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Undermining Objects

by on January 24, 2013

It’s been pretty thrilling following along with Harman’s whirlwind tour through the history of philosophy up to his own original contributions. When discussing theories that ‘undermine’ objects right on the first few pages, Harman set me thinking when he said the following: “The problem with such theories is that if all is truly one, there seems to be little reason why it should ever break into fragments at all” (9). He then seems to be satisfied, and moves on to discuss a “more half-hearted monism of ‘pre-individual’ things.” I’d like to come in at this point and add that monist theories (I have in mind here especially Kabbalah and Hermeticism, which both hold that the universe is entirely mental) absolutely can and do account for why the one broke into many. Whether or not these theories are rigorous or just puerile fantasies born out of theoretical necessity remains open to question. But I’d like to explore this a little further.

I have in front of me “The Essential Zohar” by Rav Berg, one of the major figures of modern-day Kabbalah. In it he intereprets the Zohar, the main text of Kabbalah. According to Berg, in the beginning, before time and space, was the pure energy of the Creator. Because, at its essence, the nature of the Creator is the desire to share, it Created a vessel to embody the energy of perceiving. So the Creator poured its energy into the vessel. But because the vessel was created from the Creator, it also contained its essential sharing nature. It felt ashamed at its one-sided relationship with the creator, and pushed back. The Creator’s energy withdrew, but as soon as it was gone the vessel wanted it back. The energy didn’t return, and the vessel shattered. Berg holds this to be identical with the ‘Big Bang’ of physics. So there you have it – Kabbalah accounts for the one breaking into many by positing a primordial Creator outside of space and time.

It strikes me that this explanation is in very human terms. It’s a very sexualized theory – the masculine Creator and his desire to spread himself, the feminine vessel, the shattering of orgasm or waking into self-consciousness…is this vulgar anthropocentrism, the kind of human-centric model that Harman rails against, or is it profound insight into the cosmic nature of the universe (divine creation = human creation)?

I had a few questions throughout the book that I’d like to post here. Maybe if someone is looking for a way to write their second response they can take up one of these:

– What does Harman mean by when he calls Husserl’s idea of perceptions “object-giving acts”? (31)

– How exactly is Heidegger a pragmatist? (40)

That’s it.

– Sam

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From → Quadruple Object

One Comment
  1. I was intrigued, and a little confused, by Harman’s discussion of Husserl and “object-giving acts” as well. I have to confess that my prior knowledge of Husserl is more or less nonexistent (vague memories of an intro to philosophy class in undergrad – pretty sure I got a C), so I’m basing my conjectures here on what we read in Harman’s text. It seems like Harman sets up the notion, and discusses its departure from other forms of idealism, on pages 22 and 23. As Harman relates, Husserl not only treats “perceptions as genuine realities,” (22) but also rejects any distinction between object and content (i.e. an object dwelling outside the mind, and content inside the mind). It sounds like Husserl moves away from a notion of conscious acts based upon presentation (which sounds an awful lot like representation, in its separation between an outer sphere of real objects, and an inner sphere of manifest content), to one in which both manifest content and objects operate in the mental realm – both object and content being immanent. Objects, it seems, are still denied autonomy, but are at least allowed indoors – in a sense brought into/given to the phenomenal. Hence, the giving (?) Maybe?

    I have no idea what the pragmatism/Heidegger business is all about. Something about peasant shoes?

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