutionary narrative class is gonna be fun.

      Remind me about Edmond's book come March 3 when I get my SS check so I can order a copy before I blow my money on wine.