Sunday, 27 September 2009

Chasm, Chora and Firewall: On the Boundaries Between Objects

I finally ordered an Interlibrary copy of Guerrilla Metaphysics last week and it is making for some thought-provoking and enjoyable reading on my journeys into work each day. Indeed my odyssey into Object Oriented Ontology and Harman’s philosophical oeuvre is proving to be one of those transformative intellectual journeys that necessitates a re-thinking of numerous cherished beliefs, concepts and theories. There is simply enough in OOO that I agree with, and perhaps on a gut or pre-conscious level simply feel drawn towards, that I am having to reassess the viability of some older philosophical friends and their realist frameworks rather carefully. Hopefully, I will have something useful to contribute as I attempt to translate Harman’s work in relation to my own metaphysical baggage.

One of my current points of reflection concerns the manner in which objects are separated and torn apart in Harman’s metaphysic, both from one another and internally. That is, while there exists a plenum of objects, extending to infinite scales above and below our immediate perceptual horizons, the contact between these objects is intermittent, vicariously enabled and, to put it another way, always across a gap. Now, this draws forth associations for me with a concept that has been revisited and rather overused, if not wholly abused, in recent decades by Continental philosophy, namely, the Platonic space and place of mediation: chora. Is this association a reasonable one?

As someone who frequently falls back on visualizing metaphysical concepts through diagrams, images and pictures, the space between objects in OOO appears in my mind’s eye as a form of chasm - a formidable gap that can only be bridged/crossed through the mediation of a third party. Now, this particular metaphor/concept of the chasm seems to cohere very closely with the language used to identify the chora in the writings of several Continental philosophers. Indeed I seem to remember reading of Heidegger making etymological mileage of links between chora and chaos (or khainö) as meaning “to yawn” or something that “opens wide”. I am not sure precisely where I can go with this, or even if it is viable (again, I am not confident or familiar enough with Harman’s corpus of material yet), but there do seem to be parts of OOO that warrant amplification and elaboration. If the gap between objects is the space of translation, does this not arguably exhibit many of the maternal traits frequently attributed to the chora? Hopefully this isn’t a simple shoehorning exercise on my part. I remember when I was an undergraduate when I had what I thought was a metaphysical epiphany. Specifically I thought that an account of boundaries and boundary conditions could be a fruitful route towards a theory of reality. I won’t dwell on why I thought this, suffice it to say it was not an idea that I pursued systematically at the time or thereafter. However, I did retain an interest in boundaries – notably ontological ones – to the degree that I still become very attentive when they are theorised in new ways and/or with a new language. Of all Harman’s ideas, the manner in which objects withdraw from one another is particularly interesting in this regard. Does one need to theorise the gap/space between objects - if such there is - in terms of a boundary (e.g. chora/chasm)? But, more significantly, for me at least, how does this relate to Harman’s other intriguing boundary concept: the “firewall”, the demarcation point between objects, as well the term for the internal boundaries between objects and their parts. If I am to write something about Harman’s OOO in the near future, it is the firewall that has me suitably “fired up”, that and the theorisation of the nature of the gaps between objects (again, if such there are).


Paul John Ennis said...

I'm too tired to post a proper response but as a space-place theorist I'd love to see you write more on this/follow up. It might interest you that I'm tidying up my own OOO links to space for my dissertation that I want to publish as an article soon. I suppose this is absent from my blog because my blog remains a kind of non-thesis space ;)My thesis title is 'Space, Place and Seperation in the Work of Martin Heidegger'

Paul Reid-Bowen said...

Despite my original intent, this blog seems to have turned into a space for my random comments on what I would like to be doing and simply what I am thinking about. It would be nice to deploy something as systematic and developed as Shaviro and Levi's blogs, but now that the teaching has kicked in, with a very heavy level of contact time this year, that has gone out the window. I very much enjoy the teaching, but it can be an all consuming monster.

I'm getting a better grip on Harman's firewalls now, having pushed forwards with Guerrilla Metaphysics, but I need to think through how they relate to allure more carefully (when I have a moment).

Good luck with the thesis, plus all the projects you have lined up, that too was an impressive list.